The Blueberry House

We moved into our home on a warm summer’s day in June 2017. My two older boys and I came directly from Togo at the 34 week travel cutoff for pregnant women. My daughter would be born late that July. My husband stayed in West Africa to finish up his work at a little hospital there. The memories from those early weeks are treasures.

We were overwhelmed by the beauty around our new home. We barely knew it before we moved in, having bought it on a wintertime visit home to see family during our time in Africa. We felt a wave of peace wash over us when we toured it. Seeing it in the summer with my boys was an entirely different experience. The hills were rolling and green and the lupines and peonies skirted our back deck. Our woods were expansive and filled with little trails, a stream and bridges. Perhaps the most fantastic feature of all was the 1+ acres of old variety ripening blueberry bushes that comprised our front yard.

The powder blue Jack n Jill bathroom, floral pink valances and wallpaper borders, and burnt orange shag carpet in the house were timestamps that gave clues to which members of their large family lived where and when aesthetic updates took place. It was dated, yes, but timeless in it’s quality and layout. The boys were thrilled with the carpet that dressed the stairs. They took giant moving boxes and slid down them time and again as I navigated cooking in the new kitchen. Everything felt fresh and clean and special after our 2 years in Togo (we had a lovely home in Togo but minimal belongings and everything was very, very well worn).

I remember how incredibly quiet everything felt those first days in our new house. In Africa, we could easily see 20 visitors per day. Our children woke up to the sound of motos and people greeting one another on their way to work early in the morning. They went to sleep to frog songs and people chatting in the distance. Here, it was utterly silent and days would pass before we had any visitors. We filled those 3 weeks waiting for their dad with family, hosting simple waffle brunches and checking out the town’s 4th of July parade. We lingered over meals and imagined what their dad was doing in Africa and what their baby sister would be like. What a delight it was to discover the best firework show in town could be seen from our back deck! We ate ice cream and baked cookies. Inevitably, they would end up sleeping in my bed. Once I did transition them to their own room, I would peer in nightly to see their sweet 3 and not quite 2 year old faces peacefully resting in the spacious room enjoyed by another family’s kids for many years prior. I vividly remember my boys snuggled into their little twin beds, side by side in a room decorated with pink floral wallpaper border. The flood lights shone out their window and lit the woods where owls hooted and deer made their beds among fallen trees. It was a magical place for two boys who never lived near woods. What sweet days we had together.

Bryant made it to our new home and the joy he felt seemed to jump out of his skin. He couldn’t wait to explore his new land and harvest the blueberries. He arrived just in time for their peak. Just two weeks later, our sweet girl was born. She was promptly snuggled into a baby wrap where she slept as her dad spent countless hours picking blueberries to freeze. The richness of that time, of new life in our home, the pleasures of fresh food from our land, the delights of wooded hikes, catching frogs and stomping in creeks, cannot be understated.

Time sped up greatly that first year. Our daughter arrived and my husband started his new job. Another little baby boy came and my toddlers turned into pre-school then elementary kids. Life moves quickly when you are loving widely and deeply engaged.

Now, we’re in the process of moving. We sold our house after much prayer and reflection, countless conversations about the implications for our family. Our house has become a home in every sense of the word. A shelter, a place we share 3 meals a day, my workplace, the territory for my children’s adventures and their school. We’ve renovated it, planted gardens, hosted countless meals, and built daily fires in the winter. Our home has been everything I hoped it would be and more.

Create on the mountain

(my daughter exploring our blueberry field; imaged by Michelle Lyerly)

Why is there an internal pushback to being creative? The amount of goodness available to capture each day is practically endless, for each day is filled to the brim if only I’ll notice it. In a moment, everything inside of me cries to declare the beauty that I see: the child’s face warming with laughter, the way the lupine cuttings are perfectly lopsided in my secondhand vase, the pure delight in drowning a slice of bread in the best butter I can afford, or the crunch of the snow underfoot as my family treks through a neighbor’s woods in search of animal tracks. That very same moment shares the nudge to reject the telling; who cares anyway? And someone likely did it better.

 For years I’ve heard, and ignored, a voice saying “write, Rachel, write…”. Since childhood there has been little doubt in my mind that I would be a writer, a calling even more clear to me than that of being a wife, mother. But the ever-present trance of the “nothing is new under the song” stole my creative impulses time and again. It was only recently that I fully imagined the tragedy of the woman who succumbs to the destiny of stopping her own creative flow. I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s non-fiction book “Big Magic” wherein she describes the unintended impact success had on the life of Harper Lee. Surely, Harper Lee had more good ideas than the two she published. But ah, success – it’s lofty peaks are hard to descend in quest for fresh waters of inspiration. It is frightening to start over again, to brush oneself off and re-engage a challenge. A few weeks after the image of Harper Lee was planted in my mind, I rented the Sound of Music for my children to enjoy on a cold December afternoon. The ring of Julie Andrew’s faultless voice purified the air and sent our hearts heavenward. Oh, kingdom come! That voice is like an artisanal spring flowing through the air and upon hearing it one recalls the most beautiful, innocent and soft moments of childhood. But what if she never sang? What a loss we would never have known. How thankful I am that Julie Andrews took her own risk and sang for us all.

I have so many musings that may or may not impact the reader. But how am I to know if I never try? And what will become of me if I simply store everything inside this brain? This often sleep deprived and hungry brain that is as quick to dump my hastily memorized grocery list as it is to dump the epiphany that struck when I saw the moon or held my child.

So, here we go…I started a blog at 22 and I begin again nearly 14 years later. Older, wiser, keenly aware that blogs are as antiquated as the wrinkles on this thoughtful brow. But who cares, really, for creativity is the goal and the medium is just that.

Favorite Books for Young Children

One of my favorite discoveries since starting on the homeschool path is the word “twaddle”. It was coined by Charlotte Mason, renowned 18th century educator, who used the word to describe books that are the literary equivalent to sugary candy. They might be enjoyable in the moment but ultimately leave the reader wanting. They’re uninspired and a dime a dozen. I can only imagine what she’d think of the modern child’s literary landscape! A worthy book has a storyline and characters that move your soul. For young children’s books, wonderful illustrations are a key element for sparking their imagination.

I depend heavily on the recommendations of trusted booklist curators to select children’s books. We’re fortunate to have a large book exchange in our small town which allows me to recycle twaddle in exchange for more worthwhile books. I spend very little on books by using Thrift Book, Goodwill, and our local book exchange. You’ll be amazed at the treasures you can find secondhand.

Below are some of the most loved books in our household.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

This is a longstanding favorite of mine that was written the year I was born (1985). It is a sweet story of a woman, Miss Rumphius, who spreads beauty in the world by planting flowers. Upon traveling the world and fulfilling her dreams she invests her time spreading beauty in her seaside community by planting lupine seeds. The message is simple and lovely.

Avocado Baby

This adorable book was second hand and given to me by my mother. It’s a silly story of a baby who acquires superhuman strength from eating avocados. The illustrations are terrific. My boys thinks it’s hilarious.

Pigs Love Potatoes

This was another second hand gift. The illustrations in this book are as charming as can be with sweet hues of yellow, rose and green. I would live in the little pig’s cottage if I could. This is a counting story and is as sweet and simple as it gets — mama pig makes potatoes and adds more and more to provide for her pig family and their neighbors.

Inch by Inch

A clever worm escapes his death by bird using his wits. The illustrations are entrancing and the fable is thought provoking without being preachy. My boys enjoy this very much.

Baby Clothes

It’s an overcast late spring Sunday. The skies are rumbling reminding my stomach that it’s hungry while it tries to keep apace with my nursling feeding demands. My children are mostly resting. Windows open, birds singing, and a chainsaw hums in a distant holler. I hear cars slowly traveling the gravel road and I am calm. These quiet moments are like precious jewels now that our house is so full with offspring.

I spent the morning transitioning clothes from winter to summer. Freezing weather consistently creeps into May here in the mountains, so gloves, mittens, down jackets all must be kept accessible until Mother’s Day. What a glorious day when we can celebrate moms, plant our flowers, and disrobe our heavy winter garb.

Sorting clothes is an emotional task, entirely different from sorting toys. I delight in minimizing the clutter and our house of missing pieces, broken parts. But getting rid of baby clothes? Let the tears commence. I bagged some precious baby items from my little girl, L, to pass on to a friend and niece. Time is irrevocable. As much as I want to go back and pick that baby up in those sweet pink clothes again, I cannot. Would I redo the moments? What was I even like, I can hardly remember.

From Seedlings to a Farm

The fall is here with its strong, cold winds and the change of leaves. I started two fires in our fireplace this week, which required more trial than I’d like to admit. I’m enjoying the frequency of soups on our menu rotation and the promise that our sometimes harried schedule will melt into quiet evenings hiding from the cold at home.

Summer brought a lot of beauty and we expended great energy. Early spring was a difficult one for me, and I found myself frequenting a friend’s little greenhouse to start seeds and enjoy the humid warmth of the atmosphere. (Oh, it was so therapeutic. Have you tried working in a greenhouse early spring? Or walking barefoot in the dirt. It’s instantly calming.). The seed start therapy turned into a greenhouse replete with all varieties of hardy summer annuals. The only option was to till some land and plant about 1/4 acre of flowers.

Bryant, my partner in arms, completed a superhuman task of tilling beds, building raised beds, building a fence and helping me plant all of these seedlings. It’s amazing to reflect on how much he accomplished. We spent the first half of the summer reminding ourselves that flowers won’t blossom until late July at such high elevation. I admit, there were many days I doubted if anything good would transpire. There are so many factors that could go wrong: the soil, transplant shock, poor irrigation, the wrong fertilizer, and so on. By August we swam in flowers. September was heavenly. We arranged for some wedding events, gave away many, sold some at the farmers’ market, and as other aspects of life grew busier, we simply put a “u-pick” payment box near the garden gate.

It was a rewarding endeavor–and mostly because I had such an enthusiastic and engaged partner on the project. I look forward to what next spring and summer will bring….