Category Archives: ponderings on womanhood

2013 – A Year in Pictures

 Start off the New Year with a birthday and a dance party. Enjoy the fact that 2 goes into 4 twice and 24 makes a beautiful number.

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One of the perks of sticking close to home is you get to visit your old favorites.

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The girls had a rainy spring and the garden went through a transformation.

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At first, I was completely against the pond. “It’s too big! Who’s gonna maintain it? My forsythia bush!” Now, though, I’ve grown to like it. I do NOT however agree with the unceremonious way my forsythia was disposed of.

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We sold out of honey for the first time this year – a good thing, in most ways, but I hate having to tell people to wait till the spring. We’re also doing the favors for two weddings. Picture this: cute little glass jars with “One Pound Honey” on them, a simple cream label and a bow of twine.

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My first wedding of the season was on a beautiful island in Maine. We sang “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” and frolicked in the night along the dark streets of a sleepy town.

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I learned that you can have the wedding you want and surround yourself with all different kinds of people at once.

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We drove half-way across the country to celebrate another college friend’s wedding. The groom made their wedding shoes of leather and they danced to swing.

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I even missed a wedding, but I got to go on a hiking bachelorette – that’s the way to do it!

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The wine tasting which brought four friends together on a hot June Sunday. It’s also where a little bet began, but that’s for another day.

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The best summer job ever – teaching English at my Alma Mater.

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We didn’t have any fun at all.

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And then a trip to London, a trip I never thought I’d go on.

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A train-ride away was Oxford, and this is my attempt at a panorama.

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We stumbled upon an exhibit of mystical writings and illuminated manuscripts at Oxford University. We also found a large blue rooster.

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This photo was taken at Kensington Gardens, after a not-so-pleasant run trying to catch a tour through the palace (“I’m sorry, it’s 5:02. The tours are closed.”). I look much happier than my feet were feeling at the moment.

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A week at the Swiss L’Abri and mornings of “Oh my gosh, this is real.” Did you know the Swiss care about bees, too?!

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Fishing trips in the Atlantic are always cold, even in August.

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We didn’t win the photo contest, but the winners were holding a baby. Not fair.

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Cousin Christmas pic.

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The last photo of 2013. A reunion of roomies and I got to hold her little one for the first time.

[This has been a good exercise for me. Too often I let things slip through my fingers, moments of joy and communion, the hard lessons I’ve learned and re-learned.]

[Next week, I’ll be posting my favorite things of 2013. A little late, but I want to make sure it’s a rocking list.]

Proposal of the Century

I blame Disney, but I’m not sure that’s entirely fair.

Somehow, somewhere, I got the idea that romance had to be BIG. Dates had to be special and frequent. The proposal had to be elaborate, perhaps with candles or a sunset thrown in.

“Mama, how did Daddy propose?”

It was an innocent enough question for a five or six-year-old. I remember my mom pausing, furrowing her brow a little.

“Hmmmm. Well, we talked about it at Calitiri’s.”

I did not understand.

“You talked about it? You mean, he didn’t surprise you?”

[Insert helicopter landing with champagne here.]

“No, no surprise. I remember eating dinner and your father and I talked about getting married.”

“But then later he got down on one knee, right? And gave you a ring?”

[Insert the many proposals Anne of Green Gables got and turned down in the snow.]

“No, there was no ring, honey. Well, he did give me a sapphire at Christmas, but that wasn’t really an engagement ring.”

The dinner conversation happened in October and they were married in May.

“At least you got a honeymoon, right? Where did you go?”

“We went to Nova Scotia on a boat from Maine. We stayed in a cabin and it was freezing.”

I remember trying to understand why there wasn’t more. I thrived off stories, but my parents didn’t really give me much to work with. A dinner conversation? No surprise? No down-on-one-knee? Are you kidding me?

Where was the princess treatment?

Where was the extended year-long planning process?

Where was the gift registry? The two-week European honeymoon? The violins?

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I was five and I thought men treated the women they loved like princesses. Look at Belle or Cinderella, for instance. You don’t see them having conversations about things. I thought that maybe my father didn’t quite know how it worked. I thought that love and romance were the same thing, and my parents just didn’t get it.

These days, my friends would probably say that I’m not a romantic. They tend to like things a little more mushy, a little more This Is Supposed To Be Romantic. The thing is, I’ve been thinking lately, maybe my parents had something right.

What’s better than down-on-one-knee with a ring and roses?

Maybe an eyes-to-eyes and mind-to-mind conversation.

Maybe a six-month whirlwind-ish engagement.

Maybe a focus on the marriage instead of the pomp and circumstance leading up to it.

~     ~     ~

I have so many friends getting married now, and each one is doing things differently. Some are “The bigger the better!” and others are more low-key, and that’s okay. I can’t wait to go to weddings, be in weddings, see the love that I’ve watched grow over the past few years. I’m loving the process of choosing colors and flowers and dresses, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Everyone has a different style.

My romantic just looks a little more like a conversation.

[This is not to say that I will never once post a photo of me and the lucky guy, or that I won’t announce our upcoming nuptials on facebook. I may be a luddite, but I know where to draw the line.]

[Photo credit: Sarah. Thanks for going on a cruise!]

Home Movies

My sister is home for Christmas. She only lives about twenty-five minutes away, but there’s something so wonderful about having her right in the same house. Suddenly it’s all six of us again with a great-grandma thrown in, and now that we’re grown-up, vacations and time together seem a lot more important.

Last night, after Grandma went to bed, we sat in the living room and watched home movies. We re-plugged in the VCR (yes, unbelievable, really, that we still have one) and watched tape after tape. It was the strangest sensation, looking at those little faces I used to know so well, and then seeing those same faces grown and changed in the chair across from me. Not only the faces, though. The voices changed, too.

I never recognize my voice, singing or speaking or laughing or anything. I’m not sure why that is. I think in my head, my voice is lower, more grown-up, and it isn’t until someone points out that, yes, indeed, that is your voice, that I realize that high-pitched person speaking is me. On the opposite note, for some reason my sister’s voice used to be low, husky, and we tease her mercilessly about her little-girl voice. It’s not like that at all now. How in the world do these things happen?

[There is possibly no baby or toddler cuter than my littlest brother. I mean, the rest of us were decently cute, but my goodness, this kid was absolutely adorable.]

We watched the Christmas when I was six and my brother opened socks and was silently bummed out. We watched the day Mom and Dad surprised us with a new Viszla puppy and we all blinked awake to its cuteness running all over the room.

My favorite, though, was the video of us at camp. The sun, shining bright and hot on our blonde heads. Fishing off the dock, hoping to catch a bigger pickerel even than last year. Running down the gravel driveway at breakneck speed, our little plastic bikes giving Mom a near heart attack. Luddy, our dog, the tough hunter, scared of the water. Dad taking us out in the canoe and the kids, feeling grown up and big, waving from maybe a quarter mile away. Swimming all day long, doing jump after terrible jump off the dock.

Back when all we needed was the bunch of us and a long day.

We went there every summer for one week in August and it’s easy to forget who we were.

In a lot of ways, we’ve changed – taller, bigger, more experience, more hurt – but we’re not that much different, really. It was constantly loud in those home videos, and it is consistently so to this day. We screeched, we pushed, we danced, we hollered. My parents were amazingly patient, I realize now, watching their nearly-perfect hands-off parenting, because what is accomplished by helicoptering? It amazes me that from two people grew a whole family. How crazy it must feel to look at your best friend and then over at the four children you are blessed enough (or crazy enough) to have.

My hair’s a little darker, I’m (only a little bit) taller, and at least now I KNOW I have a problem with being bossy. Admitting it is the first step.

[A little part of me would go back there in a heartbeat.]

[This photo is from the ocean, our more recent family spot.]

What Do You Want Your Story to Be?

I was addicted to stories. I devoured them, one after the other, bending and folding paperbacks with abandon, dog-earring corners, underlining words that were beautiful, words that were true. Young heroines like Emily of New Moon and Betsy from the Betsy-Tacy books taught me how to be spunky and creative. It wasn’t long before I was weaving plots for hours on a 1995 Gateway computer in my bedroom.

I remember wanting other kinds of stories, too. Sitting at the dinner table long after all the food was eaten, we’d beg my father to tell us stories about his childhood. (My mother’d always shake her head when we asked her, saying she didn’t have any stories. I still find this hard to believe.) Dad’s stories often involved fish, foolish things my dad had tried because he was “curious.” The time when he was three and took the goldfish out of the tank “to look at it” is a classic; I can still picture the poor thing gasping on the living room carpet, the victim of an over-active mind and not quite enough supervision.

My mother’s friend from college told us good stories, too. I remember most the one of her throwing cherry tomatoes over the railing and hitting guests. Oh, and the one with blood-engorged ticks (who could erase that memory?!). And the one when the dog ate rising bread dough and its stomach rose with it, waddling proof that dogs do not know what’s best for them.

I grew up on stories.

The voices brought people alive, my great-great-grandfather and his stern Maine-ness. My grandpa whom I’d known but only awhile, breathed again when we talked about his stories of growing up on a fox farm. As I listened and began to craft stories of my own, I realized that one day, I too would have stories to tell my children.

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What do you want your story to be?

[He asks from the pulpit, and I think, I’ve been thinking about this all along.]

When you write your story, think about how it affects others.

When you write your story, make it one you want to tell.

This is the one sentence that rang through the sanctuary, hanging in the air, making the skin on my arms prickle with its truth.

Even though I’ve discovered the repercussions of writing a life before living it, here I was reminded that sometimes we need to shape the life we’re given. Yes, things happen beyond our control, and yes, sometimes we ache from those uncontrollables. But more often than not, we have choice.

I get to choose what story I’m living, and I get to make it one I want to tell.

~     ~     ~

I will tell about early Christmas mornings, all four of us huddling in one bedroom because we wanted to share it that one day. The lights from the tree bouncing off the mirror in the hallway. About waiting for the cousins to come and longing for the day to never end. They will ask where our traditions come from, and I’ll smile and tell them the story.

I will tell about riding horses in the sun and feeling powerful.

I will tell about discovering Laura Ingalls for the first time, about raising chickens and gardening, the plethora of projects done in the name of sustainable living.

I will tell about late-night summer man-hunts when hormones ran rampant and we didn’t know what to do with them so we ran, too.

I will tell about choosing a college and not being sure but doing it anyway. I will tell about loneliness and fear, about trying hard and singing hard and learning. They will ask about friends and making friends, about trying to love. I’ll tell about walks around the pond where so much got twisted around and sorted out.

I will tell about graduating and reeling in my own mind. About disappointments and mis-steps that, while not destroying definitely left me feeling useless. About dark months in winter when I was learning to trust and hating every minute of it.

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And my most recent stories? They’ll include the discovery of joy. The summer we all lived at home again and spent our evenings on the back porch. Riding with the top down in my car, fearing the day when I’ll have to say goodbye to this lovely little bug that’s taken me so many places. Finding a church that allows me to be the silly, too-immature-for-small-group girl I sometimes am. Growing in friendships that have challenged me, shaped me, and made me think deeper than I ever could have thought on my own.

My story isn’t done, but I finally feel like I am choosing it.

Good Time Saturday Night

I am sitting in a darkened home. Three children are asleep upstairs and the refrigerator hums as I type.

[I felt my body being jostled and there she was, all seven-years of her, shaking me. I’d fallen asleep watching Master Chef Jr. at 8:30. That does not fly when you haven’t seen each other in months and there is still so much to talk about.]

What did we talk about?

She told me about school and how “first grade is so boring.” (“Boring” seems to be the new word.) I asked her why.

“All we do is sit at desks and do math.”

“That sounds pretty boring,” I said.

“I miss kindergarten.”

Don’t we all.

“I wish I were your teacher. Then we could have fun and learn at the same time.”

But I shouldn’t have said it because I saw her eyes dart for a moment with the thought of it.

We watched the oldest brother play flag football, losing terribly. They played tag because let’s face it, I wasn’t feeling it. We sang Lorde’s “Royals” and Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” and a thousand other songs. Catherine, everyone is looking at us ’cause you’re singing.

And?

They got over it pretty quickly and joined in. Don’t worry. We weren’t too obnoxious.

He threw his body and contorted himself in all different shapes until finally I said,

“You watch it. No hospital runs until after I eat my dinner.”

They thought that was the funniest thing. Oh, Catherine said she won’t take us to the hospital until after she eats. Better be careful! 

We laughed in the pizza place waiting for our order. The middle boy shook my soda till all the bubbles filled the bottle. We almost took the wrong food. I forgot to order the mozzarella sticks. We licked our fingers.

They told me about their new babysitter, who sounded nice.

But she, as though concerned for my feelings, leaned over and whispered in my ear,

“You’re funner.”

I read Angelina Ballerina, did not give in to the half-hearted request for more, smoothed hair, turned out lights.

The 10, 9, and 5-year-old are now 11, 10, and 7. They still guess that I’m in my thirties, wonder where my children are, and ask if I can have sleepovers.

Not bad for a Saturday night.

Good Things #16

Music. Okay, I know this one isn’t new either. (I turn up a song on the radio, say, “Oh my gosh, I love this song!” and my little brother rolls his eyes and says, “Cath, this was big like six months ago.” Well, Harry, deal.) To add to my appreciation of this song: we sang it around a bonfire at the woodland wedding I attended this summer. Picture this: all of us wearing fern crowns at a cabin in the woods with a stream rushing by. This song will help you picture it.

Books. If you’ve even been in the same room as an education major, you’ve probably heard of the book The Skillful Teacher. Well, that’s what I’m spending my time with this week (getting ready for the second weekend of my grad class). It’s not too shabby, either. I even implemented a few ideas in the classroom already. Thank you, Saphier, Haley-Speca, and Gower. (I apologize for the blur.)skillfulTaking your contacts out. Okay, am I the only one who loves this? Whenever I wear contacts, I can’t wait to rip them out of my eyes. (Too graphic?)

Blogs. I’ve been following Bethany Suckrow over at She Writes and Rights for awhile now. She wrote this post, “Explicit Realities, Explicit Language,” and it struck a chord with me. It deals with the experience and expression of sexual abuse and how euphemisms just don’t cut it. I’m sure there are other sides to the issue, but she has a lot of good things to say.

Homemade beeswax candles. They are amazing. They burn so much brighter than you’d think, and they smell like honey and sunlight. We’ve also been known to make candles out of such things as turkeys, frogs, and skeps…

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Children’s Musical. Yes, the time is here. We auditioned for “Aladdin, Jr.” this past weekend and rehearsals start Monday. Kids ages 5-13, faces beaming, singing their hearts out in Agrabah. I kinda wish I could be in it…

Hiking. I am eagerly awaiting a fall hike this afternoon. I envision me, somehow miraculously stronger than I’ve ever been, ascending a mountain far larger than I’ve ever hiked before. In reality, we will probably be walking more than hiking, and I will be just as un-strong as I am at this moment.

And I leave you with one last song. Enjoy your Wednesday!

Where I’m From

I am from a thought-filled bed –

from pumpkin-pie candles and oak bookshelves.

 

I am from the white house on the slope,

homegrown apples and sage.

 

I am from the golden honey –

the towering pine whose long gone limbs

I remember as if they were my own.

 

I’m from dinners on the porch and too much laughing,

from an open-hearted mama and a dream-big father.

I’m from not enough cleaning and just the right living

and from stacks of books that beg reading.

 

I’m from “don’t wish your childhood away” and “try new food always”

and “Jesus called them one by one.”

 

I’m from cozy Christmas mornings and the yellow lights.

I’m from New and Old England,

sun-warmed vegetables and raspberry jam.

 

From sea-fishing, lake-fishing, ice-fishing,

when long-gone family breathe life again

for just that moment on the water,

 

and scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings

tell us the world.

 

[This is part of a link-up with SheLoves Magazine]

I Write Life

When I was a little girl, I was certain I would love only one man. In fact, I was pretty sure that we would grow up together, that he’d be a boy down the street and that suddenly one glorious summer evening we would both realize we’d loved each other all along. He’d touch my cheek (ala, Gilbert Blythe) and whisper some friendly tease as we began to imagine our future.

I thought this way for years, really, as a young girl reading Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, and Betsy, Tacy, and Tib. It’s possible I even wrote an 83-page novella (by hand) about a girl name Willa realizing the same thing about her friend Peter as they splashed each other in the secret pond in the woods. (If that isn’t some not-so-secret sexual tension in my 12-year-old writing, I don’t know what would be.)

And then one day, it occurred to me:

If I say I want to grow up with the boy I marry, that means I have to KNOW HIM NOW.

And I looked around at the boys I knew, and though I loved them dearly, I quickly revised my dream.

Never mind. I think it’s much better to meet later, in college, to be more grown up. Never mind. I’ll wait.

So I grew up, still thinking I would love one man and one man forever.

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The summer after my junior year, I interned at a publishing house in Boston. One of my tasks was to edit the text in their new database. I was responsible for fixing bizarre spaces in the mid dle of w ord s and checking line breaks, and in the process of doing this, I read some strange and awful and thought-provoking books. One was a memoir by a woman whose name I don’t remember. It had a light blue cover and it was mostly filled with a string of lovers, each one daring and handsome, social and introverted, crazy and calm. The image I have most strongly from her book is a story of her and one of her lovers (she was in her late fifties by now, I think) and they are in one of their apartments. It’s been a day of lounging around, eating and love making, and I don’t know what happened exactly, but I remember distinctly feeling a sense of her happiness. That she viewed this doomed relationship with love and tenderness. She still thought of this man fondly, despite their different paths and the pain they both felt.

I was twenty-one years old.

So I sat in my gray cubicle and in my self-righteousness, I thought: I don’t know how this is possible. She writes about these men – these men she didn’t stay with who broke her heart or who had their hearts broken by her – and she is smiling. I can feel it in her words. She is smiling at the memories with them, even as she realizes the relationships are dead.

I couldn’t understand her ability to find joy in something that was broken, and I couldn’t understand that she had loved more than one man.

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It’s three years later, and I can say with full honesty that I have loved more than one man. I might even say I’ve loved a small handful, none of them perfectly, some of them with false-starts of returned love, some of them even unwittingly requested by the receiver. If it’s taught me anything – this loving – it’s that each time is different and each time is imperfect and each time

I didn’t know how to end that sentence. Mostly because I’m not entirely sure what loving has taught me. I’d like to think that each time I get a little better at it, at both feeling it and showing it. At both being myself and enjoying someone else.

I’m glad, at twenty-four, that I can say I’ve loved more than one man. Not because it isn’t beautiful to be given that gift, but because I needed to break out of the idea of myself. I needed to see what it meant to live life instead of write it. I like to think that when I’m sixty-five, I will be telling my stories of love and un-love with a smile on my face. Because even though these men were not meant for me nor I for them, there is a reason one of us was drawn to the other, and that reason is worth telling.

Rain and Foolishness

For the past five days, I’ve slept to the sound of rain. I wake up in the middle of the night and listen – sometimes it’s fast and pounding on the window, other times it’s soft and I can hear it flowing smoothly through the gutter. I’ve had to wear my blue raincoat to school, or I’ve chosen foolishly to forego it, hoping my brazenness would end the drizzle.

Overall, though, I don’t mind. A lot of people I’ve seen this week have talked about missing the sun, about longing for the rain to stop. Sometimes I understand, lamenting the warmth of the sunshine. Mostly, though, I’ve been enjoying the coolness of rain. It’s so much easier to drive in to school every morning to the softness of a gray morning than it is to teach Latin during a 75-degree day when I long for the beach. And it’s a lot easier to give into my desire to curl up on the couch and read Prodigal Summer or watch Arrested Development reruns when the rain gives me such a good excuse.

[One of my favorite Latin words is imber –  “rain shower”. The sounds are soft on your tongue.]

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I waited all afternoon for the rain to let up a little. Six basil plants were sitting on the counter, waiting for the ground, and a clump of zinnias had grown far too tall for their little navy pot. Finally I gave in, donning my raincoat and a backwards Red Sox hat, and headed into the rain.

I worked alone, which is rare around here. Not because everyone loves working outside, necessarily, but because usually we feel guilty staying indoors when someone’s in the garden. Today, though, I dug holes alone, trying not to plant the basil too deep. I have a hard time judging depth (hence my lack of talent in the visual arts department), but it came out okay. Dirt got all over my hands and I thought about how much better it feels to work in the cool spring than the humid summer.

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What I didn’t think about, though, was the fact that the camera was sitting in the rain. My sister came out, surprised and angry to find it on the porch. I’d put it under the plum tree, but really, what good does a little branch do? She brought the camera back in the house, wiped it off, told me I was dumb for bringing it out. I was angry and brought it back out, covering it in a towel and putting it this time under the much more formidable birch tree.

After a moment, though, I realized I wasn’t mad at my sister. I was angry at myself.

It had never occurred to me not to bring the camera out into the rain. I didn’t once pause and think how foolish it was to bring such a good camera (that isn’t mine, by the way) and set it on the edge of the porch. I am constantly surprised by my lack of attention to practical things.

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I finished planting and weeding. I took some pictures of my garden in the rain. There is an imperfection in gardens that I love; no one can tell me that my garden isn’t right, that things aren’t the way they should be. I’m heavy on the bee balm and light on the tarragon, and that’s the way I want it. Gardens are bare, naked, showing more about you, perhaps, than you’d like.

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So, it’s still raining and the camera’s fine. I will probably do something un-thinking again, and probably soon. I sleep with the window open, even in the rain, because listening to it fall is more important to me than dry shades.

Song of My Mother

My mother and I are very different. I am sharp where she is soft. My tongue is quick where hers is careful. My eyes roll where hers share compassion.

Sometimes I think I will never be as good as my mother. When I tell her this, she starts to cry because she doesn’t believe in her own beauty. There are some things that you just can’t be told.

I hate it when people take my time. This is probably my Big Number One Badness. I am quick to listen over coffee, happy to write back and forth, delighted to exchange ideas and longings and go on day trips. But I am slow to do for people. My family (sort of) jokes around about the fact that I am not the most reliable when it comes to cleaning the house or doing favors. They joke because they love me anyway, but I know that it isn’t exactly funny.

My mother gets up every morning to drive my father to work. She taught us at home for twelve years; I still remember the moment she showed me Little House on the Prairie when I was in kindergarten and my life changed forever. My favorite place to learn is still the little round table with the blue and white checkered table cloth, just me and my mom while the three younger kids were taking naps. She drops what she’s doing to help any one of her children. She works in the house and she works in the garden and her loyalty is sometimes so strong I’m scared. She bakes amazing cookies for no occasion other than it’s Tuesday and I don’t think I’ve ever heard her complain.

Some people think she’s too emotional; they see her emotion as weakness. What we – my father, my brothers, my sister, and I – know is that she is the strongest woman in our lives.

We are so different in so many ways. My mother doesn’t write, but she crafts the most delicious meals and the feet of loved ones are never cold with her cozy knitted socks. She doesn’t sing, but she knows how to encourage and make you see where you can grow but also how far you’ve already grown. It’s taken me years to see that these are gifts of infinite value.

I know my mother will read this and she will say, “We are not so different,” and I will hope and pray that she is right. It might not be against the grain to say that my mother is my dearest friend and my closest mentor. There isn’t a smile more genuine or a heart more compassionate. God shines through her, and I want everyone to know what a woman lives in this little no-name town.

IMG_0737[from this summer on our rare family weekend-away. the coast and good food and a mini-hike – all six of us together in the bright sun.]