five minute friday: red

…where a brave and beautiful bunch gather every week to find out what comes out when we all spend five minutes writing on the same topic and then sharing ‘em over here.

Go:

“That’s 3! Zuzu we haven’t even left the driveway yet and you’ve already earned a timeout once we get up to the mountains!”

The shocked look on her face passed over into the pit of my stomach and Lovey said he would be the one to take her to do her timeout and I could take the other girls on in to the bakery.

It was my idea to go apple picking this morning. We didn’t have to go. The baby had been sick all week. The Quail was exhausted from her first week of school and Zuzu’s attitude had been flaring all morning. But it was the beginning of September. The thought of the crisp air in the mountains, a coffee and danish from the bakery, pictures of the girls gallivanting through the orchard and a bag of apples to bake into pies all wreaked of seasonal holiday fun after a week home with a sick toddler.

Only it was barely 8 am and no one was having any fun.

As we drove on up into the foothills the expected requests for breakfast, a drink, how much farther do we have to go were easily enough assuaged and Zuzu decided to read her homework book, hand another book to the Quail and then pick up after the baby’s half thrown, half chewed Cheerio trail without even being asked.

“That’s two.”

Zuzu looked at me and grinned, “You mean I’m not at three anymore and if I keep it up I can take it back down to one and maybe not have a timeout?”

“Yes.”

“Ok!”

And in that moment as I drank the cup of coffee that would keep me going till I got my next cup, I stopped seeing red.

For a brief moment in time, as Zuzu chattered on about her week, the apples she would pick, the cider they would drink, the playground she wanted to run through and her birthday plans that were still over a month off, I breathed a sigh of relief and thought…this is it.

This is how families are. It’s not all good and it’s not all bad. Even in the same day. Even in the same hour. It’s so fluid- it/we vacillate between happy and sad, content and irritated, energetic and bone tired.

And that’s ok.

And what I take away from the day can either be how awful we all behaved for that portion of the day, or the happy ordinary after that eventually comes when the storm blows over.

That’s the stuff.

Now if I could stop the story there and end with pictures of us all frolicking amongst the other orchard-goers life would still seem pretty picture-perfect and rainbow sprinkled.

Unfortunately the reality is the red in the day bled from the Honey Crisps we plucked from the bin into the dotted rash that started to spread over the baby’s soft skin once she woke from her nap to her cheeks that filled with rage as she fussed and fussed until we finally gave up, packed it in and headed back down the mountain towards home to spend the afternoon in the urgent care making sure there wasn’t something else that could be done for this fussy baby.

She’s fine now though. And we do have apples for a pie. And we did actually make it out in spite of ourselves. And I did get that pastry and a cup of coffee. And we made it home when we needed to.

Because we’re a family.

And that’s what families do.

Stop.

corner view: away

 

Corner view is a weekly Wednesday gathering, originally hosted by Jane, now by Francesca. A topic is given and you can see impressions; be it photographic or writerly in form, from around the world. Come see the world’s corner view via the links on the sidebar!

From the crazy amount of photo sharing I’ve been doing on Facebook this summer, I’ve given a mistaken impression that’s we’ve been “away” much more than we actually have. We had one main trip this summer for a week to California to visit with family and friends. Outside of that we were mostly here hanging by ourselves with the exception of a lovely visit from my parents. We  managed some time at the park, swimming, berry picking, water fountain splashing and a trip  or two up the road into the mountains to escape the humid weather. It’s just that I took *alot* of pictures while we were out west and it took me the better part of the summer to edit them- so I think to others it probably looked like more playtime than it actually was. That said- here was my favorites from our time away. it was a lovely visit with lots of donuts, family, fresh flowers, friends, sand dollars, beach walks & play time, The Huntington Garden in LA, cousin bonding and a reunion of three very special sisters:

back to school week

…is officially behind us and it’s been a busy one for the Sistred. They each have big changes coming this fall and being the happy little nerds that we are- we’re excited!

Zuzu has finished up her first summer of daycamp. She attended the same facility that she always has but for her age group the summer includes additional outings and activities during the week. Last spring, shortly after we told Zuzu that she was officially signed up for her “camp”. She started fretting over where she had stored her sleeping bag. When I asked why she responded with a, “For camp of course!” We tried to explain that she was not now going to be sleeping over there and in fact she was really just going to be doing more activities with the same teachers and kids without quelching her excitement. Always a balance with her. She had fun though- her first time rollar skating, blackberry picking, she saw a couple movies in theaters (a rare treat in our house due to their ages even though I’m generally happy to see whatever as long as I have a kiddy-cup-combo for myself!), a few rounds of bowling and twice a week water days.  She even got invited to the birthday party of a fellow camper who was turning 12. Once we squeezed in a second week of swim lessons,  let’s just say the girl’s summer was made.

So on to first grade. She admitted she was a bit nervous and checked a couple of times to be sure that we were not going to follow her kindergarten teacher’s explicit end of the year instructions to purchase walkie-talkies so that she could be kept in the loop and at the ready for whatever that teacher needed since rumor had it that her new students were much younger and wouldn’t know half as much as Zuzu’s class. There are some days that Zuzu’s literalness gets the best of her. She was most definitely willing to lend a helping directive or two to the new class. The fact that the teacher that puts the kind in kindergarten sent her a “wish you were here” postcard over the summer probably just cemented the seriousness of those instructions to her.

The other major concern for our rising first grader was  the subject of binders. She had *heard* that certain first grade teachers provided binders and that first graders were to keep track of these. She wondered often and at great length about whether or not she would need to purchase a binder, would it be provided or was the binder a teacher specific issue. When we attended Meet the Teacher a couple of weeks ago, she was absolutely thrilled to see a binder all shiny and filled on the class tables- one for each and every student. The binders contain the homework for the year. It’s an interesting system, pretty different from last year. So for Miss J’s class the year’s focus is to get a good foundation in reading and writing, so Zuzu is to read for 15 minutes each day. Then in said binder is a section for “reader reaction”, spelling games and math games. They are to complete one activity of their choosing from each category each week. There are also some baggy books that come home once a week to practice reading. Being the happy little nerds that we are, Zuzu in all her binder-exuberance dove right in and completed two homework assigments even before the first day of class. I have to say I had to squelch my spoil-sport-I’m-tired-I’m-overwhelmed-I-probably-should-have-weaned-the-baby-before-now-so-I-don’t-have-another-human-being-attached-to-me-on-school-nights- I-have-too-much-to-do-just-now-reaction.

And I did.

I know a lot of people have differing opinions on the value of homework, but right now I have a kid who is excited about it- so I’m going with that.

It’s this funny balance of practical magic that blends its way into Zuzu’s personality that amost always surprises me in the moment and then after the fact I find myself nodding along and thinking, “That’s about right.” The binder joy was not unlike the way she organizes her “facts, rules and routines” along the lines of “writing, not a wishlist/letter to Santa in, but rather placing a rather detailed, terribly specific order; that TJ the Elf must have a very good reason for not having landed in a new spot the next day from where she last saw him the night before; that the Tooth Fairy has made a big mess with glitter like they use at school all over her bed-it’s not fairy dust Mom and that the rascally leprechaun that left green footprints on our kitchen table leading up to the “That’s not gold, it’s chocolate coinsin foil wrappers Mom” in March had gotten into the paint left out on the front porch after her and her sister’s were done painting the day before, rather than being willing to believe he is just green and was barefoot when he left a pile of loot straight out of that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. She was more excited over the homework binder than the magic spell packet the teacher had made for each child that indicated once they squeezed the playdough and repeated the rhyme if it turned another color, they were certain to have good luck for the year. Mind you, she believed enough to locate a packet that was in her signature color of pink and to work the dough thoroughly enough until she was certain it showed enough of the good luck magic and then excited enough about it to pack it in her backpack to show Miss J her good fortune, but she did all of this while still chattering on about the best spot at home to keep her binder in so that the littles wouldn’t get into the ever-important First Grade Work. I love that kid. We all do.

At daycare they have a homework time and last year I forwarded the class newsletter on to school and homework was completed there. This year I’m not entirely sure what I want to do. I want the binder kept at home so I think we’ll send books to school and have her just focus on reading while she is there and the actual activities we’ll save for home.

The Quail is set for public and private 4k now as well. She started private last week and public starts today. Private feels easy-peasy- we love Miss J and she and the afternoon teacher Miss A are fairly familar with the Quail already. There is also another little friend in her afternoon class who will be attending k4 in the afternoon so it is good she’ll have a buddy when the big school bus comes to pick them up there for afternoon school.

This year’s Meet the Teacher night was cathartic for me. I think a bit for the Quail too since we caught her literally twirling through the halls. Last year I was completely overwhelmed by all that had to be done going to one of them. Aside from meeting the teacher, it was a new building, paying the cafeteria for lunches, a car rider line to get tags, a bus line to find out that our bus wasn’t what they meant, a school packet line, a PTA line, a Girl Scout sign-up line, volunteer training and all during the witching hours with 3 hungry, tired and over-stimulated kids.

Times two.

 Because the Quail was attending the school that had the self-contained classroom, in a town 10 miles away. 

Needless to say we didn’t get everything done and on the way home when Zuzu innocently questioned why we weren’t able to spend as much time at the Quail’s school as her own and why couldn’t the Quail just go to her school to make it easier, I found myself turning up the radio and adjusting the rearview mirror so they wouldn’t have to directly witness how very much I agreed with them.

This year, I intended to be prepared.

One school.

Two kids.

No standing in unnecessary lines.

And possibly Girl Scouts, if a local troop can get together.

We planned to pull in at 2:45, 15 minutes early, childless to get all the lines  and training done efficiently, then run out to pick up the kiddos and bring them back for the fun- actual meeting of the teachers portion of “Meet the teachers”. We pulled up, maybe 5 minutes later than intended- to what can only rival a Who concert.

Lines.Out.The.Door. Wow.

And we forgot to bring the school supplies to drop off. Other than that, it was old hat. Not overwhelming. And frankly good to get to spy so many of our friends and neighbors- exactly the reason why you want your children to go to their homeschool.

So we finished up. It was nice to see the girl’s rooms, both were excited over the little house/kitchen centers that would be part of their day and of course we went down the hall to say a quick hello to our kind kindergarten teachers while we were there than ran off for a celebratory burrito! When she started to joke with Zuzu over helping to teach these new kiddos what all goes on I cut her off with a funny little story of repeated requests to purchase walkie-talkies.

In the weeks leading up to school we managed to fit in a couple of parent-single child lunches with the girls and a trip to our favorite “Big Sale” as Zuzu calls it for back-to-school clothes. And once again I felt oh-so-in-the-know. Growing up, picking out sweaters and jeans and tennies for back to school and then stopping off for a shared cup of cheese fries is one of my happiest memories with my Mom. Last year when I started early trying to create this tradition we were faced with left over, neon, stringy, clearanced summer duds at our usual shopping haunts. This year we skipped the lure of no taxes and held out till the next large-scale consignment sale with the promise of a Panera Breakfast treat and a run through the Halloween Costume rack to see what the options might be AFTER finding our favorite winter jackets, fall vests and a suitable amount of legging/tunic top/dress and tiger wear to carry us into the spring.

Last year the night before classes started we read, The Night Before Kindergarten, The Night Before Preschool & The Kissing Hand, luckily even with our distinct lack of household organization we were able to locate them this year too. Zuzu was a little sad to realize we hadn’t purchased The Night Before First Grade, and I have to admit I was too. I have a feeling I did and lost it over the summer, clutter purging  time will tell.

And the littlest Sistred, well she started her preschool lessons. She moved into the Toddler room and is making herself at home with circle time, playground time, lunch-at-big-kid-tables time and now-I-nap-on-a-mat-like-a-big-kid time. She’s happy to go and happy to be picked up, if not a tad grouchier tired from her busy days. When she and the Quail received their welcome to the next class postcards from their upcoming teachers they were equally tickled.

The Quail also had a home visit from our public school k4 teacher and assistant. I had big plans for this visit- we had blackberries from a recent berry-picking expedition and I thought we might make a cobbler to welcome them and make the house smell homey the night before. Neat in theory, impractical for middle of the week. As it was we managed to take the trash out, put the dishes away and hide the week’s wash from public view. All in all, a good visit.  And we’re excited to start the new year.

I had a dress with apples for Zuzu’s first day, but being the Fashionista that she is, it got the thumbs down and a combination of twinkle-toes, stripes and more stripes won out. The Quail chose Zuzu’s graduation dress to wear to school for her first day today. She smiled her brave smile and carried her Dora Backpack to the car leading the way for her little sister. I’ve purposely not called to see how it went. Her getting off to school on the bus, today that is.

I’m cool.

It’s cool.

But Lovey just called as I was typing this and asked if I had heard anything and said he was thinking he might call the daycare and check in to see how her getting on the bus went anyway.

And that’s cool.

Oh, and it went smooth.

13 years…..

 Oh goodness me. Lovey & I were married 13 years ago. It seems like forever ago and yet just the other day. It was a wonderful wedding. Lovely with friends and family and food and fun. I still grin ear to ear when I reminisce over the pictures of our sweet day. It. was. perfect.

And now, 13 years, a sweet if slightly off-kilter two-gabled house in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, 3 dear girls and many, many happy memories to feather our nest later we had a lovely celebration thanks to our Zuzu who asked a few weeks ago if they could have a babysitter sometime soon, maybe for our Anniversary. Well- what a brilliant idea! We made reservations for the weekend before the actual date at this restaurant and the meal was just as lovely as we had pictured after drooling over the menu.

We are so blessed.

five minute friday: story

…where a brave and beautiful bunch gather every week to find out what comes out when we all spend five minutes writing on the same topic and then sharing ‘em over here.

photographed by mollyflanagan.com

photographed by mollyflanagan.com

Go:

My story is ever-changing and yet still the same, this narrative that I live and weave and breathe. What I know, what I think, how I feel and what matters to me, it stems from the same words and thoughts that once hinted at my future long ago. That was well over 20 years ago when I sat at our oval-shaped kitchen table with its smooth wood colored surface thumbing through the class catalog for the University I was to attend in the fall.

“I’m pretty social and I’m a hard worker- how about Social Work Mom?”

I still remember those words pushing up out of my teenage-heart and into my head and the unconscious nodding my head answered in reply. At the time it felt like a whim and a lark, not the life defining moment that it was.

I’ll volunteer. I’ll wrap presents for the homeless. I’ll visit the shelters and soup kitchens. I’ll work with children who have disabilities. I’ll help others.

And so my grown-up story began to weave itself out from me. Winding itself into other people’s lives and how they lived. How they are in the world and how to clear a path for them so that I and others could walk alongside rather than leading or following them.

I couldn’t see this current chapter of my story back then. I wouldn’t have even pictured this gabled home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge that my pages would unfold into. I couldn’t imagine the lives of the people I worked for as my own. Their ordinary, extraordinary lives. Lives that required others to step out of the way so that they could do the simplest thing. Live in their home. Go to their school. Shop in their community. Work down their street. Simple, ordinary, daily moments that require the commitment and love of another in order to make that possible. Things those of us without labels are blessed to take for granted in this world that is built for us, not them. The story I was reading and writing, I had no idea how one day it would be my own.

And now, now the narrative has shifted once again. The once energetic, young social worker out to save the world or at least walk beside those in it, has a clearly visible path as a parent and an advocate to take with her family. New characters are emerging.  Slowly unveiling their roles to the plot. The sense of our community and their acceptance of us peels off in thin pages as we understand what has changed and what remains the same in this old world. Their personalities full of strong will and generally good cheer. The villains not hooded and cackling. No. They are more ordinary and reasonable sounding as they build fences trying to line my children’s own path into this world and their future.  

My path is now the one that I had read about, but hadn’t recognized as my own. It takes shape each morning when the baby cries to nurse one last time before the sun rises. The four year old with her last wisps of strawberry blonde locks falling over her softly rounded shoulders, climbs out of her sister’s bed too early, to pad through the dark and quiet hall in search of her parents asking to start her day, to eat, to drink, to play, to go to school just like Zuzu. A school that is not yet as eager to meet her as she is to attend it. A school that requires us to sit up and focus our attention and feelings and knowledge into one kind and articulate presentation so that our daughter can walk through their door the same as her sister without the weight of the world and these reasonable-sounding decision makers pulling her into self-contained corridors.

My story, that I couldn’t have written yet, as I bumped into a soon to be Lovey while walking through a farmer’s market on a bright Saturday morning.

Our story, whose future words would float through our conversations unbeknownst to us as I would ask questions like, “What would you do if our child had a disability?” while we drove through a Wisconsin countryside.

My story, that flashed visions of dark-haired girls swinging from the heavy oak branches as I pushed the mower meditatively up and back through our mossy front yard around the abelia bushes.

My story, that rattled my nerves and my bones in those first weeks with each newborn and wild tangle of hormones.

Their story, as that once newborn kindly reaches over to grasp the hand of a new dark-haired wonder and nurse in tandem.

My story as I hold tight to Lovey after hanging up with the doctor editing the words Down syndrome into the next chapter.

Their story, as we bring home one last white-tipped, chestnut haired bundle, shifting each of their birth orders into the Sistred formation they now are.

Her story, as we sit around the  school’s table on a late spring afternoon, slicing into the cheesecake flavored peace-offering and discuss how this extra-chromosomed wonder of ours will learn the ways of the world she is so eager to be a part of.

My story, I understand now, as the Southern sun sets each evening around us. The back-to-school lists now printed and purchased for two. The legal books and memoirs I will curl up to each evening as we settle into the soft, brown couch. These books, they stack up in between fairy and coloring books. Southern Living magazines and Ipads.  Ceramic mermaids and bowls of speech articulation tubes and whistles. These pieces of our lives that cover our families’ worn wood table that creeks under the weight of the framed images of our loved ones. The girls snuggled under their fuzzy cuddle-uppets over brightly colored nightgowns that skim their summer legs with the day’s boo-boos and rainbow sparkled Band-Aids. Red clay stuck under the too-long toe nails.

These girls that accept their story as a whim and a lark without looking too far into the future tonight. These girls, they clamor at me each night to set down my computer, my phone, my legal books and memoirs for the last few lit minutes of their evening and read one more fairytale before bedtime.

My story.

My very blessed ordinary after of a story.

Stop.

(PS: Yes, more than five minutes worth of words. That happens some times.)

corner view: home

Corner view is a weekly Wednesday gathering, originally hosted by Jane, now by Francesca. A topic is given and you can see impressions; be it photographic or writerly in form, from around the world. Come see the world’s corner view via the links on the sidebar- they have that magical ability to be fully here and simultaneously somewhere else all in the same moment!

There are so many things I can say about home- how it isn’t the four walls, or the location or how many earthly delights you acquire with your good fortune. How home is where your heart and soul are, where the people that fill you with the moments that make up your day. How home is full of the ordinary afters that you eventually notice have woven the crazy quilt of your life around you. But I think my friend Molly has lovingly illustrated our particular home the best.

My gift to myself upon the occasion of my 40th birthday this year, with my love of photography and desire to not just have been behind the camera  years from now when my children look back to their childhood, was a photo shoot with my favorite local photographer. Three years ago I met Molly Flanagan and was so incredibly moved by the deep soul and measure that she walks through her life with. Her stills and prose often inspire my own. When we had made it out of the scary winter of our Quail’s first year we wanted to document the light and shadow of our family and Miss Molly came to visit one Saturday morning. She stilled the motion, spirit and energy of these girls, albeit briefly. Over the next few years I kept wanting to bring her back and see our lives through her lens one more time. The arrival of our Sugarplum seemed to be what called us to finally make the arrangements. Molly’s style has definitely found it’s niche with the art of visual storytelling. She introduced our session to us with these words and this image:

“i dreamed of traveling to far off lands to tell stories of exotic tribes and wild beasts. yet life’s plans have kept me close to home. to my surprise, i found that tribes and beasts are found around every corner. exotic beauty and wild love are hidden in every home.”

View More: http://mollyflanaganphotography.pass.us/starkey-family-2013

Lovey and I were instantly grinning. Please go see the collection she put together of our Ordinary afters…as she named it- the “smoke & spice” of our story. To tempt you into an introduction to Miss Molly here are just a few of our home via her heart, her vision, her storytelling… as I told her- “I keep coming back to these and soaking them in Miss Molly. As I said on IG- seeing ourselves/our lives through your heart- is pure magic. I see so much in each shot- in the collection and then I marvel in the simplicity and the small details. I could write an essay- a story with each snap- your pictures of our lives- more than a thousand words- but I will give you a thousand thanks and pearls of gratitude. You know from my blog how important the ordinary afters of our life are to me- those fractions of time- those are the treasures. It’s so funny to have been watching you shoot and trying to see what you might be seeing- so the stills are so very familiar in some- and then in others it is like peering in to another lifetime. What a gift these are- you are. love you- xoox”

Enjoy your summer break friends and I can’t wait to see what you’ve been up to while away come September!

corner view: music

Corner view is a weekly Wednesday gathering, originally hosted by Jane, now by Francesca. A topic is given and you can see impressions; be it photographic or writerly in form, from around the world. Come see the world’s corner view via the links on the sidebar!

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Her paternal Great- Grandmother was an opera singer. I think just a note lives on in her…

five minute friday: beloved

…where a brave and beautiful bunch gather every week to find out what comes out when we all spend five minutes writing on the same topic and then sharing ‘em over here.

223593_10200673357575304_859342648_nGo:

Beloved

In our house, beloved is unspoken. It’s woven in to the daily ordinaries of our family life. It changes as our days and years together pass, but it can always be found with a momentary pause and an open heart and hand.

It’s the yellow bowl set out by the 6 year old for her little sister who so loves the color.

It’s the quiet and unprompted handing over of the shiny red heart balloon that hasn’t flown off yet to the sobbing six-year-old by the four-year-old.

It’s in the rascaling, monstering and tumbling that the Sistred wind in to their afternoons together.

It’s the duck and rabbit lovies brought along when Zuzu goes off to find her monkey one to hold while she watches cartoons.

It’s the Keurig set to brew my cup before Lovey goes to take his own shower.

It’s the bent knee squat I hold while I try to puzzle out the story of her day the Quail is telling with her hands.

It’s the giggle escaping the baby while Lovey bounces her on his lap.

It’s the valentine that says I love my Family that Zuzu made during art center.

It’s the snuggled-up-to-Dad spot chosen on the couch by each of the sisters as they settle in for a story or cartoon.

It’s the soft breathing on either side of me I wake to find all three girls napping in the bed with me.

It’s the warm and running car that I hurry out to, late for the school drop-offs on weekday mornings.

It’s the soft little hands on my face while I sit and wait in the bathroom for the Quail to finish up.

It’s the crawling across a room full of toys when the baby spies her waiting family at pick-up time each afternoon.

It’s the handing over of the remote, turning off of the phone and stepping away from the computer when the children are finally asleep.

It’s unspoken, but oh so very present.

Stop

When you turn 40….

…you mostly get to do what you want. Maybe it doesn’t all go seamlessly, or exactly how you picture it….but it’s still how you want to spend your day…and…because you’re now 40- you’re ok with that and choose to remember the special parts and let the rest go…unless of course you can joke about those other parts now. That’s ok too. You know, because you’re 40 and all now.

On my day I had a few things in mind. I wanted to eat cinnamon-roll pancakes. I wanted to drink a latte. I wanted to see what was in bloom on my birthday. I wanted some time to do my thing (photograph/edit/write/blog/reflect). I wanted to drink another latte. I wanted my family to bake me a cake together. And I wanted to go out for a tasty dinner. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check, and check. It’s good to be here. It’s good to be 40.