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AMA B E L L EN


AMABELLEN zane kathryne schwaiger

2011 edition


contents

Telling stories  •  4

lovely eggs  •  35

TUESDAY, JANUARY 11, 2011

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 13, 2011

two  •  7

primrose  •  37

MONDAY, JANUARY 31, 2011

MONDAY, APRIL 18, 2011

familiar verses  •  9

city willows  •  39

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2011

MONDAY, APRIL 18, 2011

anticipation  •  10

body art  •  41

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2011

MONDAY, MAY 2, 2011

paper dolls  •  13

freedom  •  43

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2011

TUESDAY, MAY 3, 2011

braving the urban winter  •  15

FLOWERS for sale  •  45

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2011

WEDNESDAY, MAY 4, 2011

paper dolls: part two  •  17

where is home?  •  47

THURSDAY, MARCH 3, 2011

FRIDAY, MAY 13, 2011

winter puddles  •  19

o dandelion  •  49

MONDAY, MARCH 7, 2011

MONDAY, MAY 23, 2011

bunny  •  21

tiny gardeners  •  53

FRIDAY, MARCH 11, 2011

TUESDAY, MAY 31, 2011

the question of socialization, revisited  •  22

along the shore of lake michigan  •  55

THURSDAY, MARCH 17, 2011

TUESDAY, JUNE 14, 2011

mama, is it really spring  •  25

40 friday photos: week 1  •  56

MONDAY, MARCH 21, 2011

FRIDAY, JUNE 17, 2011

HOUSE CLEANING  •  27

gousty gardens  •  57

SATURDAY, MARCH 26, 2011

FRIDAY, JUNE 24, 2011

blue skies and sand pies  •  29

chocolate mousse  •  61

THURSDAY, MARCH 31, 2011

TUESDAY, JUNE 28, 2011

crocus song  •  30

home at last  •  63

FRIDAY, APRIL 1, 2011

FRIDAY, JULY 8, 2011

ralph  •  31

rasberry bickering  •  65

MONDAY, APRIL 11, 2011

THURSDAY, JULY 21, 2011

ellen’s bucket  •  33

thyme under our toes  •  67

MONDAY, APRIL 11, 2011

THURSDAY, JULY 28, 2011

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last week in july  •  69

autumn gratitude  •  105

SUNDAY, JULY 31, 2011

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2011

rain dance  •  73

archive updates  •  107

THURSDAY, AUGUST 4, 2011

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2011

pet pig  •  75

ordinary arts  •  109

SUNDAY, AUGUST 7, 2011

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2011

settling in  •  77

dialogue of the day  •  111

SUNDAY, AUGUST 7, 2011

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2011

summer berry girl  •  79

dog love  •  113

SUNDAY, AUGUST 14, 2011

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2011

gratitude  •  81

looking back  •  115

THURSDAY, AUGUST 25, 2011

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2011

blackberry jam  •  83

catching the light  •  117

TUESDAY, AUGUST 30, 2011

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2011

flowers for teacher  •  85

hanging on  •  118

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2011

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2011

gratitude encore  •  87

bean  •  120

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 2011

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2011

sold  •  89

yarn along  •  121

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2011

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2011

ellen’s purp  •  91

little miss mitty  •  123

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2011

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2011

last days of summer  •  93

thanksgiving  •  124

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2011

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2011

with her left hand  •  97

wild geese  •  127

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2011

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2011

daily walk  •  99

gingerbread girls  •  129

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2011

MONDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2011

milkweed songs  •  101 FRIDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2011

last tuesday  •  103 TUESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2011

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Telling stories TUESDAY, JANUARY 11, 2011

When Jeffrey surprised me on Christmas morning with a book of my blog in print, and all my hours of writing were suddenly sitting in my lap, my perspective on blogging instantly shifted. And so I’ve returned. I’ve returned to use this space just a little differently - as a platform for my writing, and as a place to collect stories. Stories have been on my mind this winter season. As an avid reader, I’ve read so many books over the years, and recently, so many books on parenting. But of all the books that have passed through my hands and sat on my shelves, it is the stories that have buoyed me most, especially as a mother. More than methodology or instruction, research or critique, what really nourishes me is a good story. One of my favorites is Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. This autumn, when I reread it, I was struck by this passage and how it relates to questions I have about my own writing. Here is my worry. When they were little the children were always wanting stories. We read them stories and we told them stories. The stories they wanted most to be told were the stories of Nathan’s childhood at Port William and mine at Shagbark. “Tell us what you did when you were little.” “Tell us about the old days.” Well, the days before the war were “the old days,” sure enough. The war changed the world. The days when Nathan and I were little, before we had electricity and plumbing and tractors and blacktopped roads and nuclear bombs, must have seemed almost legendary to the children, and so they were fascinated. But did we tell the stories right? It was lovely, the telling and the listening, usually the last thing before bedtime. But did we tell the stories in such a way as to suggest that we had needed a better chance or a better life or a better place than we had? I don’t know, but I have had to ask. Suppose your stories, instead of mourning and rejoicing over the past, say that everything should have been different. Suppose you encourage or even just allow your children to believe that their parents ought to have been different people, with a better chance, born in a better place. Or suppose the stories you tell them allow them to believe, when they hear if from other people, that farming people are inferior and need to improve themselves by leaving the farm. Doesn’t that finally unmake everything that has been made? Isn’t that the loose thread that unravels the whole garment? And how are you ever to know where the thread breaks, and when the tug begins? Hannah Coulter Wendell Berry Pages 113-114 4


Hannah’s first question gets to the heart of my blogging quandary. As I was writing and ‘publishing’ over the past two years, I often asked myself, (although I couldn’t articulate it at the time) “Did I tell the story right?” And also, “Did I tell the right story?” I’ve always wanted the telling to be honest and yet there are so many ways to tell a story and, of course, so many stories to tell. These are my stories but they are also my daughters’ stories and our family stories. And yet they aren’t really stories at all unless I tell them. If I don’t make an effort to tell them, they may never get told. So, is it perhaps better to make an effort at telling rather than not to tell at all? I love to write. I love to write stories. I want to write stories for my children but also for anyone who wishes to read along. Storytelling takes practice, and it is best to practice in front of an audience, and thus the reason for my return to this blog.

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two MONDAY, JANUARY 31, 2011

Our Dear Ellen, Now you are two. How you have grown into your place in our family and blessed us with your beautiful, generous soul this year. You are a confident girl, moving easily in your strong little body. You and “Amie” dance and twirl, jump and crawl, roll and tumble like two puppies. You love to hide deep under the covers and drag heavy bags full of toys across the room. We look forward to your little bursts of energy each night after dinner, when you race and jump around the house with glee. You are very expressive with your body and your face. And you sure know how to amuse us with your silly pouty lip and scrunched up eyes and cheeks. How you love to sing! You could practically carry a little tune before you could speak. Little Drummer Boy was one of your first favorite songs - one that we often hear you singing to yourself, “Baby Dee-da, pum, pum, pum.” And you love to read almost as much as you love to sing. We read Ant and Bee and Frank and Joey Eat Lunch and Max and Diana, just to name a few, over and over and over again. “Read me, Papa! Read me on touch!” You still speak in a language largely of your own making, which delights us. “Boon-Ya” means loud vehicle or machine (“Mama Boon-Ya” = Vacuum). “Hot Tea” still means anything to drink (“Tea Pop” = special drink like juice). “Eyeball” means anything scary (“Amie, Eyeball tome! ‘elp me Honey!”). You have a sweet way of adding “Oh-Tay?” at the end of a very important statement. Each cousin has a unique name: “Hem-ah” is Philena; “Te-Te” is Tait; “Toya” is Cora; “Jouney” is Julien; little Charlie is still “Liz baby!” Your beloved purse is “My poop.” And when you want to take your clothes off: “My noo-tee, Mama?” Words are becoming clearer and clearer, but when Papa and I can’t understand you, Amabel almost always can. Thank goodness for your resident translator. You are a happy, kind-hearted girl. You share your joy so naturally with those around you - freely offering hugs and snuggles, smiles and little stories. Animals delight you. For the longest time you called every type of animal a “puppy” unless it was a bird, which was (and still is) “Dee-dee.” You care for your little stuffed animals and dolls so sweetly, singing to them and carrying them around under the crook of your arm. Recently you have become fond of a red bean bag frog, which you named “Hun.” You are always looking out for Amabel, too, and very concerned when she is upset. And you keep yourself busy imitating us - making “hoop” (soup) and “Bead ball pie” in the play kitchen; drawing with your “knee-knee” markers; and “tean-ing up” with Papa and Mama all day long. We are so grateful to share our days with you, Ellen Marie. You are a wise little being and we love you so. 7


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familiar verses TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2011

Smells Through all the frozen winter My nose has grown most lonely For lovely, lovely, colored smells That come in springtime only. -Kathryne Worth Amabel and I are at the table, with the precious February sunshine streaming through our windows, reading poetry. We are reading from The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (which, according to the inscription, was a gift to me from my childhood best friend, Anna, in 1986). Amabel wants to read all the poems on witches and ghouls (and there are some creepy ones in this particular volume!). Today I am gravitating towards wintery poems. . . hoping to find a little bit of inspiration to carry me through the days ahead. Then we come to the chapter with particularly silly poems, and one strikes Amabel as so hilarious - and her laugh is so contagious - that I hope we won’t wake Ellen from her afternoon nap. From the time she was a tiny toddler, and even before then, Amabel has loved poetry. She would sit on my lap for hours, happily listening to every nursery rhyme in the book over and over again until I had them all nearly memorized. But Amabel’s hunger for stories grew so rapidly that we jumped into story and chapter books, and in the bustle of a new baby (who quickly became a busy toddler) most of our poetry stood waiting on the shelves. Now that Ellen has taken a liking to all the familiar verses, Amabel is back in her place, right next to me, delighting in the rhythm of the words all over again. When she sees her delight reflected in Ellen’s giggles, Amabel’s whole face lights up. And thus as we read the old rhymes together, I see so clearly how very little she still is, our wide-eyed, first-born daughter. This is one of Ellen’s many gifts to Amabel - the gift of being ‘young’ again. Alongside Ellen, Amabel has rediscovered many simple joys that she left behind when she took on the role of big sister. After pulling out all our poetry books recently, I was filled with gratitude for the joy of doing it all over; for Amabel’s renewed love of poetry; and for all the years of nursery rhymes still ahead of us. 9


anticipation SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2011

Amabel spent a lot of time joyfully anticipating her little party this past week. During the preparations, I thought to myself, “I’d better savor these moments and take a few pictures because, for Amabel, the anticipation is usually better than the actual event.” After all sorts of past gatherings, she has expressed disappointment to me. So, I no longer expect an outpouring of great enthusiasm after the fact. Perhaps my girl is simply happier dreaming about the party than experiencing it. Today, Amabel proved my theory wrong. She had a delightful time with her seven little friends and their seven little dolls: making valentines, chatting, playing, and sharing tea and cupcakes. She was perfectly content after the party, as well, humming to herself all evening and helping Ellen into her red striped jammies. Today, the party was just right. Thus I received a lovely reminder: never anticipate that past behavior will unfailingly repeat. May I give my children the freedom to be new every morning. They just might surprise me.

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Grandma Lois’ Embroidery Scissors

Betsy McCall Paper Dolls

Lettie Lane Paper Dolls 12

Black Apple’s Paper Dolls


paper dolls SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2011

If our “lessons” at home were divided into subjects, one subject would certainly be Paper Dolls. I can’t remember when it started - Amabel’s love for paper dolls. But I do remember when we came across these tiny scissors that once belonged to a master seamstress, my Grandmother Lois. Amabel immediately asked to use them. At first I said, “No. They are too sharp.” But then, knowing how careful and meticulous she can be, I changed my mind. And they’ve been Amabel’s most prized possession ever since. Her scissors are perfect for the tiny precision work of paper dolls. With them she has cut out dozens and dozens - if not hundreds by now - of little figures, articles of clothing, and accessories. She has a stack of cigar boxes full of tiny people in her bedroom. Amabel seems to prefer her scissors to crayons, colored pencils, or markers. She will happily color, draw, or “write” for very short periods of time. But she will eagerly cut out paper dolls for hours. While I was browsing in a local toy shop recently, looking at paper dolls, the owner kindly offered, “Have you seen our pre-cut paper dolls?” Pre-cut? I went over to where she was pointing and politely looked at the dolls. Then I tried to explain that for my girl, cutting is the whole point. Amabel might line everything up after it has been cut out, but the act of freeing the little dolls from the confines of their pages is what really holds her attention. One day last week I was pondering all the cutting Amabel has been doing, and I decided to document part of her collection. She and I spread her dolls all over the floor of her room, opened boxes on her bed, and organized piles and piles of dolls and clothing. Now we may not have any “traditional” school work to show for this lovely year at home, but we sure do have a lot of paper dolls.

Dover Wizard of Oz Paper Dolls

Fabric Paper Dolls from Grandmommy 13


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braving the urban winter SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2011

I grew up surrounded by hundreds of acres of wild places, and I remember winter as utterly breathtaking. I remember walking my dogs through forests blanketed in fresh, thick snow. I remember skiing and sledding down trails my brothers and I carved into the hills behind our house. I remember exploring ice formations along an endless Lake Michigan shoreline. And, most of all, I remember listening to the hush of the quiet, white world. I have always loved these long, white northern winters. But winter in the city is quite different from winter in the country, and I often struggle to find lasting beauty in the snow-covered urban landscape. Urban living is adventurous - certainly; but breathtaking, white, and quiet, well. . . not exactly. Someday, will I look back on their childhood and remember with fondness my two girls sledding in the alley while I kept a watch out for garbage trucks? (Right after I took the picture above I had to pick Ellen up by the back of her coat and hoist her into the snow bank to make way for Waste Management making its rounds.) However, this may be our last winter in the city. And while we are still here, I’d like to take a moment to appreciate these snow-covered streets before I begin dreaming again of adventures on the frozen country hills. I need to look no further than our daughters for inspiration; they are, after all, well versed in braving the urban winter. After the usual snowsuit protest last week, Amabel and Ellen rode happily on the sled, back to back, over plowed sidewalks, to the bank. On the way back, coveted lollypops in hand, they admired the intricate ice sculptures downtown. When we arrived home, the girls went straight to their stash of icicles, trading prized spears back and forth until their fingers couldn’t take any more cold. During the mid-February thaw, they spent a morning creating a snow lady in our front yard. Now Ellen (whose recent favorite book is The Snowman by Raymond Briggs) reminds us every day - with a very sad face - that her beloved “hommie” has melted. Yesterday, the girls suited up and climbed into our Wike, snuggling under a down comforter, for a wintery ride to the grocery store. On the way home, they pointed out the neighborhood ducks swimming in the river surrounded by deep banks of snow. The backdrop of their adventures may differ from the winter wonderland of my childhood, but city or not, winter is still a time of unmistakable wonder for our daughters. As for me - the snowy city may not be as quiet as the snowy forest, but I am learning to cultivate an inward quiet that sustains me with hope for the return of spring and the next chapter of our life in the north.

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paper dolls: part two THURSDAY, MARCH 3, 2011

We cut out more paper dolls at our house this week. After finding these little printouts on Kiddley, we added sequins, ribbons, lace, fabric, and glitter; and the dolls came to life! I loved watching the dolls evolve - hair color determined, lips embellished, clothing detailed - and I especially loved listening to Amabel describe their personalities. Here are snippets of what I remember from her monologue: “Poppy is the pink doll: she is a chatterbox. Lavender is the blue doll: she is shy but she has the best dress. Now, Rose is the red doll; and she is the bossy one. No, mama, we can’t glue their clothes on. They need to be able to trade outfits and especially hats. You see, I can put Rose’s dress on this new doll with green makeup. Now she will be the bossy one and she will tell the others what to do.” In Amabel’s little dolly world, there was no shame in being “the bossy one.” In fact, the red dress was quite empowering and all the dolls were eager to try it on. Isn’t that a tad bit like real life - the excitement we feel in switching outfits and exercising different aspects of our personalities? And doesn’t that also reflect the inner life of the five-year-old: “When do I get to be the boss?” More and more I see Amabel learning from when and how I decide to take charge. I do a fair amount of letting go with my curious young children, watching them safely navigate their own way. But I also have a figurative red dress in my wardrobe - a demeanor that grants me authority. I don’t always use it wisely, but, when I do, I sense that Amabel is a little bit in awe of my command. Now and then I see her trying it out for herself - usually with her dearest friend and sister, Ellen. I can’t help but smile to myself as I watch her put on her own little red dress.

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winter puddles MONDAY, MARCH 7, 2011

They had been waiting to wear their new spring rain boots. I’d told them over and over, “You may wear them when there are puddles on the sidewalk.” Today, their patience was rewarded! While puddle stomping they discovered this “mouse cave.” Amabel convinced Ellen that it leads all the way to China. “The Chinese mice come through here to visit the mice in our town.” Now this is urban exploration at its finest!

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bunny FRIDAY, MARCH 11, 2011

When I saw the pattern for these little bunny nuggets I just had to whip one up. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I was so drawn to this creature until I finished the little thing; then I realized that it reminds me of a character in one of my favorite books from childhood, the sweet British book, Mog and Bunny. My brother James and I read Mog and Bunny when we were young, and now Amabel and Ellen love it too. It is such a simple story of friendship and devotion, starring a cat and her beloved toy Bunny. Now my girls are delighted to have a Bunny of their own, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets loved to such a degree that his ears fall off - just like Bunny in the story.

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the question of socialization, revisited THURSDAY, MARCH 17, 2011

Almost a year ago I wrote a blog post titled The Question of Socialization, in which I recognized the very beginnings of a friendship between Amabel and Ellen. It was a sweet story but perhaps mis-titled because I never actually asked a question in my text. I think the unasked question on my mind was, “Am I depriving my children of necessary social development by keeping them out of school?” I was worried, at the time, about Amabel’s reluctance to be “social.” And I wondered if the cause of her solitary behavior was that she was still at home with me. I suppose my question was lingering this year, until I began reading Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense by David Guterson (also the author of Snow Falling on Cedars), the most thoughtful book on homeschooling that I have come across. David Guterson writes from the perspective of a father of three homeschooled boys (and one baby girl), as well as an English teacher at a public high school in Washington state. Family Matters is certainly not a manifesto on homeschooling. It provides a critical look at both the present-day public school system and the difficult-to-define homeschooling community. Guterson articulates the shortfalls of schools, from a teacher’s perspective, and he describes his experiences as a homeschooling parent. Although his book is full of excellent evidence as to why learning in the context of a family is so beneficial, the author himself doesn’t really argue for one way over another but describes the educational choices he and his wife have made for their children as grounded in intuition and love. As it turns out, Guterson has also dealt with the socialization question in regard to his sons. Chapter three begins: “But what about your children’s socialization? is a question I am far more likely to field than How well are they learning?” The chapter is full of rich discussion on the issue, and I highly recommend it to anyone asking themselves the socialization question. But what I am going to focus on is a passage at the very end of the chapter. Of homeschooled children Guterson writes, They are likely to develop close relationships with siblings of the sort school friendships often undercut: Homeschooled siblings must live and learn with one another, and the intensity and meaning of their relationship, its daily depth and fragility, become the standard for future relationships. Without the chaotic background of hundreds of peers that ultimately distorts the social lives of school students, allowing carelessness and cruelty to creep in, homeschoolers are able to nurture the health of a few intimate and important connections. . . (page 70) I thank you for your eloquence, David Guterson. How this passage strikes a chord with me. This year, I have been filled with gratitude for the growing friendship between my daughters. And although they are still very little (thus not yet faced with a background of hundreds of peers), I can already see how living and learning with one another has built an incredibly strong connection between Amabel and Ellen. The development of this connection, and its continued evolution, takes so much time. And we have this necessary time because we spend our days together.

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The Question of Socialization has been thrown into a new light; it means something different to me this spring. I no longer ask myself the “Am I depriving my children of necessary social development by keeping them out of school?” question. Instead, I ask myself, “What opportunities for nurturing relationships and lasting friendships am I providing for my children?” This is a question I can wrap my mind around. This is a question I can act on and answer. Amabel and Ellen are blessed to be surrounded by people who love and care for them. They have relationships with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and great aunts, as well as dear friends. And my daughters have each other - a gift for which I am so very grateful, every single day.

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Tulips

Oregano 24


mama, is it really spring MONDAY, MARCH 21, 2011

Yesterday there was snow in the air. It didn’t look like spring outside. It didn’t feel like spring outside. Today we still had to wear our coats and hats and boots; and this morning, after we read a lovely spring poem, Amabel wanted to know if it was really spring. But a trip out into the garden lifted her spirits. It lifted mine as well. We spent a couple of hours outside, raking and digging around in the earth. And even though the world outside looked quite gray, there was nowhere else I would have rather been today. I breathed in the sweet smell of the soil for the first time in five months and watched my two little girls delight in discovering the first shoots of life in our gardens. As we trimmed off last year’s growth, Amabel announced that we were giving the plants their “haircuts” and Ellen eagerly carried sticks and leaves to the compost pile. I was reminded that even when the plants haven’t come into bloom, there is so much potential, so much hope in the early beginnings. To me, this work outside is the most important work I can provide for my children. We can read beautiful stories; we can recite charming poems; we can count and sing, jump and dance; we can draw, paint, and cut; we can cook our meals together. But when we go outside, it all makes sense. Working outside gives a depth of meaning to everything else we do. Working outside grounds us in the place we love. And when we were outside today, we discovered that yes, it really is spring.

Alliums 25


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HOUSE CLEANING SATURDAY, MARCH 26, 2011

Our house is for sale. After almost 40 house showings, I have developed a sort of speed-cleaning method that works on most occasions, but there have been days when I’ve found myself frantically cleaning the kitchen sink when a realtor’s car pulls up outside. The girls have done remarkably well with the frequent cleaning marathons - even rising to the occasion at times by helping me sweep or at least sitting on the couch obediently eating apples while I run the vacuum. For the first couple of months I was very reluctant to begin any involved projects or get out any potentially messy substances. I had enough cleaning to do without the added beads all over the rug; play dough embedded between the floorboards; paint jars and brushes in the sink; minuscule pieces of paper all over Amabel’s room; or band aides stuck to walls, doors, and windows. But after four months of scrubbing for anonymous visitors, I’ve finally loosened up. This week, after our spring shoots outside were buried under a foot of snow, the girls made a beach set up in the living room; filled a ‘shop’ with play dough noodles, snakes, bugs, and other delights; got out all the buttons; spread UNO cards all over the place; used every single dishtowel, cloth napkin, and place mat in their dentist office; sorted through five pounds of Mardi Gras beads that arrived in the mail from cousin Julien; smothered their dolls with baby powder; and even started window-sill gardens using real dirt and seeds. Despite the fresh blanket of snow outside, it has been a colorful week. But no worries. We have another house showing tomorrow. At approximately 2:30 in the afternoon, everything will be put away and the floors will be sparkling clean once again.

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blue skies and sand pies THURSDAY, MARCH 31, 2011

Amabel (Or should I say Susan? She was going by the name of Susan this week.) went down to the beach with a definite sense of purpose on Tuesday morning. She put on her teacher’s hat and cooked up an early spring lesson for her sister. “First I gather sand, Ellen.” “Would you like to do this too? Ellen, let me show you how to fill your basket.” “Then we carry our baskets - very carefully, Ellen.” Ellen took her responsibility very seriously. She kept a tight grip on that basket all the way home, and it still contained some sand when we arrived at the back porch. Back at home, the two girls spent an hour in their favorite sunny spring spot, making a sandy feast. “You may taste it now Ellen. Is it delicious?” Isn’t it wonderful when the sun comes out and we can make some of our messes outside again?

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crocus song FRIDAY, APRIL 1, 2011

Crocus, crocus, open up, To catch a sunbeam in your cup. Four years ago Amabel and I attended a modest little Waldorf parent-child class. We still carry with us many of the songs we learned during those peaceful mornings, and the crocus song is one of my favorites. Amabel was delighted to discover this little beauty in our backyard today. Just a few feet away, in the shade, is a pile of snow. I marvel at the power of the light.

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ralph MONDAY, APRIL 11, 2011

I had a pet mouse for a very short period of time when I was a child. His name was Ralph. Ralph has become legend in our house. He lives on in the fictitious stories I tell the girls, in which he goes on all sorts of adventures in the woods with Maude the dog and Moses the cat. The stuffed Ralph lives on as Amabel’s favorite toy. Yesterday, the thermometer hit 78 degrees in the afternoon, and Amabel decided it was perfect weather for Ralph to have a mud bath. This cracks me up because Amabel used to be very wary of getting dirty. But yesterday she made a wonderful mud puddle for her mouse and when she was done her body was splattered with dirt. She was delighted. So was Ralph.

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ellen’s bucket MONDAY, APRIL 11, 2011

Our busy little bucket girl was outside yesterday morning, helping me in the garden. Who knew that she could find so much to do with a bucket and a spoon?

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lovely eggs WEDNESDAY, APRIL 13, 2011

This is our second year dying eggs with natural colors. I remember being disappointed last year with the very faint colors of natural dyes. After we took the eggs out of the dye cups, we actually brought out the watercolor paints and started painting directly on some of the eggs (which we obviously weren’t planning to eat!). But this year I wasn’t expecting the bright colors of commercial egg dye, and so I was more appreciative of the subtle colors. We used natural food coloring from our local Co-Op in a warm water and vinegar solution. We also used an egg blowing tool for the first time, which made the process much more enjoyable (and even Amabel could use it with her delicate fingers!). It is wonderful to work with dye that doesn’t stain everything, and I find the soft pastel colors quite lovely. We are also experimenting with a couple of creative ways to use eggs around the house. I was inspired by an idea from the Imagine Childhood Blog last year, to turn eggs into seed planters. Our sprouts aren’t up yet, but I’m eager to see how the seedlings do in their shells! After I told my dear friend Megan about our egg planters, she described how to use eggs as holders for homemade beeswax candles, so we decided to give that a try as well. These are made from beeswax that I purchased at our Farmer’s Market last summer, which we melted in a crock pot that I have devoted to beeswax crafts. Amabel has decided that we should wait until Easter eve to light them. And just to round out this spring egg post, here is Ellen’s window sill garden complete with miniature beeswax eggs in a tiny nest. The girls filled two modest little terra cotta pot trays with potting soil on the first day of spring, and then they sprinkled a mix of grass seed and sprouting seeds (alfalfa and radish and mung bean, I believe) on top. Their tiny gardens have brought them much joy, especially on the days when the spring landscape outside was still covered in snow!

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primrose MONDAY, APRIL 18, 2011

The Song of the Primrose Fairy by Cecily Mary Barker

The Primrose opens wide in spring; Her sent is sweet and good: It smells of every happy thing in sunny lane and wood. She’s dear to folk throughout the land, Her petals pale and clean. And though she’s neither proud nor grand, She is the Country Queen.

Spring is slow to come this year. Last year at this time our tulips were in full bloom. This year the tulip leaves are just three inches out of the ground and the very first primrose has just opened her sweet face to greet the sun. I am using Cecily Mary Barker’s The Complete Book of the Flower Fairies to acquaint the girls with the flowers in our gardens this season. The book contains lovely, delicate illustrations of the flowers (botanically accurate) and their tiny fairy counterparts (imagined). So far we’ve only met the Crocus Fairy and the Primrose Fairy. We hope to meet the Daffodil, the Tulip, the Hyacinth, and the Lily of the Valley Fairies very soon.

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city willows MONDAY, APRIL 18, 2011

I had visions of going out to the beach near my parents’ home to find Pussy Willows this spring. Jeffrey and I would sit in the sand, soaking up miles of undisturbed shoreline stretching out before us, while our girls discovered the fuzzy buds, growing in their secret spot along the secluded stream. But before I made time to go out hunting for Pussy Willows, they found me. We were taking an evening walk, along a familiar river trail - the route we follow to the farmer’s market on summer Saturdays; the path the girls and I take to go downtown to look for a pair of new boots; the way Jeffrey and I go when we are on a treasured dinner date. The river trail has always been our way to somewhere - not a destination in and of itself. But on this particular evening, I spotted a cluster of Pussy Willows, silhouetted against the sky, growing right along our trail. And I lingered on that familiar path, marveling at the fuzzy catkins growing there, in the heart of downtown. The City Willows are a metaphor for urban beauty in my eyes - not something I go out looking for, but something all the more stunning for its unexpected grace amidst the bustle of city life.

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body art MONDAY, MAY 2, 2011

When Amabel was younger I used to convince her not to draw on herself by telling silly stories about my older brother who had a strong aversion to pen or marker applied on skin. Amabel adores her Uncle Christopher, and she usually took the stories to heart, but over time the effect has faded. When she decorated her face recently, she came down the stairs calling, “Mama, what do you think Chris would say if he saw me like this?” Despite the stories, Amabel loves to draw on her face and her arms and her hands and feet. She loves to draw on Ellen too. After a few too many makeup and marker battles, I bought her a box of Lyra face pencils, so that now she can experiment with mother-approved body art. Now when Amabel wants to turn herself into a silver witch, she has the right tools at her disposal. When she wants to put a tattoo on Ellen’s arm, she is prepared. And I can relax, knowing that I will be able to wash off these harmless colors. . .

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freedom TUESDAY, MAY 3, 2011

Last spring Amabel got a two wheeler. She poked along at a snail’s pace on training wheels all summer until we realized that we should just take them off. Then she was beginning to find her balance on two wheels - very slowly - when the first snow fell in November. This spring she returned to the two wheeler with hesitation. Jeffrey and I took turns jogging along side her while she cried repeatedly, “Don’t let go!” Finally, one day last week she discovered her old tricycle, jumped on and began speeding around triumphantly. I sighed to myself: so much for the two wheeler. But then, almost unexpectedly, and undeterred by the cold and wind this week, Amabel took off on her bicycle. “Let go of me!” she yelled for the fist time. And I was reminded that sometimes we need to take one step back before we can fly forward with freedom.

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FLOWERS for sale WEDNESDAY, MAY 4, 2011

If you happen to be in the neighborhood, there is a flower sale going on in our front yard right now. Amabel and her assistant Ellen would be very happy to make you a bouquet.

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where is home? FRIDAY, MAY 13, 2011

These photos were taken at our friends’ new farm. Our friends searched long and hard for a place to call home, and now they are finally settled on a remarkably beautiful piece of land, raising their children, chickens, and goats. We went to visit the newborn goat kids this week, and although I’d hoped for a few pictures of the little creatures (they were still in the barn where the light was not sufficient for photos), all I came home with were a few snapshots of my girls exploring. I keep coming back to these pictures - simple as they are - because they illustrate exactly how I envision my children growing up: wandering and exploring in the wild places around home. Like our friends, we’ve been on a search for a new home. But for us it isn’t yet clear where this home will be. Almost exactly a year ago, we fell in love with a farmhouse. And for many months I maintained my hope that we had found our next home. Recently, for a few important reasons, we’ve let that house go and decided to move on. But it’s hard to move on when we don’t know where we’re moving to. My Mom reminded me this week to be more open to the unexpected instead of feeling like I have to have a plan. And I’m trying to follow her wise advice. With an open heart, I am wondering, “Where is Home?”

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o dandelion MONDAY, MAY 23, 2011

O Dandelion ‘O Dandelion, yellow as gold, What do you do all day?’ ‘I just wait here in the tall green grass Till the children come to play.’ ‘O Dandelion, yellow as gold, What do you do all night?’ ‘I wait and wait till the cool dews fall And my hair turns long and white.’ ‘And what do you do when your hair is white And the children come to play?’ ‘They take me up in their dimpled hands And blow my hair away!’ - Author Unknown Jeffrey and I had an evening alone with Ellen this weekend, and we both marveled at how our baby has grown into such a joyful little girl. Ellen expresses herself with her whole body; when delighted, she does not hold back! She jumps and waves her arms, her face lights up, and she tightens her little fists and raises her shoulders. She is wonderful company - so easily amused, always ready for adventure and play. Spending time with Ellen is a lesson in presence - the presence of pure joy. We are so grateful to have this wise little being in our lives.

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tiny gardeners TUESDAY, MAY 31, 2011

Growing things takes time. My little girls have taught me to be a more patient gardener. Was I hoping to plant ten varieties of seed last month? At least the radishes made it into the ground (those radishes that Amabel insisted on planting herself and that grew all higgledy-piggledy over the soil). Was I planning to weed an entire garden bed this morning? Well, we filled one little bucket with weeds (it takes time to show those little hands which plants to pull and which plants to let grow). Those little hands work at a different pace. And those little eyes see a different world. Because of Amabel and Ellen, I’ve learned to appreciate planting just a few seeds and discovering just a few tiny flowers. Ellen loves to pick flowers. The morning our white tulips finally bloomed she picked all of them, except for one, and brought them proudly to me. “Howers ‘or you, Mama!” Amabel, on the other hand, was concerned that they wouldn’t grow back. “Don’t pick those, Ellen!” she shouted from across the yard. Too late. I love cut flowers in the house, and I tried to assure Amabel that the smooth, pale tulips would come back next year. After five seasons gardening here, we have enough flowers to go around: plenty to pick, plenty to let grow, and plenty to play in as fairy gardens and hide-a-ways. Besides, I don’t mind a bit when Ellen runs towards me, her chubby little fist outstretched, clutching another new discovery!

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along the shore of lake michigan TUESDAY, JUNE 14, 2011

We live close to Lake Michigan. We go to the beach all year round. And yet, there is something about the turning of the seasons - when it is finally time to swim in this Lake again - that makes me nostalgic and full of memories. . . memories of growing girls in this familiar landscape. Watching our girls play on the beach last night, I found myself marveling at how they’ve grown. I remember Ellen putting her toes in the sand for the very first time. And there was the night that Amabel first climbed on the rocks along the shore. Amabel played mermaid sisters when my dear bud Tara came to visit. I can hardly believe that these are our little girls on the beach - two years ago! I love seeing Ellen’s chubby hands covered in sand. Just over a year ago, baby Ellen used to walk everywhere on her knees . . . even in the sand! I remember when Amabel and I went on a beach date, the week our long house search began. Here are our bathing beauties, last June. My how they’ve grown. And here they are this spring, the little buddies making sand pies together. After blogging for two-and-a-half years, I’ve revisited a number of themes in my writing and photography, but images of our girls alongside this beautiful Lake appear again and again - never ceasing to inspire my wonder and gratitude. I have found so much peace here, over the past five years, watching Amabel and Ellen beside the Lake. You’d never guess, from my photos, how many other people are usually on this beach in the summer or that we have to cross two double lanes of traffic to get here from our house. When I sit here and watch these girls, even I might forget, for a moment, that I am in the city. Having this place so close to home has helped me tremendously, keeping my inner longing for wild places alive and well. And the girls, well, I’m sure they hardly notice the traffic, the boat noises, the people. They are fully present on the beach, absorbed in the water and the sand. We won’t have the gift of this beach five minutes from home for much longer. And yet I will carry the freedom it has inspired within me, with gratitude, to our new place. Soon we will travel to a new home not quite so close - but sill within view - of our familiar Lake Michigan.

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40 friday photos: week 1 FRIDAY, JUNE 17, 2011

My dear friend Jenny has started a flickr group titled 40 Friday Photos. You can read about the project on her blog, Familiar Light. This is my first Friday Photo: Ellen with her little fingers stained red with strawberry juice. She ate nearly an entire quart for lunch on Wednesday! Now that strawberries are in season, it is officially summer in Northern Michigan.

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gousty gardens FRIDAY, JUNE 24, 2011

My parents have lived on the land known as Gousty for over 20 years. But two years ago they built a new house, and they’ve been reshaping the landscape with new gardens ever since. My mom likes to rearrange her plants almost as much as she likes to rearrange her furniture. Her gardens are a shifting patchwork of color and texture: she plants and transplants all through the growing season, never running out of enthusiasm for her art. My dad happily transports shrubs, flowers, and bushes to their new homes, often rising with the earliest light to work outside. I took a tour, camera in hand, of my parents’ gardens this week and marveled at the range of color and lush foliage - the vibrant life my mom and dad have nurtured around their home. Watching my parents cultivate the earth as a child, I must have unconsciously absorbed a love for nurturing living things. And now Grandmommy and Grandfather’s ever-changing landscape is nourishing Amabel and Ellen and all the cousins who play in this beautiful place.

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chocolate mousse TUESDAY, JUNE 28, 2011

My Mom made this delicious Chocolate Mousse for a bridal shower today. Amabel and Ellen spent the day with Jeffrey’s Mother, Gommy, while I helped out at the shower. When I returned to pick up the girls, Amabel asked why I didn’t bring her some Chocolate Mousse. “Well, Amabel, there wasn’t any left over. But I did take a picture of it for you!” A photograph of the mousse didn’t quite satisfy my girl. Amabel is puzzled over why everyone else seems to be having parties recently (for birthdays, showers, graduations) and why her birthday is still so far away. I admit, I struggle with this fixation on parties. I know that parties are exciting and great fun - events that children naturally look forward to; and yet it still surprises me how often the topic of “When is your birthday?” comes up among young children. Is this a recent phenomena or have little ones always been so preoccupied with birthday parties? And I wonder how we can honor her special day and avoid the hype over gifts that causes Amabel to focus on collection rather than connection. Can we? The little Valentine party we had this winter was so lovely. Perhaps part of the reason why it was so nice was that Amabel had no expectations for gifts. It was an opportunity for her friends to make petite valentines, share tea, and play. Simple. Why can’t birthdays be equally simple? Giving gifts is fitting at times, but I’m still pondering over this question of how much is too much, especially for small children who need very few things to thrive. Over the next two months, maybe I can convince Amabel that her birthday will be just perfect with a gathering of dear family and friends, an afternoon of games, and a dish of Chocolate Mousse. . . well, maybe.

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home at last FRIDAY, JULY 8, 2011

We took this evening to enjoy our new place and explore together, before the busyness of moving this weekend. Our hearts are so full of gratitude for our new house and all the people who helped us along the route to home.

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rasberry bickering THURSDAY, JULY 21, 2011

Hoping to get a few lovely photos of the girls picking raspberries in the neighbor’s garden, I unexpectedly had the opportunity to document a squabble instead. I could have put down the camera. But then I remembered a conversation that I had with my dear friend Jenny about how rarely we photograph and record the unpleasant moments. Ellen had the bowl full of raspberries. Amabel wanted it. The pictures could tell you the rest of the story, but I have a bit more to add. Amabel can be fiercely protective of Ellen and care for her sister with great compassion. She can also scold Ellen at full tilt and dictate the direction of their play without cease. Ellen usually handles this all very well. She loves her Amie so very much that she is typically willing to go along with her sister’s antics. At home, Ellen is the one dressed up in odd clothing parading around the house; reclining in the dentist chair with a bunch of tools in her mouth; or on the end of a leash as Amabel’s loyal puppy. But sometimes Ellen wants her own way. And then she uses her hand gestures, serious facial expressions, and forceful voice to make her point. When Amabel realizes that she has pushed Ellen too hard, I will often hear her say, “Okay, honey” followed by a concession of some sort. However, at the raspberry patch, on this occasion, Amabel was not willing to give in. It was a hot night following a long, hot day; both girls were tired and ready for bed. Amie got the bowl of raspberries and Jeffrey and Ellie went off in another direction to pick flowers. This series of photos was not what I expected to come home with that evening. I had finally taken my camera out after over a week of moving and unpacking, and I was hoping to capture an image of beauty, reflecting how the girls are thriving in our new home. Disappointed that night, I put the camera away. But, now looking back on these photos a few days later - I do see beauty here. Maybe this is the point: perhaps I can learn to recognize the beauty in the midst of the unpleasant moments (not just after the fact). Perhaps pausing in the unpleasant moments can help me to understand the back and forth - the ups and downs - the ways in which our daughters are growing together, pushing against each other (and their parents) in an effort to find their places in this little world.

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thyme under our toes THURSDAY, JULY 28, 2011

When we visited our new home for the very first time, I was immediately struck by the aroma of Thyme. We walked inside the house and then outside. The landscape was overwhelming; there was so much to take in. But finally, I knelt down to double check. Yes, it was Thyme I was smelling, Creeping Thyme, and it was everywhere. Now instead of a grass lawn, we have a carpet of Thyme. This pleases me to no end. We have some weeding to do (!) but over time it should be a practical, low maintenance groundcover. It is practical to be sure. But more importantly, it is soft and aromatic! Our wool rugs spent a day out in the sun and came in perfuming the house with Thyme. After an early morning thunderstorm, I went outside and the whole misty earth seemed to sigh with the breath of Thyme. And, yesterday the girls played outside all afternoon and then crawled into bed smelling like sweet, sweet Thyme. All day long, Thyme is - quite literally - under our toes. On this overcast morning, the girls occupied themselves by making Thyme stew. Now what could possibly be more local or delicious than that?

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Green apples in the woods behind our house.

Heading out for a misty morning walk.

A lovely, lone weed, gone to seed.

Lovely pink blooms lining our walkways.

Echinacea - my favorite summer flower. 68


last week in july SUNDAY, JULY 31, 2011

Moments from our week, in photos . . .

Indulgent Ellen, at the stylist.

Glorious sun, streaming through our windows.

Amabel’s delightful lavender & raspberry muffins. 69


Ellen loves blueberries as much as she loves strawberries.

Spotty Baby!

Amabel asked me to take a photo of Ellen’s “Goblin House”. 70


Our CSA farmers gave the girls this tiny egg.

The tiny speckled egg was the subject of a morning photo session. 71


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rain dance THURSDAY, AUGUST 4, 2011

After weeks of very little rain, we had an enormous thunderstorm on Tuesday. The girls ran outside to jump and dance with joy. I followed them out; I couldn’t resist. Watching these girls dance in the rain, with their soaking wet little bodies and glowing faces, was the highlight of my day. Seeing our girls welcome the storm, so visible (and loud!) in the open sky around them, my heart swelled with love. I felt the same when Ellen called, “Mama, the wind is singing to us,” as the wind came whistling through our southwest windows one evening. I felt the same when, this morning, Amabel said, “Mama, I saw some lovely fog covering the earth while you were still asleep.” I felt the same when Ellen carried one of the many giant spiders from a window sill outside onto the Thyme and when Amabel pointed out flowers in the meadow that I hadn’t yet noticed. And I felt the same that very first morning when we woke at dawn to the birds, singing. We can’t escape the elements here. And this is exactly the point. This is the life I dreamed about for these two little beings we love so very much. I am so grateful to be here - so grateful that our children are here - surrounded by the natural world.

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pet pig SUNDAY, AUGUST 7, 2011

I recently mentioned Ellen’s willingness to play nearly any part in Amabel’s creative schemes. While out in the garden yesterday, I took a series of photos that illustrates a classic play scene at our house. I was laughing so hard when taking these photos that later on I was very surprised to see that I had captured a relatively logical sequence of events. Please allow me to introduce Amabel Louisa and her pet pig, Ellen Marie. What is most indicative of Ellen Marie’s personality is that after she fell, the pet pig was instantly back up and ready for more fun with bungee cords. Dear Amabel has surely been blessed with an incredibly tolerant little sister.

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settling in SUNDAY, AUGUST 7, 2011

Friends keep asking if we are “settled in” to our new home yet. We moved all of our belongings a month ago and nearly all of our boxes have been unpacked for a couple of weeks. And yet, I didn’t quite feel settled until yesterday. Yesterday we went back to our little house in town and cleaned up the gardens, which were extremely overgrown from a couple months of neglect. And even though our gardens looked so bedraggled from lack of rain and overgrown weeds, I still felt the same familiar love for the landscape we nurtured for the past five years alongside our growing girls. So after we pulled weeds, clipped back old growth, raked, and watered, we chose a few plants to bring home. I dug the Echinacea out of the earth on Oak St. and put it in the back of our car with a couple of sticky girls. We traveled across the county and found a new home with a new view for our old beloved plants. There was something so grounding about the act of bringing a piece of the earth with us - transplanting roots from our home in town to our home in the country. And now I feel settled.

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summer berry girl SUNDAY, AUGUST 14, 2011

Our Ellen could eat berries all day long. This summer she has consumed her weight in strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. Thanks to our generous neighbor, we can now pick a quart of fresh blackberries whenever we wish. . . that is until they’re gone. The blackberries will be ripe with intense flavor for just a few short weeks. And such is the beauty of the berries; they remind me to be present in the fullness of the season and soak up the richness of these glorious summer days.

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. . . for afternoon clouds.

. . . for quiet in the midst of a very full week.

. . . for cousins. 80


gratitude THURSDAY, AUGUST 25, 2011

. . . for grubby baby feet.

. . . for the outfit she picked out this morning.

. . . for 100-year-old chairs.

. . . for early apples.

. . . for unexpected gifts on our land. 81


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blackberry jam TUESDAY, AUGUST 30, 2011

Summer isn’t over yet; the blackberries are still going strong.

Blackberry Jam 2 cups of blackberries 1 cup of sugar 2 teaspoons of lemon juice Mash the berries in a sauce pan. Add the sugar and lemon juice and cook over medium-high heat for 20 minutes. Pour into jars: the jam will thicken as it cools. And try to taste a bit before the girls consume most of it with a spoon and carry the rest off to a doll tea party. . .

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flowers for teacher WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2011

Amabel loves Milly-Molly-Mandy books. The stories, originally published in the Christian Science Monitor in the 1920s, are some of the sweetest I have read to our girls - exceptional in their eloquent simplicity. One of the stories that Amabel has asked me to read again and again is “Milly-Molly-Mandy Gets to Know Teacher.” In this chapter the village school teacher stays at Milly-Molly-Mandy’s house for a couple of nights while she gets settled into her cottage. Amabel, my little wordsmith, took note that “Miss Edwards” is simply called “Teacher” by the children in the village. And Amabel apparently liked this title very much. Last week, when Amabel was preparing to go to school, she talked nonstop about “Teacher.” We talked about her teacher’s real name, of course, but Amabel kept referring to her as just “Teacher.” “Teacher is coming to visit our house. And Teacher will see my room.” Before we went to our classroom visit, Amabel picked a handful of flowers, saying, “Teacher will love this beautiful bouquet.” Now Amabel has spent two mornings with “Teacher” (two teachers, actually) and the children in her classroom, but I know very little about what she has done at school. Amie expertly avoids my questions and tells me made-up stories instead (“We had Siamese twins in our class today. They were connected at their ears.”). This doesn’t surprise me, and so I try not to ask too much; I mostly wait for her to volunteer. But I’m learning the most by listening to the new words she has been weaving into her play. Over the past couple of days I’ve been eavesdropping as she talks to herself and to Ellen, and in this way I have gotten a little peek into her days at school. “I am lining up these peppers and then I will polish them until they shine. Ellen, let’s ask Mama for some butter to polish them.” “Have you ever used canvas? We made stitches on canvas.” “How do you trace the letter M?” My favorite moment today was when I overheard Amabel singing to herself (a naming song) on the couch, as she was trying to remember the all the children in her class (She paused her tune to ask in a whisper, “Now who was that boy with the glasses?”). This week there are nine children, and she was able to remember all but one name. I admire how Amabel soaks up new experiences in such detail, even among so many impressions and so many people. Since she was very small, she has been an incredible observer, taking in everything through her wide eyes and then reflecting it back to us with wise questions. From babyhood she was easily overwhelmed by too much activity or noise, and I think this comes from her taking in so much, so deeply. Over the past year, however, Jeffrey and I have really watched Amabel grow into her more confident, relaxed self. And the timing was perfect when we discovered the small Montessori school near our new home. The slow pace and gentle transition provided by “Teacher” seem to be a perfect fit for our Amabel. We are very happy to watch her spread her wings a bit and share herself with a warm little community close to home. 85


. . . for Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.

. . . for apple trees growing all over the hills.

. . . for a perfect anniversary celebration.

. . . for their friendship.

. . . for evening walks in the place we call home. 86


gratitude encore FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 2011

. . . for fresh salsa.

. . . for sweet chestnut ‘pets.’

. . . for pepper babies scattered all over the house.

. . . for lovely mornings with Ellen.

. . . for blue eyes. 87


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sold WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2011

Our house on Oak Street has officially sold. I think I am finally ready to write about this. Last summer we fell in love with a farmhouse, and in the fall, we put our house in town up for sale. We thought our charming little 105-year-old house, two blocks from Lake Michigan, would sell quickly. Not so. In the nine months it was ‘on the market’ I’d guess that over 100 parties walked through it. It really is a lovely house with just one small problem: a shared driveway and a teeny, tiny one-car garage built for a Ford Model T. In truth, it was never a problem for us. When Jeffrey and I bought the house five years ago, we didn’t have a car. Coming from our Pittsburgh apartment, the garage looked luxurious. We would no longer need to carry our bikes up the front stairs of our apartment building and store them inside; and we would even have room for a bike trailer! The new house was perfect for our threeperson family, and we were thrilled to have a home with a yard in Northern Michigan. When we did get a car a few years later, it was a small car, and once we learned how to angle it carefully in and out of the mini garage, all went smoothly. All went smoothly, that is, until we tried to sell the house. Then I started to go a little crazy. I went a little crazy all winter long - speed cleaning for every Tom, Dick, and Harry in a Tahoe; bribing the girls to stay on the couch with lollypops; trying to keep the house relatively quiet for Jeffrey’s work; loading the girls into the car, snowsuits and all, again and again and again; all the while wondering when it would end. In March I tried to have a sense of humor about it because everyone told us that March was the month. “Spring comes and people start buying again.” March came and went. In April we hosted an open house, lowered our price, and prepared for the rush of offerers. April came and went. In May we decided that the farmhouse we’d been yearning for was not the right home for us, and I almost gave up. Now we knew neither when we might move nor where we were going. Still, we showed our house day after exhausting day. Then, the last weekend in May, we found it. We found our new home after a most unexpected series of events, and we were finally filled with gratitude for that darn shared driveway and that teeny, tiny garage on Oak Street. For if our house in town had sold quickly, as we’d wanted it to, we never would have walked through the house on the hill that we now call our own. Thank goodness. Thank goodness for all those hours I spent cleaning. Thank goodness for my children’s patience. Thank goodness for all the people who listened to me complain and gave me a reassuring look and a word of encouragement. Thank goodness for our realtor who laughed along side us and encouraged us to go see a house we never would have considered. Thank goodness for our family, supporting us in countless ways along the road from there to here. Thank you. All of you. It is so good to be home. And it is so good to have Oak St. sold at last. 89


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ellen’s purp SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2011

Grandmommy gave Ellen this purse about a week ago, and Ellen has carried it with her everywhere since. It has become quite a heavy little sac. Whenever we’re out running errands, people just crack up at the sight of a little girl with a lumpy purse slung over her shoulder. She squeezes everything imaginable inside, including her favorite baby doll and, on one occasion, a wooden bowl filled with blueberries (oops!). As soon as we put on our shoes to go outside (even if we’re only walking down to the mailbox) Ellen yells, “I need my purp!”

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Morning cloud meditation.

Mums from our dear friends.

Jeffrey is our master Sauerkraut chef. 92


last days of summer WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2011

In the last days of summer we’ve been outside and inside, soaking up the warm sunshine and preserving the fruits of the season. It is a sort of dance we do at this time of year - wanting to be outside as much as possible, absorbing summer’s fleeting beauty; but needing to be inside, saving a bit of the bounty and preparing for the cooler months ahead. Outside we’re watching the flowers go to seed; identifying wild berries; admiring summer’s final colors; visiting the blackberry patch again and again; and planting perennials with an eye towards future seasons. Inside we’re freezing some of those precious summer blueberries for Miss Ellen Marie; fermenting mini cabbage heads, cucumbers, and fresh salsa; making blackberry and apricot jam; putting away jars of pesto; decorating our table with some of the last blooms; planning our spring garden as we watch the clouds roll by; and knitting woolies for chilly autumn days. Even as I feel the pull toward autumn, I bid a reluctant farewell to the life-giving summer sun.

Can anyone identify these mystery berries?

Stripy leg warmers - in progress - for Amie.

A lone Knapweed flower above the Thyme. 93


Ellen opens the freezer at least three times a day, looking for frozen berries.

Parsley - gone to seed.

My hairy garden helper - planting Yarrow.

I love pink Zinnias. 94


One of two caterpillar “babies� that Amabel took under her wing this week.

Abundant Autumn Olive berries.

The girls, searching for a few final Blackberries. 95


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with her left hand THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2011

Ellen is very hands on. She especially loves to help me cook: squeezing kale, olive oil, and lemon juice between her little fingers; washing dishes with gusto; mashing berries into jam - Ellen loves working in the kitchen. And she wants to do real work with her hands. She asks every day, “Mama, can I help you?” I never thought much about left handedness until I watched Ellen develop a preference for her left hand when she was very young. Now, in the kitchen, I pay special attention to Ellen’s hands as I help her slice up avocados and stir the soup. It is awkward for me, at times, to help her do something when I am using my right hand and she is using her left. I have a tendency to speed through familiar tasks, but Ellen’s presence in the kitchen requires me to slow down and pay attention. I wonder, how will it be when she learns to write? And will I be able to teach her how to knit? Ellen doesn’t notice, of course, that her dominant hand is different than my dominant hand. She carries on with enthusiasm and confidence. It is a joy to work alongside Ellen (and quite messy too!). As I watched her this morning, gracefully sweeping her paintbrush across the paper, I smiled, thinking how funny it is that I often pay particular attention to her handiwork. Yet it is a gift, too, for me to slow down and watch Ellen working beautifully with her left hand.

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daily walk WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2011

I like to take a walk at least once a day. Sometimes Amabel and Ellen need a little convincing. Recently, they have been motivated by the prospect of a race down the driveway to the mailbox (it’s all downhill, which makes the adventure much more exciting). Amabel has discovered that she loves to run, and she always makes it to the mailbox first. After we look in the mailbox, we meander our way back up the hill. Every day we make new discoveries. On this occasion, Amabel decided to fill her hat with Autumn Olive berries. “So Papa can make more jam!” I identified Chicory (with the help of the Flower Fairies, again!). The Song of the Chicory Fairy Cicely Mary Barker By the white cart-road, Dusty and dry, Look! there is Chicory, Blue as the sky! Or, where the footpath Goes through the corn, See her bright flowers, Each one new-born! Though they fade quickly, O, have no sorrow! There will be others New-born tomorrow! And Ellen was very happy to play with the pumpkins a neighbor put alongside our drive!

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milkweed songs FRIDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2011

This week our fields are glowing in the October sun with shinning milkweed silk. Ellen has been singing to the little seed babies as she spreads them out into the wind. What a joy it is for me to listen to Ellen’s singing voice. In her voice, I hear an echo of my own songs and I hear her own little tunes as well. Most of all, I hear the freedom and confidence of a little girl at one with her world.

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last tuesday TUESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2011

Last Tuesday was an unseasonably warm October day, filled with autumn sunshine and brilliant color. The girls and I spent an afternoon at the beach. Knowing that the cold winds would soon come, I tried my best to soak up the afternoon, watching the girls walking, running, and playing, side-by-side. I found myself, again, spontaneously reflecting on their growth alongside the landscape of Lake Michigan. Today, it is hard for me to believe that they were actually wearing their bathing suits just seven days ago! The cold did indeed blow in at the end of last week, and now we have shifted into our autumn/winter wardrobe (I was wearing a down jacket yesterday). We had just enough sun and warmth this weekend to plant garlic, which was one of our last garden tasks of the season. And so I believe that it really is time to say goodbye to the golden summer sun and welcome the rhythm of colder, shorter, darker days in the north.

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. . . for rose hips, right outside our door.

. . . for her joy at every little discovery.

. . . for chestnuts, along the edge of the forest.

. . . for the birds who finally found our feeders. 104


autumn gratitude FRIDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2011

. . . for sunshine today, after a week of rain and wild wind!

. . . for mulberry leaves, turning golden yellow.

. . . for wild grapes, sour but lovely. 105


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archive updates TUESDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2011

Last Christmas Jeffrey gave me my blog as a book. Holding what had begun as online pages in my hands and on my lap, I was inspired to continue blogging. And now Amabel and Ellen love to take that hardcover book off the shelf and look at themselves inside. Now you can have an online peek into that book; Jeffrey has formatted it and posted it on the site ‘issuu’ for my readers to view. The link is now on the sidebar. Over the next few weeks I am going to be taking down the archive of blog posts from my first 18 months here. But the stories and photos will remain in the actual book on our shelf at home and formatted online - for you - as well.

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ordinary arts FRIDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2011

The ordinary arts we practice every day at home are of more importance than their simplicity might suggest. - Thomas Moore Inspired by Kyrie’s recent series of blog posts, I’ve been thinking about the ordinary arts in our home. In Kyrie’s words, “the ordinary arts are what compose my life, make my home, nourish my children and myself. The ordinary arts may be plain in their everyday-ness, but they are extraordinary in that they are the real fabric of the lives of myself and my family.” My own creative work begins in the heart of our home, the kitchen. I was nourished by my mother’s love for good food growing up. She is a true artist in the kitchen, cooking fresh, delicious meals from basic ingredients all year round. And now, nothing satisfies me more than discovering the last root vegetables from our summer farm share . . . washing them, chopping them, and combining them into a delicious soup. While I was occupied in the kitchen this afternoon, Amabel and Ellen played close by, immersed in their own form of art. I listened to the girls chattering as they pulled corn kernels off dried corn cobs. First the kernels were teeth, extracted from willing (and not so willing) patients in their dentist office. Then, once all those yellow and brown teeth were removed, the girls used their treasures to open up a candy corn shop. Brilliant. Admittedly, I’m not much of a crafter (I prefer freestyle ‘craft materials’ such as dried corn kernels). But I do feel like crafting approaches the realm of ordinary art when I can transform something old or unused (easily obtainable inside or outside our house) into something beautiful or useful. This week we did a bit of sewing and crafting in preparation for Halloween. I turned a bunch of old felted sweaters into a much requested baby dragon costume for Ellen. Then Amabel and I made a mermaid wand (who knew mermaids had wands?) out of a dowel and an assortment of ribbons. In the midst of these two little projects, I realized how much the girls love to watch me use my hands (while they, in their excitement, make a glorious mess all around me!). It was a bit of magic for them to watch their costumes come to life before their very eyes. Finally, photography has grown to be an important part my rhythm. Taking pictures of the daily activity around our home gives me an opportunity to recognize the value in the simple work of my hands, the joy of sharing life with our daughters, and the most remarkable yet ordinary art of all the natural world that surrounds us.

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dialogue of the day WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2011

Ellen (yelling across the room): “I don’t know why this banana broke!?” Jeffrey (doing his best to keep a straight face): “Well, it looks like it’s not a good idea to put a banana in your purse.” Amabel (laughing hysterically): “Ellen, I told you not to put it in your purse!”

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dog love THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2011

I had sort of given up the idea of a dog. Mostly, it was because of Amabel. She just didn’t seem to be the dog type. Dogs jumping, licking, barking, playing rowdy have made her very uneasy in the past. She tends to scream around dogs. She wiped out on her bike this summer in an attempt to make a quick stop when a slow moving, overweight dog started barking over 200 feet down the road. And, of course there was Alice. After saying goodbye to Alice, I thought maybe I’d said goodbye to my dream of a dog for good. But this weekend we’ve been blessed with Red. We are dog sitting a beautiful Irish Terrier (yes, she has a blog: she is already famous) who belongs to our sweet friends. Tommie, Victoria, and their little boy must be giving Red a perfect upbringing, because she is a lovely, well-mannered pup. She lets Amabel walk her. She doesn’t jump. She waits her turn to walk out the door, instead of knocking everyone aside in a mad dash. She takes treats with gentle lips. She lies down on the blanket Amabel set out for her. And she even allows Amabel to put a doll hat on her furry head, albeit briefly. We picked Red up this afternoon, and in just eight hours, Red has completely won Amabel over. Amabel spent all afternoon and all evening by Red’s side (she didn’t even want to go to tap dance class, choosing to stay home with her new found friend). My very own daughter has already asked “Can we pretend that Red is our dog?” and “Can we have one of Red’s babies? Can we have two of Red’s babies?” If you know about Maude, I probably don’t need to tell you that watching Amabel and Red together is pretty much my dream come true. I know, I know, it hasn’t even been 24 hours yet. This is sort of like a first date. But I just couldn’t contain myself. I had to tell the world: my daughter has fallen in love with Red. P.S. If you are wondering about Ellen. . . yes, indeed, she loves Red, too. But that didn’t surprise me one bit.

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looking back TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2011

Before I took the girls for haircuts yesterday, Amabel and I sat down to look at photos from the past few years. While Amabel was deciding how to have her hair cut (bangs or no bangs?), this picture of Ellen caught my eye. This is a photo from last January, shortly after Ellen turned two. The wide eyes cast upward and slightly open mouth are so Ellen, and yet I hardly recognize the outline of her face. She doesn’t have those big, plump baby cheeks and chin anymore. But more than cheeks and chin it’s the baby look that is missing now. I do believe that our Ellen is growing up. While Amabel has been confidently enjoying her morning school rhythm this fall, Ellen has been happily occupied at home. As soon as we return from dropping off her sister, Ellen asks, “Can I go up and play in Amie’s room?” Then she gathers all sorts of toys and art supplies, which she usually stuffs into her purse, and proceeds to play on her own for a good part of the morning. This alone time gives Ellen an opportunity to try out a self-assured independence that carries her through the day. Consequently, I’ve noticed a shift in the way the two girls are playing together. Amabel is no longer the constant director. Yesterday, Ellen was the doctor (imagine!) and Amabel was lying on the couch, allowing Ellen to wrap masking tape all over her arm. Ellen has her own ideas now, and I love to listen to the two girls deep in negotiations (although I am called upon to intervene when there is screaming). I also love to watch their developing humor. Since Ellen was an infant, Amabel has been able to make her laugh; but now Ellen can really make Amabel laugh - intentionally with little jokes and phrases she knows will tickle Amabel’s funny bone. This morning Amabel and I were remembering one of Ellen’s silly mispronounced words when Ellen (who we thought was asleep) popped up out of bed and uttered the very word we were joking about. This sent Amabel into a gale of laughter and then Ellen, of course, joined in too. I admit: there are moments when I miss that baby face and all the pure wonder within it. But I could muse all day on the friendship between our girls. It is truly a beautiful thing to watch Amabellen growing up together.

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catching the light WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2011

Light is so precious at this time of year. We caught a fleeting half hour of sun before dinner. Just a few minutes after I took these photos, the girls and I walked around the house and watched the sun disappear behind a mountain of clouds. The hills were soon enveloped in misty darkness and only the lake remained illuminated. Now the rain is drumming on our roof again, and it appears that our week of showers will continue.

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hanging on SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2011

. . . to the autumn breeze;

. . . to the brilliant colors; 118


. . . to the last flowers of the season;

. . . and to dreams for next spring. 119


bean TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2011

Jeffrey challenged me on my claim that Ellen “doesn’t have those big, plump baby cheeks and chin anymore.” Upon observing her a bit more closely today, I stand corrected. Jeffrey is right; she does still have a very nicely padded face.

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yarn along WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2011

The bare beauty of the channelled whelk tells me that one answer, and perhaps a first step, is in simplification of life, in cutting out some of the distractions. But how? Total retirement is not possible. I cannot shed my responsibilities. I cannot permanently inhabit a desert island. I cannot be a nun in the midst of family life. I would not want to be. The solution for me, surely, is neither in total renunciation of the world, nor in total acceptance of it. I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm between these two extremes; a swinging of the pendulum between solitude and communion, between retreat and return. In my periods of retreat, perhaps I can learn something to carry back into my worldly life. Anne Morrow Lindbergh Gift From the Sea When my sister gave me a copy of Gift From the Sea ten years ago, before marriage, before children, I don’t know that I could have appreciated it in the way I can now. This week, I am finding Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book a perfect gift of reflection for the darker, cooler months. I’ve picked up a knitting project that I left in my basket last June during our move. What was going to be a pair of baby knit pants for one little nephew (who has now certainly outgrown them!) is going to be a Christmas gift for another little nephew. The pattern is from Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitter’s Almanac. I’m joining Ginny this week for her Yarn Along.

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little miss mitty SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2011

We weren’t expecting any visitors on Wednesday evening. But when a lone little kitten came to our door on that cold, blustery night, Jeffrey (he who “does not like cats”) coaxed it inside. The next day we made phone calls and visited neighbors, but so far we haven’t been able to find anyone who is missing a gray and white kitty. And so, for now, she has found a new home. Little Miss Mitty (her most recent name) immediately made herself comfortable in our house, where she gravitated toward the little girls. She happily allows them to carry her around, comb and brush her, and make her detailed ‘set ups.’ Her delicate manners have even managed to win over Jeffrey (he who is now making a scratching post in the basement). I wonder at how this little kitty girl happened to find her way to our house, into the arms of two delighted little girls. Especially when it seems like just yesterday that Red was here and I was writing about dog love . . . However, after watching Amabel and Ellen play with and care for this most tolerant and obliging creature over the past few days, I do think that a kitten is a perfect pet for our girls at this moment in time. Currently, little Miss Mitty is snuggled up in bed next to Amie, kindly purring her mistress to sleep. We have welcomed this kitten as a sort of unexpected gift - not at all what we were hoping or planning for, but a lovely, furry surprise just the same.

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thanksgiving WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2011

I am so grateful for the beautiful meadows surrounding our home;

. . . for the forests close by;

. . . for our children, growing up here; 124


. . . for the joy they bring into our days;

. . . for a furry creature who has joined our family;

. . . and for all those with whom we are blessed to share our lives. 125


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wild geese THURSDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2011

Yesterday we took a late afternoon walk while our chicken soup simmered on the stovetop. Ellen, Amabel, and I made our way down the front meadow, along the well-trampled path Jeffrey carved out of the thick summer grass months ago. As we came out of a grove of Autumn Olive bushes, now barren of leaves but laden with spotted berries, a flock of Wild Geese passed overhead. Their honking was so loud, it took my breath away. We watched the rippling line of birds travel over our house, over the hills beyond, and pass into the pink sunset. When the crisp air was quiet again, Ellen whispered, her voice full of wonder, “Mama, I like that noise.” I woke up this morning, thinking about Ellen’s sweet words, and remembering Something Told the Wild Geese by Rachel Lyman Field, a poem we discovered last fall.

Something told the wild geese It was time to go. Though the fields lay golden Something whispered, - “Snow.” Leaves were green and stirring, Berries, luster-glossed, But beneath warm feathers Something cautioned, - “Frost.” All the sagging orchards Steamed with amber spice, But each wild breast stiffened At remembered ice. Something told the wild geese It was time to fly, Summer sun was on their wings, Winter in their cry.

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gingerbread girls MONDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2011

My Aunt Debbie’s had a Christmas tradition of making an enormous gingerbread house every year for all the cousins. I remember the anticipation of waiting for the Christmas party when she would unveil her creation. . . always different, always spectacular. This was our first year making a gingerbread ‘village’ with the girls, and I think it might become a tradition, especially now that we know to plan for at least two batches of frosting “glue,” two little houses to decorate, and two days of kitchen baking and mess making! Maybe Aunt Debbie can join us next year and share some of her tricks of the trade?

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A M A B E L L E N

Amabellen-2011  

Amabellen Blog Book 2011

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