Happy Anniversary

This weekend my husband and I celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary. We kept it pretty low-key. Went out to eat one night, and then on The Day we went for an evening paddle in our canoe while my parents watched the kids. 

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My husband patiently held the canoe while I gingerly climbed in. I have yet to master the art of getting in and out of a canoe gracefully. I was sitting up front, he was behind me. He gave me some pointers on holding my paddle. I adjusted accordingly. We pointed out birds that we could see, fish jumping out of the water. There were many times that we were silent for so long that I half-wondered if my husband was still in the canoe. But, I could feel the tug and pull of his paddling as we sliced through the water. At one point in time, I felt him shifting around, getting a drink from the water bottle, and I was the only one paddling. Suddenly the canoe was barely moving, making it obvious to me that my paddling efforts were not really what was making us move. 

 

We went up the lake and found a creek that we explored a bit. The water narrowing, trees over top of us.

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Then the canoe started tipping back and forth and I could hear a scrabble behind me.

Long pause.

I finally asked, What are you doing? 

I’m trying to get rid of a spider.

The canoe stopped tipping. 

Another long pause. 

Then he says, He’s headed your way now. 

WHAT! 

Just how big a spider are we talking about??

 

Fortunately no spider attacked me. 

 

We ended our paddle peacefully. 

 

And I think about marriage. What do I say to my kids as they approach the age of where marriage is something to think about? 

 

I would say, marry someone that you can be silent with. Marry someone who’s willing to pull the weight of the canoe just cause they want to be with you, and they don’t care how bad you are at paddling. Marry someone whose company brings you peace and a feeling of safety and well-being. 

 

As I write this blog and smell the Chili burning on the stove, because I forgot I was cooking. As usual. I would also add, marry someone who will eat your burnt Chili without comment. 

 

Happy Anniversary My Love. 

“The Peace of Wild Things”

I am sitting by the lake, I’ve been watching my kids swim, but they have now moved on to playing prince and princess and are concocting some elaborate make-believe game. I only have the three youngest with me. My husband and five of our kids left at 4am this morning to go hike a mountain. I don’t expect them home till late tonight. My other two daughters are at their grandparent’s house, in town, a short distance away. It has now been twelve days since we left Knoxville on our vacation, and it has taken about ten of those days for me to finally be able to just relax. We still have a couple more days before we head home and I am thoroughly enjoying the wonderful feeling of doing nothing except some light household chores and watching my children swim in the lake. 

 

It’s been a different kind of vacation. State mandates mean that we can’t go shopping or go out and be around a lot of people. We have seen basically just a few family members and had them do our grocery shopping for us. Aside from a day trip to the beach, we have just stayed in our little cabin and enjoyed the lake and the woods. And it has been wonderful. 

 

My restless husband has been able to help his Uncle and Aunt with a remodel project, my teen girls have hung out with their grandparents and the little ones have practiced their swimming. 

 

My brain has had time to process. Relive, rethink, reassess. And finally, it has just quieted down. I’ve read some good books, done “adult” coloring where there is an inspiring scripture and then a ton of elaborate details to color in. Not something I do often, but I find when I am coloring, the analyzing part of my brain shuts off, and I’m just thinking about staying in the lines, and what color should I use next? It has the same effect for me as playing scales on the piano, or re-reading a favorite book. Occasionally, I will stop coloring and just think about the verse. Meditate. 

 

We don’t get to do this every year. More like every two or three years. But I am glad for these times. 

 

As my brain has quieted and I have rested, I find myself getting ideas again. Getting excited about projects. I am even starting to feel excited about homeschooling some of my kids. I am plotting out schedules, and thinking about books to read and papers we will write and discussions we will have. Spelling charts for the second grader. Homemade calendars.

 

And this is the difference between stressed-out me and healthy me. The ability to dream and be excited about the future. 

 

I remember in the flurry of having lots of babies, I went for years without having any dreams. I was too exhausted. Too overwhelmed. The future was too far away. I was just surviving today. This moment. This minute. This second. 

 

The past months have been that for me. Survival. 

 

And it’s good to feel that quieting down. To feel like the ability to dream is coming back. 

I even told my husband that one day, when all the kids are grown, I want to get a giant fluffy dog. Like a St. Bernard. Or something like that. He immediately pointed out that big dogs are expensive. And I pointed back that all the kids will be gone and I will have money to spend on a dog. 🙂 He’s not over-excited about that dream….yet. I’ve got some time to talk him around. 🙂 

 

Here is a poem I found.

 

“The Peace of Wild Things”

Wendell Berry

Listen

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

Today, I am thankful for nature. For God’s creation. For the beauty he created that provides rest to all people, believer or not. It is one of his gifts to humankind. 

 

And I’m thankful for the time he has given me to just rest. 

Having Fun is Exhausting

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It’s Saturday night and we just got back from a family outing to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, TN. It was a special treat, a reward to my younger kids who memorized 1 Corinthians 13 this fall semester. It was our first time visiting.

Let me tell you. Having fun is exhausting. At least this kind of fun. For those of you not from around here, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are the Tourist Towns of the Smokies. Pigeon Forge (which we drove through to get to Gatlinburg) is one long strip of amusement attractions: minigolf, outlet malls, go-cart racetracks, ferris wheels, exotic museums, dinner-and-a-show places, buildings that are made to look upside down, a Titanic looking building, buildings with King Kong on top of them. It’s quite a sight. We have never taken our children to any of these attractions, but they were all quite delighted just to drive past all these crazy-looking places. My five year old exclaimed, “This is the funnest road ever!!” It was bumper-to-bumper traffic and by the time we got to Gatlinburg the traffic was barely crawling along. The sidewalks were overflowing with people, the parking lots and garages all had FULL signs on them and I felt a bit like I was at CARNIVAL or some such occasion, instead of a Saturday during Christmas break.

I am curious if it’s always like that, or was it just crazy because it’s Christmas and New Years? I wouldn’t know. Even though Gatlinburg is only an hour away (or so my GPS claims), I rarely go there. I haven’t driven down the main street in Gatlinburg in probably 8 years. Mostly because it’s just as I described it. Very touristy and full of people. (If you like touristy and lots of people, it is a very pretty little town, and everyone did seem to be having a lot of fun!)

So, after we finally found a parking place about a half mile away from the aquarium, we maneuvered our nine children through  large crowds (my oldest didn’t come….boo on her…yes I know you’re reading this sweetie…love you anyway!), and spent several hours at the aquarium. (When you fork out for 9 children to go to an aquarium, you figure they better look at every single exhibit and enjoy every single activity!) We split up, my oldest boy taking the next two oldest boys with him and my teen girls pairing up, but even then I still managed to lose the four year old once, got a bit snappy with my husband over who was watching which child, and ended up bribing all the kids with candy at the end, when we had to wait in line to pick up our family picture (conveniently taken for you when you first entered the building), (extra money, but we wanted photo evidence that we had had fun). Despite the hiccups, it was a successful trip.

We hiked the half mile back to the car, me holding tight to the four year old who hopped, skipped, and jumped as he careened down the sidewalk. We finally got to the car and I felt my shoulders lower about ten inches as I slowly relaxed from the stress of taking small children out in public. When we were leaving the parking garage, the traffic was so bad that we couldn’t turn left to go home the way we came, we had to turn right instead and just go with the flow. Which is why we ended up driving home a completely different way, through the Smoky Mountain Park to Wears Valley then Townsend then Marysville… The quiet side of the Smoky Mountains. My favorite side. Where we always end up when we go to the mountains. I needed that drive. The entire time we were in the park, the road ran right next to the river. There is something about flowing water that soothes the soul, calms the spirit, refreshes. There was mist on the mountaintops and the naked trees were gray and felt like winter. This was my idea of a nice time.

I am fortunate that I married someone with similar tastes to me. (Or maybe I just became so accustomed to my husband’s preferences, that I adopted them as my own). When we go out to have fun, we generally do something in nature. We’re not real keen on large crowds. I have never been to Dollywood, and I don’t really want to go. When there are big fairs or festivals, we skip. The Tennessee Valley Fair is held two blocks from our house every fall, and we have never gone. It’s just not our idea of a good time. But, we go to the river and splash around in the water. We go canoeing. We go biking. We take walks. We watch movies at home. We take long drives in the countryside. This is the kind of activity that I need to nourish my soul, refresh myself, relax.

As far as the kids are concerned, I don’t think it’s hurting them to miss out on all the “fun”. They do get opportunities every once in a while, like today, when we visited the aquarium. And having that kind of treat happen rarely makes it a lot more special.

So, hurray for trips to the aquarium, and Thank You Lord that they don’t happen often!

Passing On the Family Heritage

Camping is in my blood.

Now when I say that, I don’t mean that I’m obsessed with camping and just want to go all the time. No, what I mean is that from my earliest memories, my parents dragged me along on camping trips until it became embedded in who I was.

My earliest memories of camping are when I was somewhere around 4 years old. We lived in the North of Haiti and I remember my parents loading my brother and I along with a ton of luggage, into our old, unreliable Peugot station wagon. We traveled about 12 hours down to the South of Haiti, up into the mountains. I remember heat, dust, throwing up from car-sickness, my mom singing songs from the Sound of Music to entertain us, chewing on minty gum that we bought from a street vendor. I also remember that we got to our destination late at night, that it rained, the tent leaked, all our belongings got wet, it was a lot colder in the mountains than my parents were anticipating so we were freezing, and my brother and I ended up sleeping in the car because it was the only dry, warmish place. That was just the first night of camping. I think it improved after that. Not sure. Maybe. I also remember picking blackberries, exploring a large fog-filled meadow, and fighting with my brother over who got to be in the hammock that my dad had strung up. Every year that we lived in Haiti my parents would insist on going camping in the Southern Mountains. It was their vacation and they were/are adventurous people. They also loved that part of Haiti and dreamed of working there.

The five years that we lived in Kentucky my mother was in school and life was busy. I don’t think we did any camping during that time, but we spent lots of time at the lake or visiting the nearby Carter Caves or the Natural Bridge. We also squeezed in a trip to Niagara Falls and a trip out West and saw the Grand Canyon. Not camping, but definitely forays into nature.

When we moved to Alaska, when I was 15, camping became a regular way of life during the summer. We would load up into our boat, head up the Kuskokwim River and go for hours until we found a likely spot on the river bank and then we’d stop, spend more hours setting up camp, and then sit around the fire, roasting sausages and marshmallows, drinking tea. My dad would go fishing and we would eat whatever he caught. It was a time of rest and relaxation. And mosquitoes. (Pictures of Alaska are beautiful, but that’s just because they photo-shopped out all the giant mosquitoes making black dots on the picture.)

Later, when my husband and I were living in Chile with our first two babies, my parents came and visited, and what did we do? We went camping in the Andes. My dad and my husband went off to hike Mt Picazo (Same name as my maiden name, my dad felt a connection, wanted to hike it). My mom and I and my two babies stayed in a campground. (We didn’t feel the same connection and were quite content to stay behind with the babies). The two main memories that stand out to me was first, our tent site was on a side of hill which meant that by morning, we had all rolled to the bottom of the tent and were effectively squishing each other, and second, the very friendly owner of the campground explained to me the secret to cooking good pasta: get a really big pot with lots of water so that the pasta has room to cook and doesn’t stick to each other. (I have always remembered this, but I never seem to have a big enough pot handy, so I still deal with clumpy pasta.)

Nowadays,  I would tell you that my idea of getting out in nature is to rent a cabin in the mountains and sit on the deck and enjoy the view.  Alas, I married a boy scout. My husband’s idea of getting out in nature is to get a pack and go off and do a section of the Appalachian Trail. He knows all about wilderness survival and gets out camping/hiking/canoeing any chance he can get. We went camping on our honeymoon. Any time we travel long distances we camp. If we are going to do something fun as a family, it’s probably going to be camping. Still not my favorite thing to do. But it’s in my blood. I feel duty bound to pass this on to my children, it’s part of their heritage. And so I go camping. And if my kids complain, I take on the role of cheerful optimist who thinks that hanging out in a tent with 7 children because it’s raining outside is FUN! Going to the bathroom in the bushes is CHARACTER-BUILDING! Fighting your way through swarms of mosquitoes….well, even I can’t think of a positive statement for that.

Here’s the funny thing though. We went camping this past weekend. Primitive, out in the middle of nowhere camping. We got there by canoe. Took 7 children with us. You know what? I actually had a lot of fun. I loved being outside. I loved seeing the beautiful lake and mountains and streams and forests. I loved cooking over the campfire. Ok, I still just endured using the bathroom in the bushes, but does anyone love that? It was a wonderful experience. I especially loved watching my kids have fun, watching my husband teach them how to cook a simple campfire meal, watching him teach them about “Leave no Trace”. I loved seeing my 7 yr old daughter get her tent and pitch it all by herself. I loved watching my oldest daughter as she paddled our canoe diligently with me across the lake. I loved watching my sons get excited about all the different animal tracks they found. I loved watching my two youngest just run around the camp, so excited to be outdoors for such a long period of time. This camping thing is a bit of a crazy heritage, doesn’t exactly fit my personality, but I’m learning to appreciate it.  And I’m learning the joy of passing it on to the next generation.

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