At times, I close my eyes to Grace.
At times, I know I stand in the center of life.
I love the Heart who captured me and captivates me. I love being a mother. I love these girls that I pretend are mine but who will one day follow larger paths. I love the surprise of laughter leaping from me when they do what they do. I love storytime at night, all pressed together on the couch. I love this home, with its worn floors and its ghosts and spaces and stories. I love living circled by familiar hills and woods. I love Millie's heart, Annika's spark, Susannah's spunk, Piper's certainty, and Luci's light. I love the birds whose songs force my pause. I love their shapes that dart beyond, even when I lack eyesight or knowledge to identify them. I love the seasons, the assurance that life begins again and, in fact, has never left. I love the white shard of moon that slants into the room while everyone else is sleeping. I love strands of song to tie a day. I love the straight-arrowness of children. I love learning new things with the girls while I "teach." I love too many grins packed together. I love not knowing what comes next. I love John's company.
I like the wrinkles by my eyes but not those on my forehead. I like the sheen of a rooster's tail. I like the quiet parts that will one day wake again and try to fill gaps the girls leave behind. I like leaning over the supper pot and breathing deeply, my head wreathed in steam. I like the floor honeyed with sunshine. I like Piper's belly balanced on little legs. I like the twist of her lips and the cock of her head when she leans close to ask a question. I like rare mornings when sleep has been enough. I like a day looming bright with possibility. I like thumps overhead and knowing who's awakened. I like fresh beginnings. I like it when John sends me Pickles comics in the mail to let me know who we are. I like it when he brings fresh flowers home for no reason at all. I like holding hands.
I don't want to be the old woman filled with regret. I don't want my thoughts then to be of all I squandered. I don't want a dirty floor and constant laundry to fill my days. I don't want an ugly voice raised in frustration. I don't want to be bad-tempered. I don't want to chug through what I sometimes think is Educating while neglecting what sparks the soul. I don't want to scurry past the good and beautiful and worthy.
I don't want to be a selfish, crabby woman.
I want to live with wide eyes. I want to live the knowledge that life is holy.
I want to be Grace to my family. I want to remember that I love and like lots of things.
Because I've lived both what I do and do not like lately, I write a ramble to leave the don't likes behind.
At times, I close my eyes to Grace.
The girls spend part of every day in costume, though it's not always evident on shotsnaps. Piper rediscovered this costume a few weeks ago and spent not just part of a day, but two days straight in it. I'm not ashamed that I even let her sleep in it (lazy!). After finding a window, however, on which someduck had liberated several ounces of marker juice, I went hunting. I tracked her to the kitchen, where I found her covered in marker but looking innocent, and promptly stripped her before tossing the plumage in the wash.
Since then, the duck has been hibernating in the costume chest.
I almost miss her.
p.s. Piper just meandered over and after noticing these pictures, said, "Me ducky costume in the 'puter!" Then she immediately dug out the costume and put it on. The Duck abides.
Only after loading these pictures of squeaky clean Luci in the sunshine did I remember a picture Annika drew for me months ago.
At the time, I thought it was odd, and it made me laugh as I hung it on the fridge. Now I see, however, that in her innocence she wielded a prophetic pen.
I can't be clever. I just need to finish posting this batch.
Millie wanted to make Annika a gift for her birthday. Actually, Millie wants to make everyone something for every occasion, but I usually don't rise to the occasion (read: I fail. Almost every time.). A couple of days before Annie's birthday, she'd decided upon a matching scarf and mitten set, which I thought was feasible, considering she'd be able to do most of it herself. When we asked my mom if she had any spare fleece kicking around, she brought us a remnant of psychedelic skull & crossbones fleece that she'd bought on clearance. The skulls weren't visible when she bought it, and when she discovered them, she didn't know what to do with it.
Enter Mildred Elise. With only a bit of guidance, she made matching pirate capes and belts for Annie and Mr. Elephant, and then topped it all off with a brilliant plan for Beards.
'Cause capitol-B-Beards make everything better.
She was insufferably cute when she stayed up late to make them. (On the sewing machine, like an adult!) She put on airs and unconsciously talked differently, with what I assume is a Grown-up accent. It was great.
She scolded Smoky.
Smoky played the Sphinx and ignored her.
I was so empowered by actually doing something I should do all the time that when Susie wanted to make Annika some handkerchiefs the night before the birthday, I let her. (You know, handkerchiefs. To blow one's nose on. To stick in one's purse and take to church on Sunday. Something all pirates secretly desire but are too ashamed to request.)
She used the sewing machine for the first time, which alternately delighted and terrified her. Whenever her fingers moved uncomfortably near the needle, she'd drop her hands to her sides and let the stitching veer all over. Needless to say, she needed me nearby, even with my waning resolve and increasing inner crabbiness.
Millie had to oversee everything, as well, even the hand-stitching. Having a Grown-up for a daughter sure is handy.
Bless this Bird.
I love her!
And Annika seized the opportunity in the midst of all the making mess to finish the cat she started for Susannah's birthday. So fancy! It doesn't look much like a Watchcat, but Susie sleeps with it each night, regardless.
It's said she fancies a skull and crossbones cape--
one affixed with plundered gold doubloons, no less.
"All of my new clothes" from toes to top... The ensemble included brand new boots from McGamma (HOW did you know that just last week, with sorrow, we trashed hers that had been held together with duct tape since last summer?!); a red skirt, green jacket, and green scarf made by Grandma J.; and pirate capes, belts, and beards from Miss M. Elise.
She looks so goofy here,
and so jolly here,
that's it's easy to forget just how ruthless she is.
There are imposters, to be sure,
but no one comes close to matching the original.
The sweet look belies a hidden ferocity.
Nixie is such a joy. The girl who just last week came racing from the other room to delightedly read aloud a romantic interchange between Isaac and Rebecca in the children's Bible, the girl who loves to coddle her little sister and to play with dolls, is the same wild madcap who remains fixated on swordplay, elephants, pirates, and monsters.
Because I've been crippled by ennui lately, I gently derailed her original cake ideas of another pirate ship or a rain forest jungle with monkeys swinging through the trees (and pirates, and elephants, though if they were swinging through the trees, also, or just waltzing along the ground, I never inquired). I
begged that she asked if she would prefer a monster cake modeled on one of her monster drawings, and she took the bait.
She gave me the drawing on the left, and then when I was about to start the cake, I asked if I could just do a monster head (but a BIG monster head) instead, so she copied the head onto a separate sheet for me. And then she kindly taped them together.
Apart from tinting the triple batch of buttercream all manner of poisonous shades, it was a breeze. I'll have to remember this idea next year. And if Susannah will only start liking monsters instead of castles, I'll be set.
Annika Skywalker and B. Boyd E. exchanged insults over the phone while the candles burned.
Then, if he hadn't hung up by that point, we deafened him with the birthday song (candles still barely burning).
Enter the pirate! Last summer, McGamma gave us a pinata to hide away, and the week of the birthday Mopsy gave us several bags of clearance candy to stuff inside it. When I showed him to Annika that morning, she was speechless. She just couldn't believe that "the first pinata she'd ever seen" was HERS and that it was a PIRATE.
His plastic hanger broke after a few hearty swings, and so we looped the rope around his neck, at which point everyone began to chant, "Hang the pirate! Hang! Hang! Hang!" which sounds less comical and more bloodthirsty than it was in reality.
Every last cousin took a turn wildly swinging, even the boys, and my biggest brother, Uncle Andster, helped finish him off.
For Annika's birthday, we invited a bunch of girl cousins to spend the night. Added to our own brood, the total number of girls in the house was an even dozen, leaving John high and dry with John Wayne.
There was much layering of fancy poofs.
One forest Wren.
A wee gnome with her keeper. (Yup, Jacy. You're the Keeper of the Gnome.)
And two Little Misses Muffet. I couldn't resist these two and asked if they'd sit still for one second. They lasted about three seconds before giggles overcame them. Oh, Twinnies...
What is Miss Sobersides doing?
The obvious answer is that she's sitting for the great portrait artist Cassandra.
The artist's apprentice tried her hand, as well.
This particular apprentice comes from a local family of great renown and greater wealth. (Look at the bling!)
The finished portraits hang in the most prestigious museum we've got around these parts.
The Final Work of Apprentice:
Focus all wonky. Check!
The Mailman vs. John Wayne.
The mailman wins.
I suppose the mailman could sue me for libel, because we don't know that he's the one who hit good ol' J.W., but his loud muffler has a unique timbre, and I'm half-certain it's the same sound I heard before the yelping began. (Half-certain? Is that even possible?)
Both the radius and ulna on his front leg were clearly broken, and since the broken portion formed a right angle with the rest of his leg, I knew it was beyond a simple "let's just let the bone set as it is" remedy.
He whimpered in a snowbank and couldn't walk, so I carried him into the basement and made him as comfortable as I could before going upstairs to soothe the weeping girls. I guess I didn't completely succeed, because I also wanted to be honest with them. I told them we might have to release him from the pain (i.e. KILL him) if we couldn't afford a vet's price for fixing the leg.
After calling around to several local animal hospitals and veterinarians, the cheapest quote I was given was $400 - $600, which would have increased once they realized that he hasn't had a full battery of shots. The girls and I had prayed that God would graciously provide someone who could properly tend to him, and in desperation I asked one of the receptionists if she knew of anyone who could set his leg for a cheaper price. She gave me the name of a vet, whom I immediately called. Get this. He had office hours that night (one of only two days a week he'll see patients in the evening), and she gave me a quote of $45.00, assuming he could set the leg without needing sophisticated equipment he does not have in his practice. Forty-five dollars! Sure, we could use that money to buy 80 chocolate bars, but still!
The final tally was $75.00; the receptionist was apologetic (!) that the quote was $30 less, but we were sent home with 10 days worth of antibiotics, too, as well as a pup who hopefully has learned how fearsome mailmen are.
The day after the showdown, John Wayne was still cowed and shell-shocked. His tail seemed permanently curled between his legs, and when he found himself stuck on top of a snowbank, he sat and looked at me mournfully while I called. I ended up carrying him around for two days before he found his legs again.
And now he's once more a pesky pest and my companion for chores of all kinds.
(Only three and a half more weeks of cleaning up his fetid messes, bagging and taping his cast each morning, cutting the tape off at nights, blow-drying the damp cast to avoid infection, and generally wondering how, in spite of all these, he's so darn loveable...)
Despite their lackluster appearance, these pictures are special.
In the line of my life, they're a joining point between the past and future. I suppose that simply living each day serves the same, but I'm usually too deep in details to notice.
I borrowed my dad's bit and brace, and the girls watched pulp fall to the ground with a mixture of fascination and envy. I smiled and watched them from the corners of sight, because I well remember the yearning. My dad used the same drill when he was a teenager, so the line of memory stretches yet further back. Use and years have polished the wood handle smooth, and I found it just as satisfying as I'd imagined.
(picture by Annika)
I did let the girls push in the spiles, which Mildred especially enjoyed.
One of the great pleasures is the first taste of sap as it drips off the spile onto the tongue. A metallic tang mingles with the cold sweetness of sap, and it's all mixed up with the fresh smell of the tree's heart.
I drilled 20 taps in 13 trees, and for the next week, our porch looked like this. I'd boil down 20 gallons and gather 20 more in the same day, only to begin again the next morning. For the last week and a half, I've only gathered sap once because the winter weather, but I don't mind.
It gave me a chance to catch up. (Edit: But now I'm behind again. I'm almost hoping the sap will run yellow soon so I can quell all the to-dos that gnaw on my heels.)
Genuine Sugar-Bushers with genuine equipment (you know who you are, nuevoshombres) can skip this next picture, if you haven't already left in disgust because of the plastic milk jugs hanging from some of the trees.
See our fancy holding tank? Note the specialized five-gallon detergent buckets, thoroughly sanitized by my thoroughly sanitary father, with handy warnings to prevent small children from drowning in sap.
Most of the trees I tapped grow on the front and back lawns, which is convenient, but I enjoy walking to the half dozen that are in the small woods.
(The previous two pictures taken by Annika.)
So far, I've canned about four gallons of syrup. If I don't drink it all* straight from the jars, it should definitely last the year. Maybe.
*To explain my gluttony, we've only had real maple syrup a few times since my parents stopped tapping trees about 10 years ago. Since then, we've coated breakfast with Lite (High Fructose Corn Syrup) Syrup, otherwise known as Death to the Second Power. I feel much better
drinking serving this to my beloveds instead.