This is the coldest winter I can remember.  Ever.  In all of my nearly 41 years.  But we are on the “light” side of the Solstice.  It has come and gone and our days continue to grow lighter and longer.  And the sun through our windows feels a bit warmer.  Just a bit.  Even so, the wind seems to find its way through any crack or crevice around every window and door.

To warm these coldest of winter days, I find myself baking crusty loaves of bread, boiling water for tea, heating milk for hot cocoa, knitting leftovers into cowls and hats, and doubling up on our layers of socks and sweaters.  The greatest warmth I have found, however, is the warmth of this family of mine.  Much as I know it would do us all good to run around outside, it has felt comfortable and cozy to be tucked into our home together, not venturing out into the frigid, frozen land that is just outside our windows.

Written January 28, 2014

I love snow days.  Outdoors and indoors.

Indoors, the quiet play of my girls, background music by Taylor Swift and remnants of a cozy breakfast…..warm cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate…on the table.  They are homebodies, my girls.  To them (and to me), a snow day is a gift.  A day they can stay under the toasty covers a few more minutes and wake at their own pace.  A day Mom isn’t rushing them through breakfast and tooth-brushing to make it to school before the bell rings.  A day they don’t have to worry about doing or saying the right thing in class.

I watch the outdoors from the kitchen table as I write.  Wind-whipped snowflakes rush to blanket the grass, while a pair of juncos and a house sparrow take turns at the birdfeeder.  Much to our kitty’s chagrin, I don’t think we’ll see too many more, as the winds continue to pick up.

Soon it will be time to start clearing the driveway and sidewalks, a task I don’t mind in the hush of snowfall, interrupted only by the simple scrapes of my shovel.  Once the jarring sound of snowblowers breaks that silence, it becomes a chore.

I am grateful for another day.  One that happens to be a snow day.

Over the years, my husband and I have found that both of us and both of our children find great serenity while immersed in nature.  It is the thing that centers us and renews us.  And, to that end, we decided that it is of greatest importance that we spend some time in nature every weekend.  The daily stresses and sensory overload that we encounter during the school/work week dissolve as we step into nature.

Last weekend, we used our nature escape to say goodbye to summer and to welcome autumn. It was a very warm day for the end of September, but the breeze was delicious and the morning sun was beautiful filtering through the treetops.

 

Our plan was to hike all morning and stop at 10:49am to say goodbye to summer and to welcome autumn.  This wasn’t my idea.  This wasn’t my husband’s idea.  The two kids.  It was all them.

But as we hiked, we encountered some very cool wildlife and sights.  The first was an eastern box turtle, quickly identified by my fabulous husband.  He loves all things reptilian.

 

When we stopped hiking at 10:47am to say goodbye to summer, we were in a dried creek bed, exploring what might be found in such a spot.  Here we came upon a little frog.  If you look closely at the back end of the frog (is it a pickerel frog?), there is a small orange-red protrusion.  We assumed it was an egg sac, but as we were unsure, please feel free to comment the correct answer, if you know!  WE would love to know.  Another amazing hiking find.

At this moment, our children each took a turn saying a tearful goodbye to summer, one blowing a kiss and one giving an air-hug.  It’s always said that we can learn so much from our children.  Living in the moment is one of the greatest of these lessons.  And there it was again as they cheered a welcome to fall.

And we continued on our hike.  My favorite nature find that day, although kind of gross, was this owl pellet.  For anyone who doesn’t already know, when an owl eats, it digests what it can of the creature it has eaten and then throws up the bones, fur and whatever else it cannot digest.  These are known as owl pellets.  We had never discovered one on our own, so this was pretty exciting for us!

 

It was an amazing day.  One I won’t soon forget.  We hiked for TWO HOURS with a nine-year old and a six-year old!!  I witnessed my children’s intense sentimentality, and we all came away from it centered, contented and ready to face the week.  What an amazing escape.

 

For the first time in my life-as-a-mom, I am caught up on our laundry.  If that doesn’t say much, I have a nine year-old and a six year-old.  So that’s nearly ten years that I have been behind on laundry.  Yes, TEN YEARS!  I can’t believe I’m publicly admitting this.  I wish that I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard one of the following:

“Honey, do you have clean socks for me somewhere?”  And by “somewhere” he really meant “is there a laundry basket in this house with CLEAN laundry in it?”

or

“Mom, I’m out of pajamas.  Do you have some for me?”

or

“I’m all out of clean undershirts.”

Unfortunately, this probably happened once a week.  Fortunately, for every occasion I heard this, there was always a load in the washer or dryer that contained whatever it was they were looking for and I was able to hand them something clean and dry.

But for me being caught up on laundry doesn’t mean that our hampers are completely empty.  What it does mean is that no one is out of anything and the hampers are not over-flowing.  Not only are they not over-flowing, but they are less than half-full!  Clean laundry is folded and put away, not sitting in a basket somewhere waiting for me to plop on the floor and spend quality time folding it.

The thing is, it feels amazing.  Liberating.  Who knew being caught up on laundry could be so fulfilling?  I mean, right?  I get up at 5:00am and throw my first load in.  If there is a load from the night before in the dryer, I fold it then and there.  After I drop the kids at school, I throw in another.  And if it’s necessary, I toss one in after dinner.  The past few nights, it hasn’t been necessary.  I have been able to sit on the sofa with my love after the kids are in bed and enjoy an evening without that nagging feeling of “I must get some laundry in”.

Here we are.  Summer is over and school has begun.

But I am not happy about it.  Sure, the cooler weather is refreshing and I love those crisply blue autumn skies that greet us most days.  And who can’t deny the joy of crunching toasty brown leaves beneath her feet?  You would think I’d be ecstatic.

The truth of the matter is that I’m devastated.  We sent our youngest daughter to kindergarten this year.  Yes, I know it’s “only a half-day” and I hear those who echo “think of all you’ll get done”.  But all of that is irrelevant to me.  This is the year that begins the hurtling through childhood.  Because, one day my house will be spotless.  Everything done in a timely manner.  But those relaxed, laid-back days of early childhood are saying goodbye, never to return.  Those days of picking up and heading to a playground at our leisure…gone.  Or picking strawberries or apples mid-week to avoid the weekend rush…gone.  Upon us are the days of rushing here and there….to school to drop off….to school to pick up….to ballet….to the dentist.  And I hate that.

But the one thing of it all is that I am grateful that I stayed home with both of my children through this early part of their childhood.  Grateful that I didn’t miss all of their firsts.  Grateful that mine were the arms that picked them up when they fell and hugged them tightly.  Grateful that I was the one who sat with them to enjoy breakfast and lunch.  Grateful that my husband and I have always shared the same vision of our children growing up with a parent at home.  Grateful to that same amazing husband who made it happen.  It was a tough road for many years but well worth the struggles.

And so as we send our daughters off to the same school for the first time ever, my heart alternatively aches and soars.  Aches for the end of one era and soars for the littlest, as she finds her way to the next.

I’m a little late writing this post, as Memorial Day was a little over a week ago, yet my thoughts on it keep stirring…and I cannot make peace with them.

It seems a time in history that our American society focuses more on our own happiness and self-gratification than on making contributions to improve humanity.  It seems a time that we focus more on the celebration aspect of holidays than on the true meaning.

Every Memorial Day, my husband and I take our two daughters (who are currently 4 and 7 years old) to our local Memorial Day parade.  And every year we explain exactly what Memorial Day means.  Memorial Day is a time to remember those who have sacrificed all that they have for our country, for the values we hold dear.  In a word, freedom.  For us, it isn’t about trips to the beach or barbecues, it really is about the sacrifice.  Although neither of us has served, we come from families that have and know those who do.

So as we watch the parade make its way up the hill in our little town, we teach our children to stand as the first American flag of the parade approaches, right hand upon heart….to stand as the veterans pass us in historic cars or Jeeps….to clap and cheer for the World War II veterans who may or may not make it to the next Memorial Day parade….to wave and thank all veterans who pass us, solemnly aware of why they are in fact in the parade.  And we hope that we remind them of the cost of all that we have today.

I love reading.  Loved it as a kid, love it today.  And as a parent, I’ve always hoped that my love of reading would be something my children would inherit.  Little did I know that hope might one day become a battle.

My seven-year old LOVES reading.  It is, perhaps, her favorite activity.  Every night it’s a struggle to get her to put down her book and turn out the light.  “Five more minutes…please?”  The plea of five more minutes turns into ten which turns into fifteen and then twenty.  It would quickly become three hours if I let it.  Fortunately, she’s not quite gotten to the devious stage, where one might grab a flashlight and read under the covers (as though reading could ever be a devious undertaking!).

Tonight we battled again, although a bit less of a struggle than usual.  I gave her fifteen more minutes and told her exactly what time she needed to put down the book, press play on her alarm clock for music and turn out the light.  Seriously, I know her M.O. and still placed the responsibility of putting the book down into her hands?  Have I not learned anything?  Thirty minutes later, I walked past her door and found the light still on.  Should I have been surprised?  Uh, no.  I feigned it anyway. “Why on earth are you still reading?”  I asked.  “Mom, I was just so engrossed in the book, I completely forgot to look at the clock,” she told me.  “Well, it’s time, honey ” I told her as I pulled up her covers and tucked her in.  For once, when I went to take the book from her, she did not resist.  And after she used the word “engrossed”, I could do nothing but squeeze her to bits.  How cute is that?

And guess what?  She chose to listen to stories rather than music as Jim Weiss’ enchanting voice whisked her away to a Tropical Island in Good Night.  I am not surprised at all.  That’s how I got my bookworm to sleep.

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