Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dear Carson,

"Arrrrrrrrr. Arrrrrrrrrr. Rrrrrrrrr." I watch my wooden spoon as it slowly stirs the bubbling Alfredo sauce and lose myself in the quiet sounds of your playing. Though the sounds drift from another room, my minds eye easily fills in the visual to accompany them and I see you, quietly practicing your 'r' sounds as you slide around on your knees building your train track. An emergency flares up in your game and you start to warn the other trains, "Oh no! Watch out! Dangeuh! Dangeuh! Dange...rrrrrr. Dangerrrr!" The sound of crashing trains takes over for a moment, and then all is silent. I stop listening and start paying closer attention to dinner; time to boil the noodles, warm up the green beans and set the table.

"Mom, listen!" you call, seconds later. "Cahrrrr-sn, Cahrrrrrr-sn. Am I doing it?!"
"You are!" I answer. "Great job, buddy!" The forced excitement in my voice fools you... inside, my heart is breaking a little.

I know it has to happen. Soft 'r' sounds aren't nearly so endearing on a 16 year old as they are on a 3 year old. But I happen to still find them heart-melting coming from you. *Sigh* No one told me how much it could hurt to watch your kid grow up perfectly...


You and I stood together in front of our church congregation on a Sunday morning two weeks ago. I listened to the hum of the congregation and silently nodded to our accompanist to begin playing. As the beautiful arrangement of Silent Night began, I grabbed your little hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze... out of the corner of my eye, I saw your face wrinkle in a smile and would later hear that that smile made a sweet impression to many of those watching.

I've been impressed with the sweetness in your singing voice since before you could talk - long before you could string words together, you would hum simple melodies with such clarity that it was easy to recognize the song in your head. Mostly it was 'Hot Cross Buns' (which McKenzie was learning to play on the piano... it was stuck in all of our heads!), but occasionally you would mix it up with a rendition of 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star' or 'I am a Child of God'. As your vocabulary grew, words started sprinkling throughout your melodies... now, rhythm has started to beat itself from your hands... snippets of made-up melodies play under your fingers from the keys of our piano... and it has become ever more clear that you have a talent - a gift - in music.

When I was asked to sing a few weeks ago, I gladly accepted, and knew I wanted you to sing with me. But when I approached you with the idea, you were sure you did not want to do it. "Nah," you said, shaking your head. "I don't weally want to."
"Please, buddy? I was thinking we could sing your very favorite song, Silent Night."
"Is there another song you'd like to sing? Anything you want..."
It was clear I was getting no closer, so I dropped it for the night. The next day, I decided to come at it from a different angle.
"What do you want?"

The bribing angle.

"What would you want me to get for you if you sing with me."
Your eyes narrowed, chin dropped, and I could see the wheels turning in your head. You had me begging, and knew you could get away with some pretty high demands. Finally you put out your decision; your voice was sneaky and serious, "Three packs of gum."
I smiled, "Done," I said.

Through the next week we practiced, singing it through once or twice a day between games of tag and house. We practiced through Skype to Grandma. And then again for Nana and Poppy. I watched through the computer monitor as you made Nana cry with your piercingly clear high notes... then she asked if you'd sing it again so she could record it on her phone. I needed just as much practicing as you did... singing my own verse after you had sung yours was almost impossible through the lump you kept bringing to my throat. And then, after we discovered that you could hold your melody line just fine if I jumped to sing alto alongside you, I couldn't stop laughing in amazement every time we'd diverge into different parts.

The big morning came and you looked so sharp in your navy blue, pinstripe suit. You and I wandered off just before the meeting started and found an empty room. Sneaking inside and closing the door behind us, I let you in on my little secret: before every performance, I always find a quiet place to sink to my knees and thank Heavenly Father for my singing voice. I asked if you wanted to pray with me that morning, and together we thanked our God. We asked him to please help us remember our notes and our words and to, most importantly, let his Spirit pour out through our voices and touch those who heard us.

As the final notes of the introduction finished playing, I looked out over the congregation again and watched... you squeezed my hand in response to my own squeeze, and drew in your breath. "Si - lent Night," you sang. The rumbling hum of the congregation quieted into silence as every ear and face quickly turned to you. "Ho - ly Night," perfect. Your high notes were simple, effortless and beautiful... Through it all, you nervously twisted my ring around and around my finger, but it didn't show in your sweet voice, and by the end of your verse I saw many hands in the congregation wiping tears from their eyes. A nervous twitch pricked inside me as I realized I needed to sing next and a silent prayer shot from my heart 'please don't let me kill this feeling Carson has created.' A warm feeling filled me to my toes and took the nerves away as I drew in my own breath. You stood still next to me as I sang my verse - a small miracle for your wiggly muscles - and when you came back in to join me on the third verse, you hit every note of the melody while I sang the alto in your ear.

It was, in a word, perfect. You touched people to their inner core - and I received compliment after compliment in your behalf. I'm sitting here, almost three weeks later, fighting back the tears just remembering it. I. Am so. Proud of you.

We have tried time and time again to replicate it in our living room in front of the camera, but it's never been quite the same. And now we've reached a point where you just refuse to sing it again. But I have little snippets of greatness recorded - and some full recordings where you're a bit distracted, but I suppose that's all as it should be. We were truly helped by the Spirit that Sunday morning; I guess it's fitting that we're not able to perform it quite as well on our own. Perhaps that's why I feel to try and memorialize it in words...

I can't help but feel overwhelmed with thankfulness that we were able to do it this year... because I have a feeling that if we'd done it next year, the tender memory I have of your little voice forming those words might not be quite so precious. I hope to always be able to hear that sweet phrase in my mind the way you sang it from the pulpit...

"Awll is calm... Awll is bwight."

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Found this picture here.

I remember the first cell phone my dad brought home. It was literally the size of a brick but somehow managed to look quite chic in it's black case hanging off of his braided belt. When it rang, he would unclip it and gently raise the antenna before speaking. This antenna-pulling is a faint memory of mine... so faint that it prompted a text to my dad to make sure, "Didn't you have to pull an antenna up on your first cell phone? Am I remembering that right?" His response, "Yes. The first two or three of them." Now my cell phone is small enough it consistently disappears inside my purse, causing slight chaos and frustration when I can hear it ringing, but can't seem to grab on to it... and many times, in my search, my finger brushes the touch-screen just right, answering the phone before I even know exactly where it is...


Miles and I were scrolling through the pictures on my blog today, pausing at each one for him to exclaim "Teh-nee! Cahsn! Mie-yuls!" Going through pictures is one of his favorite activities, and I can generally get a lot of work done in the ways of sifting through, deleting, and renaming pictures while Miles sits on my lap for the slide-show. It doesn't bother him if I go back through the same pictures 47 times while trying to decide which ones will end up in the recycle bin. (PS - does anyone else find it odd that the garbage area on a computer is labeled a 'recycle bin'? Really? How, exactly, is my computer going to re-use my thousands of picture files?) Today I didn't have much time to sit in front of the computer, however, so after scrolling down my blog page once, I plopped him down on the swivel chair and showed him how to use the mouse to scroll through the pictures himself. I busied myself by picking up the endless scraps of paper littered throughout the office from one of McKenzie's unfinished craft ideas (which seem to be silently taking over our lives...). Moments later, I looked at him and was shocked, for the millionth time in my life, at how much things have changed since I was a kid... it really hasn't been that long, you know. But, there my baby was, propped up on his knees, face inches away from the computer screen, scrolling away through digital pictures with his pudgy 2-year-old hand.


"Mrs. Alder, do you know how to use the Nook?" I was sitting at the back table of McKenzie's second grade classroom grading papers last Tuesday. I looked up at Ms. M. who was busy with a crowd of kids around her to see her eyes waiting for my response. Her classroom has 5 color Nooks - Barnes and Noble's popular version of a Kindle - and the children seem to enjoy reading from them. I glanced over at the Nook table and noticed there was a bit of commotion; it seemed a few of the children were confused and the assistant, Mrs. R., had just straightened up and shrugged her shoulders in helplessness. "Well, I haven't actually ever seen one before, but I think I can figure it out," I responded. Taking the first color Nook in my hand, I gently ran my finger along the screen to help the first child select a book to read. "Oh my," said Mrs. R. over my shoulder, "you just touch the screen, huh?"
"Yeah, pretty crazy, isn't it?" I said back.
"My, oh, my." She walked away shaking her head in disbelief.

I know where she's coming from. It seems a little futuristic to me, too. But many of those kids held the Nooks with no fear, navigating them with ease. One little girl even made reference to her own Nook at home, and taught me how to get back to the library page. You won't ever see a child of today shake his head in disbelief at a touch screen.


The days of cell phone antennas were limited from the beginning... Could the days of the computer mouse be approaching the same fate? To me, seeing my 2-year-old's hand guiding it around the mouse pad seemed a sign of how far things had come... But for him, maybe someday he'll look back on a faint memory and ask,

"Wait, didn't we used to use a mouse to guide ourselves around the screen? Am I remembering that right?"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dear Miles,

We walked into Costco today together - just you and me. It seems a simple thing, really... and yet, the sound of your stomping feet and the feel of your little hand wrapped inside my own caused a tightening in my throat. Your soul is strong. Independent. And, to you, holding my hand is a sign of weakness and inferiority to which you are often unwilling to submit. We have a getting-into-the-store routine when we go shopping. A routine that has become more habitual than anything else. You begin to struggle to free yourself from the top buckle in your car seat the moment the engine switches off. You've gotten faster at it over the months... and I admit to feeling a bit uncomfortable that you're able to do it at all. By the time I open your side door, you've almost done it, and I slowly unlatch the bottom as you finish. "I jump?" you ask. You don't really mean it as a question - more as a reminder that I am not to help you out of the car. As your shoes hit the pavement you hear a familiar phrase from me as I extend my hand, "You hold my hand, or I hold you."
"No hand," you say. You turn your shoulder to me and wait for my standard response.
"Then I will hold you." I move to pick you up, but you stomp your foot in frustration.
"I walk!"
"Then hold my hand."
"No hand."
Surprisingly, it usually ends smoothly. You turn your back to me, yes, but by the time you are propped on my hip, you have already surrendered to your fate and resume your normal conversation topics: "Daddy at wuhk?" (Yes, Daddy is at work) 'Cahsn at tool?' (Yes, Carson is at school) 'Teh-nee bus?' (No, Kenzie got off the bus and now she is at school, too) 'Oh. Teh-nee at tool?' (Yes, Kenzie's at school) 'Oh.' You know the routine. You know how it will end. But that doesn't stop you from trying to walk in on your own. Every. Single. Time.

But today when I stretched my hand out to you, you took it. You took it without thought, as if this had been the routine all along. We turned our feet toward the store and began the walk across the large parking lot. Your fingers curled around the outside edge of my hand and a smile tugged at the corners of my mouth. When did this little hand get so big? I thought as I squeezed it tighter. I wonder when I stopped holding out one finger for you to grasp...

And now, as I type this, you come in to see me... skin cool and damp from your evening bath; hair smelling of coconut in soft, wet curls; so proud of your Buzz Lightyear pajamas; and asking me to 'lizzen' to your song. An adorable combination of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and I Am a Child of God...

little star.
How I wonder what
Him someday."

So, I leave this post relatively unfinished - lacking in pictures and editing - because my heart is being called for by your sweet plea.

I will 'lizzen' to you - for as many days and years as you'll let me... and forever after that.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Scrambled Thoughts

Well, I can't help but notice that there seems to be quite a correlation between the increased amount of time Brian spends at home and the decreased frequency of my blogging. While I do enjoy spending so many free moments with him, I do not enjoy watching so many weeks go by leaving nothing more for you to read than my boring old travel logs. We're going to have to work on a solution for this! But, in the meantime, here are a few scrambled thoughts for to give you a picture of what has been going on in my head lately:

1. Winter Laundry is Back

Poo on winter laundry! (Actually, let's not use that phrase...) Hooray to me for finding such a tall and handsome man to marry but, frankly, his jeans take up a third of the washing machine. Add a few sweaters and the coat that my child spilled hot chocolate on and I've got a full load, my friend. A frustrating concept if you live with a septic tank and have to carefully monitor the amount of water that exits your house in a day to prevent unpleasant odors swirling around your backyard... Blankets, coats, sweaters, jeans and long-sleeved t-shirts... it's a bit challenging to get it all done when you can only do 1-2 loads of laundry per day. And, I've got to keep all those little toes warm - ten wiggly feet that need new socks every day - so that by the end of the week there is a daunting pile of 70 lone socks that need to be matched. The countdown begins now for laundry baskets filled with shorts and t-shirts again. :)

2. Black Friday is for Crazies

And, call me crazy, I joined the masses this year. My favorite purchase: this lovely pre-lit Christmas tree. How did I not know the wondrous blessing of a Christmas tree that has been strung with Christmas lights for you? My life has changed for good... This year as we plugged the Christmas tree in, I couldn't help but feel like something was missing - and then I realized... yes ... it was the HOURS of untangling Christmas lights and winding them around those itchy branches while convincing my children (for all those hours) that 'I'm almost done and that, soon, we can start decorating the tree with all of those lovely ornaments tantalizing you...' Never again, folks. Never again. We are a plug-and-done family now.

3. Christ Centered Christmas

Last Christmas I came away feeling a bit empty. We had partied hard and counted down the days with the best of the crowd. We sang our hearts out in carols and thought long about gifts. We started some new, loved traditions and laughed and played and kept the 'jolly' alive... but we kind of missed bringing Christ into the center of our celebrations. And, after the celebrations were over, my heart didn't feel swollen with love and gratitude for my Savior. I decided I didn't much like that, and vowed that this year would be different. And so it is! We have taken a page (or a hundred pages) out of the book 'A Christ Centered Christmas' and it has, so far, transformed our way of celebrating. Through the month, we are slowly assembling the nativity scene... taking a full night (or sometimes a group of nights) to talk about each of the figures that played a part in that miraculous night. Each figure in the nativity has its own tradition that accompanies it and we have found the first two traditions, surrounding Mary and then Joseph, very meaningful and have high hopes for the rest of our month. Tomorrow we talk about the wisemen - and in honor of their search for Christ, we will attend a Christmas concert with the children and search for His name in the words of the songs, and search for His spirit in our hearts as we let the music fill us. And, at the end of the night, we will place the wisemen in our little homemade nativity set.

4. Feeling the Homesick Bug

Boo to feeling homesick. I've celebrated Thanksgiving happily in North Carolina for many years... but Thanksgiving morning this year found my heart feeling the miles of mountains and plains that separate me from my family. One phone call to my mom's cell and a few tears later, I felt better. But is there any way we could keep the integrity of this beautiful state and nudge it a bit west?

5. We are officially a four-gallons-of-milk-per-week family

I went out grocery shopping by myself this evening. I rarely do this... like, rarely, rarely ... I find the stores much too crowded in the evenings after work hours are over. But, today it couldn't be helped, so I left my angel kiddos home with Brian and ventured out by myself to pick up the weekly groceries. As I was loading my four gallons of milk onto the checkout counter (along with my 6 boxes of cream cheese, 1/2 gallon of cream, 6 heads of lettuce, 2 bunches of bananas, 5lbs of cheese...) I attracted the attention of, not one, but two friendly strangers who were brave enough to comment that 'I must have a large family!'

Well, I suppose I do. And sometime this week, I'll catch you up on those three little beauties that drink so much milk and take up so much of my life. :) Here's a little sneak peek:

"Mom, I have a great idea. I put these on to protect my eyes just in case the ball hits my face."

"Mom - watch my eyes. Am I doing it?"

What did I expect after I told Miles he could lick the bowl?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Falling in Love with the Mountains - Part 4

A few last, random things:


Asheville is probably most famous for it's historic Biltmore House - - - the largest privately owned residence in the United States. And we spent a fair bit of time there...
Next to biking, the kids' favorite part was probably the petting farm... though one baby goat, Nibbles, was particularly fond of eating McKenzie's ponytails, or Miles's hat, or my camera bag, or Carson's shirt... (yeah, we were on a first-name basis with the animals...)

Miles felt right at home here - while I was busy snapping pictures, he helped himself to some of the goat feed... into his mouth and everything.

Bert, the horse was a favorite, too.

And, more live entertainment that, once again, captivated Miles.
I, personally don't understand why anyone would want to live in a house as big as the Biltmore - - - seems like an awful amount to keep track of, even if you did hire out the cleaning and landscaping. Plus, it would be quite easy to never actually see your family. No, I think I'm happy living in my little house...


When I first found the splash pad downtown, I thought for sure we would spend a healthy amount of time there... but we actually only went twice. I'm used to roasting during the summers, but Asheville wasn't all that hot - and even during the dead of summer, on most days it didn't sound refreshing at all to get soaking wet.

Though the kids sure enjoyed it on the days that we went.


Over and over and over, these kids made that long drive. And I rarely heard any complaints from those sweet little faces. They sat, quietly coloring and listening to Junie B. Jones, or the Magic Tree House CD's coming in through the radio speakers, hour after hour after hour. One time they even let me listen to NPR the whole way. We spent around 70 hours in the car just driving back and forth - and I'm sure an additional just-as-many driving around for our daily errands/activities in both cities. Miles slept like a pro during his nap times, and the kids were kind and respectful to each other for the most part.

We usually made two pit-stops on the way home and came to know those rest areas quite well. I tried to make them fun by having some fun snack to eat as we got on our pajamas. The power of Cheetos is scary.

It's funny, looking through all of these pictures. There's an almost dreamlike quality to some of them that leaves me thinking, 'did we really just do that?' Such a stark contrast to feeling like it might never end while I was in the middle of it. And, you know, it feels good to accomplish something hard. . . I didn't handle every day with poise and grace, and I didn't handle every tired emotion and frustrating comment from my kids with love and compassion. But, I can say that I did my best, and that's an unusual thing for me to say. Generally I have a hard time figuring out just what 'my best' is (there's always something more you could have done, right?), but for whatever reason, I feel like I handled our separation the best I could - - - and now I trust that the atoning sacrifice of my Savior will make up the difference.

Maybe that was one of the biggest lessons I learned... that I can be satisfied with something less than perfect in myself. And that I should rely on the Savior to make up the deficiencies. And now that the lesson has been learned, here comes the hard part - applying the lesson to the rest of my life. Now I start taking this experience and stringing it through all the other 'imperfect' moments in my life. This could be a long process, indeed.

But, I guess it feels good to have my feet pointed in the right direction...

Sayonara, Asheville!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Falling in Love with the Mountains - Part 3

Let's talk for a minute about how ... strange ... weird ... unusual ... crazy ... fun ... awesome ... the downtown is in this mountain city. Where else can you go to find someone dressed entirely in grocery bags; a guy juggling machetes while balancing on a precarious slab of wood wearing nothing but blue paint, torn jeans and high heels; purple busses; a man dressed as a nun and riding a bike you wonder how he ever got onto; jugglers, painters and musicians on all the corners; old and young, businessman and hippie playing chess together; words from the Bible being shouted near the busiest corner; firetrucks screaming through the narrow streets at some point every hour (I had to wonder if there were really that many fires, or if the firefighters just got bored and wanted to make a loud lap around the city for entertainment...), and local, local, local posters in every window and on every bumper. (Can you match the descriptions with the pictures in the collage above?

One of our favorite things to do was to go downtown on Friday night and dance in/watch the drum circle.
Bring your own drum and play your heart out! Or dance to the beat - or just sit and enjoy watching others. Highly, highly entertaining.

As for the people there, the blonde lady in this next picture seemed to sum it all up nicely. Take a look... take a closer look...

Bare feet, homemade skirt, braless, armpit hair, and a smile on her face that gives the viewer the impression that she is free from all cares (and maybe a little stoned...).

After dancing till the kids were tired, we left the drum circle to stroll through downtown. The kids could not get enough of the musical street performers. They could have watched all night.

One night we even stumbled on some sort of Christian revival complete with colorful flags and some sort of long, wooden horn.

The audience was mostly captivated... many were raising their arms to the sky and swaying from side to side... some were singing along to the songs... one lady even ended up prostrate on the ground in front of the 'flag-man'. Each time one song would end, Miles would start panicking and saying, "Moe sahn? (more song?), Moe sahn?!" And, to everyone's pleasure, they sang more and more and more and more songs...

You know, I really, really love Christian music. There were some beautiful lyrics in some of the songs that they sang and I found myself touched a few times.

However, the 'showiness' of their flags and dancers, while interesting to watch, seemed to detract from the spirit that was trying to be felt there. It made me grateful that the church I belong to puts much more emphasis on 'teaching' rather than 'entertaining' - and I realized that the Spirit itself is much more powerful in motivating me to think of Christ than a whole flashy show meant to do that very thing...

Though the Christian show captivated Miles, Carson found his attention being sucked in another direction. I think he has found a new life goal...
This guy just rode around the city one night popping wheelies, standing on his seat, hopping down stairs, twisting his handlebars around in the air... don't try it, Carson. At least, not without a helmet...

Brian was mostly mesmerized by this lady:
I think he gave her close to $5 in coins over a 20 minute period. She posed as a statue, and quite remarkably stayed as still as one, until someone would drop a coin or two in a basket in front of her. At this point, she would play a little drum solo and turn to blink a 'thank you' to whomever dropped the coins. We happened to be resting on some benches when she came to set herself up, so we had front row seats of her performance for quite a while.

It was amusing to watch passers-by timidly approach her, telling themselves that she must be a real person, and jump in alarm as her drum beat loudly in their faces as their coins hit her bucket. She has Brian to thank for many of those coins and dollar bills, put into her bucket by our kids...

Downtown was certainly an odd mix: very clean and family friendly, but full of enough crazies that you grabbed those tiny hands of your babies and never let them out of your sight.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Falling in Love with the Mountains - Part 2

In my last post I alluded to the fact that Brian's apartment in the mountains was a little ... dumpy. But, oh boy, you seriously would have been surprised. It looks pretty nice on the outside, doesn't it? I was sure encouraged as we drove by. But, allow me to take you on a little tour...

You first notice that there are several, seemingly abandoned, full-sized semitrailers gracing your view in every direction.

For the most part, their sides have been stripped and they are slowly and silently rusting away. Odd, you think. You drive up to the back of your building and are thrilled to see that there is one in the grass just to the side of your steps. It looks to have been there for a while, as the grass underneath it is completely dead and brown. Super fun, though, you find you have neighbors living underneath some of them.

Your youngest child actually finds that the word 'beaver' is one of the five words he knows how to say and asks for them by name each time you pass one of the trailers.

Holding your suitcases, you make your way up the cracked, concrete stairs (being careful to not step on the edge of the bottom stair for fear that it may crumble underneath you) and prop the unusually heavy door open with a heavy, 5 gallon bucket located conveniently inside.

The smell is the first thing you notice about the dark hallway in front of you... an unpleasant mixture of dog, cat and old, rotting wood. Tufts of animal hair swirl into the air as you roll past them to find your apartment door, and you suddenly feel a desire to step back outside into the fresh, April air. You glance at the unclaimed pile of old mail sitting on an abandoned computer desk across the small hallway as you unlock your door, and then realize that you're standing on an old, ratty doormat decorated with prancing reindeer surrounded by faded, checkered squares of red and green. You wonder why they chose to put a Christmas doormat at the foot of your door when, clearly, there was no intention of ever switching it out.

As you step across the threshold of your door, you peer questioningly at the poster of Audrey Hepburn staring back and you, and sadly discover that the cat smell that was wafting into the hallway is, indeed, originating from your own living space. Before unpacking your suitcases, you grab the broom and start in the second bedroom. Big enough to hold a set of bunkbeds, a small round table, and then leave just enough room for a sleeping bag on the floor, this room only takes a minute to sweep, but you realize that this must have been the cat's headquarters... you come away with a dustpan full of hair and kitty litter and wonder what, exactly, the cleaning crew that came in before you did during those hours they were supposed to be taking care of such things. You next travel the step-and-a-half across the hallway and enter into the master bedroom. This room has even less floor space - the queen bed in the middle of the room and the dresser at the foot of it leave enough space to run a sweep of the broom along three sides of the bed, but you diligently get down on all fours and make a couple of sweeps underneath the bed for good measure. Your dustpan is only half full this time. After another step-and-a-half, you begin to sweep the main living space. Most of it is covered by an area rug and you realize you'll have to pull the vacuum out as well. You sweep the little space underneath the bamboo dinner table with the glass top, knowing that your children are going to lodge food in all of those tiny cracks and wondering how many children (or adults) before you have done that same thing.

You open the door to the bathroom and slowly shut it again. You'll come back to the bathroom.

The kitchen is the size of a hallway. Long enough to hold a refrigerator (with a missing handle), a stove, and a few drawers on one side, and on the other side, a top-to-bottom washer and dryer (that smells of mold and didn't dry your clothes), a few cupboards, a dishwasher and a sink. You will soon find out that when you open the dishwasher, the door spans the entire width of the hallway and blocks your only path to the sink. And when you pull the bottom rack out, the dishwasher tips forward out of the counter - giving you somewhat of a scare before you realize that it catches itself at the back before crashing to the floor. At least it works, however... you will also learn that the residents in the apartment kiddie-corner to you can only use their dishwasher as a giant drying rack. As you sweep the kitchen, you notice that the window by the sink has a giant post-it note saying DO NOT OPEN, and you wonder what would happen if you ignored it.

You vacuum the rug, the couch cushions, the couch itself and then do it again to make sure... and then, just because, you vacuum the tufts of hair out of the main hallway as well. One of your neighbors comes in as you're doing so and doesn't know what to make of it. You hope the vacuum is working properly...

Eventually there's nothing left to do but the bathroom. You've put it off long enough. You try not to gag as you run your Clorox wipe along the toilet, picking up hair and sticky, yellow smears along the way. The floor underneath the toilet hasn't been cleaned in so long that the film looks a little hairy as you cut through it on your hands and knees. The tiny counter and sink are sprinkled with foreign hair and soap smears, the tub shower looks to be growing mold in all the right places, and you hold a nasty conversation in your head with the head of the cleaning department as you scrub. You eventually end the conversation by being glad it's not you signing their pay checks. Once all the 'disgusting' is gone you notice, how did you not notice before?, a giant, flaking hole in the wall next to the tub. A foot in diameter of flaking drywall and paint (that you will later learn is full of lead), dusting the ground underneath. Out of the bathroom you carry your final dustpan load, move your belongings into their places, and make peace with the situation. After all, home is where your heart is, right?

Besides, if you're feeling like you need to get out of your cramped/dumpy living circumstances, all you have to do is walk outside. Remember that huge grassy field in the first picture? Heavenly for having foot races, games of tag, and - of course - wheelbarrow races.

It's also alight with countless fireflies every summer night.

Or, you can just take a stroll down the blue ridge parkway and stop to wave to the cars passing underneath the tunnel.

It's true, your house might not be awesome, but... have an incredible backyard.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Falling in Love with the Mountains - Part 1

I'm pretty sure a psychiatrist would have diagnosed me with bipolar disorder had he gotten to know me during the time Brian was away. At times, he would have heard me saying that I felt like I was trudging along through cold, rocky, liquid cement that was slowly hardening... like I was expending the same amount of energy (or more) day after day, but making less and less progress... he would have even heard me entertaining the possibility of actually getting stuck and having to spend the rest of my life trapped in the middle of that sea of concrete. His notes might have said something like, withdrawn, overwhelmed, weepy, exhausted, unable to cope.

At other times, he would have heard me gushing about how free I felt. Imagine visiting a beautiful mountain city, weekend after weekend, that you were quickly falling in love with - and then moving there for 5 full weeks during the summer while your children were out of school. You don't own a home there - so there is no stress on you when the bathroom wall in your apartment sheds giant flakes onto the floor, or when the dishwasher falls out of the counter. You don't have to worry about why there is a large post-it note on the kitchen window warning you not to open it, and you don't have to think about how to replace the missing handle on the refrigerator. In fact, your dire living arrangements force you to spend most... almost all... of your time outside. Every morning after kissing your husband off to work and cleaning the apartment (which takes all of 15 minutes because it's only about 500 sq. feet), you pack a lunch, tie on three little pairs of hiking shoes along with your own, and are free to explore thousands of beautiful hiking trails... many of which are right in your own back yard. Or maybe you pump up the kids' bike tires and hitch up the bike trailer to yours. Or maybe you want to take your lunch to the Biltmore - the largest privately owned home in the United States - and ride along their trails, or go to their petting farm, or take the kids through their house to see the swimming pool, or the bowling alley again. Every Sunday you're free to soak up the ambiance of all three hours of church and then take family nature walks after, or read The Chronicles of Narnia to your kids, or put 5 puzzles together as a family, because you have no church related responsibilities. I think, during these sessions, my psychiatrist's notes would have said something more along the lines of happy, carefree, optimistic, friendly, energetic.

I suppose Charles Dickens said it best: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

But, for better or worse, the times are past me now. And, thankfully, the little bit of time that has passed has already erased much of the worst from my memory, and I am left with all the pictures to remind me of the best.


Who knew little legs could walk so much? We covered miles (and miles and miles) of trails on foot and these three almost never tired out. Fueled by their intense desire to find the perfect rock, (McKenzie is quite sure she is going to find a diamond one of these days and is frequently running back to compare her newest find to the ring on my finger) they moved along pretty happily.

For the 5 weeks we lived there, my weekday schedule looked something like this...

7:30 Get Ready/Eat Breakfast/Tidy Apartment
12:00 Eat Lunch...somewhere fun
3:00 Be home to welcome Brian from work
5:30 Eat Dinner...a simple one because we have limited cooking ingredients
8-10ish Tuck exhausted, happy kids into bed/enjoy handsome hubby

... leaving gigantic blocks of time unstructured and open. And did you catch that Brian was home by 3:00 most afternoons? Heaven!

We typically had three big outings a day... the kids and I would take one big hike/bike in the morning that would take us all the way through lunch, then when Brian got home from work he would take the big kids out swimming or to the museum while Miles took a nap, and then after dinner we'd head out as a family for another fun hike or a stroll around downtown. The freedom was overwhelming (in a good way). Free to play, free from schedules, free to explore. I wore a ponytail, no makeup, my camera and a smile almost everywhere we went. Stumble across some rushing water? Sure! Stop and slide for a while!

See a rock you want to jump off 68 times? Do it! We have nowhere to be!

Getting hungry? Alright! Let's pull out a snack and start making our way back home... we'll do it again tomorrow.

Photo taken by Doug Larson

Those 5 weeks were a little slice of heaven. And those feelings of freedom and happiness came back each weekend the kids and I would return.

See, but then...

Then the time came, over and over and over again, for me to back out of our parking spot on Sunday afternoon with three crying children in the back - barely hanging onto my own emotions as well (sometimes not holding them at all) - and wave good bye to Daddy and the freedom for another week. Each drive, I would vow to bring a little of the freedom back with me... to not let stress get to me and to just carry that free heart right on into my normal life. But the closer and closer we got to home, the heavier and heavier my heart became.

I can't figure out how to do it... some people are really good about ignoring the stressors in their lives and keeping a carefree attitude. But I haven't been able to figure that one out yet. Is it possible to keep a 'vacation heart' while still taking care of regular life?

Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent - back to the great stuff. :)


I think biking may have been my personal favorite. We were a little bit limited because I only own a road bike, and most of the trails were for mountain bikes (and I obviously didn't want to go down any real roads with these two crazies!).

But the Biltmore had a beautiful paved biking trail that ran right along the river. Easy, calm, lovely ride. At the end, the trail turned into dirt and rocks alongside a fun lake, and I would always park my bike here, divvy out the snacks and walk alongside my kids so they could get a little adventure biking in before turning around.

Those bike rides always felt serene. The drone of the wind rushing past my ears, the beautiful scenery, the faint tinkling of giggles I'd catch from the kids in front of me... And as long as we kept moving, the ease was delightful. But if ever we stopped - oh boy - like, say at the (almost) top of a hill... once it took me 4 (four!) tries to get moving again to cross the street that was intersecting our path. I'm pretty sure the people in the cars that stopped for us even applauded as I finally made it across the road hauling my heavy load up that hill.

That wasn't embarrassing...