Friday, June 19, 2015

7 Quick Takes - Trial Runs, Feasts, and Getting Outside

The boys are both napping and if my pecking on the keyboard or the rumbling of the approaching thunderstorm as I pound out this post doesn't wake them, I just might be able to get this Quick Take written in record time.  Have I mentioned lately how wonderful it is to have four-year-olds who still nap?  Truly wonderful. Of course, we went through plenty of nap time strikes over the past few years, but I was not about to give up my two-hour daily sanity break easily! So, we powered through them and it has been totally worth it.  Now, both boys look forward to naps.  It is a great thing and I'm gonna enjoy every remaining day of it that I can get.

This love of naps and my desire to let the boys have the rest they need also influenced another big decision we made lately. We have decided to try homeschooling for the summer.  If all goes well, we will continue it into the coming school year.  So far, it's had its ups and downs, but mostly ups. I found a simple (read: easy) Catholic curriculum that I am following for kindergarten and John is really enjoying it. Joah is still in the pre-K years, but also doing well and is absorbing what he hears John learning.  So far, we are only spending about 30 to 45 minutes a day doing "lessons" in which we actually sit at the kitchen table and do "school", but folks who have homeschooled and know a lot more about this stuff than I do tell me that no more than that is really needed at the ages of four and five.  Of course, we do plenty of other stuff like reading and living a big part of our lives outside, and the boys are always engaged in something (albeit, sometimes something destructive!), so I guess that all counts.  Anyhow, we'll see how things are going come August, but for now, Tom and I are thinking homeschooling just might be a good fit for our family.

We also have finally wrapped up T-Ball season. This was the second year our boys played and I like to think that they are improving, although it is already looking pretty clear that baseball scholarships will not be in their future. Unlike last year, when the boys had no idea which end of a bat to hold and saw the ball field as one giant sandbox, this year, they actually made a few hits and sorta knew which direction to run to get to first base.  There were a few times when we had to repeat the mantra "there's no crying in baseball" to them because another kid grabbed the ball or outran them in the outfield, but overall, things went better than expected, thanks to some very low standards that Tom and I set at the beginning of the season. There was minimal sand-throwing and whining and Joah even managed to keep his hat on during all the games (I can't say the same for John).  Next year, perhaps we'll conquer keeping gloves on as well and not climbing the fence in the dugout.

Along with the homeschooling, I've been trying to make it a point to celebrate at least one liturgical feast day a month.  It's been fun incorporating the liturgical year into our day-to-day lives and I really enjoy reading blogs like Kendra's to learn how to do it.  Last week, we enjoyed "meat Friday" and celebrated the feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus by making a pork loin to go along with our June apples, biscuits and blackberry cobbler.

I also made it a point to finish up this statue before the feast day.

He was found at a local flea market and I paid five dollars for Him.  I thought He looked a little "cheesy" with the bright paint colors that someone had used, and so I decided to try to antique Him a bit.   Here is what it looked like after the antiquing.

Hopefully, a little less cheesy and a little more classy?  Anyhow, I put him on display for the feast day and He watched over our living room for about a week until one of the boys dropped a stuffed animal on top of His head by accident and He came crashing to the floor and shattered into pieces. Nothing ceramic lasts too long in our house, unfortunately.  Time to go back to the flea market to see what other liturgical treasure might be found!

It's hard to believe that this coming week will mark one year since I started running.  I still try to run three times a week and it's still just me and the dog, but she is proving to be a worthy running partner most days.  I think it has been good for my soul as well as my body to run regularly.  Many are the mornings I've been stressed or anxious and a good run makes it all just melt away.  I really run more now for the mental release than the physical.  There is just something empowering about running in the rain, snow, or, as it is now, heat and humidity. Sometimes conquering little things like that gives me the confidence that I can conquer bigger things like the endless wait that goes with trying to adopt again, or the stress that comes from challenging relationships, or the marathon-like stamina that is often needed just to get through a day with two little ones.  To mark my one-year of running, I am considering entering my first 5K at the end of next month...something I never would've dreamed of a year ago.

We've got a busy weekend lined up here. Tom is celebrating his birthday this weekend and since this Sunday is also Father's Day, he has picked a menu for his special day that looks something like this:  ribs, brats, beans, pie.  I guess it's up to me to get something green on his plate to balance it out!  And can anyone explain to me why guys prefer pie over cake?  Seriously, I've never met a guy who didn't love pie.  After almost fourteen years of marriage, I've come to realize that there aren't many rifts between Tom and I that a chocolate pie can't fix.

Like many others, I've been sifting through the commentaries and analyses of Pope Francis' latest encyclical Laudato Si.  I haven't actually read the entire text yet but hope to do so soon.  I am encouraged, however, to see emphasis again being placed upon our role as stewards of God's creation and our connection to the natural world. Having spent two decades working in the field of conservation biology, I can say that much of what I've read regarding this latest encyclical rings true. Too many of us have lost a real connection to our natural world to the point that we frequently overlook the beauty of creation that surrounds us every day. I hope that this latest encyclical inspires all of us to take more time to just get outside, maybe learn more about the creatures in our own backyards, and most of all, share that with others. God has given us not just our families and friends but also a whole world of creatures to remind us that we are never alone. The natural world outside our doors is not something to be feared, conquered or just occasionally visited.  It is meant to be a part of us just as we are a part of it.

I hope you have a great weekend!   Thank you for stopping by and visiting my Quick Takes and thank you to Kelly for hosting mine and others!

Oh...and nope, I didn't finish this during the boys' naps thanks to a kid who can hear like a bat...maybe next time!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The June Apples

It's a strange thing to live on a piece of land that you knew as a child and where the people you knew as a child once walked but now they are gone. It's even stranger to watch your own children walk on that same land and see them making memories that will carry them into a time when they too, will reflect on the people who walked with them through their childhood but are gone.

The old apple trees are thinning their branches of the heavy load of fruit right now and every few minutes, one can hear the thump as the trees shed themselves of their over-abundance. Why some apples succumb to this early shedding that we call the June drop when other apples on the trees do not is still somewhat of a mystery. What is known is that even in the world of fruit trees, only the strongest survive, and that none of the apples would grow and mature if not for this early summer sacrifice. 

Our boys relish in climbing the old trees, and a milestone was reached a few months ago when they both mastered jumping down from them as well. Mommy was no longer needed to assist with the precarious leap that freed them from the apple tree's boughs.  In that moment, I realized that they'd grown up before me just a little bit more. 

This past week, we filled up our five-gallon buckets with the June apples. They may have been discarded by the tree itself, but they would fill our bellies none-the-less. As we picked the apples up off the ground, my father, now in his mid-seventies, told the story about when he was a small boy and how he ate so many raw June apples one day that his mother thought he'd developed appendicitis. The doctor had been called and his father was not pleased, to say the least, to find that he'd just spent five hard-earned dollars on a doctor's call for a boy who had eaten too many green apples! This story prepared me for the stomach ache that our son John would develop that same evening, as history sought to replay itself for yet another generation. 

And generations they have been...all witnessed by those old apple trees.  I remember seeing my grandfather as a old man, picking up the ripe and fallen apples in the cool morning of late summer. In the heat of the day, he'd spend hours sitting in the shade of those trees, slicing the apples with his worn pocket knife. The June apples had been cooked two months earlier and turned into apple sauce, but the late summer apples were always dried. Spread out on wooden boards covered with newspapers, the apples would cure in the sunlight and I would snatch a few for a snack while I stood over them, reading old news.

I thought of all these things this week as I stirred yet another pot of June apples cooking slowly on the stovetop. I thought about how nobody dries apples anymore and I wonder if that means nobody makes stack cakes anymore either...or at least, the old-fashioned kind of stack cake that I grew up knowing.  I thought about my grandfather and how he showed me how to pick up the apples without getting stung by the yellow-jacket that was almost always waiting on the side of the apple that you couldn't see.  I thought about my grandmother and how she would always overly sweeten the apples just a bit because she had a terrible sweet tooth, and how she would always bake a fresh batch of biscuits to go with them, and how much I miss those biscuits, which will never be duplicated. As a young girl, I shared many an afternoon meal with my grandparents, feasting on those hot biscuits and cooked June apples and chasing it all down with a tall, cold glass of "sweet milk".

It doesn't take much to leave a legacy. Decades ago, my great-grandmother planted daffodils along the path to her front porch. Today, she and the house are gone. Nothing tangible of her or her life remains other than a headstone. Yet, every March, a barren hillside surrounded by forest becomes a carpet of yellow jonquils as those daffodils bloom and spread. I loved romping through them as a girl and now my boys do the same.  I never knew her, but I never see a daffodil without thinking about her.

Our old apple trees are slowly dying.  Their heartwood is rotting and the tips of their branches are dying back.  There will be no apple crop next year given that we have a bounty this year, but will there be one the year after that?  After this summer, the old apple trees will be granted a year of rest, but will they be able to produce another crop come June of 2017?  Perhaps. What is more certain is that they will not witness a fourth generation of children sitting under their branches, eating too many green apples. New apple trees can be planted in their places someday, and new memories will hopefully be formed under those branches long after I am gone, but there will never be other apple trees quite like these. These trees with these shadows and these memories.