2015 Year-in-review.

Well hello there, 2016.

   Like always, you snuck right up on us while our guard was down.  We had hardly pushed back from the Thanksgiving table with a contended sigh and then suddenly....there you were.  Demanding that we change our calendars and take down our Christmas decor, and get organized and make resolutions and clear the slate before the fresh start of January, and our heads are still spinning.

   But before you get all of the spotlight, 2016, we need to let 2015 have it's moment in the sun.  2015 was a good one. "One for the history books" as we like to say, but aren't they all?  So let's take a  moment, and quickly, QUICKLY, review the year of our Lord, 2015.  Shall we?


   We rang in the new year with lots of family, sunshine, sand, ocean waves, and football games that made our hearts soar to impossibly hopeful heights, only to be crushed later on.

   We visited friends in Seattle to play games, eat seafood, and watch the aforementioned, soul-crushing football game. 

   We traveled to Iowa for my friend Lindsay's wedding, and I was able to briefly meet up with some old school friends from my childhood.  My girls were shy and it took a while for them to warm up, but it was so wonderful to touch base with everyone and see them with their darling little ones.


   After the whirlwind of January, it was nice to have a slower February.  We had a fancy dinner at home with these two for Valentine's Day, and my sister's family stayed with us for a weekend while they were in the process of moving.


   March held birthday parties, car shopping, and the magic of a baby bump, continuing to grow.  Little did I know at this point that I held a SON inside of me! 


  We celebrated our 6th anniversary with a little getaway to the coast, sans kiddos! 

   One beautiful Sunday after church we took off for the falls to do some hiking as a family.  You can see the trail going behind the waterfall in the picture.  Oregon never ceases to surprise me with beauty.


  We wanted to squeeze in one last family vacation before baby came, so in May we went to Sun river with some friends.  It was such a wonderful time.  

  But no work and all play makes Jack a dull boy so.....we resort to child labor sometimes.  Here they are dutifully helping spread wood chips underneath the play structure.  This month held a lot of finishing up house projects and getting ready for baby!


  June was of course, all about baby.  We waited, and waited, and waited some more, as I went overdue again, as expected.  But we weren't about to miss out on all the fun while waiting for Jr!  So we attended the Smucker reunion at Drift Creek camp, right over my due date.  For those of you that may not know, Drift Creek is about 3 hours away from home, up winding mountain roads, with little-to-no cell service.  Sounds like the perfect place to be at night when your water breaks, right?!?  But as I expected, that didn't happen.  And we made it home safe and sound, and still pregnant.  

  Our sweet Charlotte turned 3, and baby brother was still not here.  He was now 4 days overdue.  We kept things simple and celebrated her birthday with a breakfast date with daddy, and friends at the park.  The kids played in the water and we had cupcakes and it turned out to be such a great celebration, and a great distraction as well.

I had trouble staying patient while waiting around, so we stayed busy.  For the next week, we picked berries, attended a birthday party and a tea party, and went on a hike with the Smuckers (I opted out of the actual hiking and sat in the shade. I remember feeling like an achy whale).

   June was drawing to a close, and I almost feared for a moment that my baby due on June 14 would actually stretch into JULY, when he decided to come.  On the 11th day past his due date, and mere HOURS before he was scheduled to be induced, he chose to make his way into the world.  And it was, for the third time, one of the most amazing, incredible, magical, PAINFUL, miraculous moments of my life.  Our son was HERE.


   Two days after William was born our Charlotte was a flower girl and it broke my heart to have to miss watching her float down that aisle.  She was perfect.  Randy sent me pictures and I was able to be all emotional and hormonal in the comfort of my home while snuggling my newborn.  It turned out pretty well after all.

   Our first picture as a family of five.  The girls were positively smitten with him.  

   July was a month of slowing down and staying indoors, instead of parades and fireworks and BBQs.  But I wouldn't trade a thing.  


  Baby's first trip to the coast in August was a smashing success, if you don't count the epic diaper blowout resulting in semi-nakedness because I did NOT have extra clothes on hand.  Clothes for HIM, that is.  Other than that, the trip was lovely.  

A friend taught me how to sew baby leggings and I had so much fun making some things for William. 

  We attended a wedding, spent some time with family, and celebrated my golden birthday, 30 on the 30th.


   We finished up some home projects in September, including our master bedroom.  There are STILL a few things to be done, but I am loving the fireplace and floor that Randy put in.  

 Football season began, and hopes were high again.  I should warn my girls though...."they'll break ya heart, kid."

 This month also brought juice-making and canning.  I put up salsa, pizza sauce, applesauce, corn, , green beans.  strawberry jam, grape juice and berries.  Our grapes did SO well, and I got around 50 quarts.  BUT.  It was a hot, sticky, grueling process that I'd rather not dwell on.  However, every time we sit down to Little House on the Prairie and I make popcorn and open a jar of juice....I am grateful.


     October held trips to the farmer's market, pumpkin patch, doctor visits, busy days and lots of coffee.  The girls started ballet, and my entire family was out for a visit to the coast.  It was such a fun, fun, wonderful month.


   I love the way the weather shifts in the fall in Oregon.  It gets all moody and misty and melodramatic, as if it is rather emotional about the year drawing to a close.  November held teaching Jocelyn's age group of children's church on Sundays, and celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends.  I tried to do some preparations for Christmas, although I didn't do nearly enough, early enough.  


  Our firstborn Jocelyn turned 5 this December.  FIVE.  I still am not quite sure how that can be.  She is growing up into quite the lady, and looked forward to her birthday date with Daddy with GREAT anticipation.  I threw a Frozen-themed party for her and in spite of the close-to-Christmas craziness, it all turned out.  I have a lot of pictures from that day, so I'll just have to save them for a future post. But for now, here's one of the cake. 

   We were all together with Randy's immediate family at the coast for the days leading up to Christmas, and it was such a special treat to be able to have vacationed at the coast with BOTH sides of our family this year.  My cup is full.  

   And on Christmas Day, our little William a.k.a "Bubba" turned 6 months old.  What a gift he is.  These year-in-a-nutshell updates are always slightly terrifying because they serve to show me how truly vaporous our lives are.  They are a mist, like the ocean spray.  Here one moment and gone the next.  2015 has FLOWN by, and 2016 is now here.  

   Well that is all for now.  I am not even going to go back over it because I am short on time, so you'll have to forgive me any grave errors.  I'd love to hear from you!  What were some of your highlights of 2015, or resolutions for 2016? 


Graber vacation, Part 1.

   The time spent with my family in October already feels so very, long ago.  But what a wonderful time it was!  I told someone afterward that I think maybe it was one of the best times we have all had together, EVER.  And I truly believe the secret was in getting this house together.  At one point plans were to just get a few motel rooms and spend time together that way, and I don't know about you, but the thought of entertaining two preschoolers and a baby in a motel room/lobby for several days had me in a cold sweat.  But we ended up getting this house in a secluded area out at the coast, and it was PERFECT.

   And I have a ridiculous amount of photos, but no worries, I certainly will not break the internet by putting them all in one post.  And so this will just have to be a 2 or 3-parter.

   My ENTIRE family was out here, and when you're one of seven children with two married, with kids, and living thousands of miles from the rest of them, having us all in one place is a rare and special occurrence indeed.  And once again, I will reiterate that this is the best way to do it because when we all visit Iowa, there are a million other things competing for attention.  People have jobs and social activities and youth group and I have friends to meet for coffee, and it all just pulls you in different directions.   The same is somewhat true when they come out here, as there are so many other things vying for our attention, and even for some of my siblings, who have friends out here of their own now.

   And all of that makes it so hard to just slow down and just BE together.  But when you're in a house at the coast, there is really nothing else to do but be together.  Eat food, make a fire, play games, walk along the beach.  It forced us all to slow down, set aside our busy-ness, and enjoy each other.  And it was just what we needed.

 There are things I absolutely love about being part of a big family and things I don't....one thing I love, is that there are so many different, unique personalities when we get together and it keeps things  so interesting and fun.  One thing I don't like so much, is that it can be hard to spend a quality amount of time with each and every one because...well, there's just so many of us.  But I think the pros outweigh the cons, although I don't really have anything else to compare it to. :)

I love, love, love this man.

   Even with the moving thousands of miles from home and all that a change like that entails, I will always be grateful for him.  You know that quote, "Home is wherever I'm with you"?  Well cheesy or not, it's the truth.
    I have wept my share of tears over the seeming "injustice" of so many living near all of their family when I cannot.  But when I stop stewing in self-pity I realize that in many ways, it has actually been a benefit.  I hate to admit it, but it's true.  It has forced me to rely on him more than on my family.  It has caused me to turn to him for relationship.  It has reminded me that this world is not my home, I'm just passing through.  And I think a "nomad mentality" is healthy.  We aren't really supposed to get too comfortable here anyway.

   One day we all went down to the docks to do a little crabbing.  We didn't catch anything big enough to keep, but that in no way kept us from having a wonderful time.  My brother made a video of some of our experiences, and so you can check out his youtube channel if you need a laugh or two.  He has an altar ego named Russell Sprouts, an outdoor adventurer who will basically tell you everything you need to know about my brother Shawn.  This one, is a personal fave.

  Highlight of the trip, hands down, was the time we all gathered in the living room to sing songs and share a little about ourselves and what was going on in our lives.  
   I froze up when it was my turn, which was so uncharacteristic of me.  I like to talk.  But when my turn came, I honestly couldn't think of anything to share.  Like, what is even going on in my life?  Having babies?  Cooking and cleaning?  A good deal at Old Navy?

 But then my older sister shared so beautifully and was so open and honest about what God was doing in her life in spite of a very difficult year, that I felt ashamed.  How am I so short-sighted that I cannot see His goodness and His grace and that he is MOVING in my life?  Just because nothing "big" seems to be happening right now? Am I really that shallow?  If she can find meaning and purpose in her days in the midst of trial, then certainly I can find purpose in mine.

   God dished out an extra helping of musical ability to my siblings.  And I love that when we're all together, instruments come out and songs infiltrate the silence as naturally as conversation.  It is such a precious gift, and one I don't take for granted.  Although of course I didn't always feel that way.

   Sunday mornings, about once a month, Mom would DRAG us all to the local nursing home to sing together.  I wanted to go to church and see my friends.  We would still make it in time for the sermon, but we would miss Sunday school (which happened first thing) and that was my favorite part.  I always cringed inside when it was time to go again and we drug our feet and complained something fierce but you know what?  I always ended up having a lot of fun, in spite of myself.  And even though I sang "Blessed Assurance" and "Sweet Hour of Prayer" so many times I thought I would be ok if I never heard them again in my life....those songs are a little extra sweet to me now.  WheneverI sing one of those old hymns I am transported back to that stuffy, too-warm room where we packed in beside each other and I heard the sweet melodies of my family's voices swirling around me.

   Those times spent together in song taught us harmonies.  Gave us an ear for music.  And today, each of my siblings can sing, and usually several parts as well.  And I will never forget what it meant to some of those older people.  I remember their hands most clearly....always soft and shaking, grasping ours with surprising strength and thanking us with tears in their eyes.  I saw them so often I began to feel like I knew some of them personally.  And each time, we left feeling like we were the ones being blessed, rather than the ones doing the blessing.

   My teenage self thought I was doing mom countless favors by stomping into the van and skulking into the nursing home.  And of course it's only now, years later, that it's crystal clear that she was the one doing ME all the favors.


Christmas is coming.

   I've found the longer you go without doing something, the harder it becomes to start up again.  Like a long hiatus from the gym and that first grueling set of cardio and weights.  You drag your feet, wasting time doing other things and distracting yourself with other interests.  You try not to think too much about it, because it makes you feel guilty for not just getting it over with already.  And when you finally do face the music?  Everything feels off.  Your muscles and bones creak and groan in protest, and the next morning your legs insist on staying in bed for another day or two.  Everything comes clumsily and awkwardly, and your sweat drops and breath huffs and you kind of can't wait to be done 10 seconds after you begin.

So it is with writing.

   I find it harder and harder to return to this space.  With the time lapsing in between posts only serving to alienate me farther from what used to flow so naturally.  I could just shut it down but I  suppose that is hard for me to do too...and so for now I guess it is slightly easier to just ignore it, than take any drastic measures against it.

   Much like the couple that slowly drifts apart, as opposed to the couple with the loud, messy divorce.  In one scenario, emotions are raw and words are flung, everything is loud and angry and makes a big scene.   In the other scenario, no one even knows for sure what happened or when it started...they just stopped "showing up" every day.  And that is how I feel about this blog.

   I suppose there are some very good reasons for it.  Having a baby and being busy raising children would, I suppose, be a good enough explanation for anyone as to why I don't blog anymore.  But I know myself better than that.  And I know when I truly "don't have time" and when I am just hiding.  And lately, it's been more the latter.

   Lately I have felt such a burning drive and desire to accomplish something.  And I don't mean stay on top of the laundry or cook a mean pot of chili.  I mean REALLY accomplish something.  Something that makes me feel like all of the gears and gizmos in my psyche are whirring in harmony and I'm actually using all of my God-given gifts and strengths, and it all matters or makes a difference somehow.  The only problem, I don't know what that IS.

   And so I find myself searching, and reaching, and coming up with fistfuls of air.  So I withdraw from things that become a little bit painful, like writing.  Which used to feel like an outlet for me at one time, but now feels more like a reminder of something that's not really going anywhere.   And I'm not writing this for pity.  Please, just, no.  I'm writing this because I need to, and that's all.

   This year I am not involved in our church's Christmas pageant, and I underestimated how hard that would be for me to step back from.  It was, after all, only once a year, but it was at least 3 months out of the year that I participated in, and thoroughly enjoyed, something I felt like I really could actually DO.  It was glorious, being part of something like that.  I drank it up, and it was chicken broth for my soul.  It energized me and fed me and I poured all of myself back out into it, giving my time and energy and thought and emotion and absolutely living for those moments.

  But this year, that's all different.  And it feels as if a part of me has died.  And I know that sounds dramatic, (it is DRAMA, after all) but it's true.  But I suppose all unused gifts feel that way if they lie dormant long enough.  Still and silent on the shelf, gathering dust and rust from neglect.

  It has been hard to get in the Christmas spirit this year.  And I feel silly and childish admitting that, and at the same time, I feel like I can understand that basic human concept that Christmas just isn't Christmas without certain things.  I always thought it was a little ridiculous that all some people care about during Christmas is the presents or the shopping or the lights, when Christmas is really so so so much more.  But now I understand.  I know how it feels to feel like if something isn't the way it has been for a long time, and isn't the way you'd like for it to be, than Christmas can't really come.

  And of course the moment I think it, I feel crushing guilt. Guilt for trying to teach my children what Christmas is "really all about" when so often in my own life, I act as if I don't even know.  Or guilt that somewhere, parents are facing a Christmas without a child that they've lost, or a child is facing Christmas without a home.  Who am I to not get in the Christmas spirit when others have had to face so, SO much more?

   But it can feel that way none-the-less.  So I guess for a while now I have felt my creative gifts go on a hiatus.  Not with any extreme, showy, display of emotion, but just a quiet packing of their bags, and leaving without saying goodbye.  And I think they'll be back, or at least I hope so, but in the meantime it feels different without them around.  I feel different.

   My dreaming hasn't gone on hiatus though.  Thank goodness I still have her.  And so I find myself, often thinking to myself in writing form, much like blogging on an invisible screen, typing keys in the air.  The words just never make it to an actual page.

   And perhaps the hiatus has been for the best, because it has made me feel alone, which has caused me to reach out to a couple of friends until I found someone who is wanting to do something with her creative gifts too.   I think something really amazing could come out of our creative collaboration, and if it does, I guess it will all have been worth it.  Actually, even if it doesn't it will have been worth it, because it will have made me TRY again.

   I was able to sing Oh Holy Night with a group on Sunday, and it felt so good to sing again that I could have cried.  And like all Christmas songs, that particular one can get almost mind-numbingly familiar, and so it is easy to miss the magic of the words....but this time, something stood out to me.

O holy night the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
  And even though I've heard those words a thousand times, it was like hearing them for the first time.  I realized that I too, had been laying in sin and error, pining.  Pining around for a hope or a purpose or a fulfillment outside of Him.  And it isn't until Jesus shows up, that our soul can feel worthy of something.  But when He does?  Hope.  Our weary heart can rejoice again.  And boy, have I felt weary.
And just around the corner?  A glorious sunrise signals a brand-new day. 

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