Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Village People

Awesome, Amazing, Adventurous!!

It's fun to stay at the YMCA!  These are my Village, People.

This weekend, we embarked on our second annual church camping trip.  It rained.  It was cold.  It was windy.  And it was marvelous, unforgettable, the kind of feed-your-soul weekend that I yearn for during the hard and trying and lonely times.  When one camper so eloquently offered her thanksgiving and praise of our group, she described The Village we'd created, thankful for the fellowship shared among our multi-generational group, thankful for watchful eyes and caring hands and loving hearts.  Thankful for laughter and songs shared 'round the campfire, thankful for open conversation, for kindness, for acceptance.  And she offered a prayer of concern, for those who seek a village, for those who desperately need a village, for those who have no village.  Her words echoed in my mind long after they were spoken, being too familiar with how it feels to be without.

Our Village includes toddlers, teenagers, grandparents, young parents, and seasoned parents; college professors, teachers, writers, an illustrator, an architect, a nurse, a rare books artist, musicians, a tour guide, a wine pourer, two pastors, a doula, a speech therapist, a foreign exchange student, athletes, and church leaders.  And yet this is just a sampling of the greater Village we have in our whole church family.

After we had packed up our wet and muddy tents and chairs and sleeping bags and stoves and the kitchen sink, and after we had gathered as a Village in worship on Sunday morning - non-campers in the brick-and-mortar sanctuary, campers huddling beneath the rain tarp sanctuary we'd created - I was reminded once again just how lucky we were to be a part of this Village. 

I was reminded once again how good it feels to be Home. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


As I started to prepare for Easter - deciding on recipes; prepping casseroles; boiling eggs to dye later; convincing the kids try on new clothes and making adjustments; finding belts and shoes; trying to make the best presentation of some rather lame gifts in the Easter baskets - I felt a bit weary. As I smoothed the creases in one of several bright plaids I was ironing that evening, I let my mind wander back to the years when I was a child...

I remember the thick scent of the dozens of lilies and tulips and mixed bouquets that filled the sanctuary. I remember shouts of Alleluia, of finally singing the choir anthems we'd kept under wraps all those long weeks. Of the descants I was asked to sing. I remember how chocolate and jelly beans from my basket never tasted sweeter than Easter mornings, devouring them before breakfast....

I remember how dressed up my grandmother got for church, always decked to the nines, an elegant pastel hat atop her perfect French twist. I remember how my mother and I shopped for a new Easter dress, every year - and oh how I remember those dresses. Yellow gingham. Pastel plaid. A Laura Ashley floral jumpsuit - so chic. A pale pink flowered dress with a scoop neck and Peter Pan collar. One year, a classy navy-and-white Houndstooth skirt with a smart white shirt, a red tie, and a navy blazer. Around the same time my father started buying me corsages to wear on Easter day, I often chose pink ballet slippers to wear in lieu of actual shoes - a tradition that continued into high school. I remember my father delivering his best line - "You make that dress, that flower, look beautiful."

Suddenly, I felt less weary. I realized, with so much gratitude, all the work and preparation my own mother had put into making our holidays - and our regular days - so memorable. I was renewed with purpose, suddenly finding pleasure in the list of tasks to accomplish. And I also realized that though the preparations may make me weary, I would have it no other way, for the anticipation and the preparation are, in part, what make the day itself so unforgettable and so special. Some moments include....

Continuing my most favorite Easter tradition with my own beautiful sons:

My handsome and beloved boys - Aidan felt especially grown up in this first-ever REAL tie.
Taking one million family photos for THE ONE.

(Now before you go and have a heart attack/go and call CPS, know that this is cellophane, not plastic... and that he was supervised at all times... and so it's totally worth the photo shoot)

Any guesses what they might be watching?? That would be Grandpa's "work"....commonly called GOLF by the rest of us commonfolk.

The jelly Bean Thief. Stuffing his cheeks full like a squirrel preparing for winter, knowing they're about to be moved out of reach - again.
I cannot take any credit for this gorgeous dish: my mother's shrimp and grits tasted even better than this sumptuous photo!

Chocolate fondue and Blenheim Rose to end a most beautiful day...

...with the family who makes it so.Alleluia!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Spring Break, continued...

The rest of spring break went by too fast, as long-anticipated respites from routine often do. Highlights from the rest of the week include.....

Painting canvases of original art. In the past when we've done art projects, I vacillate between wanting them to enjoy the process, but also hoping for a display-worthy product, at the end. Not wanting to quash their creativity, open-ended art projects often resemble the former, not the latter. But this time around, I realized that I could have my art and hang it, too. Just like when I guide my kids in writing poetry or composing short stories, so, too, could I guide their art - limit the tools, the number of paints available; increase the amount of time between drying coats of paints; introduce one particular technique, such as using Sharpie markers for added effect (and clarity). In this way, the process was creative and all their own, and the product is on display for passers-by to see.

Aidan planned out his design (a rough draft, if you will) and took his inspiration from the vivid paintings in The Imaginary Garden. Leo drew a family of three lions, all of whom are wearing bathing suits and visiting a nearby pool. He accentuated his art by colorful abstract bursts of color, an oversized flower, and a cheerful sun. Pax originally drew a spider in Sharpie, but then partially covered it with beautiful swirls of paint. The finished works of art:
(From left to right: Leo and his lions; flower vase they made last year; small Pax canvas, top; Aidan's garden, far right)

Another day, all three boys headed out with Grandma and Grandpa for an afternoon at Bounce and Play and dinner at Cheeseburger in Paradise - sounds like Grandsons in Paradise, to me! (Grateful for a few quiet hours, this was *definitely* Anne in Paradise.)

My mom hosted a "Clay Party" for my boys and two sweet girls we know, one of whom regularly comes and "does clay" with my mom. The kids sculpted while the mothers sipped spritzers.

We peeked in regularly on the nest that two birds had built in the wreath on my parents' front door. Pax waved and said in the sweetest, tiniest voice, "hi!" each time we held him up to see them. Leo pronounced,
"Oh, they are so cute. They look like little sponges!"

There were play dates and games of Uno, bike rides and fort building, and a whole lot of reading. Aidan finished reading Harry Potter (number 1) and blazed through two more books on his break. As the week drew to an end, I felt sad that it was ending, but so excited for what was to come - summer, in just 6 short weeks - and Easter - just a few days away.....

(to be continued...)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A "Tri-"ing Adventure!

Spring Break brought about the opportunity for us to embark upon our next Christmas gift adventure: a "tri"ing overnight in a hotel in Northern Virginia. We biked. We swam. And we hiked - our tri-sport adventure.

On Monday morning, we loaded up the van and headed north. Despite the fact that we've traveled this same route dozens of times, and despite the fact that even I, the directionally-challenged one, could get us from point A to point B with no problem, Jeff decided to use his new Garmin, whom he's named Michelle. Apparently, a Garmin and Common Sense are mutually exclusive. Jeff ignored what he knew was the right road to take because "Michelle didn't tell me to go that way," and ended up adding 10 minutes to the trip - plus enduring endless harassment from me, along with a lot of whining that his detour caused us to miss out on one of my favorite little towns. Wisely, he turned Michelle off for the trip home.

The first stop was for fuel - the food kind of fuel. Our lifelong friends the Thieles had us over for a feast of sandwiches, salads, chips, cookies, and more. We loved having the chance to visit a bit, and the kids loved playing with their sweet dog, Sydney. After explaining for the umpteenth time why we could not, in fact, take Sydney with us (the Thieles were absolutely no help here - they sided with the kids completely) - we headed toward the trail.

The W. and O.D. Trail runs for many miles through Virginia. Originally, it was the railroad track, but it was later converted to a trail to be used by bikers, walkers, runners, and roller-bladers. As children growing up in Northern Virginia, Jeff and I both rode this trail countless times with our own families. So it felt very full-circle, very complete, to bring our own children back here for our first long bike ride together.

What I loved best about our time on the trail was how many memories it brought back from my own childhood days. I love that I have ridden or walked or run on that trail with every beloved person in my life - my parents and my brother; my grandparents and my aunt; friends, boyfriends, my husband. And now, our children. The beauty of the day - warm breezes, blue sky, puffy white clouds, budding trees, newly green leaves, and plenty of sunshine - mirrored the beauty of the moment.

After our ride, we headed to our hotel and cleaned ourselves up for dinner. I don't know if it was because we were starving or if it's because the food is as good as we remember, but P.F. Chang's delivered that night. We came back to our hotel and swam for awhile before bed - the second sport in our "tri" adventure.
A dip in the chlorinated pool doubled as bath that night, and we tucked three very tired but very contented little boys into bed. But since it was still rather early, Jeff built a little fort using the curtains and a side table, and we played gin rummy and drank wine and made up stories about the traffic violations we witnessed from high above in our window overlooking the busy road....

In the morning, we noshed on Dunkin Donuts before making our way to Great Falls Park. The park is among my favorites. As college students, Jeff and I used to visit the Maryland side to go rock climbing. Other times, we'd head to the Virginia side for picnicking, hiking, and playing frisbee. Now, we return with our children to show them the powerful water, find wildflowers growing along the path, explore deep holes in trees, and hike along paths filled with wonders just waiting to be discovered. In truth, Aidan and Leo were crabby and tired. Yet the lure of the views, of the path through the woods, of hidden treasures in nooks and crevices, proved to be powerful antidotes to their weariness.

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul." -John Muir