Welcome to My Frontier

If I could swap spots with one person these days, it would be the Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond.  With her sassy mom tops and awesome cowboy boots right down to her basset hounds and cowboy lifestyle, I feel certain I could work my deep Texas roots enough to fit in on her sprawling Oklahoma ranch. 

The moment I would be found out as a decoy would be when dinner was served up.  I just can't cook worth a flip. So I've engaged other parties to try and figger it out for me, namely my daughter.

Yes, as part of more prescribed summer fun, Madeleine is planning to cook her way through (mostly) Pioneer Woman recipes.   And sure enough, in the last five days, she's made blackberry cobbler, French bread pizzas, homemade pasta, banana bread, and the most heavenly au gratin potatoes.

In loyal support of her efforts, I have regretfully and with great difficulty set aside my tedious low carb diet to sample these delicacies.  

The cobbler was so delicious and devoured by everyone from dad to baby that the next day I decided to try my hand at the same recipe.  What I churned out had too few blueberries, too much lumpy dough, and burned a little on top.  Yech. 

Rolling out homemade pasta while sporting the apron she sewed a few years back?
Maybe someone should start her own blog.

This Pioneer-Woman-wanna-be might have come up with her best summer idea ever: a cooking understudy.  Next up: Croissant French Toast Bake.  

So much for low carb.....time to shop for a sassy swimsuit coverup instead?


Why Blog? My (Very) Personal Reason

I spend a lot of time drinking coffee.  Iced, hot, strong, weak, Starbucks, Mr. Coffee or even International Delight (a holdover from my teenage years)--it really doesn't matter to me.  I have also been known to snarl slightly at anyone trying to swipe, sip, or piously criticize my Diet Coke.  But hey, hear me out: I need the pick me up.  We're at that tedious phase where my 21-month-old flies right into traffic, singlehandledly opens the front door when no one is looking, joyfully knocks over careful stacks of laundry, and shoots up the bunk bed ladder and rains down big brother's carefully placed trophies off the nearby shelf.

It's a tiring proposition, raising five kids.

So why would I add a single other thing to my already-busy life?  Why force another cup of caffeine into an already shaky hand?  Why in heaven's name would I be sitting at the computer, as I currently am, at 2:25am?

Simply put: why the blog, lady?

Let me rule out a few reasons. For one, I am not trying to project an image of togetherness (insert laugh, close friends), flaunt my limited writing skills, nor do I claim any superiority in my opinions.  I am fully aware of how mixed-up and poorly thought through numerous aspects of my life are, including but not limited to: my dated wardrobe, my limited ability to accessorize without my stylish sister's help, my general haphazard appearance and beauty products that might assist said appearance, my opinionated parenting technique, and even (gasp!) micro-aspects of my theology.

No, the real reason is this:

back row: Evelyn, JD, Virgil, Cleamon, and Laura Wilmalou (my Lala)
front row: Mimi and Clyde Elmo Pinner, my great-grandparents
(Unrelated: it's an undisputed fact that there were some serious slim pickins in the family name barrel.)

The five children standing in this picture are my relatives.  My grandmother is on the far right, the lovely lady who bravely raised my mother on a remote cotton farm in West Texas. And all five of these beautiful people had Alzheimer's Disease or severe dementia that is currently or eventually led to their demise.

And I suspect, as much as I pray against it, that my future is tied up in these genes and this related inevitability: one day I am going to forget.

And as much as my Lala loves her grands, she is now reduced to only remembering my third child, her namesake, who she no longer calls by her own name, instead loosely and lovingly as "that little girl".

Sadly, sometimes love itself is not enough to help one remember.

And before my day comes, even if it is many decades away, there are a few things that I want to process, review, organize, and articulate.  In writing, I find a way to seal my thoughts to words, words that will remain long after I can no longer remember writing them.  I desperately don't want to miss this chance to share with my children and those I love dearly the personal impressions, sometimes-feeble observations, but most especially the undercurrent of love and tender gratitude I feel for this often-chaotic, frequently amazing, incredibly satisfying life that the good Lord has given me.

So have patience on me when my eyebags look darker and droopier than ever. There's a greater mission on my heart than publishing a blog post.  And I hope in some small way this humble space will leave a legacy in the face of loss, so that if/when that loss comes, a part of the real me remains.

So thanks for reading, y'all.

~ ~ ~

Teach us to number our days, 
so that we may gain 
a heart of wisdom.  
Psalm 90:12


All Tucked in Their Beds

I just made my middle-of-the-night rounds, checking to see that the covers were pulled up and heads were straight on pillows and favorite blankies were within arm's reach, and now I can't pull up my own covers and get back to sleep.

There is a groundswell of excitement in our home this weekend, and I've been trying to put words to what we are all feeling as summer breaks upon us.  I suppose it's the sense that Time itself is rolling out, a deep carpet of limitless ocean.  

We find ourselves on the brink of relentless heat and careless joys and fewer responsibilities, and it feels grand.  It most certainly seems like a never-ending reserve, this time, and surely it might allow for some fiddling around in its great expansive space that stretches to the very horizon, one that makes us feel small and enveloped and like we will never reach the end of it.

This feeling I relish even though I know it is the Great Deceiver, the very reason we turn to television and iPads and pretty magazines and yesterday's paper rather than towards each other.

But for tonight I rest content knowing where the hearts I love are sleeping.  I am certain they had a square meal for dinner and their teeth were brushed and they each were hugged before drifting to sleep with the dim nightlight casting peaceful shadows.

For tonight, their breaths rise and fall within the confines of my home, in a comfortable place where the alarm is armed and the air conditioning hums.

In this quiet dark, their parents lie beside each other on familiar pillows with the fan always on, and I know even though the trough of my bed curves deep that if I sleep right there, just so, they can find me in the dark.

We are safe.

But in a certain number of tomorrows, we will be spread out by obligations and the secure space of this home will be breached by impending adulthood and responsibilities and expectations that will suck them right away out of their cozy beds and into harsh reality, where sheets aren't pulled to their chins in the midnight silence and where favorite foods become an issue of what's in the monthly budget rather than a delicious and familiar something waiting for them on a tray when they expectantly open up the big refrigerator door.

I pondered this swelling sensation of time as we spent several hours at the local retirement community today.  I watched the walkers roll to and fro, filling the elevators and lining the halls with their own slow-wheeled traffic.  I saw many silver-haired strangers with bowed backs that have been so shaped by time that they strained to lift their chins at the thunder of feet as my children curved around their lane and ran ahead in their Sunday best, leaving a flood of memories in their wake.

"All my babies are in their sixties," one spry fellow in a beret confided to me as my children stormed past.  "Well done," I replied back, unsure of what else to say as I stared at his sloping black hat and he watched my kids turn the far corner and move out of sight.  "I'll be saying that before you know it," I told him.

And I will.

"All we have to decide 
is what to do 
with the time that is given us.”

Gandalf, Fellowship of the Rings


Congratulations, Papa-Bear Style {Friday Photo}

Ahhh, this moment, this moment.  Inside I cried from the tenderness and laughed from the surprise all at the same time.  David shook all the kindergarten graduates' hands as they crossed the stage this week, but when his little boy came across, he held out his hand then instead swept Reid into a big bear hug high off the ground.

This father stays up until the very wee hours checking math homework, enthusiastically recites Henry V, Act IV, Scene iii (we few, we happy few, we band of brothers!) alongside his child at the dinner table, voluntarily pours over school budget details at his office desk, conjugates Latin derivatives, adeptly sorting out genitive, nominative, and dative cases, and takes great joy in surprise bear hugs to say congratulations.  Papa Bear hugs are in fact just a small outward sign of the steady stream of his fatherly love.  Thankful.


What to Say About Five Kids at Home 24/7?

~ ~ ~


Once upon a time, quite some time ago, there lived a fair maiden by the name of Lydia. She had the potential to be pretty, one might say, with her long, brown curls and blue eyes, but years of hard labor had darkened her skin and destroyed her once beautiful hands.

As far back as she could recall, she had been enslaved to the king and queen of France, her home country, and worked countless hours tending to the horses. She did not mind the work at all: she had learned to love it, even if it had provided her with no money. However, the queen grew jealous of her beauty and sought to destroy her sunny disposition by whatever means possible.

So, Lydia was often given more work than the other servants and was not respected at all, and on this note begins this particular tale.

~ ~ ~

One brisk evening, enveloped in the French winter of 1127, Lydia was walking to the stables to groom the horses. She was deep in thought of the previous night, her seventeenth birthday, when she had received a Bible from her friends. She had always been a Christian, and was elated to read it. 

Suddenly, she stopped, and if anyone had been looking on at the scene, they would have been almost as horrified at her expression as she was at the sight before her. There was a new groomer tending to the horses, and she had no doubt in her head that this was the queen’s doing. She had loved this job: in her eyes, it was a small ray of sunshine, a tiny delight in her miserable world. 

Lydia ran. She dodged other servants and dashed up several flights of stairs until she stood in front of the large, wooden door that gave way to the throne room.  She knew that if she seemed upset, the queen would be even more proud of herself.  She realized she had to seem calm and composed, even if she was about to cry.  Lydia opened the door.

~ ~ ~

Wondering what happens next, hmmm??  Me, too!  This is not my writing, but a little noodling around by my eldest, written in about 20 minutes of spare time.  Needless to say, I am very much looking forward to reading more of her words and encouraging in the upcoming months the pleasure she takes in spinning a yarn.  

To summer, which starts tomorrow in our household, I say welcome.

Someone out there just read those words and - upon considering how life might be with five active kids, a large dog, and a perennially tired mom cooped up in the house for the summer - flinched slightly.  I understand how it might be possible to envision tedious misery, squabbling, dirty diapers, and persistently messy rooms.  And to a certain degree, all of those moments will happen, but I do have a plan, and I have learned from hard-fought experience that a plan is key.

What's on tap for summer 2014?  My 12-year old wants to work on writing, so she is starting The One Year Adventure Novel, a curriculum to take her through all the steps of storytelling, with the end product being a self-written novel. She is fired up to begin and has already decided on the setting and era.

We will also be doing Geometry with the oldest two, for which I am detecting a high degree of interest. I picked up the book last week and a certain someone discovered it, whisked it away, assembled a notebook, and completed the first lesson.  The two younger kids will be doing Saxon math with their big brother/sister tutoring team, the cheapest and perhaps best help I could possibly rustle up.

Science also made the list: the whole gang is doing Oceanography 101.  I purchased the text and we have plans for field trips (hey, this is Florida!) as we get deeper in the curriculum.  This topic has particularly captivated my third child, who is a tough nut when it comes to academics but is passionate about shells, water, and anything critter-related.

On the sports front, my fourth child passed his swim team test last week and is officially joining his siblings for swim workouts and meets three to four times a week.  This piece of the plan is a critical way to take the edge off of the abundant energy present in my household.  All four are also slated for triathlon activity, having been inspired by the tri the older kids completed this weekend.  I even found them sneaking a Sharpie and body-marking the baby and themselves, for which they were roundly scolded (although I admit I was extremely amused.)

In between all of this structured brain and body activity, there will be lots of cannonballs in the pool, sleeping in, badminton rounds in the front yard, lego constructions, sidewalk chalk, and pillow forts.  All the while, Kate Middleton will be wondering where in the Sam Hill all her quiet doggie-napping days have gone.

Summer 2014, bring on your happy, hot madness.  This mama is ready!


And the Medal Goes To...{Friday Photo}

We finally did it!  A real live birthday party for the most easygoing, cheerful kid in history, who also happens to be as sports-obsessed as his big brother, hence the theme.  Athletic endeavors, a dozen dodgeballs, water balloons, messy cake, root beer floats, lots of giggly kindergarten friends, and one happy six year old boy.  Life is good.


The Beautiful Mind

When I was growing up, there was a magic number in my brain that quantified who I was, which happened to be my IQ score.  I'm not sure how I came across it, but it stuck with me.  It became a defining factor in how I perceived myself. And in retrospect, I am angered that my mind was ever defined by a number.

Yet, history repeats itself as this week I am getting data back on my kids that seeks to define in a standardized way what is contained in their minds.  For instance, yesterday, Madeleine had to head over to the local public middle school to take a tedious three-hour algebra exam that is offered statewide with the intent of capturing whether the subject was sufficiently mastered to the satisfaction of the government powers that be. I have difficulty believing that this score will reflect the true depth of her conceptual abilities, but will rather be a superficial measurement skimming along a breadth of skills.

We also have started to receive from our school the Stanford Achievement Test scores, which are intended to help us as parents know that our children are progressing according to grade level and are an expected and appropriate endeavor for any academic institution.

So I'm looking at all these scores on the page and the National Grade Percentile Bands and Clusters and Performance Standard Categories and rows upon rows of digits, digits, digits and I want to ask this important question, of myself and the IQ number I can't shake (along with my own SAT), as well as to my children:

What test can quantify the mind, placed within us by God himself?  

Who can truly assign a number and a ranking to this complex masterpiece we have been given?  

Because every single day, I see in my children the Beautiful Mind unfolding in such a myriad of ways that I cannot fathom how anyone dares try to measure it's creativity and depth and adaptability.

When a child sits down and writes a lullaby on the piano for her baby brother, there is no number to capture the complexity of love and ability brought together in that moment.  Deciding one sunny afternoon to self-teach computer coding, how can you attach a figure to the inclination and boldness and receptiveness of a mind like that?

When that same child turns a phrase in an essay that makes me pause from the surprising stirring of emotions within me, or hides away in the sewing room busy recycling a dryer sheet and a deflated mylar balloon to stitch up a regal outfit for her doll, there is no standard of measurement that quantifies how creative, how unusual, how mutually earth-friendly and technically well made that effort really is.

So when I sat down to look over the SAT scores with Madeleine last night, on the heels of this state standardized algebra test, I told her point blank, without mincing words: school, grades, tests, assessments, these are all necessary parts of modern life, but will never be any measure of the Beautiful Mind God has given to her.  I pleaded with her not to rest in these numbers or tie her self-worth to any flat quantitative analysis as an accurate reflection of the three-dimensional kaleidoscope of brilliance within her.

The brilliance within all of us--His favored creation.

For he has made everything beautiful in its time. 
He has set eternity in the hearts of men, yet no one can fathom what
God has done from beginning to end.  Ecclesiastes 3:11


One Testy Test Drive

Truth in advertising? I think not.  The big smiles are because they're getting paid to sit in this photo, not because the Odyssey is so incredibly comfy for seven individuals.  Folks, we are missing a whole wall of the car here.  Otherwise everyone pictured would be a whiny claustrophobic mess. 

HOLD UP THERE!  If you haven't read the original post on our family's new-car standoff, and you aren't opposed to a little humor related to a completely First World Problem, then head over here for the back story.

For my mother and the rest of you reading this blog, yesterday was a big day in our familia grande.  I reluctantly agreed to test drive a 2014 Honda Odyssey.  Even though the Car Petition currently has 8 signatures under Yukon XL and only two under Odyssey (the affordability factor won over my numbers kid), David coerced me into heading over to the car dealership to take a ride around, knowing good and well that any car with a mere 10 miles on the odometer and fresh, crumb-free, leather-scented seats would hypnotize me into submission.

Poor hubby. He was waaaaay off base on this, because I insisted on bringing every child we had (I wanted to bring our black lab but wasn't sure Proctor Honda was that open-minded), the enormous and somewhat crusty Britax Roundabout, my ginormous diaper bag, and I actually had plans on unloading the team's baseball equipment from my car to see how my whole show would fit until I saw that the salesman actually wasn't a shark like I was expecting, but the gentle, extremely young son of Peruvian immigrants. Really he was: he tried to reassure me that he could handle a test drive with my crew because his mom grew up in Peru with seven siblings.

This fact was irrelevant because back in Peru they don't have this strange American custom called Field Day.  In retrospect, bringing my children for a test drive at 3:30pm just after the conclusion of a hot and sweaty Field Day was either a terrific idea (we looked frayed around the edges enough to seem like we needed a great deal on the car) or the worst strategy possible (we looked like hobos without a car budget, possibly just wasting their time.)

Sure enough, my offspring were grubby, exhausted, and stinky from tip to toe in their ratty athletic clothes, and my kind sales rep did a double-check and made sure to look at the zip code on my copied license before letting us within 10 feet of the vehicle.  It dawned on me that he may or may not have caught a glimpse earlier of one (or two) of my kids removing the delicate blue gazing ball from the little garden area next to the entrance and chasing each other with it like wild banshees.  As we started to load up, this young fella, who confessed he primarily handled Internet sales inquiries and not test drives, actually made a joke about me making off with the car if he didn't hop in to escort me.

I was not amused.

In keeping with his initial impressions, however, Anne Mason somehow tried to steal aboard this pristine vehicle with a passel of small twigs she had collected while we waited outside for him to bring the car around.  I reprimanded her under my breath and she pretended to throw them back into the grass only to slide them into the large pocket of her dirt-streaked white skort.  After more quiet scolding and piercing angry-mom eyes, she eventually climbed into the brand-spankin-new car stickless and with a ticked look.

We were off.

Immediately Reid started whining from his squished-in spot in the back that he couldn't see because of all the sales papers stuck to the window. The shout I'M TEARING THESE PAPERS DOWN, MOM! made the salesman flinch and, looking back, he noted that my dear precocious son was seatbeltless.  After more maternal threats and recriminations from the front seat, everyone was duly secured as we pulled out on one of the busiest streets in our town.  I wobbled in the lane as the three kids jostled in the third row, whispering loudly in rotation: "I hate this car! You're touching me--move over!  I want to go home!  I need to go to the bathroom BAD!"  That's when I leaned over conversationally to the tense Peruvian and asked if he knew how his mom and her seven siblings got around town in their youth.  He looked at me thoughtfully for a moment and admitted he had no idea.

I put forth the witty suggestion, as the situation intensified on the back row and rush hour traffic kicked in, that it most definitely could not have been in a Honda Odyssey.

Not sixty seconds later, it became strangely quiet in the new car.  Nap time hit like a ton of bricks in that ten minute spin around the block, and I was finally able to converse in a normal tone and ask intelligent questions for the duration of the ride.  I even remember to ask if the in-car vac could handle Whataburger cream gravy, to which he looked at me strangely and shrugged.

Do they look comfortable to you?  At least we'd have enough cupholders.

These people will only get bigger.

Although I tried to play the smart consumer for the rest of the ride, I could tell that the damage was done when he hopped out upon our return, shook my hand, and--for the first time in the history of car sales--backed inside without even taking my phone number. 

On the long ride home, all present agreed without hesitation that the old Sequoia would be a roomier--if not nearly as clean or reliable--alternative to the tricked-out new Odyssey.  There is just no substitute in the realm of fancy car features for personal space.  

Yet as the complaining kid unsurprisingly peed in their pants before I could unlock the front door, I realized an in-car potty might actually come in close second.


Why All the Sports? The Answer Surprised Even Me

2013 Seahawks

Life in our family of seven has been particularly hectic these days, and I have one good reason for it: youth sports.  We've been consumed with sports of late, with children playing on a junior baseball team, an older baseball team, and a tween softball team.  My husband coaches two of these teams, thus requiring much in the way of behind-the-scenes equipment juggling, scheduling shuffling, and pep talks.

That's six games per week for anyone who's counting, which comes to roundabout fifty games crammed into the nights and weekends of two already-busy school months, plus the bimonthly Sunday workouts of the triathlon team that the kids started in early April.

2014 Marlins

2011 Mets

2014 Rays

So why would we subject ourselves to this much in the way of sports?  This question was posed to me last month, and between repeated kamikaze Chick-fil-A drive throughs, mass purchases of Goldfish and Gatorade, and the hauling of pop-up chairs and snack bags back and forth across the red, ubiquitous sand, I've been mulling it over ever since.  In LBK (life before kids), I was a grant writer for the National Alliance for Youth Sports, so I guess you could say that I was a professional on reciting the laundry list of why youth sports are important for kids.  Lifelong lessons in team building, good sportsmanship, physical fitness, and camaraderie rank at the top of this list.

However, not one of those is my reason for the grueling sports schedule we have willingly brought upon ourselves. 

Why then, you ask?

2013 Area Tallahassee Aquatic Club (ATAC)

2029 MVP

2014 St. Mark's Duathlon

Here's the thing: I once assumed being a parent meant that I would have a front-row seat to watching my kids grow up.  I believed I would be there to see the small moments, the daily interactions, the tiny successes and challenges that build into my children and gradually make them into the responsible, mature adults I hope they will be.

I would be the primary witness.

Not necessarily so.

2013 cross country team

2013 Titans

2014 Youth Triathlon Series

Instead, the front row seat is given to others, and I mostly run logistics.  I drop them off at the schoolhouse and the classroom door clicks behind them.  I wonder about their interactions during the span of those seven hours away.  What conversations did they have?  What did they learn?  Did they mind their manners?  Were they frustrated about something?  Did they have an insightful answer or a weak reply or a helpful suggestion? I deposit my children at Sunday school and pick them up again, but do I get to overhear what insights they shared or what they learned while apart from me that hour?

I'll never know these daily details, and frankly the hours spent away from my sight are significant.  I cannot watch huge chunks of their lives firsthand; I only hear the instant replay on the car ride home. 

I am relegated to second, and sadly parts of their childhood are obscured, lived out just beyond the horizon of Mom.

 2012 ATAC

2013 Gulf Winds Summer Track Series

2012 Seahawks

2013 Titans

Ah, but in sports - in sports - that is no longer the case.  It is my moment.  I am not rushing around prepping dinner, folding laundry, giving baths, helping with homework, answering four questions at once, or separated from them by a classroom wall. 

I have the liberty to take my seat, pause for a spell, hold my gaze steady and simply watch. Watch how they support and encourage their friends with tenderness when they fumble the ball.  See how they summon their courage to stand before a huge crowd and dive off the swim blocks in a mad wet rush for first place.  Witness how they strike out miserably, and with dried tear stains streaking their face, gain renewed hope as they walk to the plate once more.  

All the drama and effort of my flesh and blood, my most treasured possessions - I take it all in and come back wanting more.  Hands down, the most delicious hours of my life are spent at the ball fields, tracks, pools, and race courses of this town. 

I measure my kids' growth not by days marked off the calendar or penciled notches on the door, but by the increasing arc of their fly ball from the plate, their ever-accelerating speed on the track, the seconds off the stopwatch in the 100m free, the gradual arm strength to throw the touchdown farther and farther and farther down the field with each passing year.

I sit back comfortably in my portable chair - the yellow birthday present with the pop-up umbrella bought lovingly with kiddie tooth fairy money - then I fold my arms and give myself a squeeze and feel thankful for every glorious moment.

2009 Youth Triathlon Series

2012 ATAC anchor IM relay

2030 UF recruit

And oh the drama of it all.  It's spellbinding to me. 

My son stands quietly in the dugout, pensive and pinched, and I wonder from the bleacher zone what he is thinking. I see how he bows his sweat-stained brow and pauses. He puts his hand to the fence, looks out over the field. I lean in a little.  

Then my heart lifts as a familiar look of total focus crosses his face and determination glints in his eyes. Sure enough, in the next moment, he turns on his heel, confidently picks up his favorite bat, strides past dozens of spectators and hammers a smashing bullet to bring the runners home. 

I take in every minute detail, both subtle and obvious, and shake my head in wonder and appreciation. There is no place I'd rather be.

2014 Yankees

My daughter is only six and has a stitch in her side so badly she can hardly walk as she finishes up the run of her first-ever triathlon.  I helplessly look on, fighting all instincts to run to her, and wonder if she will quit. Somehow she swallows the pain between gulps of air and fast-flowing tears and finds the mental courage to finish strong. She leaps in her daddy's arms at the finish with the jubilation only a conquered challenge can bring.

2006 Red Hills Kids Triathlon

And before I know it, that same fair-haired six year old is an elegant young lady, happily sprinting to the finish without hesitation in the latest race, and suddenly in my heart I know that once I am gone, she will be okay.  In this race of life, she will dig deep and finish strong.  I know not because I was told but because I watched it with my own eyes.

A weight is lifted.

2013 Gladiator Challenge

2006 Red Hills Kids Triathlon

2007 Red Hills Kids Triathlon

2008 Red Hills Kids Triathlon

2012 Freedom Springs Triathlon

2013 ATAC Swim Invitational

Yes indeed, these splish splash, patter-pat, pop up, curve ball, touchdown moments are worth this mama seeking out and savoring. 

Even if the drive through dinner is not.

*A version of this post appeared on the National Alliance For Youth Sports website, seen here.