It's been almost three months, and our days are full. Fall's almost over. The leaves lying thick under the maple are slick with cold rain, a wet bog of rust and umber, and Piper rasps by my feet, sleeping through her coughs. My fingers are stiff, unwieldy, and stumble on the keys. Winter-cold weather hasn't even arrived yet, and I find myself looking for spring.
I've been thinking lately about the utter wrongness of death and the utter rightness of joy and about having eyes that are open to truth and hearts that are open to others. The thoughts come unannounced and leave just as suddenly when a needy voice breaks through, but they keep coming, sliding into the moments between moments, filling the space that lies between washing dishes and sweeping the floor and, at night, in the time between awake and asleep. They seem heavy with import, but as I try to write down what I've learned, I find it's all a jumble.
Caught with these thoughts is an awareness glowing at the center. Every Sunday's liturgy finds me communally confessing sin with the local body. As I join my voice to the whole, asking again for Father God to forgive, my thoughts skittishly fly from sin to sin. The many voices, a chorus of sin acted and need realized, become the backdrop for a whizzing picture-show of the many ways I've failed the week-- sometimes mere minutes-- before, and do you know what I see? I see that my most grievous sins are against those I love the most. Against my children, to whom I often show not the Father's face but the dregs of human frailty instead. Against my Heart, who lends me warmth and lifts me up, and to whom I often fail to do the same.
I want my words and actions to always move with what I know in my heart-- that the gift of raising these four young girls at this exact time is special and passes too quickly, that these exact moments will never come again. They are one-shot wonders, and I should soak them up and wrap them inside for the times when I no longer can take new laughter in the morning and little footfalls by our bed in the middle of the night for granted. I want this truth to burn away selfishness and apathy. It is hard to deny self, but there is a rescue from this body of death. When I am ready to speak sharply, to act in hasty anger, without thought for my children or their hearts, may the Father step between me and them and reflect Himself.
Always, there is good. Life itself-- without extra trappings-- is a gift. Yes, there may be sorrow and depression and bleak despair that howls our need for redemption when we don't have the strength to even whisper it, and I don't make light of these. At times, life is threaded through with them, but though they shadow the good, they are powerless to cancel it. Every lot has enough happiness provided for it.
When Piper sleeps, her body relaxes into mine, filling my crooks and hollows with her warmth, and I know good. When the girls break into laughter and are so ridiculous that I laugh, too, I know good. When I exchange unimportant tasks for a momentary entrance into their joys, I know good. When my eyes meet John's, and we smile from across the room, I know good. And I don't deserve a lick of it.
May God open our eyes to sin and grace, may He give us, frail humans all, the strength to be like Him, and may joy blaze and blind on cold, damp days.
The heater's kicking in. (Sorry, but sitting in front of that metal box trumps the pleasure of tidily ending a blog post.) As I was telling my friend a few days ago, if I was a real photographer, I'd save myself a lot of time and energy because I'd post a select few of the pictures I'd taken, the cream of the crop, and you'd all think I knew what I was doing. Lucky for you, this is shotsnaps, and shotsnaps is authored by a compulsive freak who indiscriminately loads all her pictures just because she can. Those of you who have days to waste may happily do so here; you'll just have to keep clicking "Older Posts" when you reach the bottom of the page. You're not done until you see the pictures of Millie's party with our Owen family on Long Island. You hear that?!? You're not done. No matter what other priorities should be occupying you, you're not done.
Here are hundreds of moments that I wrap inside for later.
And now the rain has turned to snow. How 'bout that.
I took these pictures a while back not because they're representative of our school days, because they're not, but because this particular day unfolded with smooth perfection. (Hey, I take those days whenever they come, and gladly.)
The girls happily learned while Susannah quietly danced.
And she was actually engrossed with the blocks for more than 10 minutes, all while Piper slept soundly in a corner. Perfection!
So I tried to do a follow-up to the pictures I posted in June. It was a partial bust and didn't last long. Piper rolls and squirms and hangs off the side of the chair that she didn't even fill four months ago. Oh, and she pees on brown blankets now, too, instead of peacefully sleeping. But it was worth it, because I had to know for sure if this bum had gotten bigger.
It sartainly has.
(Yeah, I know the above snapshot is a little obscene, but I couldn't resist. I would have taken even more if she hadn't kept foiling me by rolling over.)
Her feet actually look a lot smaller due to her increased girth everywhere else.
Her belly's always been the barrel we know and love in our girls, but now the rest of her has joined it. I complimented her on that belly.
She looked down, observed, critiqued.
And easily agreed that, yes, it is a most fine belly.
I wanted to get a picture of her stretched out on the chair she slept on in June, but she didn't fit.
Her head hung off the edge, and right after I took this picture, she pushed herself off. Yes, I caught her. (I was 2 inches away; it was easy.)
So I put her on the ground, and she wiggled like crazy.
It was unplanned, but we started learning about spiders when the girls were eating their lunch on the porch, and I walked out to find Mildred trying to identify a harvestman (Daddy Longlegs) while looking at a picture of a tarantula.
She asked Annie to count its legs to see if it was an insect or a spider.
Seven? They were stumped.
In the following weeks, we found more spiders to study.
This one's an orb weaver.
We observed and learned about common house spiders, cellar spiders, funnel web weavers, black and yellow argiopes, crab spiders, ground spiders, and others. I've never liked spiders before, but I was completely fascinated. Home schooling rocks.
Arnold Lobel knew what he was about. If this portly toad could speak, I'm sure he'd have given us a "Blah!" or two. Millie brought him inside to play for a bit, and when I tried to take a picture, he showed his displeasure by jumping onto the camera.
I squealed in surprise and then took the one below, after which he again heavily landed on my camera. So much for that, Mister Toad.
And then Annie ran inside and asked me to take her picture with a brittle monarch shell. She wouldn't sit still for more than this one picture, but (due to being dead) the monarch was kindly cooperative.
In early October, John's family came to visit. They spent a few days with Great Grandma, and on our way to have dinner together, we drove on PA's coiled roads through some of the most beautiful images of this year. I took one solitary picture through the front window and spent the rest of the time gasping and murmuring about beauty to myself. I'll make a great crazy, old lady someday; I've got the mutterings down pat
In keeping with my sorry past performances, I took very few pictures while they were here.
In the picture below, Susannah discovers for the first time that these rides actually move! Thanks to the quarters in Grandma and Grandpa's willing pockets, she's no longer blissfully unaware.
As if putting real, live quarters in the machines at the mall weren't enough, they took us to Chuck E. Cheese's!!!! The girls were pretty much in heaven for three or four hours. (Yup, we stayed that long, and though the adults were wiped out by the end, I think the girls could have effortlessly chugged along for another hour or two.)
Here, John and Dude face off.
And here, John and I face off. (He completely killed me.)
At home, Dude entertained the littlest.
And, pathetic as it may be, this is my only picture of the much-loved McGamma. We went to the Sciencenter after church, and she's the whitish shape with bangs next to Mille. (Look at me on the left. I wanted to be a clown, in dead seriousness, for most of my teen years, and the infrared picture reveals that I missed my calling.)
Christmas come quickly, and we'll see them again!
While his parents visited, John surprised me by setting up a honeymoon date to celebrate our seven years as husband and wife. After he squashed me in air hockey at Chuck E. Cheese's, we went out all by ourselves to the Art Theater and watched a French film. I really enjoyed it, and when I remember the name of it, I'll include a link. Unbelievably, we had the theater all to ourselves, too.
By the time the film ended, it was too late to eat dinner at most places, so we ordered chicken souvlaki at a nearby diner. Our luck ran out at this point, because although the food was delicious, we had to share the restaurant with a few other customers. I only tell you about our dinner because I only have one picture of this night, and it's of the children's menu. I couldn't stop giggling once I saw it. I felt bad for the turkey-lovin', masculine boy who comes in there and is too ashamed to order his favorite food because he'd have to say, "Um. The Gymnast, please." What were they thinking?
Anyway, I love my Heart. I love watching French films with him in an empty theater. I love eating chicken souvlaki with him in a funny, little diner. And I love that he indulgently grins while I giggle at children's menus.
Seven years. If I could, I'd choose him for seventy times seven more.
One fine morning, we picked sumac berries, an old favorite.
Susannah spurned this clump (it was "bad," said she).
Millie danced around when I asked her to stand still. (However did she attach her leg that way?)
Susannah Piper tried to oblige when I wanted a picture of her. It's really not her fault her head is so large. It's my fault. All mine. (*Later edit: And when you start misnaming your children when you type, your brain is fried.)
I tried again, without the leaves, and managed to fit most of this sweet morsel in the frame.
Upon arriving home, we immediately began to strip fingerfuls of fuzzy berries to make sumacade.
Everyone (even me) pitched in.
Susannah was at first industrious,
until her obsession (yea, verily, her obsession) with bugs overwhelmed her, and she began hallucinating. She was certain that one fuzzy little berry (identical in every way, mind you, to the countless fuzzy, little berries she's eaten before) was a bumblebee.
That pretty much put a stop to her industriousness, a scant minute after it had begun.
Annie reminded us of why we love sumac berries so much. They're like sweetTarts, only fuzzier!
Then the girls mashed them a little bit.
And then we let the berries steep in water, and I strained them out, and we slurped and slurped, saving only one glass for the Papa, who loved it and wished for more.