Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fun-Filled Weekend

Free Food at Chick-fil-A

We were excited to hear about the free Chick-fil-A day last Friday. If you dressed like a cow, you got a free meal.

As exciting as it sounded, I didn't figure that cow costume-making would fit into my day after taking the younger children for a play date at the lake with friends and then rushing home to put the first coat of paint on our newly sanded kitchen floor.

However, Tim and Oliver showed their hidden costume-creating talent as they gathered feed bags, spray paint, duct tape, and old clothes and outfitted the whole bunch of us. They even made a costume for Jason, our farm intern.

We didn't put too much pressure on Zach, our other intern, to dress for the occasion since he's a vegetarian but we enjoyed taking him along for ice cream and french fries.

A fun night and another adventure in the Alexander quest to find free food!

A Day at Polyface Farm

We were excited to be among the nearly 2000 people from all over the U.S. who attended Polyface Farm's big tour that is held only once every three years.

Joel Salatin
(The farmer we're all trying to copy!)

The kids loved seeing so many of their farming friends there. I can't describe the feeling of hope I have for this country when I'm around these outstanding young adults. They're the best.

Sheridan, like Meredith at the same age, loves making new friends everywhere she goes.

Sam, Lucy, and Sheridan

We came home from the farm day challenged, inspired, and encouraged. What a great day.

Family Economics Conference Reunion

On Sunday afternoon we hosted a fellowship for new friends we met at the Family Economics Conference in Raleigh last March.

What a wonderful afternoon spent under the shade trees, chatting with new friends, while all the children enjoyed swinging, roasting marshmallows, and making memories.

With a weekend this fun, our summer is off to a great start.
Ah - we can't wait to share the details of the wonderful and unexpected blessing the Lord has arranged for our family to make some incredible memories together...

Till then.....

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Our Favorite Couple's Retreat

A couple of weeks ago, quite out of the blue, Timmy and I decided to put our work aside for a couple of days and head to our all time favorite couple's retreat: the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Oh the memories that we have made both as a couple and as a family at the beaches of North Carolina and Virginia.

As a young dating couple 28 years ago, most of our outings involved trips to the beach.

I remember sewing a white eyelet skirt with matching sleeveless blouse in anticipation of a date that would include an oceanfront dinner and an evening walk on the beach. I recently came across the photo of the cute polka-dotted swimsuit cover-up I made for a daytime beach trip that had to revolve around my working schedule at Chick-fil-A. I recall, as if it were yesterday, one our most important dating conversations taking place as the sun set and we sat together in the lifeguard stand eating watermelon.

A beach date was never complete without a visit to Bergey's - the dairy that made the absolute best homemade ice cream ever. I have such wonderful memories of our many dates that were centered around the beach.

After having been married for 3 weeks, we concluded that we'd rather have a tent than a vacuum cleaner so we traded in the wedding gift and headed to a beach-side campground for a memorable first camping experience together.

As God blessed us with children, all our vacations were spent camping at the beach and playing with the sweet little people in our lives. The picture of Timmy playing in the waves with one, then two, then finally six children will be forever etched on my memory.

A couple of weeks ago as Timmy and I drove around looking at all the familiar sights of the Outer Banks, I had one distinct memory of a time that wasn't too happy. We were in our mid-twenties and Timmy was still on the road to becoming the family man he is today. He was finding that fishing was oftentimes much more attractive than his family responsibilities and he would steal away to the pier as often as he could which was causing more than a little bit of tension in our marriage.

One weekend in particular he offered, quite unexpectedly, to take us to the Outer Banks, about one and a half hours away from home, for a camping trip. I was overjoyed by Timmy's renewed desire to spend time with the family.

You can imagine my surprise the first morning after arriving when we were enjoying a leisurely breakfast as a fishing buddy from work suddenly appeared at our restaurant booth and exclaimed, "Hey man. How much longer until you're out on the pier?! We've been waiting for you forever!" The motive for the family trip was suddenly exposed and I was certainly not a happy camper!

Timmy and I laughed so hard last week as we recalled the incident of more than two decades earlier.

A trip to the Outer Banks always includes a meal at our all time favorite restaurant - Owens', as well as several visits to the area ice cream shops. As a matter of fact, some of the made-up bedtime stories that I used to tell my children even included the ongoing adventures of visiting the beach ice cream shop where the door knob turned into a large, edible gumball as soon as you entered the store.

Although we're middle-aged now, a trip to the beach on a "couple's retreat" always includes wave riding or as some people call it, body-surfing (although it's much more like body-slamming when the wave tosses you around and drops you like a lead brick on the shallow shore line). Wave riding is non-negotiable for Timmy. His bride must always be willing to ride waves with him at intervals throughout the day.

On the first day of our trip I insisted that it wasn't advisable for us to ride waves when the lifeguards had out the "DANGEROUS SURF" flags and we heard that they already had to rescue someone earlier that day.

But on the second day, the waves were manageable even if the water was bone-chilling cold.

During our drying-off, catching-our-breath-breaks, we both enjoyed reading books or looking at magazines. Timmy was all about the farm with his "Pasture Quality" book but I was in serious relaxing mode as I scanned my favorite magazines. I only hoped my cell phone quality was not too sharp as farm business calls came and I answered them over the background noise of squawking sea gulls and crashing waves.

Before leaving our short but wonderful mini-vacation, I scooped up a bag of sand to carry home to the royal blue metal tin that sits on my back porch in the country - so far from sandy shores. Once home again and unpacking, I enjoyed watching Sheridan play on the porch contentedly with the added inches of sand in what she considers a sand box.

I am aware more than ever that these days spent as a couple are of great worth beyond measure. To have weathered the storms of life together, while enjoying the unspeakable blessing of these children that God has given us, is a treasure beyond description. Our couple's retreat reminded me of these gifts once again and gave me a renewed appreciation for the many happy memories in my life that occurred around the sun, the sand, and the shore.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Winter Review

As I look back over the pictures in my camera's memory of the winter months and all the things that I didn't take time to record for my children's benefit, I'm reminded that it's only now that I feel I'm coming out of one of the biggest seasons of adjustment that I've ever known.

No one could have prepared me for how much I would miss an oldest daughter, once married and living in another country, who had been committed to and enjoyed first and foremost spending time with her family. Oh the void that was left when Meredith married in December.

One of the worst parts of the sadness was the continual frustration I felt for having even one minute of sorrow when my daughter was married to a young man that we were confident was the very best, finest husband God could have ever given her. I was so grateful that my daughter now had the long awaited and hoped-for joy of being a wife. How could I be sad and missing her so badly?!

Yet, the sadness rested like a gray cloud over many of my days. Since so few people we know have daughters who worked from home and truly prioritized their family's interests above their own, and even fewer have daughters who moved out of the country after marrying, I found it best to just keep my thoughts to myself. I didn't figure anyone understood the loss we felt.

But now, finally, the sun is shining - after 6 months.

I'm okay that Meredith isn't sitting next to me late at night as we would both do our computer work when the house was quiet. I've adjusted to wearing a new dress for the first time and my house mostly full of boys not noticing. I'm thankful the bath towel with Meredith's name embroidered on it still hangs neatly in our bathroom because it gives me an opportunity to pray for her and Stephen as I straighten the towels each day.

Finally, it doesn't hurt anymore. The cloud has lifted and the sun is shining.

Sure, we talk about her all the time and long for just one more batch of her chocolate chip cookies but overall, our happiness for Meredith and her new life far outweighs our missing her.

Although I doubt it has anything to do with the sun finally appearing, did I mention that she's coming to see us in just 20-some days?!

Alright, maybe that's causing the clouds to part just a bit but I still feel like I'm over the worst of the season of adjusting.

So, I better record the months of memories since the wedding so they won't be lost in my camera forever.

The winter in a nutshell.....

We purposed to have a very relaxing winter after having spent the whole year preparing for Meredith's wedding. We decided we'd do as little as possible, avoid starting up any new projects, and try to put as much relaxation into our days as we could.

The younger kids, Timmy, and I enjoyed a trip to Pennsylvania where Timmy attended a farm conference. It was held in Lancaster so we were able to see the way the Amish live.

We had one memorable adventure, that I don't soon want to forget, due to our backroad-loving GPS.

After dropping Timmy off at the conference the first morning, the younger crew and I headed to find the hotel where we would be staying.

Being geographically challenged (in a big way!), I dutifully followed every single direction given to me by my trusty GPS.

(Story line for another day: "How the GPS Saved My Marriage" Subtitle: "The Relief the GPS Brings to a Woman Directionally Challenged Yet Married to a Geographic Genius Who Displays No Patience for a Map-Ignorant Wife")

Back to my trusty GPS - We were a very short 10 minute drive from the hotel although I didn't realize the great lengths in which my GPS would go to take me on the shortest route.

At first, we were enjoying a great look at the Amish community up close while we drove by their homes. Then, as I continued to follow the path on the screen of my non-threatening, always inspiring electronic travel companion and guide, I noticed that we had left the lined paved road for an unlined paved road and were suddenly on a gravel road that required us to drive very slowly.

At this point, my children became interested in the trip and began to wonder, like me, if we were getting ready to pull up in someone's driveway. Yet the GPS led me on as if this were the path everyone traveled en route to our hotel.

The gravel road began to narrow and as we drove even slower, the Amish people whose houses were closely lining both sides of the road now, began to look at us with suspicion. The trees formed a tunnel as they shaded the road which had turned from gravel to dirt and I could tell the van was heading down into a sort of valley. I realized that the road was so narrow, there would be no way for an oncoming car to pass me.

I wondered if this type situation was normal in Amish communities and if passersby simply waited for one another to complete the drive on the one lane road before attempting it themselves.

Suddenly that thought was lost as I realized on the tree-covered, one lane, dirt path that my trusty GPS was leading me to cross a small, running river!! Oh no! I couldn't back up or I'd have to drive my 12 passenger van in reverse for the last mile since entering this path.

So I calmly said to the children, whose full attention was on the terrain by now, "Oh, this same thing happened to Granddaddy and Grandma one time when their GPS took them down a strange path to Yellowstone Park." What else could I do but hide my fear behind a smile and begin to cross the river like some mud-bogging pioneer woman?!

I held my breath, put the pedal to the medal, and drove through the rushing river as quickly as I possibly could!

Forty-five minutes after my trusty GPS took me on the shortest route to our destination, we arrived safely (without a wet van interior) at our hotel.

I was plagued with fear all day as I thought about the return trip necessary to pick Timmy up from his conference, and I suppose Sheridan was too. As soon as we got in the van, she insisted that Sullivan not sit in his normal seat but instead sit next to her to keep her safe when we "crossed the river."

Thankfully, my trusty GPS chose a completely different path for the return trip (which it often does although I don't know why!) and we avoided the rushing river altogether.

On the way home we gave the GPS a much-deserved break and let my geographic genius lead the way.

The pool in PA where Sheridan dunked under the water for the first time ever

While in Pennsylvania, we went to the Hershey Factory and learned about what a devoted Christian man Mr. Hershey was and the many great things he did during his lifetime.

We enjoyed our annual family Super Bowl party with all the fixin's although it sure was different without Meredith there to join in the fun.

We made terrific hot wings with some of Elliott's grass fed chicken.

We celebrated Sheridan's big 4 year old birthday in February. What an incredible gift she is to our family. We are so thankful God gave this sweet little girl to us!

Meredith gave Sheridan a book where Meredith's voice is recorded. Sheridan loves to hear Meredith read her the story during quiet time each day.

Timmy and I took a day trip to Pennsylvania to visit a couple of ice cream stores and the local farms that supply the milk for the gourmet ice cream shops.

We've since purchased a small commercial ice cream machine and are making the most delicious ice cream imaginable. Today's flavors were mocha with chocolate chips and Irish cream with toasted buttery pecans and almonds. We keep wanting to give it to friends but we can't stop eating it as fast as it comes out of the machine!

Kilby Creamery in Maryland

Below is another farm we visited on our day trip that specializes in homemade ice cream. The Stoltzfus family was so welcoming as we dropped by unannounced to visit their operation.

I loved this chore list, complete with fines, that served as a guideline for the 11 children working on the family farm.

We celebrated Elliott's 20th birthday in March. As we realize that this young man will likely soon head out to begin a family of his own, we're more aware than ever what a treasure he is to our family. Our children are so blessed to have such a kind and loving brother.

Over the cold months, we attended many conferences that encouraged us in our farming venture. From growing a variety of pastures to turning silos into bed & breakfasts, we learned so much!

Lastly, when we weren't doing anything else, we watched a library assortment of Bonanza, Green Acres, and the old Leave it to Beaver series. It was a wonderfully relaxing winter and a great time to unwind after a stressful year of many, many farm projects. Now that the work of summer is upon us, we have the sweet memories of a quiet, fun-filled winter behind us and the hope of a duplicate winter in front of us!