Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Some of the Best Days of my Life

As a little girl growing up on the gulf coast of Texas, I was always aware of water - it's presence, it's power, and it's predictability...and it's unpredictability. I did actually end up packing for college in a home without electricity during the rain and rising tides of Hurricane Alicia. I guess my familiarity with water - with the coast - ingrained in me a deep love for the ocean, a love so intertwined in me that I almost need the ocean. I love rain equally. I have sat many days on my porch here in north Texas and watched and smelled and listened to the rain.

And I can remember taking Philip, our oldest son, to the beach for the very first time when I was pregnant with Andrew. I can see in my mind Steve "walking" Philip through the sand and the waves, and I can see Philip sucking in air, surprised as the tide would come up and tickle his ankles. That trip was just the beginning of taking the boys to the beach at regular intervals. We have lived in four cities in Texas and our first three cities were in close proximity to coastal waters. 

Moving to Dallas landlocked me a little. It feels sometimes like a lot. Getting to good coastal water from my home is harder now. And to add insult to injury, the boys have an annual trip with their church youth group. And when you can go to the beach with 100 friends, why in the world would you want to go with your mother? ;) Seriously, though, I had a span of a couple of years where my toes had not hit the sand and I was seriously aching for a week at the beach.

We were delighted, absolutely and sheerly delighted, when a family that we adore invited us to go to the beach with them. It was an easy and instant yes for all four of us. Steve and I began researching the neighborhood they were renting in and we booked a home right on the beach. Be still my heart. For five months I was aware we would be headed there, and my heart was giddy with anticipation and excitement. God was granting me a huge gift! A week at the beach, at a house on the beach, with my family of four, and with five other precious souls that we love! August that year could not come fast enough.

As the trip approached, it became apparent to me that this was also the last summer that I would have two high school students. It intensified my heart's investment in the week as the departure date loomed on the calendar. Plans were made and menus prepared and sunscreen and spike ball were packed. My friend and I conspired for family photo shoots. I would shoot her family and she would shoot mine. How perfect is that? {I should note here that she has three sons and I have two. I think we should get extra credit for getting five young men at a beach to clean up and dress in nice, coordinating clothes.} ;)

Beach Week came. It was truly a perfect week. A shower here or there was an added blessing for me. See, our beach house had a back porch with 7 rocking chairs on it. I was content to sit on that porch and watch the storms roll in and out, watch the cranes and seagulls soar and land, and even see the shrimp boats trawling with the dolphins in their wake. And that was just all in the early mornings, while the boys were still asleep, and I was sipping my snickerdoodle coffee.

We had separate houses, but ate our meals together. Steve did all of the cooking. I think he truly loved it. Our friends adore his cooking and there is nothing that makes a cook happier than to have their meals gushed over and devoured. Steve got check marks on both of those grids every time he put a platter on the table. I even ponied up for two peach cobblers. The first one just went too fast. Steve and I love to cook for a big crowd.

We played on the beach, we canoed, we rode bikes, we played spike ball, we played Euchre, we played charades, we read books, we played spoons, we told stories, we laughed, we cried. We had community on the beach. It was an amazing week. In the middle of the week, we did our family photo shoot. Their oldest son had an internship and could only be with us for part of the week. So, we had our big celebratory meal when all nine of us could be present, and it was our dress up night and our photo shoot.

I love how these pictures turned out. I love that they bring back memories of such a wonderful week for the four of us, and the nine of us. I love how our two families have shared stories over - at the point of these photos - fifteen years. I love how the four of us nestled together in that coastal cottage and had some wonderful downtime together, in the final stages of life as we had all known it.

Days when we are together and the ocean is involved are truly some of the best days of my life. I am not sure when we will all be at the coast again. I know life itself is like the tide. It is controlled by Someone with a mighty hand. It is predictable...and unpredictable. It is unwavering and relentless. It is refreshing and cleansing. It is mighty and destructive. I hope and pray that another beach week is out there for me, for us. In the meantime, I will savor these memories and trust in the Hand that rules the tide. 

Beach Week ~ Harbor Island, South Carolina ~ August 2012

Paper: Pebbles
Fonts: Pacifico

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Love This Memory of You

Andrew's always been my cuddle bear. When the boys were born so close together, it was an obvious, expected, and necessitated choice for Steve and I to tag team with them. Because a baby needs his mom, so much of Andrew's first year was spent in my lap, while Steve tended to toddler Philip. Whew. Some of those days were long and rough. I will always be incredibly thankful, though, that we had our babies back to back. It has gifted each of us, all four of us, in so many ways, and it created the fabric of our family.

But, I guess it's normal for a mom to be attached a little more in her heart to her baby. Even if the youngest child were identical to the oldest child, the mom is going to feel the emotion more as she goes through the last of everything. As fun and adventurous as the first of everything is, a woman is wired to be poignant and reminiscent, in my mind, anyway, as she finishes up things. I think, for those reasons, in my heart I have a unique bond with both boys. Philip was my introduction to everything and Andrew was my finale.

And, oh, how I loved elementary school with my boys. I was blessed to be able to be at home with the boys from Philip's birth up until Andrew began 6th grade. Yep. I was at every Christmas and Valentine party that occurred, and went on as many field trips as they would allow. So, Andrew's 5th grade year was my mom swan song - my last chance to do all of the fun things. Having a child simultaneously in 5th and a child in 6th, I knew there was no need for mom at the junior high school campus. And so, determinedly, I dug into 5th grade even more zealously than I imagined I could.

I was incredibly honored to be asked to be the 5th Grade Coordinator at the boys' elementary school, and I adored working with the three teachers Andrew had that last year. To this day, I keep up with his homeroom 5th grade teacher via Facebook and am totally reveling in watching her now raise three little punkin' heads. Meghan was a jewel and she just made the year so glorious for all of the kids. The fact that I had a VIP backstage pass was a bonus.

When we moved from the valley to Plano ISD in 2005, we all got an education. PISD definitely had a certain way that things worked. They had an extensive and interesting 5th grade curriculum. It makes for an amazing year for the kids, full of integrated learning units. We worked through Immigration Day and Colonial Week and Biography Night...and had fun all along the way. And one of the neatest things they do is to have a graduation celebration for each 5th grade class...and a reunion at the elementary school for the 12th grade graduating seniors. 

Because I was the 5th Grade Coordinator, I was up at the school many days and long hours. It was so wonderful to be such an integrated part of Andrew's final year of elementary school, my final year of elementary school. As I type this, I am awaiting Andrew's senior photo shoot pictures to appear in Drop Box. And so, as I looked at photos of my many layouts, and as I prepare to soon watch this baby boy of mine cross the stage, it seems natural to look back at this 2007 milestone and ponder graduation celebrations.

As I consider the 6'2" young man who has a black cap and gown hanging in the guest closet, I am drawn to the memory of this little boy. Andrew was always tender hearted to his classmates. He was the child whose best friend for the first four years of school was the sweet little boy who was so shy he did not speak. Andrew has always been accepting of all and even seeks out those that he feels need a little extra some something. Andrew is very loyal. His friend, pictured with him on the far right, ended up defeating him in the student council race, and Andrew shook it off and kept right on with the friendship.

This little boy heart was as sweet as he was shy. He would sit quietly, listening to it all, taking it all in, processing it...and add a comment when it was least expected, in the moment or days afterward. That little thinking boy scored a 29 on the ACT without cracking a book and can solve a Rubik's Cube in seconds. And he is still mildly shy...but he can and often does bring a room to laughter with a quick-witted retort to any kind of comment.

I love his story. All of it. It has been my pleasure to have a front row seat to every chapter. From his little head nestling against my neck, to his chubby hands bringing me flowers, to his tween body getting ice cream with me, to his tall lumbering frame sharing his comic book heroes with me. I have counted all of it joy. It has been my pleasure. It has been a celebration in my heart to have him in my life. 

In 5 weeks we will have our reunion at Hunt. I didn't go with Philip and he said they all asked about me. Who knew moms could go? And then in 6 weeks, we will have one more graduation ceremony with my Andrew. And I will spend the next 6 weeks smiling at this boy, remembering his story, cherishing all of the chapters, and loving how God has crafted him into the young man that he is. 

We will embrace this coming senior high graduation celebration and we will remember fondly this 5th grade graduation celebration, and we will work even harder to remember all the way back to his kindergarten graduation. And as we dream, we look forward to his someday college graduation. I do love this 5th grade memory of him. And I love all my memories of him.

Graduation Celebration ~ Andrew's 5th Grade Graduation ~ May 2007 

Paper: October Afternoon
Fonts: Comic Sans, Pacifico

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Life in my Years

I've always done a big Christmas card letter mailout thing. In the 90's, it was something of infamy. I've tapered its production off a bit, trending with the current penchant to abandon paper for any other type of media available, electronic preferred. My early letters were simple word documents, tucked inside of the Hallmark card chosen for the season after careful deliberation. There was one year where I lucked out and found the cutest card set, that offered matching stationary and envelopes, so that they coordinated perfectly with the card. It was like they were made just for me, as the house window on the front looked like one of my windows.

As the boys came along, I added the obligatory insert of the photograph. For the longest, I added a photo only of the boys. Wardrobes were planned, days were blocked out, family alerted - all systems go for THE CHRISTMAS CARD PHOTO SHOOT. I will confess I may have been a little too serious about it all. My guys were always fairly good-natured about it. I am consistent enough that they can predict my behavior. Time will certainly tell if my boys need therapy. 

I love my arsenal of cards and photos sent from years past. I can recall so many of them in my mind clearly. And for those that have slipped through the aging crevices of my gray matter, I have only to glance at the card or the photo and the memory rushes back to me. Good times. A good life.

At one point during the annual Christmas card exchange extravaganza, I received a letter in kind from a college buddy who I knew was taunting me with his barb about family cards with missing parents. I took his point at its merit and decided henceforth that we would send a family photo. I am not certain off the top of my head which year we first began our family photo, but I remember clearly the taking of the 2006 photo.

We had been in our north Texas home only about a year, and I knew our wooden staircase would be the perfect backdrop for the photo. Sunday afternoons are the go-to photo session timeframe. Hubby works every Saturday during the Christmas season and I've never been one of those gals that took the family photo outside of the season. The photo has to be current to feel right to me. And I need a little winter daylight.

In 2006, the boys were in 5th and 6th grade and Steve and I were in the early, kind stages of the 40's. Of course, finding decent clothes for the boys at this age that they were willing to wear and be photographed in - and that I approved of - was the biggest challenge. Once we had established a detente on what they would wear, Steve and I worked our wardrobes around them. Harry was a last minute addition to the photo. He ran up into the photo and I scooped him into my arms. I loved my little Yorkie and it seemed only fitting he be included.

About 10 snaps and I knew I had a keeper among the jpegs. When I sent the family photo out with the cards, I ended up doing a filter, so that the tone of the card was close to sepia, but the wash of the jeans was a lovely blue. I loved that we were all in our jeans and barefoot. That was how we lived at home - comfy shirts, comfy jeans and comfy toes. I love the bright smiles of the young pre-teen boys - their sweet spirits shining out, unencumbered.

This photo from December 2006 sits on my desk and I see it every day. It's one of my favorites. I loved it so much that on the beginning of the last full calendar year that we would be a family of four, I re-created it. I did the much ballyhooed scrapbooking project that year called Project Life - snapshot a day - and I wanted a photo of the four of us for the launch of my year long photography essay.

I grabbed us on a day that we were a) all home and b) wearing complementary clothes. Heaven forbid I have wardrobe requirements of my busy teenagers. It was just a simple blessing for my heart to capture us all at the beginning of that year that I knew was momentous for us all...that year that was going to go too fast for my beating heart.

I love these two photos side by side - one taken at the end of our first full year together in this home, and one taken at the beginning of our last full year together in this home. Classic juxtaposition. I love thinking of the boys, through all of our north Texas years, going up and down those stairs countless times in a day. I love envisioning them at their different heights and growth stages. I can see them in my mind's eye, growing up and up and up, rising in height just as certain as the wood planks themselves do.

I love knowing they are home - by their bounding of the stairs...or even sometimes sneaking on the stairs, as if the stairs will absorb their weight and won't reveal their passage. From where I lay in my bed, I can see the foot of the stairs. Many a time have I lain there in the AM and PM, watching for their descent or ascent.

I know that I cherish the noise of them being in the house. I know when the stairs are quiet that I am home alone. I walked up the stairs yesterday. Over eight years of traffic on them has them scuffed at the edges. I can polish them, but the paths of these boys are marked on them and I would not undo that for the world.

As I searched for elements for my page, I happened upon the little sentiment that seemed perfect for my page:

It is not the number of years in your life that count, it is the life in your years.

These boys, and our life all together, have been some of the sweetest life in my years. Sunday afternoons all together, in comfy jeans and chilling at home, is absolutely my kind of happy. 

My Kind of Happy ~ Family Photos ~ December 2012

Paper: October Afternoon
Fonts: Honey Script, Chaparral Pro