All Four Seasons

I used to thank God for the changing seasons. Balanced on the stool with the sliding cushion in that second floor 4th grade class. I thanked Him when the lake across the street froze, white lines of frost sketching across the iced surface. I thanked Him when my commute to school was an hour longer than it should have been, and the snow and ice pelted my car, slowed traffic to a hesitant crawl. I thanked Him when the sun’s rays could not pierce the heavy cloud cover, when we stomped our feet and breathed painful, foggy breaths into our scarves.

Thank you for all four seasons. Thank you for this pinwheel of temperatures, storms, weather eternally spinning around us. 

I have a video, barely 10 seconds long. Larissa, still sporting her blue coat, the reflective strip around the collar dull in the bland winter light. She stands on the corner, between plaza and fountains, both of which lie empty in the cold. Do you remember, she exclaims into the camera as the wind plays faintly with the wispy hairs around her face, when it was so cold and Laura and me ran in the snow up there? Here she motions with a baggy coat sleeve towards the plaza behind us. The plaza where, weeks ago, the snow blew in icy gusts through the city, and the open expanse of the raised plaza became like a dance floor for the waves and swirls of frigid air and the ice pellets masquerading as snow. Yes, they ran in the snow. And minutes later, unwrapping scarves, hoods, shedding mittens, we also thawed our eyelashes, watching tiny crystals melt off of each other.

Thank you for all four seasons. Thank you for protecting us when the wind is its sharpest, the roads are their iciest, the cold is its most bitter. 

This afternoon, I’m the first one to arrive at the plaza, across from the fountains. There’s a planter, there on the corner, and I let my bookbag slide down my arm, land heavily on the neat white cement. My shoulders are damp with sweat where the thick fabric straps rested. The planter is home to several sprouting trees, and I pull my feet in, lean my entire body into the shade that they provide. The air itself is hot; the breeze is heated, blowing my skirt, my hair askew. In front of me, a group of 10 high schoolers troops down the orange brick sidewalk loudly, yet their noise disappears almost as fast as they do, almost as if the heat itself has swallowed, muted, their raucous voices.

Thank you for all four seasons. Thank you for the freedom we have to live, to explore, to go, during the warmer months of the year. 

We sit outside to eat. It’s too cold inside- the restaurant proprietors apparently having fallen under the false assumption that the intensity of the air conditioning inside must be proportional to the summer heat outside. But the sun, quickly reaching its zenith, is uncomfortably hot, at least for a meal. How can one eat, how can one sit and converse, when the sun is blank, burning, bristling on one’s head, back, shoulders, face. So we sit in the shade, on the edge of the plaza, and eat our lunch. The napkins blow, attempt escape, in the breeze. My hair flies, knots, my bangs sticking to my damp forehead. The drinks in our glasses, lacking ice, are room temperature in minutes. Standing, we’re sticky, sinking, and yet not buried, beneath the cloudless sky. Walking home, cold drinks clutched in sweaty palms drip condensation. Walkers pause to wipe brows, and then seem to shrug off the heat as they set off again. The sidewalk buzzes, and the beach, I imagine, is even busier.

Thank you for all four seasons. Thank you for this pinwheel of temperatures, storms, weather eternally spinning around us. 

~ Natalia


This is Summer: Season Four {Preview}

The weeks that have passed, these days that pass in the blink of an eye, have been filled with teaching and planning, managing and- sometimes- excelling. 

I’ve been consumed by, totally drawn into, the lives and hearts of 13 little ones; they fill my days, and planning for them, thinking about them, fills my nights. 

And in ten days, when the school year ends and my stars graduate from kindergarten, I will so miss them. 

But beyond that, in the days and weeks that follow, I know what comes next. 

It’s summer. 

Summer with its beach afternoons, belongings spread on damp towels, sisters running, playing, splashing with friends just barely made. 

Summer is Barnes and Noble, library days, and reading books, planning to read books, listing and noting and saving books because I’ve so many to read, and so many that I come back to, over and over, flipping through pen-marked passages to find just what I want to read. 

Summer is Michigan trips and unplanned afternoons with friends, walking the Lakefill as the moon shines over the crystal lake and playing glow in the dark ultimate frisbee at midnight. 

Summer is a break and a stretch, an entirely different arena, and now, as the wind blows rain through the chilled trees outside, I’m so eager for sun, for warmth, and for all those summer days. 


What Comes Next

We’re leaving again tomorrow. Packing up the car, standing on the back bumper, the front seat, elbows resting on the car roof, working to secure roof rack to roof. Towels, swimsuits, pastel pink life jackets tucked amongst suitcases with a week’s worth of clothing, six times over. They tell me that Wisconsin is just as beautiful, just as full of wonder and beauty and northern eccentricities as is Michigan. And maybe that’s true, but Michigan feels magical, enchanting, rustically, wistfully extraordinary, and we’ll drive through Wisconsin, six hours up until an unceremonious stateline crossing, and then, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we will have arrived.

Eight days in the UP. Last summer, visiting in May, the chill of spring still held tight to the water, the trees, the very air. Once, twice, we donned wetsuits, pulling thick neoprene sleeves over still-pale shoulders. We boated, then, bumping haphazardly over the icy water in inflated tubes. That afternoon, sore fingers thawed, blue feet warmed, I laid in the grass between house and lake, the sun above cutting through the towering pine trees, falling in warm puddles of orange across the wide lawn, creating dappled patterns across my legs.

Eight days, two days home, and then I’ll drag boxes of books, papers, school-approved wall hangers out from their summer resting place in the basement. The minifridge I babysat for The Neighbor, the wicker baskets I’ve filled with toiletries, scarves, hair supplies. The rose quilt I fell in love with at the ocean-side consignment shop in Monterey Bay. Most of the contents of my closet; shirts, skirts, dresses, dangling from their hangers, waiting to be hung once more. It all goes in the car, its red body resting heavily on dull black tires.

I’ll fill the car, and I’ll drive back downtown once more. Back to school for one more semester. My last set of four months spent living in that sixth floor dorm room. Like an oversized shoebox with a window, we’ll divide the room: you’re desk and mine, your closest and mine, your bed and mine, working together to color the wall anything but dingy off-white; working to make it our own space.

And then classes will start, moving through, amongst, occasionally against the flow of 1600 others doing the very same thing. And then… and then… and then…

There’s a next and another, and school will follow soon; something that I love and look forward to. But there will be days, soon, to anticipate that, to live that. But first, what comes next, is Michigan days and dark, crisp nights under the northern sky. What comes next is the last days of my summer, days of playing and working and family and visits and friends. What comes next is what I’ll think about. And all the rest?

Well, that will come later.


A Fleeting Wave

The sand is cool, still damp from the rain that pounded the earth this morning, heavy drips still falling lazily from tree branches when the sun came out, light refracting through fat water droplets. I sit on the packed sand, bare feet in front of me, arms wrapped around my knees in the cooling lakefront air.

Before me, beach volleyball nets stretch neatly into the sky. The nets, hung two months ago when the calendar hinted summer, even though the weather resisted, have loosened. No longer tight, stretched taut between the white painted poles, they hang slightly slack, and stray volleyballs don’t bounce off of them, but rather slide, anticlimactically, to the lumpy sand below.

Beyond the nets, the lake laps the shoreline, leaving layers of darkened sand where the water has permeated the fine grains of rock. It’s evening and the lifeguard stands have been deserted; NO SWIMMING the red signs say, hanging where they’ve always been on the backs of the tall stands.

It’s past swimming time, and the beach slowly begins to empty, as the thick clouds in the sky are alternately outlined by the gold, orange, and crimson tones of impending sunset.

I dig my toes under the dark, wet sand, feeling the tiny grains between my toes, digging my feet deeper under the weight of the cool sand. A stray volleyball lands just beyond my feet and I look up, my gaze drawn from the sandy white ball to the cloudy, water color vibrant sky.

There’s movement on the sand then. Yards away, the sand rises slightly, creating a ridge between beach house, next to the road, and shoreline, at the end of the sand. A young boy runs, white swim trunks long around his calves, white shirt vaguely pink in the light of the evening sky. Eyes raised, I follow his direction, his line of vision, to the little group he’s running towards, reduced to silhouettes by my low vantage point and the sky’s glow.

Feet tucked under the sand, I watch the child run, his small body framed against the backdrop of watercolor clouds, drifts of sand woven with thick, hardy plants, the multicolored rocks of the breakwater, far beyond him. And the 8pm warning horn sounds, echoing over the lake, and the sailboats dotting the space where blue lake meets colored sky begin their slow retreat to the boat house once more, and I lean down, pull a handful of sand into my hand, and hold as long as I can to the beauty of a moment that I know is as fleeting as a wave on the water-soaked shore.


Never The Same as Right Now

Tomorrow marks one month that I have been home.

One month of top bunk sleeping, little sisters in their big bed below, sprawled on pink comforters in the increasing summer heat.

One month of pouring cereal in the morning, sitting two seats down at the dining table because there are high chairs princess chairs are scattered around the wooden table.

One month of walking along Sheridan road to work in the evenings, threading through Northwestern’s campus, eyes behind sunglasses watching students and employees stepping briskly through their own to-do lists.

One month of church on Sunday morning, front row balcony in the same random lineup every week: sister, brother, sister, sister, on down the line.

One month of summer.

In three weeks, really even less, there will be last minute packing (really though, all of our packing is last minute), loading suitcases into the church trailer, settling in for the six-hour ride to WOW Camp.

A mere five days after that return, I’ll pack donations, slide passport into my backpack, hold my breath in excitement as the plane takes off for a week in Guatemala.

After that adventure, I’ve time to take a breath, wash laundry, oversee the sisters packing, before rolling down the jet bridge once again; this time with the family, this time for a week with the cousins, the grands, the aunts and uncles amongst the trees, mountains, glorious blue sky of Lake Tahoe.

Vacation Bible School follows, Sunday night prepping my classroom, hanging name tags on the wall, rehearsing lessons and underlining notes for a week of 2nd Grade teaching.

Classroom cleaned, children hugged, prayed over, we’re in the car, eight hours through Wisconsin this time, to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Eight days of boating, hiking, reading, playing, laughing, eating now with the other cousins, a yearly highlight we’ve been counting down to since last year’s trip ended.

Then, like that, I’ll be back at school, moving the contents of my bins back into those old desk drawers, hanging my wardrobe once again in that deep, scuffed up closet.

And summer will be over.

I’ve overwhelmed myself, telling you all that. Not because it’s so much, but because I know it will all go so very fast.

I think that’s why I wanted to tell you, too; that’s why I wanted to write it all down, talk it out, make it real. Because trips will come in the blink of an eye, and they’ll end that fast, too, and I want to remember to cherish what I’m doing now.

I want to be wherever I am, happily.

I want to do whatever it is that I am called upon to do, contentedly.

Every day, no matter how commonplace.

Every task, no matter how much I’d prefer to move forward, look forward, be forward.

Because after these tasks come more, and after these days come others,

and it’ll never be quite the same as it is right now.


Summer Potatoes

Twice today, walking, living, in this snow globe, winter-heavy city, someone said summer, wished summer, longed for summer.

I laughed each time. Light, dismissive laugh. Laughed to forget, really, because, of course, wishing for summer now will only make winter seem to drag longer, days of hair-whipping wind, hand-stinging cold extending endlessly.

Don’t say that, I admonished, grinning. Then summer will never come!

But the words were said and my mind wandered to thoughts of hot pavement, skyscrapers reflecting heat, walking down Oak to the beachfront underpass, the crowded sand.

Perfect, hot, sunny, warm, beautiful summer.

It’ll be here soon enough, and I don’t mind the cold, really. I tell myself.

Snow is an adventure. Snow is fun.


But there’s another moment, a summer memory, that’s too real to forget. I can push Oak Street Beach, sundresses and flip-flops, sunglasses tracing a tan around my nose, from my mind. But reality, the ins and outs, ups and downs of jagged emotions and the fast-paced chaos of real life? Well, that is harder to forget.

Late May, it’s sunny, warm, outside and pleasantly hot inside the car, parked where it is in the tree-less, shade-less parking lot.

Inside, it’s the Mother and I, trailing three little ones through the aisles of the food market.

Jaid is there, white polo shirt, khaki shorts. He’s sitting in the seat of the cart I push, his strong, narrow arms stretching at lightening speed between the food in the back of the cart, towards me, reaching for aisles, displays, food containers.

Behind us, staying out of arm’s reach, yet worried to dawdle, to remain, too far behind, the girls each clasp a bundle of plastic bags in their already-tanned hands.

Ahead, around the corner, across the aisle, the Mother squeezes avocados, weighs peaches in her hands. Decision made, she directs the girly pair; ten apples, four mangoes, a couple avocados. They select, bag, tie.

I’m helping, too, but then JJ’s upside down in the cart, back arched over the collapsible child seat, reaching for food, groceries, anything within his curious, active, little boy reach.

It’s stop and go, through those grocery aisles. All three- 8, 6, 3- are tired, whining, and I’m on shushing autopilot, offering a half-hearted, ill-timed “shhh” in response to every complaint of too heavy, too much, too tired, too hungry, too he tried to hit me.

We’re making progress, moving forward, inching towards the cashier, when the child in front of me is too fast, too strong. Straining against the faded straps of the cart’s child seat, he wraps his fingers around the corner of a bag of potatoes. Brown and solid, he pulls those potatoes out of the bottom of the cart, sends the bag careering through the air before I have time to think, time to respond.

Of course, there’s a child not far behind us, and the potatoes connect with her stomach, bouncing to the ground as she leans over, clasping miniature hands over her white shirted belly.

She doesn’t care, of course, that he didn’t mean to hit her. That the throw wasn’t that strong, or that there were only a few potatoes in the bag. She still got hit, and he’s there in the cart, moving- always, always moving- to get somewhere, to do, touch, feel something else.

In front of us, in search of the last items on the list, the Mother hears the yells, the soft thud of potatoes hitting little body, then the concrete floor, and she’s comforting the girl, admonishing the boy, in a moment. I’m fighting a losing battle, now. He can reach the other contents of the cart and he knows it. He’s alive and so very energized, and I’m wordless, devoid of solutions.

Take him to the car, she says, handing me her car keys.

So I do. I pull that sweet, moving, bundle of wild out of the cart straps, settle him on my hip. He doesn’t fight being there, being held, and out in the parking lot, I sit in the driver’s seat, he sits buckled into the pink flower carseat behind me. He’s tired, of course, and the car is safe, familiar, and he leans his head against the seat, holds loosely to the Matchbox car I found on the car floor earlier.

The girls, the Mother, are not much longer in the store. Soon, the sliding door rolls away to reveal the Mother, skirt blowing in the early summer breeze, the little ones on either side of her, clutching the snacks they chose for the ride home.

But before they finish, before we’re unpacking cart, loading car, I sit in the car with the boy child in the calm. I’ve rolled the windows down, a little, and the sounds of grocery stores, parking lots, and people are muted, gentle, easy, in the warm air. Overhead, through the tinted windshield, small, soft white clouds float across the pale blue sky, only occasionally obscuring the sun ever so little, on that summer afternoon.


WOW Camp Thinking

WOW Camp 2013

WOW Camp is nearly six months away, of course, but youth group on Sunday night, we said “WOW Camp” and the students have ideas and thoughts and suggestions. Car ride home, Michelle say, “If I give you a notebook, do you have time to start thinking and planning?” and those little camp souls and smiles and that wonderful, challenging, sweet week in Michigan have been on my mind these past days.

And I texted Michelle not two hours ago, Better get me that notebook, I’m already thinking about WOW Camp. Because each year is different and each year is a wonder and a memory and an opportunity for students, children, families, to experience the love of Christ.

And that’s something I really like.


Previous Older Entries