Category Archives: Our Family

Effortless.

A few years ago I used an exercise DVD with several types of exercise. One of my favorites was a beginner’s ballet routine. I followed it so many times–not that it turned me into a ballet dancer, but it did program some of the instructor’s words in my mind. Sometimes I still hear them.

One of the things she said about ballet was, “So the arms make it appear effortless at the top, while the legs are working hard at the bottom.” The beauty of this has intrigued me quite a lot because ballet is, in fact both very hard work and an elegant art of gentle movement.

Last night was one of those times I heard those hard-effortless words in my mind, but this time it had nothing to do with  ballet. Instead it was a picture of the dance of mothering.

We are in the middle of upheaval right now since we discovered mold in our house.  The boys and I left home and lived in SC for nearly a week and Virginia for a little over two weeks while Steve worked on getting rid of the mold in three rooms in the evenings and weekends after work.

We came home two weeks ago to our main living area crammed with the contents of other rooms waiting to be cleaned and sorted. Most of the living room furniture is in temporary storage and Steve and I are sleeping in the guest room while the master area is torn apart.

We definitely were reacting to the mold that is still in the house and tried to keep those parts of the house closed off as much as possible. Still we didn’t feel feel well at all.

This past weekend we all moved into a hotel for a weekend, so Steve could tackle the next three rooms–a closet and our master area.  Our friends Eric and Linda so generously came up to spend the weekend with us. Eric helped Steve work on the house on Saturday and we got to enjoy time together.

Although the men got a lot of work done on the house, it wasn’t ready for us to move home on Monday like  we had been expecting. We hadn’t taken our school books with us, so I planned a field trip to keep us from losing a school day.  I planned to go to a nature reserve a few miles away, and they even happened to be hosting a  homeschool day.  Then it started raining.

I searched a little more and decided to take the boys to a train museum about a half an hour further north. It turned out to be a great, low key place for us and we all enjoyed our time there.

We killed a little time at a library close by, ate a little food then started toward home. I’d heard about a really great Christmas light display, and thought we could drive through on the way home. At that point I was so t.i.r.e.d., but how hard can a drive through be?

It was fantastically fun, only we ended up needing to get out and walk around.  Finally everyone was packed back into the car and we were driving HOME after a long weekend away. I didn’t know what to expect at home, and besides for the mold there are lots of big things on our minds these days.

The boys were happy and there was Christmas music playing.  Zac was sitting beside me, and his eyes were sparkling. He let out a long happy sigh.  “This has been the best day of my LIFE.”

In that moment I recognized the contrast between my experience and his. And those words from long ago came back, “So the arms make it appear effortless on the top while they legs are working hard on the bottom.” They felt very true to my mothering in that moment.

In a sense mothering had been [working hard]

All day I’d been fighting to find joy while hard things pressed against me.  I had also been thinking about how to make the change in plans work for us, how to incorporate school, how to keep this day happy for the boys even when it felt hard to me. I needed to redirect whining, find snacks, and keep boys safe on the street. I’d been looking out for places to eat that would work for our diets and places to go to fill our time without requiring a lot of energy from me because I wasn’t feeling great.

while also [making it look effortless]

All day we had been sleeping in, eating lots of good food, going to new places, stopping to play at a playground we passed, finding a bridge to run through, hanging out as long as we wanted in the museum’s educational play room, never rushing, visiting a great light display, listening to holiday music, and coming home and drinking hot chocolate.

Of course there’s a little bit of heart between the arms and legs for us, too–the times when they hear me recognize a problem and ask God to help us or when we talk about asking Jesus to help us find happiness or when we take our fears to Him.  But mostly I love that the boys don’t really see the ugliness of life, yet.

Maybe because there’s so much hard stuff in our life I know our children will see and feel sacrifices and brokenness a lot. Obviously we want to engage them in processing it well, but I also want the boys’ childhood to be carefree.  While there is all kinds of turmoil in our world and we’re working our way through it, they can lean back in their seats with stars in their eyes and see it as the best time in their lives. Effortless.

 

I’d love to hear what you have to say. Leave a comment here.

Summer Road-trip: Maryland

Family are the people who know you best and the ones who are most familiar.

Maryland hasn’t been a part of our family’s history until Michelle and her family moved there a few years ago. Even when your gathering is not at the place where you grew up, being with family gives you the sense of being home.

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I grew up in a family of three girls who were great friends even as little girls. As we grew up we did everything together–playing, working, and homework were all done side by side as often as possible.   We got married and moved 22 hours of driving apart from each other, but when we got together we were shopping, working on projects, and talking, serving the latest great recipes we’d been enjoying, and hanging out late into the night.

Then suddenly there were babies and lots of them. At mealtimes adults would need to stand up to pass a serving dish over three little heads to the next adult . Between cutting food into bite sized pieces and cleaning up spilled drinks and feeding babies and stepping away to take care of a baby, there wasn’t much time for adult conversation. Sometimes we’d step back and just watch the blur of  motion–not that there was much time for pause. It was good. Crazy. but just full of amazing energy and really cute little people.

A few more years have passed and the children are growing up so much that weekends like this are such a breeze in comparison.  The older children play so well together and can handle their own plates. It’s just fun to sit and see all the life that has come from what was a small family.

While there is still a lot of action and noise, we grownups have time to sit around and talk again. But there are more layers now, and in the background of these conversations there are the happy sounds of children while in our circle babies toddle from one person to the next.

We’ll never again be that family of three little girls that made everyone smile or the three pre-teens who could seem shy on the outside but had a whole book of stories they were keeping inside.  We keep aging and reaching new stages in life.  Family dynamics will keep changing–giving us the opportunity to love the familiarity of what has been good and nudging us to keep growing.

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We used to get to see family several times a year, but now these trips are more of a yearly treat. This year Michelle and her family hosted us all at their house in Maryland.

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Beth has a dry sense of humor and can have us belly laughing with only a few words.
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Cousins playing non-stop. They always have so much fun together. I’m so happy the boys can grow up knowing their cousins as some of their best friends.

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Frisbee Football

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Sweet Zara
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Thoughtful Chloe
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Just out of reach
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Grammie blew bubbles for the little ones to pop. I think she was expecting them to use fingers, not tongues.
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Post-game talks and catching a breath
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Backyard camping for the kids. Originally we had talked about camping for the weekend. With our troop of little ones, we decided it would be nicer to stay in a house with electricity and comfortable beds and toilets and showers. So we did, but almost all the children slept in this tent. They were making memories they’ll talk about for years.

The weather was so lovely and we got to spend the day Saturday at a lake. It was absolutely beautiful, happy, and relaxing.

One evening Michelle brought out sparklers for the children which they loved!

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So, WordPress  tells me I’ve used up all my space and I can’t upload anymore pictures. :( I’ll wrap this up for now.  We ended our roadtrip with a stop at my parents on the way home.  It was a perfect ending–a little more summer. A little more family.

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Then we left for home, so full of happy memories and ideas and words.

Summer Roadtrip: Pennsylvannia

After visiting Virginia, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York City, we headed off to spend some relaxing time in the country. Because we live far from both of our families, most of our trips are travels to see family.  It was really fun to have a couple of days this time to visit a few friends, too.

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Speaking of friends–a trip like this makes us realize how BLESSED we are with having hundreds of friends!!  There were so many people we would have loved to have seen while we were traveling, but we just couldn’t see everyone.  Living in a community where so many people have only a few friends and only a few family members who they can stay connected with is a good reminder of what a gift these friendships are to us. We might not get to see our friends as often as we wish, but having that network of friendship is so precious!

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During the years Steve was teaching we spent two summers at FBEP. We got to know Jason & Gloria and Phil & Jolene during the summers we studied there, and we always have such a great time together.  They have invited us several times to visit. Actually being in their homes seemed so natural, yet I wanted to pinch myself to be sure it was actually a reality.  Over the past few years Gloria and Jolene have been two prayer supporters who listen when I need to spill, who pray and offer advice.

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Lucinda spent a few weeks with us twice when I needed extra help, and we love her lots, too.

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I did a mini photo shoot for Lucinda one day then we ate lunch together and caught up on each other’s life.

Lucinda’s family hosted us and gave us royal treatment!  We felt loved from the minute we stepped into the house even if it was so late at night that everyone was sleeping.  From little notes inside the door to a pitcher of water and cups in our room, there were sweet touches everywhere. When I tucked the boys into the cozy bed she had gotten ready for them, Ian smiled happily, “Mmmm, this is the life for me.”

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So many common parts of life for us growing up are rare and exciting for the boys. They were so excited about a campfire and roasting marshmallows.

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Those few days in Pennsylvania were so restful and we soaked up the quiet, the green, and acts of service poured out on us.

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We enjoyed evenings around campfires and talking late into the night, coffee, laughter, and watching our children become friends, too.

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One of the beautiful gifts of this trip was how our hosts were SO generous in planning meals that would accommodate the boys’ and my food intolerances. Looking at packing food for two weeks on the road looked daunting, but they made it so much easier!

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It’s beginning to seem really funny to me that I casually titled this series “Summer Road-trip:” as if it was something we do yearly when it’s actually a huge, monumental highlight for us. :)  This trip was such a gift to us and so encouraging to us personally and in our ministries here. 15 July-7684

After Pennyslvania we headed to Maryland for  a weekend with my family. But I’ll tell you about that in the next post.

Summer Roadtrip: NYC

 

New York City was such a nice break for us, and gave us a time to be alone as family–yes, in a city bustling with people–which felt familiar and good.  It was so great that the boys had hours of fun playing with other friends, but I’ve gotten so used to having them close all the time and had been missing them. Our day here also seemed the most like a vacation with no agenda and goals, but a laid back, exploring kind of day.

Steve and I both love NYC, and the two times we’ve visited have been so rich and made us wish for more time there. Originally our trip route took us directly from Boston to our friends’ home in rural Pennsylvania. Once we saw that we’d be traveling right past New York City, we knew we had to spend at least a day in the city.

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We settled into a hotel that Steve had found in Queens and headed out for the evening.  Friends of our future church planting teammates had generously invited us to spend an evening with them.  On the way to their house we made a stop in Chinatown.

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1) Zac traveling in comfort with an audio book and a snack 2) my face when Steve squeezed the van around the tight corners in NYC 3) Feeling the love 4) Zac with a new friend 5) Steve and new friends sharing stories of life 5) Zac snoozing in the morning after a late night 6-7) reading a map
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Cities are amazing places for getting a taste of other cultures. Ooooh, that was punny.
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Pax fell asleep on the train. –May I just pause to say how much I love the public transit system in NYC. Atlanta, please, take lessons.– He slept all the way through Chinatown, through the metro station and halfway through our ride. I thought it was funny that we had been on such an adventure, but for all he knew we’d simply had a long train ride.

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The Nisly family welcomed us warmly.  We shared stories and our dreams for life over  salads, summer vegetables, and grilled chicken. In less than a few hours felt not at all like strangers and more like friends.

The children finished dinner first and left the table to play games–running until they were panting and sweat trickled down their temples. We smiled at shouts and laughter that drifted our way.

When Dwight talked about about his students, inner city kids with really rough lives, he spoke with so much passion and care that tears filled his eyes. To see so much love for his work and people when he has been engaged for close to twenty years inspired both Steve and I a lot.

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The Nisleys ingeniously used their tiny back yard space to include a patio, chicken coop, grape vines, a line for line-drying laundry, and a playspace and garden.

Both Dwight and Marlene have a gift of drawing out our own stories and, best of all, the parts where we have seen God in our story. They were so supportive, offered a few words of wisdom, and prayed with our family. We left feeling so encouraged by who they were and by the words they had spoken to us.  Even though this stop hadn’t been in our original plans, it turned out to be a highlight of our trip.

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We got back to our hotel close to midnight and Steve had a mission-related meeting at 7:00 the next morning with an hour commute. Meanwhile the boys and I caught up on some sleep and enjoyed a nice breakfast and a little reading.

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Steve got back a little before noon and we headed out to tour the city! Steve and I wanted to go e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e, but tried to keep the day simple and enjoyable for the children. We had decided to take them to the FAO Schwartz toy store on 5th. For them it was like a museum filled with toys. :)

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A collection of cellphone pictures. First column: 1) the Statue of Liberty built out of Legos! 2) Paxton’s dream of becoming an astronaut comes true a little sooner than we expected 3) drowned rats waiting out a downpour under an awning. Middle column: 1) rain on the streets 2) We passed a Lindtt chocolate store just as the rain started pouring again, so of course we ducked in out of the rain 3) When I took this picture a lady said, “Now that’s a refrigerator picture.” She explained that when her boys were little she always kept a picture of them on the refrigerator, and she thought this one would be worthy to hang on ours. :) Far right: 1) Leaving the city sadly, but eagerly soaking in the beautiful sights 2) obvious 3) my birthday dinner in Little Italy with my favorite people=Heart FULL.

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The boys had hot dogs high on their must-do list for NYC. :) That’s a classic, right? We took our food to Central Park–our next destination.  We had just finished eating and were ready to enjoy the park when…it started raining. That changed our plans really fast.

We dashed out of the park toward the train station, but within minutes were soaked. There was no sign of a break, so we huddled in a store entrance and people-watched. It might have been fun, really, if the three year old wouldn’t have been crying.

Finally the rain slowed and we walked our crew as quickly as we could. From a photographer’s point of view, the city was just beautiful. The colors were super saturated and light sparkled off of nearly every surface. It was really hard to keep moving instead of stopping to photograph it all.

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We were close to our station when we passed the public library.  I had heard it was quite amazing and we wandered inside just for a quick look–or so we thought.

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From the ornate carvings on the door, I knew we were in for a treat, but then we walked into the entrance…I mean are you even kidding me? It was so, so gorgeous.

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This^ is the lobby.  The lobby!

I “breezed through” (to me) an art exhibit.

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We decided to check out the children’s section and conveniently waited out another downpour.

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Steve found a map of the library and discovered that there was a Gutenberg Bible on display on the third story which we obviously wanted to see.

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On the way out we passed these phone booths, “Hey guys look! Longer ago we didn’t have cell phones…” Um, wait. This makes us sound really old. Haha! They thought they were quite a novelty.

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This room. I was speechless and stood at entrance with my hand on my chest drinking in the grandeur and the beauty.  In the center of the room the Guttenberg Bible, one of 42 remaining copies, was on display.

As we shared our excitement with the boys and explained the history depicted in the paintings on the wall, an older lady, an interpreter for tourists, told us in broken English, “They are so lucky to have you as parents.” I’m not sure what she saw, but I do so love when others can see how much we love each other.

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I wonder if these girls have any idea how lucky they are to get to study in such a great space.

I really love our city, but after getting a good look at three other great cities I was beginning to have a little city envy. :) Then this–comparing this place to our central library which is huge but housed in a boring cement box I lamented dramatically, “We have nothing. Nothing!” =)

Our next stop–a ferry ride past the Statue of Liberty took us through Grand Central Station. This is on the list of places I want to come back to when there’s time to really absorb the details. (Who is up for a photowalk weekend through NYC?)

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After a few encounters on the ferry with people who made rude remarks about the children or I (not a big deal, really. Just not the right time at the end of a day of touring and to a tired mom) I recanted my earlier statements. Maybe we don’t have all the amazing places, but at least the people in Atlanta are really, really nice. :)

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Last ride before we got back to our vehicle. The boys were troopers all day!

We hadn’t eaten anything since an 11:00 hot dog and snacks, and were all really hungry.  We were hoping to find something authentic–a little hole in the wall kind of place.  We didn’t pass the right place and I was resigning myself to stopping at a fast food chain outside of the city.  I told Steve that I had never been to Little Italy, and he said we were about to go right past.  He said we could drive through so I could at least get a look.

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Oh, was it ever dreamy. Dusk was beginning to settle and the lights strung over the streets added even more charm to the streets lined with cafes and happy people.  I asked Steve if we could maybe eat here for my birthday gift.

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He agreed and it was one of the sweetest ways we could have possibly ended our day.  Five years of leaner times have taught me to be satisfied with little; they have also made my heart absolutely burst with gratitude when it receives much.

This was a much moment.  A time when I realized how good my life really is–the ability to travel, the rich input we’d received from other people, the day full of exploring  and drinking in beauty. But best of all this family sitting around a table smiling and enjoying the atmosphere and street music as much as I–these gifts from heaven, each of them, stretching my heart wider than I could have dreamed and filling my whole life with so much love and teaching me to forgive and extend grace. There couldn’t possibly have been a better present.

I took a little video clip that for me, captured a little of all of that. I’m still learning how to shoot video with manual focus, so the fact that I managed to get each person in focus was a victory, too.

Aaaaahhh. All the happy sighs.

 

Our next destination was rural Pennsylvania to spend a couple days with friends.

If you’ve missed the previous posts on our summer roadtrip, here are Virginia, Philadelphia, and Boston

 

 

 

 

Summer Roadtrip: Boston

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Catching a glimpse of NYC as we crossed the George Washington Bridge.

Visiting Boston was especially exciting because none of us had been there before.  We had met two couples from Boston at a church planter’s retreat a year ago who had invited us to come visit their community.

This year we’re going to use Story of the World as part of our history curriculum.  I bought the audio version to take with us on our trip, and saved it for a surprise for this next segment of our trip.  It helped the hours pass by much more quickly. Right as we were passing NYC, the narrator described how Broadway got it’s name, then we heard about Boston’s history as we got close to the city.  I couldn’t have possibly coordinated the details so well if I had tried.

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A) An airplane landing over the interstate B) George Washington Bridge in NYC C) reading lots during the long hours of sitting D) I enjoyed seeing the change in structures as we drove further north E) Boston made a fantastic first impression F) A passenger window shot as we first got into the city

Medford, our destination, is suburb located on the north side of Boston.  Boston is packed with history–a homeschooler’s delight. Jingle Bells was written here (see the plaque below), and it’s so easy to imagine a winter sleigh ride on these streets. 15 July-6774

It’s also the location of Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride. A hitching post where he  tethered his horse is preserved here. 15 July-6780

This area is really lovely with a lot of homes built in the late 1800’s.  The group we were visiting lives in intentional community–sharing often in daily life. Three of the families live in two houses on one property. One home is a two-story house big enough for one family to live upstairs while the downstairs is home for another family and includes a large room used for church services. Several other families live close by.

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They really enjoy living in close proximity because they can easily share meals, spend evenings together, and gather for prayer as needs come up. They all homeschool, but they also have the advantage of a co-op of sorts just outside their door. It is not communal living, though. Each family has their own space and functions as a separate unit. However, they are close enough to support each other in so many ways throughout the week.

After we had eaten dinner and taken a short walking tour of Medford our first evening, several families from church gathered on the patio area to talk and eat dessert together. Gatherings like this might happen as often as several times a week for them.  The church families often invite other people they’ve been connecting with throughout the week through work, classes, or in conversation to join them for an evening of fellowship.

In his book King Jesus Claims His Church, Finny Kuruvilla, one of the group’s leaders describes his beliefs on what it means to follow Christ and build His church. Through living together and spending hours in conversation, the group is still working out what kingdom living will look like for them.

The group at Followers of the Way is very warm and welcoming.  We felt a camaraderie among them that easily resembled a large family, and they invited us and other visitors into their circle individually and as a group.

It was a privilege to be a part of these discussions and to learn more of what it looks like to live in close community.  Both Saturday and Sunday evenings a group of us stayed up past midnight engaged in deep conversation. This might have been difficult for families of young children in some places, but here it was easy to get the children to bed then step back into the group.

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A few things we found insightful:

:: Living in community creates an easy gathering into which the church can invite people they meet throughout the week. In urban settings where people do not visit in homes as freely, joining in with a group that has a large family atmosphere will probably feel less intimidating.

:: Living in community requires sacrificial living. I think this may be part of the purpose–the peeling back layers of self and living for the cause of Christ and for our brothers and sisters. Homes become less  our space and more a space where people outside our family are always welcomed into. Each of the three families on the property had at least one single person staying with them and shared their space for large group discussions and/or meals at least once in the two days we were there. Having this many people in their homes was not just a busy weekend for them, but typical life. [For those of you unfamiliar with this culture, it is very common in Anabaptist  groups to host people in our homes for meals or for the night-whether we are friends, acquaintances, or friends of friends.]

:: The group here has an acutely clear vision. Seeing them process and work out their vision in person confirmed the importance of clearly established goals in church planting.

There’s so much more, so if you want to hear more call Steve or I or we would be happy to talk about it more in person. :)

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While we valued community before our visit, we noticed benefits of community that we hadn’t seen before. Living in a community that is this close in a physical sense of living right next to each other and doing daily life together might not be our goal. Still, Steve and I really value learning from other people and we learn a lot by listening to a wide range of ideas.

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A few street scenes, a handsome little man who was behind on sleep and tired of all the traveling, North Church and a statue of Paul Revere

Sunday morning our hosts kindly took us on a tour of Boston–doubly nice because we got to see so much more than we would have if we would have tried to find all these places on our own.

Boston wowed me. We were on a quick walking tour trying to cover as much as we could in just a few hours, but it was the kind of place that made you want to be still and take in all the colors and lines, the movement, the people. We’d walk past places with signs indicating they were the first meeting house or the oldest church in Boston or America.

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Watching a live jellyfish
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Christopher Columbus
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A street musician; beautiful architecture
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The church is the site of the Boston Massacre. I didn’t remember what happened at the Boston Massacre, but thankfully I have an eight year old son to fill in the pieces I was missing. I’ll ask him again tomorrow, because I’ve already forgotten the details again. I try to keep plenty of brain space available to absorb all the beauty around me.:)
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Yes, this is THE park where the duck family of Make Way for Ducklings lived. You have read Make Way for Ducklings, right? It is such a wonderful children’s storybook. We got to ride the swanboats–powered by someone peddling the boat from behind the swan. At this point I was starting to battle city envy.

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After this we headed back home where the church family was gathering for their weekly church. The ladies take turns preparing a meal for the church. It was a laid back, outdoor affair with lots of time for conversation.  The children played nearby on a small playground then gathered into the middle of the group when it was time for communion. Afterward everyone headed up to the meeting room for the main church service. There were lots of visitors to make a total of about fifty people.

Afterward there was another gathering on the patio. The women had all brought food for an evening meal, so again there was food and more discussions that stretched long into the night. That might sound boring here, but really the time flew by because the conversations were really good. The boys had such a good time playing for hours with their new friends. It was so nice to see them run and play and not need to worry about safety. Parenting felt pretty easy in general because the boys were so happily occupied the whole weekend. It gave me a lot of time to sit with other ladies which was nice.

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I’d had a birthday on Sunday, so on our way out of the city Monday morning Steve drove back to a really charming street we’d seen the day before just so I could buy a treat. I LoVe trying new foods. If it had been feasible, I would have loved for us to eat traditional, local foods in all of the places we visited. We really were there to focus on spending time with people and ate our meals in their homes, so we didn’t get to try much local flavor.  To meander into an Italian pastry shop for an iced coffee and a freshly-filled cannoli was a perfect present. Oh, my.

Next up: NYC!

If you missed them, here are the earlier travel entries
Part 1: Virginia
Part 2: Philadelphia