Friday, June 17, 2022

Explore: Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail

One of our recent excursions took us to the Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail. We chose the Afton entrance.

I packed our lunch and we headed over.

There were slight misgivings when we reached the parking lot only to discover there were (1) no picnic tables and (2) no modern bathrooms and (3) the porta potties were perched right on the edge of the parking lot.

We ate standing outside the van, fashioning our sandwiches on the running board and trying to be as far NOT downwind of the porta potties as possible.

Then we cleaned up our lunch, I grabbed a bag of snacks, and we headed down the trail.


There were wild black raspberries growing on the side of the trail, as well as vetch and viper's bugloss.

In the distance, there was a vocal cow making the sort of vehement protests I imagine she makes when her calf has just come in from a wet pasture and carelessly skipped across the freshly mopped floor. "Do you hear that goose?" asked Rosie (3), with wide eyes.

"That is a cow," said Ethan.

"No, that is a goose. Gooses honk. That is a goose," she said with a knowing nod. All of her nods are knowing, and there is no convincing her ever that she may be incorrect about something.

Rosie with Mimi and Lily

As we neared the entrance to the tunnel, various children ran ahead. Flashlight beams inundated and then dissipated as the children set off in twos and threes.

River (5), while the others forge ahead

It took about twenty minutes to walk all the way through the tunnel. (Well, on average. Some of the children were MUCH faster and had to wait for those of us following certain young ones who talked the entire time to hear the echoes and had to be reminded repeatedly to "keep walking, please.")

We were not a quiet group.

When we reached the other side, we gathered just outside the tunnel and split candy necklaces and sour gummies.

Then we headed back. 

River (5) and Gideon (12). I have no idea what she is doing here.

Ada (10) and Salem (12)

Edee (15) and Eve (7)

Mimi (17) and Lily (18)

Gideon and River

I was pleasantly surprised by the family's reaction to the walk. Several of the older girls stopped to take pictures of the trailside flowers, the older boys chauffeured those who wanted to race ahead, and the Littles vacillated between (i) being dramatic about how tired their legs were and about how so many rocks were in their shoes, which precipitated their being piggy-backed and (ii) demanding put me down right now! at which point they would race ahead three steps, stand stock still, say something loudly to hear the echo, and notice rocks in their shoes.

The tunnel was cool, the outside air was hot, and when we got home we unpacked the picnic bags and crashed in assorted positions around the house.


Wednesday, June 15, 2022


I'm not one who typically figures out a "Word of the Year," you know, the one word that will remind you of your focus for the coming year: Yes, or Hope, or Trust (never my words). There were a few January 1's where I tried that, but I inevitably either forgot what the word was by mid-January or I forgot until the following January that I had even picked out a word.

However, this is the second summer that I have picked out a Word of the Summer. Summer is such an evasive season to me as a mother. As a child, it was this long-awaited holiday that left me deliciously exhausted and sunburnt and bug-bitten and chomping at the bit to start school.

As a mother, it is this long-awaited holiday that leaves me exhausted and sunburnt and bug-bitten and frantically dodging the planning and inevitability of school.

I always assume there will be these long, lazy days of heat and pool towels drying and popsicles and afternoon movies in front of the air conditioner.

And those elements are there: the heat and the drying pool towels and the popsicles and the air-conditioned movies. But they are squeezed in between getting various children to their orthodontist appointments or mowing jobs or babysitting jobs or driving lessons or summer camps or airports or college orientations. And always looming are the school subjects that probably should have been finished or maybe should have been started or definitely should have been checked (here's looking at you, Math).

And so a couple of summers ago, I decided to pick a focus for the summer that was actually achievable. Something that, no matter what, if I had been intentional, I could look back on the summer and say, "Yes, in the midst of the busyness of summer, THAT did happen." 

And this summer, I picked "Explore."

Ethan and I have always loved exploring, just poking around different places and seeing what crawls out. When the children were all little, the easiest way to be together as a family was to load everyone in the van and just DRIVE. No GPS, no planned destination, no timeline. Sometimes we would get an audiobook from the library, always someone would fuss a bit, and usually some would nap.

Long-suffering Ben with Edee and Mimi in 2009ish

Sometimes we would take a boat, sometimes we would take a fishing pole, but mostly we would just take coffees, sippy cups, diapers, and snacks. 

A grubby Jon-Jon with a live Maverick in 2009ish

Jon-Jon, Abey, and Maverick in 2009ish

Ethan, Ben, and Maverick fishing in 2009ish

On the boat with Papa, circa 2009

But as they have gotten older and more numerous and more opinionated, those times have dwindled off. Our gathering in the van has been limited to the drive to and from church twice a Sunday.

And I hate that.

Which is why recent Monday (Ethan's day off) mornings have found me packing sandwiches and chips and cookies and watermelon, hollering, "Did everyone go potty?" and grabbing my camera to head out to the van.

It all started a few Sundays back when I was contemplating Ben being gone all summer, Lily ready to start college, and two more needing to get their driver's licenses. I started down the path of "Woe is me this stage of life stinks am I really this old," a path that typically ends with me listening morosely to Cowboy Junkies and longing for the days I didn't have to do Pilates just to move without needing to be oiled and could swing without having to vomit.

Sweet Susie, Lily, Ben (Mr. Admissions Counselor), and Ethan. See why I feel old?

I mean, it just wasn't a good place to be. I have meals to get on and laundry to do! 

Also, I am supremely blessed. I have a husband whom I love madly, children that exasperate me in the most wonderful, hilarious ways, and two adult children who outshine me totally and make me so proud I could burst.

Ada (10) and Zebby (8), not the adult children

So on Monday morning I shoved paper plates and paper towels and assorted foods at the children, announced, "Put these in the van! We are going for a picnic!" and we headed off.

It wasn't any kind of grandiose destination. We drove about fifteen minutes away to familiar territory, had a picnic, and went for a walk.

And it was magical.

You know the moment I realized it was magical? It was when I bit into my sandwich, thought, I taste bug spray, and was suddenly transported to many summer meals of my childhood. This just tastes exactly right. I didn't know this is what I needed to taste, but this is it.

We weren't far away and we weren't anywhere foreign, but we were exploring. We were turning over rocks and peeking under leaves and scampering further down the trail to catch another glimpse of the ducklings. 

And even the unexpected seasoning of bug spray served to jolt me from my plain picnic fare and transport me to carefree summers of long ago.

I absolutely loved it. And right then I decided that we WILL explore this summer. Even in the midst of all the comings and goings and goodbye-ing and hello-ing, we will turn over different metaphorical rocks and see what crawls out.

And when I really am old and you come to visit me and we head out to the porch for a picnic, you make the sandwiches and I'll bring the bug spray.

Friday, April 9, 2021


This week we had to say goodbye to our faithful canine companion, Maverick. He was thirteen (fourteen?), and he was ours for twelve years. Most of our children knew him for all of their lives, and all of our children knew him for most of their lives.

Which did make things difficult.

He never barked, never bit, never growled at children. He had toddlers bite him and run over his tail, foreign chihuahuas threaten his very existence, several sets of cats claim his home as theirs, and seven babies interrupt the nightly routine. The only time we heard him cry was when he had to be separated from us, enclosed in our bedroom so that friends' children who were afraid of dogs would come into our house. Even when he had cancer and a permanent wound on the bottom of his paw that had to be dressed twice daily, he never growled nor lunged at anyone. He was the best dog I have ever known.

Which did make things even more difficult.

Our children have grieved in different ways, which has been eye-opening and somehow lovely. One daughter remained in the hub of our house, stoically taking on cleaning the kitchen, quietly scrubbing dishes and counters and moving chairs to sweep under the table. As the younger children ran through the kitchen, demanding popsicles and "something to do," she noiselessly provided frozen treats and crafts. Another daughter preferred to be more invisible, thoroughly cleaning the room she shares with six sisters, framing the article from the Helena, Montana newspaper the shelter had published about Maverick the week before we got him. (We had not seen that article when we found Maverick at the shelter, and a church member cut it out and gave it to us after they found out we had adopted him.) Two of our girls decided to go sit, quietly but together, in the sun at the top of our property.

One son, while camping in our yard with his brothers, woke crying in the middle of the night and came inside to spend the rest of the night on the couch. All of our boys -- without a word from us -- straightened up the yard, pulled out the many push mowers we have accumulated, and pieced together enough working ones to mow our acre for the first time this season.

And the three little girls (5, 4, and 2) went continually among each group, relentlessly asking questions and making everyone laugh and groan through tears: "Do you want to see the picture I drew of Maverick dead and everyone crying?"

And River (4) perfectly summed up the situation: "Well, Maverick's dead. But we can still have chicken nuggets and French fries!"

This week would have been easier if we had never gotten a dog. Only, I never would have known it was any easier of a week. And we never would have known the utter delight of a freshly bathed dog (after he has dried), a good romp in the grass, a faithful, quiet, furry friend when we are sad, and reckless joy in deep snow. We would not have gotten to watch our then-18 year old son rise to the occasion and decide to brush an old dog's teeth nightly in order to save them, or our current 15-year old son learn to dress an old dog's wounds, with never a stubborn refusal. I watched this dog grow old with my children, and I have watched my children mature with this dog.

He was a good dog, and we loved him.


(Side note: I will say that something I had not anticipated was that with Maverick's passing, we are now a cat and gerbil family. I absolutely detest that.)

Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Queen of Stall

Our resident 2-year old is the only person in this house with her very own room, and I'm not sure she fully appreciates that situation. In fact, I'm quite sure she doesn't.

Every night, without fail, she comes up with a million little things she really needs or something very important we forgot to do.

"I need a diffent baby doll."

"You dinn't switch the books in my bed."

"I haffa go potty."

"We dinn't pway."

"I dinn't sing 'Hot Cwoss Buns'" (which, I must admit, is one of my favorites because she does a mash-up with "Sing Hallelujah to the Lord" and sings, "Hot cwoss buns to da Yord").

"I dinn't have a special dwink."

Rosie (2) and River (4)

"Ben's in Fwoda! 
"I dinn't kiss Papa."
"I dinn't kiss Lily."
"I dinn't kiss Abey."
"I dinn't kiss Mimi."
"I dinn't kiss Edee."
"I dinn't kiss Jon-Jon."
"I dinn't kiss Dideon
"I dinn't kiss Sayum
"I dinn't kiss Ada."
"I dinn't kiss Zebby."
"I dinn't kiss Eve."
"I dinn't kiss Rivah

"You dinn't tell me what's foe bumfick [breakfast]."

It doesn't matter how many times we remind her that this is the last thing she may request, or how many issues we try to conquer beforehand (All kisses given? Check. Baby doll of the day? Check. New books in bed? Check), there is always one last thing.

Last night's was, "I need socks! My feet are FWOZEN."

River (4), Eve (5), and Rosie (2)

At prayer meeting last night, someone asked for prayer for a niece, stating, "Young mothers are just so tired."

I wanted to quip back, "You should see the old mothers!"

(There is a video imbedded in this post. If you received this in your email, you might have to click over to see it.)

Monday, May 25, 2020


This past Saturday, May 23, 2020, we had our first high school graduate. 

Benjamin (18), sporting his graduation shirt
The news abounds with reports of high school seniors who are suffering due to graduation plans being chucked this year. 

In this house, we have seen nothing of that senior. This senior could not be more thrilled with the lack of pomp and circumstance. This was exactly the kind of graduation party he would have ordered, were I the kind of mother who would have taken his order. Like father, like son, that one is.

Even when I asked him what he would like for a celebratory dinner, he answered, "Meh, whatever's fine. We had a really good meal last Sunday. That's enough."

I cannot imagine an easier student for a harried, distracted, perpetually exhausted teacher with a million loads of laundry to load holler after someone to load and a million meals to fix and half a million non-school-related books calling her name.

He has been so easy. He enjoys learning and does so quickly and independently, reads much faster and comprehends far more than I, and has the dignity and respect to never mention these things.

But I know them. And very, very frequently, I thank God for them.

When I told him he *had* to let me take his picture on his official Graduation Day, he humored me but only under duress.

Then the Little Girls came outside, fresh from their Saturday evening baths, and suddenly the sparkle came back into his eyes.

Ben in his more natural stance: arms full

This summer, he heads to Florida to attend Reformation Bible College. He has already met his apartment-mates online, and we are thrilled with the future that waits for him.

And the future that waits for us! It is such a thrilling, exhilarating thing to watch the Lord's work, in spite of ours, in our children. Daily we marvel at His goodness. Daily we groan and laugh and wonder at how He moves and performs His will.

When I grew a little somber and mused to Ethan, "We have a college student!!!" Ethan quickly grounded me by saying,

"We have ONE."

Which does, you know, put things into perspective.

My work is not done.

So we will keep on doing the dishes and washing the clothes and threatening to meet any school-related eye-rolling and deep sighing with trash cans that need to be washed out. And we will keep cheering Ben on, and grumbling over his puns, and updating him on the Little Girl Antics.

Back to work, Ben.

You, and me, and them.

Rosie, getting the bubble mowing done

Saturday, May 23, 2020


Ethan has been preaching through Genesis. He was preaching about Noah and the ark and how long they were on the ark, and he mentioned the amount of patience and waiting on the Lord that took. 

(Eve, 4, waiting for us to leave for church)
I had just read James that week, and these two portions were being brought to mind: 

"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:2-4).


"Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand" (James 5:7-8).

River (3) came to wait with her.
I was struck with the thought that the Christian is never in a holding pattern. We are never to be stagnant spiritually. It's never, "When such-and-such happens, then I will really be able to work on this spiritual issue..." As Rachel Jankovic says in her book You Who: "You are always in the midst of your most important spiritual work." There is never a time when we are not able to do the work God has for us. Every second we are fully able (because HE is fully able to work in us!) to carry out our spiritual duties. James makes it so clear that patience is far from some sterile waiting room of "waiting until I can start moving again -- waiting until thus-and-such happens and I can really live out my doctrine -- etc." I am never "just sitting on this boat, nothing happening to me spiritually because I can't get off this boat...." Patience is active. Patience has a work -- the Lord uses patience to work in me. It is *not* doing nothing. And what am I  to do while being patient? Count it all joy! Establish my heart! 

The "Little Girls," as we call them, waiting for Papa to put in a window bird feeder (River, Rose [20 mos.], and Eve)

This was such an eye-opener for me! Now I view this time of "waiting" for --- for whatever it is that is coming, with my marching orders. OK. So I give thanks for this time. We are told to count it all joy to have to have patience. I determine not to complain. My children have been getting civics lessons, as I think part of our current problem in the United States is that people do not understand our form of government (Hello, Governors, we are not a tyranny, and you are not lawmakers). We have been talking about the rule of law, what that means, and what are godly responses when you live in a constitutional republic and the authorities that God has placed above you are breaking that rule of law. 

The Bible commands me to rejoice. And the Lord has graciously made that so easy. I mean, LOOK at this gang (Ben [18], Mimi [14], Edee [13])!

We have been discussing what if people were as concerned about the possibility of getting and spreading sin as they are about getting and spreading COVID-19? Are we diligent in keeping our hearts clean, in staying away from thoughts and deeds that will spread lies and deception and death? Do we rejoice in reading God's Word, in talking about Him constantly to each other, in fellowshipping with the saints, because we know that herein is life and health and peace? Do we remember the armor of the Lord as fervently as people remember their masks?

Our Resident 12yo, Jon-Jon, constantly reminds us to social-distance. But it doesn't work, as evidenced in the above "Jon-Jon Sandwich": Abe (14), Jon-Jon (12), Gideon (10).

Regardless of what economic/medical statements will be made, I want to look back on this time and remember the faithfulness of the Lord to my family. I want to remember it as a time when we searched His Word, rejoiced in His provisions to us, and noted His goodness in the midst of the folly of men. That is the work that patience can do, and that is so life-giving to me.

Rosie and Edee

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Rose Sharon

Rose Sharon Allison
September 21, 2018
12:33 PM
8 lbs., 12 oz.

Yes, she is almost five months old. And yes, I know this is the first mention I've made of her on here. But it's only because she is so very wonderful and cuddly and a wee bit demanding and fits into this family perfectly. Which is to say, my days are very, very, very, very full.

In the best sort of way, of course!

Her actual birth was … forgettable, to be frank. And, might I add, that is the best kind of birth to have. I was not traumatized from it, there were no lingering complications, and I cannot for the life of me remember the details of the birth as much as I can remember the obligatory post-birth Outback Steakhouse steak, which we devoured in the hospital room with the REAL SILVERWARE we remembered to pack from the house! (Eating an Outback steak with a plastic fork is a definite downer.)

I do remember the day before, however. My water had broken the night before, on Wednesday. Thursday I announced, "Today we walk! We will have this baby!" and Ethan and I left the Older Children in charge with plenty to eat and went walking. We started at the Star Trail, and then walked the Verona Trail, and then we headed down the road to try BBQ at a campground we had heard recommended from a man in line at another BBQ joint. This is the campground with a million pet rabbits who ate the pieces of bun I threw at them. This is also the campground where our GPS took leave of its senses.

After the brief lunch, we headed up the mountains, past a freshly dead timber rattlesnake, to hike part of the Appalachian Trail, which we did.

There were a few overnight hikers who were excitedly starting their hikes from our trail, and we quickly moved to the side while they laughed and sang out and hiked their packs higher on their backs. I hiked my belly up and declared, "This is probably enough of this" and turned back to head back to the car. It took us about two minutes to make it back to the parking lot. Does that count as hiking? It is probably more correct to say I set foot on the Appalachian Trail that day.

Then we walked around the Humpback Rocks Farm and imagined trying to do things with our family way back when -- laundry washing and drying, raising all our own food, making all our own hard cider. My life was looking decidedly easier.

It was a beautiful day. It was a wonderful, long, leisurely, special date. It will be forever implanted (I hope) in my mind -- it is rare that I "live in the moment" -- but I was so fully aware of the fact that our family was about to change, and my normal pre-birth fears and sense of overwhelm were being successfully suppressed by the knowledge that this, too, would pass, and a wonderful family awaited this newest one and would do above and beyond what I needed.

We continued to find little places to pull over and admire God's creation, marveling at the many butterflies and the vulture airing its wings on a rock overlooking the ranges of mountains. It was spectacular. And I kept thinking, "God made all of this! It all declares His glory! And so, Little One, will you! And that is just incredible."

And the next day, when the contractions were hard and strong, we headed to the hospital. Of course, there was not a single contraction the whole way there, so we turned around in the parking lot and headed to the Star Trail to walk some more. We walked, and then we headed to Aldi's for easy foods for the kids and then drove home, and then we decided to wait until the regularly scheduled doctor's appointment at 11:30. At the appointment, the doctor and nurse were making bets as to how far along I was. The doctor said a 6, the nurse said a 4, and Ethan said an 8. He was closest, of course. I was at a 9, so they sent me over to the hospital; and I honestly remember very little after that, until hearing, "It's a girl!"

Ethan had put his order in for another girl. She fits the bill beautifully. She twists my hair around her fists while she nurses, and she squawks her opinions loudly, and she has the best whole-face smile in the world.

She has these gorgeous, dark, intense brown eyes and looks exactly like Lily (15) did at that age. It's so wonderful to hold a mini-Lily! My two flower-girls -- Lily and Rose -- most certainly belong together.

And so do all the rest of them. The Lord has most certainly hedged me behind and before, and laid His hand upon me (Ps. 139:5). And I am so very thankful, and my days are so very full, and it is all so very, very good.
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