September 24, 2010

Putting Down Roots

My blueberry plants had been by the house all spring and summer. I had been waiting for the perfect spot to put them. And when the garden expansion project was finally over, at least the nitty gritty part of it, I knew exactly where to put them. They would be the first additions to the berry patch portion of the new garden.

I hauled everything I needed out to the garden, lamented over the condition of the chunky soil, told myself that soon the "new" dirt would be as beautiful as the "old" dirt in the "old" garden, and set to work.

After the holes were dug, I carefully lifted the blueberry plants out of the planters they had been in since May. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised by what I saw - pathetic, small roots.

These plants had been in ideal conditions since day one. I planted them in a half and half mix of potting soil containing plant food and peat moss in an attempt to achieve the acidic conditions they need to thrive. They sat next to the house sheltered from wind and were watered plentifully and frequently.

What's the point in putting down roots when everything is perfect near the surface? But how will the plant survive tough conditions without strong roots?

Hmmm...are you feeling the same analogy I am? Yes, it is a tired, overused analogy, but the Truth is there nonetheless.

I was forced to face myself and the conditions of my own roots. Am I using the more difficult days of my earthly existence to put down deep roots into my Source of strength, my Source of eternal life, my Jesus? Or am I whining and wondering why conditions aren't more perfect on the surface? How will I survive the truly difficult winds of life?

I place the beautiful-on-top, pathetic-underneath blueberry plants in their new home, a new home that will not be kind to them. Like the rest of my garden, they will have to endure too much rain and too much wind and high heat and not enough rain. But just like the Gardener of my soul, I equip my beautiful plants. They get a generous helping of peat moss and are watered thoroughly, because, you see, I love them and I want them to bear fruit.

With the job done and dirt under my fingernails, I take the kids to see what treasures are in the rest of the garden.
(You see the gardening gloves in my back pocket? I always forget to actually put them on.)

And then I decide to link up to Jess' Facing Myself Photo Challenge  for the first time.

This is me. I'm putting down roots.

September 21, 2010

Wal Mart Makes Me Hyperventilate

I survived another harrowing shopping trip to Wal Mart today - but only barely.

Once a month or so I head to the big city an hour away (who's population hovers around 10,000 during non-tourist season) to do some shopping.

Let me say that the drive today was spectacular with leaves just starting to turn and a happy blue sky dotted with puffy clouds. So in that, there was some redemption for the day, but only some.

There were stunning photo ops at every turn on my drive, but I did not have my camera and I did not have time. So in that, there is sadness and a photo-less story.

I'm usually excited about my shopping trip to the big city. I drop the kids of at Nana's, I have my list, and I am dreaming about a few of the fun items I get to buy.

I buy my fun items. I get some great deals. I get a new pair of shoes. And I'm exhausted.

There are few things that exhaust me to the core as much as shopping does. And, as I always do in the big city, I save the worst for last. You guessed it - Wal Mart. I only save it for last because I buy food there, and even with the coolers in the back of my vehicle, I don't want the food hanging out in there any longer than the ride home.

As soon as I walk into the store, hear the hum of whatever it is that always hums so deafeningly in there, and wrap my fingers around the germ-laden handle of the cart, I just want to run away screaming...or curl up into a little ball and wish it all away.  But my list is long and I press on.

Even though I have conditioned myself to only purchase what's on my list, I still find the endless array of things to buy there dizzying. I make it through the health and beauty section, the garden section, the storage options section, the little boys clothing section (who knew buying socks for kids was so challenging?) and finally arrive at the produce section where I begin the last leg of my painful shopping journey.

By this time, my vision has narrowed to about 2 feet in front of me, and everything outside of that radius is a blur. My breathing is quick and shallow, and I'm chanting to myself, "just keep going, just keep going." I realize this all sounds very dramatic and even though I have a tendency to exaggerate, this is all true. I'm struggling through every painful second of this.

Why do I put myself though this? In the end, to save a few bucks and to purchase things I can't get in our home town. This metropolis of a store allows me to stock up on items to feed my family while still staying reasonably within the ballpark of our grocery budget.

I'm not even really sure why Wal Mart makes me feel this way. I'm not one of those that is strictly against how they obtain their products. My best friend from highschool traveled around the world on a ship for two years and saw first hand the good that factories making products for Wal Mart brought to underdeveloped communities. Those factories got those people out of the trash heaps. Their standard of living improved dramatically. I could go on, but Wal Mart has sucked enough time out of my day.

Maybe it's all because deep down I know that no amount of material possesions will last or satisfy. Wal Mart knows that humans are trying to be happy and trying to fill a void, so they offer countless products to band aid the void. Even if I could afford to buy everything my heart fancied in that store or any other, I will still be tired, empty, and dizzy. Even the few "fun" things I got to buy won't be "fun" by next week, and I will have a whole new list of things that I think I need. 

There is absolutely nothing in my cart or in the bags in the car that will give me lasting happiness or last at all. It's pointless to even attempt to fill my heart with the material. It will never satisfy.

In the end, all I need is Jesus. It sounds so simple, so impossible, so unrealistic. But maybe this world's "real" really isn't real.

" not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about your body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing." Luke 12:22-23

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...You cannot serve God and mammon (money/materialism)." Matthew 6:19-21 & 24b

So I'll finish hyperventilating, push my heavy cart to the check out where I will wait forever, be thankful that God has provided the means to purchase these items, and work on filling my heart with lasting treasure.

September 17, 2010

Middle Cullen Tribute

We live for our lakes here in Minnesota. And rightfully so; we've got a lot of 'em and they have a lot to offer.

But what is it about a bunch of water that has us all so mesmerized? Why do we buy boats/pontoons/jet skis and cram as many people as possible onto them to float around on the water? Why do we risk our lives by strapping ourselves to skis, hanging on to tubes, and kneeling on kneeboards pulled by boats at 20 miles an hour around a lake? Why will I stress myself to the max just to get to the beach at least once a week during the summer? Why do my kids play so much better and for so much longer at the water's edge?

I don't really know the answers to those questions, and I really don't even care to know. I love "the lake" and ultimately it brings our family together, so I'll just leave it at that.


One morning on our Middle Cullen Lake vacation not so long ago, my sister-in-law and I woke up early to make egg bake and rolls for our group. We pulled up the shades to reveal this:

And while our calorie laden breakfast cooked in the oven, the boys who were awake did this:

With a show of brotherly love, those same boys later did this:

And after a challenging evening, I got up early the next morning to go for a walk by myself and found this:

September 12, 2010

No Jets Here

While we were on vacation, we attempted something. We put all three kiddos in the tub at the same time. They're cousins and soon they will be too old for this, so why not?

It went fine.  I wouldn't say they really liked it, but it went fine.


We decided to turn the jets on in the tub....just to see their reaction. Why not?

What we did not take into consideration was that Ava was sitting in the back near the strongest jets, and when we hit the "on" button, it was like her back was being pressure washed.

Melt down on aisle 12!

We turned off the jets, consoled the little girl, and that was that.


Next bath time.  Ava says, "Mommy, please don't give me a mean bath."

"What's a mean bath?" I ask.

Ava being a fine female communicator restates her request more precisely. "Please don't turn the jets on."

I her assure we won't, and we follow this verbal routine throughout each subsequent vacation bath time.

We return home and reach bath night. After we wrestle a too big, too strong, wiggly Jack-Jack out of the tub, Ava, finally alone in the tub, makes a declaration.

"Mommy! We don't have jets in our tub!"

No, Ava, we certainly don't.

Autumn Joy

I decided it was time.

I had been refraining myself for weeks now, allowing only a little peek here and there.

After all, it is autumn now, right? I know the solstice or equinox, or whichever it is (I even checked my calendar for the accurate term, but it only says "Autumn Begins." That's the last time I buy a calendar with such watered-down terminology), won't happen for another week or two. But the air is crisp, the fields are golden, and although I'm itching for one last trip to the beach, I've decided to embrace the season early instead of being dragged kicking and screaming away from my shorts and swimsuits.

Maybe my readiness to embrace fall this year is because of this delayed gratification. This odd beauty at the back of my garden, the one I was certain wouldn't make it, the one I've never grown before...the one I've been pining over since August.

I twist one of the stalk and let Jack and Ava help me carefully pull back each golden layer. The three of us gleefully gasp as we finally reveal what's underneath. This autumn treasure did not disappoint. The first one is mostly a gorgeous olive green, and the second one is pink and purple. The next is a mixture of every fall color I can imagine, and the fourth is each hue in pastel. I reach for the miniture variety and peel away burgundy layers instead of golden ones, and am truly shocked at what is hidden inside - neat little rows of the deepest rust red kernals.

It's like opening presents, and it never gets old. Each one is different and each one yields equal joy.

And as I snap pictures in every possible angle and in every possible light, I begin to wonder if this is how God sees us.

He plants us and grows us and exposes us to too much rain and too much wind and high heat and not enough rain. The husks of our flesh begin to wither, and soon the cool of harvest arrives. The other garden creations wonder what's wrong with this strange plant as they boast their bright red tomatoes, majestic orange pumpkins, and luscious deep green squash.

Only God knows the stunning beauty that has been secretly developing beneath the tough and ugly exterior. Little bits of it begin to peak through the dying husks, and only God knows when it's time to peel back the layers of our self, our flesh to reveal the uniqueness below.

His eager anticipation of revealing who He's made us to be bubbles over into excitement as at last His creation is revealed. No two are the same, and although some are small and some are big and some are bold and some are pastel, each one brings Him joy.

I wonder no more. Of course this is how God feels about us. Why else would I feel such joy over something so simple if it were not a picture of how my Savior feels about me?

Oh and I remember now. It's equinox. Summer solstice and Autumnal equinox. I'll never forget.

September 7, 2010

Apparently There's Only Room for One Princess in This Kingdom

Jack (to Mommy): You a pincess (princess)

Mommy: Oh, thanks Jack! You are a handsome boy.

Jack: You a pincess!

Mommy: And you are a prince! Better yet, a knight! Knights ride big horses and fight dragons and protect princesses. Ava is a princess too!

Jack: Ava a pincess!

Ava (to Mommy): You're not a princess.

Kitchen Inspiration

The other day I spent time on a kitchen floor other than my own.

A friend called out of the blue and offered to watch my kids. I set up the date and promptly called my mother in law.

What was it that I wanted to do with 3 hours of time away from the kids?  Shop? No.  Clean? Heavens, no.  Relax and read a good book? Well, that would be nice, but I have no time for that.

You see, I wanted to learn to can. Yes, I realize this only adds to the list of things that I can barely keep up with, but food preservation is an addiction for me. By early August, my deep freeze was already full to the seams and the garden still had more to give. I had never encountered this dilemma in previous years, so I bought me some beautiful new jars and set a goal.

I excitedly prepped my salsa the night before my canning lesson, surprised by how buckets and buckets of tomatoes and green peppers and onions condensed into one large pot of bubbling salsa.

The next day I packed it all up, dropped off the kids, and set up shop in my mother in law's kitchen. (I'm not entirely sure if I can pressure cook on my glass cook top, so her gas range, pressure cooker and years of experience fit the bill.)

After a few initial instructions and a few dumb blonde moments on my part, my beautiful new jars were packed, covered and sealed into a pressure cooker happily singing away.

We passed the time by chatting, paging through canning books, admiring the hair dos in the 1930s instruction manual that came with the pressure cooker, and perusing through my mother in law's canning journal.

Yes. You heard me right. A canning journal - dating back to the mid 1980s. A small blue notebook contained an annual inventory of all items she had canned for her busy farming family of 4 hungry boys.

I was inspired! How is it possible that I, plagued by what I affectionately call the DeVries curse (I'll save explanations on that one for another post), do not yet have a journal such as this?  My mind raced with the possibilities of the things I could record and color code.

A beeping sound brought me back to reality, and it was time to take the hot jars of the cooker. After a brief instruction on proper canning tong usage, I set my jars of salsa on the counter and heard for the first time what has quickly been added to my list of favorite sounds: the delightful *pop* of those little lids snapping into place to seal my garden bounty into beautiful jars.

(Wish I would have left the skirts on the jars for the picture, but oh well. And I can't determined if this photo is out of focus or if I'm just distracted by all the dust!)

And what about my inspiration for a canning journal? Well, my friends, a quiet and rainy Labor Day has solved that problem. I now have my own canning journal (in addition to the colored coded Excel spreadsheet I use for my freezer inventory.)

September 4, 2010

A Walk in the Woods

I escape for a few minutes, just me, my camera, and .......quiet. Even typing that word...quiet...makes me heave a sigh as I feel it's illusive fingers wrap around me and then slip away.

I'm surrounded by quiet and stillness here in the north woods of Minnesota, yet chaos still seems to follow me.

Tonight I was determined to exhaust my children and then put them to bed at a decent time, something that is always so hard to do on vacation. We head out for a walk, my sister-in-law, nephew, Jack and Ava, and I. The air is deliciously crisp, even to me, a girl perfectly happy and comfortable in 90 degree weather with equal humidity. I can feel my cheeks and nose turn a happy bright shade of pink and the glow is reflected on the faces of my babies happily trotting along with their pails. You see, we're going searching for treasures on our walk - pine cones of all shapes and sizes, chunks of birch bark, and other pretty things to be found in woods.

The pails fill up, and I even find a few things I may use to make a collage for the dining room wall at home. But what's a walk with three 2 1/2 year olds without fighting, running ahead, lagging behind, and near collisions with SUVs slowing picking their way over the winding Wilderness Road we're strolling along.

Jack has been at it all day. I'm not sure why (well, I've read enough books about boys to know why, but this knowledge doesn't always make it easier), but Jack has been randomly hitting and kicking everyone today. And being on our walk does not stop this behaviour. He makes his way up to his auntie and cousin and kicks them in the leg.

Meanwhile, Ava is yards behind us all admiring everything on the road and off. "Look at this pretty rock/pinecone/stick/flower/etc/etc." I long to go back and slowly stroll with her, but Jack has stopped kicking long enough to run ahead of us all and jog up the middle of the winding road on which on-coming traffic will not be able to see him.

I'm torn. What do I do? Ava needs me to slow to her pace and admire the beauty in everything while urging her to keep going and see what's next. Jack needs me to race him up the next hill, encourage his freedom, yet reign him in and hold his hand when cars go by. And it seems that I can do neither. I'm defeated, neglecting the individual needs of both children, standing on the road of life leading to our cabin, looking forward to one in constant danger and looking back to one in a world of her own.

Somehow we make it alive back to the cabin, and I tell the kids to go make a fire with their father who has been doing guy things with his brothers. They excitedly agree. I grab my camera and set back off down the road.

Within steps, quiet envelopes me. Oh, I can still hear the hum of traffic on 371 in the distance and the laughter of brave pre-adolescents jumping in the lake on a chilly evening. But to me, this is quiet, and for a few moments my mind feels clear again.

I manage to re-locate a quintessential middle-earth-like location that I had admired earlier in the blur of strolling with my twins. There are at least 4 different types of moss that I can see, and their delicate, quiet beauty makes me understand why people have moss gardens. I stroll along a bit more and snap a few photos here and there, none of which really turn out to my liking. I need to better familiarize myself with my manual focus.

I try the telephoto lens settings on my camera and the wide angle and the close up, but feel a bit defeated by them all. I snap the lens cap in place and rest against the mossy ledge I've found. Squirrels and chipmunks chatter and gather around me and loons call from the lake.

With tears in my eyes, I reflect on Jack and Ava. It never ceases to amaze me how much "easier" it was during their first year of life, the year people told me would be the hardest. Being confident with my mothering decisions and sticking to a rather strict routine got us through the first 2 years rather well.  But now I have day after day and moment after moment of situations I'm not entirely sure how to handle.

Motherhood is thrilling and exciting, but it is also the most demoralizing thing I've ever had to tackle. I know God will equip me and parent my kids through me, and I stumbled across a timely quote on the blog of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend which states, "God has a plan for your child and you won't mess it up."

I meander back to our cabin in time for Jack and Ava's first s'mores. Fire, toddlers, pointy roasting sticks, and lots of sugar. There are priceless memories to make.

September 2, 2010

Fecal Adventures

Blogger has this feature: this little radio button you can select to warn readers that there may be "adult content" in your blog.

I think there should be a "gross content" radio button. Because I would need it for today's tale from the kitchen.

So now you have been warned. If poop grosses you out, you should stop reading here.

On to my story...

In one of my many attempts at potty training, I sent Jack out the door to play one morning with no diaper on. I told him he could pee on a tree or off the deck or ....whatever. As long as it was intentional peeing, I didn't care.

I headed back in the house to fetch Ava when it suddenly occurred to me that it was around 9:00 am. This is when my Jack-Jack usually ...hmm...does his business for the day. I'm serious. You could set your clock by that boy's bowels.

I run back outside calling "Jack-Jack! Let's put a diaper back on!"

I wish there was a good way to describe the way he walked back to the house. It was sort of a cross between the way a pregnant lady walks and a penguin wobbles.

I can only laugh, because sometimes if you don't laugh, you'll just cry.

"Jack," I inquire, "Did you poop?"

"Yes." So matter of fact, so I-know-this-is-not-ideal.

I begin to tip toe across the lawn as if I'm walking on hot coals asking Jack where he pooped.

"Ova dare," he tells me, pointing to the big Box elder tree in his fence.  And I see it. One might think we have a sick dog in the yard, but no. It's just Jack. You see, to fully understand what I was facing you have to realize the quantity of fresh fruit Jack eats, and we just came off a week of oodles of fresh peaches and blueberries.

Ugh. If this was in another place in the yard it wouldn't be so bad. But this is where my babies play. And Ava's obsessed with that tree.

Somehow I manage to scrape up most of this gooey mess and I pour bleach on the rest. Yes, bleach, on my grass. Would you be surprised to find out that it did not kill the grass there? I was.

Oh, and Jack. He was covered in the remnants of undigested peaches and blueberries from his waist to his ankles, and that was fun to clean, too!

On to my next story...

I'm cuddling with my Jack-Jack before nap time. He starts to quiet down when Ava marches into the room. I tell her, "Shhh, go wait in your room and I'll be right there."

In a not so quiet voice she tells me "I'm gonna sit on the potty first!"

Okay. Fine. Go sit on the potty. She's been doing it all day. I don't think the girl actually realizes that you are supposed to do something on the potty.

She tromps down the stairs and begins her ritual. Seconds later I hear the clomp, clomp, clomp of her not-so-light foot steps going from the bathroom to my bedroom. I hear things opening and clomp, clomp, clomp back to the bathroom.

I tell myself it can't be that bad. I'm not about to interrupt Jack's pre nap time quiet for anything. I need this boy to take his nap!

As I lay Jack in his crib, I hear more fumbling coming from the downstairs bathroom, and I run down there. Peeking in there I see Ava and ....poop....lots and lots of poop....everywhere..........everywhere BUT in the potty. There's poop on the floor, on the hand towel, on the sides of the potty. Ava had apparently clomped to my room to fetch a few wipes to attempt to clean up the mess since the hand towel obviously didn't work for her.

Holding fist fulls of dirty wipes, she spots me and as soon as she does, she begins to cry. (I completely teared up telling my husband this story and I'm almost certain he did, too). She's either embarrassed, ashamed, or completely overwhelmed. I rush down to the floor and begin helping her wipe the mess, feeling my heart ache over her tears.

I know this is getting long, but do we have time for one more story? Maybe one with a picture? It's short, I promise!

Somewhere in the midst of the messiness from the above Ava declared one day that she had a poopy in her diaper.

Always trying to cram one more little task in before I start the next, I call out, "I'll be right there!"

In the mean time, Ava climbed up the changing table, again declaring to the world that she had a poopy. Jack runs into the room saying, "Ooooo! Let me see!"

I never said it was a good picture. I just said I had a picture. And I've had enough poop...