One Mom’s Response to the Tragedy in Las Vegas

Untitled designThe sky was alternating between a light and dark blue-gray and the air felt cool with rain, but Griff and I hopped out of the van and threw on the pack anyway. Every fall I make it a point to spend as much time as I can out at Wild River, the state park that’s just a couple of miles down the road from our house.

Today we took the easy trail through the oak savannah, in part because of the pending rain and me breaking in new boots, but also because I needed an autopilot sort of walk. Earlier, on our way to school, I had turned on MPR and heard the news about the Las Vegas mass shooting. The rest of the drive back, my mind felt numb.

There’s no one response to hearing news of violence and chaos, the gunshots ricocheting like harmless firecrackers on the radio. Here in the northern Midwest, I felt the strange combination of being far-removed yet somehow still close to the tragedy, as though some smarmy stranger had entered my home unannounced and left his greasy business card on the kitchen counter.

Tragedy is invasive. It is a reminder that safety is relative, and the world is not as friendly as I want to teach my children it is. It casually drips fear into the normalcy of our daily lives, discoloring our thoughts and leaving us upset, uncomfortable, and confused.

It also makes me never want to be in a mass gathering of people ever again. (If you need me, I’ll just be holed up in my kitchen, thank you very much.)

My son and I walked along the paved trail, and I pointed out the different colored leaves, the trees, the moss, the puddles. He bantered along in one-year-old babble, occasionally uttering something that sounded close to the word I was repeating. It felt good to focus on something near, pushing the senselessness out and away as I worked on expanding my son’s vocabulary.

Right after I heard the news, I Voxed a friend, recording a jumble of messy emotions that basically boiled down to, “this is horrible and I’m upset and I have no idea what to do.” There was nothing to do, of course (which is my normal route – when in doubt, make a meal, bake a pie, buy a gift, clean a kitchen, send a card, just don’t. sit. still.).

But sometimes our restless hands have to be stuck, still – caught in the needs of our daily life and those who depend on us – while we feel our way through the event, our emotions running from shock to anger, to sadness, to fear, to worry.

I’m learning, lately, that it’s important to listen to each of those emotions as they come, allowing them to sit in my cupped and shaking hands. Being true to myself also means being vulnerable, expressing my confusion and darkness and fear, because those are the places I am most likely to connect with others and find solace. Or in the words of Matthew 5 and the beatitudes, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Friends, I have nothing profound to say about today’s shooting. I’m just here in my little blue office, surrounded by legos and drawings and bills and an embarrassing amount of empty coffee mugs, and I’m sad. I hurt for the parents who sent their son or daughter off to their first concert, not knowing their children would come home with a new understanding of hate. I hurt for the couple who went to hear their favorite musician but can’t get the sound of gunshots and screams out of their heads. I hurt for the friends having a girls’ night out who are now scared to open their apartment doors. I hurt for the hotel employees and policemen and EMTs who looked into face after face of pain and shock and terror. I hurt for the loved ones on the other end of the phone line, receiving the darkest, hardest words.

I hurt because I am human, and even though I teach my children that humans should not harm one another, I know it still happens.

I hurt because this is a broken world, a fallen world, and hope can be a hard hand to grasp.

Nevertheless, I have found that hope is somehow always present, reaching through the panic and pain, not as a quick fix or a religious pill, but steady as a Father’s heart beating for His children. It is this heart and hope that I choose to stake my faith in, even on days like this.

So today I hurt, and today I hope.

And tomorrow I’ll get up, spend time praying comfort over those affected by the shooting, and then go about my work teaching my children to love, respect, and protect one another and the world around them.

It seems a small consolation, given the size of the loss. I know that. But it is something, and if we all did the same, choosing hope instead of hopelessness, action instead of anger, the next generation could only be better for it.

 

 

 

 

 

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From Skeptic to Student – Why I Tried Making Kombucha

Kombucha pin

Let me be the first to admit it; I never thought I’d make kombucha.

It was the SCOBY, mostly, that kept me away. The SCOBY, a whimsical acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, is an ominous looking beast. It’s whitish, with a rubbery, gelatinous texture, and it grows of its own accord every time a new batch of tea and sugar is introduced into its environment. I thought the SCOBY was a mushroom (or some sort of brain) but turns out I was wrong. SCOBY is made of acidophilic yeast, acetic acid bacteria, and microbial cellulose.

 

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For the record, the SCOBY’s home jar should be covered with a breathable towel. I just took mine off so you could see the SCOBY in all it’s…uh…glory.

 

Sounds delicious, right? I mean, where do I sign. Tea mixed with bacteria and yeast. YUM.

But hang on. How do you feel about yogurt? Because yogurt is made by mixing dairy or nut milk with bacteria to produce lactic acid. How about beer? That’s the product of barley, water, hops, and yeast. And cheese? That’s milk mixed with a variety of bacteria which aids in creating texture and flavor.

The ingredients sound sketchy until you consider the science. Microbes are amazing creatures. They transform everyday ingredients into new and different flavor sensations, aid in food preservation, and give us a healthy way to maintain our body’s necessary bacterial levels. Kombucha, a centuries-old effervescent tea beverage, is a simple way to enjoy all three of those benefits.

My other concern (aside from having a floating brain-like organism in my kitchen) was the potential for contamination. Working with live bacteria means there’s always a chance for things to go wrong. Luckily, it seems maintaining a safe, healthy SCOBY culture isn’t all that difficult. First off, kombucha is full of tea polyphenols and acetic acid, both of which naturally ward off harmful bacteria. Second, using properly washed hands and equipment aids in keeping the tea clean. Third, using the right containers (always glass, never ceramic) keeps away potential problems with leeching lead.

Once I got over my SCOBY and contamination fear, here’s why kombucha interested me:

  1. Decreasing sugar intake. In trying to be mindful of my sugar habit, I don’t buy juice, soda, flavored coffee, or any other beverage that has a huge amount of hidden sugar lurking behind the label. (That doesn’t mean I don’t eat cookies. It’s just a fine balance.) Kombucha, with its minimal amount of sugar, is a bottled beverage that still feels like a treat.
  2. Using garden produce. The kombucha I like most is a two-step process: the initial ferment (using tea, sugar, and the SCOBY), and the secondary ferment, which is the process of adding flavor, sweetness, and effervescence to the tea. This summer, most of our flavor mixes have come straight from the farm: apples, plums, kale, carrots, tomatoes, and mint. The juice is mixed directly with the tea, sealed in an airtight glass jar, and left to fizz. Juicing for kombucha is a useful way to incorporate garden vitamins into daily life.
  3. Immune system benefits. With four children and a husband in and out of school, pre-school, the gym, the library, church, and the great outdoors, we encounter a lot of germs. According to the Mayo Clinic, “kombucha tea may offer benefits similar to probiotic supplements, including promoting a healthy immune system and preventing constipation.” While there are plenty of other proposed health benefits/risks to kombucha, the beneficial probiotics are the one thing that most doctors agree on.
  4. Getting the family involved. My kids have taken an interest in helping juice, bottle, and mix kombucha. This naturally led to them wanting to try it. So far, the two biggest flavor hits have been apple and mango, although carrots were, according to my girls, the most entertaining items to juice. My friend who gave me half of her SCOBY to get started noticed the same trend – her boys now love helping with the process. Kombucha is a new way to get the family playing together in the kitchen.
  5. Growing taste buds. The more I cook, the more I understand about the four elements of good cooking: salt, fat, acid, and heat. For a short but totally engrossing podcast on the topic, click here. Salt, fat, and heat I understood, but acid… let’s just say it took me a while to start noticing when the acid was present vs. absent, and how that impacted the flavor. Kombucha, with its tart, vinegary notes, has an unmatched flavor profile that I’ve learned to appreciate. Additionally, I’ve found that drinking kombucha helps curb my appetite and clear my palate when I’m craving something sweet.

From skeptic to student, understanding the basic science around kombucha has been a fascinating journey. I’ll post more once I have a solid repertoire of flavor combinations and ratios. Until then, pick up a bottle at the store sometime, or come hang out and let me pour you a glass. Leave me a comment below – let’s hear what you think!

 

Want to read more? Here are a couple of balanced and helpful links:

  1. Kombucha – the infographic version (Huffpost)
  2. Kombucha – the overview (Livescience)
  3. Kombucha – according to Mayo (Mayo Clinic)

Onward: Kindergarten, Apples, and Hope

Honeycrisp apple treeThe fall that we moved to our hobby farm, my husband planted a small orchard of Honeycrisp apple trees in the front yard. The following year, we had twin babies, an active toddler, and one of the worst winters in memory. Newscasters kept calling it a polar vortex; I called it a one-way ticket to stay-at-home-mom insanity.

In the spring, (the late, late spring that year), a few of the apple trees barely leafed out. Some developed a blackish type of rot, and others just withered. Every so often, my husband would stalk across the yard carrying an uprooted sapling and add it to the burn pile. Meanwhile, he carefully tended to the rest of the trees: pruning, fertilizing, fencing, weeding, waiting.

Last year, seemingly out of nowhere, a few small, red apples dotted the branches. Jason hid the biggest one on the top shelf of the fridge, a ruby red trophy, and we marveled at it every day for a couple of weeks, waiting for just the right moment to cut into it.

Meanwhile, apple alchemy was working its magic in the little orchard.

This year, five of our most gangly, teenage-looking trees produced an incredible show of nicely sized, bright red, juicy apples. Afraid for the young branches and the weight they were carrying, we decided to pick last week, though I’m sure it may have been a little early. (Remember, it’s amateur farm hour here. We’re learning by… experience.) The girls joined me in carefully twisting off all the apples they could reach, and I couldn’t help but remember driving past the orchard that polar vortex winter, wondering how on earth those trees were going to make it.

***

Four years ago, we were in the thick of raising babies. My eldest was two, and our twin daughters were two months. For better or for worse, our life was about small, concentric circles; we moved around the house in reliable patterns – meals, naps, laundry, baths. Taking an outing required a ridiculous amount of prep work: diapers, clean clothes, snacks, wipes, extra clothes, socks, shoes, toys, etc. and so most days we stayed home, managing best we could.

I want to say, “fast forward a few years”, the way people do when they scroll through vacation pictures and only remember the highlights (conveniently forgetting all incidents of puke, sleeplessness, and wardrobe malfunctions), but the truth of the matter is this: those early years of raising little ones did not go fast. They were full of wonder and challenge, failure and growth. And like the apple trees, there were times I wasn’t sure just how we were going to make it through.

first day of kindergartenBut two weeks ago, I watched my eldest hang her backpack in her locker and walk into her cheery kindergarten classroom. We stayed for a minute, processing her emotions and getting her settled in before turning around and navigating back down the hallway full of eager and nervous students.  The following week, I watched the twins walk confidently through the preschool entrance and line up by the door. And just like that, my minivan was overcome with silence (Griff isn’t a big talker yet).

I drove a few blocks, parked, and pulled out the baby carrier. Griff and I commenced to take on a beautiful, albeit sweaty hike through the woods in Taylors Falls. (Twenty-five pounds of baby and carrier adds a new level to any exercise these days.)

For a majority of my walk, I kept thinking back to two things – apples (namely, the giant bags in the pantry needing to be processed) and waiting, an action I’ve struggled with all my life.

You see, I had to wait for those wimpy little trees to do something, anything.

I waited through those long, wintery days when my daughters tested every ounce of patience I could muster, and it felt like we’d never be able to open the front door without a mountain of snow spilling into the entryway.

I waited while I mowed in circles around the apple fences and weed-whipped around the trees, keeping them clear of intruding vines.

I waited through seasons of discipline when I sat my eldest firmly down on the stairs over and over, talking through actions and consequences.

I waited in the smoke of bonfires, watching the dry leaves of another failed tree darken and curl into ash.

I waited through shopping trips of horror where my daughters took the liberty to climb like monkeys out of the cart, eat Chapstick, tear tags off items for sale, land us in the bathroom multiple times during one trip, and demand to be fed every eight seconds.

I waited because I had the promise of something else to come alongside me through the difficulty.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

I had hope. Firm, anchoring hope, a Hebrews 6:19 hope, that what God promised me through his recorded words was going to come true.

I wasn’t muscling my way through the daily grind without reason. I was waking up day after day, pouring bowl after bowl of cereal, mediating argument after argument, reading story after story, because I had faith that eventually my children would learn to do those things for themselves…and that my perseverance in teaching them the small things would prepare me in maturity to teach them the bigger lessons later on.

And then it struck me that here, in this season, some of the things I’ve been waiting FOR just climbed into the passenger seat next to me like it was no big deal. It’s like when you see your child make their own toast and pour their own milk and you feel like THE WORLD has opened wide up with progress.

We survived that first awful winter, and the ones after it, with a little bit of pluck and gumption. The toddlers that tried my patience are now talking about helping others on the playground and raising their hands in class. The apple trees are thickening their limbs, digging down deep to produce the richness they were meant to.

Our daily life, which used to feel so small, is now moving forward, not at breakneck speed, but with a steady, constant pace that I have grown to appreciate as I deepen my understanding of things like faithfulness, and patience, and hope.

Onward.

Doing the Difficult Things

shin guards toddler doodle.pngWe thought our four-year-old twin daughters would love soccer. On family walks, they are always running, jumping, or dancing down the road, and we thought soccer might give them the opportunity to do more of that. So, we enrolled them in a local summer recreational league, borrowed and bought a few pieces of gear and socks, and cleared our schedule on Monday nights for the next six weeks.

As it turns out, we were wrong. So, so wrong.

Imagine with me: a steamy summer six o’clock night, and four children waiting by the side of the van while mom grabs the diaper bag, water bottles, purse, and baby carrier. The baby immediately starts kicking as soon as he gets in the carrier, and the six-year-old whines that she’s tired. The twins insist on holding my hands, legs, or shirt as we walk across the dusty gravel parking lot to the field.

We are early, so we pick a spot of grass and try to talk through how fun! this is going to be. The girls are unconvinced. Meanwhile, I surreptitiously look at the other kids who have arrived early and realize that I, never having been in soccer, have outfitted both my girls with the shin guards on the outside of the socks, instead of under them. I peel the baby off my back and get to work rearranging the sock/shin guard/shoe combo on my daughters.

After this exercise in sweaty sock wrangling, I ply the kids with snacks and water and glance at my phone. My husband should be here soon. Good. We turn our attention back to the field where a few kids are starting to kick soccer balls around. More parents and kids arrive. They seem better equipped – lawn chairs, blankets, coolers, wagons. I start to sweat just thinking about standing back up and putting on the baby carrier and baby again.

Then the real fun begins. The first night is drill night, which involves stations and coaches and lots of movement. I look at my pile of stuff on the sidelines and sigh. Meanwhile, the girls aren’t jazzed about kicking the ball between orange cones. As in really, not jazzed. More like the opposite of jazz, like Phyrigian wailing. They are pulling at their jerseys, crying because they’re hottttttt, and I’m doing my best to mimic David Beckham crossed with a Vikings cheerleader (jean shorts and a baby carrier notwithstanding) as I clumsily maneuver the ball and cheer for them to do the same.

The first session continues on like this, except that my husband arrives to take over the baby so I can focus on helping the girls do drills, which equates to me jumping in and out of hula hoops with the rest of the four-year-olds while my daughters refuse, cry, or walk mopily through the exercise.

By the time the hour is finished, we are all red-faced, sweating, and ultra-cranky-town. To top it off, the girls want to get ice-cream because they heard other parents promising it to their little future soccer stars for their good efforts. I wait to tell my children their behavior warrants otherwise until we are safely in the van with all windows shut. The screaming lasts for sixteen minutes straight.

Needless to say, I was secretly glad we were on vacation and missed soccer the next week. But the week after, we were back again. This time, it was a scrimmage on the field, and the girls were having none of it. I found myself back in the middle of the preschool action, holding hands, cajoling, wiping tears, and basically doing anything I could think of to get them to play.

Nothing worked. At one point, I took a deep breath and tried to call up some of the wisdom from last year’s MOPS (mothers of preschoolers) mentors. Try to imagine how your child is feeling. How can you help them through that? So I got down on my knees, gently pushed my daughter’s bangs out of her caramel brown eyes, and asked why she didn’t want to play. It’s scary, she sniffed. I’m afraid those kids will kick me.

I couldn’t figure out how to explain to her that getting kicked is a strong possibility, but that the game was still fun. So I squeezed her tight, told her she was brave, and asked her to try a little bit longer.

Honestly, I had no idea what else to do. I wanted to quit. I wanted to tell her it was okay, we were all hot, and tired, and not really having as much fun as we hoped. I wanted to tell her I was terrible at sports as a kid, and that we could just try another activity. Preferably one with air conditioning. I wanted to be the nice mom, the one who went through the Dairy Queen drive-thru anyway because I hated seeing how upset my daughters were.

But another side of me whispered that even though this was a hard hour each week, it was worth pushing through. We’ve tried really hard to encourage our kids not to quit, whether it’s picking up toys, finishing a project, or helping us out around the house. Letting them quit soccer after two weeks seemed backward of everything we’d been teaching them.

I got home that night and stood at the kitchen sink later, rehashing the ridiculousness to my husband. I went on and on, overanalyzing and complaining. The baby. The heat. The dinner hour. The whining. In my head, my list continued until I realized something. It wasn’t really the kids who wanted to quit soccer. In fact, neither of them had mentioned quitting at all.

It was me.

I didn’t want to do the difficult work of guiding them through this hard experience. I didn’t want to be the mom on the sidelines cheerily shouting at my kids to follow the ball or get in the game. I wanted soccer to come naturally to them, without them having to work for it.

Life’s not really like that though. Everything worth doing turns out to be at least partially work, regardless of natural talent or ability. Taking them out before they had the chance to get over their fears wasn’t going to do them, or me – in the long run – any favors.

So on Monday night, we went back to soccer. We worked through the whining of putting on the socks and combing the hair into ponytails. We set our things down on the sidelines, got out a ball, and kicked it around. And when the time came for the game to start and my daughters to go in, they got up without whining. They stood on the field and walked after the ball. One of them even took the initiative to throw the ball inbounds a few times.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was VAST improvement. They were no tears, no fits, and more importantly, little glimmers of compliance. Sure, they didn’t quite go after the ball or kick it yet, but they were there with better attitudes, and so was I.

Baby steps.

 

Embracing Risk

sign

The door to the plane rolls up, and a blast of air hits my face. Everyone comes to life, securing safety googles, straightening harnessing, checking straps. Twelve thousand some odd feet below and sixty miles away, my family is going about their Sunday afternoon routine without me, because I’m sitting on a bench, rattling my teeth in the smallest airplane I’ve ever set foot in, strapped to a stranger I’m about to trust with my life.

before

My tandem jump guide straightens up. The four pairs of jumpers ahead of us scoot their way down the bench to the front and launch themselves out of the plane. My friend Katie and I high-five each other like amped up high school football players, and I take a deep breath. Katie’s videographer, (all photos courtesy of Katie Folkestad and Sky Dive Twin Cities, Baldwin WI) Katie, and her tandem guide slide to the front, barely pausing before disappearing into the patchwork green landscape below.

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Katie’s jump

Somehow, it’s my turn. My guide and I awkwardly move off the bench and crouch in front of the open door. This is the part I assume everyone pictures in their mind – eyes frantically searching the unfamiliar horizon, hands clutching the overhead bar, calculating the risk, making that final decision whether or not to jump – except it doesn’t go that way. We face the open door for all of two seconds. I can’t tell you if my guide said ready, set, go, or if he counted 1…2…3… because somehow we just lean forward and tip ourselves out in the open air.

flying

Katie’s free fall. Phenomenal.

When Chris, my friend and youth pastor at church messaged me with the question, “Ready to jump?”, I didn’t know how to respond. He was putting together a sermon illustration and promotional material for taking faith-filled risks in the month of July, and wanted to know if I’d be interesting in skydiving with my friend, his wife Katie. I was standing in my kitchen, surrounded by dirty dishes and the chatter of my children finishing their breakfast. The idea of jumping out of an airplane seemed alien, so different and strange in the context of my normal life.

Jason and I had talked about it briefly over a cup of coffee before he took off for work, but with no real decisions or clarity.

Was I ready to jump?

Are we ever ready to hold hands with that kind of risk?

It seems to me that risk is something I try to steer clear of at this stage of life. I carry the weight of responsibility for my children, who are all still in various stages of physical and cognitive development, and it’s up to my husband and I to know what our kids are capable of – when to protect, when to push, when to maintain status quo. Risks are taken in a calculated, padded sort of way.

But this wasn’t about my children. This was about me and my faith. (Well, I mean, if I died it would be about my children and my husband, *laugh/cry*, but the likelihood of that happening was 0.0007%, much less than the risk of dying while driving a car, which I do every day.)

This was about my willingness to take a risk for something beyond myself.

The whole idea of taking risks is complicated. To be perfectly honest, it’s not often I see the need.  I enjoy wrapping myself in comfort – a solid family, close friends, good food, a snug home surrounded by nature. I like soft clothes and strong coffee and books with hundreds of pages. I revel in hot showers, clean sheets, and the smell of my favorite Aveda lotion.

But life isn’t about comfort. In fact, because I’ve decided to be a follower of Jesus, building a static, easy life built on maintaining my own comfort should be the least of my concerns.

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”               John 12:24-25

But was I really, ready to jump?

***

Katie said I should scream, and she was right, because the cold crush of wind roaring in my ears and tangling my hair rips my breath away, and the best way to fight it is to roar a raw mix of fear and exhilaration into the wideness of the sky.

I know I’m falling, but strangely, it doesn’t feel like falling. The ground is so far away that the free fall loses any sense of urgency and instead, I find myself able to believe I’m flying, arms wide spread, screams turning into shouts of astonishment and adrenaline. After sixty seconds, my guide taps my shoulders, alerting me to the parachute that’s just opened above us.

We shift to an upright position as the parachute pulls up on our harnesses, and suddenly me and the stranger on my back are masters of the sky. I can’t help but kick my feet out wide like a baby does when his legs are submerged in water for the first time, excitement coursing through every inch of my limbs. We continue to descend, the air growing warmer around us. The guide asks if I’d like to do some maneuvering, which involves leaning and swirling one direction, then the other. This isn’t my favorite, and I’m thankful when the pressure of the turning subsides.

 

The drop zone is now in sight, and even though I shout that I could stay up here all day, my guide laughs and tells me I better just come back and jump again. We glide through the air, turn gently, and position ourselves to land on the drop zone of green grass at Sky Dive Twin Cities in Baldwin, WI. I lift my feet forward so that they’re parallel with the ground, which is steadily getting closer and closer. I try to savor the last few seconds as we come into land, my guide touching down and leaning back, pulling us down into a controlled slide on our rears.

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high five

The whole process took less than five minutes, and as I shake my arm and legs loose in the harness, I can’t quite believe it’s over. I am flooded with adrenaline, so loose and light in the warmth of the afternoon sun. Katie and I hug and high five again, and I find myself repeating the words amazing and awesome over and over again to anyone who will listen. And then, somehow, I climb back into the 4-runner and drive off down the road, back into normalcy and, in a split minute decision, the Dairy Queen drive-thru.

***

A week later, I’m under no delusion that I did something earth-shattering for my faith. Yes, I took a controlled risk. I conquered my uneasiness and got to jump out of an airplane, which was an incredible life experience gifted to me by my church. Did I change the world? No.

But what if, by practicing taking a non-essential risk, I was preparing myself for something bigger later? What if saying yes this time meant I’d have more faith, and be more ready to say yes to whatever came next?

What if being willing to jump gave me the opportunity to build my trust in One who’s never failed me yet?

That, my friends, is a risk I’d take all over again.

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These unexpected gifts

The summer morning air is cool and heavy. I instantly feel it resting on my forehead and arms as I cross the yard to let the chickens out. My yellow farm clogs leave dark footprints in the grass, proof of life in the quiet, early hours. I open the coop and watch the chickens pour out in a flurry of feathers and straw, then turn to the bigger coop housing the ducks and meat chickens. Something green hanging on the barn catches my eye.

Every so often in the summer, and usually after a rain, the farm becomes home to some amazing moths. We’ve found various Polyphemus types resting in the grass, but this moth was new to me. Her wings were a perfect creamy green, with four small, yellow markings, and her antennae were like an intricate ivory lattice that twitched gently.

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I finished chores and came back to check on her, and, knowing how excited the girls would be, decided to bring her inside. I gently reached my hand under her wings and waited until the delicate legs grasped my finger, and then slowly carried her into the house. The girls were thrilled, and no matter how many times I reminded them to move slowly and quietly, they shrieked and jumped with excitement.

Picturing a sticky preschooler foot as an untimely cause of demise, I scooped up the moth, which I later looked up and discovered was called a Luna, and set her back outside. After a wobbly start on the grass, the moth suddenly started shivering (a precursor to flight), and then caught the breeze and fluttered into the sky, looking for all the world like a delicate leaf suddenly come to life.

I stood back up, brushing my hands on my knees, and watched the grays and blues of the clouds marble the sky. And in that moment, I decided it would be a slow day for me and the children. A day for margin, for space. A day for looking for the extraordinary in the framework of our normal lives.

***

We spent the morning sprawled on the rug, playing games, clapping for the baby who practiced his squats and stands with the dogged determination of an Olympic athlete. His strong legs pushed him up and down, and I marveled at how tall he’d grown, and how much work it must be to learn the art of balance and motion.

We moved outside to the swings, the bikes, the trampoline. The baby joined me in the garden and learned the sheer joy of smearing, squashing, and raking his way through the dirt. I staked peas, pulled weeds, spent time staring at the intricacies of the flowers in bloom. Instead of rushing from one thing to the next, I slowed down. Took notice. Enjoyed.

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The rest of the day flowed steady, easy, like water from the garden hose. Please don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t perfect. The girls fought over stuffed animals. The baby cried and messed an extraordinary amount of diapers and clothes. I still did dishes and laundry and sweeping and the lego-to-heel dance of pain.

But somehow, those things were okay too. It seemed that having margin for both joy and error was equally important. After all, life doesn’t favor one or the other. Could it be that joy and error were necessary partners in the everyday?

***

Later, we piled into the van and headed for the library, where we ran into our neighbors and miraculously both had time to chat. A surprise text landed us next to my best friend for supper at the local Drive In, where our kids ran circles around the fountain pond and chowed down on hamburgers.

Out of nowhere, someone anonymously paid for our family’s meals. I looked up from wiping food off the baby’s face, and stared incredulously at the waitress when she told us. I couldn’t have been more surprised, or more grateful. We hopped back in the van and left the radio off, making time instead to talk about the about the gifts of thoughtfulness, of generosity, of blessing.

Later that night, I kept thinking, “I could have missed this entire day.” And in a sense, it was true. Yes, I would have lived and breathed for the same 24-hour period. But it would have been easy enough to hurry my way through chores before diving into house tasks, and miss the experience of the Luna moth delicately spiraling into the sky.

I could have skipped playtime to fold and put away laundry. I could have thrown together something quick for lunch instead of making my daughter’s favorite meal. I could have said no to the library, which would have then been easier to decline meeting up with my best friend, and not afforded me the chance for sharing an unexpected object lesson on generous living with my kids.

I could have missed it all.

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When I create space to say yes, to be awake, stay present, and actively appreciate the good things in my life, I rarely feel as though my minutes pass me by, or that they’ve gone too fast. Savoring my days ensures that even if I look back and yearn for a certain time period again (newborn stage, anyone?), I can know I lived those moments to the fullest, leaving no space for regret. Conversely, time moves slowest when I put the blinders on, doggedly pushing forward, bound by my own perception of duty in lieu of enjoyment.

And some days, that might be reality. Some days are meant for doing, moving, accomplishing. Some days run beautifully on a schedule. But when we’re given the opportunity and reminder to slow down, to watch, and to feel grateful, there’s endless surprise and delight waiting in life’s simple, unexpected gifts.

Amateur Farm Hour: Family Picture Day

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I will never forget the first time I drove up the driveway and onto our farm yard. I was blown away that one place could possibly have everything we were looking for: small acreage, apple trees, gardens – and lo and behold – a barn.

The barn was an enormous presence stretching across the west end of the yard. It had a wide open center, easy for drive-in storage, and two flanking sides that housed random leftovers from it’s previous lives, including an old cook stove, fence posts, and a giant stack of lumber. It wasn’t in the best of repair, but that didn’t matter. It was a barn. I was smitten.

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I grew up spending hours in a barn, holding kittens, swinging on a bag swing, and watching the snuffing pigs escaping the mid-afternoon heat. I hoped the same for my kids, but soon after we moved in, we realized the barn on our farm was a little too haphazard to safely let our daughter loose in. Sadly, we implemented a “no-play” rule in the barn, and used it mainly as storage for the family fishing boat.

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Unfortunately, the barn is really showing its age. The beams are bending and buckling, the roof is leaking, and this spring, we made the sad decision to take it down. How that’s going to happen is still up in the air (unfortunately there’s been another change in plans,) but nevertheless. Come summer, our landscape will look pretty different. As my oldest daughter says, “at least we’ll get to see sunsets now, right?” That’s right, baby girl. Keep me positive.

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So last weekend, we welcomed the very talented Christine Henne of JoyNoelle Photography to the farm to commemorate our life around the barn. Folks, she’s amazing. She gave us some great ideas, and then just clicked away as we played. I don’t remember how many pictures she said she actually took (and then edited and returned to us with SUPERSPEED!) but if it’s anything like what it takes me to get a simple shot of one baby smiling per month, I’m pretty sure it was enough to crash the average computer. 😉

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I mean, it’s basically next to *impossible* to get six people, four of whom are age five and under, to look in the same direction and smile. But somehow she managed to document not just our faces, but our feelings.

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Friends, I can’t tell you how grateful we are to have these pictures as a reminder of the first few years here with the barn as the backdrop to our lives. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll be able to build something (on a much smaller scale!) to put in it’s place, but until then, bring on the sunsets.

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