We are moved! Still surrounded by boxes in various stages of unpacking, but the kitchen is organized (it will have to be re-organized at some point; Carl put all the tea on a top shelf where I need a step-stool to reach it. That will never do!), the bedrooms are all in good shape, we are eating meals on our dining room table, and we are starting to move onto the best stage of unpacking: putting up the bookcases and replacing our books on them.
The move happened on Saturday. It went remarkably smoothly, thanks to the crew of friends who showed up to help starting at 8:00 in the morning and sticking it out until close to 3:00 that afternoon. A far cry from when we arrived at seminary, when one or two people helped out for an hour or so after we arrived and then we had to do the rest ourselves! We were setting up the kids’ bunkbeds at midnight while they fell asleep curled up on top of their toychests with blankets and pillows. This time, a friend gave us dinner once everything was moved and the apartment cleaned, and then we drove to our new house, put together the kids’ new beds (in their OWN BEDROOMS), put together our bed, and were still able to call it a night by 10:00. Thank you, God, for good friends.
We are still in the fall-into-bed exhausted each night stage, of course. Moving is never easy, regardless of how many friends you have helping. But any exhaustion-induced irritability is easily assuaged when we look around at our kitchen, where an easy meal is, in fact, easy; when the kids can go into their own rooms when they get annoyed at each other; when we have the option of using our second bathroom if the first is occupied; when we can do laundry in our own machine without having to first collect quarters; when we are able to wander around our own yard with tea in hand, discussing improvements we want to make in the gardens; when we think how God gifted us this house beyond our expectations or even hopes. Our seminary years (hashtag: #seminarylife) were wonderful, a time of growth and fruitfulness. But they were also hard, and we have been in survival mode for a long, long time.
Even in the midst of our physical exhaustion from this move, we are more at peace than we’ve been in ages. Carl is at work today; gymnastics and skating lessons and homeschool classes all start this week (I’m teaching American Lit–pray for me!) (and my students); by God’s grace I will be able to start focusing on my writing more this week as well.
Well. July has come and gone in a flash–even more so than most summer months. Traveling for eleven days had something to do with it. The breathtaking speed with which out life turned upside down and settled into a new pattern had something else, I am certain.
First: vacation. We managed to pull off our Epic Road Trip without leaving anyone behind at any gas stations, losing any cameras or phones, getting a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, or being attacked by alligators in Florida. How terribly boring.
In Florida, we did get to see a dolphin and a sea turtle swimming off the end of a pier, a submerged alligator in a state park (I confess, I was FREAKING OUT about alligators before we left, and it took all my courage to even walk through this park. I wasn’t going to be a coward for my kids, though, and I saw the alligator and even kept my breakfast down), pelicans flying and swimming along the water, and palm trees and spanish moss. I am more of a northern mountains girl at heart, but Florida was beautiful and fun and I’m glad to have gone.
As close as I ever want to be to an alligator
After Florida, we visited family in Georgia, friends in Tennessee, the Bilmore Estate in North Carolina, and friends in Pennsylvania before wearily making our way back to Massachusetts, heartily tired of the car and the interstate and restaurant food and ready to sleep for a week.
It was a great time, though. Beyond wonderful to see our friends in Nashville and PA again, and the Biltmore Estate was even lovelier than it had been thirteen years ago when Carl and I went there on our honeymoon. I developed a nasty headache partway through the house–heat and dehydration, I figured out afterward–and was afraid I would spoil the day for all of us, but some rest, water, my straw hat, and pain relievers did the trick and I was able to wander through the gardens and grounds after all. Such a beautiful place.
Smoky Mountains, so beautiful
Enjoying a backyard campfire with friends in PA
Exploring Nashville with friends
As for the life-turned-upside-down bit … We had started to come to the conclusion that Cambridge was better off waiting a year even before we left for vacation. A whole host of reasons why, and a real sense that we needed a year of rest in between intense graduate school and intense doctoral work. So we started looking for houses to rent locally, or apartments, or shacks, or anything that would allow us to stay at our church and keep up community relationships we have built over the last four years. Nothing that even remotely close to a possibility was coming up. When we left for vacation, we told ourselves we weren’t going to think about it while we were gone, not even look for anything.
That worked up until one of my friends texted me to ask if we’d found a place yet, which innocuous question ended with us being able to rent her house for the next year. We came home Friday evening and visited the house Saturday morning, and what do you know, we have a place to live next year, and it’s here, not in Cambridge.
And we are really, really good with that. Honestly. With as excited as we’ve been for LIVING IN ENGLAND HURRAH, you’d think there would be at least a few disappointed twinges, but we all just feel relieved and so at peace with this. It’s obviously what we need.
Oh! The other exciting July occurrence is that I finally, finally learned to ride a bicycle. I’m still a little wobbly and pitch off more than I like to admit, but I can ride and each time I go out I get a little stronger and a little smoother. I confess to being grateful I have another year to work at it before I have to ride to get everywhere!
So, my friends, it will be another year before this blog is posting out of England, but the adventures, I am sure, will be no less for being in MA for twelve more months. There’s always magic around the corner, you just have to have the eyes to see it.
After Carl’s graduation midway through May, the rest of the month was pretty low-key. We mostly spent the days recovering from all the graduation excitement and poking ever-so-slightly at the monster that is the logistics of our upcoming move.
Our biggest adventure after the graduation was Gracie’s eighth birthday. Eight! The kids are getting old enough to not want that much shared about them publicly (and I concur, frankly–the older they get the more fiercely I want to protect their privacy), so I won’t say too much about Gracie except that at eight, she loves art and animals, and when she grows up she wants to be an artist and own a zoo so that she can protect endangered animals and teach people how to respect them. She’s smart, funny, and an incredibly hard worker, and her favorite superhero is Supergirl.
To celebrate her birthday, we went to the zoo and saw, among other animals, the red pandas, her favorite animals (and found out that one of the pandas shares a name with her!).
The rest of the month was filled with little things: lots of rain, a friend sending books to Joy to help her manage her emotions about our upcoming move, swimming in the pond on one of our rare hot days, helping friends move out, celebrating births, trips to the library, and oh yes–I finally finished knitting Joy’s sweater I started a year and a half ago.
Writing-wise, May proved to be a good month for me, as I finally started writing down monthly goals and using that to keep track of what I was doing. Along with the mystery novella I’m planning to publish at the end of this month, I’ve managed to make progress on an upcoming short-story collection set in the Whitney & Davies world (two stories featuring brand-new characters, one story each for Maia and Len); I submitted a children’s book to several publishers, and I made (minimal) progress on editing the next W&D book.
Whew! On to June: ballet recital for the kids, visit from family, more writing, and more preparation for moving to Cambridge.
Proper May wrap-up post coming at the end of the month, but this seemed worth noting in a post all its own …
Eleven years from the time Carl started to teach himself Greek so as to better understand the Bible, the catalyst for this whole journey, four years after actually starting seminary, he has graduated with a dual MA in New Testament and Biblical Languages.
I am always the forward-looker, so it’s easy for me to say, “And now on to the PhD at Cambridge!” but I am trying to curb that tendency this weekend so as to properly enjoy and appreciate this step, the completion of this season, this accomplishment.
It’s been quite the ride.
When we arrived in Boston, Joy was almost six and Grace was four. Now they are nine and a half and almost eight. We still have the summer left before we leave the area, but this graduation really does seem like the ending of this season in our lives. It was with full hearts and the weight of four years worth of memories that we celebrated yesterday. There have been heavy burdens and many struggles along the way, but overall the memories are joyful. I am so thankful for every part of this season, the good and the hard.
And OK, yes. I’ m SO excited about the next season, too.
We went to Cambridge! And made it back again, though if it weren’t for the fact that our girls were still stateside we might not have ever left.
England was everything I’d ever dreamed it would be. I couldn’t believe how much it was like how I’d always imagined it, in fact. I kept bracing myself for it to be different, to not live up to my imaginings, but no. It was exactly as I’d dreamed.
Now, I’m guessing that if I had gone to Yorkshire I wouldn’t have found a secret garden and children playing with wild animals on the moor. Lord Peter and Harriet Vane would not be punting in Oxford. Miss Read would not be bicycling to school in the Cotswolds. I didn’t see any hobbits, nor did any cupboard doors lead me to Narnia. I did pass Platform 9 3/4 at Kings’ Cross, but it was not in between platforms 9 and 10, and was clearly a tourist trap.
I do know the difference between fiction and reality. I just like to ignore it whenever possible.
The essence of England, though, the very Englishness of it … that was there. That was real. And I loved it.
We were only in London long enough to get from plane to train to tube to train (and then the reverse coming back), and the rest of the time we spent in Cambridge. Oh, for more time, to get to Oxford, and see the sights in London, to travel the rest of the island! We made the most of our four and a half days, though. We tramped 40 miles all over Cambridge and got to know that city far better than most tourists can.
It is beautiful.
I could write pages and pages of our adventures there, but as I doubt they’d be as fascinating to others as they were to us (met with university housing! Had a cream tea! Were served tea and toast every morning by our hosts! Explored possible places to live! Walked through an ancient cemetery and saw my first European robin! Were nearly mobbed by swans looking for food! Went to Waterstones and the Cambridge University Press bookshop and couldn’t buy anything either place because I had no room in my bag!), I’ll hold back.
We can’t wait to go back. I can’t believe we’ll actually be living there for three (or maybe more, depending on how long Carl’s PhD takes) years.
Somehow the second half of January has seemed to last much longer than the first. I look at my last post and think, “wow, was that really only two weeks ago?” And yet … I’m not sure we really did that much. I think more it’s been interior stuff, lots of thinking and pondering and feeling. Life as an HSP can get exhausting sometimes, even when everything seems calm on the surface. Plus, all the turmoil in this country right now is draining. Trying to keep my candle glowing against the darkness gets harder some days than others.
We have had some lovely moments. Carl’s sister came and spent a weekend with us. She spent one afternoon playing games with the kids while he and I snuck off on a date, and the next afternoon the three of them made supper (from the kids’ cookbooks) while Carl and I went for (decaf) coffee. The rest of the time we just hung out and enjoyed being together. A lovely family time.
We went to public skating this past Friday, and the kids did great and had a blast. Especially impressive considering Joy hasn’t been on the ice since we lived in Albany, and Grace hated (with a fiery passion) her skating lessons the first winter we lived here. They’ve come a long way. And then, as we were getting ready to leave, another mom and her daughter came to skate, and it took me a few minutes, but then I recognized her from my home club. Back in Canton, NY, when we were both teens. We both live here on the North Shore now and we didn’t even know it! It was great fun to reconnect, especially since it was so unexpected.
It was also fun going out for doughnuts and hot chocolate afterward. Skating is definitely going to be a weekly activity for the rest of the season. (doughnuts, maybe not every single week.) Even Carl is thinking about getting in on the action–for the first time ever he’s contemplating getting skates so we can do this as a whole-family activity! I am delighted.
I got very excited, as usual, over the US Figure Skating Championships. This year there was a little more to get excited about than usual–Nathan Chen made history by landing FIVE QUADS in the men’s free skate. And Karen Chen (no relation) was brilliant in the ladies’. Overall, figure skating looks stronger in the US than it has in at least ten years (except for ice dance, which has been strong all along and is merely continuing the tradition of greatness). In a country racked by division and suspicion, it’s beautiful to me to see the diversity, inclusivity, and joy represented by the world of figure skating.
We had our first Family Meeting this weekend, figuring out chore allotment and allowances and basically cementing the fact that we are so not in the little kid stage of life anymore. It was surprisingly fun.
I have been continuing with my French lessons on Duolingo, finding more things about the app that frustrate me no end, but at the same time I’m progressing and getting better, so it is working. I still would hate to have gone into this without at least some prior knowledge of the language, however far back in my past. And I AM getting a proper French grammar book at some point, because Duolingo never explains the rules. As my mother and any other teacher I ever had could tell you, I need explanations.
My fountain pen arrived and I promptly fell in love and never want to use any other kind of pen, and also want to write all my stories by hand again, like I did in the ancient times of my youth before computers were a thing. Even getting my grandmother’s old electric typewriter was a red-letter day when I was younger! But yes, this pen is a joy to write with, and now Carl wants one too.
Finished Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season and found it, as usual with her books, a blend of immensely frustrating and immensely uplifting and encouraging. One thing I will say, she always makes me think. Ultimately, it has helped me recognize some of my difficulties with having a still mind, and I was able to come up with a few strategies for minimizing the constant noise in my own head, so very worth it. I’m now in the middle of re-reading Agatha Christie’s autobiography (Christmas present from my in-laws), and finding that bracing, encouraging, laugh-out-loud funny, and just wonderful. My fiction reading has been less memorable. I dutifully recorded each book, but none of them are worthy of repeating here.
Oh, and I taught the kids to knit.
And now we see what February has in store. Fingers crossed it will bring some snow …
We are (almost) halfway through January! How is the month looking for everyone else?
Here, we’ve had:
Rearranged our living room and can’t figure out why we waited 3.5 years to set it up like this.
Trip to Grandma’s house to finish off our holiday traveling/festivities.
We had snow this past weekend, enough for sledding, and by Wednesday it had all vanished. No one in this household is particularly pleased about this. I want to use my cross-country skis; the kids want to play in the snow; Carl, believe it or not, wants to shovel. Plus we all just prefer winter to be winter. Hmph.
Kids are enthusiastically participating in the Read-Aloud Revival 31 Days Challenge–they have only missed a few days of reading out loud for at least 15 minutes. Gracie, at least, usually goes longer. Joy is more these-are-the-rules-so-we-should-follow-them and so even if she’s at a really good place, she stops as soon as the timer beeps. It’s great for Gracie in building her confidence (she’s a fantastic reader but thinks she can only handle easy books) and for Joy in forcing her to slow down and process what she’s reading (she reads SO FAST that I’m certain she only takes in about 80% maximum of whatever she reads).
I finally passed the halfway point on my current draft of Magic in Disguise, the next Maia and Len book. Technically this is the first book in the Whitney & Davies series, as this is the one that really starts them off on their detecting careers together, but it is the second book about them–Magic Most Deadly, I’ve decided, really works best as a prequel when compared to how I want the rest of the series to go. Is that over-complicated? Sorry. At any rate, every step of the way with this book has been a slog, but the fog is starting to lift. I had it ready to send to my critique partner (which is when I consider a story done the same way a cake is done–all the editing and polishing I do after that is icing and decorating, but the heart of it is finished) last May, and ever since she sent it back to me I’ve been crawling on it. But I’m getting there, and it’s going to be ready for beta-ing by the end of the month, barring any unforeseen accidents like spraining an ankle or some such nonsense (rap wood).
We got back to Classical Conversations (the kids’ homeschool co-op) and back to school in general. We aren’t quite where I’d like to be yet–our morning time keeps getting started late, so we haven’t been able to work in our Shakespeare memorization this semester yet, and schoolwork keeps spilling into our free time in the afternoons–but we’re getting there. It’s always tricky settling back into our routine after winter break.
I am taking a break from refined sugar and wheat for January, in an attempt to break my body of its dependency on both. I know from experience that a little is fine, a lot wrecks me, and thanks to the holidays, I’ve been having a LOT of both. I’ve also started exercising again, something that slid away when I sprained my ankle last May (see above) and never got picked back up. So far, I’m grumpy and sad because of the diet change, but the exercising is going well.
I’ve managed to catalog each of the books I’ve read so far this month in a book journal. Whether that means I’m reading more mindfully is still up in the air.
Getting prepared for the Bible Study I’m co-leading this semester for the women in our apartment building. We’re going to be going through Philippians this semester, which should be great. I’ve discovered somewhat to my surprise that I really enjoy teaching and leading a study, and thanks to Carl, I have commentaries a-plenty at my fingertips. And I can always ask him if there’s any particularly tricky translation issues!
The only other really interesting thing that’s happened this month is that Carl finally convinced me to give Duolingo a try, and I’m diving back into French. Parts of the app really frustrate me (like when you fail a lesson because they expect you to know something they haven’t yet taught you), but overall it’s been fun. I thoroughly enjoyed taking French back in college and have always wanted to get back to it, and so now I am! I’m already wondering what language I should tackle next after this, Russian or Welsh. I desperately wanted to learn both of them in high school, and now I have a chance!
Oh, and I also got to do an impromptu mini-presentation at CC this week–all the kids have to give an oral presentation each week, and this week they got to pick a topic out of a hat. One of the drawn topics was “why are books so important,” and the tutor laughed and asked me if I wanted to take that one, so I said sure. It wasn’t anywhere near as dramatic as my library presentation last March, but it was a lot of fun and made me think how much I’d love to give a proper, adapted version of my “why stories matter” speech at a school or children’s library sometime. Add that one to my dream list!
And that is my mid-January report. Nothing tremendously spectacular, but I don’t want to look back in December and not remember anything about this month, so I’m writing it down even if it seems simple and small. It’s the little moments that add up to a life anyway.