Grief in Two Parts


I love this season.

My Ella, a kindred spirit of mine in all things, including her mutual love of this season, told me recently that one of her friends said, "Why do people even like Fall?  Everything is dying.  It's just dead leaves everywhere.  It signifies death."

Later, when I was alone and I recalled that conversation, I realized that this season has signified death for our family.

~

It was late summer when I found out, to my great joy, that I was expecting another baby.  I whispered the news to Mark and we were cautiously optimistic (cautious, because our last two pregnancies have ended in miscarriage.  Optimistic, because what were the chances of that happening AGAIN?  We have been content in this place, surrendered to the idea that I would likely not get pregnant again.  So unexpected news felt like a great gift.)  We decided to keep the news to ourselves for awhile (and not even tell the kids) because we wanted so much to protect their hearts.  Some of the most heart-wrenching moments in my life are those that followed the telling to our children of our first loss: that the little baby brother or sister they were so eagerly anticipating had died within me.

And so we waited, and God gave us the strength to hope and He quieted my fears and I was really sick and we were counting down the days to the first ultrasound after which we would then get to reveal this amazing news to our kids.

The day for the ultrasound arrived, the appointment time came and I eagerly put on the gown and settled in to hear and see our baby.  Except as the technician moved her wand over my tummy, the room was silent; the screen was still.  My mind rushed to explain this: Maybe she just doesn't have the right angle yet.  Maybe she still needs to zoom in.

I looked at Mark in the dim room with questions in my eyes-- he'll know if we should be worried right now-- and he was focused, searching himself.

Still I hoped.  Until the truth was spoken aloud, I hoped.  And then I was crushed.  I can't even think of that day without the tears falling.  I was so stunned.  I had so hoped.  Why, when we were so content, would God offer this sweet gift to us, allow us the joy of hoping and dreaming about this little life to join our family, and then retrieve that gift?  For the third time?

We walked quietly out of the room, down the hall, through the office where minutes before I had  filled out paperwork and cheerfully anticipated good news, opened the main door and stepped outside. We hesitated then, just outside the door.  I sucked in air and said something to the effect of, "I can't believe we are here in this place again."  And then we walked the rest of the way to our vehicle.  It was only within the quiet of that space that I felt the freedom to cry.

Mark drove to his work to wrap things up for the day and come home with me early, and I had about half-hour in the car by myself.  I remembered then Ellie Holcomb talking about the story behind her song Find You Here.  She said that when her dad found out he had cancer, her parents invited all their friends and family over for a night of worship.  Right there in the thick of the dark news.  And that it was a beautiful night of proclaiming Jesus in the midst of the hurt.

It's not the news that any of us hoped that we would hear
It's not the road we would have chosen, no
The only thing that we can see is darkness up ahead
But You're asking us to lay our worry down and sing a song instead

You say that I should come to You with everything I need
You're asking me to thank You even when the pain is deep
You promise that You'll come and meet us on the road ahead
And no matter what the fear says, You give me a reason to be glad
Find You Here, Ellie Holcomb (first two verses)

So as I sat in our vehicle and waited for Mark to join me, I sang.  I sang and sobbed right there when my pain was raw.  I certainly didn't feel like singing, but I forced myself to.  That song, and Praise the Lord (the Imperials).

And then we drove home to tell our kids the news I never wanted to have to tell them again.


I never meant to stop blogging.  I've always been fond of this quiet little space here.  Over the years it's become a file cabinet for me-- a place to store favorite recipes, memories, photos, ideas, school plans, book lists, struggles and joys.  Like my own little bullet journal, but less listy and more chatty. 

And then our camera broke, so I had no access to photos except for the ones on my phone, which aren't great photos.

Readers kept reading but stopped commenting, and while that shouldn't matter and I wish it didn't, it does. 

And life is busy, and time is short.

So I eventually stopped.

I joined Instagram, (yes, seven whole years late to the party) thinking maybe I'll do that instead, (and upon getting there my first thought was, "Oh.  So THIS is where everyone went."  I really was dumbfounded; I hadn't known it was such a thing.  I understand the draw of it- short, snippets of life caught in photos.  But honestly it's not my favorite format.  I like words over photos.  I prefer a blog post to an Instagram post.

Anyway.  This isn't a post to officially announce that I've stopped blogging. 

And it isn't a post to say that I'm officially back to writing here in this space.

But suddenly I have three topics percolating in my mind and I may just write them.  I don't know if anyone will read or comment, but I want to put those words somewhere so it may as well be here, adding it to these files.

Discussing Charlottesville

Imagine with me, if you will, a woman with rich brown skin and tight black curls, aged and graying, narrating the story of her people to you. We'll lean in to hear her recollections of the time after the war: 
Union soldiers occupied southern towns to keep the peace but didn't do much to protect black people from new groups of mean white, like the Ku Klux Klan, who threatened us all year long. To stop black folks from voting, Klansmen marched in front of their homes wearing white sheets over their heads, shooting out the windows and burning homes to the ground, or worse, dragging black folks out of their homes to lynch them.  The law didn't do a thing to stop it.  Shoot, some of the men wearing the sheets were lawmen. It was their way of "keeping us in our place", wherever that was supposed to be.  They couldn't stand to see us trying to be equal to whites.  They were convinced that they were somehow superior to black people.  My grandmother used to call it "the Sickness."  Whatever it was, it was just plain mean, honey.  Lord knows how those folks could fix it in their minds to do the things they did to us back then.  It's a miracle we made it through.
-from Kadir Nelson's Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans

~
Mark, holding our Adelia for the very first time


Charlottesville. 
White Supremacy.
KKK.
Racism.

These were the topics of our dinnertime conversation last night.  It's a difficult and emotional
thing to look across the table at my brown-skinned children and have these conversations.

We spoke of the evil that is prevalent and active, of "the Sickness"- as Kadir Nelson's book puts it.  We talked about the history of the black people, of Martin Luther King, Jr. and peaceful protests. 
We talked about cycles of poverty. 
Of fear. 
We spoke of how God is the ultimate Victor, not Satan nor evil or darkness, not in the end. 
We spoke of how it might feel for a black person in the wake of this evil and others: One of our kids: "They must think, 'Will this ever change?  Will this ever get any better?  When will this be done?'"  We spoke of skin color and the beauty of it. 
We tried to answer their questions: "Why would a white person kill a white person if their hatred is toward black people?"  "Is it only white people who are racist?
We spoke of how much we oppose this.  Vehemently.  That it angers and saddens us.  We shed tears.  We spoke of standing for what is right in the midst of people who won't.
We spoke of the courage and the strength of black men and women who have borne the weight of this for years and are still bearing it.  And of the self-control so many possess in the face of hatred and violence.

And we prayed together.

Lord, help us to know what else we can do.


Two Books You Might Like to Read this Summer


I distinctly remember being a girl fresh out of school for the summer and being able to spend my time any way I wanted.  What I wanted was to curl up the on the couch with a good book to read.  I loved the luxury of being able to read to my heart's content. 

I still do. 

I don't get hour upon hour of reading time anymore, but libraries and bookstores are some of my favorite places, I have stacks of books everywhere in my home and always by my bed, and I'm usually in the middle of at least one book.  I  also love to pass along good book recommendations.  So, here are two for your summer reading pleasure:

First up: Wolf Hollow, by Lauren Wolk. 

I spotted this book on a library display last week while I was there with my kids, perused it briefly-- which means reading the back, the inside flap, and at least the first few sentences.  (Sometimes I'll also flip halfway through the book and read a few lines, to see if it catches my interest.)  It did.  I brought it home and finished it in a matter of hours.  I could not put it down.  Then I immediately wondered how I hadn't read this yet?  (Am I the very last person to hear about this book?!?) 

I loved this story, and the characters within it.  This is considered a middle-grade reader, so it's an easy read, but the content is rich and the writing truly beautiful.

Our narrator is an almost-twelve-year-old girl named Annabelle, and you will love her.  She is courageous, kind and compassionate.  I don't want to give anything away, so I will say only this:
Do not miss this story.

I am scrapping all other read-aloud plans for the immediate future and reading this, all over again, to Mark and the three older kids.  (My two youngest (8 & 9) will not be joining us for this one, due to a mean classmate who is frighteningly cruel and I just think their hearts are still too tender for that.)

~

Secondly: The Secrets of Wishtide, by Kate Saunders.  This is told first-person by an older widowed woman named Laetitia Rodd, "Letty".  Letty's brother Fred is a criminal lawyer, and turns to Letty for her help in solving his case.  Letty is such a likeable character, and I really enjoyed this story, and think you will, too.


Are there any books you've read recently that you'd like to recommend?  Do tell. 


Life (around our home and garden)

Hello, dear friends. I hope you are all well.  (Today it seems I have time to put up a blog post!)

We finished school over a month ago.  I say "finished" which really means I was all done, so I ended with the little girls and supplied the older three with a list of what I wanted them to complete for the year (mostly math lessons).  Last time I checked, one of them had finished their list and the other two are nearly there....  and I'm okay with that. 

I have yet to do our end-of-the-year evaluations or testing, so I need to do those sometime soon.... but for NOW I am enjoying rest and summer and gardening.  And the older kids are enjoying sleeping in.  Our teens (Ella and Isaac) really love to stay up late, talking to us and snacking and then head to bed and reading for another hour or two, and then sleeping in until afternoon.  It's summer so I am happy for them but am wondering how they'll transition back to real life in the fall.

Ella finished Driver's Ed in June, so she's happily driving us all around town with her permit, when she's not babysitting, which she loves to do.

Here is what else has been going on around the home front.  We planted our garden late May.  Here's a photo right after planting:


(I'll try to get an updated picture because it does NOT look like this now at all.)
 
Each of the kids chose a crop this year again:
Ella | carrots + romaine 
Isaac | cucumbers + lettuces
Isaias | beans
Adelia | sugar snap peas 
Audra | flowers

They are responsible for caring for their little sections of the garden and as they harvest (and as I use or enjoy their harvest), I will pay them.

In addition to what the kids have going, I added tomatoes.  They have been my favorite to plant for the past couple of years, so this year I went all out and purchased several varieties to see what grows well and what I like best. In addition to my standard choice of Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, I also potted two of each of the following varieties:

Cherokee Purple (Heirloom)
Brandywine
La Roma
San Marzano
Early Girl
Happy tomatoes in the garden.

(For whatever reason, in my (very limited) experience, tomatoes seem to do better in pots than directly planted in the ground, so my garden is full of pots of tomatoes.  I had placed some pots in other areas around our patio and back garden, but the ones in our garden space were doing so much better that I've since moved all of the pots into our garden space.  It's a wee bit crowded in there but I'm hoping they'll all thrive now.)

My first bouquet of peonies this spring.  I love them so much!


I decided this year that I wanted to use our back garden (which in previous years has been planted with corn or pumpkins or squash) as a cutting garden, so I did a bit of research and decided to go with zinnias and dahlias this trial year.  Here's a picture of our back garden space all ready for planting (props to Mark, for throwing up walls to hold the dirt):


I purchased my zinnia seeds from Johnny's Seeds in early April, ordering:
Benary's Giant Lime
Giant Dahlia Flowered Mix
Queen Red Lime
Oklahoma Pink

I started them indoors under a grow light and when they got tall enough, gradually introduced them to the outdoors. Then I moved them for a couple of weeks to these pots until planting into the ground:


And just this week, snapped this picture:



(Those are my dahlias in the foreground.  I have two (Melody Dora and Claudette) that are SO happy and one (Cafe au Lait) that keeps wanting to die on me, which is of course the one I was MOST excited to see bloom!  Gr.) 

My zinnias that are about a foot and a half tall now.  Two have flowers already and many are nearly-there.  However, according to my best resource on this subject, (this website: Floret Flowers, and her beautiful book Cut Flower Garden) it's time for me to pinch those flowers and I'm procrastinating because it's so hard to think of removing those precious flowers!  I am assured that pinching encourages the plants to begin branching low and will ultimately produce longer stems and perhaps more blooms. It's on my list for this week.

The other really exciting news around our little backyard garden and farm is that in the nearly-ten years that we've been keeping chickens, we have always wanted to allow one of our hens to be a mama.  We can't have a rooster in the city so we never have fertilized eggs, but occasionally we will have a hen (usually one of our Buffs) go broody on us and we've wished we could get ahold of some fertilized eggs for her.  Well, this year the opportunity presented itself-- a co-worker of Mark's mentioned that she had eggs and we had a broody Buff-- our sweet old Elizabeth-- and so we jumped at the opportunity.  She had been broody for five days already and then we set twelve eggs beneath her.  We marked them with an "x".  (Note: I cringed at the number Mark brought home because I was a bit terrified that all twelve might hatch and we do NOT need twelve more chickens in our yard (!!!)

It was a bit tricky because Elizabeth was sitting in the favored nesting box, so the other hens kept trying to wrangle their way in to lay, but she patiently shared space with them and kept sitting.  She was such a good mama.  She would get up and come out once a day for about five minutes to stretch, drink a lot of water, and eat a bit, and then she'd be back in to settle on her eggs.  A few eggs were broken in the process, so we would remove those and any (unmarked) eggs our other hens were laying. 

A chick has about a 21-day life cycle, so when it had been about 19 days of her sitting on the eggs, we began watching more closely.  It was at this point that she stopped coming out for food or water at all, and we also closed off the back of the nesting box so that the other hens would stop pestering her.  Then we kept running out and checking on her, offering her water and telling her what a good job she was doing, and listening for little peeps. 

On the 23rd of June we heard peeping and saw one little head.  A bit later we saw two.... then three... and out of the seven eggs Elizabeth was still sitting on, six ended up hatching.  They were adorable, poking their little heads out from her feathers!  Audra (8) pretty much camped outside her nesting box for days.  Elizabeth stayed put in the nesting box for a couple of days until all had hatched (she kept sitting on #7 for a full day but then eventually got up and left it, and sure enough, when we checked, the baby chick had died at some point within the egg).


This was her a few days ago: 



It has been so fun for us to watch her with her chicks.  I keep telling Mark that I doubt any family has had as much joy as we have watching this whole process.  It has been such a delight.  She is such a good mama, those first few days, breaking up their food and setting it before them, clucking to them and nudging them to eat and drink and now teaching them to forage.  It's my favorite thing to watch how she'll call them her side and they will duck underneath her feathers for safety or at nighttime.  And also I love this stage (above) of them climbing all over her.  

One more thing before I end this ever-long blog post: Mark and I were able to get away recently (to the ocean, of course; my happy place) to celebrate our 20th anniversary!  I am so thankful for this man.  He remains my best friend and I love doing life with him.  It is a good thing, marriage, and I am so thankful to God for blessing us with the gift of one another and the grace to live out each day of these past twenty years. 


~

Love to you and yours!  I'd love to hear from you if you're able to say hi in the comments.  :)

Questions Over Dinner

Over dinner tonight, Isaac (13), asked us all, "If you could choose your favorite thing to eat for each meal of the day, what would you choose?"  So, in between bites of pizza (one of his favorites), each of us answered his question.

Ella mentioned that we should get out the jar of road-trip questions.  (Before we took our family road trip, I typed out several questions, cut them into strips, folded them up and put them in a jar.  A few times during our long days of driving we'd pass around the jar, everyone would pull out a question and we'd all take turns answering it.)  We never made it through all the questions, so the jar has remained on our homeschool shelf since then, and it comes out upon request.

Here are the questions we covered last night:
What do you think is your greatest talent or ability?

If you are stranded on a deserted island, and you could choose one book to have with you, what would it be?  (Also:  movie? cd?)

If you were president, name three things that you would change about our country right away?

How do you think you'll know when you're "grown-up"?

If you won $100, what is the first thing you would buy?

Would you rather be a doctor or a teacher?

If you could ask God one question, what would it be?
They all loved answering these.  The greatest talent or ability one was tough for some of them, but it was sweet to see how the other kids all chimed in to encourage their siblings with what they thought their talents were.  I love my kids so much.  We're having such a grand time during these middle years.  They're my favorite people.

Blessings to you and yours today!

~Stacy

Lent

A black box adorns our table during this season of Lent.  On the side of the box is this verse from Isaiah:  
He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities. 
On the top of the the box is a small opening labeled "sins", and next to it, some slips of paper, pens and pencils for the ease of writing down our sins. 


We are just trying to be mindful during this season of Lent; mindful of the so-many times throughout each day that we sin.  (And then when Easter Sunday comes, we will take the box that is full of our scribbled confessions and burn it, celebrating that God took each and every one of those sins to the cross!)

I was late this year getting this set up and onto the table; our family was hit with influenza and we've been really sick for the past two weeks.  But no matter.  Late is better than not at all. 

One of my younger girls wanted to write something but didn't want to write it all out, and was worried about spelling everything correctly, so I reminded her that God knows her heart and exactly what she's thinking, and that it didn't matter at all if she had it all written out.  I encouraged her to write her name or initial on the piece of paper as she thought about her sin, and she could trust that God knew what was meant to go onto the slip of paper.  She was satisfied with that. 

~