Half a Lifetime (And An Ivory Anniversary)

 (Me and the beloved green bike.  Big-Pants John smushed in the corner.)

I turned 36 in April, and this fall marks 18 years.
I've now known John for half of my life.

My first day on the college campus, he was wearing bright yellow Chuck Taylor's.  Even without that shock of color, he would have been hard to miss. Dark eyes, dark hair, dressed in all black with the widest pant legs I'd ever seen, and an unmistakable upward bounce to his gait. In the weeks that followed, his sneaker choice shifted to bright red more often than not, but he was just as hard to miss.

His small talk was never boring, and our beginning conversations didn't dance around the usual niceties. He skipped those and drove straight to the center, or, if he skirted around the edges, his wit enlivened even dull topics. People of all stripes were in his circle of friends-- jocks, sweet-faced girls, simmering misfits, musicians, geeks-- because he knew the artificial and invisible boundaries inherent in these settings didn't matter.

(Central Park.  Thom and I watch Steve and John duke it out in an invisible game of chess.)

I had no interest in him romantically, at all. In fact, when I was moping about how my RA was forcing me to attend a "Get Your Roommate a Date Night" (unaware with first-semester-freshmen naivety that I could just skip whatever I wanted to skip in college), he volunteered himself as my date. The notion spooked me like crazy, and I awkwardly avoided him for the next few days.  I'd never had a boyfriend, had never met anyone who seemed worth the bother who also seemed to think I was worth the bother, and, besides, John just didn't fit the bill.

But he was the most interesting person I'd ever met-- funny and brilliant and odd, with utterly unexpected twists of personality and action.  He was literate and well-read, he paused long before answering questions, he introduced me to music that sank deep, and he wove words well.  He was cool, but not in a slick way.  He was unpredictable, rough around the edges, forthright, sometimes volatile, sometimes crass, and absolutely opposed-- if they had no other worth-- to actions done simply for the sake of social expectation or obligation. 

   (Freshman year.  Here he is, annoyed with me for soliciting autographs from the American Boychoir youngsters, who were just a little too smug about fawning college girls, proving his point with a typically over-the-top object lesson by abruptly kissing the toe of one Bryan Weimer, a boy who later mailed me the autographs of all the members of the American Boychoir.)

We were such different people with vastly different backgrounds, but even from the beginning it felt like we were kin.  Over the next couple of years, I still had no romantic interest in him, but he became one of my best friends, and between us grew the unspoken fact that we Knew each other, without needing to understand everything about each other. Then, one long walk later, I was taken aback to realize he was the best friend.  I'd always half-planned on being a globe-trotting old maid, and looked forward to the adventure, but in my few imaginings of a non-existent Prince Charming, he wasn't named John Owen. When John told me senior year that he intended to marry me, he still didn't fit the Prince Charming checklist, but since it was a choice between life with my favorite person or life without....well, you know where the story goes. I tossed that dumb list out the window and moved from No Boyfriend Ever to Engaged, which is probably the only way I wouldn't have run away beforehand.

Today marks 14 years as man and wife, and I would have no other.
He's the one I choose again and again, for 14 times 14 years more.

 (Ushy. Gushy. Slushy.)


All A'Jumble

I love watching skyfire deepen in color and tone until it dies down to embers, then ash.  When a quick glance out the window brings a gasp.  When Susannah tells me I must come and watch with her.  When, after rain, evening fog rises thick and silent, covering crickets but not cricketsong.

These are rough germs of posts--unfinished, unposted-- that I started when I felt the need to quickly write something, or, more likely, the need to avoid something I should have been doing instead of typing.  They had no place, and I didn't know what to do with them, so I bundled them all together in a big, sloppy sheaf. 


I'm friends with two older women who, for the last couple of years, have unknowingly taught me what marital faithfulness looks like.  It can be hard, gritty, and often thankless.  They've shown that love is not showy and requires the deceptively simple act of setting one foot down, and then another-- over and over again-- even when that seems impossible.

After tending to his failing health for years, one woman recently lost her husband, and the other looks to a future, perhaps near, without hers, living the lonely work of moving from comrade to caretaker as his bright mind reshapes with Alzheimer's.  These couples were pillars together, tall and strong, but in later years, old age and ill health made it necessary for the wives to carry the husbands.

I'm thankful that John and I are best friends and that, for this time, are well-matched in health, both of body and mind.  We delight in one another and laugh a lot around the grumps.  The hard times are small, bare patches to move through in an expanse of green.  Someday, though, the bare patches will spread, and one of us may lose a companion by degrees.

I am glad for men and women who show us younger ones the steady face of love.  We need to see the hard faithfulness to which we might be called, and that it is good and admirable and worthy.


Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


I've said some pretty stupid things to grieving people, and I only realized it after Dad died.  All well-meaning, I spoke too glibly of truths I understood intellectually but that had not yet pierced my heart. Mostly, I simply spoke too much.

I am sorry for that.

In this missing, I've been thankful for all prayers and words extended on our behalf and especially for the comfort found in small words with large meaning given by those who know.


"The question is not,--how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education--but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?"  

-Charlotte Mason

(I think I put this quote down in order to flesh out a post.  Whaddya know?  No post.  The quote's better than the post would be, anyway.)


Ten months later, I find I can't write about Dad yet, but I think about him all the time. Some of my sister Debbie's and brother Pete's words loop around on repeat in my head.  At Dad's funeral, when all of us children spoke for a bit, Debbie talked about Dad being a man of depth and substance with a mind full of mystery in the deep corners.  He was, and it was.  Growing up, he told us dozens of interesting and rosy stories from his childhood (he jumped off a barn roof with an umbrella and got stuck with his pants on a nail!) for every one curt mention of Grandpa's alcoholism.  And he rarely talked about Grandma at all, which, in retrospect, speaks volumes.

 Pete's words honored Dad's mind, too.  Dad was Pete's best friend.  They regularly talked for hours on the phone, and Pete spoke of missing Dad's mind-- that keen, sharp intellect that informed all of his conversations and interactions with others.

We all miss his insatiable curiosity, the driving force behind his lifelong accumulation of knowledge and the reason why, after popping in to divert both himself and me from chores, he could diagnose what was probably wrong with John's broken car before introducing me to string theory, immediately following it with theological applications too cerebral for me to even grasp.  It's the reason he bought used field guides whenever he found them, half a dozen devoted to mushrooms alone, and the reason why he could never get rid of books, even if that meant they grew mildew in basement boxes (which they did). 

That curiosity was the reason I could ask my Dad a question about any topic imaginable and be confident he would give me an informed answer, and it was the reason he called each of his seven children every week, often multiple times, to see what was going on in our lives.  I never had to call any of my siblings in order to know exactly what they were doing in any particular week because he connected us all with his conversation.  I feel cut off these days and realize that it takes a lot of work to maintain relationships with the brothers and sisters I love without him carrying us all in the center.

He was unusually involved in the lives of his adult children, which explains in part why his absence still gapes all unseemly.  It doesn't seem right to not know when my brother Andy and his family are flying from one bush village in Alaska to another, and at exactly what minute I should whisper a few prayers for the Father's protecting hand.  It doesn't seem right to not know with what cleverness Haven has quietly astounded, what humorous naughtiness Simeon has unpacked, or what mountain Pete is biking down as I chop the vegetables for supper.  These days, I don't know to what country Luke and Jae-Ryong are preparing to travel or when her parents are visiting; I don't know the bachelor food Joel's been eating or how far along-- or not-- his philosophy dissertation is.  Thank goodness I talk to my two sisters more regularly, or else I'd be wondering what on earth they're doing, too.

Dad's conversation and curiosity were not idle.  With them, he sent tendrils outward to connect himself to the world.  To link people to people. He didn't think many people would show up to his funeral, so he directed Mom to a small funeral home.  That Thursday night, we stood in the receiving line for over four hours.  The next morning, the place was overstuffed to the point of discomfort, and, later, at the meal, the people who loved Dad and us packed the church gym full, because superceding all of Dad's flaws was the knowledge that he cared for people.

His curiosity, his worry, his involvement, his unsolicited advice, his care for us-- these were sometimes an annoyance and a nuisance.
I miss that nuisance.

And now I've written a few words that barely plumb the surface.

Some days, Dad's absence still seems like a bad dream-- the closest blow of death so far-- and this while living in the comfort of my family, the comfort of my home, the comfort of our safety, and the comfort of knowing He's with our Father.  I'm swaddled in comfort on all sides.  It is not fair that death after a long life is the greatest of griefs when horrors such as this wound others all over the globe.  Pray for the least of these, our brothers and sisters.

I write each of my children his or her own lullaby within a few weeks of birth and sing it through the years, no matter how big their bodies grow.  Lucinda means "light."  Aidan means "little fire." Both of their lullabies exhort them to light up the night and to illumine the corners. 
I hope this for all of my children.


The Abrupt End.

Be Wary

Lucinda in the herb garden, 

watching the bees.

The Son of The Cookie Cowboy

Is naturally a cowboy, himself.

Just a mite smaller, is all.

And still in diapers...

Someone Snap That Child's Britches, Please


I took this picture for one reason only.  Susannah entered the kitchen, stared at the table in appreciation, and then remarked, "MY!  That's a powerful lot of beets!"

(Sometimes I get confused about what century we're living in up here on Mt. Hunger.)

Down from the North Country

Last week, Leah drove down for a visit with her seven children.  Scott had to stay home (dairy farmers have no vacation), and we missed him, but, boy, was it good to catch up with Leah and the cousins again.  So good, in fact, that I neglected to bring the camera out for more than one picture.

They are such good boys, truly, and I wish we could see more of them.  (The girls are sweet, too, but they're eating outside the frame here.)

We had a full day with lots of visitors who wanted to see the Terrys while they could, and we ended the night with Zeke's birthday pinata, which we'd stored in the basement since the end of April, just waiting for the right time to fill it with candy and bash it to pieces.

He was practically quivering with excitement.

So were some others...

Thanks, McGamma!  Once again, your birthday gift made the children of three families happy-hyper-happy!

After a late night, Johnny and Millie set up the tents, and everyone dropped off, fistfuls of candy tucked away.  It was such a wonderful visit, and though two days is fine, two weeks would be finer! Just in case, Scott, you find a farmer willing to take over for a few weeks...

The Best State Park (for Now)

John's the king of spontaneous daytrips, and he packed us up one morning with only one request-- wear bathing suits.  We'd been here once before, but, after a second visit, there's no question it's the best.

This time we decided to walk the trails before swimming, only to find, after fifteen minutes of walking, a little path that led off the edge.

It led to this.

Such a magical place, with mini-waterfalls and shallow pools and deeper swimming holes.

I held the baby in my arms as I took this picture, and I love it.  I'm the richest girl I know.

And then we handed bags and little children and babies back up the small, sheer drop we came down.  (That handsome man even looks good in Millie's sunhat, huh?)

To prove we were there, here's a snapshot of my huffy-puffy self and my grinning boy.  (You know what's weird?  Of course not.  Let me tell you. I realized later that two years ago on our only other visit to this park, I had Ezekiel dressed identically, even down to the missing shirt.  There's an sf story just waiting to be written...)

THEN we went swimming.

The far side next to the falls has a minimum 12-foot depth, and the diving board is high above the water, which gives one plenty of time to perfect their cannonball form before hitting the water.

Or for turning around and waving at one's thrilled three-year old son.

Once you swim over to the waterfall, you can pull yourself up to a narrow ledge and try to walk the length of the falls.  It's fairly easy, though slick, until you reach the part where there's no way to avoid the water, and it pounds down full force over your head.  It's kind of hard to breathe, even ducking, and every time, I lasted only a few seconds before it swept me off and into the deep end.  

John and Annika convinced Millie to try, and she loved it, too.

John made me jump off the diving board (COLD), but walking the waterfall was worth the jump.  It was one of the most fun days of summer, and I find myself wishing it were hot enough to try again.

You can just imagine me jumping and swimming, 'cause there are no snapshots.  Here, instead, are some poor saps who are still too small to jump into the deep section.  Poor lee'le creet'rs.

The Great State Fair: 2015

I just can't summon the exuberance a state fair post deserves.  If you're craving some, read previous years' posts!  I gush so much it'll make you sick.


Zeke sniffs out machinery wherever he goes.

Turtle Mound and Indian Village, source of so many of my childhood dreams.  (Fair skin and freckles shouldn't bar one from this, no?)

You can practically see the dreams sprouting.  (And that little Nut Berry could pass for an Indian girl, too.  No freckles to bar her!)

In the longhouse.

Millie stepped into the wool and fibers booth and didn't leave for about an hour.  That girl can chat it up with middle-aged knitters and spinners like nobody's business.  One of the women let her borrow a spindle, and she spent the next seven hours spinning wool roving as we walked around the fair.  She had eyes for nothing but her spindle, and I'm not even exaggerating.  This girl somehow came from me?!

Mom and Debbie came with us this year.  Behold, the dairy bar with an eternal fountain of chocolate milk!  Behold, my children slurping!   Behold, my mother's tan pants!  

Here's a lackluster picture of the butter sculpture.  If she was given a choice, the Statue of Liberty would rather hoist a milk jug high.  (Wouldn't we all?)

The free cow ride never fails to amaze me with its slow pace.

Soooo slow.

Cows aren't known for their speed, though.  

It's their milk that matters.  And their cheese!  John and Annika waiting in line for cheese samples.  

The butterflies were drawn to Debbie.  It's that honey hair of hers.

After playing the player piano (surely you remember it; it's one of the highlights for the girls), Susannah bought a feather for 75 cents.  I took this picture of her an hour later when, quite pleased, she told me, "At least four people said they like my feather."

I was so disgusted with the circus this year that I'm only posting one picture.  We ended up leaving it early (but still later than we should have), completely put off by the world's crassest clown.  The artistry of true clowning is a wonder, but he just ran around like a big dummy telling dirty jokes.

We stayed at the fair for almost 12 hours.  It was a doozy of a day, and we ended it, like always, by using our county fair winnings for the girls to choose one ride apiece.  Millie rode the ferris wheel with Debbie, (pictures at the end of Debbie's post).  Thanks to free extra tickets from a vendor, Zeke and Lu rode on both the helicopters and the kiddie roller coaster.

Susannah and Annika rode on the biggest roller coaster, and the night ended like so, 

with an exit by one gleeful and exuberant child on the right and one shaky and weeping child on the left.  Ah, my little Bird, you were not meant to soar above the earth in a metal car.  Next time, use your wings.

Until next year...