Advent, Fourth ’21

Fourth week of Advent, 2021.

Saturday, 12.18.21
Family Advent Feast

Menu:
Pork tenderloin, roasted in the oven with peaches, pears, and sweet onions (this is similar to what I did, but I added a can of peaches-in-juice before roasting – and then added about two cups of chicken broth to the pan when it was about half done in the oven… so no need to make another dirty saucepot)
Roasted potatoes with garlic & herbs
Fluffy rolls
Cranberry sauce (left over from last week)
Green bean casserole (yep, a classic from my 80s childhood – canned cream soup and all)
Peppermint Flourless Chocolate torte with ganache & peppermint

Reading:
John 1:1-18
First Coming by Madeleine L’Engle
Ontology of Incarnation

Carols:
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Lift Up Your Heads
Psalm 24
Psalm 150

Kids’ Group Gift:
Everdell and Bellfaire expansion (so we can have 6 players)

Sunday, 12.19.21
Sunday Soup Supper

Menu:
Zuppa Toscana (Olive Garden copycat recipe)
More fluffy rolls (from KingArthurFlour recipe)
Pink salad, brought by a friend (like this)
Apple pecan salad with vinaigrette (like this)
Christmas treats platter, brought by a friend (there were peanut butter balls, soft brittle, and much more… but those two were my favorite!)
Ghirardelli brownies topped with ganache & crushed peppermint

Rested with:
fellowship with friends
kids playing games
reading books with the toddler
affogato for dessert
not doing dishes because disposable dishes are a gift
talking to my mama on the phone
writing Christmas cards
reading poetry

Advent, Second ’21

Second weekend of Advent, 2021.

This weekend was particularly special because we got to attend a local school’s performance of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever along with my parents, my grandma, and my brother’s family. It always feels special to attend a performance, even if you are sitting on folding chairs in a school gym and the mics are popping intermittently. The kids genuinely thought it was magical. And the young actors did such a great job, it had me feeling rather childlike and giddy myself! Shazzzam! (If you know, you know.)
And because it was getting late in the afternoon by the time the show ended, it was pretty easy to convince my brother’s family to join the rest of us for the formal Advent Feast this week! That’s a highlight of the entire season right there. We squeezed in an extra table into the dining room so all seventeen of us could toast and sing and read and feast together. God is good.

After church on Sunday, we got to invite two young couples with small toddlers over, plus a single gent new to our church & neighborhood. It was fun to share stories about how we met spouses, where we spent childhoods, and how we are each differently navigating current affairs in our broader culture but rooted here in a tiny country town. That evening, I got to take my older four children to a dance – jigs, reels, swings, two-step… my kids were absolutely loving it. It’s a step in the direction of being countercultural… and I’m eager to continue down that path with my kids. When your six year old asks your forty-something year old friend to dance with him, you know you’re doing something right.

Saturday, 12.4.21
Family Advent Feast

Menu:
Lasagna (ground beef & Italian sausage, simple marinara, ricotta & egg & herbs, shredded mozzarella, al dente noodles… made a day before for a simple Saturday)
Garlic Bread (simple white loaves, sliced and slathered with garlic butter, and warmed up wrapped in tin foil)
Caesar Salad (went easy, used store bought kits)
Gingerbread Sundaes (maybe I’ll get around to sharing my recipe sometime… because it’s the best gingerbread ever! Topped with vanilla ice cream and homemade salted caramel for a hearty dollop & drizzle; garnish with a shard of Heath.)

Reading:
Every Moment Holy, liturgy for the start of the Christmas season

Carols:
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming

Kids’ Gift:
four movie DVDs, which were $5 apiece on Amazon
(totally worth it even if we only watch each once)

Sunday, 11.5.21
Second Sunday Supper of Advent

Menu:
Chili (beef, onion, garlic, four kinds of beans, tomatoes, broth, red wine, dark beer, cocoa powder, espresso, cinnamon, chili, cumin, salt, pepper…)
Rice (rice, water, bouillon, butter – in the instant pot)
Green Salad (recipe from Magnolia Kitchen cookbook)
Sourdough Bread (with soft butter)
Gingerbread Sundaes, reprise (because once is never enough)

Rested With:
fellowship with friends
laughter around the table
kids enjoyed screen time
adult conversation
hearing new friends’ life stories
putting toddler down for a nap
taking big kids to a folk dance
teaching some folk dances
watching my children delight in dance
wine and snacks with my hubby

Advent Hospitality

Happy New Year, Church! That’s right: with the dawn of Advent season comes the new start of the liturgical year. While I did not grow up from the cradle with a big emphasis on the Church Year, my parents were naturally very purposed about setting aside certain things for celebration and observance. There was a definite cyclical rhythm to our year, mostly informed by Christian holidays and weekly Sunday habits, even though I am not sure my mom would have been able to direct you to any books or church traditions for their origin or information. It simply came naturally to her! She has always been good at decorating, showing hospitality, feeding people, and celebrating holy events with simple festivity. Actually, let’s be real: Mama has not always jumped into festivity with simplicity. She can cook up and decorate with incredible flair, detail, abundance, and bounty. As a child, when it came to holidays, I never doubted that our cup overflowed. But it was my mother who taught me by example that celebration & hospitality are both extremely flexible, and that there is just as much value & delight in the simple as in the extravagant. Mama showed me that there are different blessings attendant in those different expressions.

Now as the mama in my own home, I seek to train my children in a similar way… and I try to do it as she did: by action and example rather than by words and description.

Peter Leithart said: “We don’t keep the rhythms of the church calendar out of traditionalism. We mark time Christianly in order to honor Jesus, the Lord of ages whose Advent starts a new age of human history. We observe the church calendar to evangelize time.”

One of my favorite times to do this is during the season of Advent, which is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. I have written about this before, but I will share it again this year, because it is always good to share ideas for cultivating a family culture bursting with feasting and joy and multi-generational fellowship. I honestly can’t remember how many years we have been doing this, but my children have no memory of NOT marking Advent in this way… so it is definitely a notable part of our family culture.

Each Sunday of Advent is kicked off for our family by an open invitation to any of our family members (my parents always come, my grandma frequently comes, and my brother’s family has come a couple times) to join us for an Advent Feast on the Saturday evening prior. This is the big meal of the week, where I use our fancy dishes, light extra candles and use ironed linens, make time-consuming meals or things which require special ingredients. We always toast our glasses, cheers to the King! with wine (or sparkling cider), starting the meal with Lindt chocolate truffles and ending it with some kind of sumptuous dessert. We read Scripture, a liturgy, and/or poetry. We sing Advent hymns in harmony around the table. We give our children one group gift at each Saturday feast (books, board games, videos, matching jammies…).

On Saturday, while cooking for the family Advent Feast, I also prep for Sunday… because on each Sunday of Advent, we invite friends over (we aim for two families each Sunday – and then if someone has to cancel last-minute we still have fellowship to look forward to) for a simple meal and afternoon of fellowship. The meal format is almost always soup, bread, and cookies. All of it can be made ahead on Saturday, easily heated up after church, and can be added to (sliced apples? cheese plate? green salad?) if our guests offer to bring something for the meal. I also often opt for disposable dishes, in order to make clean-up extra easy. It not only makes friends feel welcome & at-home without worrying about breaking Great-Grandma’s china, but also enables me not to have two hours’ worth of dishes to wash afterward. We like to play board games or group games with our friends, and often sing some Advent or Christmas carols. Again, we start our meal with a piece of chocolate and a toast to the coming King!

It’s not that it doesn’t take a lot of prep, planning, work, and money… but it feels simple and predictable, completely doable and entirely special.

This is one more of those little “glimpses of paideia,” where we are teaching our children through our family habits and purposed culture about what we believe is important. Where ought our focus be? How should we spend our season of Advent? There is no one right way to do it. This is simply the way that my family has cultivated a practice and a love. It folds in people from our church, our homeschool co op, our family members. It involves food and music and books and gifts. It points us toward Christmas without making us go crazy. It gives boundaries to our plans, so we do not overschedule. It brings our hearts back to Incarnation. Which is really another topic for another post another time…

For now, let me simply leave you with a few links with suggestions for posts and books which I have found enculturating for myself over recent years as I have sought to cultivate a family tradition of marking Advent – this anticipation of the miraculous so extraordinarily astounding that it has been the beginning for the historical church for centuries.

The History of Advent

Lists and links to all kinds of Advent things by Sarah Clarkson

Psalms of Advent by Peter Leithart

Hallelujah: Cultivating Advent Traditions With Handel’s Messiah by Cindy Rollins

Joy to the World by C.H. Spurgeon

Let Us Keep the Feast by Jessica Snell et al

Unwrapping the Names of Jesus by Ashiterah Ciuciu

Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross

Around the Year by Maria von Trapp

All the Greek Words

You know the old saying, “it’s all Greek to me”? I feel like as I have waded slowly into the Classical education model in our Christian homeschooling, I have to say that much more tongue in cheek. Honestly, I could say, “it’s all Latin to me” quite often, as my three oldest children love their Latin studies… but they do it without me, because I can only grasp so much of it (I love the vocabulary! but please let me hide in a hole when it’s time for grammar and conjugations!) and they honestly take great delight in learning something Mama doesn’t know. They also have extremely high hopes of having a secret language for communicating right over their parents’ heads. This is a challenge I encourage them to pursue. I wish I could take them gallivanting around the Mediterranean sea to explore the remaining vestiges of the Roman Empire as their reward should they succeed.

At any rate. I had long thought that, were we to pursue an officially Classical educational model in our homeschool, we would choose to study Greek over Latin. In fact, when my oldest son was our only genuinely school-aged child, we purchased Songschool Greek in the hopes of doing just that. My husband knew Greek, after all! But I was too tired to figure out how to use the simple textbook properly, and my husband was too busy to consistently help Gabriel with anything more involved than the Greek alphabet. So it went by the wayside.

Fast forward a few years, and I throw around just a couple Greek words very regularly though. I also do still love the occasional rabbit trail of word study when studying Scripture. But I do not have any endeavor too come fluent in any language at this point outside of English. Keeping up with the ebbs and flows of the ever-iterating English language is enough of a task for me.

But if you have been around here with me for more than a hot second, you have surely seen me throw around words like scholé and paideia. Very clearly, I am pulling out some grand misspells or dipping into a separate language. I know I have explained paideia recently in more than one post, but it has been a little while since I have mentioned scholé. My friend Mystie Winckler explains this fairly succinctly here. She says, “Scholé means seeking Truth, Goodness, and Beauty first and foremost, laying aside personal agendas, prideful goals, and desires to control so that we can be open and able to embrace Truth, Goodness, and Beauty when we see it. And we should be seeing it all over the place. God is True, Good, and Beautiful, and we are reflections of Him, called to increase our reflection of Him more and more as we mature and grow all our lives.”

There are many times when I just get so excited about the ways my very favorite Greek words (not including tzatziki or dolma or baklava…) overlap and intersect. My friends at Scholé Sisters have this phrase “scholé every day” as a reminder that this is a daily, continual pursuit. Not one and done. But a habit was continue to cultivate throughout life. Just like pursuing a godly paideia! One of the ways I pursue paideia is through scholé!

A habit I began when I was just a teen was that of playing through hymnals on the piano. Beginning to end. And while I do not always have this practice on repeat, it is nonetheless something that I have repeated often in the last 25 years! It began as a challenge to myself when I was trying to learn the skills of an accompanist. I wanted to be able to serve in churches and other sacred settings, but did not want piano performance to be a stumbling block. So I set out to work my through hymns and psalms in such a way that I would eventually be able to play anything on any page in any hymnal. And even as a 12 or 14 year old, I wanted to do that not to attain a specific self-promoting skill, but to equip myself for sacrificial service. God gave the desire, the will, the stamina, the joy, and the fruit.

I have served as accompanist at every church my family has attended ever since, at least in some capacity (full time, part time, or substitute). I have accompanied at countless hymn sings and psalm sings and family worship opportunities in multiple homes. Eventually, I even learned to accompany more modern settings which required different skills… chord charts and lead sheets are still not something I love, but I can work with them cheerfully when I am serving the body of Christ.

I love to play through hymnals and psalters. Often singing along, but not always. Sometimes focusing on just the music beneath my fingertips. Sometimes quietly meditating on the words my eyes see while my hands are on autopilot. Interestingly, I do not know how many hymnals/psalters I have played straight through in the last couple decades, but I know it has been at least six – plus other compilations of worship music like the Cantica Sanctorum and the RUF songbook. Last night I reached the end of yet another.

Often, after tucking my children into their beds at night, I will be asked to go play the piano. The baby grand in the large family room with the wood floor and high peaked ceiling projects valiantly and echoes throughout the entire house. The children genuinely love hearing their mama play even the most simple of things… and there have been countless times where I will suddenly hear little voices wafting down the stairwell as they join me in some of their favorite psalms or hymns. I fully expect this to be one of the things they remember about their childhood, just as I fondly remember the bedtime routine of my father singing to me while he played guitar and my mother stroking my hair while she quietly sang me a personalized lullaby.

My practice of musicianship for the glory of God and the serving of His people, as well the simple blessing of beauty & rest that it serves to my own soul, is one example of my own #scholeeveryday pursuit of godly scholé. But in the practice of it, I am simultaneously cultivating a godly paideia to nurture the souls of my family.

So perhaps the next obvious question is this: which hymnal or psalter is next on the docket?? It just so happens that I have a short one already queued up.

Or maybe the next question ought to be, what other Greek words should be in my daily arsenal for living in a Christ-focused home, taking my children with me to the feet of the Savior??

Holy Week, I

Holy Week, 1 ~ Palm Sunday, Triumphal Entry


Special Foods:

Pax Cakes with fig butter

Special Activity:

Palm frond crosses

Art Study:

Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, by Sir Anthony Van Dyck

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Anthony-Van-Dyck

Scripture readings:

Zechariah 9:9

Psalm 116

John 12:12-13

Song:

All Glory, Laud, and Honor

Poetry:

The Donkey, by G.K. Chesterton

Ride On by Henry Hart Milman

Create:

Hosanna lettering & coloring tutorial

https://www.pzazzonline.com/blog/diy-hand-lettering-easter-art-full-tutorial-p-zazz-art-studio

Listening:

Cantata for Palm Sunday by J.S. Bach, “Himmelskönig, sei willkommen” BWV 182: I-IV

Feasting Through Advent

A practice that I have enjoyed with my family in the last few years is focusing on feasting and hospitality for the duration of the Advent season, and actually right up through Epiphany when possible. I think it stemmed from two different traditions: one, with family; the other, with friends.

The first, with family, stems from my childhood. I grew up in a Silicon Valley suburb in California, living within two miles of my entire maternal side of the family, which consisted of five generations for almost a decade. Many of us attended church together every Sunday morning, and I still love remembering the long pew we filled in the balcony of my childhood Bible Church. A pillar for about a dozen years in my formative years, that place still makes cameo appearances in my dreams and holds a tender spot in my heart. But even the relatives who didn’t join us in worship on Sunday mornings, joined us for Family Dinner on Sunday evening. There was always a standing invitation (and, honestly, expectation) for family members: 6pm Sunday Dinner at Grandma’s house. Those evenings of food, loud table conversation, helping in the kitchen, reading the funny papers with my Great Grandpa, watching America’s Funniest Home Videos with my uncles, and pitching in with my little cousins planted in me the love of tradition, family dinners, and generational living. After we moved away from CA, and all of our relatives, the tradition died – and it was dearly missed.

The second tradition root is the annual habit of sharing an Epiphany feast with friends (alternating between their home and our home). As a way to reconnect and celebrate with longtime friends at the conclusion of the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany narrative, we have actually managed to keep this annual celebration for roughly a decade already, and I thought it would be fun to extend that idea to other friends as well.

Those are the two backstories which grew into my current practice of Advent weekends. It makes for an intense month of hospitality – but what is the Incarnation about? Ultimately, it is about the most intense hospitality imaginable. It is my joy to nibble at the edges of that glorious example of generosity and grace.

On Saturday evenings, we have an open invitation to family to join us for our Advent feast. This is the uppercrust version, where we have fancier foods, use goblets and china, sing hymns, read Scripture & a liturgy, have candles flickering all over the room to light the darkness, and light the candles in our advent wreath. We also give a group gift to our children after the meal, reminding them that the reason we give gifts is because we have been recipients of the ultimate gift of Christ. The gifts this year have been Advent calendars (the classic chocolate-a-day), matching flannel pajamas, a board game, and an outdoor game. This year, my parents and my grandma have joined us every Saturday evening, and it has been an enormous gift.

On Advent Sundays after corporate worship, we have a family over to share a simpler meal and fellowship & play & rest together, in the wake of Jesus coming to make all things new and spread the Gospel to all peoples. We usually have some variance of soup and bread and dessert to share, although a casserole in lieu of soup has been just as simple this year. We set up the meal buffet-style, often use paper plates/bowls, and have no set liturgy (but are always glad to hand out hymnals and carol together).

These four weeks of hospitality, fellowship, feasting, and anticipation are something our family looks forward to throughout the year. And each year, I think I grow personally in my skill & joy of hosting. Be not deceived: it is hard work! But by God’s grace, I am learning to focus on the aspects of it which actually matter (filling bellies, fattening souls, engaging minds, encouraging hearts), and letting go what is unnecessary or selfish or perfectionistic.

The hope of Advent is almost fulfilled… the joy of Christmas is almost here… the light of Epiphany is on its way…

We are Christmas people! Let us feast together & rejoice!

Summer Reading Stack, take one

It is hard to imagine that summer is so fully underway! With soccer camp behind us and music camp looming just ahead, the garden in full production and the birds nearly ready to start laying eggs, you’d think I would have a clue. But I totally missed local strawberry season, and the only way I won’t miss our local cherry season is if I get out there this week with my sister-in-law and all the kids. My children are ecstatic that “fireworks day” is this week, but when my daughter asked this evening, “is that the day about St. Patrick?” I realized that I need to revisit some basic Independence Day foundations with the kids in the next 24 hours. Note to self: dig out the patriotic picture books post haste! I know I have Mary Pope Osborne’s Happy Birthday America on the schoolroom bookshelves somewhere…

While our official school year with the chaos of our weekly co op finished up over a month ago, we are continuing our normal habit of schooling through the summer when we are at home. During soccer camp week, we focused on Bible, reading, music practice, and soccer practice. Plus playdates and swimming! It was exhausting and delightful. It will be a very similar pattern during music camp. The rest of the weeks of summer, though, we are plugging away with piano lessons, ukulele lessons, and the basic subjects at home: Bible (which term we use rather broadly to include Scripture, catechism, hymn, devotional, copywork, & handwriting), math, English, reading, and music lessons.

Newbery4

What everyone most looks forward to, though, is our regular habit of reading aloud. In general, I am the one who reads aloud to the children while they eat a meal (or two), and while they do things like copywork, artwork, sewing, or other quiet fine motor projects… but the children do love being asked to take turns reading passages to one another. (Only the three oldest are solid readers, of course, but even 2 1/2 year old Simeon likes to hold a book and “read” it to us either by reciting what he remembers of a favorite, or by interpreting something from illustrations.) It gives the children practice speaking well in front of others, without the added pressure of needing to recite a memorized passage or write a speech themselves. One step at a time! I am very pleased with their skills of inflection, character designation, and rhythm/speed/pause.
Something I have been incredibly pleased with in the last few months is the broad variety of picture books we have gotten that are biographies of wonderful, creative people, both historic and contemporary. It is wonderful to accomplish humanity studies through the practice of reading aloud with one another.

This morning we enjoyed visiting the world of Virginia Burton, the brilliance behind stories like Katy and the Big Snow, The Little House, and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. We have always loved Virginia Burton, so to read a picture book where we can recognize all of her wonderful characters, as well as find out a little more about her own life, delighted us all.

Burton1
Burton2 Burton3

There is a delightful comment here about Virginia, called Jinnie, making creations with her very magical wands — her art supplies!, which made us giggle and have a brief conversation about the magic of creation, using things like charcoal, pencils, brushes, stamps, and God-given hands.

We also recently read about Grace Hopper, which was of particular interest to my own computer programming son, as she was so highly instrumental in creating and streamlining computer code. She found the solution in taking binary a lot further than anyone before. It is good for my son to read about women doing amazing things — like computer coding for the naval forces during a war, or painting children’s books, or cooking gourmet French food, or rocking babies to sleep on a starry night. Each of these things is a powerful force, and could be wielded for great good in God’s kingdom. I am eager for my children to take note of these things.

Hopper1  Hopper2

Software tester. Workplace jester. Order seeker. Well-known speaker. Gremlin finder. Software minder. Clever thinker. Lifelong tinker. Cherished mentor. Ace inventor. Avid reader. Naval leader.” Such good reminders that a beautiful education is fat with variety, fully faceted all around.

Newbery2

And there are also innumerable books that I want my children to read about incredible, world-changing men throughout history. One of my favorites this week is called Balderdash, about John Newbery himself. What a treasure of a little book! The artwork is absolutely sublime.

Newbery1

The story begins with an introduction to Newbery as a boy in a time when books were not made for children, but rather only for adult sensibilities. And John set out to change this as soon as he had outgrown childhood himself. Apprenticing for a printer, and eventually owning his own printing company, he was the one who put children’s literature truly on the market. The lighthearted way this book describes the life and times of John Newbery is truly satisfying. I think Newbery reminds me a little of my father, and perhaps that is why I think I could have been friends with this gent if I were about two centuries before my time.

Newbery5  Newbery3

Did I mention that Joni Eareckson Tada sent us a couple of books recently? We had written to her earlier this spring, as a family and then also along with a letter-writing class I taught at our homeschool co op. What a delight to receive letters in return (an unexpected surprise, for certain), and the additional of books to enjoy. This woman has been an encouragement to my heart since I was right about ten years old, so it feels full circle now for my son of the same age to be finding joy from her as well.

FunBooks10

But lest you think we do all serious reading, even in picture books, and don’t delve into the realm of lighthearted tale, anthropomorphism, comedy, or jest… think again. When you see a book cover that has your 2 1/2 year old all but pegged (including just one letter off on the author’s name!), you bring it home from the library to pass around and everyone agrees it’s a total ringer for our little Simeon James!

FunBooks11

Or how about the Animal House that had the three big kids walking around our house trying to locate all the animalesque words they could find in our own home? Refrige-gator, seal-ing, floor-mingo, kanga-room, gi-roof, snail-box, chimp-ney, cow-ch, ele-pants, hare-way, chande-deer. The house was echoing with bad puns and uncontrolled laughter for a solid twenty minutes after we finished the book itself.

FunBooks1  FunBooks2

I must quickly mention two sweet picture books we discovered last week, which both could be summed up in the idea of knowing yourself… with two very different ways of getting there. Tracks in the Snow is sweetly simple, with a little girl eagerly trying to find the owner of tracks she sees in the snow until she realizes they were hers leftover from the previous day. And Adelaide is truly winsome, in a very subdued message that the little kangaroo with wings has a life that no other kangaroo could have because she was made exceptionally unique – which is, of course, exactly the way we want her to be.

FunBooks3  FunBooks4

And lastly for now, our love of bird books continues. We revisited an old favorite, Chickens to the Rescue, which allowed us to introduce it to the youngest member of the family — and now our chickens themselves have taken on an adventurous twist of their own when we call out the refrain to them across the backyard.

FunBooks6  FunBooks5

And Calliope… who we now realize is a drake and has thus adopted the nickname Ope rather well… would like to show you our latest ducky favorite. Largely because it’s simple, sweet, and has precious ducky illustrations.

FunBooks7  FunBooks8

FunBooks9

I have two large canvas bags filled with library books ready to be returned tomorrow after our watercolor lessons with Mrs. S. We have potty training books on hold, waiting for us! Somebody around here needs a little extra literary inspiration, I think, to make the final leap in the process of ascending the porcelain throne…
And I have more books and snippet-reviews to share coming up soon.

What kind of children’s books would you like to see reviewed for a tried-and-true perspective?
I’ve got a pile of little gingers who are up for the challenge.

Only Daughter

EJCatthebeach

She runs into the house without even slamming the door—the loud clomp clomp of her periwinkle Wellies announces her entrance just prior to the shout in the foyer, “I want to come in! I’m frozen!” Chapped, peeling lips are pale beneath her runny nose and wind-kissed cheeks. Heavy breaths through her mouth along with icy white splotches on her coat are evidence of the five-year-old’s best efforts at a snowball fight with two older brothers. Tossing mittens halfway down the hallway and grabbing off her purple knit cap, she shakes her head like a puppy fresh from the bath, letting loose deep red tangles of hair that cling to the sweat on her neck and melted snowflakes on her freckled face. Sitting down with both exhaustion and effort, she tugs off her boots, bringing along striped wool socks which leave little balls of fuzz between clammy toes.

While her hands unclip navy blue hand-me-down snowpants and unzip a pink snowcoat two sizes too big, she hears her mother hollering, “close the front door!” Leaving haphazard piles of thawing snowclothes and strewn accessories, she latches the door and runs on tiptoes. The little girl who previously looked as plump as a marshmallow is stripped down to mere lace-edged white leggings and a long-sleeved magenta shirt, showing the gangly limbs and thin frame of a little sapling not yet fully grown. She finds a silver tulle skirt with sparkly sequins freckling the top layer, a coordinating silver knit sweater with metallic threads woven throughout, two pink grosgrain barrettes, and a hairbrush to deliver to her mother.

She finds her stoking the fire, and scurries to squeeze her softer frame. With a heaving grip and exaggerated groan, her arms wrap around matronly hips, smiling upward with her chin pressed into her mother’s belly button. “Get me dressed!” she demands. She swivels her body and shakes her pigtails. She grins and sighs as her mother fawns over her, dolling her up in the warmth of the nearby fire which pops and crackles. She stares into dancing flames until her blueberry eyes glaze over and her breathing slows into little sighs beneath her sinking head as one ear nearly reaches a shoulder in relaxation.

“Read to me, Mommy,” the daughter quietly pleads, blinking slowly and stifling a yawn, as the last barrette is clipped. Mother reaches for a nearby stack of books, and pulls her daughter onto her lap. The thin little girl reclines against the pillowed warmth of her mother’s body, covers her knees with her shimmering skirt, and rests her temple against her mother’s breast. She insists on turning the pages, interjecting commentary, and correcting each slip of her mother’s tongue.

The door slams. The little girl is immediately erect, rigid, alert. “Boys?” she calls out, cupping her hand alongside her mouth. With a quick kiss on her mother’s lips, she wriggles herself out of her mother’s lap and races down the hallway back to the foyer, welcoming her boisterous brothers with clapping of hands and loud hurrahs. One of her barrettes falls askew.

EJCatthestore

Making Way

Duck 3

We are moving from books about birds to the birds themselves. And while I will have updates about the chicks soon, tonight I am still flying high on the spectacular experience we had today with our first little duckling hatching. It has burrowed its way quickly into our hearts! After having a very busy weekend followed by a very busy day with our first-ever homeschool science fair yesterday, we took a low key school day today – birds, books, tea & cookies while Mommy read aloud for over an hour, workbooks and piano lessons by the toasty fire, and lots of Legos and running around outside. And although the day in practice was quite relaxed and chill, there was excitement to be had!!

Duck2

While the seven duck eggs we began incubating a few weeks ago ended up being overheated (lesson learned: do not trust the incubator’s thermostat… measure its accuracy regularly with additional thermometers!) and never developed their ducklings inside, we adopted five more nearly-fully-incubated duck eggs on Sunday. We have been intently watching and waiting. And little Simeon prays for the ducky eggs constantly, which is perfectly adorable, incidentally.

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I wish like crazy I knew how to add a video from my phone to this blog. I happened to get the actual hatch recorded, and it was downright incredible. My daughter’s reaction was pretty priceless – she cried (actual tears) for joy. The process of watching the duckling wiggling to squirm and stretch, listening to it peep and chirp while still in the egg, was pretty miraculous to all of us. But the actual hatch where it finally broke free of the shell and burst forth like a nocked arrow let loose? It was absolute magic.

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Almost immediately after the duckling was born, Evangeline marched off to find Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings, which is pretty great, to read it to her little brother. While we had been reading lots of books recently about chickens, nests, eggs, where birds come from, etc we had not read anything very duck-specific. Leave it to my five year old daughter to locate the book needed for the moment! While Evangeline was caught up in the story, Simeon was caught up in the illustrations.

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We have also been reading a bunch of Easter books this week, for obvious reasons (#holyweek), and in The Legend of the Easter Egg, this illustration made all of us smile because our little duckling’s empty eggshell looks so similar to this one!

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After letting the little Khaki Campbell rest all day in the incubator to try getting some balance and dry off those little downy feathers, this evening I finally caved and snuggled my little duckling once the kids were all tucked away into their beds. I gave this little sweetie some sips of water, and some snuggle-loves. I love the way baby birds just snuggle into a relaxed hand and fall asleep.

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I am pretty sure this duckling is downright darling. Am I right?!

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So now I have tucked the little duckling back into its incubator nest for the night, where it is snuggled near two other pipped eggs, which I imagine will hatch tomorrow (or the next day, at least). The way it chirrups conversationally with the ducklings squeaking inside those two eggs is positively endearing. It’s like a big sister cheering on the younger siblings, and just makes my eyes widen all over again over God’s amazing creativity, and the details He nuanced in such incredible ways.

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Matthew 6:26
Look at the birds of the air,
for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns;
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not of more value than they?

~~~

Luke 12:6
Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins?
And not one of them is forgotten before God.

~~~

Revelation 4:11
You are worthy, O Lord
To receive glory and honor and power;
For You created all things,
And by Your will they exist and were created.

Treasured

Psalm 30:2, 4-5, 11-12
O Lord my God, I cried to You for help, and You have healed me.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints,
and give thanks to His holy name.
For His anger is but for a moment,
and His favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night
but joy comes with the morning.
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing,
You have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing Your praise and not be silent,
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

There are few things God has entrusted to me which I treasure more than my children.
In fact, I can not think of a single tangible thing more treasured.
Even my husband, because the children God used us to create are part of him.
So in my treasuring and cherishing of them, he is included at least in a large part & portion.
I guess you could say they are, in fact, my treasured possession (in the vein of Deut 7:6).

Perhaps the largest struggle of my life is contained in my pursuit of motherhood.
Those who know me well, or even those who know me much at all past the truly superficial, know this.
But it isn’t easily contained in something like a sentiment or photograph.

It is such a big part of me that it takes a lot of time, conversation, and heart to deeply know this part of me. I realize and recognize that. I have grown enough through this that I now understand that not everybody is equipped or desirous to take part in that. And that is okay. In fact, that’s probably good and healthy. It is a huge part of who I am and what my life has included, but it is not all there is.

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All of this notwithstanding, I’ve long yearned for an opportunity to capture an aspect of all thirteen of my children in a family photograph. And recently, a friend of mine from church offered to take family portraits for us, and asked what kind of creative aspects we could bring to the table (or the field, as it so happened). I mentioned wanting to do something in honor of my babies in heaven, and Sarah embraced the idea. She so kindly and gently photographed my family with nine white balloons to represent our nine children beyond the veil. My treasures in heaven (Matt 6:20-21).

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And she also photographed me with my nine treasure boxes cradled on my lap. Little wooden boxes my father devotedly created for nine of his grandchildren, most of them cradling the wee bodies left behind from the souls that were escorted by angels to the heavens; all of them waiting to be buried with their mama so we can burst forth from our graves together at the final trumpet sound when our King returns.

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These are sacred moments which perhaps only my own heart could treasure in such a tangible, tactile way. But here I share them with you, because so many of you have watched me walk these roads of tears and terror. It is my honor and my joy to share with you that there are treasures for me along this journey as well.

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Revelation 21:3-4

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”