I am in Polly Pocket hell.  Held off on them as long as I could on the say so of mothers with older girls who warned me.  That her little rubber clothes would make me swear under my breath.  That I’d find her teeny shoes everywhere and that they’d never stay on her teeny feet.  And I listened and then promptly ignored them all and let my parents give her her first Polly for her birthday and now I’m in hell.  Teeny shoe and rubber clothes hell.  And now Polly has four dogs and I swear one of them just had an accident on the carpet.  Tess and I have spent exhaustive hours imagining lives for the Pollys: one is a veterinarian, another is a ballerina and the third seems to be holding out for a career in modeling, but I’m pretty sure she’s been drinking.  No really, they even came with a teeny tiny bloody mary that sticks to their teeny tiny hands and allows them to escape for a time into a world where they are not constantly being dressed and undressed in rubber clothes and accessories like sparkly dogs on rubber leashes.

Dan has sworn never to touch one again, so as the more dextrous parent, I’ve been assigned Polly duty even though I’d much rather poke my own eyes out with sporks.  But rubber outfits and imaginary lives aside, it does afford me some pretty sweet time with my daughter who is growing up far too fast and who will one day eschew dolls in favor of only being with her friends and learning to drive.  So I’m trying to enjoy these days of rolling clothes onto minuscule dolls and playing doula to the Pretty Ponies and allowing Barbie to bathe in my tub.  It’ll end.  All good things do.  But before they leave, they give birth to other good things and I’m excited to see what those things are.  What the future holds for this  dreamer of a girl who lives in a world all her own and a million times a day throws open the door and invites me in for a visit.  I love it here.  I never want to leave.


For us, summer came in like a lamb and is going out like a lion.  I feel that.  So strongly.  Along with all the usual back to school stuff came this sudden call to pull our kids from a school we all love and throw them into the local public school.  A call we were really tempted to ignore, but haven’t.  And so I’ve cried more in the past week than in a long time.  Something both headache inducing and therapeutic.  Being obedient is one thing when it’s just about you doing what God wants.  It’s another thing entirely when obedience feels like throwing your kids under the bus.  The school they’re going to is great, so great.  And it’s where all our neighbors go and where we are being called to assimilate, but it’s not home yet.  It’s not familiar and comfortable and populated by most of the people we love.  And so I’m learning that sometime obedience looks like placing your babies in the hands of the creator who formed them and who has numbered all their days and promised to be present for every moment of them.  Sometimes obedience is letting go when your instinct is to do the opposite.  But I lost sight of that this morning at the new family open house when everything was new and scary and we didn’t know a soul and Peter was frightened.  And then walking out, sunglasses on to hide the tears, Dixie came.
Dixie asked if we were followers of Jesus.  Yes.  Yes, I whispered.  And she smiled.  And she said these things:
Jesus calls us and has called you to be a light.  One little light is just that, but if we put our lights together it’s harder to ignore and we’ll be easier to find.
23 years I’ve worked as a custodian in the public schools.  Clean all night.  Pray all morning for the kids.
I sit in the broom closet and ask God to show me a child who needs Him.  Then I pray.
23 years I’ve been a custodian, but my job isn’t about cleaning.  It’s about being a light.
As I clean the chairs I pray for the child who will sit there, that God will be present and will send His angels to encamp around the child. I’ve done it for countless children God has shown me and I’ll do it for yours.
Don’t you worry about these little people.  They are God’s lights and He will protect them, grow them, explode himself through them.  Don’t you worry.
Dixie will be watching.  Dixie’ll be praying.
This is where you’re supposed to be.  Shine here.  They need it.

So I’m stepping out on God’s promise and I’m thinking I might bring Dixie a coffee at the end of her shift and ask if there’s room in the broom closet for one more.  And I suspect I’ll cry a bit, these first weeks are going to be really tough, but there is truth that Dixie spoke: we are light.  More lights together are easier to find.  So this is me.  Being real and trying to shine and often not doing it well, but still trying.  And I’m thankful, so thankful for Dixie and for really special friends (you know who you are) who let me cry on the beach today and didn’t try to make it better because they get that sometimes obedience is just hard.  But if it leads to time in a broom closet with a Jesus followin’ custodian named Dixie, it’ll be worth everything.  Everything.


We’ve lost our first chick.  It’s the black and white Barred Rock.  The pretty one who was sickly her first night here.  The one I woke up every two hours to check on.  The one the kids all cried for and prayed over.  The one that found three children sleeping on the floor next to the brooder box, sure she was going to need them during the night.  She didn’t.  She thrived.  Until last week when we returned home from a hellacious day of traveling to find her dead on the floor of the hen house, just under the roost.  As if she’d had an aneurysm and just fell off, dead.  Plop.  Only we think she may have been egg bound which is just as it sounds and maybe the worst way I can think of to die if you’re a chicken.  Even worse than having your head cut off and running around like, well, like a chicken with your head cut off while you spray blood all over the place.  Cause that actually is how it goes down; I’ve seen it.  But she didn’t die that way.  She was egg bound.  And if a hen gets egg bound, she just dies and there is nothing you can do about it but run around the yard screaming and ripping your clothes off your body and smearing ashes on your forehead and then quietly burying her in the box your daughter’s new winter boots came in.  Ok, you might not scream or rip your clothes off or wear ashes, but if you’re a kid and it’s the first time one of your chickens have died and if you’ve already had a really long day and you’re dog tired to begin with, then you’ll at least get a bit hysterical until you realize that life goes on and death is part of it.  Then you’ll wipe your tears and ask if you can have a snack.
On another note.  I’ve finished The Passage and it’s a must read.  Forget that it’s another vampire book, it couldn’t be more different than the others.  Just get it.  You’ll thank me.  Justin, if you’re reading this, nice work.  Really nice work.


This is the grass that grows on the beach at the Up North Cabin.
The Up North Cabin isn’t ours.  But great friends of my parents (you know who you are) let us borrow it every year, usually in the winter, so we can get away.  All 23 of us.  Under one roof.  It’s great.
This is what thirteen cousins look like after a day of swimming and kayaking and general merry-making.  Thirteen.  They are best buddies.  There were no fights.  Well, maybe one or two, but they were quickly resolved and it was all forgotten in the way only children can do before they skip off to play legos on the soft moss under the trees.
This is what a little girl looks like on her fifth birthday.  You put her to bed and she’s four and then she wakes up and blam, she’s five and you’re not sure if you’re ok with it, but there’s nothing you can do really, so you hang a banner up and bake a gooey chocolate cake and then you wait until you have sec  to catch your breath before you get all sad and mushy thinking of how this same five year old girl was just a baby.
This is the kind of cake you bake for a five year old girl who loves chocolate and is obsessed with horses.  Then you all sing happy birthday to her.
This is what she’ll look like when you do the “are you one…are you two…are you three…” part.  She’ll throw her hands up in the air when you ask if she’s four, then she’ll remember that she’s five and she’ll pretend she was just stretching and something in your mother’s heart will snap and you’ll fall even deeper in love with her impish, funny, sweet self.
Her aunties (you know who you are), who adore her and know about her horse obsession will find the perfect gift.  Secret drawers, jewelry, and ponies colliding into one box of wonderment that is so so special.  Later she will be given her first riding helmet and jodhpurs (sticky pants) so she won’t slip out of the saddle when she trots at her next lesson.  They will go with these:
and will cause both of you to channel your inner Loretta Lynn and secretly wish you were the kind of person who could pull that look off.  But she is.  And she’s five.  And it happened Up North.  
Lucky girl.
This is what it looks like when you let thirteen kids decorate their own cupcakes at the party.  Three moms threw up in their own mouths then resolved to serve only vegetables for dinner.
This is two thirds of a great friendship.  The missing third is identical to the guy on the left.  No, seriously.  I’m not even sure which one this is and I’ve been his aunt for seven and a half lovely years.  But names are superfluous Up North because all the kids run in one big anonymous pack anyway and everyone has the same rules and the same bedtimes and the same great Nana and Papa chasing them around.
This is the best Nana in the world.  The Best.  She is tireless.  Dragging kids through water, jumping off kayaks, swimming to the big rock, handing out treats, rocking babies, snuggling in for Little House on the Prairie marathons, jogging up the beach to snatch a kid and make him swim with her.  And she’s pretty easy on the eyes too, no?  Poor Nana spent the first few days in bed with a nasty flu, but still managed to limp out every few hours just to make sure we were all still there and she hadn’t missed it.  Then she got better and the kids had their playmate back and us moms could sit in our chairs on the deck and shake our heads and wonder how she does it.  The Best.
This is the farm just down the road where kids can pet animals and launch squash and eat fruit.
This is what it looks like when you have to link hands with cousins to be able to pull the slingshot back far enough.  This is what it is to work together.
So is this.
This is what the best Papa ever looks like on his birthday (he’s not five).  He’ll look like this when all his grandbabies are handing him cards and rocks they’ve found on the beach and decorated with crayons.
If you know my dad you’ll understand how prophetic this is: you taught me the systems of life.  We’re putting it on his tombstone.  It’s his new tag line: Clare…teaching the systems of life…one person at a time.
This is what you get a guy who has everything.  All his favorites, ready and in one place: salted peanuts, fresh New York Times bestsellers, salt and pepper, ice cold tea and an almond joy.  Then you’ll promise yourself that you’ll call him more often and go for coffee cause that’s his favorite thing.  It’s the least you can do for a guy who has been sent to the store for tampax and moist towelettes more times than any man should and who gave away three daughters at three weddings within seven months and who would spend the rest of his life divided between sea-dooing and sitting in coffee shops talking to people about Jesus.  It’s the least you can do for a guy you haven’t lived with in fifteen years but who still makes you feel like you’re home when he hugs you.  He is a gift.
All that and he adores being with his family too.  Even though we’re loud and busy and a little messy sometimes.  He still would rather be there, telling us how it could work better another way and regaling the kids with Eagle Scout stories and popping popcorn than anywhere else.
This is what your eight year old will look like at the tail end of a vacation spent in one house with 23 people.  You’ll be stirring lunch and look over and find him daydreaming and have to take a picture because you haven’t seen him that still in days and you know the place in his head is quiet and peaceful and a place you’d love to visit if you weren’t busy stirring lunch.
This is what it’ll look like when your husband gets there after missing the first few days and you’ll be so excited to see him and to have your backup around again that you’ll feel like doing a dance but you won’t because you’d look ridiculous.  But it’s still good even if you don’t dance.
This is the Up North cabin.  You can barely see it through the trees, but it’s there.  And it’s lovely.  When you only go in the winter and then you go in the summer, you find wonderful things you never knew existed.  Like a rocky beach that is perfect for budding rock hounds and a stray mom or two.  And kayaks that every kid over six will master and declare the best water toy ever.  The lake is as clear as can be, so clear you can’t tell how deep it is, which is fun for swimming.  At the Up North Cabin in summer you can see the moss that carpets the ground between the cottage and the stairs and the million holes in the forest floor that are evidence of animals living about and you can see what the fireplace looks like without a roaring fire in it.  There are special summer pillows and summer dishes and everything is swathed in green and grey and a cerulean blue.  And if you’re lucky, like me, you can hear thirteen kids getting along with each other and playing bunk bed tag and eating tootsie rolls from Nana.  And you’ll praise God again for friends who like to share.


She was so beautiful, my cousin, floating down the aisle on her father’s arm to the man waiting for her.  And I cried.  I always do.  A few tears for the parents who surely must have warring emotions, after all, if I can barely stand to see her given away how much harder must it be for them to be the ones placing her hand in another’s?  A few tears for nostalgia and the beauty of the bride, and this one surely was one of the most beautiful.  But handfuls of tears for what she and he don’t know.  They don’t know that this relationship they’re entering into will be the hardest and best and that it’ll test all they are and shape all they will become.  They can’t anticipate the pain and joy and sadness and struggle and laughter and fun marriage holds.  If they did, they might pause.  But thank goodness for innocence or we’d have missed another chance to see a marriage launched.  And to remember how ignorant we were and to be thankful for it.  Because you can’t describe a marriage relationship any more than you can describe the color blue.  You just have to wear it and swim in it for awhile and see how it feels sifting through your fingers and then you still won’t be able to describe it but you’ll just know and you’ll be better for having known and you’ll be so thankful.

Thankful there was no advance notice on how hard it is for one selfish, sinful person to share their life with another selfish sinful person and work toward utter selflessness.  How painful it will be to work through issues that arise, and they will, even if you have a really good therapist and spend hours on your knees.  It’s still hard.  How beautiful it is to lay in a hospital bed and hold your first baby together and know that you did this thing.  Together.  And how equally beautiful to do it three more times.  How lovely to remember the time when you were in a really dark place and the other could to nothing other than rub your back and whisper, “you are safe.  you are safe.” over and over and how you fell asleep listening to that voice and became convinced that perhaps for a blink Jesus was there in flesh and moving through him.  How hard when you discover secrets the other is keeping, because we all are and when you do life together, they will come out.  Eventually.  And you wouldn’t believe it on your wedding day, but listen to me when I tell you that you’ll be thankful when they come out because truth shines light into the darkest corners and exposes secrets God never intended us to keep.  From Him.  From our other.  And you’ll move forward.
On your wedding day you can’t possibly know that you may someday have to explain divorce to your children and will fall all over yourself reassuring them that you will never let that happen.  Never.  And each time you say “never” you become more firmly resolved and something opens up in your heart and you praise God because divorce is not from Him and so it’s not a place you’re willing to go.  You’ll show them the picture in your album (silently cursing your unimaginative photographer and the heavy handed stylist who convinced you that a little rouge would really make your eyes pop) of the part when the pastor took his stole and wrapped it around your arm and the arm of your other and swore an oath that nothing would separate you.  You remind them that you fall deeper in love with them more everyday because you get to know them better and it’s the same with a mommy and a daddy.  And you’ll feel sad even having to speak this conversation and you won’t want to talk about it anymore cause it’s too yucky, but it’s important to reassure them that they can talk to you about anything even things that make you feel yucky inside.  Then you’ll kiss your other and go make popcorn and laugh about something and life will go on.  Only sweeter for the reminder of how fleeting the world is.
You can’t know until you’ve been doing it for a good long while how wonderful it feels to be totally known by another person and loved anyway.  How when you have kids you understand, really understand, for the first time the love God has for his people.  That this teeny person is someone worth dying for.  You’d do it in a heart beat.  And then you remember that this man came before and you’d do it for him too.  You maybe forget that for a while but then you remember and you fall in love all over again.  If you said all this stuff in a toast at the reception, you’d be booed and someone might even throw a tomato, but you can write it on your blog if you have one.  And writing it will make you relive the wedding and the fifteen years it’s taken you to learn a million lessons in a hundred different ways and you’ll whisper one breath prayer and it’ll go like this…”thank you” 


Whenever August creeps up, and it always does, I find myself running wild, trying to suck the marrow out of summer and cram in all the things I’ve been meaning to do.  The kind of list that has nothing to do with chores and everything to do with seeing people and swimming and eating berries and in general, ensuring that your kids, when asked by their new teachers how their summer was, will tell them it was the best.  Ever.  We’ve been doing that.  Getting to bed far too late, but not being able to help ourselves because there is still enough daylight to catch a couple more frogs or for one more swim to the deep end and back.  And so I find myself completely exhausted and snapping at the kids when they fail to fall asleep immediately in lieu of messing around in their rooms and asking for water twelve times.  And by the time I fall into bed, after restocking the beach bag again, it’s seriously minutes before the morning is heralded by Tess climbing into bed with me and doing her squirrel in a paper bag routine.  I staple my eyelids open, sniff my bra to see if I can get away with it one more day, say a quick prayer for extra patience and creativity and head off to see about breakfast for everyone.  At least the Kevins are helping with that.

This morning there was a bite by a wild mouse with ferocious teeth and a tenacious nature which precipitated a call to the pediatrician and a rabies scare.  It also led to the following conversation:
me: “Ok, so the doctors office is going to check with Dr. Meiers to see if we need to have the mouse tested for rabies.  They’ll let us know.  They’ll probably call us on the way to Costco.  Now, if I have to ask you one more time to get in the car and buckle up I will surely scream.  Oh crap the chickens are loose.  Help me boys.”
grant: “So, if they want the mouse to get tested what will they do with it after they test it?”
me: “Oh, they’ll probably kill it.”  This thrown casually over my shoulder as I took off after a particularly fast Kevin.
grant: “Noooooo.  Mom, we can’t let them kill him.  He’s so little.”
me: “Honey, he might have rabies.  RABIES.”
grant: “How would they kill him?”
me: “I don’t know.  Tiny I.V. and some sleepy medicine?  I’m sure he won’t feel a thing.”
grant: “But Walter is so cute.  And he probably has a family somewhere just waiting for him to come home.”
me: “Chase the Kevins over here and I’ll pitch em over the fence, rotten birds.  Who is Walter?”
grant: “The mouse.  And I’ll take really good care of him.”
me: “Son, we are absolutely, totally not keeping a mouse.  I can’t stand them and he’s a wild animal.  He’d be unhappy living inside.  And it would creep me out.”
grant: “Mom, you just have to be brave.  We owe Walter that.”
me: “First off, I don’t owe Walter anything.  He already gets to live in my yard and eat my chicken food and he doesn’t pay a dime for either.  Secondly, remember when I put Princess the Python around my neck five years ago at the fair?  That used up my life time allotment of courage and exempted me from ever having to do another brave thing as long as I live.”
grant: “You’re mean.”
me: “Yup.  Now get in the car.”

Turns out nothing to worry about.  The field mouse provided hours of entertainment for us-better’n tv.  And Grant’s finger is fine.  And I’m not mean anymore.  But I am tired and so sorry to have missed a date with my friend who I adore (you know who you are) but I haven’t even gotten out of my bathing suit yet and it’s after ten.  
So, if you’re trying to suck the marrow out of summer, head over to August in Ada Kid’s Fair tomorrow from 10-2 and have yourself enough gol darn fun to ensure that at the end of the day your kids will be cranky and sunburned, but will come back to life and explode with stories when your husband walks through the door.  And they’ll undoubtedly accidentally release their balloons into the stratosphere and not feel any better when you quote the first couple pages of Jamie Lee Curtis’ book about balloons.  You’ll have to remind yourself, out loud probably, not to ask the Amway people if the hot dogs are kosher or the pony ride people if their animals have been vaccinated against Equine Flu.  And you’ll watch the mom of the kid whose pitching an absolute fit with sympathy and thank God it’s not your kid only to have yours do the very same thing, only louder, an hour later.  Your baby will poop black cause she’s eating far too many blueberries and you’ll remember you used your last wipe yesterday, your bra will be totally saturated with sweat before you even leave the house and so will your undies and your daughter will have to go potty the second you get there, before you’ve even uncapped your washy washy and gotten ready.  But then your son will hold a bunny and melt before your eyes and your daughter will remind you how completely adorable she is (cause you’ll have forgotten somewhere between the port-o-let and the balloon guy) by dancing along with the ballerinas on stage.  And at the end of the day you’ll be so thankful you sacrificed yourself on the alter of nearly martyred mothers for the sheer fact that they loved it.  And you love them.  Adore them actually.


Having done a rotten job thus far of tearing through my summer reading list, I have only just turned the last page of Chris Cleve’s new novel, Little Bee and it’s something you really should get your mitts on.  Aside from being written by my new favorite Brit, Chris if you’re reading this I think you’re so talented, this fictional account of a Nigerian girl seeking asylum in the U.K. (I’d love to seek asylum there too) has such nuggets of goodness.  Hard to boil this enormous stew of good writing down into one morsel of genius, but here is my favorite from the book:
Little Bee is explaining why she doesn’t watch horror movies…
“Horror in your country is something you take a dose of to remind yourself that you are not suffering from it.”
And I was struck by the truth of that statement.  That my life is so easy, really, that I have to read about horrible things and watch documentaries on horrible situations happening to other people to remind myself that I’m not suffering from it.  That not having enough cash to buy a new couch or dreading taking all four of my kids to the grocery store or exchanging words with Dan over some trivial something or other last week are not horrors, but hallmarks of a life of glutton and ease.   I’m sorry for that.  And thankful.  So thankful.
So do yourself a favor and click on the link above which will bring you to Amazon’s page and allow them to whisk a copy to your doorstep.  Then let me know what you think.  I’ll be here.  Remembering how good I have it.