Embracing a Big Summer {& a Giveaway}

Summer Scene: Morning on Table Rock LakeWhile the rest of the world waited for February 2 and  Punxsutawney Phil to declare just how many more weeks winter would hold on, I looked to February 1. That was the date I allowed myself to count the days until my kids would be done with school and off on summer break so we could all be home together and do summer things.

The key words in that sentence are home and do, because one always seemed to exclude the other and I ended up fragmented and frustrated in my approach to life.

The kids are older now and so am I. More than that we homeschool. I don’t have to count the days until we’ll all be home together. Still, every February, I find myself counting the days until we can focus more on the freedoms and gifts of summer.

But my desire to be home and do are still at cross-purposes, leaving me feeling as though I’m living in the battle field of my mind, my calendar, and my expectations. And I too often find myself a summer version of Ebenezer Scrooge, bah-humbugging away the season I was anticipating—feeling too overwhelmed to do all of those things I was looking forward to, telling my littlest that we don’t really need to go to the pool, and sometimes counting the days until fall.

This isn’t how I want to approach summer. It’s not how I want to live. But I’m learning that the way I meet seasons and months and days becomes the way I live  my life. So I’ve been working on it, putting on a new mindset about summer–the one I actually have instead of the one that exists only in my mind and Hallmark commercials.

Here are a few ideas that have helped me on my quest to better embrace a big summer. I’m more successful at some of these than others, but I’ll take progress without perfection over the pursuit of perfection with no progress.

  • Let summer be summer. Not a continuation of spring. Not a runway for fall. Just summer.
  • Let this summer be this summer. Not last summer. Or next summer. Every summer is different.
  • Look at every opportunity as a blessing rather than an obligation. 
  • Ask and adjust. Ask yourself what you want to do this summer. (Which isn’t the same as what you’d like to accomplish this summer.) Ask your family. Ask what’s realistic. Adjust.
  • If you need to let some things go, let them go and move on. Without guilt. Don’t dwell.
  • Say yes to the people who live in your house. It’s their summer, too.
  • Plan a few no days. Most days you’ll do things. Set a few apart to not do things.
  • Go to the pool. Or the lake. (And maybe get in the water.)
  • Eat outside. Even better: Put your dinner in a basket and go on a picnic.
  • Simplify your meal planning. During the summer we eat taco salad most Mondays. My girls love it, especially when we take it to the lake and go for a walk afterward.
  • If you travel, lighten up. Take less stuff. Make packing less of thing to contend with.
  • Consider this question: What is summer for?

I’d love to hear your answer. Let me know in the comments. 

The Giveaway:

There’s a new book on the market: A Family Shaped by Grace: How to Get Along with the People Who Matter Most. It’s by Gary Morland, a believer in connecting the dots of life, in the power of encouragement, and in God’s care for the state of our family relationships. It’s practical and encouraging, a story and tool-chest for how to bring about small changes in your family culture, not by changing your family, but by changing your heart, attitudes, and actions toward your family. I’ve been privileged to be on the launch team for this book and because I believe family matters and am grateful for Gary’s voice, I’ll be giving away two copies of his book, one to blog readers and one to newsletter subscribers. To enter, leave a comment on or before June 29.

Blog reader winner will be announced June 30, in the comments on this post. (Newsletter subscribers will be notified by email. If you’re not a subscriber, there’s still time. Subscribe in sidebar.)

 

Sharing at  Lyli’s and Barbie’s.

Waiting For What We Can’t See

Waiting for What You Can't See Along the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and  Cooke City, the meadows are open and greening, quite in agreement with the calendar: spring has arrived. Leave the dry, temperate north end of Yellowstone and try to head into the interior, though,  and you’ll see a place still in waiting.

The most obvious sign: You can’t actually get there. Many of the roads are covered in snow. And closed.

It’s too bad, because there’s something there I want to see and never will.

In winter, the Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River develops a cone of ice, constructed by cold air and the mist churned up the river’s three-hundred-foot drop. In spring, warmer air and the same mist break down the structural integrity of the cone, eating away at it until it can no longer support itself. Eventually, after a series of thunderous pops and cracks, it collapses.

I’ve wanted to see this ever since I was eighteen, since that winter’s day when I stood next to the Lower Falls, marveling at the shield of ice and listening to a guide explain what would happen later that spring. But when the cone collapses, there’s no way into the park. It’s completely inaccessible.

Waiting For What You Can't See The roads that close every November to accommodate the transition from asphalt to  snow  close again every March for the reverse. Unlike fall’s reliance on the natural buildup of regular, seasonal precipitation, the transformation from snow road back to asphalt is a systematic dismantling, one which requires heavy equipment and weeks of labor. It’s a slow process, one which renders most of the park effectively closed.

Yellowstone—its wildlife and its woods tucked away from the eyes of all but a few employees—is inaccessible but busy,  pressing on toward that  burst of growth that spring’s increasing sunlight and warmth will unleash. The park does fine without observation. It doesn’t need us to watch. Or wonder. Or worry.

Buds swell on their branches. Bears wake and wander hungry from their dens, ready to hunt and gather. And bison, the largest of Yellowstone’s animals, trudge through the receding snow and their final bulky weeks of gestation.

But, like the collapse of the cone, much of this happens out of our reach. It’s entirely inaccessible. No matter how much we might want to see it.

Waiting For What You Can't See

It’s spring. The calendar says so and there’s evidence all around.  Here at home green sweeps though the timber and makes its way across the pasture to the front door. Birds sing with the dawn. Morning and evening light cast their influence over our activities and our moods.

While the temperate regions in my life make their way into the light of spring with ease, there are interior pockets that are slow to join them. There’s no road to get there, so I can’t see what’s going on. I can’t hurry it along. No matter how much I want to.

Because I’m learning to pay better attention to the seasons, I’m starting to understand some things about those inaccessible, wintry pockets.

Just as the arrival of the vernal equinox does not mean that winter has fully released its hold on the earth, there is no one day to look to for the thawing of the wintry places in my life. What it does mean is that winter’s power is weakening. Spring is on the way.

Spring is always on the way.

Those wintry places will feel the light in their time. They don’t need me to watch. Or wonder. Or worry.

Spring’s got this. It’s blowing its warm breath across the landscape of life, creating the right conditions for the ice to crack and the cone to collapse. It’s slow sometimes and hard to wait, but the rhythm and inevitability of the seasons work in our favor, even when we can’t see it. Maybe especially if we can’t see it.

And you?  Are you prone to wonder and worry over what you can’t see? What could you do instead?

 

 

(You can see a photo of  the ice cone toward the end of its life here.)

Sharing at Barbie’s and Lyli’s places this week.

Gifts and Graces: Spring Edition

Spring on the Square

Yesterday I hurried into Walmart for a few things and emerged–much more slowly–pushing a cart. Right outside the door I caught the fragrance of something I’d seen but not stopped to appreciate on the way in: flowers for sale. It was the scent of spring.

I try, with varying degrees of success, not to focus so much on the difficulties of a season  that I miss out on the good. This winter, with its perpetual grey skies that delivered more rain than snow, proved hard not to wish away.

Already the best gift and amazing grace of spring is that it arrived, just in time to remind me that seasons were God’s idea, and that as long as there are lights in the heavens to govern them, seasons—no matter how long or weird or uncomfortable—will end.

So I’m thankful for spring, for days that can be counted on to get a little longer as they pass, for green that marches across the grass and through the treetops toward my doorstep, for teasing, balmy air. What I’m grateful for this Spring Which Followed the Greyest of Winters is that no matter the nature of that cold season, spring always comes again.

Gifts of Spring: A Short List of Things to Count On.
  1. Evening light. Glory.
  2. Rain. Even though it brings clouds.
  3. Growth: Even when it brings growing pains.
  4. Girls that want to go outside. During school. A lot.
  5. Change. Even though I never like it. At first, anyway.
  6. Buds on the branches. Calves frolicking in the pasture. Mama cats looking for place to shelter tiny kittens.

And you? What gifts, graces, and even glitches is this season bringing your way?

Sharing at Lyli and Barbie’s .

Winter’s Good Graces {and Why to Keep Track}

Winter Gifts and Graces

The bleak midwinter, Christina Rossetti called it. And while her poem is lovely, living with continual strings of short, cold, sunless days is not.

I believe that there is a time for everything, even bleak days. And yet. It’s at such times when my practice of pausing occasionally to ponder the path, to take stock of each season’s gifts and graces saves me from giving in to cabin fever and its ilk. Winter’s good graces are less obvious than those of the more temperate seasons. I find it’s possible to uncover them, though, when I’m intentional about looking.

Here, at winter’s midpoint, is a list of some of the gifts and graces currently keeping me sane, reminding me to be grateful, saving my life in the little ways that matter.

  1. Fire, as in, that it’s not a mystery and I can build one:  Whether atop a candle or tucked into our wood burner, it warms our home and lifts my spirits.
  2. Down: Over the past few years I’ve turned into one of those cold people. Down makes winter survivable.
  3. Unseasonable weather: A reminder that even in the deepest winter, autumn existed and spring is on its way.
  4. The sun: No matter how rare its appearance, it reminds me of fresh starts and new mercies.
  5. Tea: Because cold, dark mornings.
  6. Coffee shops: Even though I’ve never taken to coffee, I like people and people like coffee.
  7. Boot weather: Because boots just don’t work in the summer.
  8. Cast Iron: Because the crock pot doesn’t cut it for The Pioneer Woman’s Spicy Shredded Pork and this beef stew. (I adapt these recipes to make them friendly to a lower-glycemic way of eating by cutting the brown sugar out of the pork, and skipping the flour and substituting radishes for the potatoes in the stew. The family didn’t notice when I axed the sugar even though I’ve been making the pork according to the recipe for years. Also, I won’t eat radishes raw, but roasted or cooked in a stew, they’re mild and lovely.)
  9. Fleece Sheets. (See #2) Sleep comes faster when I’m warm.
  10. The sky: Even during a winter that’s given up precious little sunshine, the sky often puts on a quiet show as the sun sets. Somehow, this gives me hope.
  11. The days following winter solstice: The longest nights give way more quickly than I’d realized to increasing daylight. It’s noticeable by early January.
  12. Home: After lots of days running here and there with extracurriculars, I’m grateful for a landing-place.
  13. Rhythms: That abundance precedes want.
  14. Bedtime reading: Because sometimes there just isn’t enough time during the day. This winter’s favorites (so far): Jane Austen’s Persuasion (a regular reread) and Michelle DeRusha’s  Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk.

What gifts and graces are are making a difference in your life this winter? 

 

Joining the conversations at Modern Mrs. Darcy and 3-D Lessons for Life.

 

Seeing Blue Beyond the Grey {and Welcome!}

Because it intersects with two subjects which fascinate and teach me,  the rhythms of the seasons and Yellowstone, I bought a book, For Everything There is a Season: The Sequence of Events in the Grand Teton-Yellowstone Area. Through it, I see the general happening of Yellowstone’s year from afar. Week by week, it lays out which birds generally return when, the expected arrival of the young of the year, when a particular wildflower will bloom.

Week by week.

Except for December. Not too much happens in December. Twenty-seven of its days get one chapter, six pages, to themselves.

And the stretch  we’re in? January 1 – February 26 warrants only one page, a paragraph. One. Ninety-two words describe the happenings of eight long, cold weeks.

 One of the first bird species to re-establish and passively defend a nesting territory will be the ravens. Paired ravens may be seen sitting side by side on days when the weather is fair and their appetites satisfied, a situation that occurs more frequently as spring evolves. With spring in the air and time to spare, the ravens play, a luxury most species do not have. Red crossbills may initiate nesting during any month of the year. Boreal and great horned owls may be heard calling, this being their courtship period. ~ Frank C. Craighead, Jr.

Apparently Yellowstone doesn’t see much change in the during deep winter. It’s loveliness walks alongside a sometimes cruel companion of cold, windy days under a stark, steel sky.  It’s a quiet time, stagnant even.

It looks like not much is happening. And not much is. There. In the park or on the surface.

But away from the park migratory birds are living a temperate life. The elk have wandered south to a reserve. The bears have denned, sleeping their way through winter and giving birth to tiny offspring who will do nothing but eat and grow through their mother’s slumber.

We can’t always see what’s happening but deep winter reminds us to hope.

The raven operates by instinct. It knows that even though it’s winter on the ground, spring is in the air. In the space opened up by the absence of activity, the raven, mascot of hope, is satisfied to enjoy the little luxury afforded by the sameness of the season. It doesn’t just endure its environment. It more than survives its season. It plays.

Sun sightings and blue skies have been rare this winter, each one a relief and a reminder. No matter the color of tomorrow’s sky, the seeds of spring will sprout from today’s frozen ground and these words from Isaiah are true: Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

He’s always doing a new thing. Even when the grey keeps us from seeing it. Maybe especially when the grey keeps us from seeing it.

And like the blue sky is a gift, so is the journey to learn to embrace the truth that what believing what we can’t see is as important as seeing what we can with proper perspective.

And you? Are you in a crowded season or one with a little open space? What helps you to see blue beyond the grey?

Sharing stories with other writers at Jennifer Dukes Lee’s #TellHisStory linkup.


Welcome to Along This Road’s New Home.

Do you remember when I mentioned that because I want someday to publish a book, I needed to make some changes to help myself and my cause? Here they are.

The biggest is the domain name.  Since I’ve never even given my last name on my blog, this feels kind of weird. But, it’s how it is and after too many years of ignoring how it is, I’ve complied and now it’s out there for everyone on the internets to see. Less obvious is that, because I want to publish a book, I need a way to get in touch with people–outside of my blog –interested in either in  me or in reading my work. (The FCC has rules about how one goes about these things and I am all about following the rules.)

The best way you as a reader can support me as a writer would be to subscribe to an as-yet-unnamed quarterly(ish) newsletter. If you’ve read here for long, you’ve probably noticed I have a thing about seasons. Quarterly fits me best, even though the blog-world experts say that you’ll forget all about me if I don’t contact you every week. I think you possess better memories than that.

If you’d like, you can subscribe in the sidebar, where it says Subscribe to Quarterly(ish) Newsletter. Thanks! (Also, if you’d rather not receive notifications of blog posts any more, you can click the envelope icon at the top and send me an email. I know the weight of an overflowing inbox. I’ll take care of it.)

Thanks for reading, for your encouraging words and kind comments, for sticking with me during these years after I stumbled into blogging, and as I figure out the next steps.