The Mystery of Thistle

Once in a while growing up, I would have the inimitable privilege of getting my hands on a pack of 64 Crayola crayons. I never referred to them as “crayons,” though–in the South, we just called them “colors.” I especially appreciated having options such as gold and silver, burnt umber and cornflower blue. Although cornflower always confused me, because I spent time in gardens as a child, and I associated yellow and green with corn–not a muted shade of blue. All those colors at one’s fingertips–it made me feel rich in a way.

Cornflower wasn’t the only shade to confuse me. There was another one–thistle–that I never understood. I always liked the color, but I didn’t understand how it got its name. When I thought of thistle, I assumed it was a prickly, thorny weed. I associated it with dandelions. And yet nothing about a dandelion boasted that lavender-pink hue.

thistle
Milk thistle on a hiking trail in Fort Collins, CO.

Then I came to Colorado. To the best of my knowledge, milk thistle (like the one in the picture above) doesn’t grow in south Mississippi, where I was born and raised. So I’d never seen it until about 8 years ago, when Garfield was a baby and Woodrow, a toddler, and our family took a hike near Horsetooth Reservoir in Fort Collins. That summer, 2009, we spent in Colorado. On the hike, while carrying Garfield in a Baby Bjorn on my chest, I spotted these plants that I’d never seen before. After looking them up, I learned that they indeed are thistles.

sunflowers and thistles
Sunflowers and thistles on the trail.

The mystery of this color’s name was solved! I now knew how one of my favorite crayons in the box of 64–remember how it came with a built-in crayon sharpener?–had gotten its name.

many thistles

Thistle is considered a weed; it may compete with crops where it grows and can disrupt pasture grazing. But it also serves bees as they gather nectar to produce honey. Thistles are also a source of nectar for several species of butterflies.  And, thistles are beautiful. Living in Colorado again this summer affords me the joy of encountering thistles all over again.

Sometimes there’s mystery in beauty, and sometimes there’s beauty in the unexpected. And even a weed can draw me into God’s beauty and cause me to marvel.

 

Embracing with Faith our Summer Re-location

One thing I appreciate about living in Colorado:  There are no lizards. I can leave the front door of our apartment open when the weather is mild and never worry that I’ll find lizards running around the floors (or inside our shoes) later in the day. This spring–back in Orlando–I found a little lizard in our kitchen sink. I can’t count how many times I’ve almost tripped trying to avoid stepping on a lizard in our driveway or on the sidewalk. But I’ve never seen a lizard in Colorado. Also:  No fire ants. NO FIRE ANTS! Those are parts of Florida I don’t mind leaving behind for the summer.

Colorado offers beauty, adventure, outdoor fun galore. It’s also not home. It’s not the place where I do life. I do like to travel–as in, pack bags, go someplace for a visit, and then come home. {I actually like living overseas more than I enjoy travel, but there again, one puts down some roots and establishes a life if making a home in that place, wherever that place may be.} But this is more than–different than–travel. It’s packing up our house for a summer renter. It’s packing our family’s belongings to be away for over 2 months. It’s asking questions:  Do I pack the crock pot, or buy one at Goodwill when we get out there? How many dish towels should I pack? Will our tenant take care of our plants for the summer? 

frames

It’s also recognizing that we’ll be away from our church for 11 Sundays. ELEVEN. Another question:  How can we connect with people there–especially when we know hardly anybody there–if we’re not THERE? 

And it’s work. So. Much. Work. Imagine giving your entire house a spring clean to prep it for a person who’s going to pay (a modest amount) to live there, while simultaneously packing lots of boxes to be shipped out to Colorado for your family (along with suitcases and school supplies, since our home school year didn’t end until mid-June) AND continuing with normal life chores. Baking cupcakes for the Cub Scout den party and prepping for our end-of-year home-school evaluations, for instance. You know how busy the month of May can be for families, what with all the end-of-school-year functions? Yeah, like that. Plus readying my home for the house sitter AND getting all four of us packed to travel cross-country and plant ourselves in a new place for the summer–long enough to be more than a trip, but too short to consider that we’ve moved to a new home.

cupcakes with sprinkles

But here we are. End-of-year festivities and responsibilities have been fulfilled. We live in a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom apartment this summer–instead of our 3-bedroom, 2-bath house in Orlando. Less housework is required, and the weather is delightful. I mean, there is NO humidity. The city of Fort Collins is a cool, interesting place to be. Our boys are making friends with other Cru kids, and the pool is just steps from our door (although the water has been far too cold for me so far). There’s a community gas grill that Mike has used multiple times already, enjoying a working grill since we actually moved our broken gas grill to our new home in 2015 and still haven’t fixed it. He’s missed grilling and is making up for that by grilling everything from corn on the cob and tomatoes to chicken and pork chops.

We’ve hiked, biked, fished, played, taken advantage of the plethora of summer yard sales out here. I got a small tape measure for a nickel–just 5 cents–that I’m using as I sew more quilt tops while we’re here.

There’s much to appreciate in this place where I’ve spent the summers of 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, and now 2017. And even with my horrible sense of direction, I’ve lived here enough months collectively that I remember how to get many places without using GPS.

But there’s still struggle, transition–the boys have their own, and I have my own, and I must help them navigate theirs. Conducting school out here, even at a slower pace, has been really difficult. I don’t have a specific summer job to do with our ministry out here, as my husband does. I still edit ministry stories on a minimal basis, the role I fill normally with Cru. But I don’t have a niche to fill out here; my real purpose in being out here is so our family can be together for the summer while Mike serves in his summer role. That’s more struggle.

And yet, since we’re planted here for the summer, I want to bloom here for the summer. In early May, I wrote in my journal, Lord, thank you for whatever our summer holds. My desire, my hope, is to embrace by faith whatever God has for us–and for me–this summer. I want to have the heart to receive with grace what He gives.

picnic tea set

What He’s given so far (besides that crazy cheap tape measure):  On the way out to Colorado, I spoke at my sister’s church about the Luo Pad program (led by Cru’s humanitarian ministry, GAiN), a cause close to my heart. The women who attended responded with great interest in sewing Luo Pads as an ongoing project. What a treat that I got to do some public speaking–which I love but rarely get to do–and that I got to share about a ministry opportunity that meets tangible needs as an expression of God’s love. I’ve also had a chance to help a mom with a Cru conference job here who’s needed an extra hand.

luo pad chalk board

There’s more summer to come, and I’m hopeful that God will continue to give me grace to take hold of all that He ushers into my time here in Colorado. I want to remember that EVERY DAY counts. This is not a season of simply marking time until we arrive back in Orlando in early August; these are days of living by faith, living out my faith. Embracing it with faith.

 

 

 

How Tina Spurred Me On

Near the end of April, my family and I went on our last Cub Scout camp-out of the school year. We explored some fascinating caves and splashed around in a creek. Then when we got home, I received a message that an old friend had died after having been in a car wreck a few days prior.

I had seen news about the accident on Facebook, posted by her husband, and it seemed that her condition was improving. Or at least I had thought so. I was stunned to read the message that Tina had passed.

Tina and I were closest in elementary school; we were in the same class in fourth grade. The summer after seventh grade, I remember going to her birthday party, where we danced in the humid Mississippi heat on her parents’ carport to The Outfield as they sang about Josie being on a vacation far away. In high school, we were in marching band together for a couple of years and competed in a scholarship competition together.

red bellied woodpecker

One of the last times I saw Tina–tall, statuesque; voted Most Beautiful or Campus Beauty more times than I can remember–was at our ten-year class reunion back in Mississippi. I met her older daughter then, who was a toddler at the time. Since then, we’d conversed only through Facebook.

Years ago, Tina sent me a message over social media about a letter to the editor I’d written to our hometown newspaper–to which I still subscribe, even though I haven’t lived in Lucedale since 1998. In the letter, I’d written about the need to seek ways to memorialize or celebrate events other than balloon releases, citing environmental concerns and the fact that these balloons often end up in oceans, often eaten by sea creatures. Tina had read that letter and written to encourage me about submitting more pieces to the newspaper on the topic of environmentally responsible living.

I was so boosted by Tina’s message–by how she believed in me–that I decided to take her advice. I didn’t write back to the newspaper but did write and submit an article (based on the same idea in the letter to the editor I’d written) to a magazine for girls called SHINE brightlyThe magazine published my story–which I called “Up, Up, and Away”–in their November 2009 issue; I still have the 2 free copies they sent me.

basket of magazines
Basket of magazines, reviews, anthologies, and one book in which my writing has appeared. You can see a SHINE brightly issue peeking out near the back.

If Tina hadn’t cheered me on to write about this topic, if she hadn’t believed I had something worthwhile to say and took the time to express that, I probably never would have submitted that piece to SHINE brightly. That’s just one of the ways Tina’s life intersected with the lives of others. Just one example of how she touched others.

Life is short, and it can turn on a dime, and we don’t know the number of days allotted to us to live out here on this earth. But I do know this:  I want to do for others what Tina did for me–take the time and make the effort to spur others on to love and good deeds.

 

How Not Complaining Gave Me Better Understanding

For Lent, we decided as a family to fast from complaining–and we chose not only to give up something but also to add something during the season of Lent. We elected to add acts of kindness. As you can imagine, at least one person in the family fails almost daily in the giving up of complaining. But therein lies the value of choosing to ‘sacrifice’ this habit for Lent:  We know that we can’t be good enough in our own strength, our own power, to uphold our own standard of goodness (much less God’s standard). So as we slip and stumble, we’re reminded of our need for Christ. Of our need for the gospel. Of our need for the gospel EVERY SINGLE DAY.

smiley-face

But recognizing that we ARE fasting from complaining helps to make me at least more intentional about noticing when I do it and about kicking it to the curb when I catch myself at it.

This past Sunday afternoon, on a glorious and bright and sunny day, we took the boys to a lake with Woodrow’s kayak and their fishing gear. I took my workout plan and found a shady spot to do my crunches, squats, Russian twists, and the rest, while Mike watched the boys play around with the kayak mostly near the shore.

A massive, well-attended dog park sits next to the park with the pier and the lake where our family spent time that day. Dog owners bring their pets to the dog park here to run and play; they even have a bit of lake shore set aside for their enjoyment. All this is separated from the lake park (called Lake Baldwin Park) by a fence. The fence even extends several feet out into the water, and the place across from the multi-acre dog park–where the boys paddled in the kayak and fished off the pier–is marked with a sign reading “No Dogs Beyond This Point.”

Almost every time we visit this lake park, we see dog owners bring their pets right out onto the pier, past the sign informing them not to bring their dogs to that area. The dog park has its own entrance, so there’s no need for the owners to walk their dogs on or near the pier. Sometimes these dogs startle my children while the boys dangle fish hooks in the water, but the dogs are usually on leashes, and I typically don’t say anything to the owners about it.

This past Sunday, however, we encountered a different situation with a dog and her owner. The man dropped his dog off at the dog park and then walked over to the lake park, to the pier, and stood on it while yelling at his dog across the fence. He wanted her to swim around the fence that stretched out into the water and make her way over to him on the pier. He tried to get her to swim around to him over and over. She didn’t seem to understand the command. Eventually, he went back inside the dog park to retrieve her. Then he brought her with him back to the lake park, to the side of the lake NOT designated as a dog park. He took her off her leash, letting her run freely.

And run she did, round and round. She ran around him; she ran around me; she ran around the pier and into the water. At one point, Garfield turned around while sitting in the kayak to see a large dog running full speed toward where he sat in the water. I called out to him that it was OK. But it wasn’t OK with me. 

During the time the dog ran wildly around the lake park, the dog owner kept calling to his dog. It was clear he’d lost control, although I could tell by the tone of his voice that he didn’t want it to sound that way. When I tried to reassure Garfield that it was OK, he heard me and answered, “Oh, she won’t bite; she just wants to run.” I didn’t respond to him, but I could see how exasperated he was getting with the dog. He seemed to be the kind of person who wanted to give the appearance of having things under control, of being IN control. It seemed to matter to this man that the handful of people at the lake saw him as a guy who could get things done, as somebody who certainly wouldn’t be bested by his dog.

We got ready to leave just a few minutes after this man finally wrangled the dog and got her back on the leash. As I walked over to Mike (from where I’d been exercising), I considered venting about this irresponsible dog owner. Which is a bit of a pet peeve for me, y’all. But I believe God prompted me to hold my tongue; there was no reason at this point to comment on the situation. So I chose not to say anything–not to complain.

But I thought about this occurrence at Lake Baldwin Park over the next couple of days. I thought about this man, not just about what he did that bothered me or frightened my children, but about him. And I concluded that he was embarrassed. He was embarrassed that his dog had gotten the better of him–and in front of other people at that. All his bravado, his very calculated nonchalance, was to cover up his embarrassment. His fear of not being seen as the person he wanted to portray to the world, even to strangers.

And instead of feeling annoyed by him, I felt some compassion for him. I also realized that most (all?) of us struggle with this to some degree:  fear of being exposed, of being found out, of not being seen as the pulled-together and competent and capable people we want others to know we are so that we can be assured of being accepted and wanted.

When I think about all this, my heart feels freed up to extend more grace to this man. And just think–perhaps none of that would have been possible if I’d complained.

Our Holidays So Far

Mike took off this week from work, and although we had a ‘regular’ home school day on Monday–as ‘regular’ as they can be, I suppose–we did something different on Tuesday. We went gleaning–gathering left-over crops on a farm to help people in need, alongside some friends of ours and in conjunction with the Society of St. Andrew.

I felt confident side-lining academics for this, since it’s not only educational but also gives us an opportunity for service. And I want our home school experience to be fleshed out not only with academics but also with serving others.

After helping bring in almost 5000 pounds of acorn squash, butternut squash, and eggplant, we spent today [Wednesday] doing a great deal of Christmas reading:  several selections from Lois Lenski’s Christmas Stories along with a beautiful book called An Orange For Frankie and The Story of Holly and Ivy. We rounded out our night-time reading with a quick picture book called The Gift of Nothing.

But wait, there’s more! This morning, I picked up Garfield for a delicious cuddle. He had a toy in his hand while I held him, and, unbeknownst to me, he had twirled the handle of it into my hair while we were hugging. When I set him down, we both realized that this thing was stuck in my hair. By the way, I hate this toy and have tried or asked to give it away multiple times. To no avail. Here’s where it ended up this morning:

toy-in-hair
What’s in my hair?! Oh, no! I can’t look!

No, it’s not resting on my shoulder, nor is it a huge dangling earring (I don’t have pierced ears). It’s in the strands of my hair. I almost got fussy about it, but Garfield apologized profusely, and I saw the humor in it. I cut it out, Garfield pulled out the remaining strands of hair, and all was well.

Then right at bedtime–after our lengthy reading session while piled up on the parents’ bed–the boys went to the bathroom once more before bed. I heard some unsettling words coming from there and inquired about it. Here’s what went down.

Woodrow had exhibited his Cub Scout knot-tying skills and tied a LEGO shark to a piece of para cord. He told his little brother he was going to dip the shark in the toilet and then put it in the water cup that they share in their room (for those thirsty wake-ups). Garfield was understandably perturbed by this, so he told his big brother that he was going to pull Woodrow’s nuts off if he followed through on that.

The shark did go into the toilet (But I rinsed it off afterwards! says Woodrow) but not in the cup of water in their room. The water is safe. All body parts are safe.

And that’s our holiday week so far! Gleaning, reading, enjoying Christmas stories…and living real life. Merry Christmas, y’all! 

Wear It Well Wednesday: A Day at the Park

Saturday after Thanksgiving, we packed up our lunch and the boys’ fishing gear, and we headed to Moss Park to spend the day. We’ve camped at Moss Park numerous times–we were also there for our Cub Scout push cart races in September–but this was the first time we’d visited this park without an event to attend.

We’d had a few chilly days before this, so I wasn’t sure how to dress that day. I decided to split the difference and wear shorts with a long-sleeved t-shirt. I spent approximately 4.3 seconds making up my mind about this, so I’m not sure it was actually a “decision.”

But here’s what I wore…The coral-colored long-sleeved hoodie came to me as a cast-off from my sister Rachel. The shorts also were formerly hers. My shoes were purchased second-hand (from eBay, I believe), and they are so useful. They’re Keens, which is normally an expensive brand. But my second-hand pair is as good as brand-new.

Even the sunglasses are hand-me-downs, picked up by my husband from the give-away table at his office. I don’t know if this ensemble officially qualifies as an “outfit,” but it’s what I wore. And this oak tree root system made a great place to sit and rest.

Looking for a place to enjoy a nature walk in Orange County during this luscious weather? Moss Park is a great pick. The entry does cost a few dollars–depending on how many people are in your vehicle–but I think it’s well worth it. Other favorite parks of mine in and around Orlando:  Dickson Azalea Park, Langford Park, and our family’s newest discovery, Lake Como Park. Enjoy this season and be sure to spend lots of time outside.

 

allison-on-tree-at-moss-park

A Season to Learn, A Season to Discover

This week, we officially started our 6th year of homeschooling in the Lee family household. I recently re-read these words that I’d written over a year ago, reflecting on some sweet home school moments–intending to gird up my loins, if you will, for a new season of teaching and leading and learning. I’ve discovered as a home school mama more than through any other life experience that my heart and mind need to receive constant reminders of truth. This memory from 2 school years ago provided a fresh injection, a renewal of vision for why I do what I do with my boys. sunflower plant

{—————————————————–}

Home school, like any form of schooling and more or less anything in life in general, must stop for an emergency. Today’s emergency took place when one of our tadpoles had hopped out of the dish of water where we’ve been nurturing them with his newly-formed frog legs–built as his body consumed the fat stored in his tadpole tail. He looked so tiny, and he had seemed content to hop on the seashell we’d placed in the water. Every time I look at that container with algae and pollywogs and pond water placed on our kitchen table, I just think, “You might be a home school family if…”

My younger son and I had been observing the dish of water and its residents earlier in the day when he asked me where the newly-hopping little guy was. I couldn’t give a satisfactory answer for my boy, and he pressed me to promise that our tadpole-frog hadn’t leaped out. I think he worried that we’d lose this one–truly, that it would die–because years earlier, we’d raised tadpoles and one indeed had jumped from our bowl and couldn’t get back in, only we didn’t know. This wee one had been found later (a day? Two days?) dried to our tile floor. I didn’t fret this time, though; I figured the seashell provided enough land habitat for this current tadpole.

Then, while my older son wrote a story–that he volunteered to write in cursive!–and I helped with spelling (a character in a Truman Capote story is described as having spelling that is “highly personal and phonetic,” and I think that about my son sometimes), we spied a teeny animal on our floor. There was the young frog, hopping soundlessly on the white tile, between my feet and our table. I slid some paper under him and carried him to the pond behind our house, calling out to my boys to open doors for me so I could get him outside. We wished him well and then returned to our lessons. But I never minded that interruption, or the one involving checking on the butterfly that we’d rescued from the sidewalk in front of our house the afternoon before.

sunflower seeds

My boys had spotted the butterfly and pointed it out to me. We noticed that it still had life in it but that he could not fly–a bottom piece of one wing had been torn away somehow, and its body was no longer symmetrical. Younger boy had serious qualms about bringing it in the house; maybe he imagined it flying around and landing in his food or something. So I brought out a small glass vase of wildflowers we had picked a few days before, put it on our porch, and then delicately placed the disabled butterfly on a flower. He hung there for hours, moving from one bloom to the next. (He? She? I don’t know why I don’t want to call these animals “it.”)

After we delivered the baby frog back to the pond today, I thought of the butterfly. Once again, we paused the school lessons to peak in on the butterfly–still alive and still not flying. Only now, he was resting on our porch beside the flower vase. That interruption had clearly been my idea, but those are the moments I don’t want to miss. I firmly believe that learning is always taking place, so I don’t want us to miss what we can learn from and in the world around us.birdhouse in backyard

That is part of why I love being involved in God’s creation, taking part in the life around us…rescuing a butterfly (even if the life remaining is short), releasing a frog to its homeland (or home water), listening to red-winged blackbirds fuss at us as we fish at a lake near the spot where they are building a nest. I feel very engaged in life around me when we do all this nature stuff, the life that exists and thrives and brings praise to the Creator. Birds and large-mouth bass and alligators doing what they were created to do–it not only glorifies the One who formed this earth and all that live in it; it shows us how intricately He is involved in the creation that He crafted and enjoys.

{———————————————————}

I know Woodrow and Garfield and I will continue to revel in the nature around us during this school year. Yesterday, we spotted a shed snake skin beneath a pile of branches in our yard. There’s always something new to discover in this world. Here’s hoping you enjoy your moments of discovery, too.