Then & Now

Sometimes it feels like everything has changed. Sometimes you look back and realize nothing has changed at all.

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This year {above}

Last year {below}

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This year {above}

Last year {below}

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We chase the sun across the waves.

We taste the salt water kisses on our lips.

Summer won’t get away from us, not today.

I Fell Asleep Under the Stars

We pack our things and run away to wide open spaces. We zip along from Massachusetts to Vermont. The people grow fewer and the trees multiply in number and variety and I always think it looks like God poured a packet of mixed seeds along the landscape and now trees and wild flowers pop up in colorful abundance.

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We set up camp and sleep outdoors and it feels good to be close to the earth.

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We sit under the trees and the sky and breathe in the outside air. The campfire smoke swirls around in our lungs and we are alive in this wild, outdoor space.

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We gather around campfires and relax in the warmth of the mesmerizing flames.

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We swim in the cold mountain water and tip toe along the river bed filling our pockets with river glass.

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We ride bikes and stretch our legs and souls—shaking off the dust of life lived away from the woods.

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I caught these sneaky little ninjas poking around my tent…

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…And I couldn’t seem to shake the little savages….but as it turns out—I really, really love them.

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God kissed the sky and it blushed pink at his touch.

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And the sun set on our outdoor adventure for one more year and we all fell asleep under the starlit sky that seemed poked through with the light from another world.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Thoreau, Walden Pond

Happy Birthday, America

A brief intermission from the Europe posts to say—Happy Birthday, America.

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Yesterday, we took the train to Boston to see the fireworks light up the city.

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You hang a ribbon with a prayer written on it…many, many prayers for Boston in these days.

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A burger and fries for dinner at Cheers….because what is more American than a burger and fries…from Cheers?

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And then we found our place by the Charles River and listened to the Boston Pops playing live in the background.

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And we laughed at all the perfectly normal grownups dressed in their crazy patriotic outfits :]

And then….

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The sky lit up over the Charles River and the music soared around us and I was happy to be home, happy to be a part of this place, and happy to wish America a very happy birthday.

Life Lately.

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Two of my dearest friends came to visit for the week.

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We talked and laughed and explored the streets together and were reminded why we have loved each other so much from the start

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Who couldn’t love a friend with penguin socks?

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We ransacked the dessert section in my favorite Italian coffee shop

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And explored all the beautiful streets and corners of some of my favorite towns. I could take a picture of every perfect little piece of New England architecture

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And perfect little bird houses too

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The other day after exploring my favorite bookstore I came home with lots of old maps, a book printed on a letterpress with raised words you can feel when you run your fingers over the page, a stunning book of American poetry with a bunch of my favorite authors all wrapped up between the same two covers, and a little bitty book of Shakespeare too :]

The trees are blushing crimson in the warm light of spring

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And the sunshine is warming everything up

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And these two are warming my heart up :]

To Fresh Woods and Pastures New

Yesterday, Darren and I closed on our new home. And by new I mean new as soon as we rebuild it kind of new ;]

We bought a little Colonial built back in 1860—you know, the year Abraham Lincoln was elected President and the Pony Express was still delivering the mail. So yes, she is old and she is a fixer-upper. But we love all the old New England charm about her and even though I’m certain we don’t yet fully know what we’ve gotten ourselves into, we are excited and thankful for this new road we’re on.

I was starting to feel like we had looked at every piece of real estate in the whole entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts and there was nothing for us. But here we are. Now we own an old Colonial in a quaint little New England town. We have a big yard and woods behind and before us—I can’t explain how much the yard and woods mean to me. I have a nice sunny spot picked out to plant my first garden and we are within walking distance to the lake where we can swim and canoe. There’s a nice flat road for riding bikes and my very favorite book store is just a few miles away. I’m really, really thankful.

Please remind me of these pretty words come the middle of this project because I will probably be threatening to burn the whole place down once I’m covered in paint and sheetrock dust. I’m moody like that. Oh, and I give up easily so this should go really well ;]

Seriously though, I’m excited about preserving this old house that has seen so much and adding our own lives and memories to her walls. I’m excited about walking out into the yard and working in the garden, excited about jumping in the lake, excited about watching the trees blossom and the leaves fall as we work away on making this very old house our home.

I’m thankful that old things can be made new and that so much of what’s broken can be fixed…not only in old houses, but in our lives too.

Here she is. I call her Abigail. Don’t judge her–she needs a touch of lipstick and rouge–most ladies do, you know.

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And the view…

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“And so you sign a mortgage but also body and soul, spouse and children over to an idea that will soon become a joy and a burden, a black hole that devours every molecule of your time, money, and spirit. Yet even when you discover that the only thing keeping the place from blowing away is the weight of the mouse droppings in the attic, you wouldn’t have it any other way. If this is the case, you might be one of those old-house people, a peculiar kind of maniac who is one part ability, one part inventiveness, two parts determination, three parts romanticism, and six parts damn foolishness.”  {George Nash from Renovating Old Houses}

I think maybe we fit the part? ;]

“Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new.” {John Milton}

Behind the Clouds

On Thursday a winter storm rolled in. Winter weather is always disappointing this time of year when our hearts are set on spring. Apparently Mother Nature does not care if she’s a heartbreaker and was happy to shower us with snow and cold.

We couldn’t get our car up the hill we live on with all the snow on the road so we ended up abandoning it in a parking lot a mile from our house. Darren and I walked the rest of the way home at midnight with the snow still coming down. We were a sight with Darren wearing my fur-lined hood and each of us wearing one of his gloves. We were also carrying a box of ice cream because, snow or not, you don’t want to leave a perfectly good box of ice cream behind.

The next morning we grabbed a shovel and loaded backpacks up with rock salt hoping we would be able to get the car out of the snow. We bundled up and began marching back down the road to the car. We took about five steps before we started falling on our butts. Darren was walking along and fell flat on his bum. I try to be supportive so I laughed at him. He fell two or three more times and I started telling him he would have to walk alone if he was going to be so embarrassing and then I fell right flat on my bum too; that’s what you get for running your mouth and teasing. Every time one of us would get up the other would fall down and we slipped and slid the whole way down the road. It was very funny really, and there is nothing you can do but laugh at yourself in a moment like that.

We made it to the car and were happy to see it hadn’t been towed; we were very worried about that. But it was very, very buried in snow. Honestly, you could hardly even see it in the snow drift. Darren started shoveling it out and I started cleaning it off but the snow was coming down so hard that all my work was covered right back up. We got in the car dripping wet with melting snow and after a couple tries, we were back on the road.

When the wind and the snow are blowing in your face and the whole world seems buried beneath a veil of grey and white, you can’t imagine that the snow will ever melt or the sun will ever shine. But we woke the next day to a clear blue sky and mild spring temperatures.

It is just like Robert Frost said in his poem:

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.”
From the poem Two Tramps in Mud Time

The warm temperatures quickly melted the snow off the roads and Darren and I actually went for another walk the next day—only this time it was for the pleasure of the warm air and sunshine and neither of us fell down. I kept looking at the cobalt sky and I was a little amazed that it had actually been there all along, only hidden behind the clouds and the snow. The blue sky never exactly went away; it was only veiled by the weather.

Life is like that too, I suppose. Life gets stormy and we fall down and it’s hard to imagine that the sun ever shone or will ever shine again. But it does. The clouds clear, we get back up, and the sun continues to shine. Even though we could not see it, the sun never stopped shining and the blue sky never failed. Our vision was veiled but nothing was ever really lost to the storms and clouds.

I’m trying to remember this, that the sky is always blue…right behind the clouds.

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A Winter Wonderland

Eleven inches of snow fell flake by flake into our yard last night. We woke up this morning to a winter wonderland. We tried and tried to get out of the drive, but alas, we are stuck. Since we are snowed in and I have nothing better to do, I decided to treck out into the snow for some pictures.

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DSC07129“Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast

In a field I looked into going past,

And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,

But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

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Are you snowed in too? :]

{Fall} My Personal New Year

{A hike up Peeked Mountain, Monson Massachusetts 2009}

Yesterday we officially slipped into fall. I love everything about this time of year. I love boots and scarves and warm cozy jackets. I love hot drinks and hardy soups, crackling fires and cobalt skies. I love snuggling up on Sunday afternoons watching football and sipping a hot pumpkin latte every morning on the way to work.

{New Hampshire Pumpkin Fest 2009}

There is something about this time of year that always makes me reflective. The air is cooler, the days are getting shorter, and the whole world feels like it’s wrapping up in a warm, cozy blanket.

{The Height of the Land, Maine 2011}

Every day I notice how many more leaves blush in crimson or show off in gold. I watch them fall to the ground, one by one today, ten by ten tomorrow, and I think about how quickly the warmth and reflection of this season will pass us by. Soon enough we will be watching the snow flakes fall rather than the leaves.

I used to dread the transition from fall into winter. I used to think of winter as the end when everything is dead and over and there is nothing left to enjoy. But after long busy summers, I’ve started looking forward to the quiet days of winter. Instead of thinking of winter as the end, I see it now as a time of rest. The snow I once used to dread is now a welcome reprieve if it means life will slow down and leave us with nowhere to go for a while.

{Maine 2010}

I have learned to love this rhythm of the seasons. The leaves fall and we drift into winter. The snow flakes fly and we gather around warm cracking fires. Soon enough winter melts into spring and new life buds and blooms all around us. We soak up the summer sun until the leaves fall again and the world goes to sleep once more. The ebb and flow of the seasons is the quiet beating of the earth’s heart…tick, tock, tick, tock.

{A warm cozy fire to chase away the chill}

Today I sit by the open window with the cool breeze blowing in. I bid farewell to the hot days of summer and embrace the cool days of fall and winter. I reflect on the year gone by and plan for the year to come. I don’t cry over what we lose with the end of a season; I embrace what we gain with the next…with the ebb and flow of life…with the rhythm of the seasons and the tick tock of the earth spinning round and round through the seasons of life.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace

He has made everything beautiful in its time.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 & 11

Moments in Time

I spent Labor Day weekend up in Maine with Darren’s family. My brother and sister-in-law, their two little boys, and Darren and I decided to go for a walk through the woods and pastures. The hot sun was showing off its power for the last days of summer but as soon as we ducked into the woods under the canopy of trees, the heat broke and the cool Maine air gave us hope of fall coming soon enough.

I love the woods.

I felt like Lucy stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia—welcomed by a whole world of sights and sounds just beyond us as we live our lives among cities and highways. How can the woods be so quiet even as they bubble over with the sound of bird’s song, crickets, streams, and the rustle of leaves? How can they smell so good? The sod mingles with the moss, wild flowers, and evergreens filling the air with a sweet, earthy aroma. The light filters through the leaves and everything feels soft and hushed, calm and quiet.

It makes me happy :]

We walked the muddy path hopping around to avoid puddles, crossed the broken little bridge over the stream, balanced along a fallen tree, and popped out of the woods into the open pasture drenched in sunshine. I told my sister-in-law that between the shadowy woods and pasture covered in wild flowers, I felt like we were in Twilight together…only we’re not vampires and we’re not in love…because that would be weird.

We all trekked across the pasture together through the knee-high prairie grass and milk weed. The boys took off in search of blueberries. The sun was hot and I didn’t feel like trekking anymore. Maya and I sat in the grass talking.

I sat there thinking that I would probably remember this simple moment forever.

It was just an ordinary day. Just a walk in the woods. But it was all so magical. The blue mountain peaks sticking up behind the trees. The smell of evergreens. The grass up over our heads as we sat talking. The yellow wild flowers drenched in the yellow sunshine as far as we could see.

It was ordinary and extraordinary all at once.

Maya and I noticed we had settled right next to a big fat yellow and black garden spider and we were very pleased with our bravery for sitting there beside him, letting him listen in on our conversation, without panicking or running for our lives…that’s what I usually do around spiders…panic. kill. run for life.

The boys came back without any berries and I was a little sad they didn’t take longer; I was enjoying that moment…sitting in the grass over my head, talking with Maya and taking in the magic of the wild Maine mountain side.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said to “Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air.” I think he was on to something, that Emerson.

{Darren is always getting into trouble with the littles…I love him for that}

{The End}

Summer Days and Life Lessons

Earlier this week Darren and I went to the beach with our friends, Victor and Olga. V and O are in love with a beach in Rhode Island that Darren and I had never seen. So we all loaded in our cars and took of to see this spot we’ve heard so much about. A few minutes out from the beach we parked and climbed into Victor’s boat for the rest of the trip out to their spot.

I’m so glad they decided to share this place with us because it’s honestly the prettiest beach front I’ve seen in New England. I was completely mesmerized the whole day. As soon as we were on shore, I was busy walking along the water gathering shells and rocks and I even found a crab claw I plan on terrorizing Darren with.

{Such a happy couple}

{Earthy treasures from the sea}

There was bright green sea weed floating around and lots of the rocks had taken on the same lime green color—so of course I filled my pockets with them to haul back home and scatter around my house. Every time we go to the beach I look for little earthy treasures to take home and decorate with. My living room is filled with mason jars full of sand and shells from all over. There’s also a whole birch tree in my living room, because yes, I drag those indoors too :]

{I drug the tree in the house by myself and cut it in half on the kitchen floor with a hack saw…wahaha}

Darren sometimes forbids me from bringing any more nature indoors and I always smile like I’m listening and fill my pockets anyway. I think he doesn’t mind in the end because he’s always showing off our jars of sea treasure when we have company and telling everyone about the adventures that went along with each bit of nature we’ve brought back home.

Once we unloaded all our stuff from the boat and settled in on the beach, the boys decided to take the boat back out on the ocean exploring. Olga and I opted for staying on the beach with the kids and away from the wild ocean waves—we know too well by now how those boys like to drive the boat like it’s a water rocket.

{The boys}

The kids took off for the sand and waves and were quickly busy digging holes and building sand castles by the sea.

{The kids + Victor digging in the sand}

Victor and Olga are Russian. They have three children; the oldest is in school and speaks English perfectly. Their daughter hasn’t started school yet and only speaks Russian. And then there’s the baby who speaks, well, baby. They also have a little boy from the Ukraine staying with them for the summer and he only speaks Ukrainian. So there were three children playing together prattling off in three different languages and yet they understood each other perfectly. Childhood is simply a language all its own.

{All the world is magic when you are five years old}

Olga and I settled into camping chairs in the sand with our legs and arms stretched out hoping for a kiss from the sun.

Just me and Olga.

Olga scares me a little bit because she’s very pretty and put together. She always wears nice clothes and has her hair done. She even smells good…how ridiculous is that? I always walk away from my time with her feeling like a frump and loser who needs to get her life together. It’s not Olga’s fault I feel this way either. She’s very nice and doesn’t do anything to make me feel bad. It’s my own jealousy and insecurity that leaves me feeling this way and not anything she needs to change. I share this because I knew going into our little beach trip that I wouldn’t have any fun if I let my feelings about O intimidate me. I decided this time I wanted things to be different. I wanted to relax and give O a chance instead of putting her in a little box of perfection she may not herself want to be in.

On the boat ride over to the beach I kept glancing over at her. She looked lovely. Her outfit was cute. Her hair wasn’t attacking her in the wind like mine was. I wanted to push her off the boat. No I didn’t…well, I sort of did :] But I decided I was going to do my best to open up and get to know her better that day. Usually I clam up and try to play it cool so she won’t figure out how not together my life is. But I knew I was being fake and frivolous and it was time to get past fear and insecurity. So after the boys left we started chatting…just our usual small talk at first. But then I started asking her questions and she asked me questions too. I thought I would be miserable trying to talk to her and open up but before I knew it the sun was dipping behind the sandy hills and were wrapping up in sweaters to stay warm. Olga told me about her life. She told me about some of the things that are bothering her and things that aren’t going right. She would stop sometimes, struggling to think of a word in English or how to communicate an idea from Russian to English. She told me I’m the only person she ever really speaks to in English and she feels silly when she can’t think of a word. I couldn’t believe Olga ever felt silly in front of me. I told her I forget words in English too and it’s the only language I speak :]

{Beautiful Olga}

I learned a lot about O that day and I learned a lot about myself too. I learned that as perfect as Olga looks and seems, she is a girl just like me. A girl with a heart that can be broken, feelings that get hurt, and fears that follow her just like me. I learned that I don’t need to try to be like Olga to have my life put together. I just need to be who I am, as imperfect as that may be. If I wear things because Olga wears them or say things because Olga says them, I’m not more like her, I’m just less like me. I cheat myself by thinking imitation will bring me any closer to who I should be. The truth is, Olga and I are very different people. We grew up in different countries and even in America, take part in very different cultures. She is six years older than me and the mother of three children. We are in very different places in life. How can I expect to know and be all that she is when we are so different in the very fibers that make us who we are? I realized that day, as we snacked on fresh fruit and treats from the Russian grocer, that my fears and insecurities are just that—fear and insecurity. There is nothing wrong with me and there is nothing unattainable about Olga; we are just different people. I’m glad I gave O a chance because I left the beach that day with a great sense of peace and confidence. Instead of feeling unattractive and inadequate, I left feeling inspired. Inspired to be the person I’m meant to be. Inspired to learn from the things I admire in Olga, not to merely mimic them. Inspired to grow and change…into myself, not into someone else.

{This is who I am, no one else}

The boys came back with the last rays of light and soon we were all marching off to get ice cream together. We sat on a wall with our ice cream watching the boats bobble on the water. There was a cannon like BOOM and people screamed; I laughed. Laughter is a nervous reaction for me. I have a feeling when the ol’ apocalypse gets here I’ll be laying on the ground giggling while everyone else runs for their lives. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism :] Victor said they do that BOOM to let everyone know it’s sunset. Olga joked about how we should probably know it’s sunset without a cannon going off and we all laughed. Of course she’s funny too…maybe I’ll push her off the boat on the way back home :]

It was a lovely day of sand and sunshine…and a life lesson or two as well. I’m thankful.

We left after dark. The black water looked like pools of ink as we glided over it. I wanted to dip my quill in it and write you a story, this story.