I have more feelings than words these days but I want to document some of our doings while we've got the fab five together. We had a great roadtrip a couple of weeks ago on a Monday holiday:

Picnic before the hike

Picnic before the hike

Fizroy Falls

Fizroy Falls

The fam. (We need to work on our group posing configuration, clearly. Also, our hat game is strong. We need to convert Lauren, though.)

The fam. (We need to work on our group posing configuration, clearly. Also, our hat game is strong. We need to convert Lauren, though.)

Hampden Bridge in Kangaroo Valley. Oldest wooden suspension bridge in Australia.

Hampden Bridge in Kangaroo Valley. Oldest wooden suspension bridge in Australia.

We found a cool river/swimming hole beneath the bridge (the view downstream). 

We found a cool river/swimming hole beneath the bridge (the view downstream). 

Stone skipping contest (the view upstream, from the same spot as above)

Stone skipping contest (the view upstream, from the same spot as above)

G and I tried lawn bowls, which was great fun--more like that winter sport curling than bowling. It was such a great group game--we will be back with our kids for sure.

Sam and I attended academic conferences (aka parent-student-teacher conference) at his school, Aussie style. Which is not unlike speed dating. In case you're wondering (spoiler alert), it turns out his teachers are big Sam fans. 

[Which reminds me, I think amidst my parents' visit and M's graduation I neglected to document here for posterity that Sam was named Dux at the end of the school year. It was a great surprise and we were really happy for him and with him. Here's the photo of the big auditorium screen:]

Yesterday I got up early and drove to attend the Merimbula Branch Conference, which meant I got to watch the rising sun bathe the countryside. It was breathtaking. (But, sadly, no photo does it justice, especially not a blurry one from the car. Also, I forgot to take a picture of seaside Merimbula, where the branch building looks out over the ocean! Next time.) Also, I love my calling. 

Hey, I have a dissertation defense date! (Well a range of dates, awaiting confirmation from one of the committee members. Somewhere between 18-22 June.) Things are getting real up in here. I hired undergrad coders here to do some work for me and they're almost done, which means the next phase of analysis and writing is about to commence. (Big, restorative, calming breaths and Stuart Smalley affirmations.)

Typical scenes around here lately: 

  • Sam doing homework with headphones on,
  • our five NCAA brackets spread around the kitchen counter, 
  • Lauren Skypeing/FBing with friends & catching up on movies/shows,
  • Maddy in and out: data entry job, debate coaching, running/bike riding,
  • laundry piled up on the foosball table waiting to be folded, 
  • a happy mix of scriptures, magazines, Easter decorations, calligraphy supplies, notebooks, research articles, and textbooks on the kitchen table
  • outside, the edges of the leaves are hinting at reds and oranges and the cockatoos are back en masse, holding conventions of hundreds on the field across from our house. 

Home again, home again jiggity jig

She's home! The eaglet has landed! We're so delighted to have Lauren here. Our full house is complete--three of a kind and a pair. Every once in a while I do a mental happy dance: Five plates on the table! Lauren's laugh drifting in from the other room! A full car for road trips! Sibling dance offs and song sharing. I love knowing that all of my chicks are sleeping under our roof. I know it's fleeting and will be increasingly rare so I'm just basking in it as much as possible. My people are humoring me here; truthfully I have to stop myself from shouting out a Walton-style roll call from my bed every night.

It was a long trip. She left from Macon, drove to the Atlanta airport, flew to Dallas and had a six-hour layover there. That plane was late leaving for Australia, which meant she missed her connection in Sydney. And then the long customs process meant that she missed her rescheduled plane, too. Finally, three hours after her scheduled arrival (and after 30+ hours of travel for her!) we were jumping up and down and watching her walk through those glass doors. In fact, we were all so excited to get to Lauren that we completely forgot we were videotaping so there's some initial footage of her coming down the escalator and then a good few minutes of quality footage of the floor and random fabric and shoulders while we welcomed her home, ha!

I think Lauren's first words when she saw us were "you're huge!" (To Sam, whew!)

I think Lauren's first words when she saw us were "you're huge!" (To Sam, whew!)

The growth she's experienced is unmistakable. She's had soul deepening, life changing experiences. It's been a happy time exchanging 18 months worth of stories and experiences and embarrassing/spiritual/learning moments.  In the interest of full disclosure though, she's been surprised at how weird and hard these first days have felt. This transition time is no joke! She really loved serving people full time and being a missionary and so she's simultaneously mourning its loss while celebrating its completion. And those habits and rules she abided by are not easy to shake off, particularly the highly scheduled routine and the big no-no rules (e.g., no alone time nor dating, for starters). More than once while doing regular, appropriately "civilian" things she's said, bewildered, "I kind of feel guilty to be doing this!"  

Watching Lauren navigate this process I sometimes think of this image: Remember those rides at Lagoon that would speed us through a dim, unfamiliar, herky jerky route filled with twists and turns? Just when we got accustomed to the ride there would be a loud honk and the car would emerge through loud doors into the bright light, suddenly yanking us to a whiplash stop. Blinking in the brightness we would fumble for our seatbelts and stumble out, thrilled, bewildered, and slightly in shock. There can be a similar mission-->home whiplash effect, I think.

Or, better, this: When my kids used to wake up from naps they were not the chirpy, straight-back-to-the-day types. There was a period I always called "hatching from the nap" where they were semi-dazed and seemed like they had one foot still back in their dreams. I would read to them or talk quietly and rub their little backs until they were ready to emerge from the nap world and fully re-engage. That's what this period feels like--sitting with her through a delicious, slightly disoriented time between the memory-rich mission time and the rest of her life.  

The rest of her life starts soon. In the next few weeks (probably mid April) she'll be heading back to a new apartment, new to-be-found job, classes, etc. at university. She's weighing different adjustments to her major since she's refined her goals and interests over the last year and a half.

In the meantime, we're lapping up this family time--okay, I'm just shamelessly picking up the bowl and slurping all I can. Life is full of change and adjustment but so, so good.  

This is love to me

It's kind of hard to believe it's been 25 years today since that snowy day in Logan, Utah, when these two kids launched into the crazy glorious challenging leap-of-faith venture of marriage. The snow had closed the canyon by the end of our reception so we were stranded in the valley and delayed in leaving on our honeymoon. Instead, we stayed in our newly rented tiny tiny basement apartment on 4th North and the next morning we went back to my parents' house and ate leftover reception cream puffs with my parents, siblings, aunts and uncles and cousins and opened presents, complete with mildly raucous comments from the spectators. Love and happiness was all around and we felt it.

I've written often about G and will write more, I'm sure, but today I want to borrow other writers' words that I've underlined lately. As my kids get closer to marriage age I think as much about them on my anniversary as I do about my own marriage: what I hope for them, how I hope they find a partnership that brings them as much joy as mine has. In that spirit, here are a couple of passages I think beautifully sum up what I hope that most intimate, vulnerable of relationships will be for them--it's about as far away from the however-many-shades culture as you can get but it's worth waiting for and hoping for and working for, the room you build together within a marriage:

"The room of love is another world. You go there wearing no watch, watching no clock. It is the world without end, so small that two people can hold it in their arms, and yet it is bigger than worlds on worlds, for it contains the longing of all things to be together, and to be at rest together. You come together to the day's end, weary and sore, troubled and afraid. You take it all in your arms, it goes away, and there you are where giving and taking are the same, and you live a little while entirely in a gift. The words have all been said, all permissions given, and you are free in the place that is the two of you together. What could be more heavenly than to have desire and satisfaction in the same room? If you want to know why even in telling of trouble and sorrow I am giving thanks, this is why." (Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter).

"It would be again like the coming of the rhymes in a song, a different song, this one, a long song, the rhymes sometimes wide apart, but the rhymes would come. The rhymes came. But you may have a long journey to travel to meet somebody in the innermost inwardness and sweetness of that room. You can't get there just by wanting to, or just because the night falls. The meeting is prepared in the long day, in the work of years, in the keeping of faith, in kindness." (Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter).

"There’s no vocabulary for love within a family, love that’s lived in but not looked at, love within the light of which all else is seen, love within which all other love finds speech.  This love is silent." (T. S. Eliot)

Title stolen from this favorite love song from The Light in the Piazza, which I loved from the moment I saw at its Lincoln Center debut. Swoon.

Dear Kathleen

“I don’t want you to miss out on the world, is all” is what you said when you gave me the money. Two thousand one hundred ninety four dollars, written on a green check in your beautiful loopy shaky handwriting. Pay to the order of Miss Tess Petersen. Your hand went to your buttoned collar at your throat and then to your handkerchief tucked in your sleeve at your wrist. 

“You shouldn’t miss the chance to go.” 

I nodded and you placed your hand on my arm and leaned forward to whisper, glancing toward the next room.  

“It’s from my very own account. He doesn’t need to know anything about it."

The check, I would come to understand much later, represented years of household pin money squirrelled away from grocery budgets—bits of independence bought by small frugal sacrifices and accumulated by a few leftover quarters and dollars and dimes at a time. Grandfather was generous in his own way but not with leeway on the household budget, as you know. And not casual about his patriarchy.

You remember. I had been working and saving for this chance to study in London but had arrived at a sudden shortfall of funds that jeopardized the whole thing. A bit in denial, I hadn’t yet notified the program that I wouldn’t be coming after all.  I hadn’t told you about this, though; Dad must have. 

And so, voluntarily and without fanfare, you liquidated your hidden fund. Did you feel its loss? Did you foresee, even then, your words and memories slipping away and the cruel, accelerated decline toward the end? (These questions only come now. Despite my relief and gratitude, my thoughts were not of you that day, not really.) 

I took the check and probably hugged you. “Thank you, Gran.”

You waved away my gratitude, scenting the air with roses. In the way you looked at me just then I felt known. I knew you saw me fully, not just as one of your dozens of grandchildren but me--aspiring, tentative, oblivious, hopeful, scared nineteen-year-old me.

“Write it all down, Tessie. Send me a postcard and tell me how it is.”

Even as I turned and walked toward the door, I sought a life frankly different than yours, with your tidy rows of canning jars filled with sweet pickles and quiet background servitude. But what did I know--what did I know?!--of the tender sacrifices a life requires. 

And so I went, your freedom money crinkling in my pocket. 

I love when artists share little sketches and studies on their way to the finished product. Writers and Authors seem to play it a little closer, going underground until the whole thing is through. I have no talent for that kind of clandestine patience, though, and am hardly a capital W Writer--more of a sketcher and dreamer at this point. This is a little fiction snippet loosely based on an experience with my grandma Kathleen (who, incidentally, would be 100 this year) but re-imagined as a sliver of another story.


Maddy in the Middle East

Alternative title: Spying on my Daughter in the Middle East

Maddy's home safe and sound and full of stories of her adventure to the Middle East. While she was gone she decided to save money and only access the internet when she could find wi-fi so I relied on (=spied on) the rest of her group for photos and updates via social media. (Because what's a mama to do otherwise?) Luckily they did not disappoint. For our family archives, here are a mix of photos (some theirs, some hers) in roughly chronological order from Dubai to Amman to Petra to Jerusalem:

Some of her highlights included:

  • going to Petra and seeing the incredible ancient carved city there
  • riding across the desert in the back of a truck, camping at the Captain's Camp at Wadi Rum overnight in traditional Bedouin tents, seeing the night sky over the desert, dancing and playing games with her group and the local staff in the tents
  • meeting with and learning from inspiring people who are doing great work in the middle east region: UNICEF, UNDP projects (United Nations Development Programmes) in Amman and Jerusalem, the Australian Embassy in Jordan, the Hand-in-Hand school. Since she was there as a UN Youth Australia delegate they had arranged some pretty terrific and enlightening consultations with organizations throughout the trip.
  • teaching at the Max Rayne Hand-in-Hand school in Jerusalem, a bilingual Jewish/Palestinian school that promotes understanding and peace building in the rising generation. (Maddy said that the school was attacked by arsonists in November but the school has been firm and inspiring in their aim to promote peaceful co-existence. The surrounding community came out in strong support in the aftermath.)
  • seeing Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, the Church of the Nativity, Gethsemane and other holy sites (though she said that the group and guide she was with approached these sites with more of an architectural and anthropological flavor)

She slept for twelve hours straight when she got home and now she's transitioning back to regularly scheduled programming: working back into the dishes/chores rotation, resuming inside jokes with Sam, catching up with her friends, and commencing a job hunt.