the fastest year.

Tomorrow marks one year since it all began.

On March 11th 2020, Sean stayed home from work and we watched the news. Much like the rest of the world, we exchanged “what the heck is going on” texts messages with friends, observed plans and commitments quickly be cancelled, and rushed to the store because everyone was convinced that there would be a run on flour. Sean and I sat in the kitchen, slowly sipped coffee, and stared blankly at the computer screen – watching journalists make predictions about how this new virus might kill over 2 million people in the first 6 months. It was wild. We all have our stories of “where we were” when everything changed. I will never forget the walk we went on (with the girls) that day, and all the questions they asked.

I can’t believe it’s already been a year.

It’s been the fastest year of my entire life. There have been days and weeks that felt like they were moving at the rate of molasses dripping down a tree, but even still, nothing has ever moved this fast. It almost feels like the last year disappeared over night. Our girls are taller, my jeans are tighter (thanks to all-day yoga pants and weekly cheese-plates,) and four seasons have passed. It’s surreal. It’s flown by faster than I would have predicted, had I know the level of change that was going to happen. It’s like a whirlwind that I just slowed down from – what just happened?

When I look closely at the past year, there have been so many really, really good things that have happened for our family. There have also been some hard things that we’ve watched happen. It hasn’t been a perfect year and at times there have been downright heartbreaking situations that have occurred, but I have decided not to write about those at this time. Instead I desire to reflect on the beautiful ways in which we felt the warmth of the sun and the grace of the Lord in our lives. Heartache was present, but goodness shined so clearly.

  • This year our family joined a new church. After watching church online for almost seven months, Sean and I agreed that, although we desire to do all we can to keep our fellow man safe and healthy, this routine was not tenable for our family. It was at this time that our dear friends told us about an Anglican church they attend. Although the Anglican tradition is completely different than any church we have ever attended (and resembled the Catholic church a little more than we felt comfortable with) we still decided to visit and give it a try, after reading about their doctrines of faith and values. What we ended up finding has been a treasure I can confidently say neither Sean nor myself would be able to fully articulate. A small parish, surrounded by woods and a lake, next to a cottage where we have have coffee after services – this is what we found. It is full of tradition, reverence, and history that we didn’t know we were missing. It’s been a most incredible gift to worship in a way which is so removed from what we have grown accustomed to. No flashing lights or contemporary music. No guest speakers or sermon series’. No offering baskets or videos. No youth groups or segregated classes based on age. Instead we found kneeling benches, an organ, the gospel and epistle candle, stained glass, the hymnal, the Bible, and the book that is quickly becoming one of my favorite books of all time. Anglicanism is something I’d read about in the history books but had no idea was alive and well America. While the Reformed Episcopalians are a small group, we are mighty. Our family is currently moving through confirmation and just thrilled that the Lord brought us to this place at this time. I can’t say how grateful I am that He did this work.

If you would like to learn about the denomination that we found,
you can find information here and here.

  • Our homeschool changed in several ways as well. The weekly co-op that we normally met with had to suddenly stop in March like every learning group across the country. We soldiered on – this wasn’t a great struggle for us….in the almost 8 years we’ve been doing this, the majority of our time has been spent without a committed group. I’ve always preferred it that way – we like our flexibility and the ability to work at our own pace and on our own timing. But, we loved that group – it was a hard blow to my girls who enjoyed weekly meet-ups with their friends, for the older kids who had been organizing a Shakespeare production, and for myself and the other teachers who had 8 classes pre-prepped that wouldn’t be used (I was the U.S. History teacher.) It had to happen and we adapted, but it was still disappointing. When looking at the Fall of 2020, things for the co-op were again changing. Many of the kids who were Kensington’s age were going to be attending a local private school while we had decided that we would be continuing to homeschool. A choice had to be made due to that change and also because of the continuing virus and larger gatherings. In the end, we felt led to start a smaller, weekly co-op with just one family. That choice turned out to provide us with not only a beautiful place of learning for all involved, but also a special friendship that might not have otherwise flourished so quickly and intensely. God was in the details.
  • Our family has changed. I wasn’t sure we could get closer, but we have. When you homeschool, you are always together. For better or for worse, you experience all of life as a unit, rather than as individuals. You become intimately involved with the other people under your roof and as much as this can be a challenge at times, it is truly beautiful. With the addition of Sean working from home for the past year, we have truly been navigating the waters together. The difficult moments were waded through arm in arm, and the moments of joy were experienced in tandem. It was bonding and life-changing, in small ways that weren’t visible at the time, but are obvious on this side. There will be one day when all this togetherness comes to an end, but no matter how far apart we may end up, we are irrevocably woven together because of the years, months, days that we have sojourned together.
  • We have read, watched, and listened to more books and movies than we can count. At the onset of 2020 we had finished the book series, “Little House on the Prairie” and decided to watch the made-for-tv production. We started watching one episode a night, popcorn in hand. When March hit, this became a special ritual that happened, no matter what was going on outside the walls of our home. We all looked forward to it, had our favorite episodes, and laughed/cried. It was odd how much we all depended on that one hour. We talked about it over breakfast, bought the cookbook and tried historical recipes. We even printed out paper replicas of the homes and built those one weekend. In the Fall of 2020 we finished the entire series – all nine seasons and the specials. I remember the last episode and how the screen went to black. I was sad. Not because the show was over (the last two seasons and the specials weren’t the best television ever made) but because that season of newness and expectancy was over. The show was a bright spot in an unsure time and our family will have memories for years to come. We also read some incredible read-alouds, and listened to some wonderful audiobooks that kept us entertained for hours. Books became a safe haven for our family even more than in years past – we turned to literature in the moments where it was unclear what was happening in the world.
  • Our VICTORY GARDEN and its yield was a bright spot in 2020. It was a weird coincidence that I was personally reading about WW2 when the pandemic began. All of a sudden I started hearing news reports about how vegetable seeds were sold out and how our favorite hatchery had no baby chicks to ship. Everyone was discovering the magic of growing their own food! It was a moment that has since passed but was magical while it lasted – the concept of getting outside, providing for your family, and learning to sustainably live. Our small little plot provided much food for our family and was an escape during the early months of this upside down year. It’s bizarre to think that the time has come again to get our seedlings planted under the grow-lights!
  • We became closer to our neighbors and community. By simply reaching out and offering baked goods, we forged closer relationships with multiple neighbors and made new friends that live within a mile or two of us. We’ve gathered for dinners, hayrides, and outside bonfires. It’s been wonderful.

When I look back on this past year, or read my journal entries, there are certainly many things to lament. Pain that I had witnessed loved ones endure and personal revelations I had chosen to not fully acknowledge (but needed to.) However, when the dust settles, I know that I will be extremely grateful for the way the Lord showed His kindness on our family through the simplest blessings. Through people, His earth, His gospel truth, His promises. Even in the dark, He is there. If only we should look for Him.

appendix vo. 5

This week went by so quickly. Honestly, they all do. I can’t remember the last time I said, “Is it Friday yet?!” because it just doesn’t happen. I find that the older my girls get, the faster the days, weeks, months escape me.

Here are a few things that caught my eye this week.

***

  • 300 year old UNOPENED letters found in the Netherlands? Sign me up. Bonus: they used technology to open them without actually opening them.

  • My good friend Brad wrote this piece in response to the current proliferation/misunderstanding of the term “Christian nationalism”. It’s worth reading and thinking about.

  • I’m a bit of an anglophile. Winston Churchill is one of my favorite historical figures to study, and I have a fascination with almost all things British (except Harry and Meghan. They exhaust me.) Where did “Keep Calm and Carry On” come from? This video explains. And while we are on the topic…..the next time I’m in the UK, I will for sure be visiting Barter Books. Their website is horrible, which I adore, because it signals they have no time to dedicate to web marketing. They are actually running their bookstore and thinking about books all the time! These are my people.

  • Is there a term for a person who has a coffee table but the entire thing is used as a vertical book shelf? Because that’s happening over here. Books as coffee tables, doorstops, arm rests, decoration, foot rests. Books everywhere. And we love it.

Evidence:

***

It’s a short list, but it’s good. I hope you all have a great weekend.

Rachel

a small request

I collect two things. Books and old ephemera. It’s been going on for many years and there’s no indication that my collections will slow in their growth. It’s alright though….the books are being read and the ephemera is usually found underneath tables at estate sales – costing pennies, if anything.

I used to think these collections were separate in nature, but they never were. Both reflect my attraction (and now the attraction of my girls) to something forgotten but once loved. Most of the books we collect had robust previous lives, and all of the letters, postcards, and photos that line my closets used to be the treasures of complete strangers.

But, I’m not here to rationalize my accumulation of someone’s wedding photos or the stack of letters on 1930s hotel letterhead. If you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you already think I’m a complete weirdo.

No, I’m here to make a slightly odd, but totally appropriate request of you. I’m here to humbly ask you to reconsider giving away, donating, selling, or discarding that book you were given. I’m not talking about a random paperback copy of “Twilight” that you picked up at the local library sale.

I mean the graduation present from your Aunt Susan. She bought you a copy of, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go! and she wrote a special message on the front page with the date and signed her name. I mean the copy of a book that was very special to your grandparent in the 40s and they ordered it weeks in advance for your birthday. You think it is a bit antiquated, but they inked a poem inside the cover were so excited to give it to you.

I understand that we can’t keep everything, I really do. But I also understand that a person who is going to hand-pick a book, just for you, and then take time to write a message, date it, and sign their name is the kind of person that thoughtfully planned the gift – it meant something to them and they hoped it would mean something to you. That alone is worth giving the book a chance and cherishing it.

We are living in a time when writing anything aside from a text or email is rare. Keep those books that were designated especially for you. They are precious.

In the meantime, the girls and I will be over here, coaming the shelves of junk sales and used books stores. Peering inside every cover, hoping to rescue a forgotten or abandoned group of words. Written lovingly and with great care. We will take them home and give them the attention they really do deserve.

13

My eldest, Kensington, turned 13 today.

I have moments of sadness about this and other moments that skate by unbothered because Kensington is the type of kid that came out of the womb feeling much older than she actually was. There are plenty of times in the last few months when I’ve said to Sean, “I can’t believe she’s going to be a teenager,” to which he replied, “I can. I feel like she’s been 20 for 10 years now.”

She’s always been a bit more mature than she ought to be. Not in a bad way, but in a, “were you ever a child?” way. We tease that she’s an old soul and a bit like your favorite granny – she fancies an evening on the couch by the fire….reading or watching a British baking show. Likely with a plate of something delicious and a cat not too far away.

She’s the best type of old soul. She’s innocent and true and she laughs loudly and doesn’t care what anyone says about her ratty socks or oversized sweatshirt. Not in an aloof way, but in the way that we all hope to be. In a self-assured way. In a way where you’re certain she is settled into who she is and who she might become.

She turned 13 today and I feel melancholy. Not because I feel old – I don’t – but because I feel young and I yet I know I’m getting older and if the past 20 years are any indicator, time is going to continue flying by. I don’t want it to. I’m so happy for where I am. With who I am with. Doing what I am doing. I don’t want the years to fly by and for it to be over suddenly.

But, of course, I can’t do anything about that and I know that all the words in the world won’t change the fact that time is coming for me.

As quickly as she turned 13 (and it was a blink of an eye) she will turn 30. She will turn 50. I will continue to get older and the wrinkles will continue to appear. Sean will continue growing grey. We will both continue to moan about aching bones.

I met Sean when I was one year older than Kensington is now. It’s almost been 26 years since I met him and while that’s a common story for so many who have gone before us, it’s still a marvel to me. It’s such a good story and such a good life and she’s such a good kid.

She’s 13. It’s been a beautiful gift being her parents for this really quick roller coaster ride. If I could slow down the clock for the next few years I would, but I can’t.

So I’ll just hang on and enjoy the ride while it lasts.

appendix vo. 4

This week, for the first time in what felt like forever, we could see the roads and the sun came out. Of course, that’s hyperbole. It’s only been about a month or so that we’ve had consistently gloomy, rainy, snowy weather. I actually love the gloom and generally I’m happiest when it’s raining. However, in the last year the sunshine and breeze have been an antiseptic for all that ails. On Wednesday of this week, it hit 63 degrees, the snow was finally melted, and we went for a walk. We had gone on snowy treks, done some sledding, and romped through our woods in the past few months, but this felt revolutionary. I think I stopped a half dozen times and shouted to the girls, “DOESN’T THIS FEEL AMAZING?!” as the breeze lifted the hair off my shoulders. They looked at me and laughed, but I know they got it. It *did* feel amazing.

When you have seasons that truly differ from each others, you are able to re-fall in love with their emergence each year. The snow makes you die for the blooms of spring and the hot summer humidity makes you die for the snow. It’s a recycled yearning each year. Our friend Jake was talking the other day about how he doesn’t want to wish away any season too quickly. He said, “I want to get so sick of winter that I’m even more excited about spring and summer.” I agree. Don’t wish it away – sit in it, enjoy it, be angry at it a little, go back to loving it. It will be over soon and you will wish for some of it back. It will make you love what’s coming even more.

***

I wish I had a long list of interesting things to share this week, but we were knee deep in schoolwork the past few days and I didn’t do as much data collection. I will share one piece of news-worthy information.

Our friend Ryan had his book, “When Harry Became Sally” (written 3 years ago) pulled from Amazon (and their platforms including Audible/Kindle) this week. This book discusses the rise in popularity of the transgender movement in our country. It does so with grace, compassion, integrity, and scholarly data. Of course, that is not enough to ward off the powers of the censorship gods, and Amazon has yet to give any explanation to Ryan or his publishers as to why it is no longer available. You can find a great summary of what’s happening here.

I’ve held off writing about my strongly-held political and cultural beliefs on this blog (primarily because time is limited and it’s hard to write long-form about these topics with two kiddos asking me for help on their math homework) but the cultural moment we are in is fraught and we simply can’t fall asleep at the wheel. I hope to write more on this in the future.

In the meantime, please consider buying a copy of Ryan’s book directly from the publisher or from Barnes and Noble. It’s an important read and for believers, I think the issues of gender and sexual identity are ones that we need to be especially aware of and educated about – both pertaining to what the culture is saying and what the Lord declares.

***

I hope you have a restful weekend. My eldest daughter turns 13 tomorrow and I’m still trying to work out how I feel about having a teenager. It’s beautiful and a bit heartbreaking.

Rachel

remember Christian soul

Sean found this short passage while reading one evening. As he shared the words, I knew that if our family committed them to memory, it would be a treasure that each of us would carry forever. A simple, yet powerful reminder of our duty as believers.

We recite it each morning before any toast or bacon is consumed and most of the time I feel the tears surfacing before the last line is uttered. It will never get old and will forever be etched on my heart. A clarion call.

Remember Christian Soul
That today and every day you have
God to glorify.
Jesus to imitate.
Salvation to work out with fear and trembling.
A body to use rightly.
Sins to repent.
Virtues to acquire.
Hell to avoid.
Heaven to gain.
Eternity to hold in mind.
Time to profit by.
Neighbors to serve.
The world to enjoy.
Creation to use rightly.
Slights to endure patiently.
Kindnesses to offer willingly.
Justice to strive for.
Temptations to overcome.
Death perhaps to suffer.
In all things, God’s love to sustain you.

St. Augustine of Hippo

appendix vo.3

Another week has gone by? How is that possible? I’ve heard so many people say that they feel this past year has dragged, but I feel like it’s gone by in a flash. The kids are taller, the animals are bigger, my joints are achy-er, and I feel like summer just ended. At any rate, the weekend is upon us again and here are a few things I wanted to share.

***

  • For anyone who has posed for a photo in a red phone booth in the UK…..this one of for you. Nostalgia and relics of the past make my heart the warmest. They also make me the most melancholy due to their inevitable vanishing.
  • If you’re like me, you want your children to be aware of the news of the world without tuning into the rancor and extremely biased journalism found on most networks. We’ve been apologists for WORLD News Group for years and have thoroughly enjoyed their most recent creation: WORLD Watch. Daily news from a Biblical worldview. We watch their 10-minute daily video with breakfast each morning (targeted towards kids) and our girls absolutely love it – great information presented by kind journalists. Well worth the yearly subscription.
  • I simply can not explain to you how badly I want one of these. I am not a crafty gal by nature, but I might make time to work on this. Now to pick a book theme to create. The wardrobe peering into Narnia? Or maybe a window gaze into Kathleen Kelly’s bookshop?
  • If I knew you wouldn’t think me too macabre, I’d confide in you that I have a slight interest in real-life CSI and the people who work within its scope. Couple that with an adoration for all things miniature and you have the story of the formidable Frances Glessner Lee. If you don’t know about her, start here. I’d also recommend this podcast episode. Lee was a woman who took murder investigations to a new level by creating miniature crime scenes in order for officers to hone their skills. She completely revolutionized the field of forensics. You can take it a step further and order this book which details her life story alongside beautiful photos of her work. I had long wanted it and my mother surprised me on my 40th birthday. Like I said, don’t judge me too harshly.
  • This short documentary on the life of Thomas Sowell is a great watch. If you love him, you’ll love him more. If you don’t already know about him, you’ll quickly become a fan.
  • I’d be remised if I didn’t mention the weather situation happening all over our country. We’ve had temperatures as low as -6 since we have moved to Virginia (and it was only that bad one day) and the thought of being without heat, water, propane, food during those times is hard to conceptualize. If you have ability to do so, please head here and give. Let’s keep all of these people in our prayers each and every day.

***

It’s gloomy here and the fire is lit. We have no plans tomorrow and even if we did, we likely couldn’t make it, seeing as today’s sun didn’t shine long enough to defrost the ice layer on our property. I’m hoping to get my weekly homeschool plans finished in the morning and spend a few hours working on a family project which I’m hoping to share with you next week. Happy Weekend, everyone!

Rachel

sleet + Bunyan

There are books that change your life all at one time and there are books that change it incrementally and consistently. Each time you pick it up, something new is revealed. Better still is when the revelation sickens you because it displays your own inadequacies, mistakes, depravity, weakness, and ultimately your need for salvation.

I have found many books to be life-changing, both in small and large ways. I’ve only found a handful of books that, when opened every couple years, make a refreshed but just-as-powerful impact. These books are treasures which I am deeply grateful for.

This morning our farm welcomed freezing temperatures and a disappointing forecast. We were told we would find ourselves under 6 – 10 inches of snow, and yet we watched ice and sleet pour down heavily – making our porches (and driveway) veritable ice skating rinks. We had sledding planned but inside we stayed. And what a perfect day to light a fire (I tend to think *any* day is a perfect day for a fire, come to think of it,) and read. Truth be told, most of our days are spent reading, but within the last year, reading has become an even more cherished and regular activity. We already had reading as a central tenant of our educational philosophy, but somehow it became even more (to borrow a word from the current cultural lexicon) “essential.”

The world is rotting. I’m not a pessimist, I promise. It is. As Christians, we know that Earth is wasting away, but there are times and seasons when it seems to be in a more acute state of decline. We are in one of these times. We have been for quite awhile. I remember having similar feelings in 2010 but I ushered them to their own mental compartment – I had a toddler and a newborn and we had just bought a new home. It was easy to ignore my sinking feelings. But, here I am again…..and the feelings has been rushing back in the last two years or so. There is a level of decay in our culture, our families, our government, our schools, our communities, that is unlike anything in our history and that stays with me. Most importantly, because my husband and I have the task of raising and guiding three precious daughters. We desire them to choose truth over evil, and the Lord over worldly desires. I’m not sure I can explain the burden on my heart when I think of how immense that task and responsibility is. And so, it makes it all the more important to surround them with the good, the true, and the beautiful – always guiding them back to Him and His promises. Even if the world stayed in its current state when my little birds are leaving the nest, they’d have the cards stacked against them. We all know that things will have darkened even further in the next decade…..and so, I pray. I pray, use just about every moment to build up their character through the words of the Savior, and…..read.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned the wonder of books that will walk alongside you time after time after time. Recently I began one of these books with the girls. If I’m honest, I wondered if it might disappoint me by not “making sense” to my girls as much as I’d like it to. I was nervous some of the rich symbolism might fly straight over their heads. Perhaps they wouldn’t see how powerful the allegorical prose truly is. I would have finally found a season when this book didn’t work its magic.

I was, of course, wrong.

It’s hard to put into words how books make us feel, but if I could commend a book to you, at this present moment, it would be, without equivocation, “The Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan. The story of “Christian” and his journey toward the “Celestial City” is all of us. I dare you to read it and not see yourself on almost every single page.

It is a most worthy book and one that I know will grab you by the throat and heart – it will make you feel, and lament, and recognize yourself. Although written in 1678, all still holds true. This, of course, shouldn’t be surprising as nothing is new under the sun. And yet, I’m amazed at the accuracy Bunyan managed. He pinpoints the sinful vices and roadblocks that ensnare the believer so perfectly. It makes sense that it has never gone out of print.

This is likely the shortest/least professional book recommendation you’ll ever read, because that wasn’t really my intent with this post. I was just staring out the window, watching sleet pouring off our roof, and thought….”There’s got to be other Christians out there that haven’t read this book. I want them to read it.”

And so here I am.

In a dark time like the one we are living in…..Christ first. Always.

And then books.

Books to inform, books to challenge, books to laugh, books to comfort, books to find beauty when the world feels ugly.

***

Edited to add: If you have younger children, or you just want a softer/shorter introduction to this wonderful story, I would start here. It’s illustrations are lovely and it is as close to perfect as a re-telling can be.

the beginning

Today begins the season of Lent. While this isn’t a Lenten prayer but rather one of general thanksgiving, it’s beauty struck me while reciting it last Sunday.

For anyone who partakes in the next 40 days as a time of repentance and remembrance, I wish you peace, clarity, and overwhelming gratitude. God is indeed gracious to us all.

The Book of Common Prayer, Morning Prayer: A General Thanksgiving.

“Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and lovingkindness to us, and to all men. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

appendix vo.2 (already?)

As it pertains to blogging, clearly I’m still acquiring my sea legs. Wasn’t I just typing out last week’s appendix? I believe I’m supposed to write things in between? My only defense is that this week flew by and we had two small snow storms – leaving my house covered in gloves and boots. Plans shifted, things were cancelled, and schooling had to get done.

So, here we are. I hope to write in the following weeks at a more consistent quip. I have so many things on my mind (My adventures documenting my ancestral line! Politics! A highly recommended television show! A must-read book! Thoughts on motherhood and my first-born turning 13!,) but the older I get, the slower the processor in my brain moves and by the time I sit down with laptop shining…the ideas can often seem overwhelming and the words evaporate. I’m told this is a bi-product of aging. I choose to ignore that idea altogether.

At any rate, here are a few things that I’ve enjoyed this week that I thought you might as well.

***

  • Norman Rockwell is one of my favorite modern artists. This look into his creative process was fascinating.

  • One of Kensington’s vocabulary words this week was, “laconic” which worked perfectly when our friend (and her professor of Ancient Western Civ in our homeschool co-op) was teaching about a famous correspondence sent from Philip of Macedon to Sparta. King Philip had overtaken southern Greece and had his eye on other key city-states, so he warned Sparta of his intentions: “You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.

    To which the Spartan ephors simply responded: “If.” If that’s not a reminder of how, often times, less words can actually be “more”….I don’t know what is.

  • Another intriguing story of once-lost and now-found film. These types of stories will never grow old to me. Make sure you visit the original website as well – I continue to hope for resolution for this mystery.
  • 45 hours of Jane Austen. This is on constant rotation in our home – Kensington loves listening while she bakes. It’s such a great recording.
  • A few of you have messaged and asked how “Barn Cat” is doing and I’m happy to report that he’s still living the high-life. Here he is in all his lazy glory:

***

I’m off to start school and order take out for dinner – it’s Chinese New Year and we are celebrating! I promise to pop in more routinely in the upcoming days! Happy Weekend, everyone!

Rachel