Thursday, May 10, 2018

Everyone Needs Me

I was driving home today from a therapy session (my favorite time of the week) and a song came on the radio called "Everyone Needs Me".

And to be honest, I have no idea what happened in the song or if the lyrics were anything close to what I heard in my head, because I started writing my own lyrics right away. I can't remember the exact words, but essentially my song went something like this:

Everyone Needs Me
I am the center of everyone's universe
No one can dress themselves
Feed themselves
Put themselves to bed
Make any decisions
Have any conversations
Achieve any goals
Without Me.

As the homemaker/stay at home parent, I understand my role to be the fulcrum around which everyone in my immediate family turns. I tell folks where to go, what to wear, where to find things, how to go about their activities of daily living, and what time to be there. If I died today, the three people who live in my house would wander around like the lost souls in Hades. Not because they aren't capable, smart, and independent human beings, but because as of this moment, I exist. And I run the ship. I pay the bills, fill out the calendar, drive the car, sign the papers, fill the refrigerator, wash the clothes, remember the feast days, and tie the shoes.

There is usually one in every family. And for those households with dual full time working parents, know that my deepest respect and awe is on you for leaving the house with pants on.

Because today, Knox almost left the house without his. Not because he is absent minded, but because he was so focused to leaving the house without being late for school that he forgot to put his pants on. Literally.

Now to be fair to the four of us, we are a family of high functioning people. We are very capable, highly motivated, interested in all the things individuals. Imagine this scenario: my 6 year old and my 8 year old both want to play kung fu fighters in the backyard, eat an after school snack, read their new books they got from the book fair, and tell their Mom knock knock jokes.

They do them all at once. It is like a sensory assault.

All the things, all at once. But this is not possible without an adult human helping them transition, adapt, fulfill, and accomplish all of it. Enter: me. The Mama who has her own goals of raising children without screens, video games, and alcoholism (that one is mine). So it is full throttle. And sometimes it ends badly. But it all depends on me.

Everyone needs me. Grant needs me in different ways, and I don't want to drag him into this without his own perspective, but take my word for it, he needs me. And if I had the choice between a lifetime of sitting quietly in my own space doing my own thing at my own time, and the craziness that is my daily life, I would surprisingly choose the life I have.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Neverending Story

This year my birthday fell on the last day of Spring Break for my children. This translated into an adjustment to spending my birthday in the usual fashion which is (and Grant anticipates and delivers on) hours of alone time. Usually heading out with book(s) in hand to sit in a dark corner of some pub or cafe where no one needs anything from me. Followed by a luxurious lunch of things that I love but would prompt terms of protest from my family (Pad Thai, grain bowls, Indian curries) and browsing the racks at my favorite consignment shops. I come home with a full belly, satisfaction of the bookmark moving significantly in my book, and a bag of used clothes.

Sometimes I am a simple girl.

But this year, April 3rd was marked on our calendar as "no school". I was prepared, and Grant had already made alternate plans for my birthday, so I had the day planned to include Knox and Purslane. Even though I am now solidly in my late 30's, I do hold that your birthday is the one day where even adults and parents don't have to take a survey of consensus. My children were going to accompany me and we were going to have a great day, but make no mistake, I held the power.

Noah Hathaway in Die unendliche Geschichte (1984)We stayed in our pajamas after breakfast and I decided we were going to watch a movie. As I was browsing the titles in Netflix, I found The Neverending Story. In all it's 1984 glory. I had not seen this film in ages, but I remember that Atreyu the child warrior was super cute and Gmork the evil wolf was very scary. I wanted to introduce my children to a bit of my childhood.

What I had forgotten, or more likely was never cognizant of as a child, was the deep meta narrative of imagination and redemption. There is a scene in the film where Atreyu faces the Gmork who has been hunting him since he left the Ivory Tower to begin his quest to save the Empress and stop the Nothing. Gmork tells him that he will have the privilege of being his last victim before the Nothing completely takes over Fantasia and all is lost. Atreyu asks who he is and why he is doing this. Gmork replies:
           "I am the servant of the power behind the Nothing. The Nothing is the emptiness that is's like a despair, destroying this world. And I am trying to help it. Because people who have no hopes are easy to control."

What an incredible statement about the nature of the world, humankind, and the need for the narrative of the gospel. Parenting in the current climate often feels too much like trying to prepare for all the individual issues that come up and navigating those well, rather then capturing Knox and Pursy's imagination for what comes next. The overarching story that we believe is true and imminent. Trying to raise children who have hope, not in themselves or their situation, but in Christ and His church. To be the sort of people who are not able to be controlled because their identity has already been made.

If you don't remember how the movie ends or just wonder if you can still be transfixed by films that rely on character and plot and imagination rather then fancy CGI effects, we found Neverending Story on VHS and you are welcome to come over and watch it with us on our projector screen in our living room.

You are also welcome to come over and join Grant and I as we talk about the brilliant theology behind this movie. Our kids think they are just watching an exciting fantasy story, but they are being deeply catechized by the truth of good vs evil, hope and despair, friendship and renewal. The scene at the end when the Empress put the grain of sand into Bastien's hand and tells him that with his imagination and hopes he can rebuild the entire world of Fantasia. Omnia Nova, anyone??

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


Last night after I had spent all my remaining energy putting my two children to bed, I was halfway into the chair for a well earned reading hour, when I heard Knox calling for me down the hallway. I will skip the part about how full my day was and how long the bedtime routine is in our house, but keep those things in mind when I tell you that the sound of his voice was not exactly what I was hoping to hear. I was hoping more to hear, silence.

But something in his voice sounded different from the lilt it has when he is stalling or just not quite tired enough to fall asleep without another back rub, cup of water, request for book, handing over the cheese stick he found under his pillow where he had squirreled it away during Sabbath rest the day before...

He sounded legit scared.

So I went to him and found him sitting up in his bed with eyes wide. He lept into my arms and said "Mommy, I'm scared". As I had figured. So I put my arms around him and asked what he was afraid of. His answer surprised me, "Remember that spitting poison dinosaur with the neck frill that ate that guy in the car? I'm afraid of him".

This seemed like a legitimate fear, in my opinion. It also reminded me of that moment on Saturday when Grant and I were having a conversation about a certain early 90's Spielberg film about humans recreating dinosaurs from preserved blood they found in a mosquito fossilized in a block of amber. Remember that one? And I was reminded that my opinion was that a 6 year old was too young for Jurassic Park, but I was over ruled by a Dad who was confident his son would love it. And he totally did. In the daylight. Snuggled up with his Dad on the couch.

But when the sun went down and he was alone in his room, those CGI dinos felt very real. And his little arms went around my neck and he grabbed me tight. So as I held him and talked to him about how movies aren't real life and dinosaurs never lived at the same time as humans and all the logical talk that never convinces kids that they shouldn't be afraid, he didn't budge. Just dug his fingers in tighter to the area on my flank that has more bone and skin then muscle. His fear was getting painful.

So I landed on the fact that in order to get rid of ugly things, he needed to fill that space with beautiful things. I asked him what a beautiful thing would be. His voice whispered out from under my armpit "the only beautiful thing I can think of is you".

Try, if you can, not to absorb those words of affirmation into your guts. I let them fill me up and overflow my heart. My son managed in one moment to turn my head from a thousand sad moments that have been consuming my thoughts of late. My family of origin is going through a really hard time and I have been working hard to lament the reality of what I have lost. Lent has seemed like a good time to take that on, so I haven't been distracting myself away from the sadness or the grief, but it does hurt so much to sit there for a while.

He finally fell asleep curled up next to me. And I stayed there until the morning, hoping that while he slept he felt his beautiful mother keeping the poison dinosaurs away.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Just a Bird Getting Up

"I am a phoenix. I need ashes to rise from. Otherwise I'm just a bird getting up."

I haven't watched New Girl in a while, but find myself with ample opportunities to quote Schmidt, one of the most quotable characters in a TV show since Elaine.

Today I am feeling the reality of the ashes. The burned remnants of what remains from things that were supposed to be different. Ashes are not the same as embers. They no longer have any hope in them, no flicker of warmth or flame that could be coaxed back to life. They are out.

I know the days when I would rather roll around in the dead flakes of my mental sorrow by the number of times I have to run through the steps of waking up. When the darkness finds you in the night and greets you in the morning is when the ashes smell the worst. The stink of disappointment. The bummer of unmet expectations.

If this sounds dramatic to you, you might never have experienced the crushing weight of being sad. Sadness can creep up on you and swipe the legs right out from under you simply by reminding you that you wanted to be someone/something else at this point. That life isn't unfolding as you expected when you did all the "right" things. It doesn't have to be brought on by trauma or crisis, although sadness shows up there too. It's just more at home there. So you expect it. Sadness in the midst of a good job and healthy kids and a comfortable home and full plates feels bizarre and unexplained. It needs sussed out.

A few months ago, one of my priests explained the nature of the Performative Word. These are words that actually make something happen simply by speaking them. They perform action. The example she gave was when the presiding individual in a wedding says "you are now husband and wife". Nothing actually happens when she says those words, but mystically these two people are now different then they were before the words were spoken. Or when a police officer states "you are under arrest." You didn't ACTUALLY go anywhere, but what he said changed your status, your position.

I have repeated my performative words over and over in the past few months, "you just don't have what you want", in reference to what my life presently seems to be consumed by. Some life situations don't become easier as you become older and wiser, better equipped to handle hard things or at least around the block a few times. Some things just need to be accepted.

Being a Christian doesn't require an absence of sadness but it does hold a place for the joy that comes in the morning. Even the mornings when I don't feel like a phoenix rising from my ashes, I feel like a bird getting up.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

How Anglicans Do Lent

The season of Lent is a busy one in our home. Grant and I spent a non-trivial amount of time over the past few weeks preparing our Lenten practices, talking about our family rhythm during Lent, aligning our calendar to accommodate the dinners, speaker series, fish fries, and special services that are part of the Lenten season. It always ends up that a significant amount of our mental energy goes into reminding ourselves not to be busy.

Lent is not intended to be a season of achievement nor of discipline in the life of the church. We don't give up chocolate or meat or alcohol in hopes that we can cure ourselves of our vices and lose a few pounds in the process. It is a season of remembrance and solemnity as we strive together in the 46 days leading up to Easter. For centuries our early fathers and mothers have practiced self denial and penitence, in the hopes of clearing the path for the most holy day in the life of the Church, the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Easter.

We Anglicans believe some crazy things about Easter, and to be frank, loads of other Christian things as well. One of my favorite elements of the Anglican church is that we not only take on but celebrate the mysteries of the faith. Anglicanism doesn't require us to understand before we practice, although accepting the Word and Sacrament without faithful study and intentionality would be a shame. We believe that we are changed in soul and body as we participate in the church, and she holds the framework for the Christian life. We are a communal people, children of God our Father and the Church our Mother. And in Lent we look more fully into the face of Christ on the cross and accept first on Ash Wednesday that we are mortal, then on Good Friday that our God died for our sins, then on Easter enter in fully to the reality that He rose from the dead and offers us eternal life. The Easter Vigil at Church of the Ascension takes place at 6a on Sunday, we enter into the church in total darkness, and as the peach glow begins to enter the Nave an entire herd of Christians are ringing bells and singing like complete fools because the visceral reality of what it means that Jesus rose from the grave is filling our guts and our hearts. It is a crazy and wonderful thing.

But it starts in Lent.

For Lent this year, Knox decided to give up Cheetos, Pursy gave up candy, I gave up alcohol and meat, and Grant gave up food. It seems like from youngest to oldest we tightened the belt a little more in terms of our abstinence. Knox was the first one of us to fault on our Lenten fast when Grant desperately needed to keep him in the cart at Home Depot and thought it would be a fun treat. It's a good thing Lent is 40 days so we all have time to remember what we gave up...

As a family who runs pretty low-tech (my brother would say luddite), we didn't make any Lenten fasts around social media or gaming or even news feed cycles. Those would have been easy. No SmartPhones means no access, so we didn't need to create new rhythms there. But we are a family who enjoys the sensual things of life- eating, sleeping, drinking, and the like. So our fasting focused on these areas. Grant and I committed to sleeping and waking at particular times, creating opportunity for exercise and alternate routes to work. Giving up meat for me means digging into my faded vegetarian recipes, accepting simple rather then sexy meals, and bringing intentionality back to the family table. For Pursy it's the hard work of being weird at school, figuring out how to graciously decline treats while others partake. Fortunately she goes to Catholic school, so at least the other 2nd graders speak the same language. And for Knox, I think at 6 giving up Cheetos is tantamount to martyrdom, so he is being as faithful as he can.

Grant's decision to fast for 40 days was a bit harder. He decided to take on the Catholic Church fast of small meals for breakfast and lunch (together not to equal a full meal), with the fast ending daily in a modest dinner. He decided to eat bread and fruit, and because that didn't seem severe enough, make the bread himself. So this morning, while Knox and Pursy played Pokemon on the dining room floor, and I tried to sit just far enough way that I could not possibly be considered part of things, but close enough that I could give my opinion on what it means for yeast to "bloom", Grant made his first loaf of bread. Not without its delicious rewards.

Grant makes Bread!

Daughter participates in family bake fest

While we had everything out...I made butter rolls and artisan loaf

Afternoon Delight

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Ascent to the Heights

Two months ago, I read Robert Farrar Capon’s Supper of the Lamb. This book had been sitting on my windowsill for years, making me feel better about myself simply by its presence in my stack of Books to Read. So many people I respect and admire have read it and said it changed their life, their view of embodied living, and the joy of gustatory pleasures. They said that somehow this Episcopalian Priest with his lofty view of the lowly onion managed to take them to the brink of gluttony without tipping over, reveling instead in the beautiful state of feasting that is ours by Christian right.

                So in October when I finished Martin Thornton’s Christian Proficiency and before I picked up Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose, I decided to pick up this book which had taken on such epic expectations as to be intimidating simply by virtue of its reputation. I happen to love food, read cookbooks like novels, and find my artistic outlet in the kitchen. I am not a savant or a marvel in the kitchen, I just appreciate the fact that in the same bag of brussels sprouts are such a gradation of sizes and colors and textures that it takes all of my focus to prep a bag before tossing them into a hot skillet with a little olive oil and salt. One sprout not being cut properly, too large or too small, or tossed too often as to make it just on the wrong side of steamed and not sautéed, and you have one moment around the table of complete and utter sadness. Because nothing is more glorious then a perfectly caramelized and almost burned sautéed brussels sprout, and nothing is more disappointing then wasting even one with improper technique.

                Reading the first chapter of Capon’s book, I realized we spoke the same language. He with much more philosophical fervor and experience, but he had peered into the soul of the lamb shank and discovered there is something there more then just a delicious meal. There is history and biology and a cultural experience that can be elevated or ignored. Not to diminish the technique and skill that has to be learned to properly prepare and cook lamb without destroying the unique character of this protein, but there’s MORE. And the shank might taste exactly the same whether the cook acknowledges all that lies within and around and beyond, but woe to the cook who misses the opportunity to have it all. And if, like me, there are no grandmothers or grandfathers offering family recipes that were never written down and will only be passed on by oral tradition, Capon is offering to be your teacher. Your family. Your guide. Supper of the Lamb is his treatise on not just four ways to prepare one cut of lamb, but a theological plea for a return to the place where we gather around a table and feast. Without shame or hesitancy, but also without thoughtlessness and guile. He invites you to notice. Not just the meal but the hands that prepared it, and those that share it.

                I could write pages about the book and its contents, but this isn’t a book review. This is a story about how this particular book produced an evening in my home so magical that I do hope Father Capon lifted the veil between his world and mine ever so slightly so as to catch a waft of my leek and potato soup, sneak a tasting spoon in my coq au vin sauce, and enjoy a draught of the lovely Shiraz. And I would like to imagine that if the saints that have gone before us are encouraged to see the continuation of the work they started, that Capon pulled up a chair around my table and mystically took part in my very own Supper of the Lamb.

                “The dinner party is a true proclamation of the abundance of being- a rebuke to the thrifty little idolatries by which we lose sight of the lavish hand that made us. It was largesse that made us all; we were not created to last forever. Enter here, therefore, as a sovereign remedy for the narrowness of our minds and the stinginess of our souls the formal dinner for six, eight, or ten chosen guests, the true convivium- the long Session that bring us nearly home.”

                With that, I began planning my dinner party. My husband Grant, who possess an incredible ability to hear me out and who had also been a (mostly) attentive ear while I read large sections of the book aloud, admitted that a formal dinner party could be a good idea. As I often do, I accepted his lukewarm response with gusto and began my preparation.

                “Have at least one solidly personal reason for inviting whomever you call to your table, and be sure that that reason looks chiefly outward at your guests and not inward at yourself. To ask a man to break bread with you is to extend friendship, to proclaim in love that you want not his, but him. To invite guests is a courtesy, a courtly act; It confers greatness on all concerned, and therefore must never be done for mean reasons.”

                Capon speaks at length about choosing guests, including the number and the combination. He makes very compelling arguments against too small a gathering as well as too large. His golden number is eight, at which he says that conversation can flow in interesting and diverse directions but any dish the cook wishes to make for her guests will still fit under the broiler. At ten guests, the gathering will be livelier, but there is no possible way to stretch a soufflé to feed that many. As you can see, Father’s primary concerns are not only social but gastronomic. Supper of the Lamb is, above all, a theological treatise on the embodied practice of eating with other people.

                In my one and only act of rebellion against Capon’s guidance, my invitation was to four couples which, once Grant and I were counted, brought the number of place settings to ten. My rationale was that I had no intention of trying my hand at a soufflé, which took its wisdom from another section in the book where the cook is advised not to try something he has never made before when there is a table full of guests waiting for the virgin attempt. I asked Grant to make a list of four couples that he would like to invite and I did the same. We emerged from our separate corners and compared lists- they were identical. At which point we raised a glass to ourselves and our fabulous circle of friends. And I began planning the menu, designing the invitations, and searching for a pair of pin-up red heels.

                “First of all then, don’t write off the possibility of asking your guests to come in evening clothes. We live, in spite of our affluence, like pikers and slobs. Any blow struck against coolness and the cult of the impromptu is worth the effort it takes. Man is the lord of this world. What a shame if he dressed like a king only for boring public performances and never for his friends.”

                When Grant and I were first married, we lived in New Orleans for what would be the most formative 2 years of our lives to date. I worked in a stationery store in Uptown Garden District and became completely convinced that a life without linen stationery is not worth living. Give me the streets of Manhattan and a smooth writing instrument, handwritten letters on quality stationery is the medium of the gods. My dinner party invitations were written on lavender G. Lalo correspondence cardstock, which feel like heaven and make your fingertips tingle with anticipation. Or maybe it just does that to me, but the intention is to convey that this is no ordinary invitation. To elevate the status of common elements like paper and pen is to convey simply by presentation that the receiver is valuable. And I did request that our valuable guests dress in cocktail attire.

                Capon gives pages and pages of suggestions about table vesting, avoidance of strong smells like waxing the chairs too recently or choosing scented candles, how to choose the aperitif for arriving guests, and whether place cards are necessary. Every element of the dinner party for Capon is intentional and carries significance. Large mistakes are definitely avoidable with careful planning, but there are also numerous opportunities to make the evening smaller or mildly unpleasant, and can be circumvented simply by thoughtfulness on the part of the host.

                “First things having thus been attended to first, the next most important consideration is the food. This is, after all, a dinner. For the devoted cook, and especially for the true host, few pleasures can compare with the intellectual satisfaction of planning a notable meal. During all the time before the event itself- over nondescript breakfasts, minor lunches of beer and cheese, and late-night cups of tea, husband and wife can return gladly to the task of putting together the best dinner they can manage.”

                As I mentioned previously, Capon has strong words for the cook who chooses a dinner party to attempt a new recipe. “The Lord takes care of children, drunks, and fools. I am not so sure he is equally provident with cooks who fake out formal dinners. Don’t take any chances.” One of my favorite and most consistently successful entrees is coq au vin that I found during my very short experiment with gluten free cooking. It is made in a crock pot, cooks for 6-8 hours and produces the most exquisitely tender and flavorful dish. While cooking the main course in a crock pot would probably be frowned upon in certain circles, I don’t happen to run in any of those. My friends can be counted on to appreciate flavor over form, and Grant is more likely to operate in his role as sous chef if he is not being barked at by a stressed-out wife who over estimated her ability. With the entrée cooking itself, I was free to create multiple courses of soup, salad, bread, entrée, and dessert.

                “Choose the number of courses intelligently. Consider the appetites of your guests, the capacities of your kitchen, and above all, the stamina of the cook. To do less is to court a fiasco, if not a disaster.” I chose to avoid fiasco and take the potential for disaster off the table. Grant and I are the proud owners of two fabulous children, Purslane and Knox, ages 7 and 6 respectively. They are kinetic and curious and colorful human beings, which is why I asked their grandparents to take them for an overnight trip on the day of the dinner party. They were very happily whisked away at three in the afternoon, which left Grant and I to prepare for the evening by ourselves. After fourteen years of marriage, we are very good friends and enjoy each other’s company immensely. We poured each other glasses of wine left over from the entrée prep, and Grant put on a playlist he had crafted, which is one of his many gifts. For four hours we chopped and pureed and laughed and kissed. It sounds like I am exaggerating, but I am not. I did warn you earlier that the evening was magic from its very inception.

                “Since people are the ultimate reason for having a dinner at all, try your best to summon guests who will enhance each other as persons. A courtly host invites, as much as he can, courtly people. His table is no mere feed trough; it is one of the heights of the world and only those who can breathe freely and graciously at such altitudes should be there. He cannot, to be sure, plan their conversation, and if he is wise, he will not even occupy himself much with it in advance. He simply does the best he can in his own judgment, and then graciously commits his party into their hands.”

                What you have just read is the greatest sentence in the entire book. And when I read it aloud to our guests after the first round of wine had been poured and we were preparing to sit down, my eyes misted over when I realized what Father Capon and I had done. We had imagined and prepared and executed a night where courtly people I am lucky enough to call friends were gathered and ready to breathe freely and graciously at the heights of the world. This was not a mere dinner party, this was a Supper of the Lamb. And I toasted my people with a blessing from Father himself,

                “I wish you well. May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfactions of maturity. May we all sit long enough for reserve to give way to ribaldry and for gallantry to grow upon us. May there be singing at our table before the night is done, and old, broad jokes to fling at the stars and tell them we are men”.

                Leek and potato soup with chives and manchego was followed by spinach salad with cherries and champagne vinaigrette. The coq au vin dripping with mushrooms and pearl onions was served alongside rice pilaf and perfectly caramelized brussels sprouts. Strong black coffee with pecan butter cookies and bars of dark chocolate. And over and around and through were bottles and bottles of wine chosen by my guests and offered as a gift “to the point of cheerfulness…wine is a happy example of the connection between sanctity and sanity”. (St Thomas)

                Father Capon loves wine. His theology on the subject he whimsically calls Water in Excelsis. And he instructs that for a dinner party, “with whatever wine there is dispensed with a lavish wrist; a minimum of half a bottler per person, if you are dealing with novices, or a whole bottle if you have real guests on your hands. Your party will reach an O Altitudo, an Ecce, quam bonum!, to which wine is the only road.” We did indeed have real guests on our hands, and when the last of our dearests closed the door behind them at one in the morning, Grant and I raised one more glass to the stars. To our Supper of the Lamb, to our long Session.

                “The longest Session of all is no discontinuation of these sessions here, but a lifting of them all by priestly love, it is a place for men, not ghosts- for the risen gorgeousness of the New Earth and for the glorious earthiness of the True Jerusalem. Eat well then. Between our love and His Priesthood, He makes all things new. Our Last Home will be home indeed.”


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Cottage Weekend

Everyone knows the cottage is my happy place. Grant's grandfather built it with his own hands and the hands of his daughters and their husbands in the 1970's. By the time I started making the drive to the Allegheny River nirvana, Grant already had a lifetime of memories there. At the cottage, internet is so sketchy it's just better to leave your computer and phone turned off, there is a clock on the kitchen wall over the stove but last summer it ran out of batteries and I don't think anyone noticed. Time is measured by the empty feeling in your gut after you have hiked to the waterfall and swam in the natural pool for hours and are finally noticing you haven't eaten since breakfast. Night runs into early morning while we sit by the campfire and talk politics and music and grass fed beef until the bar 5 miles up the road is having last call.

Before we had kids, the cottage meant sleeping until 10 and drinking too much whiskey, getting lost on trail runs because it didn't matter what time I came back. Grant would still be sitting by the fire with a book or napping on the sofa. The cottage is the first place I remember seeing him completely relax.

Now with Knox and Purslane, the cottage is about waking up with the sun and watching the fog hang out over the surface of the river. It means triple checking to make sure our food supplies include coffee and graham crackers. (did we really forget beer??) It means constant activity, or at least constant vigilance. Conversation around the fire includes pulling up photos on my phone of burn victims to supplement my warnings about not respecting the ring of stones that form a border between my impulsive son and a firey disaster. It means loading the bikes off and on the back of the Jeep because since they discovered the Rails to Trails across the river, it must be part of the agenda.

It means breakfast sandwiches at sunrise in their underpants (because as far as Knox is concerned, being out of the city means clothing optional) and exploring the overgrown hill behind the cottage with flashlights and plastic bags for nature treasures. Instead of stretching out lazily in front of us, a day is barely enough time for throwing stones in the river, a bike ride on the trail, creek hiking and talking ourselves into trying out a rope we found tied to a tree branch over a river pool (it was awesome), a canoe trip that answered the age old question of what would happen when you have a 4 year old and a 6 year old in the middle of the river and they discover an enormous spider is in the canoe with them, swimming in the river reeds, steaks over an open fire, and juice boxes all day long.

We have been going to the cottage for 13 years, and over those years have taken many friends up with us. One of my favorite weekends of my entire life happened in 2009 over Memorial Day weekend with 6-7 other couples, a handmade wooden lawn game called Viking Cube, and all the time in the world for eating, drinking, talking, laughing, sleeping, playing. It was the season of life for most of us pre-kids, at least one person in each couple in grad school, and that weekend still holds some of my favorite memories.

As the years pass, babies are born, folks come and go, and our trips to the cottage take the family train. So the activities have changed, but the magic has just increased as we introduce our children to our favorite place. The nights by the fire when all the babes have been put to bed and we sit and drink High Life takes on a communal feeling of well deserved relaxation that we just didn't know before our days were dictated by busy little people. And they are sweeter. The deep conversations we miss having when our kids want our attention at parties and after church and during dinner happens at the cabin after dark. The kids are hopefully so exhausted that they fall asleep when their heads hit the pillow (except for H.S. who gave an award worthy performance as a toddler deprived of fire and beer and sentenced to watch out the window of his bedroom).

This time I thought about weekends when our friends have joined us. That time Kirsten went for a trail run and fell into the creek pool. Sitting on the back porch with Allie drinking coffee and pretending we couldn't hear the kids looking for us. Playing Clue until midnight with Matt and Sara, inventing new gin drinks and new motives for offing Professor Plum. The first time we took Pursy to the cottage and passed her around our group of friends who were just starting or just thinking about having kids of their own. Sweet, sweet memories.

Grant and I did find time to read on this trip. While the babes explored the back hill, Grant and I sat  by the fire and tried to hold hands and hold books, a cozy idea that never really works out. For 36 hours at the cottage with all the activities the babes wanted to do, we of course packed a small library. Our mixed marriage involves fiction, theology, biography, and economics. Somehow we make it work. And as Grant fell asleep on my shoulder because I had to find out what happens to the Jewish orphans in Paris during the German occupation, I felt so lucky. Lucky that Grant and I find the same place to be one of the greatest places in the world. Grateful that our children aren't afraid of getting dirty and wet and tired and cold. Thankful that before my arm behind his head fell completely asleep that I had thought to grab a cold High Life...