family

PRUNE THE GOOSE, DEMOLITION + OTHER SMALL JOYS

 
mother and child by samantha spigos
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daughter and father enjoy morning coffee by samantha spigos
daughter and father enjoy morning coffee by samantha spigos
daughter and mother enjoy morning coffee by samantha spigos
daughter and mother enjoy morning coffee by samantha spigos
dismantling a ramp outdoors by samantha spigos
dismantling a ramp outdoors by samantha spigos
dismantling a ramp outdoors by samantha spigos
babies at a water table by samantha spigos
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Today is Mariellen’s birthday. It would have been her 87th year this side of heaven. Instead, we have filled the rooms of her home with growth and vibrancy, and lately those same qualities have been finding their way to the flower beds, Ghost’s grave, the onion patch, et al. Yesterday was Mary Frances’s birthday. The queen of my heart and, by all scientific measures, an actual earth angel. We ate rhubarb pie together, the unofficial food patron of our family. Tomorrow is Janet’s birthday. A Chicagoan who blessedly moved to Ohio and raised the man I love most on Earth, plus flower beds that you’d swear sing with gladness. Grandmother, Mother, Mother-in-law: the marvelous trifecta of matriarchal birthdays.

I’m taking notice of this abiding peace. It is settling somewhere that I hope can’t be, or won’t be, easily penetrated. Decisions made in the name of Family and Hope and Possibility are bearing ripe and abundant fruit. Certainly nothing exotic. The boys dismantled a ramp with hammers and drills and saws, while I readied an “orange plate” consisting of every orange-colored provision I could find, and my sister set up a Slip ‘N’ Slide. When the work was finished the little ones made haste to throw on their swimsuits; as for mine, she waited exactly five minutes before pooing in her brand new swimsuit. Like I said, nothing exotic. But good, good, good.

A too-early morning with a too-full heart, if such a thing exists. Prune is settling in nicely; it is as though the spot between the rose bush and the bird feeder was waiting for a concrete goose. The sparrows don’t mind her and, oh! would you believe it, a grey catbird came to visit — a first. Subtle changes, big feelings.


“There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”

— Gerard Manley Hopkins


—S

FIVE HOURS IN QUINCY

 

Last Sunday, our entire immediate family — 15 of us — flew or drove to Quincy, Massachusetts to surprise Erica, Sam's oldest sister. She entered religious life with the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth in July of 2016 and is currently in formation. She was gifted a five-hour long "family day" and was incredibly excited to know that we were coming with Sam's parents. She never dreamed that all 15 of us would be waiting for her. We rented a house and hugged and laughed and cried and ate pastries and soaked up every blessed minute of those five hours. Everyone had a verbal present for Erica — be it song, poem, letter, rap, or in our case, a blog post. Below is what we read aloud to her. Mark took all of these photos. It's a gift in itself to be able to relive the radiating joy which, if you ask us, was probably making the house physically shine. To everyone who loves Erica, we hope you feel like you were there with us, with her. In spirit, you were. —m+s

Currently, 15 of us are under the same roof, either asleep or awake, but no matter the case, there lives a deep and familiar sense of anticipation. Earlier today, all of us were en route to Boston for a two day Rendezvous Of The Highest Order. By way of plane, train, and automobile, our caravan has arrived. Because, as perfect timing would have it, our sister— the one who lives in a convent and is becoming a religious sister — has been given five hours to be with her family, us. And as perfect timing would have it, this week we all found ourselves journeying from Colorado, Ohio, and Vermont to make this given gift a reality. Can't say how we all managed to pull this one off, only that we have and that a reunion of this sort has us intoxicated with gladness.  

When we tell people we have five hours to be with Erica, they tend to be shocked by what sounds like a lack of time. Understandable, sure, as five hours isn't much time. But, ah! It is! Let us shout it from the rooftop, It is enough, It is enough, It is enough! Last summer, when having a nun for a sister felt impossibly hard for Sam to adjust to, Erica wrote that maybe it would be a cathartic and healing process to put into words, here on our blog, what she, Erica, might be thinking and experiencing. It was inconceivable that either of us ever be able to do this. How could we imagine, much less put into words, what Erica— spiritual gangster, brilliant beyond reason, and hilariously lovable Erica—would be thinking? Impossible. Impossible until this evening.

Of all the nuggets of wisdom, of all the emotions felt, of all the letters exchanged, I feel assured that the thing that Erica would want us all to experience is, really, quite simple.
To want what we are given.
That's it. That's it and it's everything.

She would want us to let this truth that says that happiness is Here + Now ring out like a joyous symphony in our hearts. She would want us to know that the Lord she has devoted her life too is Generous + Unceasing in love. She would want us to embrace the reality that what we are given in life, by God, is All Gift, as she puts it. She would want us to feel freed of the bondage of wanting for more, just as she is free in the convent despite a life that, from the outside, must seem terribly Un-Free. She is free and so are we. 

And this is how five hours can be just enough. 
A morning update: Very shortly we're heading to get our Eri. It's an enormous surprise. The 15 of us are in various states of readiness — especially the 15th, a tiny baby girl, no bigger than a mango, who is hard at work growing inside her mama's womb (blog note: that's my future sister-in-law, not me). Today is everything. When you want what you are given, 5 hours is Totally + Completely enough. 


—M&S

WHEN MAMA VISITS

 

I have joined a troupe of millions of others: those of us who have Flown The Nest. Sure, sure, this isn't news. I've been far from the Midwest, absent of the daily comforts of my truest true home,  for many moons. Seasons have blossomed and gone dormant. It's not often that I get a taste of home, though it does happen. The allure of this Vermont dairy goat farm is enough to bring our Ohio family + friends our way. Likewise, I remain prepared on a moment's notice for the chance to head westward — straight into my grandma's arms, directly onto my parents leather sofa, or swiftly into my mama-in-law's garden. To convene with any of our seven siblings over food + shared memories of childhood; honestly, is there anything so good? Rejoining physically with our two families is a desire that all but consumes Mark's and my thoughts. Farming together in Vermont is one step along the way to our enormous dream of creating a haven of animal + earth where we all live. Yes, all of us. A family compound, not unlike the sort that still exist the world over. While we work towards that someday reality, we (try to) accept the necessary distance and give thanks to God for the occasions when we are reunited. Reunited like we just were with my mama, who spent four blissful days with us. How to speak of the joy to be found when mama comes to town . . . 

I have written plenty about my mom, the undisputed queen of my heart. And still it is not enough. I could share a recipe for a cake or write about the farm, but all I want to write about is my love for the woman who raised me. Do you know this feeling? Is there someone, or many someones, in your life for whom you are eternally thankful? From the moment I picked her up at the airport, we resumed wherever it was we had left off. Over the course of four days, I learned about all the happenings of our extended family. We baked a rhubarb + black raspberry tart, plus an almond raspberry cake, and we ate a whole bag of jolly ranchers . . . for good measure. She cooked potato soup + her impossibly good buttered rolls to share with our friends. Every morning we'd have tea and coffee with broccoli + cheese omelettes that I'll never be able to make as well as her. Our last supper together was a pork roast from one of the farm's pigs, along with heaps of homemade sauerkraut. For us spoonful-of-peanut-butter-on-the-way-out-the-door folks, these four days of home-cooked goodness were divine. But vying for my favorite part was the afternoon where mama and I curled up on the couch and watched The Man from Snowy River while it snowed outside the windows. Several nights we prayed the Rosary together, a blessed experience of mother and daughter and Mary that my words could not possibly illustrate. She even woke at 5:00 a.m. to milk the goats with us! No moments of potential togetherness went missed.

She left traces of herself everywhere, as she is oft to do. She and I share a love of gift giving, so when she wanted to gift Mark and I a vintage copper skillet, we lovingly accepted with the knowledge that it will become a family heirloom. Now each time I use it, I think of her visit. I picked out a vintage chrome toaster while out and about with her that we put to use straight away with butter + jam toast. Similarly, when I look at the handstitched clementine quilt at the foot of our bed, it can almost feel as though she is still here with us. Almost. These are just objects, true, but they are objects with special meaning. I would be remiss if I did not praise my incredible husband, who went so far as to sleep on the couch so that his mother-in-law could sleep in our bed. In his words, "we all just really took care of each other." His love of sharing can stop me in my tracks. But, then again, we're dreaming and working towards a family compound, so togetherness is non-negotiable.

It feels important to chronicle the visit, a visit that we desperately desired and were divinely afforded. But I also write this with the hope that it sparks in you a keen appreciation for the ones you love, be them near or far. It's never going to be a bad idea to tell them so, or to hug them tightly. 


—S

N. CAROLINA | THE VACATION ABOUT NOTHING

 

As I write this, two young goats by the names Dill and Tuna are eating grass with abandon, a watermelon rind just got tossed into the compost bucket, and two towels hang on the line. Vermont once more; us, returned. Not far — at the closest reaches of my memory — lies the ocean. Yesterday morning I sat atop the sand, before my own eyes were awake and before her majesty, the Atlantic Ocean, was awoken. Slowly, with grace and without an iota of pretense, a flaming globe crested the horizon and warmly kissed the edges of the sea. Illuminating everything in its path, the sun awoke us both. With haste and gratitude I realized my role as a child to the ocean, a child to the sun, a child to the sand, a child to the undulations and currents and life-giving force that were happening unnoticed and unabated in that moment. I sat at the edge of my country, holding hands with the mother that grew me, waking up face-to-face with the mother that is responsible for life on this planet. Confronted with so much wonder, all I could think was, “thanks be to God.”

From pockets of Ohio, Vermont, and Massachusetts, our family converged in North Carolina. Back to the same place we visited for several consecutive years during my childhood. Even now the location remains a bit hazy, a bit mythical. This faraway place — humid as humid gets and warmer than us Northerners are used to — sits unchanged with the minor exception of the pier, which washed away during a hurricane. In a similar way, being together as a family, it was as if nothing had ever changed. In ten years many things have changed, of course. One of us has entered a convent, three of us are married or getting married, one of us runs an upscale restaurant and lives in two starkly different locales during the year. Four children have been added into the mix, plus four partners. We have gone from seven to fifteen. Otherwise, nothing has changed. All of the cuddling and request for company (i.e. “come into the bathroom with me”) remains, as does the unquenchable desire to pummel a sibling underwater or onto a sofa. We still stand around the kitchen to snack until the snacks are gone, and we likewise continue to view our parents as ultimate beacons of goodness and joy. The Vacation About Nothing, as it was named, was about as relaxing a week on planet Earth could be. To be so enveloped in the charisma and calm of the people you love most in the world: in a word, heaven.


—S