Happy Birthday, Lydia!

Lydia is a lot like me (Josh).  She likes to plan things and doesn’t like surprises.  For her 12th birthday last Saturday, she had her entire birthday day planned out weeks before it ever came.  Even the day before her birthday, she began preparing for the festivities by making her own two-layer vanilla and blueberry cake.

The menu for her birthday breakfast was no less than crepes, Dutch babies, blueberries, and turkey sausage.  We feasted while watching her open cards and presents from friends and family near and far.

Before we could finish stuffing ourselves on sweet breakfast goodies, Lydia rushed off to her next birthday engagement.  She had a birthday brunch date at the cafe with two of her Homestead girlfriends (and mothers).  I was told when she got back that she was still able to eat 2 bacon and 2 pancakes.  Wow!

Lydia had finished her second meal of the day and it was not even noon yet!  She had things to do and places to go.  Though not part of her original daily plan, she gracefully accepted an invitation to do crafting (crochet) with her friends at a lady’s house who lives in the community.  While there she got to open more presents and play with kittens.

The day was half way through and Lydia was still spinning the web of her master plan.  Now a third girlfriend had joined her party celebration during the craft and they all headed back to our house to begin the process of making home-made pizza.  There was dough to knead, cheese to grate, toppings to slice, and smiles to share.

The labor of love was complete and the celebration was well on its way.  The pizza was delicious and the company was divine.

The climax of the evening was at hand.  The birthday girl tasted the “ceremonious first bite” of birthday cake accompanied by strawberry ice cream.  Look at her face and judge for yourself how good it tastes.

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As the evening labored on and the sun began the set, Lydia and her friends (and siblings) squeezed out the last ounces of daylight to play games in the grass.  The birthday celebration was complete and had been a smashing success.

 

Celebrating Mothers

I can reflect back on every Mother’s Day over past years as a day of celebration and honor for my mother and, more recently, for the mother of my own children- my wife.  There is a special quality of observing a tradition year after year.  Tradition helps us to feel a sense of normalcy, predictability, and security.  In fact, I believe we all long to be connected to something everlasting and unchanging.  Tradition helps us feel that connection.  I realize that our modern culture often resists things labeled “traditional” yet, it seems to me, in these past months where change has become rapidly unpredictable, tradition could serve to reconnect us to peace.  Anyways, our Mother’s Day celebration here on the Texas farm was filled with peace, fun and joy and I am grateful that nothing can take away the enduring love we have for our mothers.

Mel’s first order of business on Mother’s day was to relax in the morning sun, reading and working on her sun tan.

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It was a casual carefree day of sunshine and smiles.  As the day progressed, the kids and I busied ourselves in the kitchen, preparing the evening meal for the woman-of-honor.

By request of her excellence, Mel asked for a good-old hamburger and Greek lemon-potatoes.  The meal was accompanied by a Greek style salad and a refreshing iced sparkling fresh lime and mint beverage.  And for dessert we had Greek style baklava (left-overs from Mel’s 40th Birthday Party that we saved in the freezer).  A meal fit for a queen.

The banquet table was set outside on the front poach and our admired lady was brought to the feast.  One smile says it all.  The meal was worthy of royalty.

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And, through the advantage of technology, we video-conferenced both our mothers back home in Seattle.  Happy Mother’s Day.

Breathing in the Fresh Air

At the start of this month, our friends, the Haugens, whom we have mentioned several times in previous posts, visited our 2-acre farm and stayed with us for four nights.  Our land was more than large enough to accommodate their fifth-wheel RV and give us plenty of space to “practice our social distancing”.  After over a month of sheltering in place and living like isolated hermits, it was a breath of fresh air to enjoy the company of real live people face to face.

As you can see from the pictures above, all our meals together were eaten outside.  We had sunny, 90 degree weather without a day of rain.  It was especially refreshing to watch our children play together with our friends’ children, a lost past time in these last days.

Nothing earth shattering, just people socializing with people, like we used to back in the good-old days.  A familiar feeling of times that now seem distant in the past.  Camp fires, board games, and sidewalk chalk art.

Those four days swept by us like a gust of wind.  A pleasant reminder of the past life previously filled with endless social interaction that I took for granted.  I treasure the opportunity to breath in the fresh air once again.  To remember the feeling of being alive.

 

Puppies, Tomatoes, and Camp Fires- “The Little Things”

I’ve heard it said that “It’s the little things that make all the difference.”  After the last few weeks of “big” things happening such as Mel’s 40th birthday, the funeral of our beloved pet chicken, and being marooned in the city of Waco due to the shelter in place order, it seemed to me that there was nothing important to talk about today.  That is, except for the little things.  Little things like our neighbor’s puppies, who are small enough to squeeze through the fence and parade through our yard unannounced, playing and tackling each other along the way.  The kids have been spending most everyday playing with these white furry intruders.

Like waking up each morning to admire God’s miracle of life in our garden.  With the warm rays of sun radiating on my back, I love strolling passed the rows of fruiting tomato plants.  Day after day, I examine each plant individually to see the growth which, like magic, has happened while I was asleep.  I have never known before the joy that a tomato plant can bring.

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Perhaps the most enchanting of little things is to step out of our house each evening at the first sign of the setting of the sun to watch the fire flies dance together in a twinkling show of dazzling lights.  With a gentle breeze, the cooling air refreshes our spirits after a hot Texas day.  After the sun fully sets and the fireflies find an evening place of shelter, the conditions are perfect to enjoy a family evening next to an outdoor fire.  Our bright smiles reflect the alluring flicker of flames as we laugh and savor the moment before us.

In fact, as I consider these, I realize the little things are all around us.  Small things, like Mel and the kids doing home school outside on a sunny day.

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Eating take-out Olive Garden outdoors with Mel’s birthday gift card.

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Sleeping in a tent that Caleb and I built in the trees.

Caleb building a shoe rack out of scrap wood.

Mel hanging clothes out to dry in the sun.

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All these many little things become one big thing.  One big life of adventure and wonder which always keeps us guessing what will be the next little thing we’ll be privileged to enjoy today.

Over the Hill

When I was a child, I remember looking at my parents and thinking how very old they seemed to be.  I lived with a false belief that I would never become as old as them.  That growing up to be 30, not to mention 40, years old seemed like an entire lifetime away, something that would never happen, that I would somehow perceptually stay young.  But, as is the obvious truth, we do in fact grow a day older every day.

April 23rd, 2020 was Mel’s 40th birthday.  Several months ago, when I asked her how she wanted to celebrate her entrance into the 5th decade of her life, she told be she wanted to celebrate by visiting her close friend, Ruth.  Ruth and Mel have been close friends since middle school and Ruth was even a Maid of Honor at our wedding.  Several years ago, Ruth and her family moved to Tennessee.  In December 2019, Ruth turned 40 and Mel was unable to travel to visit her friend during that time.  So Mel had it in her heart that she would instead visit in April 2020 and they would celebrate their birthdays together.

As life has unfolded during the past few months, we found wisdom in suspending our road trip to Tennessee and sheltering in place for a season.  This also meant the postponing of the 40-year-old friends celebrating their over-the-hill experience with each other.  When I asked Mel how she felt about this, she told me she was sad about not seeing Ruth for her birthday and that she even had a cry over it as she let the desire go and mourned the lost of being with Ruth for the big 4-O.

When mid-April was upon us and it was quite obvious we would not be traveling any further east, I asked Mel, “So, what do you want to do for your 40th birthday now?”  As we discussed this question, she mentioned wanting to go out to eat at a Mediterranean restaurant.  Knowing that restaurants are still closed, she consented to instead allow me to cook a Mediterranean meal for her birthday.  After mentioning this to our friend, Kash, he asked if he could host a “small” party at his place.  I told him Mel would be thrilled.

As the day approached, I became intently focused on shopping, preparing, and cooking.  I was in charge of making the baklava, hummus, tzatziki sauce and drinks.  I learned first hand the intricacies of making Baklava.  40 sheets of paper thin dough, each individually hand brushed with butter and layered five times with crushed nuts (sunflower seeds by request of the birthday girl).  Once out of the oven, it was then drenched in sugar syrup, honey and lemon juice, then drizzled with dark chocolate.  It was a labor of love that turned out perfectly.

Then April 23rd, 2020 came.  In the morning, our children confined Mel to our bedroom as they finalized her first birthday wishes of the day.  Leading her into our living room, the kids wished her a very happy birthday and shared with her gifts they had made.

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Among the gifts were cards, a cat made from recycled materials (Asher’s masterpiece), a phone case decoration (Lydia) and a special birthday wish from our Lego friends from Antarctica (also a display created by Asher).

Not much after that, a surprise breakfast was delivered to our door of fresh baked cinnamon rolls from the Homestead bakery.

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Most of the afternoon, Mel spent talking on the phone with family and friends calling to wish her a happy birthday and get caught up on life.  I continued to run around and finalize the last details for the evening party.  Our friends were also hard at work.  Mid-way through the day, I received a text with a sneak peek of pictures of their contributions to the party.

When dinner time was upon us, I drove our family to our friends’ house and Mel, once again, was asked to “hang out” in the front yard as we finished completing the Mediterranean feast in the backyard.

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The menu consisted of a Greek salad, fresh baked pita bread (made that day from the Homestead bakery), hummus, tzatziki sauce, labneh, an olive tray, stuffed peppers and mushrooms, baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, and grilled chicken.  Mel was given a drink (Fresh mint, ice, carbonated raspberry flavored water, and simple syrup (sugar)), and lead to the outdoor party buffet.Photo Apr 23, 7 01 47 PM

It was a party fit for a queen.  In fact, I believe it was the greatest party in Waco that day (literally).

And what party would be complete without desert; a layered cookies and cream cake and the baklava.

As the party came to an end, Mel had forgotten about any sadness she might have once had about not being in Tennessee and thanked everyone present for participating in the celebration of her life.  She exclaimed in complete truthful sincerity, “This was the best birthday ever!”

 

 

Lessons from the Farm

Most all children have some sort of desire to own a pet as they are growing up.  In the case of my children, all of them have been begging for various pets over the years.

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Their desire for a pet, I believe, comes from a healthy place: they desire for love and affection; a physical creature they can hold and cuddle, pet and hug.  They have a desire to care for a living creature, to feed and play, to teach and train.  They desire to have a friend, a companion that will never leave them for someone else, a connection with a living thing that they can depend on.  Having a pet teaches them responsibility, discipline, and compassion.

But, having a pet will also teach a child (and adults) another valuable lesson in life.  That lesson is the truth of our mortality.  For children and adults, myself included, we usually think and experience life as a sort of condition that will never end.  We seldom stop to consider our limited time here on earth.  In fact, I dislike thinking about my limitations, particularly my eventual limitation to continue to sustain my own life.  Instead, I enjoy focusing my attention on increase.  I distract myself from limitation by learning more, building more, earning more, traveling more, interacting more, and connecting more.  And all these activities of increase are a good and proper pursuit.  But, to get back to my point, a valuable truth that every pet will eventually force us to reflect on is that of  mortality.  This week, our family was reminded of that truth.

Three weeks ago we purchased six chickens.

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They came to us in a box and after we brought the box to our house and opened it up, all the chickens immediately jumped out and did what chickens do.  They pecked, scratched, clucked, and explored their new home with curiosity.  Each member of our family gravitated to one of the chickens and we each individually claimed one as our own and gave it a name.  French Pigeon, Hatshepsut, Determined, Butternut and Tomato.  But one chicken was unlike the rest.  One chicken, after several minutes of the other five chickens traversing their new territory, still remained in the box (see picture above).  “That is my chicken,” Eva yelled with gleeful excitement.  “I will name her Bombabay.”  Eventually we tipped the box on it’s side and slowly, the odd chicken came out.  Upon inspection, we noticed that the chicken had a few feathers missing, and that she had obviously gotten stuck on the bottom of the pile of chickens during transport.  Though she seemed to have had a rough ride with her other fellow chickens, we had hope, especially Eva, that she would become an excellent pet chicken.

But as the days moved along, we noticed that Bombabay continued to act differently than a “normal” chicken would.  Instead of staying in close proximity to the other five chickens as they scratched the ground together, looking for grass and bugs to eat, she tended to stay by herself.  She seemed healthy, but appeared to be a very anti- social chicken.  When the kids would throw out feed, the chickens would all come running, except Bombabay.  She would slowly and cautiously meander to the feeding spot and, with extreme care, would attempt to eat a piece or two of the feed lying in the grass.  Her fellow chickens were frantically trying to gobble every morsel of food they could possibly find, pushing, shoving, and pecking each other, inconsiderable of others around.  Bombabay was obviously uninterested in the competitive rivalry and instead, choosing to move on, once again, alone.

She was our special chicken.  Though she was different, she was loved, especially by Eva.  She seemed disinterested in living like the other chickens, who were self-absorbed in their desire to do whatever it took to get more than the other chickens.  She chose not to participate in the “rat race” of chicken life, but instead submitted herself to the bottom of the pecking order (literally).  She always got less and never fought back.  Lonely and desolate, we eventually separated her from the rest so she could eat without being abused.

Then, three days ago (Thursday), Bombabay took an unexpected turn for the worse.  She appeared ill, her once red crown on her head drooped down and had only a faint pink color.  She moved even more slowly then before and we became concerned for her.  Calling a friend who has years of experience raising chickens, she recommended us feeding her raw garlic, as a way to help her to heal.

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But it was too late. Instead of getting better, she got worse.  By Saturday morning (yesterday), she was lethargic and the appearance of life within her seemed dim.  Lydia held her, stroking her brown-tan feathers and speaking words of love and affection to her.  But even the power of a young girl’s love is no match for the truth of death that will befall us all.  In her arms, Bombabay passed away.

We had no idea that we would be having a funeral for our pet-friend that day.  It was outside of our plans.  It had not even been a speculation the day before that this was within the realm of possibilities.  Bombabay reminds us all that, from time to time, it is healthy, and necessary, for us to reflect on the sacred and precious nature of life.  To more fully appreciate our limited days here on earth and to not get overly consumed by focusing only on ourselves but rather on what is the most important in life.

As our family gathered around our now deceased pet bird, we prayed and cried and said our last words of peace to her.  Then, as all city-slicker farmers do (I imagine), we dug a hole in the ground and built an ornate grave worthy only for a chicken as special as her.

We took turns placing flowers on her grave and thinking thoughts of love and grief about our too-shortly lived relationship with our feathered friend.

Today is a new day and even as I write this I look out the window and watch our four children free ranging our other five chickens and playing with the neighbors soft white puppies.  Life continues all around us, even if, at time, it forces us to pause and reflect on truths that we all must wrestle with.

Bombabay, we loved you.

Searching for the “New Normal”

In various conversations I have had recently, I have begun to hear a common theme among them start to emerge.  “What is the “New Normal” going to be like?”  What I think people are trying to say is, “What are the new changes in life that we can expect to remain the same?”  It seems to me that many people want to have some sort of expectation of what will happen and hope that those expectations will not change.

As I consider this, I see a bigger reality coming into being.  To start, I believe all people, deep down, have a desire for things that are unchanging.  Things that are transcendent.  Things that are bigger than themselves that, without a doubt, will remain constant.  Some such things, like the never changing rising and setting of the sun, are essential to life itself.  Any unexpected changing of the sun’s interaction to the earth would mean the end of life on earth as we know it.

Other less tangible things, like the love freely given between a husband, a wife, a father, a mother, a child, are also hoped for as constantly dependable.  In fact, as I consider all the things that are necessary for life to continue; the air we breathe, gravity, the rain, sun and moon, all of these things we can expect to remain the same.

It is good to hope for all of these to remain the same. Yet, as we see the essentials of life predictably dependable, we tend to also desire the temporal and unessential things to do the same.

In August 2018, when my family set out on our 10 month road trip, I did everything in my power to grab hold of the “new normal” of our ever-changing lives.  I would make excel spreadsheets to predict the future of the days ahead: how many miles to our next stop, how long would it take to get there, how many days we would be staying there, names of the camp sites we would be staying at, so on and so forth.  I could detail out the future for about a month at a time, until the variables became too great and I had to just wait for a few weeks, update the predictions with what actually happened, then I could begin predicting again.  This went on for sometime during the first half of our trip. But, somewhere during the second half of our trip, I suddenly realized I was no longer living in a sort of “future expectation”.  Something had somehow, almost without me knowing, changed inside me.

It has been one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned in my life-  Being able to live life in the moment.  No longer was I hoping or expecting things to align themselves in a particular sort of way; I could simply live and be.  Not only is this much less work (I still like to use Excel for many other things though) but it is much more fun.  In fact, I believe it is because I learned that lesson last year, that we have been able to, this year, see new fruits in our life because of it.

This year, our “New Normal” is whatever comes our way.  This week our “New Normal” included:

Holding our neighbor’s new puppies (Caleb prefers chickens over puppies):

Playing with our other neighbor’s dog (unplanned father of the puppies):

Building planter boxes (flats) at the wood shop:

Filling flats with seed transplants:

Planting garden beds:

Searching for (plant eating) snails:

Constructing a wheel barrow out of scrap wood:

Mowing the lawn (thank you, Grampy, for teaching Caleb how to drive):

Building a garden fence:

Building a compost pile:

Fun in the sun water fight:

Baking banana bread:

Cooking Easter breakfast and Easter dinner:

If I had not been able to learn to live life in the moment last year, I am afraid I may not be blogging this post right now.  I may very well be sitting at home in Seattle, hoping and waiting for the “New Normal” to show itself to me so that I might take hold of it and feel its illusionary seduction of security.  I thank God that we are, instead, living in the now and enjoying each unanticipated moment as it reveals itself to us.  Love you all and Happy Easter.