Laundry, Clovers and Good Fortune

I am not sure where the week went.  We went to Blacksburg last weekend which, of course, was awesome. We all came home with sunburns. You would think that after almost eleven years of raising ginger people I would get the fact that I need to apply sunblock.  I failed.

Anyway, so we left Blacksburg early Sunday to get back in town for Will’s middle school basketball tryouts. And then we had two games.  And I didn’t get the sheets changed.  So on Monday I was doing laundry and sheets all day long.  And then our house was void of all food, so Tuesday I went all over town and back again for food. It is becoming increasingly difficult just to keep the house stocked with food. Why do they eat so much??? And we had an audiology appointment and an ophthalmologist appointment, and then we had softball and cheer practices so I didn’t clean anything in this entire house. And there was a LOT of laundry STILL sitting in the chair waiting patiently to be folded.

Then it was David’s birthday, so I cooked a lot, and went shopping and got myself a couple of sweaters and some new jeans for his birthday. And I went to the home depot and bought him a new weed wacker for his present. (That is what he wanted.) And the laundry still needed to be folded.

Then it was Thursday and I cleaned bathrooms.  And I finally finished folding the laundry. Kate had riding lessons and while we were there Ella spent most of the time on the tire swing getting filthy, eating popsicles and finding four leaf clovers.  She found 21 I think.  She spread them all out on the island and everyone picked two clovers to keep for themselves.  Henry put one in his sock this morning for good luck on his test.

“Wish me luck on my test today mom!”

“What test?!”

“My science test.”

“Did you study?”

“No.  I forgot about that.”


“I know.”

Yeah, so he’s relying on the four leaf clover and his natural brilliance.  Good thing he’s got the clover. And now it’s Friday. This morning, the old man forgot to turn off the alarm before he let Poppy out, so everyone was wide awake and terrified nice and early. Ella was looking at the clovers she pressed in a book, and left the book on the floor so Poppy came by and ate the clovers. Let me repeat that. Poppy ate the clovers.

“What’s Poppy eating?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where are my clovers?”

So that was great because then there were hysterical sobs. And can I just say that I had a hard time not smiling during all of the sobbing because Ella has lost one of her front two teeth and the other one is kind of all snaggly looking and she looked unbelievably adorable with her freckles and that crazy tooth and her eyes pinched shut and tears running down her face. She reminds me totally and completely of Ellie from Up.

So anyway, this whole clover eating thing was very, very traumatic because Ella had chosen the most special five leaf clovers that she had found and put them in the book to save them. And now they’re sliding down the dog’s intestinal tract, along with my sunglasses which Poppy chewed up on Monday, and the pencil she chewed up on Tuesday, and the gum and paper she chewed up on Wednesday. (When you come home from running errands and you find shreds of paper and thin strands of gum all over your front entry you know it is going to be a fantastical day.)

So after the clover incident everyone got dressed, and then everyone went to school. And at 3:00 I will pick them up, and that is when the bickering will begin. (I wonder how much Calgon it would take to actually take me away during the bickering…) But hey, I’m not cooking tonight, and there is going to be beer available, and I get to see my family. So there is always that to look forward to.

This weekend there is a softball game and two football games and three basketball games. Oh, and my baby brother is finally getting married to the most wonderful girl ever. I’ll be honest — I am probably going to drink some wine this weekend. And when I say “some,” I mean more than two.

The cool weather is coming. Leaves are falling. It’s the time of year in which I feel this incredibly strong urge to settle in…to add layers, and warm blankets, and candles. To make warm, rich meals, and sip cocoa or coffee or wine in the evening while I read, covered in the soft glow of a lamp. It’s a time to slow down, look around, and thank God for our good fortune.

It’s kind of amazing how you can live an entire week, not realizing how wonderful your life is, until you sit down to write it out in all its mundane glory. And then when you do, you see that even in the midst of all of the errands, and the work and the things the dog ate, there is so much goodness hidden in all that mundane.

You See the Flowers

Kate 2014 NST

From my chair in the sand I looked out over the water, and I watched your willowy frame.  The wind tossed your hair and it sparkled in that way that it does in July, after six weeks of sun has left it’s highlights falling in ribbons around your crown.  You stood at the edge of the ocean, where just your toes touched the water, and you bent to pick up a shell.

I saw it as plain as day.  Later, I wondered if maybe I was wrong–if maybe I saw something that wasn’t there.  And now, a few weeks have passed and there is an image in front of me in black and white — a picture of what I saw back then.  I can’t pretend it is not there anymore.

I saw black and white, but you saw colors and swirls and patterns.  You saw flowers and butterflies and possibilities.

Henri Matisse said “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.”

You have a beautiful mind.  You are graceful, and mature and full of resolve and determination.  Your heart is gentle, your mind is bright, and there is a light behind your eyes that can almost bring me to my knees.

You see the flowers, Kate.

You have always seen the flowers.

The Magic of Ordinary Days

Last week I made all of the kids flannel jammie pants. It was a lesson in patience and learning to cover mistakes. And P.S., I am not real good with the buttonholer. Luckily, my clientele is not terribly discriminating and they have been wearing those soft flannel pants all week even in the 90+ degree heat.  While they laid around in their flannel loungewear, I would spend time in the garden.  The flowers in the garden are more beautiful this year than they have ever been.  The herbs are growing steadily, and the tomatoes are coming along. That is all I planted this summer…maybe next summer there will be more.

I sat the other morning, watching the kids eat english muffins topped with a pat of butter and doused in homemade blueberry jam.  While it is a bit of a romantic sight to see your children devouring homemade blueberry jam while it runs down their arms in thin purple streams, it is also messy. And an indication that the jam was a bit on the thin side.  I will try again later in the summer…

Yesterday, Henry and I spent three hours or something like that building a lego set.  It gave me a reason to avoid steam cleaning my carpets.  Eventually though, the steaming had to be done.  Disgusting.  We live in filth.

Today I went for a run. It was absolutely awful.  It was five miles of yuck.  From the first step I could tell it would be unpleasant.  And then about 40 minutes into the running, I got these rapid fire texts from Ella:

Hi can I get Netflix?
On my IPod?
Odd dj
Do hdjdhd
Hdjdjfjd didhhd

At which point I said, with all the breath I could expend because seriously, I thought I was going to die on this run:

Stop texting me

And she stopped, but only after I got one more “Please?” Then The Man began texting me about his commute, and everyone was on some sort of party text where the whole family gets all the texts, so I could stay up to speed on what everyone was doing at that exact moment, when all I wanted was for my phone to stop vibrating and whistling at me for the next 20 minutes. It could be worse, I know… I mean seriously, how long can you stay frustrated at these freckles:

Ella 2014 B&W NST


This summer hasn’t been all flowers and flannel jammies and lovely blueberry jam drips down our arms, of course. There has been plenty of crying and bickering and teasing and whatnot, too.  And a lot of other kinks in the ordinary chain of events…like the blueberry bush that I planted — you will not believe how many blueberries we have harvested this summer so far.


Two berries — which were outstanding by the way. The birds are getting all of them. Which I knew would happen but I somehow thought perhaps that the laws of nature would cease to exist in my garden.

And the car…we had to have some repairs done.

And then the lawnmower broke.

And the garage door.

And the mailbox post is rotting.

Plus our basement had to be torn apart due to the pipe that broke (which is still not fixed). We have just finally gotten the walls, painting, and carpeting finished.

And today I ran out of butter. I do not even know how that happened because in the 17+ years that we have been married I do not think we have ever, ever run out of butter.

Such is life, right? Highs and lows and ordinary days… But there is magic in those ordinary days.  Look for it.  There you’ll be, just trying to get through another day of cooking dinner while Spongebob plays in the background and you’ll look over and see your four children in the soft, muted light of a late summer afternoon. There they’ll sit, in their flannel jammies, after a day at the pool. They’ll laugh at something…a couple of them will still have a spot of sticky blueberry jam on their cheeks.  And it will knock you off your feet.

Your life is magical.

The Lego Police

Legos NST

Because who doesn’t need the lego police in their bathroom.

It has been there for days now.

Maybe a week.

I love it.

Summer Afternoon

Often in the evenings, when supper is in the oven and the kitchen is (relatively) clean, I take a glass of wine out onto the stoop with me and I stare out at my little corner of the world.

The gardens are alive with dragon flies and bumble bees, and always I see a lot of work I must do…deadheading, dividing, trimming, weeding…

Last night I sat outside and watched as petals from the crepe myrtles drifted lazily to the ground like snowflakes.  What a pretty sight in July…they gathered on the path like clumps of fluffy snow.  We planted those crepe myrtles eight or nine years ago when they were less than two feet tall.  Now they are large and beautiful and provide us with glorious shade for our hot Virginia summers.

This morning I sit in quiet…nothing but that fridge again with it’s hum and the birds’ pretty songs to keep me company.  I picked flowers from our garden the other day and they smile at me…coneflowers and yarrow, hyssop, catmint and even some oregano for fun.  (If anyone needs fresh oregano, I have scads of the stuff.)  On my list of things to do today:

  • make peach cobbler
  • work in the garden a bit
  • make blueberry jam
  • finish the laundry

Yesterday’s run has me feeling a bit sore.  It was my longest run yet — 5 miles — and I am dealing with something like tendonitis in my right hip…I’m pretty certain I need better shoes.  Anyway, when today’s work is done, we will spend the afternoon at the pool.  Hot sun, soft pool towels in stripes and polka dots, cool water and the laughter of children.  Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?  In reality, it may quite possibly be more like this: hot sun, pool towels, luke warm water and the four loudest children in the county.  Well, such is my life, and I love it this way.  When we get home, we will make Limonada do Coco to refresh us before the pizzas go in the oven.

Sounds like the perfect way to spend a summer day…

“Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
-Henry James

I agree, Mr. James.

This Summer Morning

Flowers NST

I have left my job.

I am sitting here in the quiet of this morning sipping a cup of coffee.  The steam rises in swirls around the mug and the soft light of day is beginning to shine through the trees, dappled and twinkling as their leaves flutter in the breeze.  The refrigerator hums.  Just outside the window on our deck a brood of Carolina Wrens is nestled in the hydrangea bush.  Four tiny beaks rest silently inside while the pair flies back and forth throughout the day.  The male calls out, and his song fills my ears…it is much prettier than the refrigerator’s hum.

In my mind a list grows…things that must be done today…this week…this summer, and a sleepy little redhead just tip-toed down the stairs to tell me of her dreams, so I shall go now.

There is much peace in my heart today…

Time Does Go By

The other night I sat in our room upstairs folding laundry.  Ella was in bed, tucked snugly under her fluffy white comforter and humming along to the sound of Henry’s recorder.  He played all sorts of tunes, and she hummed along.  They often sit together while he plays.  He does quite a good job with that recorder, though he could not sing a tune on key if his life depended on it.

I could hear the water running downstairs — David was cleaning the dinner dishes, William was reading, and Kate was on the computer doing some type of homework.  And I sat folding another load of laundry.  I can remember back to when everything I folded had tiny little snaps and zippers and never folded up very well into a nice little rectangle the way I like.  And now I fold compression shorts, and football pants and slippery basketball jerseys, cheer uniforms, plus a LOT of socks.  None of those things fold very neatly either, actually.  I fold and I sigh a little…time does go by.

There is a large picture window in our room which overlooks the front yard.  We used to be able to look out the window and see clear down to the end of the street.  Now, in just ten little years, the maple tree is so large I cannot see past it.  It’s green leaves ruffled in the breeze that night, making the setting sun’s light flicker through the shutters.  What I see the most when I look at that tree is it’s shade.  I can remember sitting with Coco in the tiny patch of shade it provided ten years ago…we had to keep moving to stay in that shade patch because the tree was so small.  That was back when he was sick, but before I knew he was sick.  He would just sit there with me.  I thought he had finally, at eight years old, mellowed out.  It turns out that he was dying.  It still to this day breaks my heart that I didn’t even know.

But life goes on…time marches on even when your world feels like it has been jarred mercilessly into stillness.  You look around at all the people, and they don’t notice…they don’t realize that your world has stopped because their world has not…

The day after Coco died, we spent a few hours at the pool.  I don’t think I moved from my chair much.  His death exhausted me, it consumed me — the memory of it, the pain of it.  But when we came home and walked through the door, I expected him to be there.  I forgot.  I forgot he was gone.  Sorrow has a funny way of torturing a person like that for a long, long while, smothering them at first like a heavy, wet shroud, and then slowly unraveling until finally all you feel are the shreds of grief now and then.

It will be nine years without that big, old labrador next week.  And now I sit here, with another dog — a beagle — on my lap. Poppy.

She is a good dog.  She is seventeen pounds to his 75.  She is a lot like him, to be honest.  Having her doesn’t stop the missing him, though.  I guess that’s the sorrow…still touching me even nine years later.

Miss you old buddy.

Don’t ever grow up…

You will turn seven in just a couple of weeks.  I have planned your party.  Well, I have planned the major details…the date and the theme and all that.  I have not bought the invitations, or made lists or really done anything else, sadly.

Your brothers will both be playing in tournaments that weekend.  On your birthday, you will sit in a hot, smelly gymnasium, listening to the squeak of sneakers and the bounce of basketballs and you will ask me “when is it gonna be over, Mommy” one hundred kajillion times.  And I will look into those big beautiful eyes and sigh, because I know it really stinks for you, and it kind of always has.

The other day I was driving home from somewhere and I passed my favorite place on this entire green earth, the garden center.  Outside they have these picnic tables set up with red and yellow umbrellas so you can buy a chili dog and sit down and have lunch during your glorious visit to the garden center.  We have never done this, though.  We definitely need to do this. Anyway, under one of those umbrellas sat a little boy.  I think he was about 3, although I was pretty much zipping by at 60 mph, so I could be way off, but whatever.  I remembered how you and I would go to the garden center together after preschool, and I would buy way too many flowers and you would sweat and get a sunburn because you have red hair and fair skin and I forgot to bring a hat or whatever.  And you would whine about being hot, and itchy, and I would promise you if you behaved we could look at the fish in the pond.  And you would want to spend WAY too much time looking at those fish in the sweltering heat of the greenhouse and I would hurry you along after a couple minutes.  And now I think how that must stunk for you, too.

Anyway, I looked at that tiny little boy sitting under that umbrella, and I thought of you.  You were tiny, like him, and now you seem so big.  And your teeth are falling out and new, gigantic teeth that are too big for your mouth are coming in.  You have bangs and glasses and you’re at school for so long that I hardly even see you anymore.  Time has a way of slipping by quite unnoticed, Ella.

You know what is ironic?  Even for all those hot, itchy trips to the garden center where you did not have fun, you asked for flowers for your birthday.  You want flowers to plant in our garden.  Daddy and I thought about peonies for you — you are going to love them.  And we will get you those gardening gloves you wanted, too.  And maybe even a watering can.  You also asked for books, a new basketball, and hello kitty.  I think that is the most wonderful list of birthday wishes that I’ve ever read, baby girl.

Ella, don’t ever grow up…


It still surprises me when she comes down the stairs in the morning wearing her spectacles.  I am not used to them.  And even though she looks so ridiculously cute in them that I just want to squeeze her, I don’t want to be used to them.  I want Ella back — the Ella without bangs and without glasses and without eye-patches.

Last night she was outside blowing bubbles.  She had her eye patch on, and her glasses on, and I remembered back to a couple of years ago to when she was blowing bubbles.  I had taken pictures of her.  She had long strands of red hair that swept across her forehead and ended in ringlets around her shoulders.  Her skin was fair and without freckles, and her eyes were pools of blue surrounded by long strawberry lashes.  I sat there looking at her now, and remembering her then, and my heart ached a little.  I couldn’t see her eyelashes – there was a glare.  I couldn’t see her eyes.  I missed the ivory-faced baby girl to whom everything was magical, and to whom life had not yet thrown a curveball.

Sometimes at night, when they are all asleep, I sit by their beds, and whisper things to them.  These things I tell them would get lost in the chaos of our waking hours…when they are home from school and the homework needs to be done, and the sports are starting up, and supper needs to be cooked, these quiet words are lost.  So at night, when nothing can interrupt me, and no one can roll their eyes at me, I tell them.

I tell William to work hard.  I tell him that he is strong.  And I tell him that I believe in him, and to never give up on his dreams. To Kate I whisper of her goodness, her innocence.  I tell her that I love it when she plays her viola, that her music is beautiful.  I whisper of horses and flowers and books…these things we both love.  I tell Ella that I adore her, that she is my precious, sweet baby girl.  I tell her that I love watching her play basketball, and that her reading is very good.

And Henry.

Sometimes I start to whisper in his ear.  And then I remember that he can’t hear me.  And that same, visceral ache to one of life’s curveballs arises in me. He won’t hear that he is awesome.  He won’t hear how smart he is, or that he is a leader, or that he has a good heart.  He won’t hear that he is going to do something big someday.

I tell him anyway.

I brush the hair from his forehead, run my finger down the length of his freckled, perfect nose, and I tell him.



All week I could smell it…that mildewy smell where you know something’s been sitting there, soaking wet, for too long and there will be mold and it will be a disaster and you better find it.  Either that or it could be Henry’s old shoes.   Either way, I could not find the stink.

So somehow I convinced myself that I was just smelling imaginary things.  One morning  Kate walked down the stairs, smiled and said “it smells so summery in here!” and even though in my head I was thinking “only if you’re talking about wet pool towels that have been sitting in a heap in a dark cave getting moldy for a week” I guess I wanted to believe her about the lovely summery smell.

And nobody else in the whole entire house could smell it.  I don’t get it because I could smell it in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep.  Which made me not sleep even more because hello, THERE IS MILDEW SOMEWHERE IN MY HOUSE.  But nobody else could smell it.

Me:  Do you smell that?

Them:  Smell what?

Me:  That smell.

Them:  What smell?

Me:  You don’t smell that?!

Them:  Smell what?

Me:  Seriously?

So I let it go for a few more days.  Until Friday night.  I decided to go into the basement (where I never go) for some reason and that is when I entered the mildew pit.  A ginormous section of the carpet was wet and the storage room was wet and there was water dripping all helter-skelter from the pipe.  So I spent the next two hours sucking up water with the steam cleaner.

And that was how the weekend began.

Saturday morning I promised to take Kate shopping.  So we went.  We spent approximately 7 minutes walking around Old Navy, at which point we had this exchange:

Kate:  Mom, I think I’m going to throw up.

Me:  What?

Kate covers her mouth.

Me:  Put the shirts down and get out of here.

I then walked as speedily as I could without looking like I was trying to shoplift, and directed Kate to the mulch outside where she let loose with the vomit.  And that was a whole new fresh Hell for me to deal with.

When we got home, I hugged poor little Kate, and gave her some crushed ice and Coke and a soft blanket.  David and the boys mulched all day while I thought about the vomit and what to do about the carpet.  I stared at that carpet for a while.  I did not come up with any bright ideas.  So then I went to the pet store with Ella, where she really REALLY wanted to bring home a puppy.  I told her she could either have a puppy, or a dad.  I didn’t really say that, but I was thinking it, because if I brought home a puppy, I’m pretty sure the dad we have would leave.

When we got home, we patched Ella’s eye.  I don’t think she appreciates the eye patches all that much if I’m being honest.  Actually, if I’m being really honest, she is slightly tolerant of them at best.

Ella:  Mom, how many more minutes do I have to wear this?

4 hours

Ella:  But how many minutes?


Ella:  What?!

That’s four hours.

Ella:  Mom, now how many more minutes?

Ella, look at the clock.

Ella:  But can you just tell me how many more minutes?

3 hours and 45 minutes.

Ella:  What time will it be then?

Time for you to get a watch.

Ella:  Mom.  Can you just tell me?


Ella:  What?!

And this goes on forever and ever until at some point I say Ella Louise, don’t ask me again.  You can take it off at 7:15.  That’s it.

Sometimes I sit there and watch her while she reads with her little glasses on and her little eye patch and her little feet wiggling the way she does.  And every now and then she’ll push up her glasses and I can barely stand it.  I can barely stand how cute she looks.

Those moments are gifts.

Those moments make vomit and wet carpets tolerable.

Want to contact me?


Copyright 2008-2014 Kristen Johnson

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