Tuesday, December 29, 2020

What Frederick Taught Us

 This post Christmas week is one of the strangest of the whole year for me.  The initial glee and pure exhaustion from all of the build up and secret keeping and memory making followed immediately by the let down.  Then the literal clean up, the most massive decor change over of the whole year in anticipation of a new year, the hope of a fresh start, a new beginning.

This year more than ever this all seems so vital.  What if I put up my new calendars, flip to January 1 and some kind of magic actually happens?  What if this pandemic finally begins to subside and life in 2021 can look more normal again?

I have hope, but sadness too.  I feel weary to continue to make plans for my children that might be cancelled, tired of having to say no to so many things, exhausted by the decision making and worry.  Staying home in our safe bubble feels like the most comfortable thing right now.  I think we'll keep doing that for a while.

One way I'm filling all of my extra time at home is planning my preschool lessons for winter.  My favorite way to plan is to focus on books, oodles and oodles of books.  Whenever I'm stuck I read and look at beautiful illustrations and the lesson plans just make themselves.

One book that I can't get out of my mind is Fredrick by Leo Leonni.  Have you read it?  It's about a mouse family preparing for a long winter.  Everyone is working so hard to collect food and make their shelter, everyone but Frederick.  Frederick is off daydreaming, dinking around.  I can FEEL the angst the others have that Frederick isn't pulling his weight.  Then winter sets in and they're all cozy and full in their home until the end of winter when they run out of food.  Again, I can FEEL the panic and worry the family feels.  Will they make it? What can they do?!!! Then Frederick perches himself on a stone and begins to tell stories.   The stories and memories and feelings that he collected while the others were doing their own version of preparing for winter.  You see, Frederick was preparing too.  He knew they'd need the memories of summer and warmth and abundance to get them through.  He collected that for his family and shares it with them, and you know what? They make it.

I too find myself drawing on memories more than ever lately. Memories of traveling from Chicago for Christmas, staying with my parents, staying up late every night drinking wine and hanging with my sister and brother in law who also traveled.  Memories of my own childhood Christmases, staying up all night in excited agony, the pure magic of Christmas fueling me when sleep couldn't.  Memories of travel; readying for study abroad trips in college, studying in Ireland and Italy and Germany.  Memories of fearless exploration and fun in new cultures and cities.  Memories of beach waves and hot sun and freckled dark skin. 

Winter has just begun.  It's long and dark and cold.  But we have sleds and skates and a fireplace and twinkle lights and memories, and just like the mouse family, we're going to make it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Christmas Past, Christmas Presents

 How are you doing? Are you hanging in there?  Most days I feel foggy, like I need to put my arms in front of me and push away the slow current that's dragging me down.  I feel so lucky in so many ways.  My old Achilles heels, depression and anxiety haven't reared their heads.  My kids are still in person for school, me too.  Ians job is busy as ever and he gets to work safetly from home.  What more could we want from this strange and hard time?

I want to be thriving. I miss feeling inspired and motivated and capable.  I'm tired of drudgery and pollyanna-ing everything when I really just don't feel like it.  I miss church.  I miss cooking on Wednesday nights and singing together on Sundays.  I miss hugs (and I'm not even a hugger!).  I miss loud holidays with rooms full of people.  I miss not having to question everything.  I miss not having to sign waivers to take my kids to get their teeth cleaned.  I miss sports and music lessons and even playdates and sleepovers.  Winter hasn't even started yet.  I already miss summer.

But still the days move on.  How lucky am I to be here to witness the turn of the calendar?  My children still find joy in finding Jingle every morning.  They are so excited for Christmas.  

My joy is in my children.  I can close my eyes and remember the wonder of this season.  

Going to church on Sundays and watching the advent candle lightings.  Singing Christmas carols and practicing new Christmas songs on the piano.  When I'd master one I'd get to choose a Christmas sticker to put on the page.  My piano teacher was impressed with how fast I'd learn the Christmas songs.  "I've been practicing for months!" I'd think.  

When friends came to our house in December they'd get a candy cane from a ceramic sack with a red bow that mom always kept well stocked.  

We'd get two big boxes in the mail each year.  Both from Illinois.  One from my Grandma Rogers and one from our Gram and Bop.  We'd wait for permission to open the boxes and put the gifts under the trees.  Never too early or else mom couldn't find a good spot to pour water in the stand.  

We'd go to church one day to make secret gifts for our parents.  It was the most special thing.  The simplest gifts (toaster tongs, stamped flour sack cloths, painted berry containers) became extravagant because they were all ours to give and wrap, without any help or knowledge from our parents.  

On Christmas Eve we'd eat a simple but delicious beef and barley soup with homemade bread.  "The famine before the feast" Mom always said.  We'd dress up in our best Christmas dresses.  My legs were always so cold from the thin tights and the sharp Minnesota air.  We'd pile in our van and drive to church.  I'll never forget being old enough to attend the candlelight service.  Mom sang so loud and beautifully and dad looked glowing in his cashmere sweater.  Hot wax always managed to drip down someones hand.  We'd giggle and sing and sit and soak in the magic of that most anticipatory night.  Then back into the van we'd go, so excited to put out milk and cookies, no matter how old we were.  On the way home we'd look at Christmas lights, always finding at least one neighborhood with blocks and blocks of luminaries lining the streets.

I had such a magical Christmas childhood.  I often wonder why I feel so much pressure to do so much this time of year.  I find when I turn off the computer and really sit with what matters in my heart I know that we don't need much to have a special holiday.  We are already so lucky this year.  Our greatest gift is each other.

Still this is the gift giving season and I love gifts so much.  I love finding the perfect things for the people I love and this year, more than any other, I vowed to do my best to support small businesses while shopping.  I'm not making nearly as much as I used to these days.  I did manage to knit one new thing per nuclear family member this year but other than that I'm saving most of the homemade gifts for birthdays.  I am so thankful for wonderful entrepreneurs and artist who make fabulous things that I'm so excited to give.

My favorite small businesses that I shopped from this year.

Orchard Farm Soap

   Such incredible apothecary items (everything smells amazing! My faves are the lip balms, face balm, and any of the soaps)  Shipped incredibly fast. 

Dig and Co.

  I've been following Nici since Ainsley was a baby and her store has grown so much.  She carried items from other small businesses, ships same day (or next) and has so many unique and wonderful items.  

Acorn Toy Shop 

   I narrowed my cart down at this store to a few choice items but really could have bought so much more.  This shop captures my whole toy aesthetic.  Such wonderful, quality, heirloom items.

Weird Birds

  Another artist run shop with some of the cutest items I've ever seen.  I've ordered from her a handful of times now.  I'm always so pleased with what she makes. 

Uncommon Goods

  Maybe not the smallest business but it's not amazon and it gives me great ideas.  I found some great things for the people who were stumping me this year.

Sarah's Silks

  giant playsilks and wooden fort clips are the theme of my child gifts this year.  I love the durability and versatility of simple beautiful playlists.  (and I don't think anyones ever too old to build a fort or dance around with a ribbon wand either)

Exclesior Bay Books

  this is our local bookshop.  I've placed numerous orders here over the course of the pandemic.  I find the prices are usually very close to what you'd pay on amazon and I so want this little shop to survive.  I'm happy to pay a few extra dollars to support this amazing independent store.

Super Smalls

   I believe I found this shop through an Instagram add but it didn't disappoint and I know a certain niece who I think will be very happy with her beautiful awesome costume jewelry.

Feed My Starving Children Marketplace

   We used to go here with church a few times a year and they also have a small marketplace with items from independent makers from other countries.  The proceeds support these makers and provide meals for their program and are beautiful and unique.  So it's a win win win.

I hope you all are able to find joy in this strange hard season.  I know just writing this and remembering the wonderful Christmases of my childhood has helped re-center me on what matters most in this season.  Do what feels good right now and hang in there.  2021 is just around the corner.

Monday, September 14, 2020

If We Hold On Together

 Somehow it's September.  I never thought it would come.  It has come, but it's strange and new and while I'm thankful for it, it doesn't feel quite right.

If I had my perfect way we'd ride this out in a yurt up north or out west.  We'd haul provisions for weeks at a time down dirt roads and hunker down.  I'd teach the kids with the giant stacks of paper backs I've aquired over the years and pencils and paper and tiny sharpeners that fit in our hands. We'd pass the time playing board and card games while I make endless fires and knit and knit and knit.

But we can't do that.  Ian needs internet for his job that pays for everything.  I'm not confident enough in myself to actually dive into the unschool homeschool that I crave deep in my bones.  So we're here. Our kids are in person at the small private school up the road that I love more than I care to admit and I'm teaching 4 year olds wondering what kindergarten will look like next fall.

Life has never been as uncertain as it has been these past 6 months.  There are no definites.  I don't know when this will be over or how things will look when it is.  Our new normal seems to change every few weeks and adapting is exhausting. 

I am not by nature a flexible person.  I crave reliability.  In this new world there is none of that and I've developed a small case of PTSD from opening shocking emails.  School cancelled, school gone to remote learning, pastor leaving at church, new pastor, new pastor leaving for chemical depency relapse, old pastor coming back (!!!), new beloved teacher leaving two weeks into school for unknown family and medical reasons...these are BIG things. Things that almost never happened BEFORE.  

Because there is a before.  A time before all of this that remains so clear and untainted in my mind. I almost can't remember what that felt like.  Now everything has changed and it will remain changed always.

I continue to hope fervently that these changes are mostly for the good.  We as adults are SO reliant on childcare and school.  Why? Why is it so disarming that a child might miss a few months of school? Why are we so anal about it all?

If anything through all of this I try to learn the lesson that the big things are all that matters.  Our health, our lives, our love for each other.  

It is excruciating to not hug my preschoolers, my friends, shake hands with new families at school, smile and know that no one can see it under my mask.

BUT! I have my family and we are holding on.

I pray that you are holding on too.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

A Strange New Summer

Somehow it's already July.  We've so settled into this new normal of being at home that the days continue to melt into each other.  Every morning at breakfast Felix asks what days it is.  Every day Louise tries to remember.  Is it a weekend? Weekday?  Ian heading down to the basement at 6:30 for work is our only true indication.  Otherwise it's all the same.

I'm off and on still oddly thankful for this intense togetherness.  If I'm being honest running kids back and forth to activities and keeping schedules is not my favorite.  Sometimes that life feels like it's just passing the time.  Now I am acutely aware of time, learning every day how to fill it well, how to teach my children to fill it well.  It's such a challenge, but one I'm loving off and on.

We made it home from our 5th cabin trip of the season last week.  This one was just two days and nights to celebrate a cousins birthday.  I somehow felt brave and brought the dog along, then another cousin joined for the 4 hour ride up so it was me and 5 others in our van. 

I never plan for car entertainment well.  After driving for so many years from Chicago and back (Montana and back, Florida and back) this jaunt up north feels so quick to me.  Still, I went through every CD I had in the car finding songs to sing along to with the kids, quelling tiny arguments over the one ipad shareage.  We made it.

This past week since getting home has been one of the quietest we'd had. My across the street sister and family stayed up north longer so it was just us here to celebrate Ian turning 36 (finally catching up to me) and the 4th.  It felt wonderful to celebrate Ian at home, us 5.  I'd bought a kringle at Trader Joes for breakfast and planned on ordering Indian food for dinner.  We greeted him with presents first thing in the morning, over coffee, his favorite. On the 4th we had Ian's immediate family over in the backyard, kids playing in the mini pool with water balloons, adults sipping sparkling waters on the lawn.  We grilled for lunch and everyone brought sides.  Strawberry cream pie for dessert, a handful of raspberries from the garden thrown in because I'm putting raspberries in everything this year.  Sparklers on the driveway rounded out the day.

I honestly didn't' feel like celebrating our country.  I didn't last year either.  I don't feel very proud to be an American right now.  I am surrounded by so many wonderful good people who are working for change and speaking out.  I am by nature a rule follower and a peacemaker (to a great fault).  Still trying to find my voice and my role in all of this.  I'm so lucky to have the space and time to figure that out.

My time this past week has mostly been spent finally weeding and remulching some of our gardens.  I don't know what lit that fire in me to finally do it, but it happened and I've spent three nearly full days on that giant task.  It feels so good to get that well underway.

Yesterday I crashed after spending those days out in the heat working.  The weather apps promised rain that never came.  We played games and watched a movie and I did lots of laundry and made shrimp scampi for dinner. 

Today I want to get the kids out but it's so hot.  Again.  I think I'll take them to the farmers market.  I have to brave the mall for some returns.  I wish I could bring the girls just to get out.  I wish we could go to the pool. I wish they'd had their summer camps with friends.  I wish I was preparing for VBS right now.  It would have been Ainsley's last year.  I'm sad for that for her.  Another end of another era. 

We continue to move forward in this strange new life.  We continue to grieve all of the losses while trying to remain grateful for what we still have.  Somedays we relish in the togetherness and the abundance of time.  Others we grieve and worry about what the future looks like.

When this all first started it felt impossible that it would last this long, but here we are, wondering about school in the fall, worrying anew about juggling jobs and children when the time comes.  Thankful right now for these long summer days where the biggest decision is beach or backyard.  Still in this with you friends.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Together, Apart

Is anyone else's soul crying right now? I say soul because my eyes have not shed one tear since this all began. NOT ONE TEAR. Which is so strange for me.  But my soul? It heaves up into my throat until I feel like I can't breathe.  I worry that the virus has taken hold of me somehow in it's quiet stealth.  I hold my breath for 10 seconds like that one article that I read told me to do to reassure me that my lungs are fine and I breathe out as slow and controlled as I can.

I feel like I am in a totally unique place.  This is in part because I am a 4 on the enneagram scale and I always feel like whatever I am feeling or experiencing is completely unique to just me and there is no way that anyone else could understand.  But also because, yeah, THIS IS A UNIQUE PLACE.

On one hand I am super comfortable at home, disturbingly so.  In some weird way it's like the world has shifted to what I always wanted it to be.  My family, at home, SUPER simplified and intense.  No schedules or running around or intense extroverted requirements.  This is kind of my dream.

But of course it's not my dream because we're in a global pandemic and no one knows shit about how this is all going to play out and to speculate and conjecture is just driving us all mad. NO ONE KNOWS.

Week 1 I did a cute little art project with the kids.  I pulled out my good watercolors and paper and they filled their pages with sloppy rainbow goo and I meticulously copied some hand-lettering I found on pinterest of the phrase "We're all in this Together."  We've heard the phrase thrown around, we've seen the ridiculously catchy and coordinated rendition in High School Musical.  The truth is; we are and we aren't.

A few weeks back (who can count?) our pastor was preaching from an empty church, live streaming on a Sunday at 10.  I'm paraphrasing in an embarrassingly simplified way, but what he said was "we're used to going through hard things together, and here we are, alone, but together."  The truth is that technology is a sorry replacement for classrooms and churches, nights out with friends and meetings. More importantly, hugs from loved ones and hands on weary scared knees.  For those of us with introverted tendencies it's that much harder to log on.  It takes so much out of us that after a morning of zoom meetings for my kids with teachers for various subjects I can't bring myself to go to the moms group meet up that I probably need more than anything.

THIS IS THE WORST.  But it isn't. I'm not dead.  No one in my family or close circle is sick.  Ian is actually working MORE from home than ever, and I'm getting relief pay from my tiny teaching job.  We are truly in the best place that we could be in right now and it's still the hardest things we've ever done.

Now comes the reason that I don't hit publish anymore, don't post almost anything.  What's my point? What's the thesis here? (Because you know the English major in me needs one and cringes every time I use a preposition to start a sentence...I'm sorry, it just FEELS RIGHT.)

I don't have one.  Other than to vent, and flex my writing muscle, and freeze this bizarre moment in time for future Becky.  I don't have words of wisdom or a way to fix any of this.  But, I'm learning each day to appreciate where my feet are.  To be here in these moments and hours and days and weeks.  We'll never get them again and they are hard and crazy and incredibly precious.  Some days I'm in my pjs until 2, just trying to survive, others I'm chopping wood and planning my vegetable garden and dreaming of fresh lumber for long anticipate projects. 

We ARE all in this together. In our own ways.  In our own places.  Together, apart.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Somewhere Else

Sometimes I wake up and imagine I am somewhere else.

In Florida next to my mom and dad on the screened in porch watching the sun rise.  The humidity seeping into my skin and warming me up in a way I haven't felt since September.  Today I'll run on the beach, then take a cold shower.  I'll sip iced tea by the pool and delve into a book.  My children splash and dig the day away.  I delight in their happiness.  The hours will pass as the sun crosses the sky.  Palm to palm.  Dusk will greet us with oranges and pinks and a sweaty spritzer in my hand, a Seabreeze if I play my cards right.  The day will be easy and long and so good.

In Europe on a trip with college friends.  The sound of a loud foreign voice will wake us in the tiny beds we crashed in.  Open windows to a bustling ancient city street.  Market already buzzing.  Decadent espresso pouring.  I never wear the right shoes for all the cobblestone walking but I make do, my aching feet a distant whine among the adventures.  This morning I forgot to read those last pages that are due so we cram over pastries in a street side cafe, run across town to the school room, giggling and observing.  Class is the most fascinating ever.  It always is because we are here.  Somewhere electric and new.  Tomorrow we leave for a new city.  Tonight is our night to eat with the professor.  He orders jugs of wine for the table in the native tongue and I salivate over dishes whose contents I don't know but whose smells tickle my palate in ways I've never known.  Each bite is the best I've ever had.  We walk the winding streets back to our hostel looking up at the same sky that cloaks our childhood homes oceans away.

In Montana on the top of a mountain.  Or, we start below looking up a the peaks as the sun sneaks around the top.  I'm up early here so I make a fire.  A big crackling booming fire that lasts until it's time to suit up.  Layers of wool and soft fleece so snug that stepping out into the arctic air feels fine and invigorating.  That first lift up is always the most thrilling.  How do I forget how swift and high it goes?  I feel brave and strong and in awe each time.  I love the gentler slopes.  The ones where I don't have to work too hard.  I love watching my children weave in front of me, the mama bear bringing up the rear making sure my chicks are in line.  No food tastes as good as the bowl of chili for lunch or the cold beer in the hot tub with a stinging face at the end of a long skiing day.  No bed feels as good as the plush mountain bed.  No sleep as deep.

In Oak Park.  In our first house we wake up altogether.  The coffee pot broke months ago and us, living off of a grad school stipend, parents refuse to buy a new one when a pour over will do.  We divide and conquer our day.  Our little city is alive in the mornings.  I decide to walk everywhere today because I can.  We jog the mile and half to preschool drop off, stopping at a park, the library, the conservatory, and the bakery on the way home. We run into everyone along the way.  Hellos and plans made and moods ever lifting.  After preschool pick up and lunch I drink in my children.  Their chubby cheeks and their squeaky voices, their bodies that fit just so on my hip, in my neck, under my chin on my lap.  I make dinner with all three underfoot.  Tonight it's a stew I cleverly prepped this morning.  I love when I do that.  We make fresh biscuits and dip and chew and sip.  Life is so simple and full and together.  Evenings are my favorites.  The finish line is near.  We family dance party the night away, or until bedtime.  We read our three books, kiss our three babies, kiss each other, and crash.

In the cabin in the Northwoods. We went to bed by the loon call and wake up to the lapping on the shore.  Morning work in the sun, cleaning windows and picking up sticks for the fire flows into kayak rides and berry picking.  We can't hold the kids off any longer so we pull out the beach chairs, lather up and let them jump in the clear water.  We take turns being the wingman on the boat.  Laughing as the children tip off the flying tubes and scream in delight.  Lose our voices shouting with excitement when a new one gets up on skis for the first time.  Before dinner we pile on the pontoon for a slow cruise along the bays.  We brings oodles of snacks and sparkly drinks. Dinner is an event.  There's no better smell than a grill in summer.  Twenty people around a table scooping and passing.  Dogs drooling outside hoping for a snitch.  We always have dessert.  Special treats hidden in the highest cabinets that we always find, or a bonfire and smores made with chocolate candies.  Cousins go to bed together.  Adults stay up to play games and relax.  Time for bed.

Another glorious day ahead.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

A Few of My (January) Favorite Things

Finding a new favorite illustrator and requesting all of their books from the library (Inga Moore is my current obsession, past obsessions include Marla Frazee and Elisa Kleven)

Spring catalogs filled with beautiful sunshiny prints on swimsuits and dresses, circled brightly in red with hopeful child hands.

A thick dusting of new snow to cover the grey and drape the trees in glittery white.

Hot drinks in cold hands.

Soups simmering with rich broth and hearty greens.  The steam reminding our skin of summer.

Fires just because.  And fires to warm toes and hands.  And fires for light and crackle.

Front porches cluttered with sleds and skis and poles.  Quiet school days with tracks in the yard from happy children playing the evenings away.

Small pots filled with hearty low light plants.  Caring for them in remembrance of the greens of summer.

Candles on dining tables and mantles and every little place they can fit.  Eager fingers lighting and basking and blowing them out over and over again.

Mismatched mid season mittens.

New board games, old card games. 

Watching shows under ALL the blankets.

Dreaming of Spring, thankful for right now.