Saturday, June 29, 2013

Summer Memory Tree

There's something very satisfying about the concrete collection of memories.  Two summers ago, we compiled a summer memory jar at the end of the season, then saved it to enjoy in the cold months of winter, as our literary friend Frederick did for his mouse family.  At Thanksgiving, we create a Tree of Thanks for the many blessings and riches in our lives.  And so, nearing the end of a particularly wonderful month, we found ourselves wanting to record the very detailed and specific favorite moments now, with the intention of tucking them away to remember later.

Our solution:  the Summer Memory Tree.  We found two slender but full branches and spray-painted them a cheery, bright green.  In sticking with the summer theme, we filled our glass vase with sand from the beach, firmly stuck in the green branches,then added blue stones at the top to represent the water (as well as for extra reinforcement).  After much deliberation and conversation, we ultimately decided on colorful polka-dot shapes to record our memories, and got to work filling out the circles, with many more on hand to add to the tree as the summer continues.  In addition to the tree, we have a list of "want to do's" that guide the direction of our days, especially Fun Fridays.  At the close of summer, we'll tuck these bright spots away in a cheery tin to ward off the darkness and chill of winter. 

The most recent additions include highlights from our visit with our dear friends, the Grants (who traveled all the way from California and included us in their East Coast tour):

Aidan: I loved making Stop Motion movies with Connor and playing Minecraft with him!
Leo:  Pretending to surf  and being crazy with Patrick on the pull-behind [on the boat] was AWESOME!
Pax:  It was so funny when we were on the big raft with Connor and Patrick!
Anne:  Our "California versus Virginia" wine tasting competition was so fun... especially since I totally rocked in identifying all 6 wines (blindly!).  Playing Cards Against Humanity until the wee morning hours was, of course, another highlight.
Jeff: I loved making a special Blue Moon homebrew in honor of the Grants' visit.  Also, the shrimp & grits and Mexican corn dinner was AMAZING.  I also loved the wine tasting... I probably enjoyed it a little too much.

Good stuff, I tell you.  Good stuff.

Friday, June 28, 2013

St. Mary's

Solomons Island was where we called home last week as we vacationed with another couple we met at college.  Between the two families, we have 6 boys ages 3-9.  Our days were filled with boating, fishing, swimming, seeing old friends, eating great food, reminiscing, telling stories, and soaking up every gorgeous minute of the weather and the friendship and the setting.  It was amazing.

But before we settled on Solomons, we visited our beloved little college.  I won't even let myself hope that one of my children chooses SMCM as their first choice school, but I can certainly revel in the memories of my own time there.  And revel, I did:

The brick where my name is boldly etched should have been proof enough:
I belong here.

But the handful of students we see, though friendly, dismiss us all without a second glance,
thinking we are a cliché, perhaps:
The dozen years of a post-college life together etched on our slightly worn faces
and somewhat graying hair
and the boys whose bodies are in constant, noisy motion  
mask the happiness and nostalgia that washes over us in a gentle yet constant tide
like the very water of the St. Mary’s River.

The students assume that the
has been sucked out of this 30-something couple with their three children: please come here for the picture, Leo! Pax, keep your hands to yourself; Aidan, please use kind words; yes Pax, I’ll take you to the potty again, no Pax, you cannot try to pet the groundhog, maybe Daddy can give you a piggy back for your tired feet, Leo?...

How do I convince them that this is no cliché, that this very
Adventure that we’re now on, this
Life that we’ve built, day by day and year by year, this
Love that we’ve invested, fortified, multiplied -
began here, on this gorgeous yet humble brick campus with a sprawling river bed and gently sloping hills and lush verdant wetland, home to groundhogs, heron, bullfrogs, and red winged black birds…?

As they pass us by, grinning and light-stepped, thinking that they are living the best years of their lives here at this beloved college,
we watch them with the full knowledge
that the best is yet to come.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Fun Fridays 1, 2, and 3!

We're three "Fun Fridays" in to summer.  What a perfectly fitting name I chose for these days of adventure.

Fun Friday #1:  Pool Day and Family Date Night!  This was our first official day of summer vacation, and the weather was simply glorious for a day at the pool.  We splashed and played all morning with friends, cleaned up in late afternoon, then headed out for a celebratory end-of-school dinner at our favorite beer and pizza restaurant.  Total success!! It was a wonderful day and an even better family date night.

Fun Friday #2:  the plan was to go to the swimming hole at the river and float our wooden toy boats (say that tongue twister five times fast - toy boat; toy boat; toy boat; toy boat!) but apparently early June is monsoon season here.  It poured buckets of rain all day long, so after much internal struggle with myself and my resistance to going to Bounce n Play in town, I reminded myself whose idea it was to do these Fun Fridays and what the whole point of them was.  We packed up the car and headed out.  (I also coerced friends of ours into joining us - a genius idea on my part). Although the place was very crowded with overly excited children, the kids had so much fun and there was not a single injury, hurt feeling, or tear shed.  I have real admiration for Pax and how well he holds his own against the big kids.  Oh, the perks of being the baby of the family!

Fun Friday #3:  A trend is emerging.... always have a plan B in mind.  After driving an hour and 20 minutes into Richmond to spend the day at Maymont, we arrived at the gate only to discover that the huge storms we'd received earlier in the week knocked down big trees and they'd closed the park for the day.  Quickly, and with the help of my trusty GPS, my mom and I decided to take the kids to the Children's Museum of Richmond, which was mercifully close - just 1.1 miles away.  Seamlessly, we transitioned to the museum and spent the day there.  It was fantastic.  I don't think I've ever seen my kids enjoy a museum more, and it was so un-crowded that I was easily able to keep track of them, making me able to enjoy the museum, as well.  I took tons of photos - here are a few from our day:
Digging for dino bones
Whoa, there, Triceratops!
E tu, Bronte?

"I'd like to make a deposit, please!"

*MY FAVORITE PART* = the one room schoolhouse (also lovin' the huge grin on Aidan's face)
Star Student (seriously. This kid knows *a lot* of letters and numbers, especially considering he's the third kid and I've kind of been slacking in this department lately...)
I love their focus and concentration in the art room!!
I find it hilarious that Pax chose to ride on the deer... since this is a "bucket list" dream of mine... yes, that's right - to ride on a (real) deer.
I love that this captures the two of them laughing and enjoying each other!!

Look what hatched from these eggs! (And I love what they are saying instead of "cheese" or "strawberries" or whatever - they're saying "Plan B!" as in "This museum is an awesome alternative to Maymont!)
The "Edith Ann" chair with my loves
Pax is totally photo bombing this pic!!
More photo bombing - love it! (Also love the sweet pic with my mom)
"We're rolling down the river..."
nearly capsizing on the white caps!!
These are the snakes that were, unfortunately, *not* too expensive at the gift shop. 
Fun Fridays are exactly as I'd envisioned.  We await their arrival with eager anticipation throughout the week, looking forward to the week's end in a whole new way.  And, truth be told, it's a good thing we plan them in advance and I hype them during the week, because otherwise, I am quite certain these adventures would not be happening.  Summer is fun, adventuresome, happy -- and utterly exhausting

Yet much like the delicious newborn days - when days and nights blur together interrupted only by the frequent demands of the sweet milky-scented beautiful new being - I trust that the weariness and exhaustion I feel now will similarly fade into the background, replaced with the memories etched like stone into our hearts and minds, these days of smiles and giggles and wonder and curiosity and joy that cannot be bottled or saved or even photographed, only savored in the moment.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


For Christmas, my mother gave me this ten year journal, which quickly became a most favorite gift.  (Read the amazon description to get a better sense of the journal).  Every day, I'm given just 4 short lines to provide a snapshot of what has been.  Then, there's one page per month of tiny boxes that contain enough space for a single word (or number) per day.  At first, I used the boxes to assign myself a grade for the day, but that was stressful.  Then, I started to wonder - am I really the optimist I proclaim myself to be?  I decided that I would use the tiny box to record the one word that best summarizes the whole day:  "good"; "great"; "outstanding"; "okay"; "awful"; "sad", etc.  At the end of May, I'd logged an impressive 26/31 days of good-to-great days.

The end of May included the following good-to-greats:

Field Trips - I felt especially lucky this year to be included on both Aidan and Leo's field trips.  Leo's trip was to the zoo, and the instructions to parents were clear:  no siblings allowed!  I had no idea that Leo was even more excited about a "Mom-only" trip than I was, but his beloved teacher made it clear that Leo had talked of little else in the week that preceded the trip: "My mom is coming on the field trip, but PAX ISN'T."  "Did you know that my mom is coming to the zoo, but PAX IS NOT ALLOWED?"  "My mom is coming on our field trip BUT SHE ISN'T BRINGING PAX."

It was an awesome day with his sweet, sweet classmates and friends.  Seeing so many familiar faces of parents chaperoning the trip, I felt deeply grateful, all over again, for this loving and kind community of people among whom we're raising our family.   

Emboldened by not having to wrangle Pax all day long, I even mustered the courage to try to "catch" one of these birdies on a food stick for Leo.  They were (mercifully) well-fed, though, and never actually landed on my stick.  I think Leo was as secretly relieved as I was that none of them took our bait.  It seems we both harbor a deep-seated feeling of orinthophobia. 
I was extra-lucky to attend Aidan's field trip this year, because only one parent was allowed to chaperone per class.  With the help of several key folks, all of the 3rd grade classes at his school received a grant to visit Monticello, free of charge.  Everyone was thrilled with this opportunity, made only sweeter by the fact that the tour guide assigned to Aidan's class was none other than.... his grandma!!  My mom did a fabulous job on leading the Roundabout tour for the class, and I was so proud of the kids for their kind and respectful behavior toward everyone  - and everything - on the tour.  To top it all off, we celebrated Aidan's birthday with Snickerdoodle cookies and juice boxes and a rousing chorus of "Happy Birthday."
The always-impressive Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson
A footrace on a most gorgeous end-of-May day

Aidan entered his LAST YEAR of single-digit living on May 28 when we celebrated his 9th birthday.  Here he is, holding up all but one pinkie.... (I love this pic because of the Little Brother Embrace--) 
Happy 9th Birthday, Aidan!

...and I love this pic of him, riding his new bike (with youngest brother in hot pursuit) because of the bow affixed to his helmet.  He did that himself, and hasn't removed it since. 

The whirlwind week ended with the last day of school, which was, as usual, a bittersweet event.  The boys have been so lucky in the teachers they've had, and this year was no exception.  Although they were thrilled with the prospect of "sleeping in" (we've yet to make it past 6:23 a.m.), they were both quite sad to bid farewell to beloved teachers and kind classmates.

Up-and-coming 4th and 1st graders!

Happy Birthday celebration!
Aidan chose to celebrate his birthday with a "favorite things" roundup.  He invited his favorite buddy to join us for roller skating, pizza dinner, ice cream sundaes, a movie, and a sleepover. What a blast!!  We pretty much had the entire roller rink to ourselves, and the boys practiced perfecting their skills on wheels.  I taught Aidan some tricks of mine, and was happy that the family (plus one) voted me the #1 skater at the end of the skate session.  Dinner was delicious, and the sundaes were divine.

The month of May included many other sweet moments, including this fierce little two wheeling three year old in his bionic, 3-D glasses:

 Can you believe this pic?  The background of this photo is blurry because he is speeding along that fast.  He is a daredevil in green! (his favorite color, by the way)
Leo decided to work on his read-aloud and fluency skills by reading one of his faves to Pax, who was a most willing audience.  (I'll never grow tired of these read-aloud pics). 
Go Away, Big Green Monster! (Ed Emberly)
Perhaps the most poignant and memorable moment for me, however, in this end-of-year bustle came as I was unpacking the various notebooks, folders, pencil boxes, and crayon cases that were sent home on the last day. In each boys' box, I found the following notes: 

I wrote them on the first day of school. I found them again on the last day of school.  Each boy had tucked away my note in a careful yet accessible spot where, presumably, they read the notes weekly or perhaps even daily.

And here I was, thinking they'd discarded them without a second glance..... 

**Addendum: (6/3/13)  I've been thinking about these notes, these little discovered treasures over the past few days.  On Saturday, I attended the high school graduation of 5 of my youth group kids.  Watching all of these 18-year-olds on the cusp of adulthood, I noticed the same exchange occurring over and over again: the seniors, upon reaching their seats, scanned the crowd until their eyes settled on those whom they were seeking:  Mom.  Dad.  Time and time again, the look of peace and relief and reassurance that overcame each graduate's face as they made that connection to Mom or Dad was so moving.  Watching the seniors, I was reminded of these little notes, secreted away for the whole school year, presumably offering peace, relief, and reassurance during the long school day.