Fire and Fog

[In full disclosure, this post was written over a couple of days, with intermittent and international wi-fi coverage...and by now it barely makes sense to publish it at all. And yet, here I am doing it anyway.]

Thursday morning

I was going to share a photo on Instagram this morning, but found I had more to say than the little caption box is designed to hold.  Instagram is not really my preferred format anyway, as evidenced by my pitiful collection of photos. Given the choice, I will choose the 1000 words over the substitute. Every time.

We just passed the 45th parallel, exactly halfway between the equator and the North Pole, and I am carsick.  Out of practice, I suppose. 

The green hills and bouncy clouds of Oregon look exactly as we left them nearly four years ago.  Keeping vigil until our return.  The grasses are slowly turning into pines the closer we get to the Pacific.   No wonder Lewis and Clark kept going. Every mile is more beautiful than the last.  Of course these hills will be shaved bare again before we see the tides.  I love the dressing and undressing of rolling hills.  These road trip stripteases never get old.

Friday

Early last evening we made it to the northern end of Washington, Oregon's dark, foreboding cousin. The greens are deeper, more menacing, and capable of swallowing you whole if you step too far off the road.  It was a shock to step out of the car into the damp and the chill and David and I were forced to climb up and untie the car-top carrier to find jeans and socks and close-toed shoes.  (Though on the morning news they were talking about the heat wave and I couldn't stop laughing.)

We woke this morning to somebody blowing the fog horn over and over, long and low, and the gulls calling.  It already feels like we're in a foreign country even though we haven't yet crossed the watery border a mile or so into the Pacific.  We are headed north.  As far north as we can get.  When your backyard is as hot as the surface of the sun, the only thing to do is head north.  And as Caleb reminded me in southern Idaho, the earth turns slower the closer we get to the pole.  Just what I had in mind.  More time together, more savoring, elongate each gorgeous, precious moment, roll around in it.   I am determined to make the sun stand still.

I feel like I ought to say something about my long absence from blogging, rather than dumping you directly into our vacation.  My life seems pretty magical when the posts go from holiday to holiday, eh?  (Look, I'm already speaking Canadian!)  But now there is too much--too much to say, too much to remember--and the last few months have been like a wildfire, burning out large swaths of my memory and leaving only a few stubby highlights among the smoldering, smoking ruins.

There was school and work and church and lessons and school musicals and finals and an endless lineup of orchestra concerts. Though to say it in one sentence like that does nothing to convey the heat and terror of the firefight.  I also happened to throw an Indian-themed wedding for my youngest sister.  I didn't sleep during the entire month of May.  Mostly from searing and unrelenting fear.  My own mind can be a fearsome thing at three in the morning.  You will be surprised to learn that this made me mildly difficult to live with.  Despite my worries (and David's collateral suffering) it turned out lovely.  People who happened by slowed down and got out of their cars to crane their necks at all that love and beauty. 

And then finally, blessedly, the fire was out.  Summer was here and puzzles and games and movie marathons became the most pressing issues of every day.  And slowly, I have learned to sleep again. Ten minutes more every day.  Soon I will be downright slothful. 

Best of all, here we are in line to board the ferry to British Columbia.  We are headed out to sea, straight into the fog.  North, like I said.   Inside my head they are playing a rousing rendition of "O, Canada" and outside my head the earth is slowing down as it arcs along its orbit through space.

One slow, lazy, glorious turn at a time.

Transient

Wish You Were Here

To Whom It May Concern (you know who you are):

First of all, you were missed.

Second of all, you missed out.

See how that works?

I told David that spending a week anywhere with us should be temptation enough, but seeing how that is clearly not the case, it occurred to me that maybe I haven't made the argument strongly enough. And so for your consideration, here are my top ten reasons you should pack up your sunscreen and your beach towels and your reservations and your hesitations and be here next year.

1. There is no better place to be a child. Period.

2. There is no better smell than sunscreen and salt water. Period.

3. There is no better feeling than sand below you, sun above you, and kissing in between. Exclamation point!

4. There is no better sound than to hear your children shrieking in delight as you fly across the waves together. Parentheses. Unless it is hearing the waves crash behind you while you snuggle them around a warm fire. End parentheses.

5. There is no better delight than the little curl of anticipation that comes from cracking a new paperback on the beach. Comma. And the magic world that its words will weave around you. Comma. And knowing that nothing is going to interrupt you.

6. There is no better weight than wet eight-year-old boy wrapped in a towel and snuggled under your chin. Sigh. In quotation marks.

7. There are no better dreams than those you have in a beach house because real life has never seemed farther away. What is worry. Question mark.

8. There is no place with greater evidence of God's love. This sand, crushed for millennia just so you could build castles with moats and turn your children into sandy merpeople (semi colon) this coast split and torn by cataclysmic events just so your children could throw themselves into the surf at the edge of the world (semi colon) this sun which fired the sky last night in hot oranges and brilliant fuchsias just so you could stand there with your mouth ajar in wonder.

9. There is no better sight than our long line of bicycles trailing down the boardwalk at dusk, headed towards the park, the pier, chocolate donuts with sprinkles, and hot chocolate if we're cold. Another exclamation point. I'm feeling exuberant.

10. There is no better place to count your blessings. Ellipsis. They are as numerous as the grains of sand at our feet.

You think I'm exaggerating.

That's impossible. You cannot exaggerate the joys of this kind of living.

This morning as I type from the most perfect view in creation, the sun starting its long graceful arc across the sky and warming my back, I cannot imagine anywhere else I'd rather be.

The girls are all laying as they have for six days, heads together, wearing their sunglasses and floppy beach hats. They gossip and laugh as Olivia dishes everything she knows about junior high to her younger, adoring cousins. Don't worry. Savannah, with her perfected eye roll, never lets it go to her head. Soon they will grab their boogie boards and scream as they jump in the ice cold water, and I've heard rumors of a dance routine performance they've been working on. You don't want to miss that for anything.

Caleb and David are beside me reading. Their toes have disappeared in the sand, while their heads have disappeared into the world their authors created out of nothing. Ethan is napping in his beach chair. The hair on his legs has turned golden. It's not too much to say that I see that as one of my greatest personal accomplishments.

Soon I will go boogie boarding and amaze everyone, especially David, who is the only one I'm trying to impress anyway. And then I will lay in the sand, press my ear to the earth until I can hear its slow, steady heartbeat, and take a well-deserved nap. (It's hard work being a world-class anything...boogie boarding is no exception.)

As usual, my thoughts this week have been about magic and miracles and creation--the millions of years and enormous effort that had to be expended for me to be right here with those most precious to me. I am humbled by that knowledge.

And I have no doubt that if I ever make it to that mansion in heaven, it will be beachfront property.

Join me here.

Surfer Girl

There is a Sunday night dance party happening in the other room. It's a natural outgrowth of cousins in close quarters.

Olivia just came up with a new dance move, named appropriately "The Olivia." She says it could be a trend.

My mom texted us today asking how Newport is.

It's hard to complain.

Sun, surf, sand, and some of the finest boogie boarding you've ever seen. Done by yours truly. I'm seriously considering adding it to my resume: "Enjoys reading, writing, quilting, and is a world class boogie boarder." I like the sound of that.

Do you want to know the best part?

I've never been hotter.

Today I caught the biggest wave I've ever ridden and David kissed me so hard it made us both dizzy, which caused him to sway and lose his balance, and consequently caused me to end up unceremoniously on my butt in the sand. I told you, hot.

My brother, who had the good fortune of witnessing the whole thing, said sarcastically, "Wow, that was almost like the movies."

Whatever. It was hot in my head. (Then again, it's always hot in my head. It's a gift.)

Yesterday David asked Olivia to keep an eye on her younger cousin. She looked over at him running in and out of the waves. She smiled and said, "He's fine, Dad. He's living the dream."

We all are.

As for me, what could be better than looking across the waves to find my lovelies paddling their boards along beside me, their bodies turned silver in the light bouncing off the waves. We watch as a wave builds and crests toward us, we flip our boards and kick off. David grins over at me and I am undone.

It is no surprise to me that life began in the oceans. I am reborn every time I get in one.

The Slope of the California Sky

We were home for exactly 18 hours.

Just enough time to wash the clothes, repack the duffle bags, replenish the snack box, and strap the bikes on the back.

And pick up David. (The most important part.)

This time we went west. As far as we could go, to the very edge of the continent as it were.

I know what you're thinking. This is too much. How much vacationing can one family do? Is this a blog or a travelogue? David was a little concerned as well. He worked extra long hours all week, getting caught up and getting ahead, but still felt a little guilty about missing another upcoming week of work.

It can't be helped, I said.

They're growing up, I said.

This summer is one more in a very limited number that our children will spend with us.

Gotta make the most of it.

Tonight David and I walked down a lovely stretch of beach. He was holding my hand. Delicious. It was among the nicest moments of my life. We watched the sun sink down the slippery slope of sky. As it neared the disappearance point, it seemed to speed up, falling faster and faster the closer it got to the horizon.

See? I said.

At sunrise, it seems like you've got forever. In the middle of the day, you're too busy to even notice the slow, steady track of the sun. But suddenly, at the gloaming, the sun is all out sprinting for the horizon. The colors on the clouds change faster than you can describe them. Then boom. You're standing there a little stunned that it's over. Wait. Wait!

See? I say. It goes so fast. We have to make the most of it. And even though he doesn't say it, David squeezes my hand because he knows I'm right and he feels that urgency as keenly as I do.

Tonight as we were readying for bed, David gestured for me to come see. I peeked out of our bedroom to see my children kneeling with their cousins among the air mattresses and pillows and quilts, a nearly indistinguishable mass of limbs and bodies and bed coverings. My younger brother was offering the prayer. Petition and thanks, simple and heartfelt. Their heads were bowed. Their eyes were closed. The ocean waved behind them in rhythm. My heart tugged. The earth turned.

And another day passed out of sight.

I am happy to have been here, right here, when it did.

A Letter from the Riverbank

Dear David,

Once upon a time there were words to go along with these pictures.

Twice actually, there were words.

I retyped my post after I lost it the first time. It was clever both times. I wish you could have seen it.

Now though, I've given up.

Just know that after we dropped you in Chicago, I drove our beautiful children all the way across Illinois, and passed thousands of acres of cornfields along the way. (Much to my delight. Oh those rows!) We made it to Joseph's beautiful city last night in a reverent gloaming and slept up on the hill next to the shining temple.

Caleb said the prayer last night when we went to bed. It was so tender it would have broken your heart. He finally stopped when he ran out of synonyms for gracious and kind. You know how he is. And especially last night, after being to Carthage, and driving the road next to the mighty Mississippi, we were all feeling the spirit of this sacred spot of land.

Today we will churn butter and fire horseshoes and eat a picnic lunch among the ghosts and memories and bricks of Nauvoo. And here on the banks of the Mississippi, I will mother my children in this lovely, holy city where my mothers once mothered theirs.

Love you, darling,

April

The Island

It is the fourth of July.

I am sitting in the backyard at my in-laws house with green on every side. Life is teeming around me, burgeoning, crawling, bursting, making the most of summer. It is July and there is nothing to lose, see? David is reading next to me. The kids packed a picnic and went to the park. They know the way. They will come home sweaty and happy and smelling like grass and monkey bars.

Lake Huron gave Lake Michigan a run for its money this week. We spent two days on Mackinac Island (love those back-to-back silent consonants), biking and exploring and swimming and fudging and kiting. It was idyllic in every way. Even the sleeping was divine. We'd wake to find the children eleven hours later still breathing heavily, cheeks pink, limbs askew, childhood dreams and damp island air swirling around them, the deep, wide lake keeping watch from the window.

We rode our bikes for miles, around the island, along the rocky northern coast, past the spot where the British landed in 1812, down past Devil's Kitchen, and back into town. We got off and walked our bikes to the top of the island and screamed and laughed our way back down the steep, tree-lined trails to the water. We saw Skull Cave and Sugar Loaf and Arch Rock, which look exactly like they sound, though Ethan told me in confidence that Sugar Loaf doesn't taste like sugar.

Every afternoon we'd strip in the trees and cool off in the clear, cold lake, wading out past the rocks until we found Huron's sandy bottom. We'd swim until we were frozen, Ethan and I giving up before the others, and then drip dry on the warm white rocks.

There were a couple afternoon hours spent reading and dozing in the cutest library you've ever seen...it has a back patio with two adirondack chairs just on the edge of the lake, facing a red lighthouse, if you can believe it.

There are candy shops everywhere you go, and you can watch your children press their faces against the glass as men in pink aprons stir giant pots of fudge and pour them onto marble slabs. And you will be hard pressed to figure out which you want to eat more. If I licked my children they would taste like the last delicious bit of a melty ice cream cone and nectar and sunshine and cold lake water, and I would never be hungry again.

Tonight there will be fireworks and a brass band on the grass and John Phillips Sousa keeping time to it all.

It is July, and we are living life all out.

It is July, and we are living like we have nothing to lose.

The Long Pause

Ira Glass narrated my dreams last night.

Act I was a funny story about how we bought a horse that shared a room with Ethan, in Act II we took a bus trip to Hawaii, and then Act III was a heartfelt story in which Ira asked us, "So you've been here a year, does it finally feel like home?

There was a long pause. (The pauses always say more than the actual sentences.)

Then a quiet but truthful, "Yes."

Over the last year I've thought about writing a post or two. I've been tempted by your kind comments and lovely emails prodding me to post. But I needed the long pause. There was just too much sadness and self-pity to make worthwhile reading. Everything I tried to write became a tally of my blessings and a list of my grievances, then a few computations where I would add the former and subtract the latter and ultimately see that I came out ahead, but only just barely. It was tiresome, especially to me.

But somehow, over the last month, I realized it was time. I was ready. The fog had cleared. I had something to say that didn't start and end with "Wo is me." I made plans to redo the banner, clean up the sidebar, start fresh, and write a post about how David and I rode a subway, a cab, a plane, and a canoe all in one day, a post about how my kids tried to train a bunny to use a DustBuster, and a post about Olivia's music camp at which her group named their quartet "Rhythm Is Not An Opinion Quartet" because apparently, to Olivia, it is (an opinion)...and the first violin disagreed.

(There were 84 words in that last sentence, if you're counting. Phew. I may be out of practice.)

But then summer started and I've been busy with Lord of the Rings marathons and keeping the house stocked with sunscreen and clean swim towels and afternoon reading that usually turns into a drooly nap. I take my summers seriously, as you know.

And then this morning, as the sun rose over our car heading out of Albuquerque, I couldn't help myself. I couldn't wait anymore. So I'm using my iPhone (which makes me prone to mistakes and misspellings...don't point them out...the buttons are small) and beginning again.

We are on the road. Headed out of the heat and back to our much-missed, beloved Lake Michigan.

It's good to be back. On both counts.

Cue the music, Ira.

The World Can Wait

The last two days we traded the lazy days of summer for a little bit of industry.

We washed the sheets and beach towels and cleaned out the fridge.

We spent a good thirty minutes standing in front of the game cupboard, carefully picking out the best games for life at the beach.  (The selection committee takes their job seriously.)

Savannah made four kinds of cookies and bars.  They are sitting on the counter, ziplocked and waiting for their big adventure.

Ethan and I went on a Target run for sand toys and wheat thins and sunscreen.

Caleb found the boogie boards and the beach umbrella.  (Check that big box in the corner, son.  The one labelled "salvation.")

We packed light.  Swimsuits and jackets only.  Oh, and books.  A few bags of books and we'll tie the bicycles on the back. 

In a few weeks, we will be back to rising early and kissing goodbye.  We will be back to packing lunches and practicing spelling words and reading only what they're assigned.  Add to that the anticipated pain of looking around the bus stop and classroom and the lunchroom and not knowing a single soul...and I almost can't breathe.

With the calendar looming, David and I lay in the dark discussing our options.  We listed the pros (salvation) and cons (money).  We discussed directions (north, east, west) and locations (the beach or the mountains).  We tried to figure out how capable and brave I am (on my own) or am not (as the case may be).  In the end, the choice was easy.  My children need a few days of glee, a few days of freedom, a few days of salty air and icy waves, a few days of bliss, to store away and keep for the days that are coming.

And so, I am taking my children to the beach where I intend to make the most of these summer days of mothering, when they are mine, and the world and its sorrows are very, very, very far away. 

A Retraction of Sorts

Wow.  I don't know if you read that last post, but I just did and boy, I have to say that it may have bordered on whiny (gasp!) and also it's possible that it came pretty close to bratty (who me?).  My apologies...my editor is on summer vacation.  (Clearly.  I mean, did you see that last sentence?  Three punctuation marks in a row.  Ahem.)

Speaking of which (bad editors and bad writing), I joined the Relief Society book club.  I won't tell you the name of the book I was supposed to read for this month, but I will share this sentence with you:

There weren't any washcloths smeared with makeup left behind, no sounds of water running hollowly through the pipes from upstairs while Josey and her mother and Helena sat in the sitting room downstairs and watched television.

I nearly killed myself after that one.

It was on page twenty-eight.  I had been bullying myself through it up to that point, talking myself down from every bad simile and heavy-handed adverb, but I could not read past this sentence.  You only live once.

I told David, "I just can't.  The writing is so bad."

Caleb overheard us and said, "Don't all of your book clubs end like this?"

Touche.

You know what this means don't you?  I may be a brat and a snob.  Sobering news.

On a positive note, The Closer started up again this week.  Thank heavens.  Last night when we went to Lowe's for a gallon of paint, David asked me for the synopsis.  I gave him my best Brenda Lee impression.  (He was not very impressed.)  Well.  It sounded better in my head. 

Then again, most things do.

And on an even more positive note, did you see the great shot of my cleavage in the picture above?  (You can't have too many of those.)  In a few days, my darlings and I are headed back to the beach.  We almost cancelled because I forgot that I was supposed to be enjoying my life.  David reminded me just in time.  Good thing, too, because my favorite things in life are sunscreen and sand and salt water and little pools of drool under my children's sunburned cheeks.  Oh baby.

The Fourth Day of July

At my house,

on the fourth day of July,

we will light the barbecue and the sparklers and the roman candles.

At my house,

on the fourth day of July,

we will swim and sun and read and nap.

At my house,

on the fourth day of July,

we will eat ribs and corn and homemade apple pie.

At my house,

on the fourth day of July,

we will remember and pray and give thanks to our God.

At my house,

on the fourth day of July,

we will climb in bed full of sunshine and ice cream and when we close our eyes we will still see exploding red and white stars behind our eyelids.

And at my house,

(because we are still hurting and smarting and aching from all the upheaval, I'll be honest)

on the fourth day of July,

we will remember that 1776 was among the darkest years of American history,

that good things come even in the darkest of times,

and above all,

that miracles happen.

Happy Independence Day.