Monday, December 30, 2013

twenty.thirteen: looking back.

2013 was a different sort of year.
It was a year of changing and stretching, readjusting and redefining.
It was a year of growing up and letting go.
It was hard year. It was an unexpected year.
It was a good year.

I've always been a memory-keeping, record-writing, photo-capturing sort of girl. This yearly blog post is one of the ways I like to remember, reflect,
and say good-bye to another year. 

Something new: Project 52.
We made a fresh set of memories in a familiar place.
I chose my one word (or perhaps more accurately, it chose me).
We wrapped up our mudroom and basement projects.
We ran out of eggs.

We became acquainted with Brene.
We set out to potty train #3.
We narrowly survived a very snowy, very grey sort of winter.
I finished the 30-Day Green Smoothie Challenge.

Dylan fell in love with card collecting.
I discovered Downton.
Bunko is back!

Mady strode through her first bike race.
We assembled a basketball hoop.
Ella was featured in her first art show.

Our garage sale went viral.
We welcomed baby Jensen to the fam!
Matt started his new position as used car manager at Grand.
I fell in love with Teavana.

We tried to figure out how to survive summer.
Ella finished up another year of 'nastics.
We became a bunch of bike riding fools.
I cleaned out the pantry.
We enjoyed Nana and Papa's new neighborhood pool.

We welcomed Mason James.
We channeled our inner Shauna.
The kids completed swimming lessons (including Mady!)
We rode a camel.

We ventured back up the North Woods.
I completed Year 3 of my picture-a-day project.
My dear friends ran into Year 34 alongside me.
Ella learned to text.
We got away from it all during Cottage Week '13.

Dylan played his first season of football.
Ella cheered her first game.
Mady started preschool!
I co-chaired my first school committee.

Ella shopped her way through her first Birch Run weekend.
We welcomed our third new baby cousin this year, Evelyn Lynae.
Dylan and Ella finished their first Turkey Trot.
We got close enough to see Needtobreathe's socks.

We cheered on our Spartans towards a Rose Bowl berth.
We celebrated nine, seven, and four.
Ella got her ears pierced!
We hosted our first 'friend' birthday party.

My boys started their first basketball season together.
We continued to work it out.
We celebrated a healthy holiday season.
We said farewell to 2013!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Working it out.

Three years ago, on a cold winter night, some friends and I made a decision to workout regularly, five times a week, 15 minutes minimum.

We were done with the dormant, exhausted by the idle, over the blah.

We set up a secret Facebook page called "just because our husbands think we can't...". We logged in, and workout by workout, recorded the days, posted our activities, checked off the weeks.

(Our husbands are actually quite supportive folk, but at the time, even we couldn't imagine keeping this up for more than 3 weeks, much less 3 years.)

This week marks the end of Week 154. (Somewhere along the way, we lost two weeks...probably, I'm guessing, to the Christmas Flu of 2012.)

770 workouts. Swims, runs, walks, bike rides, yoga classes, living room sweatfests, along with the slightly more obscure paddleboarding, snow shoeing, water aerobics, rock climbing.

Yes, this is a story of physical health -- of muscles and sweat -- and a story of girl power -- of accountability and accomplishment.

But that's just the beginning.

We are fully engaged in the middle of the story now -- and it's getting good. The challenge continues on, but the rules are less rigid, the options are more accessible, the invitation is always on the table.

This story, this middle is about finding rest and seeking balance. It's about community and belonging and showing up. It's about health -- not the way the world defines health (i.e., by the way your pants fit) -- it's about the way your heart feels, the way your mind eases, the way your spirit soars...and calms.

And grace, it's about grace. For you, and for me. It's about asking and extending and receiving and accepting.

For three years, we've been working it out. We've practiced and participated, experienced and engaged. We've used all the parts that have been given to us: mind, body, heart.

From our laps in the pool, we've learned to breathe.

From our runs, both long and short, we've learned to put one foot in front of the other.

From the hills, we've learned to take short, steady steps.

From our long bike rides down country roads, we've learned what it means to be a kid again.

From our workout DVD's in our living rooms, we've learned it isn't always glamorous, sometimes you simply buckle down and do the work.

From our walks, we've learned to slow down and take in the scenery. We've learned there's beauty all around us if we take the time to look.

From spinning our wheels in spin class, we've learned that we can, in fact, do very, very hard things.

From our time on our yoga mats, we've learned to listen to and honor our bodies. (We've learned to be kind.)

From all the times we've walked into a new class, a new activity, a new situation, we've learned that's it OK to try, (and OK to fail), OK to say yes...and OK to say no.

So to the friends and family, instructors and acquaintances, and to the 84 year old woman who stubbornly, yet freely, swims lap after early morning lap in Lane One, thank you for the encouragement, the teaching, the inspiration, and the countless hours logged working it out alongside us.

We recently changed the name of our Facebook group.

Just keep swimming.

Appropriate, wouldn't you say?

We can't wait to see where this story takes us next.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Dear Mady Mae,

You are turning four today! We can hardly believe it. We're wondering if it's time to stop calling you our baby, but you're the youngest, and well, our baby, and I guess even turning four won't change that.

You make us laugh, Mady, every single day. You may be the littlest Terp but you pack a powerful punch. You are sweet and smart, just like your big brother and sister, but you've got your own thing going on too.

You march to your own beat and aren't afraid to speak your mind. You can command the attention of everyone in a room and know how to hold your own.

You have carefully considered the pros and cons of thumb sucking and have decided, for you, at this time, because it is also your favorite way to hold your blanket, you are going to continue on. (Mommy almost fell over the other week when you looked straight into the kind orthodontist's eyes and stated boldly, "I don't even care.")

You are learning how to stand up for yourself as the baby of the family, how to put big brother and sister in their places. They no longer defer to you as the baby -- they've embraced you as one of them. You've learned most of sister's cheers (and performed them in front of bleachers full of people, at sister's games), and you can run a football past big brother faster than a preschooler in rain boots has any right to.

You love going to preschool and you know all the songs and all the motions. Some mornings you sing your way into school, Daddy by your side, some days you play it shy. You don't buy into the mundane idea that certain colors of construction paper can only go on certain parts of your bird.

You very clearly stated this year that you would like your own birthday cake that reads, "Dear Mady, Have a nice day, it's your birthday."

That's the thing about you, Mady Mae, you are your own person and you aren't easily swayed. (Sometimes that makes Mommy and Daddy feel a little crazy, but mostly we know it will serve you well as you grow.)

We pray you never stop thinking for yourself, that you don't easily give into the world around you, that you fiercely defend the opinions, ideas, and people you believe to be good and true.

You were a game changer for us, baby girl, for our family. You challenge us and push us and add a sweetness and a richness to our life that was not here before you arrived on the scene.

You are the icing on our cake, the cherry on top, this family's grand finale. You were fearfully and wonderfully made in His own image. We are in awe of the unique person He made you to be.

We love you dearly. We are honored to be your parents.

Happy birthday, Madelyn Mae. You're FOUR!

Mommy & Daddy

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Dear Dylan,

Late this summer, just before you started 3rd grade, I read you this letter written by a blogger I follow. Her son was also about to start 3rd grade and in the letter she urges him to be aware of those moments when his heart aches for someone else and to understand that ache is compassion, and it is God’s signal to do something.

She goes on to tell him, "We don’t send you to school to become the best at anything at all. We already love you as much as we possibly could. You do not have to earn our love or pride and you can’t lose it. That’s done. We send you to school to practice being brave and kind."

Dylan, as you turn nine this year (Mommy can hardly believe it, I swear you were just my little brown eyed baby boy), your Daddy's and Mommy's hearts are bursting at the seams because we see those traits growing in you.

You tried something new this fall, buddy, completely new to all of us. You strapped on pads and put on a helmet and walked onto a brand new sort of playing field. There were kids you didn't know and rules you had to learn and really hard things to face for a conservative, cautious kid like yourself. It was hard and you were scared. And you did it anyway.

And in countless little moments throughout the season, you didn't just practice football, your practiced being brave. You made a choice to keep showing up, to keep trying, in spite of feeling uncomfortable, stretched, and at times, not able. In this space between being a boy and a man you are learning how to be brave, one small moment at a time, and to learn this is to learn what it means to grow up.

Be brave.

For years now, your teachers have told Mommy and Daddy over and over again what a sweet, sensitive, caring guy you are in the classroom. You have a way of making the kids in your class feel known and valued. You come home with the True Friend award year after year.

You are not in the business of leaving people out or trying to climb the social ladder or doing things you shouldn't just to fit in. And you're not just nice to the other nice kids or the popular kids or the smart kids. You've learned to look for the kids who need a little extra kindness in their lives - the new kids, the naughty kids, the kids who don't go home to a warm, safe house at night.

Be kind.

You're growing up, Dilly Man, and we can see it more in this past year than ever before. Almost all the traces of the little boy are gone and in his place is a bigger, stronger, braver boy. We are proud of so many things about you - you truly are our pride and joy - but most of all we are proud of your heart. God created you to be someone very special and to do some unique things in this world, and we pray that you continue to grow into that calling just as you continue to grow into being a man.

Nine. Halfway to 18. (Takes my breath away a bit.)

It is an honor and a privilege to be your mom.

Happy birthday. We love you, Dylan!

Mommy (& Daddy too)

{seven | six | four}

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Dear Ella,

Today you turn seven. From the moment you entered the world in a wild, loud, (and to be perfectly honest) slightly traumatic fashion, you have blown us away.

A baby girl. Blue-eyed and fussy, at first. And then bright-eyed and sunny as a one year old, two year old, three year old. Sassy and funny and so, so smart as a preschooler, preK-er, Kindergartner.

Now, as a 1st grader, there are moments when I still have glimpses of that little round-headed girl, and then there are other moments when I see the next decade of our lives together stretched out before us. All lip gloss and jean jackets and cheerleading skirts and social outings. Wildly smart. Fiercely independent.

And then those moments fade again and you're my little girl, curled up next to me on the couch (we watch HGTV together, these days). We are in the middle, you and I. A mother and a daughter figuring out what it means to grow up, to stretch, to dance.

We are different in so many ways - I have brown hair and love all things neat and orderly. You have blonde hair and embrace the loud and the messy. I think with my head, you follow your heart.

But really, none of our differences matter - those are just the details. What matters is that you are my daughter and I am your mom. We belong to each other. We always will.

It is a profound privilege to raise a daughter, and I am so glad God chose us to help raise you. You are sunshine, joy, laughter personified and sent straight from God's heart, into our home.

As you turn seven, you are learning what it means to be a true friend, that the mean girls are really just sad inside, and that there is a bigger, hurting world beyond our little culdesac. You are learning how to be a sister, how to be gracious even when the other person doesn't deserve it, how to be responsible, confident, and kind.

When you were a tiny little girl, all snuggled into your big bed, you used to pray out loud, "Thank you God for making me just the way I am."

Amen, baby girl, amen.

We will never stop thanking God for you. You were an unexpected gift, the one we didn't see coming. A beautiful girl (beyond our wildest dreams) inside and out.

In short, Ella Jeanne, you knock our socks off.

Happy birthday, sweet girl. We love you.

Mommy (& Daddy too)

{five | four | two}

Saturday, November 9, 2013


I have mixed feelings about fall.

On one hand, I understand the bits about crisp, cool days and school supplies and football games and pumpkins and warm apple cider.

But on the other, falls feels an awful lot like change. And sometimes change feels hard.

It's like just as soon as you start to believe the long, warm summer days will never end, suddenly there are amber leaves crashing down around your feet.

The earth itself feels a little unsettled, leaves ablaze, branches groaning, one day unbearably hot, the next day unbelievably cold.

Slow, lazy routines are exchanged for sharp, rigid schedules.

We stretch and settle and find our footing once again, just in time for the fullness of the trees to abandon us, leaving behind stark, grey skies.

(All this to say, it's been two months since I've posted on this blog. I feel like I owe an explanation, or maybe not.)

This fall brings with it another layer of change as Mady began preschool and I find myself with more space and freedom than I have in all my nine years of motherhood. My last baby and I, we take long walks, we watch way too much Curious George, we clean up the kitchen before we leave the house (when we leave the house...mostly we are happy to stay home, in the calm).

It's been a time that lends itself to sitting and reflection and being still.

While the days have been quiet and spacious, the evenings have been busy and full. Dylan played football this fall and Ella cheered and some weeks we were running around four days a week plus Saturday games. Granola bars flung here, equipment thrown there, always rushing -- rushing to get there, rushing to come home.

The kids were happy and healthy though and I'm glad we did it.

In the midst of some chaos, and in the company of reclaimed freedom, I have been learning to create white space, in big ways and small. I'm trying to fill my days with less in order to find more in which to move and grow and breathe.

Less distraction, less stuff, less full. Less is more.

I'm leaning into something new to me -- a yoga practice. I've gone to yoga classes before, and found something valuable there, but have never fit it into my routine, long-term. I finally found a class, at 5:45am, no less, that fits into my schedule, and Theresa and I have been taking turns driving our minivans to class, dragging our tired bones and our yoga mats out of the house before the sun rises.

I love that it's called a practice because that's really what it is. There is no push to achieve or arrive or accomplish. It's simply an invitation to show up, to engage, to be aware.

In much the same way that I suddenly believed myself to be a runner (you deny it for a long time, but it sneaks up you), I'm realizing that this practice of yoga is becoming a part of me. I'm stronger and longer and more settled than I've been in a long time.

And now we're starting to settle into these short, dark days. We are fully in the midst of the change, there's nothing left to do but embrace it. It's the beginning of birthday week and we're planning to celebrate until we drop. We're finding tangible ways to count our blessings as we look forward to Thanksgiving. We're padding around in our slippers, slurping up soup, and pulling the covers up to our chins.

Welcome, fall, after all.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Cottage Week '13

Cottage Week is one of the most highly anticipated weeks of the year.

Months ahead of time, we scour vacation rental websites for a cottage that is just right.

Weeks before, we plot and plan activities, outings, and meals.

When the big day finally arrives, we pile our vehicles high with snacks, sleeping bags, and tackle boxes, coolers, duffle bags, boats, and bikes.

We drive straight north in search of our beloved time away, until the road beneath us turns to gravel, and a cool lake breeze blows through the air.

And then we all pile out, arms full, hearts full. We race from room to room. We run to the end of the dock. We sink into the sofa.

We smile. We relax. We exhale.

Because we have arrived.

Because Cottage Week is like no other week of the year.

Check your troubles at the door.

Pile on in.

Lose control.

Live, play, eat, rest -- all in community.

Hold close the ones you love.

Hit the open road.

Take it all in.

Crack open a cold one.

Grab a towel -- and a friend.

Hunt for treasure.

Leave no stone unturned.

Stay up way past your bedtime.

Embark on an adventure.

Find out what's behind the curtain.

Enjoy the ride.

Create a ripple.

Make a SPLASH.

Embrace your bedhead.

Chart a new course.

Feel the wind in your hair.

Cross something off your bucket list.

Head home (when you must), 

but carry a piece of this week in your heart until you meet again.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Homestead.

For as long as I can remember, the beginning of August means a trip to the Homestead. On its most basic level, the Homestead is a cabin in the great woods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, built by my great-grandfather Walfred "Bosco" Johnson and his friend Elson Carberry in the 1940's. It's located between Munising and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near the shores of Lake Superior.

On a deeper level, the Homestead is so much more. It's one-of-a-kind, a place where the sights, sounds, and smells can instantly transport you to summers from long ago. A place seemingly untouched by the decades surrounded by miles and miles of untouched natural beauty. 

The Homestead is a place where...

...your daddy is always happy to give you a lift...

...and a boy can find an adventure around every corner.

A place where a drive down the Homestead road makes you feel like you're 8 years old again...

...and the woods seem untouched since the days of your great-grandparents.

A place where the end of the dock is perfect for long talks and ukulele lessons...

...and scrub brushes, a bucket of water, and a long deck equal hours of entertainment.

A place where beautiful hikes in nearby woods abound... should always pack your swimsuit just in case...

...and the beauty of it all is enough to take your breath away.

It's a place where a legitimate hike usually means a few rounds of discussion about which way to go next...

...and you never pass up an opportunity to take a leap.

A place where waterfalls seem to be tucked behind every nook and cranny...

...and your daddy

A place where Aunt Vickie rolls out the arts and craft like magic on your great-great-grandmother's farmhouse table...

...and if you wear your sweatshirt and your coat inside you can usually warm up (sometimes).

A place where you can eat s'mores for breakfast...

..and pick wild blueberries just steps off the front porch and eat them until your tummy hurts.

A place where you eagerly sign up for a rock hunting expedition (after all, it should be just around the next bend).

A place where you breath a sigh of relief that the pretty big rock really does exist...

...and you pack your bear whistle because you just can't be too careful.

A place where your Carberry & Johnson shirts are right at home...

...where the sky really is that blue, the trees that green, and the air that clear.

A place where there's always room for two...

...and your aunts, uncles and cousins still gather for an annual porch shot.

It's a place like no other place... and when you're here, you simply can't imagine being anywhere else on earth.

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