An Evergreen Christmas (Part Two)

Hello, good reader! If you’ve just stumbled upon this page, you can find the first part of today’s story here. Once you’ve read that, you will then be allowed to proceed to the story below. Okay, so you can see the story below no matter what, but…just read part one. You’ll almost for sure not regret it.

~

I hadn’t given up on our evergreen tree painting, really.

I had just sort of shelved it, that’s all, hoping that someday…somehow…it would happen.

“Someday and somehow” can mean so many things, can it not?

In the worst case, it can mean NEVER.

In the not-great-but-not-the-worst case it can mean 80 years.

In the BEST case, it can mean exactly NOW.

(But that’s not really good for your character, is it?)

And then, in a really-g0od-I’ve-got-no-reason-to-complain case, it can mean…let’s see…approximately two or three months.

Which is, as I’m sure you’ve guessed already, just when my “someday and somehow” came along!

I was mindlessly scrolling through Instagram of a morning, when an illustration caught my eye.

It was actually the cover of a book that Story Warren was recommending, and though the book itself sounded pretty amazing, it was the artwork that stole my breath. Here it is, just so you’ll know I’m not being dramatic (this time)…

See what I mean?

Breathtaking!

I left a comment about it, and next thing I knew, S.D. Smith (the author of the Green Ember series and the founder of Story Warren) had sent me a message introducing me to Jamin Still, the artist behind the illustration.

By the way, this is just another reason you should be a subscriber to Story Warren; when they say that they are your “allies in imagination” and are on your side, they really mean it.

Anyhow, I immediately hopped over to Jamin’s Instagram page and, once a follower of his work, found myself repeatedly impressed by the magic he was able to bring to life with a paintbrush.

“If Tolkien or Lewis had used paints rather than words”…I thought, delighting in the vibrant and imaginative creations that filled up his Instagram feed.

And I cannot seem to recall what triggered it (pregnancy brain, much?), but I eventually saw something in Jamin’s work that caused the memory of Hosea to resurface, and with it, the painting my husband and I had hoped for.

It was a total lightbulb moment, and this bolt of hope shot through me…

but it was a hope that I quickly squelched.

Because there was no way, right?

Artists have their own stuff going on in their heads, right?

They’ve got things to do and people to see, right?

And you especially can’t just up and ask someone who has beautiful illustrations on the cover of a book to paint a TREE for you, right? Right???

Or…can you?

This is the internet, you know. Magical things happen!!!

With this in mind, not feeling SO very optimistic but determined to at least give it a try, I shot Jamin an email asking if he ever did custom paintings.

Imagine my surprise when he messaged me back, completely open to the idea!

And long story short (because this blog story hasn’t been long at ALL), we started discussing my husband’s journey with Hosea, and the probability that a painting of our favorite passage was actually something that could happen before Christmas 2017.

Turns out, it was very probable. 

In fact, the entire process came about with such ease and such success that I couldn’t help but feel that the Lord was directing this, and had been all along.

Does God only concern himself with the big things, like our health scares, or who we marry?

Is He confined to a pattern with which to declare His glory and power?

Is He limited in the ways He chooses to care for His children?

HA!! Excuse me while I quote my friend, Cher Horowitz.

Pity the Christian who believes that God is too big for the small stuff; in fact, I think He delights in the small stuff, even, by golly, over the paintings we have on our walls! And when we invite him into the minutiae of our lives, He is more than capable of displaying His glory in every single corner of our hearts and homes.

The most touching thing to me about this part of the process was that Jamin, once entrusted with this gift, took it upon himself to really understand the story we wanted to tell.

Stunning in his professionalism, he listened to my husband’s sermon, and with his tools, he brought it to life.

When he sent me a picture of the painting for my approval, tears burned my eyes.

There it was…

our evergreen tree.

And not just any evergreen tree, but one whose life flowed out rather than in. The greenness of the tree in the painting was extending, taking over the dry, cracked ground of the barren wilderness surrounding it, and, well, we KNOW that greenness very well, don’t we? Because it has spread and it has spread and it has spread until it has crossed oceans, finding us and redeeming us and making us green, too.

Us! The people who were NEVER green!

And this greenness will continue to spread until every tribe, tongue, and nation will know of its life-giving fame.

So the painting felt living to me, in a way. This was no inanimate gift that I had retrieved from the mailbox and had hiding in my closet. It was a story, throbbing from behind cardboard packaging with memories of a church changed by the Word and through the Spirit, with Christian brotherhood that reaches across miles and Instagram accounts, and with wild affection for a husband who loves the Scriptures more than life.

Ah! It’s no wonder that I had a hard time waiting to give my husband this gift! It was basically begging me to every time I walked by its hiding place between my boxes of boots in the closet!

But the wait was totally worth it.

For the most amazing thing happened on Christmas Eve.

Gathering our children around him before bed, he opened up the Bible to read to them one of his favorite Christmas passages, not from the book of Luke, but from the book of Isaiah, where God promises to judge the proud.

How exciting this decree of doom must have been to the Israelites. Finally, the Assyrians were going to GET it! God was going to destroy all their enemies!

But then, in what must have been a horrifying twist, those words of judgement swing right back around to the Israelites, themselves. Their own idolatry and pride had found them out, and a great purging was on their horizon: “Behold, the Lord God of hosts will lop the boughs with terrifying power; the great in height will be hewn down, and the lofty will be brought low. He will cut down the thickets of the forest with an axe, and Lebanon will fall by the Majestic One.”

Israel’s deserved future was a landscape of stumps, dead, lifeless, and hopeless. 

Sounds like someone we know, doesn’t it?

(cough, cough, GOMER)

“But wait…” my husband told the kids. “There is good news!”

He then took them to the next chapter of Isaiah, where the story takes a truly amazing turn: from one of those dead old stumps, “the stump of Jesse”, to be exact, a shoot was going to spring forth! And this tree…this tree that was dead…this tree that was a STUMP…it would bear fruit.

What a beautiful prelude to the Christmas story!

And what a beautiful way to start our own Christmas that evening; if you find it striking that my husband was talking about TREES two hours before I was going to give him our TREE PAINTING, you are not alone.

I was struck.

But wait, it gets better. For he then proceeded to sum it all up with these exact words to our family…

 “And the tree that grows forth from that stump? It’s going to be EVERGREEN! For a people like us who are never green…Jesus, the promised Savior, will be evergreen

My friends, I was just quietly sitting across the room from him with our baby asleep on my lap, and I was thinking that I might could just die on the spot.

Is this really happening?” I thought.

I mean, it had been such a long time since he had mentioned that tree!

And now with the painting in the box under the wrapping paper right there next to us he’s basically quoting his sermon from Hosea?

Coincidence??

NUH-UH, DUDE.

And so the belated Christmas gift that I want to send your way this January morning is a testimony from a pastor’s wife in Oklahoma who has done more faith wrestling than she cares to admit: God is real.

And this God who is real declares His glory in millions of ways in millions of homes every single day, and the testimonies of His work could stack up and reach the sky where His glory is already declared ‘round the clock.

Was this painting really a gift for my husband, then?

Or was it a gift for me?

Funny how that all gets blurry sometimes.

Our Christmas Eve devotional concluded and, sending the children off to bed, we began getting the house and presents ready for the next morning. And as we worked, my heart was thumping in anticipation, along with a fair amount of trepidation.

I thought the painting was perfect, but what if it didn’t translate to my husband? What if he had wanted something different? What if he didn’t know what it was?

But when the time finally came and we were sitting by the light of the Christmas tree and he tore off the wrapping paper and he pulled out that small but mighty painting, his eyes landed on the tree, and he looked immediately over at me in speechless wonder…

“This is Hosea…” he whispered.

If I had worried before that the gift wouldn’t be as special to him as I hoped, I’d wasted my time, and if I had wondered at all whether this gift truly was Spirit-led or not, I’d been wondering in vain. Our living room, so often a scene of disorder and Cheerios and video games, had turned sacred all of a sudden, and the man that I love held the painting that we’d wanted and he stared at it, shaking his head in amazement.

I don’t have any compunction at ALL saying out loud that God wanted us to have this painting.

He wanted this tree to be on our wall.

And I don’t know how He will use it or how it will impact our family, but I do know without a doubt that one of the best things that happened to me this Christmas was seeing first-hand YET AGAIN, in this world full of sin and suffering that can reduce faith to a flicker, that God is near.

That He cares.

That He writes our desires and hears our prayers for them, even the smallest ones about paintings of trees that make us think of Him.

Ah, He truly is evergreen.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget that now.

But if I do…

~

I can’t thank you enough for sticking around to hear my Christmas story! I thank God for you. And I also thank God for the brothers He used in this story. If you’d like to see more of Jamin’s work (which is truly incredible – I already have my eye on another painting for my eldest’s upcoming birthday!), follow him on Instagram and then be sure to check out his website. You’ll get lost there, in a good way. And if you’d like to find an amazing new resource for your family, look no further than Story Warren (and follow them on Facebook and Instagram, too!). I could write a completely different two-part blog post about the ways they have impacted our family, but I guess I’ll have to save that for another day. Lastly, if you’ve not read the Green Ember series by S.D. Smith, you are missing out! Find them at Amazon here (affiliated link), and keep up with Sam and his family on Facebook and Instagram; they are sure to bless you! 

An Evergreen Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas…

and all I could think about was the gift I had waiting for him under the tree.

It had been in my possession for months, and I’d almost cheated and given it to him on a couple of those occasions when, as a doting wife, my sentiments were especially high.

But we had somehow arrived at Christmas with the intended surprise still intact, and I was so glad that I’d mustered up the self-control to wait. Our own gift exchange was tentatively scheduled for midnight, after the kids were asleep and the Christmas morning preparations were completed, and as the time drew nearer, my antsiness grew, this long-awaited surprise bubbling up inside of me like the coffee in my percolator.

And when I say “long-awaited”, I really mean it. The story of this gift actually began the previous year, in the summer of 2016…

and, well, you know the drill around here. I’m going to need to tell you the whole story.

It’s what I DO.

(And you are so sweet about listening!)

So my husband is an expository preacher, and the choosing of a book to preach through is quite a big deal to him; once he begins expositing a new book, he’s more or less committed to finishing it so that our congregation can understand the entirety of the message as it was written, in context.

We’ve been through the Psalms together…almost all of them!…we’ve been through Habakkuk, we’ve been through John, we’ve been through 1st and 2nd Corinthians…

and after much prayer and discussion with our other pastor, he had settled on our next book, which just so happened to be one of his favorite books, the book of Hosea.

After the practicality of Corinthians, rife with applicable instruction for how to live and how to treat one another, the book of Hosea was quite a departure. Hosea is a heavy book. It’s a grave book. But he insisted from the get-go that it is one of the most beautiful books in the Bible, and our congregation soon found this to be true. As we labored through the pages of that ancient text, studying the story of the prophet Hosea and his unfaithful wife, Gomer, our understanding quickly grew of the gravity of our sin and the depravity that we would choose to live in were it not for the astounding grace of God.

For we all know it, don’t we? Without His keeping, “Gomer” we would most certainly be, not just prone to wander and leave the God we love, but prone to happily return to the filth and vomit from which we were rescued.

It’s sickening and sobering and sad.

But wait!…

then you get to the REALLY GOOD news.

After months and months and months of highlighting the despicable whoredom of the Israelites and the much-deserved consequences they were facing for their sin, we finally reached the beautiful and shocking climax of the book found in chapter 14, made all the more beautiful and shocking by all that time we’d spent walking through the gutter.

Rather than trying to explain this climax in my own words, I’m just going to pop over to my husband’s podcast, if you don’t mind, and type out the final words he shared with us from the pulpit that day:

“…And I love how (Hosea) ends.

‘I am like a evergreen cypress, from me comes your fruit.’

Listen, if there’s a section in Hosea that you can memorize to know what Hosea is about, it would be Hosea 2:14-23.

But if there was a verse to remember what Hosea teaches us about God in Hosea, it would be this one — ‘I am like an evergreen cypress, from me comes your fruit.’

God has remained ever faithful, ever green, to a people who have been faithless over and over.

He has been evergreen to a people that have been never green.

And what does this evergreen provide?

From me comes your fruit.’

Israel fell when they forgot where their fruit came from…but not anymore. They will know that from God alone comes their fruit.

So look again at the picture of what God is going to do as he fulfills what he said in Hosea 2: Israel is going to sit in a wasteland, sit in a desert, and yet, in the midst of that wilderness there will stand one tree, and it will still be green.

Imagine how shocking that would be…how stark…to be in a desert and find a tree, and not just any tree, but to find, like, a pine tree!…to find a tree that is always green! It’s like something out of the Chronicles of Narnia here! And what is even more shocking isn’t that this tree is green so that it survives. What’s shocking is that it is a tree that is so flourishing in the midst of the desert that it doesn’t just survive…it provides. ‘I am a tree that is evergreen and a tree that can still give you fruit.’

God is not just an evergreen tree, he is an evergreen tree for us.

And again, I can’t help but see how this would point us to Christ.

Our life is like that of Hosea 13 and 14: The weight of our sin dragging us to death, the wrath of God looming over us. Our lives are JUST like that desert…hopeless…empty…and in the desert of this world, what hope would a bunch of sinners like us have?

But in the midst of our desert, we hear this whisper.

Repent.

Return.

Return to me.

And when we lift up our eyes to that whisper, in the midst of our desert, we see there, on a hill shaped like a skull, such a tree.

A tree that will ever be green, a tree that is alive and that will give us life.

~

Yes!! Did you hear that, Gomers of the world? There is hope for you yet! There is hope for us.

Our church rejoiced that Sunday as we contemplated this incredible grace that would bring miraculous, undeserved LIFE to a people who had nothing but the shame they had heaped upon their own heads.

And our pastor…my husband…rejoiced alongside us.

He’d spent so many hours that year pouring over the words of Hosea, researching them, praying over them, and asking God to help him clearly exposite the text, and as he worked, that good news of the cypress tree rooted itself deeper into his heart than ever before; this beautiful portrait of God had reached him, and it had changed him, just like it was changing our church body.

In fact, it was all so very impactful that, somehow, both of us came to a rather surprising conclusion that day.

We needed a painting of this tree.

Which is sort of weird, right? I mean, we’ve heard a lot of touching sermons in our day, and never once have we both decided that we needed a painting of said sermon.

And yet that’s exactly what happened after this finale of Hosea.

“I’d like to have a painting done of that tree,” he mentioned out of the blue. “An evergreen tree that would be common to our area like the cypress tree was to those hearing Hosea’s message…”

“I’ve been thinking this exact same thing!” I gasped.

We looked at each other in a “curiouser and curiouser” sort of way, and then, probably because we live in a lively house where grown-up conversations are interrupted before they can even really get started, we didn’t speak of it again.

I didn’t forget it, though.

Occasionally, I would search through the seemingly endless annals of Etsy, looking for an artist or a graphic designer, even, who could bring this passage to life for us.

But it was a totally overwhelming quest. I didn’t even know where to start, really!

That’s perfectly okay, though, because I learned something important this year…

the God who creates artists (and we know He does that from the book of Exodus) is more than able to help you find the one you need.

~

Oh golly, I love Christmas surprises, don’t you? Thank you for reading today, and please come back tomorrow to hear the conclusion of this special story. Did we find an artist? Did we get a painting of that cypress tree? Will I show it to you??? Stay tuned…

 

(and until then, you can always find us at Facebook where I tell most of our stories!)

 

 

 

Kids and Pets and The Day Zac Died

I have a special Christmas post just about finished and ready to publish, but first I had to share this conclusion to a post I started writing in…oh my…October. What can I say? I’ve been busy cooking up a baby. If you need a refresher to Part One , click here.

~

I woke up one morning a couple of weeks ago to the sound of a normally chipper (albeit hungry) household in the throes of a great and raucous mourning.

And it was a mourning that seemed to be spreading with each pitter and each patter of newly awakened feet upon the staircase.

There was weeping.

There was wailing!!

And all of it was gradually mounting in both participation and volume.

It was like Jairus’s daughter all OVER again.

My husband opened up our bedroom door and sat gently on the bed beside me, a chagrined look upon his face.

“Well…” he said, “I want to preface this by first saying I am NOT talking about our friend, Zac, but the FISH, Zac…Zac died.

That husband of mine is a smart man, knowing instinctively that waking up his addle-brained, sleeps-like-the-dead wife with the words “Zac died” would probably send me into a true conniption.

“Oh no…” I croaked, tuning my ear to take in the specific words and lamentations of each of the children who were wailing in the next set of rooms.

I heard things like “Nooo!!!!” and “Why?!?” and “HE WAS THE BEST FISH EVER!!!!!”

Okay, so let me tell you a little something about the Gore children.

Someone…I don’t know who, but someone very morbid and sentimental…might have inordinately passed down a wee little character trait to each of the children in this house that manifests itself quite glowingly on days like this.

And really, I don’t know if I…er, that person…really passed it down to ALL of the children or just to the FIRST child, who then commenced to influence the siblings who have followed behind said first child.

But regardless of  who, what, or how, the Gore children are just insanely loyal to…

well, to pretty much everything.

For instance, to our house (we can never move). To the nursery upstairs (we can never insert a wall up there to divide it into its two intended rooms, never). To the tiny and completely unfunctioning and unused back porch that we will probably cover over when we build on our schoolroom (they sat on it and cried when they heard this news. “This is our favorite part of the entire house!!!” they bawled). To our former minivans (“If the van is going, I’m going with it! I’ll LIVE in it!” one of our more dramatic children wept). To old toys. To broken dishes. To drawings or crafts of any kind. To paper airplanes. To socks. To taco shells. To Frosted Mini-Wheats that are stuck together in interesting ways. To tiny blueberries. To “lucky sausages”. That’s right. I said lucky sausages.

TO EVERYTHING.

And, most recently, to our new goldfish.

The goldfish that was now floating, dead, in a big jar of water in the kitchen.

God, be near.

“What happened to him??” I asked my husband.

“I told the kids that he died of old age,” he replied. “I mean, that stinking fish lived for two weeks! Who would have guessed that?…”

That much was true. We never thought he would survive the trip home from the fair.

But then he leaned in conspiratorially.

“But if I was really going to name what happened…”

I looked at him, wide-eyed.

“…I think it might have been Chloe.”

Oh.

You mean this cat?

Yeah, that might have had something to do with it.

“I think she tortured him all night and he had a heart attack,” he whispered.

“Oh my…” I replied in matched tones.

What a dismal day at Gore House.

I put on my glasses, waddled to the bathroom, and joined my grieving family as quickly as I could. They initially fell into me, those sobbing children, longing for comfort, but in my arms they simply could not stay; they needed to pace, bless their little hearts, to put motion to their grief, and though it might seem silly to big persons to see these sorts of theatrics…

well, it’s not totally theatrics, is it?

It’s also true sadness.

A first taste of loss.

A slap-in-the-face reminder that death is real and that it takes something precious away from us.

There was a part of me that wanted to laugh at the entire scene…

this stupid goldfish from the stupid fair!!

But there was also a part of me that understood and that empathized and that throbbed a little at what my little ones were experiencing.

Which leads me to a real topic that I want to discuss today.

I would not consider myself a real animal-loving person, and each of our pets house specific characteristics that absolutely DRIVE ME CRAZY…

but it’s a headache that I have come to believe is completely worthwhile.

Animals and children go together quite well, don’t they? I mean, we have a bottle of “Kids and Pets” stain and odor remover in our laundry room. Because “kids” and “pets” are, without contest, a darling duo.

They’re messy. They’re stinky, without intervention. They are full of energy and playfulness and, in most cases, unconditional love. And, oh yes, we cannot forget their LOYALTY.

Our pets have taught our children, right here in the safety of our home, to look out for the little guy (or the Basset Hound who gets her head stuck in the picket fence). To rescue the perishing (or the tiny and starving kitten hiding out in the neighbor’s engine). To protect the weak (or the bunnies who need extra hay in winter and frozen water bottles in summer). To reward the good deeds of the deserving (or the Golden Retriever who learns and listens to commands).

And, obviously, they’ve taught them to love, till death do them part.

Our kids LOVE their animals. They dote upon them like a mother dotes upon her children. They want to take pictures of them anytime they’re doing something cute or funny. They call themselves “Chloe’s Mama” or “Grace’s Mama” or “Jake’s Papa” (consequently, I am “Chloe’s Grandmother” and Sheppy is “Chloe’s Uncle” and so on and so forth). They rush to see them the minute we walk through the door after being out, even for a short amount of time.

And you know what?

Love that big and pure comes at a cost.

For when it is lost, we feel lost.

And so I didn’t laugh at my kids during Zac’s toilet funeral, and I didn’t tell them to toughen up, even as I secretly rejoiced that we could get that giant fish bowl out of our too-small-for-giant-fish-bowls kitchen.

Which was stupid of me.

I should have known that my “loyal” kids would find a way to keep Zac’s memory alive.

You see, minutes after the conclusions of his funeral, grief still fresh, they replaced him with a plastic goldfish we had in the toy bin.

So now Zac can be with us, in our kitchen, FOREVER.

And ever.

And ever.

Yay for pets…

~

Thank you so much for reading today! If you’d like to hear our stories on an almost-daily basis, follow along on Facebook. And for more photos of plastic fish and childhood antics, join us on Instagram! Now, really, stay tuned for a Christmas story that has my heart all aglow. Coming up, this week!! (and I mean it this time…I think.)

 

A Veritable Smorgasbord (or the time the Gore Family went to the fair)

My mom asked me a couple of weeks ago if I’m ready for the baby to get here.

“I am…” I said, instinctively placing my hand to my belly.

“Has it really even sunk in yet?” she asked, guessing the direction of my thoughts.

“It HASN’T!” I exclaimed, glad to know she understood. I went on to explain to her how numb and dumb I have felt this entire year. “It’s like nothing in sinking in anymore,” I said. “And I don’t just mean the baby. I mean NOTHING. And it all feels so funny, like I’ve found myself in a story and I’m just watching it all happen with no real comprehension of what’s going on…”

And I have the perfect example to help display what I’m talking about.

We went to the fair the other day.

All of us.

My mom.

My dad.

My husband.

Our four kids.

Our wagon and our trusty insulated food hamper.

And, most notably, ME.

At the time, almost 8 months pregnant.

Going to the FAIR.

Did you know that, with my heightened senses and a proneness to anxiety attacks, I have been mostly avoiding crowded places during this pregnancy? And I’ve tried to not put myself in situations where there is a lot of speed and a lot of traffic? And I’ve tried to stay away from venues that are very, very noisy?

Until the day we decided to go to the FAIR.

During rush hour.

In the middle of downtown Tulsa.

With all the people and all the animals and all the noise IN Tulsa.

In all honesty, I only said ‘yes’, at all, because my dad is the one who first brought it up. Even more of a homebody than I am, it is a rarity for him to want to go anywhere besides church or work or the farm; however, about once a decade, he has this inexplicable itch to go to the fair…of all places!…and though the “why” is beyond us, we wouldn’t miss going with him for anything.

For when he is at the fair, the man transforms into a totally different person. Mr. Hates Crowds, Mr. Hates Loud Restaurants, Mr. Grumbles at the Prices and Just Wants to Go Back Home and Eat my Mom’s Good Cookin’ turns into this dollar-dropping, fun-having, food-tasting phenomenon that just cracks. us. up.

What’s that? Chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick? Let’s try it! Who wants a footlong corndog? Here, have two! The FERRIS WHEEL?? I’ve got to get in on that action, pronto!

It’s like landing in some sort of bizarro land, and when Mr. Gore and I accompanied him…seriously, almost a decade ago!…with our little firstborn in tow and watched in shock as he morphed into this fair-loving eccentric, we knew we’d stumbled upon something truly remarkable, something that should be observed and remembered and nurtured.

So, yeah, there really was no question about going or not.

I mean, who CARES if I’m starting to waddle and I have to take bathroom breaks every fifteen minutes? My dad’s going to the FAIR and I need to be there to watch him eat cotton candy like it’s his last day on earth!!!!

And then there’s my mom, who loves to go to places other than church or the farm, and is always up for a trip to well…anywhere! The more noise, the more people to watch, the more excitement, the more music, the better!

I wanted to go to the fair with her, too!

And then, of course, there’s that thing I already told you about where things just aren’t sinking in quite so much. I’m numb. I’m dumb. I have absolutely lost control of all the thinking and the reasoning and the logic-ing, not that I ever had much of any of those to begin with.

So, yes, from all possible sides, my reaction was just…

Sure thing! Let’s go to the fair! Thumbs UP!

Mostly because I HAVE NO IDEA WHERE I AM, ANYWAY.

WHY, by the way, is my belly so big??

Where did all my normal pants go?…

Why am I going to the doctor every month and peeing in a cup?

WHAT is HAPPENING, you guys?!?!

I don’t even KNOW.

Anyhow, our kids were 100% super duper excited about this news.

Still at a young enough age where things are awesomely fresh and new, they’re mostly unspoiled about outings, and our house was completely abuzz for days leading up to our fair trip.

And I have to admit, I was a tiny bit abuzz, too. This is what happens when you’re a mom…even if something is out of your wheelhouse, even if you would rather stay home and watch British crime dramas, even if you could think of a hundred things you’d personally rather do than go to the fair…you’re happy. Because they’re happy.

Well, Fair Day arrived before we knew it, and to make the trip extra fun and memorable, we decided we should all ride together in the minivan. It felt like a real slice of Americana, loading up with all my kids and my husband and my parents to drive to the big city and see all the latest inventions from big cities like Chicag-y and Kansas City and Paree. I couldn’t WAIT to taste all the homemade pies and pickles and take a picture with a real bearded lady!

(Or…something like that…)

But it was about twenty minutes into our drive when something deep inside of me started shaking its head most vehemently about this whole adventure and saying “no…no…no…this is not a good idea…go HOME, Mrs. Gore. Go home to your chair! Go home to your silence! Go home to your air conditioning!”

But…then again…there were all those smiling faces in the seats behind me…I could see them in the rearview mirror looking like a smiling scene out of “Meet Me in St. Louis”!…and we’d already packed the kids’ sandwiches and insulated water bottles…

it was really “Fair or Bust” by this point.

And so I did what is totally normal and acceptable and run-of-the-mill in our car these days, I put my fingers in my ears, slumped down in my seat, and squeezed my eyes shut so I could pretend like we weren’t on a busy highway with a bunch of insane city people who were either desperate to get home after a long work day or were, like us, desperate to get to the fair. So they could trample us in line and shock us with their immodesty and make us remember why we only leave our house for places like Silver Dollar City and Colonial Williamsburg.

Do I sound grumpy? I do, don’t I? I’m sorry. The fair will do that to ya when you’re almost eight months pregnant.

But THEN, my friends, we saw it…

The World’s Exposition.

Or, as most folks call it, the Tulsa State Fair.

Wow. There IS something kind of magical about it, is there not? That giant ferris wheel…the carnival music…the smell of a thousand unhealthy foods??

I couldn’t help myself. I started grinning like the rest of them.

And then we got out of our van.

What’s that noise?!” our four-year old whimpered from his wagon, his hands over his ears as he took in the distant screams of fair-goers on carnival rides.

“That’s the sound of people dying, Shep,” his big brother soberly replied.

Ah, I do so love taking my little morbid family to town.

Now, before we really get started with the night’s activities, I have to show you the man who squired us about during our evening at the fair.

Mr. Gore bought this shirt especially FOR the fair a few years ago when he was going to attend with friends, and he wears it to most ‘Merica-type gatherings. We are a patriotic family, no doubt, but this was a tongue-in-cheek purchase what with the George Washington and the gun and the eagle with laser eyes and the fire and the whatnot. It’s just a true spectacle. That doesn’t mean, however, that he doesn’t receive loads of compliments on it…

especially when he wears it to the fair.

I have no words.

For our first stop of the evening, we went straight to the animal birthing center.

Of all the things we saw and did, I think this attraction was the most amazing. There was this long row of animals who had either given birth since the fair began, or who were “due” any minute. Our kids loved seeing the fresh-out-of-the-oven farm babies with their mamas, and I used the opportunity to share lots of commiserating glances with the poor dears who were still waiting for their labor and delivery to happen, while also thanking God that I wasn’t in a pen at the fair for educational research. How embarrassing.

But look at these cute babies!!

After getting our fill of farm life and petting zoos, we exited that building and starting immediately scoping out the food.

Want to see my dad in action?

The signs boasted popcorn, cotton candy, and chocolate-covered cheesecake-on-a-stick, and we had all three of them. And this was only the first stop in what would be dozens. I realized in this moment how fortuitous it truly is to bring a big group of people to the fair, because you really can try everything, and everyone can get a taste or two of the goodness.

Shep decided right off the bat that he really likes the fair. Almost as much as Granddaddy.

This girl liked it, too.

And look at these two being darling.

Oh! Here goes Dad again…

Foot long corndogs for everybody!

And indulge me for a sec while I share a great picture of my parents. I love these two. I’ve told my mom that they both look so eternally young that it has tricked me into thinking they’re still in their fifties and that, when they die of old age, I will be totally shocked. “What happened???” I’ll ask, assuming it was a terrible tragedy. “They were 99 years old, dear,” the doctor will tell me.

And this is when things got serious.

Introducing the bacon bomb burger, this year’s #1 new food at the Tulsa State Fair.

It was good.

It was really, really good.

We all liked that burger.

See? It made us happy.

We also all shared some fries, since we were sitting there with nothin’ else to do.

And a $6 Coca-Cola with $3 refills.

The fair is evil.

So after getting our tummies a little bit full (HA!), we moved on to the things the kids had been asking about since we pulled into the parking lot.

Shep was dead-set on doing this “jumping thing”.

Seven dollars.

Evil.

But he got a ten-cent medal from Oriental Trading Company for participating, so that’s good.

Next up…

THE FERRIS WHEEL!!!!

How beautiful.

But also HOW TERRIFYING!!

Let me ask you fair fans a question about fair rides…

ARE YOU INSANE?!?!

I spent most of our time in this section of the fair ducking, flinching, and feeling responsible for the lives of all you crazies who were loading up into sky-high instruments of death that had just been set up yesterday.

These feelings only intensified when my most precious loved ones were in a creaking metal basket at the top of that monstrosity of a ferris wheel.

It was at this point in our fair excursion that I felt most inclined to have one of those anxiety attacks. The walls…even though there WERE no walls…started closing in on me and the noises got noisier and the people were bumping into my pregnancy girth and the ferris wheel started growing taller and taller in my imagination and…I just had to get out of dodge.

Retreating quickly to a picnic table far away from the rides, I took deep breaths and looked down at the concrete while telling myself that my dad and my husband and my two eldest children and my dearest, darlingest four-year old were not about to crash to their untimely deaths on the concrete floor of the Tulsa State Fair.

Gulp.

But they were so high up in the air!!!

OH the horror!!!

Thankfully, I had one child too afraid to ride this ride.

At least I’d still have her.

Two nice ladies had asked if they could give her this blue dog thing that they had won and didn’t want, and, being so distracted and sickened by the ferris wheel, I said “Sure!”, not even giving myself time to worry if it had drugs or needles in it.

That stuffed animal was the highlight of her night!

And THAT, my friends, is why you shouldn’t ride ferris wheels.

You get free stuffed animals, and you get to live.

By the way, my mom had also chosen survival over the ferris wheel, and that brought me another bit of comfort.

Once the funerals were over, the three of us would move to Nantucket and start a new life. Nantucket probably doesn’t have fairs, and if they do, their rides probably wouldn’t break because Martha Stewart would have designed them, so…we’d be safe there. And maybe eventually happy.

Ahhh!! Look! They’re all waving at me! And they’re close to the ground again! PHEW!!

Maybe my life as I knew it could go on, after all.

And here they are! The brave (reckless) five!

I asked my firstborn (usually a landlubber, himself) how he liked it, and this was his response.

That last picture means “not a thumbs down, totally, but NOT a thumbs up.”

I’m glad at least one of that group had some sense!

And now comes my very favorite memory from our night at the fair.

While my husband rode the merry-go-round with the little ones (this was little sister’s much safer ride of choice)…

my mom said “Hey, why don’t you let me take the big kids walking around for just a little bit so they don’t have to stand here and wait?”

“That would be great!” I said, thankful they’d have a diversion.

And the next thing I heard, slicing through the thousands of fair sounds that were surrounding us, were the familiar happy shrieks of my eldest daughter when she is about-to-lose-her-mind excited.

I wheeled around in curiosity and…

this is what I saw.

I stared at my mom in disbelief.

“How did?…What did you?…Who dee what?…IS THAT A GOLDFISH???”

She flashed her most endearing shrug/smile combo and had to stop right there to put her hands on her knees and start helplessly laughing.

“I never thought she’d WIN!” she explained. “Her ping pong ball just went straight into the first cup!”

I stared at this fishy new family member, wreathed all around by the smiles and exclamations of our oldest kids, and I just tried to imagine how my husband would react to this…er…turn of events. With our two bunnies, our two dogs, and our rescue cat under his delegation, I couldn’t imagine him being thrilled to add another animal to the line-up.

Yeah, I was right.

He was initially not the happiest, and the kids knew it.

I feel like the events and emotions summed up in the following photo are a true rite of passage in the life of an American family…

“Of ALL the games?…” he laughed to my mom, “with ALL the prizes you could win…you picked the GOLDFISH game??”

She shrugged/smiled/laughed again in response.

“But it’s really okay, Papa!” our eldest daughter assured him, “the man said we could buy a bowl for him right here, and it’s only $12!!!”

The fair.

It’s EVIL!

“That fish isn’t even going to survive the drive HOME!” Mr. Gore informed our children.

But then…

being the major softy that he is…

and seeing the dejected looks on our children’s faces…

he quickly changed his tune…

and said, “You know what guys? It’ll be fine! We’ll make it work. This will be FUN! WE WON A GOLDFISH!!!!”

And just like that, the fair was a magical place once more.

A goldfish. You just never know what a day is going to bring, do you? After this most amazing and chortle-worthy experience, we took in a few more attractions…

enjoyed one more “ride”…

and did one last round of fooding.

You’ve got yer Dip n Dots…

You’ve got yer funnel cake parfaits…

You’ve got your…succotash?!…(Weird, right? But actually my favorite food of the night!)…

And then you’ve got ONE more corndog, for everyone to share…

and then…

the GRAND finale…

you’ve got yer deep-fried bacon-wrapped pecan pie.

Yeah.

I feel the same way as my daughter there.

Not because it wasn’t delicious…it was!…but because I’M FULL!!!

My stomach’s full of food, my feet are full of walkin’, my ears are full of noises, my senses are full of total overload, my heart is full of family and fair and fun, and, yes, my fish tank is very full of a FISH.

A goldfish.

The kids named him Zac after our other pastor.

Would you BELIEVE that crazy fish has lived for a full two weeks?

Well, it WAS living…

More on that soon. Stay tuned!

Mrs. Gore’s Hot-off-the-Press Guide to Silver Dollar City

After spending four days at Branson’s Silver Dollar City a couple of weeks ago, I feel the need, not only to jot down some things for us to remember next time we go, but to pass on my newfound expertise for those of you who have never been before.

These sorts of blog posts make all the difference when you’re planning for a trip. I know so because the blogs I read beforehand about how to navigate Silver Dollar City made a HUGE difference in the success of ours!

Thus, without further wordage, I present to you Mrs. Gore’s Hot-off-the-Press Guide to Silver Dollar City (as written in June 2017):

The packing and planning stages:

  • Call ahead (or swing by the day before you go) to talk to someone about all your options during the week of your trip, or ask for an up-to-date newspaper. You need to be armed with all the available info about special deals that might apply to your stay!
  • Likewise, order your tickets ahead of time and look into whether or not getting season passes will be a good deal for you. More on that later.
  • Download the Silver Dollar City app, where you can easily pull up a map, check showtimes, and find special attractions.
  • Study the map the night before and have a game plan. We circled ALL the things we wanted to do on the newspaper map before we went. You don’t want to be standing around trying to figure out where you want to go while everyone else is zipping by you to the fun. Be ready! This is game day, baby!
  • Take your packing really seriously so you’ll have everything you need. If you’re going to be at the park for a long amount of time and have small children…I’d even say children aged 6 and under…some sort of stroller or wagon is essential. There are some crazy hills at SDC and LOTS of walking. This is the collapsible wagon we have and we are superfans. It folds up so easily, it converts into a bench, and we love it. Click on any of the pictures of products below to be taken to the affiliated link at Amazon!
  • If you’re going during the warm months and plan on riding water rides (which you SHOULD, they were our favorite!), make sure everyone has quick-drying clothes and shoes. Our boys wore trunks and short-sleeved rash guards, our girls wore swim dresses from Hanna Andersson, and everyone had a sturdy pair of swim shoes like these. (cheaper versions of this sort of perforated tennis shoe can be found at Gap and other stores).

  • Speaking of shoes, many rides don’t allow flip flops! We took extra flip flops with us in case anyone got blisters, but we were so glad those weren’t the only shoes we brought.
  • Pack your own food and drinks. SDC can become a budget buster if you don’t plan ahead in this department. We saved so much money by taking our own!
  • So you want to pack well, but you also want to pack succinctly. We took two bags with us, both of which stacked perfectly in our wagon, leaving room for two little kids to sit side-by-side. Everyone’s hands were free, except for my husband who was pulling the wagon like an ox.
  • Bag #1 was a small cooler-on-wheels, like this (ours was a red-and-white gingham version of this same bag, but the print is no longer available at Amazon!) 
  • We filled up Bag #1 with frozen Capri Suns (that kept our other drinks cold, but thawed by afternoon for the kids to enjoy), lots of bottles of water, and little cans of Sprite. This bag had mesh pockets on the side that we could quickly slip our electronics into when we weren’t taking pictures.
  • Bag #2 was this medium-size insulated picnic hamper (also red-and-white gingham, also no longer available, but I love this blue version, too!):
  • We put ALL of our other essentials in Bag #2, including a Ziploc of various sunscreens, a Ziploc with hairties and a brush, a small first aid pouch filled with Band-aids (in the case of blisters or any falls and scrapes on the concrete), a Ziploc of medicine for motion sickness or headaches, a small bottle of baby powder (because after four days of water rides and walking, some of our family members had chapping problems, ouch!), my wrist purse, my husband’s wallet, and our kids’ lunch, which included apple juice pouches, Clementine oranges, apples, boxes of raisins, boxes of yogurt raisins, packets of peanut butter crackers (both plain and cheddar crackers), granola bars, and a variety of small bags of chips. Nothing squishy and nothing spillable. Every night before we left, I lined all these goodies up on the counter and let each kid choose which kind of flavors they wanted of everything so we didn’t have any confusion or sadness at lunchtime, plus I’d throw in a couple more of each item just in case.
  • So that was the KID’S lunch. The adults…because we’re adults and we have such fancy tastebuds…got to sample the fare at SDC. Not that we were totally stingy, the kids got to taste pretty much everything we bought without us having to spend our life savings on meals in the park. It worked perfectly, everyone was happy, and it left us with some spending money for afternoon treats like Dippin’ Dots or funnel cakes.
  • Other than that, I packed each of our insulated water bottles, stocked with fresh ice water every morning. When we’d stop for a bathroom break or lunch, I’d refill everyone’s bottle with the extra water we packed in our cooler. This is my own water bottle I bought for the trip. I have the white enamel and I got my mom the copper version because she loves copper and I love her. Another plus, our wagon had two cupholders that held our bottles perfectly! The rest of our family’s insulated bottles snuggled in nicely between our bags and the edge of the wagon.

  • Lay everything out…including the kids clothes and shoes…the night before, pack your hamper, and have all drinks ready in the fridge. Every good pastor’s wife knows that if you want to make it to church on time, you’ve got to start getting ready the night before. The same is true at SDC, people!

Getting to the park:

  • We had heard about the magic of the season pass before we went, but now we’re believers. If you are planning on going to SDC for more than one day, a season pass is a must. With it, we went to the park for two full days of our trip, and then we decided to go ahead and go every morning the rest of the week until the park got busy. It was season pass early hours week (SCORE!), so we would be IN line by 8:30 each morning, ride all the rides we wanted (with no lines!), go and enjoy one of the little children’s sections for about an hour (with hardly any other people there), and be pretty full up on fun before the park started getting even the slightest bit busy. Then we’d be on our way out by noon, just when the lines were started to get long. It was…AMAZING!!! We’d go every single day if we lived closer, and with a season pass, you could actually DO that. If you purchase your passes before a new season starts in March, you can also get free guest vouchers! We missed that deal, but it is ON our radar for next time! Season passes are just a great deal, all around.
  • If you have a season pass, you can also purchase preferred parking for $7/day. Worth it. My husband would drop us and our stuff off at the door (anything to save little feet and pregnant feet from more walking), then park the car in the adjoining lot nearby. It made the trip that much more dreamy, and we never had to wait on the trolley to pick us up from the more remote parking areas.

IN the park:

  • If you get there early…and it’s a thousand times worth it to do that (even if that means you all wake up at 6:30 every day of your trip to start getting ready!)…do all of the popular roller coasters that you want first. The lines will be minimal to nonexistent.
  • After that, do the water rides, *especially* the Lost River of the Ozarks. This ride will have a HUGE line by lunchtime, sometimes over 45 minutes. By following our routine, we rode this ride (our family favorite) four or five times in a ROW without ever waiting in a line. We usually didn’t even have to get out of our boat! After you’ve had your fill of Lost River, hit the American Plunge (a classic log ride) a few times. Family members can watch from a viewing stand, which is fun, and this ride has pretty fun pictures available for purchase at a hut nearby. If you’re going to buy a souvenir at SDC, I think this is  a pretty good one. This is our little guy, Shep, and his friend, Daniel, who also happened to be at the park that day. They loved it, I promise: 
  • After enjoying the big roller coasters and those two water rides, if you have little kids (ours range in age from 3 to 10), go to either The Grand Exposition or Fireman’s Landing. These are both very large kid-friendly areas that have a ton of fun little rides. Our family especially liked Fireman’s Landing which, aside from a collection of rides that our children loved most, also had a little splash pad and one of the most amazing playhouses ever. I liked to sit on a rock in the sun to dry off after getting drenched at Lost River and just let my kids run amok. The playhouse alone kept them busy and thrilled for nearly an hour every day. And it’s all so clean! And beautiful!
  • Now that you’ve gotten your fill of rides and play areas, let the rest of the folks deal with the growing lines while you go catch some shows! We got to watch an amazing Dog Tricks show one day, the Harlem Globetrotters the next day, a couple of good concerts, etc…it’s a nice way to rest, usually in an air-conditioned room, after racing up and down those hills to get to your favorite rides all morning. These shows change with the different festivals of the year, so be sure to check your paper or the app to find out what’s available to you!
  • Scope out a perfect spot for your lunch as you meander around. We found a little bench outside of The Opera House where we ate our lunch every day. It was covered in shade, very private, and gave the kids room to mill around while they ate. An added bonus to that Radio Flyer wagon is that the side zips down to convert the wagon into a little bench, giving us two places for kids to comfortably sit.
  • SDC has clean restrooms (and several nursing stations!) in every major area of the park. Be smart about your bathroom breaks! Make everyone go when you get to the park, make everyone go when you stop for lunch, make everyone go before you go into a show…otherwise, you’ll be taking someone to the bathroom all day, every day. It’s all about coordination. 😉
  • If you have big kids and little kids, it’s just a good idea to split up, at times. My mom and I would take the two littles to one of the kid-friendly areas while my husband did rides with the big kids, and if you need a place to take your littles in the afternoon when The Grand Exposition and Fireman’s Landing are packed with people, I can’t recommend Half Dollar Holler enough. Our littles went through this play area on repeat, for a good hour, while my mom and I sat and rested in the shade. 
  • You cannot go to SDC and miss out on Grandpa’s Mansion!! It’s a classic staple that must be enjoyed by the whole family.
  • The train is a neat feature that should also be enjoyed once (and once is enough, I recommend going in the afternoon), but be warned that there is a little show in the middle of it that could get long for tiny kids. Ours did okay with it, and so I’m glad we went. It’s especially neat to see the outskirts of the park and get an idea of the land that SDC was built on. It’s in the woods, basically! Amazing!
  • The BEST things we ate all week…the hot dog wrapped in a long spiral of fried potatoes, the funnel cakes (one a day, baby! Sometimes two…), the kids loved the Dippin’ Dots, and NOTHING BEAT the warm cinnamon bread. I thought it sounded good, but it was REALLY GOOD. If you go early, get you some coffee and a loaf of this bread and think of me.
  • Before you leave, have some fun at Tom and Huck’s River Blast, either riding on the boats or shooting at the riders from the sidelines. It was one of my son’s favorite things to do there, and the lines aren’t long here, even during the busier parts of the day. You will get pretty wet on the other rides, you will get DRENCHED on this one. It’s the perfect way to cool off at the end of your day.
  • If you’re a mom of littles and your little park-goers fall asleep in the wagon (ours did, every day), there is a great seating area in the shade near the front of the park. I got to sit in a big Adirondack chair under an umbrella every afternoon and make friends with elderly people while my family enjoyed the park. Being pregnant, this was a dream come true for me. And sometimes a loving family member would deliver a funnel cake to me, so, hallelujah.
  • Finally, as you are meandering your way out of the park, take some time to check our the artisan booths and houses, which are full of educational opportunities for your family. You could even pick a few a day to focus on. We didn’t do so great in this department this go round, but if we went to the park during a time of year when the water rides weren’t open, I think we’d take better advantage of them.
  • Oops, I have one more “finally” to your meandering…Marvel Cave. You’ll need to get the whole scoop on this experience from someone who works at the park, but we heard this hour-long walking tour through a REAL CAVE underneath SDC was a great way to cool off in the afternoons. It never worked out for us timing-wise, but this would be a perfect afternoon activity for the big kids while babies and toddlers nap. We have a raincheck with Marvel Cave.
  • Let your memories be your souvenirs. You could easily spend a thousand dollars on stuff at SDC…there’s even a toy store there!…but you don’t need to. The park is enough. If you don’t believe me, ask my very happy kids. They didn’t come home with a SDC shirt, or a toy, or a craft, or *anything*…but their hearts are bursting with memories.

So, by the way, is mine.

One last word of encouragement before you leave, while there are so many fun things to do in Branson, if you are on a budget like most young families, let your tickets to Silver Dollar City be your vacation. It has everything that the whole of Branson does…food, shows, crafts, music…so get your money’s worth and stay from opening to closing. I guarantee you won’t run out of things to do, though I can’t promise you won’t run out of energy. They even have an amazing concert at closing time!

Ah, it is easy to underestimate Silver Dollar City if you’ve never been there, but it is a beyond fabulous place to take your family. My husband has been to some of the biggest parks in the U.S., and this place is his all-time favorite. I second that, 100%.

I hope you love it as much as we do! If you have any questions, shout them out in the comments section! And if you have any fun or helpful tips to add to this list, please share! I might just need your advice for my next trip to SDC, which I hope will be sooner rather than later…

I mean, we have season tickets! Maybe we’ll go today!!

The Day Small Elephant Came Out of Retirement

We shared a video on Facebook this week that explained a lot of things like, 1. why I haven’t been writing a lot, 2. why I’ve been tired, hungry and emotional for the past three months, 3. why my kids are so in love with me right now, and 4. why I’m suddenly wearing tents and leggings every day.

Here, if you’re not on social media, you might want to watch it…

 

Um, WOW, right??

I have to admit, it feels so good to have this news out in the open.

At the same time, though, it has been nice to experience the first trimester of my pregnancy in the old-fashioned way. This secret was between me and my husband for the first month, and then we told the kids, not because I was really ready to let the cat out of the bag, but because I simply couldn’t hide it from them any longer. I was tired all the time, I was crying almost daily, I was sleeping late in the mornings, and I was under this constant cloud of nausea. “It will be better for the whole WORLD to know than to leave them in the dark about what is wrong with me,” I thought. Because I really felt that, once my kids knew, the whole world WOULD know, probably by nightfall.

We’re kind of a boisterous family.

Thus, on a total whim, we decided to tell them one by one, as you saw in the video. I had mentally pictured all the different ways we could break the news to them, but the minute I entertained the thought of telling them individually and really savoring their reaction, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

So I grabbed my camera, got settled on my bed, and Mr. Gore started calling them in, oldest to youngest, locking our bedroom door behind each one as they entered.

Then, after they’d been told the great secret, they had to go hide in our neighboring bathroom until everyone was caught up to speed.

It was so much fun, and I gotta say, the resulting video is one of the greatest treasures I have in my possession. I had no idea how they’d react (although I did assume they’d be happy, they all love babies and have been hoping for one for a long time), but a truer representation of each of their personalities could not have been captured if I’d scripted it.

For instance, our firstborn, who thought for sure he was in trouble, but then hopped straight up to tell the WHOLE WORLD our secret!! (Told ya!) Once we caught him and sent him to the bathroom to wait, I could hear him clapping his hands and just giggling in sheer excitement. It was so dear. I said all of our kids love babies, but no one has a softer spot for the little critters than he does.

And then our eldest daughter, with that pure gaze of hers that melts me, who was so beside herself she could barely contain it. When I get to the part of the video where she says “oh, Mama!” as she stops to hug me on her way to the bathroom, I get a huge lump in my throat, every time.

And then there’s Oh Honey who processes the news with her signature “blink blinks” before fainting in the floor…before getting back up and bouncing like Tigger. So spot on.

And then there’s our little man, be still my heart.

You can hear the poor guy pounding on the door, demanding to be let in, during his sister’s portion of the video. And when we finally sit him in the chair and his papa informs him that I’m going to have a baby, he reacts in his quintessential way that, roughly translated, means “Hi. I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’ve never heard of anyone having a baby. But…I love you…and you’re smiling at me…so…THUMBS UP. I support you 100%.”

I love that kid SO stinkin’ much, and I love all the thumbs up that he has given me over the past year, and I LOVE that he gave me a thumbs up in this video. My husband and I just looked at each other (after I finished laughing my head off) and said something like “did that really just happen?!”

Anyhow, I didn’t really mean to review the video that you literally just watched, but…what can I say? I love my chiddlers.

But there’s actually more to it than that, I think.

You see, by the day we shot this video, I had been walking very silently through some pretty major things. First, the shock of a positive pregnancy test. All the emotions…both high and low…that followed it. The vivid memories of what I was about to go through and how real and raw and hard and beautiful it all is. The understanding that any momentum I had recently gained (such as…we had just put the high chair in the attic, we’d bought our last box of diapers or Pull-ups for the first time in TEN YEARS, our house was staying very tidy, we were killing it at homeschool, and I was waking up at 6:00 a.m. every morning like a BOSS!!) was flying out the window, all of it.

And then, of course, there was the realization that I am ten years older now than when I first began having babies. A lot can happen to a body in ten years! I mean, I have a friend whose hips start hurting when a thunderstorm is coming. We’re getting OLD, y’all!

And so I’ve just been a little more scared this time.

A little less sure of myself and my body’s abilities.

Add to that those long, trying weeks of nausea and fatigue where I had been pretending, even around my closest family and friends, that nothing had changed and that I was fine.

Phew! All that to say, I was SOUL TIRED by the day we made this video. I was lonely, with all kinds of pent up thoughts and emotions. And, again, I was truly scared. What if I couldn’t do this again? What if something bad happened? What if this changed our dynamic in drastic ways?

Enter, my children.

When I let them into my world once more and shared my great secret with them, what I found was such open arms.

Such love.

Such JOY!

Their reaction was a salve to me, and an immediate reminder that, yes, though this was going to be hard and though it might even be dangerous (did you know that being 35 years old makes this a “geriatric pregnancy”?!), it was also such a GOOD THING. It was going to be fun!!

And it was most definitely a blessing.

They just made it obvious to me from the very first second — you can see it so clearly in the video! — that any difficulties I had endured in the weeks leading up to this announcement were 100% worth it, for not only were we housing a precious and sacred new creation in our midst, we had made ALL of our children so, so happy.

Sigh. The four little people in the above video have embraced me so wholly in my current weakness that it has totally blown me away. They check on me constantly. They have zero expectations from me and hold no grudges about my failings (for instance, our two-hours-later-than-normal breakfast). They have fed me and soothed me and petted me and…well, they’ve just WELCOMED me, just as I am.

Even more heart-warming? They seem proud of me.

What a difference their reaction has made for this tired ol’ mama.

This is the kind of world that babies are supposed to enter into. A place where they are greeted with smiles and excitement and wonder and enthusiasm.

Children have got it all figured out, don’t they?

So after we told our kids, we’ve had the joy of telling many of our family and friends the old-fashioned person-to-person way, not all at one time, but slowly, as time and circumstance allowed. First it was my mom. Then my daddy. Then my husband’s parents. Then our best buddy at the nursing home. Then a sibling here, a sibling there, a friend here, a friend there, our neighbors across the street, my manager friend at Anthropologie, the owner of my favorite antique store, our church body…

as the news has spread over the past three months, our secret has gotten smaller and smaller and smaller, and now that we’ve finally made our way back to the internets, it is no more.

You know what? This sits well with me, even though the temptation was to keep things quiet until the baby was actually IN my arms.

Life begins at conception, and I believe that with all my heart. And I can read about my higher risks and I can be scared about the future all the live-long day, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is a human being IN my tummy.

Right now!

Right this minute!

You guys!

WE HAVE A NEW FAMILY MEMBER…

and, yes, come what may, I want the whole world to know it!

~

Sad you missed out on the first trimester adventures of Small Elephant? Worry not, I’ve been jotting down stories as they happen and will round them all up for you soon. Stay tuned!

Are you new here and don’t know who “Small Elephant” is? Oh, boy. You stay tuned, too. This is going to be fun…

 

The Wassup Chronicles – Vol. 1

Welcome to “The Wassup Chronicles”, where I tell you what’s up in my world and…you listen. (but then you get a turn, too, so hang in there!)

~

Good morning friends!

I have been working on and off for months — MONTHS!! — on a blog post titled “The Mission Statement of Mrs. Gore’s Diary”.

‘Twas one part funny and three parts dramatic and, oh, about five parts explanatory and I worked on it and I worked on it and I worked on it and I put other writings on the backburner and I let it clog up my idea queue and, last night, after pulling it up again for the 35th time since January and still finding it lacking or missing something (or more likely having too much!!), I said…

PHA-HOOEY!!!

I’m done with it.

Moving on.

I mean, all it was was my entire manifesto for living, so…whatevs, right? Sometimes writers write for themselves, and I suppose this was one of those instances. I know now what the mission statement of Mrs. Gore’s Diary is, so that’s cool. All 3000 words of it.

All that to say, I’m FREE this afternoon! And, rather than nail myself down to a specific topic (for instance, mission statements), I just want to blab.

So what do you want to talk about?

We could talk about Valentine’s Day. It was probably my least prepared holiday ever, and I’m trying to figure out why. Was it because my mom and Amy were out of town the week before and we didn’t have time to plan our annual party? Was it because I’m still trying to recover, somehow, from Christmas? Was it because my heart just wasn’t in it?

I don’t know, really. But I learned something: you can prepare for weeks to have a holiday or you can prepare the morning of, and chances are, your kids are going to have a blast. By the time they came to the breakfast table on the morn of the 14th, we had a pretty table set, and festive donuts, and a little gift at each place. Best of all, the kids got to pass out the cards they had made for each family member the day before, and it was so fun to see what sort of sweet nothings they came up with on their own.

I’m always analyzing the purpose of education, and I discovered yet another reason we should be passionate about the schooling of our children…

so they can make their Valentine cards WITHOUT US!!!

I didn’t even have to make Shepherd’s cards, because his big brother transcribed them for me! (#manny)

All in all, it was a fun day, and the Mister and I even squeezed in a date last night!

Which leads me to the next thing we could talk about, if you’re in a talking mood…

La La Land.

Ohmuhgoodness.

Yesterday was my second viewing of this…this…this…CINEMATIC MASTERPIECE!!!…and I loved it even more the second time around. I so want to really talk to you about this movie but I abhor spoilers and so I can’t. All I can say is:

1. This is the coolest, most suck-your-breath-right-out-of-you-for-two-whole-hours movie.

2. Especially if you are well-acquainted with the old movies — SO many nods to the films of yesteryear, in major ways, but then in manifold subtle ways that just knocked my socks off.

3. Don’t expect a Christian worldview, duh, but this is actually a pretty clean movie. I was shocked by the utter lack of all the things that are routinely shoved down our gullets by Hollywood. THAT SAID, while there are not an immense number of expletives, the ones that are in the movie are like…BAM!!! The kind that make you flinch. I just didn’t want you to tell your hubby that “Mrs. Gore says this is a great movie! Let’s take the KIDS!”

4. I’ve seen the movie twice now and the second viewing was the best. I came away really understanding the film and letting it teach me something rather than trying to make it what I wanted it to be. I realize that’s vague but…just watch the movie. You’ll see.

5. I have a maternal sort of adoration for Emma Stone. I want to make her biscuits and jam for breakfast and tell her not to stay out too late and I also want her to know that she always has a place to come home to. I’m assuming she could afford to add a room on to our house because we don’t have a spare room, so that would just be an added bonus to the adoption.

Which leads me to the next thing we COULD talk about. If you wanna…

Some of my Facebook peeps already know about this, but GUESS. WHAT??

We have a special project in the works at Gore House.

(Doesn’t “Gore House” sound very Halloweeny? Ew. I mean, I like Halloween, you know that, but not the haunted house part of Halloween. Which is totally what “Gore House” sounds like, a haunted house, oooooooooooooooo!!!!)

Anyhow, special project.

The plans have been drawn up. The bids are about to come in. The fundraising has begun.

Ready?…

WE’RE BUILDING A SCHOOLHOUSE!!!!!!!!!

Oh, man, you know what, we can’t talk about this here. I’m gonna need a full blog post to talk about it. Just…consider this the official teaser trailer, with lots and lots more coming soon to a Gore House near you.

(ooooooooooooooooo!!!!)

Let’s see, what does that leave for us to discuss? Assuming you’re still listening…

Oh, how about this?

I got bangs in December.

I no longer have bangs in February.

I mean, I still have bangs, but they are long enough to pin back and, although my mom and my kids and my nieces REALLY loved them, and my husband really liked them, and even though I felt cool(ish) again, we have decided to part ways (literally, they’re parted down the middle and subtly pinned to the side).

Why? Because Mrs. Gore ain’t got time for THAT. Did you know that, when I don’t have bangs, I can wash and style my hair and it will last me for three whole days (and then maybe a half-day more with a lil’ dry shampoo, thank you Oscar Blandi)? And when I say “it will last me”, what I mean is that I don’t have to touch it, think about it, or even brush it in between. And did you know that I didn’t know how wonderful this was until I lopped off a whole section of hair atop my forehead and had to deal with it every. single. day.?!

All I had wanted, really, was to look as awesome as #ohhoney. (If you don’t know what all these hashtags mean, you’ve really got to join us at Facebook, pronto!). I’m mean, sure, she’s FIVE, but who cares? Her bangs are DIVINE. She looks like a miniature Jess from “New Girl”. Or a tiny Audrey Hepburn. When she wakes up, they are more or less perfect. And when she’s in the wind, they’re perfect. And when she’s wearing a hat, they’re PERFECT.

(See what I mean? This was after a windy and sweaty morning at Vintage Market Days…)

I'm always an #ohhoney fan. But after we take the sponge curlers out of her hair…😍

A post shared by Mrs Gore (@mrsgoresdiary) on

My bangs, however, were little hair devils that stuck out in a million directions when I woke up in the morning. And when I was in the wind they stuck out in two million directions. And when I wore a hat…just no.

Even worse, somehow, when they weren’t being hair devils and were as en pointe as I needed them to be, they were making me feel vain in church and I seriously thought I was done with that, my sisters.

I’m not kidding, that’s when I really knew they needed to go. Preacher’s wife can’t be feeling vain on a Sunday morning, not when preacherman is bringing the Word to the flock. Get thee behind me, Bangstan.

So, do I regret getting bangs? No I don’t. I’m so glad I tried it. It was fun and exciting and I’m glad I got it out of my system.

Did I like my bangs? Not enough.

Maybe someday, when I have time to wake up and groom myself every morning instead of every third or third-and-a-half morning, I’ll give it another go.

If I’m no longer vain.

(But I probably will be. Even though I won’t know it until I get the bangs.)

Ah, this was a fun talk, and I’m going to try to do it more often. Thanks for listening.

Now tell me, wassup in YOUR life? What did you do for Valentine’s Day? Have you seen La La Land? DO YOU HAVE BANGS?? Are they perfect or are they hair devils? I’m all ears…

 

Dancing Hearts in Nantucket (Part Seven: You, Me & the Sea)

Hello beloved friends of Mrs. Gore’s Diary! Long time, no see! The holiday season has whisked me away, as usual, and I realize about every other day, with a start and a gasp, that I still have an important series over here, just waiting to be finished (if you’re new here, you can catch up! Here’s Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, and Part Six).

With that in mind, this will be the last installment of my Nantucket series for the time being. I still have a few fun stories to tell about our trip, but I am momentarily tabling them until I can write in the unhurried and inspired manner that this tale – and my mom’s ongoing birthday gift – deserves. As soon as inspiration strikes and my memories are burning a hole in me once more – and I feel SURE that will happen – I will be back with part EIGHT of our Nantucket tale!

One last time, let me thank you EVER so much for joining us in our memories in Nantucket. You have made this recollection that much sweeter with your kind words and excitement. Forever grateful I am. ❤

Now…to the sea!

~

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The first thing my mom did every morning at the Wauwinet was wake up, get ready for the day and, then, waking me up so I could follow suit, she’d slip downstairs to the gorgeously bedecked back patio with her Bible study materials so she could spend some time with the Lord.

I forced her to let me take a picture. 🙂

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It’s easy to have a daily quiet time when you’re in heaven but, then, my mom has a daily quiet time no matter what. She has notebooks and notebooks filled with her prayers and notes, she has Scripture memory cards scattered to high heaven, and that’s actually just another of the things I love about her: she is faithful to the Lord and His Word in season and out, not just when she’s luxuriating on the back patios of resorts.

I, on the other hand…well, daily-sanctified-work-in-progress, with high hopes of being just like Mama someday.

Quickly showering, slapping my make-up on and finger-combing last night’s washed and styled hair, I would scurry downstairs to find her as soon as I could, and it did my heart a thousand worlds of good to see her there, surrounded by the tranquility of this seaside respite.

She might faithfully study the Word every day, but what an awesome backdrop she had here, the rolling waves of the ocean bringing repeated crescendos to the excellent and holy Word of God that she has built her life upon. What a blessed pause in this topsy turvy life.

The Wauwinet had an adjoining restaurant where a full breakfast was available for diners, but in a small room next to the bar, complimentary coffee and pastries were available for the inn’s guests every morning.

We went complimentary.

A few mini muffiins and a tiny bear claw later, we’d hop upstairs to brush our teeth and we were OFF for the day!

My heart squeezes within me to recall our next adventure.

Donning slip-on sandals and flip flops, hands free of everything but mom’s tiny wristbag and my giant camera (that you KNOW went with us everywhere we went!), we set out on foot to explore the private beaches of the Wauwinet.

Now, when you are researching your Nantucket vacation and you first see the rates for the Wauwinet — especially if you are in the middlest of the classes as we are — your jaw might drop to the floor to imagine ANY room, no matter how luxurious, costing that many precious dollars.

But during our experience, I quickly discovered that it was not just a room we were paying forno, not at ALL. We were paying for the most serene room we’d ever been in. We were paying for a conscientious staff who was devoted to our comfort. And, more relevant to this blog post in particular, we were paying for a secluded and pristine piece of land that we had the freedom and the right to stroll upon, to skip upon, to run upon, to LIVE upon, for as long as we were renting that room.

We were nervous, to be sure, when we claimed our Wauwinet reservation from behind a computer screen in Oklahoma, and it was all definitely booked with blind faith and a lot of prayers, but after the property had been ours for three nights and four days, after we’d explored and relished every corner to our heart’s content, it had undeniably been worth every penny and maybe a couple more.

On my more dramatic days, I’m convinced that I would happily live in a lean-to if I could spend a week at the Wauwinet once a year, and you might agree with me after I share with you our seaside adventure!

A short walk down the paved drive that ran beside the inn, the instructions from the concierge being painstakingly followed by our easily-lost feet, Mama and I took a right turn on a pebbled path that mozied beside a small collection of beautiful seaside cottages, and…

there it was.

The fence.

Like, I’m talking THE fence.

What was “THE fence” you ask?

It’s funny that you ask, because…

I don’t know, really.

It was just an important fence, and I knew it when I saw it.

Also, it was beautiful.

I’ve never been one to swoon over fences, but this fence was different.

Promises that something special was ahead seemed to hover about its pickets. Were we about to find the end of the rainbow? The pirate’s hidden treasure? A pearl in an oyster?

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See what I mean?! What a FENCE, right??

And aside from all the magical skin-prickling it produced in me, it was also eerily familiar, and I can’t really put my finger on it even today. Had I seen this fence…or at least one like it…in a magazine, perhaps? In a movie? In my DREAMS?!

Who knows, but here it was, beckoning Mama and me to follow its slats and find the sea.

The pebbled path morphed quickly into a deep, immaculate sand and our shoes immediately had to be abandoned. Giggling, holding on to those glorious pickets, we adjusted ourselves to this new and challenging surface, and the two of us clumsily made our way, laughing like children, over the little hill that would deliver us to the attainment of all that the fence was promising.

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And THEN we reached the top, and we really and truly were at the end of the world.

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I know that your teachers told you that the world is round, but I’m telling you, it’s not.

It’s so totally flat.

And wherever you are, if you will just start walking (and then swimming a little) until you get to Nantucket, the world will come to an end and then there is nothing but sea and then heaven.

I know, because I saw it with my own eyes.

We didn’t have a sailing vessel at our disposal, or we most certainly could have drifted our way to Beulah Land that very afternoon!

As it was, we were content to play on its shores, toes dipped in its shadow, hearts full with the knowledge that eternity was just around the corner and that it was very beautiful, indeed.

Now, when I shared the following pictures on my Facebook page last year, I think the common assumption from friends and family was that my mom had never seen the ocean and her uncontainable joy was based on the realization of that dream.

But that’s not quite true. She has seen the ocean several times, in Texas, in Seattle, in Florida, and she has played in the sand and she has sat on the shore.

But this…

this Nantucketly view…

this was HER ocean.

We all have aspects of God’s handiwork that involuntarily set our hearts on fire…for some it’s mountains, for some it’s a newborn baby, for some it’s a certain type of animal, for some it’s the tropics, for me it’s the homeplace…

but Mama had lived all over the United States as a child and she had journeyed through 40+ years of serving her family and her church and the days had been full and busy and there had been triumphs and there had been disappointments, and this placethis unvisited but always-seen place in her imagination….had somehow been deep inside of her all along.

And now she was seeing it with her very own eyes for the very first time.

I, by the crazy, unbelievable grace of God, got to be there to witness it, and the tears stung my eyes as I watched her acquaint herself with the sea of her heart. Like the God she serves, it was big and mighty and unpredictable and awe-inspiring yet still gentle and wooing and soothing.

And beside it, so tiny in comparison, I saw the GIRL she was, not just a mom, not my dad’s wife, not a cook or a cleaning lady or a baby-sitter or a nursery worker but…a child, dearly loved, of the Most High God.

It was like watching a real-life interaction between Aslan and Lucy, alone in the world, and I will never, ever cease to be grateful for God’s sovereign plan that picked me up and transported me across the country so I could carry this memory for the rest of my days.

All girls should get to see their mom turned inside out like this, to behold her soul with sight, to catch a glimpse of her heart as it danced on the shores of Nantucket…

 

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Will we ever go back to this tucked-away place on the map, the place where our spirits communed so deeply and our friendship was cradled by sky and sea and sand?

We want to…

but we don’t have to.

We took a vote, and it was unanimous: when they are this powerful and sweet and point to endless days to come, memories are more than enough. ❤

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~

Anyone else need a tissue now? It doesn’t matter how many times I go back and relive this experience, it strikes me with holy wonder and gratitude and LOVE! How wonderful will eternity be, when all is made right and we are free to live in the beauty and unity that was intended for us. I’ll be back soon with other non-Nantucket blog posts I’ve been working on – in the meantime, you can keep up with Mrs. Gore and family on Facebook and…breaking news…Instagram! See you there!

 

Dancing Hearts in Nantucket (Part Six: The Wauwinet)

Phew! We’re plowing through the WEALTH of memories that my mama and I shared on the island of Nantucket, and I just have to say ‘thank you’ once more for joining us for this very special time. Just to remind you of what we’re doing, for my mom’s 65th birthday, I wanted to set aside a month or two to write down all of our stories from her 64th birthday trip, and it has been so fun to have you all along for the journey. (If you need to catch up, here is Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five). Your kind words and excitement about the blessing we enjoyed means so much to me. What grace and love you have shown!

Gah, I can’t believe it has been over a week since I posted Part Five; HOW I would love to get these installments out faster, but…I just can’t, apparently. In fact, the reason I first published three posts in one week is because two of my four kids were throwing up all week and I didn’t leave my house for seven days. Ha! All that to say, thank you for your patience as you wait for each part of this story. That you are still here and still engaged just blows me away.

Okay, I am SUPER excited for today’s post. Just…go get you a cup of tea or coffee and cozy up for this one. I think I’ll do the same!..

~

wauwinet

So Nantucket Proper was fantastic, wasn’t it?

Do you remember that moment when my mom and I first left Union Street Inn and were making our way down the sidewalk toward Nantucket’s Main Street? And I said how much I love to go back in my mind during that point because I had NO idea what great things were in store for us, just around the corner?

Well, that same reality, TIMES ONE THOUSAND for this next portion!!!

I’m actually laughing right now, just thinking about it.

Okay, and maybe crying, just a ‘lil.

All the emotions, mostly.

Because, when we had wrapped up our second day of shopping and adventuring and sightseeing in the main part of Nantucket and had returned to Union Street to gather our bags (and have an impromptu prayer meeting with our new friends!), and then began our trek down the streets to find the jitney that would drive us to our next place of lodging, we had no idea…NO IDEA!!!!!…what was in store for us.

Seriously.

No. Idea.

I mean, it felt special enough that the place to which we were going had its very own jitney (aka shuttle), one that came to town on the hour to pick up guests and left town on the half hour to return to the resort.

You have to be pretty important to have your own jitney, don’t you?

I’ve never had my own jitney, that’s for sure.

But, then, I had KNOWN this place was important the first time I saw its website; I didn’t know how to pronounce the name of it at the time – “The Wauwinet” – but it wouldn’t matter, because I was struck speechless.

However, unlike my dramatic internet experience with the Union Street Inn, where I had “instinctively known” we HAD to stay there, the only instinct I had when I saw this new place was that I knew I WANTED to stay there.

But there was no way that would ever happen.

Because it was unreal.

A little TOO unreal for us, if you know what I mean, in that it was a level or two…or ten, maybe…above our heads. It looked like a place that Martha Stewart might live. Or a place that would be featured in a magazine that we couldn’t afford.

You know the ones I’m talking about, right? Those gorgeous magazines that cost $7 to $10 that you can rarely talk yourself into buying, even though you want to…Veranda, and the like…magazines that feature houses and hotels that you wouldn’t even pin on your Pinterest “Dream House” board because they are so out of your reach?

Enter “The Wauwinet”.

The only Relais & Châteaux member in Nantucket (I still don’t know what that means, really, other than fancy!!), housing the top-rated restaurant in all of Massachusetts, just the very pictures of this place screamed luxury and perfection.

Situated on a sprawling private property, hugged by the coast and completely saturated with beauty and care and tranquility, I took one look at the pictures on the website and my mouth went tee-totally dry. It was one of those things that, once you see it, you can’t UNSEE it, but, like, in a good way.

And even as I initially shrugged it off as a pipe dream, I went to bed that night with dreams of The Wauwinet sort of pumping through my blood.

It was calling to me, like a mythical siren calls to the captain.

“Come to meeeeee…” it hissed. “Even though you are a poor pastor’s wife who sells granola to buy cardigans, you beeeelonnnnng heeeere. Your mommyyyy deserrrrrrrves it…”

I’m telling you, I was sort of stuck after seeing this website — it was dug down deep in my heart — and so I did the only logical thing there was to do and I passed the siren call on to my mom.

We looked at the website together. We daydreamed about staying there with a view of the ocean from our window. We talked about our other options and how we really wanted to spend our week.

And, with these things in mind, we made a decision.

Remember our Nantucket motto?

We had all these credit card rewards piled up, we had birthday money from all the family, we were here for four short nights, we might never leave Oklahoma again…

GO BIG OR GO HOME, MAN.

So, laugh out LOUD, we went SO BIG.

Like…

The biggest.

Thus, after that first night at the Union Street Inn, the remainder of our stay in Nantucket would be at…that’s right…THE Wauwinet.

THE WAUWINET!!!

Even the locals we talked to about where we were staying were amazed.

By the way, you pronounce it like this — I know now because I’m an insider — Wah-WIN-it.

Now, get ready, because you’re not going to believe this place. Seriously. Just…eek!…squeal!…giggles!…I’m excited.

Now…where was I in our story?

Oh yes, the foyer of the Union Street Inn. We had prayed with our new friends, we’d said our goodbyes and, loading ourselves down with our tote bags and purses, we lugged our suitcases behind us down the sidewalk, their wheels really making a ruckus on those brick and cobblestone streets.

It was a tourist-y moment, one that I did not completely relish, only because it proved to Nantucket that we two gals did not belong, reminding me that I was a stranger in this town, a backpacker, a sojourner. And here I had been feeling like a regular…

But it was also fun, in a way, setting out with my best friend like this to try and find our next adventure. We weren’t quite sure where we were going, which is actually very normal; even in our own stomping ground, we’re not quite sure where we are going.

Without taking too many wrong turns, though — the hefty load we were carrying motivated us to pay close attention! — we found the Visitor Center which was, not surprisingly, precious and perfect, just like the rest of this magical land.

Peeking through the darling door, we were instructed to have a seat at one of the outside benches and our jitney would soon be arriving.

“Our jitney”.

Tee hee!

We were naturally atwitter. What was this REALLY going to be like? Would we regret leaving the beautiful-but-relate-able Union Street Inn? Was The Wauwinet going to be too fancy for us? What if we looked like hillbillies compared to everyone else? What if all the socialites noticed that my suitcase was from J.C. Penney instead of Louis Vuitton? Would we be sad that we had tied ourselves down to a remote area for the rest of our stay, instead of bunking in town? What if this place was all show, a fancy website, but I don’t know…haunted?! In disrepair? Situated right next to a pig farm?!?! Did they even have pigs in Nantucket??

My feet were tapping beneath me, excited, homeless, and, after our long day afoot, ready to find a place to rest.

Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long; about five minutes before it was due, a shiny, black bus turned the corner onto our street and I made out the words “The Wauwinet” tastefully inscribed on its side.

Mom and I looked at each other and grinned. This was it. Our jitney had arrived! Roll out the red carpet and take us to our resort, maestro!!

It felt as though we were on the brink of a STORY, and my blood flowed to the siren call once more.

“Coooommeee to meeeeee, Mrs. Gore and Mother!!! Luxury awaaaaittsss…”

A smiling driver quickly emerged from the jitney, and I instantly relaxed. His skin was dark and beautiful, and he greeted us like family, the accent of Jamaica delighting our ears.

“I will load your bags,” he said, taking our suitcases to the back, “and you can sit inside or on the bench while I get my lunch around the corner, wherever you are most comfortable. We will leave on the half hour.”

We opted for inside, and he opened the door of the jitney for us and helped us in. The seats were low and clean and…I was nervous again, all of a sudden. How unusual it was for an unapologetic homebody to be hopping about from adventure to adventure like this! How did I even GET here??

Oh, yeah. The tiny plane.

My mom, though, was still smiling like a child, and I could almost hear the melody of her youth rocking through that adventurous head of hers.

“How different we are,” I mused, “but so well suited to one another. When did we switch places like this, she the girl who wants to see the world and I the one who wants to keep us away from strangers and dangers? Or…were we always like this, deep down, and I just didn’t notice?…”

Before I had too much time to think, our driver returned and, still smiling with an apparent enjoyment in his work, took his place in the driver seat.

“Would you like a drink for the drive?” he asked. “It will be twenty minutes before our arrival at The Wauwinet.”

We accepted and, reaching down into the ice chest next to his seat, he handed us each a cold bottle of water, along with a paper cocktail napkin. “It’s the little things…” I thought, receiving this gift, and I had the tingly feeling that we were about to REALLY be taken care of. Maybe like we’d never been taken care of before…

You know, my mom might not believe she deserves anything, an attitude that I am trying to mirror as I grow, but I think she deserves the world, and as we made our way down the streets and then the highways of Nantucket, I slowly began to rest in this amazing blessing that she was surely about to receive. This was her time, her gift, her MOMENT!!!

It was everything I’d ever wanted to give her, but couldn’t.

As such, I couldn’t stop smiling, either.

I was surprisingly finding a home, of sorts, in this place that I never would have sought out on my own, and the blessing was mine, too, but I don’t ever want to forget how completely and utterly focused my heart and mind were on my mama for these five days and four nights; it was a deeply spiritual experience and I was nigh unto bursting with love for her. Her joy was my joy, and then some. I was her happy companion in this place. Her sidekick. Her supporting actress.

And I was having the time of my life!

The drive was indeed twenty minutes, on the button, and it was beautiful. Fresh air was blowing through our row of screened windows, and it was interesting to see that, on the main road with no ocean in sight, the countryside was actually quite familiar. A two-lane highway with trees and fields, sort of like Oklahoma…yet the ocean was just out there, somewhere.

It could have been home, but…no, we were on an island! An ISLAND!! How amazing. How…terrifying! For me, at least. Mom, not so much.

After miles of highway, the jitney took a left turn and, with no further ado, we found ourselves entering the private property of The Wauwinet.

Oh, mercy…

the dazzling place on the internet was now right in front of my eyes and I felt as though I was stepping through the mirror into a place that couldn’t REALLY exist with the rest of the stuff in this world. We had crossed into the Great Beyond, I just knew it.

My skin was literally prickling. This jitney we were in…this inn where we were staying…this entire TRIP…was just not something that two averages Janes get to do very often, if ever.

“Thank you, God,” I whispered. Like a wedding day, my heart was imparting to me the acute realization that this was a “once in a lifetime” sort of moment and that I’d better pay very close attention.

We pulled to a stop outside of a sprawling thee-story estate, the doors were opened, and another man, smiling graciously, extended a hand to escort us out of the bus while the driver retrieved all of our items.

My mouth dropped open as I stepped forward and surveyed the perfectly-manicured front entrance. The pictures I had gazed at endlessly in the planning stages of our trip were coming to vivid life in front of me, and to embrace the scene with all of my senses at one time instead of just my sight, to see and know that this fairyland was actually real and right in front of me…it was just too much.

It’s funny, I only see bright lights in my memory as I try to recall exactly what this side of The Wauwinet looked like – I was blinded, I think, by the glory of it! – but I DO remember seeing a long line of green Hunter rainboots on the front porch, available for guests who wanted to go adventuring.

“Well done…” I nodded, passing by them as we entered through the large and welcoming front door. It was my first time to ever tip my hat to a boot, but what can I say? I was impressed.

We found ourselves immediately in a spacious foyer that housed the most beautiful check-in counter I’ve ever seen and, as the staff carried all of our belongings – all of them, not just our suitcases – up the open staircase to the left, we stood and made the acquaintance of the manager on duty, a precious young man who was obviously amused by the exuberance we displayed about every amenity of which he made us aware.

You have a movie library??”

“You’ll bring us hot, buttered POPCORN?”

“There are blankets we can use in the chaise lounges out front??”

“You’ll bring us COFFEE? Anytime we want it???”

“This place is amazing!!!

We were laughing and clapping like schoolgirls, so excited, which made him laugh, and I knew that, even though we might not be the type of guest that The Wauwinet was most accustomed to, we were going to have a fun time here. I think both of us determined then and there not to worry about how middle-class we were or how Oklahoman and to just be us, and to show love and kindness and gratitude to everyone we met.

I noticed as the week went on that the front desk workers grinned so big when they saw us coming. “Oh boy, here come the enthusiastic girls…” they seemed to say.

Likewise, we also made some friends on the other side of the spectrum that week, including some businessmen and their wives from Boston, and it all just reminded me that people are people and a smile goes a long way toward easing through perceived barriers. It was a good life lesson, one I hope that I’ll remember.

And, oh!! I’m telling you, for the rest of our time in Nantucket, our every need and want was seen to by this eager and attentive staff. After the manager gave us the run-down and handed over our keys, our personal concierge (!!!!!!!), Damian, escorted us to our room and showed us around, promising his devoted service for the rest of our trip.

After conversing with him for some time about his homeland of Jamaica, he left to order us some ice (which was soon delivered in a beautiful copper bucket, with a matching scoop. A COPPER BUCKET!!! Have you ever?), and we found ourselves alone.

Shutting the door behind him, my mom and I finally had the liberty to really SQUEAL!!! This place was a dream! And our spacious and airy room was DIVINE!!

Two taller-than-life queen sized beds completely dressed in brilliantly white linens with a softness to their lines that belied lots of lots of feathers underneath.

A Bose radio on the nightstand between us.

A line of shuttered windows that let in seaside light and beauty.

A beautifully appointed sitting area, including a floral sofa, a cozy armchair, a flat-screen wall-mounted television, and a hand-painted armoire.

Cleanliness and luxury, all about.

And, for the rest of the week, it was OURS, with no chores or responsibilities attached to any of it. Just enjoyment.

Golly, do you know what? I’m feeling rather intimidated, actually, now that I’m trying to sit down and tell this part of our story.

How can I aptly describe this heaven-on-earth without making it seem like I am a thesaurus for superlatives?

How can I express all the emotions, the joy, the kinship that my mom and I experienced in this out-of-the-way place on the map?

The best way I can describe it is that, at The Wauwinet, hemmed in by the sea on two sides, it felt very much like we had found the edge of the world, just Mama and me.

And this is where the biggest joy of our trip came in because, not only were we free, for a moment…free from responsibility, from stress, from chores… as we’ve rehashed our trip, we have discovered that we also…somehow…miraculously…blessedly…unexpectedly…both felt free from sin.

It was as if, for one tiny week during this journey of life, my mom and I got to stop outside of time for a bit, outside of the fall of man, and wade in the shores of eternity.

We get these tastes of Eden all the time…at birthday parties, in shared laughter, at Sunday morning worship…but this was more than a taste. It was a feast. A week-long feast.

There was no fear of man in my heart. No comparison. No jealousy. No worrying about what people were thinking of me. No worrying about all the ways I’m failing. No keeping our friendship under a bushel. No selfishness. No pride. No self-loathing. No nothin’.

And on top of all these things that weren’t, were all the things there WERE, namely, an abundance of love the likes of which I have rarely experienced; it was all give and no take, on both sides. It was perfect communion, the kind that can only be found in Christ and that I’m so exceedingly grateful to share with my mama.

And so, yes, I loved the decor, I loved the chaise lounges in the back, I loved the private beach, I loved the coffee in carafes and the little bowls of sugar…

but I really loved having a place where the dearest friendship that I’ve had…the one that has been most true, the one that has been the easiest and the most constant and consistently mutual…could flourish and rest and commune and meditate and thrive.

Our hearts were dancing, I tell you.

Dancing in Nantucket.

~

Now…how about some pictures?!?

Here is our room, a big, comfy bed for each of us:

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Sigh…I want to go to there. Note the small box of treats next to the pillow, along with a set of personalized stationery for each of us bearing a watercolor print of The Wauwinet.

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Our sitting room, which had plenty of room for Mom, me, AND my giant Nantucket hair.

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The armoire! Pretty, pretty.

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Fresh flowers in the hallways. There were also bowls of complimentary green apples peppered throughout the inn…

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Can I sigh again? Here is the library. This room smelled amazing…their fireplace logs had magic in them, I think…and  we spent a lot of time in here. You’ll see more pics of this room in a minute.

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Are you ready to see the best part of The Wauwinet, the true highlight of our entire stay in Nantucket?

The huge lawn, with rows of chaise lounges, where lodgers could sit and watch the ocean, the sunrise, the back of their eyelids…

during the daytime, you could pretty much find us here, wrapped up in blankets, snoozing, reading, taking deep, gulping breaths of Nantucket air, and pretending like this was our permanent residence. The staff even brought us coffee here, in a carafe that I have long coveted at Williams Sonoma.

This was Mom’s first sight of the place…I think she liked it. 🙂

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From the lounges, the ocean was straight ahead, and then this was our view to the right. I swear that’s not a painting.

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Home sweet home. At least that’s what I kept telling myself.

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A pristine boardwalk led from the yard down to the dock where the Wauwinet Lady dropped off restaurant guests from town or took lodgers on excursions. We never boarded The Lady during our stay, one of our only regrets during our trip.

Mom was pretty excited just to stroll down the boardwalk like a lady of leisure. 🙂

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Another seating area closer to the ocean. Told ya this looked like a place Martha Stewart might hang out.

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More pictures from the dock and boardwalk:

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After a little poking around, we headed quickly back to the yard where two blankets were procured so we could sit and watch the sun go down.

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This was our heaven-on-earth…we’d found it!…and we couldn’t get over it.

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Hours were spent in those chairs, but when the sun had sufficiently set each night, we’d secret back to our room, share the sandwich we had bought on the cheap that day in town (keep in mind that “cheap” in Nantucket is a relative word), change into our lounging clothes, and skip like children down to the library where a fire was deliciously crackling and perfectly complementing the fresh, chilly seaside air that was permeating the entire inn.

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we usually had the place to ourselves every night

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and we read until our hearts were full which, with a good Jan Karon book, doesn’t take too awful long. Mom had scored a galley copy of Jan’s new book that was being released that week (“Come Rain or Come Shine”) in the town’s (amazing) bookshop and, though I was one book behind her (“Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good”), we were both SO happy to be in Mitford with Father Tim and the whole gang. We’ve spent countless hours in Mitford over the years, Mama and I, and it added to our trip in a very special way.

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When we had our fill of reading each night, we would go upstairs, take showers and put on our pajamas, order some hot, buttered popcorn (that arrived wrapped up in cloth napkins in a ceramic tureen) and watch an episode of BBC’s “Emma”,  which was another shared highlight of our trip. How we laughed at that show together, thrilled to our toes. It was especially funny to us because Emma’s father, scared of everything and always preventing Emma from going to the seaside, was very reminiscent of yours truly.

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Before it was too very late in the night — we wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to get good sleep — we’d turn off our lamps and nestle down into the cocoon of quality sheetage and feathers that I doubt I’ll ever be able to replicate at home.

But that’s okay because, though I fancied the notion from time to time, The Wauwinet wasn’t home.

It was a four-day paradise, the very fulfillment of the word “holiday”.

And what a jolly holiday it was.

~

(It was) a day of sheer delight, one of those magical times that are not forgotten while life lasts, a time when it seems as though nothing can go wrong, as though human imperfection were aided and sustained by something outside itself, and just for once allowed to bring to perfection everything that it attempted.”

Pilgrim’s Inn

~

I have more pictures of our stay at The Wauwinet that you’ll see in the days to come – this was just our first day! Until then, check out the gorgeous website here. Thank you so much for joining me today – stay tuned for our next adventure, where I watched with tear-filled eyes as my mama found the beach of her heart. ❤

And you can always keep up with the Gore family on Facebook!

Dancing Hearts in Nantucket (Part Five: Nantucket Proper!!!)

I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to have that last story (part 4) out of my heart and down on paper (and if you need to catch up, here is part 1, part 2, and part 3). I’ve been carrying around these memories for a year now, trying to remember them, trying to hold them close lest they vaporize with all the other important information in my brain that I’ve lost, like WHERE MY OTHER FLIP FLOP IS!!! 

But it has been recorded now. The story has been told. And I feel like a million bucks! Thank you for your sweet encouragement and for letting me know the tale resonated with you – it means the world to me, and all glory to our great God who does great things.

Today’s post will be less touchy-feely than the rest, an introduction to the HEART of Nantucket. If you like action, if you like architecture, if you like homemade ketchup…

you’ll love this post. Thanks for reading!

~

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To begin today’s installment, we first must rewind 24 hours from our current place in the story and go back to that moment when, after enjoying our afternoon snacks at the Union Street Inn and quickly freshening up in our room, Mama and I set out, on foot, to tackle Nantucket.

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What fun it is to go back into my brain in this moment. I was mostly just SO happy to be alive. I definitely liked what I had seen of Nantucket so far…

but I had NO idea, really, what was in store for us, just around the corner. 

I had no idea that, a half a block down the street from our one-night residence, the manifestation of all of my village dreams was waiting for me, a real-life Mitford, if you will (albeit bigger and less affordable, ha!). We turned the corner onto Main Street and…

WOW. My pictures in no way do it justice, so do me a favor and do a Google image search of Nantucket Main Street.

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It was a sight, for sure, and then some. A treat for the eyes. The ears. The nose. The HEART. I was immediately…home. Not like, home-home, of course. Home-home was waiting for me in Oklahoma, with four little loves and that dashing red head and a wonderful church that makes my world complete. No, this was a sort of heaven-home, a slice of near perfection in a fallen world that continually disappoints me with its consumerism, its billboards, its lack of care and imagination and beauty…

I couldn’t believe this city had been there, all these years, just waiting for us.

My mom most definitely was in agreement. This was it. This was the place she had been trying to find for decades, the fulfillment of a thousand dreams and wishes.

And what we still did not yet realize, as much as we adored this first street we’d found, was that the beauty was never going to end!

You know those special rooms you have in your house where all the junk quickly goes when company is coming? Those last-minute things that you just don’t know what to do with? So you just wad it all up in a ball and throw it in there and shut the door?

Nantucket, as far as I could tell in our short time there, did not have one of those rooms.

Every residence, every yard, every street, every block, ON EVERY CORNER OF THE ISLAND, was beautiful.

I’ve been to many pretty towns in my life and many pretty Main Streets, but the quaintness usually comes to a screeching halt a couple of streets over.

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Not so here.

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It kept going…and going…and going…and going!!!

As such, when Mom and I decided just to walk for a bit to look at the pretty houses, we didn’t know that we could basically keep walking for miles. And who knows? We might have!

Every structure was gorgeous. Every house was different. Every garden was perfect. And every tiny detail was tended to and taken care of. For instance, the door latches! They were darling. Not a deadbolt in sight!

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The yards and pathways betwixt them! I’d never seen such thoroughness.

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The cobblestone streets! The brick crosswalks!

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The flower boxes in every window, each one a different variety of color and _____!

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The churches!

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The movie theater!

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Gulp…THE BICYCLES!!!

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We walked and we walked and we walked and we ooohed and we aaahed and we dreamed and we reveled. I’ll just share a couple of my favorite houses here, but at the end of this post, I’ll share a gallery of all the pictures for those of you who want to see it all.

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After walking to our heart’s content, tummies beginning to rumble, we decided to rustle up some food and, I have to say, this part was tricky for us: there were so many places to eat, but we found that a lot of the restaurants we peeked into were gearing up for their supper crowds and had a reservation-only set-up. It made sense, because the rooms were small and cozy and…well, PERFECT. I could have/would have eaten at all of them.

Finally, though, we stumbled upon a little restaurant that was immediately approachable and easy, that could seat us right away, and that had a menu that felt familiar for us middle-class landlubber gals.

It was called the Starlight Theatre & Cafe and it was the ideal place for our first Nantucket meal.

Yes, it had a tiny movie old-fashioned theatre inside (!!!!!!). Yes, the huge windows were latched wide open, giving us a full view of the street. Yes, Pioneer Woman was on the television, bringing a little Oklahoma to our Nantucket. Yes, the food was DELICIOUS. We shared a simple chicken sandwich (called the D.F.C) and fries, but it was so flavorful and filling and the ketchup…the HOMEMADE ketchup…was so ridiculously good and now all other ketchups are dead to me.

You know, just typical vacation stuff, where you find something you will forever crave that you can never have again. 🙂

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I went out onto the sidewalk to get a picture of my mama at our table. Take note of the window boxes, please, and let us all swoon in one accord.

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After this wonderful meal – at the early hour, we basically had the place to ourselves! – we set out once more, this time towards the wharf, to see what was on the other side of Nantucket. The sound of the sea was beckoning us and we walked, in a trance, water-ward.

On our way there, though, something came up that quickly interrupted our trance and I’m speaking, naturally, of a little place called “The Juice Bar”.

“We have to stop here!!!” I told Mom, immediately recognizing it as one of THE highest rated eateries on Trip Advisor, “I’ve read about this place…”

And, boy oh BOY, do we now know why it has such high ratings!

Imagine, if you will, a vast variety of homemade ice creams. Then imagine seeing the ice cream of your choice being piled into a waffle cone that is not only homemade on the spot, but that is STILL WARM (!!!!!!!), and wrapped at the bottom in lightweight foil.

I have never in my life seen anything like it. Like the poor woman in this Babylon Bee article, I lost my ability to even once I was standing in this shop, and I don’t know that I’ll ever recover; during our short stint in Nantucket, Mom and I stopped by for an ice cream cone as often as we could — mostly because we’re not dummies — and what I would give to be able to run down the street and have another one.

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Funny story, though, when it was my turn to order, I could not for the life of me decide which flavor I wanted — they all sounded delicious — and, panicking under that awful spotlight of being in the front of the line and not knowing what I wanted, my eyes just landed upon the word “cookie” and I blurted out the flavor that was attached to it. Because I do like cookies.

“I’ll have the…uhh…cookie monster!!

“Okay,” the clerk said, “but I have to warn you that it is dyed blue. Are you okay with that?”

“Oh, sure!” I brightly replied. “No problem…”

As she put my ice cream together, though, and I was able to relax into a less-blindingly-anxious state of mind now that I was no longer being put on the spot, I began to process what I had just done. A bright blue ice cream. A bright blue ice cream named “cookie monster”. Ohhhhh…as in…Sesame Street. As in, THE Cookie Monster.

As in…this was an ice cream flavor for children!!!

Me dumb-dumb. Me like cookies.

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So there I was, walking next to my mommy down the streets of Nantucket, with my bright blue ice cream cone. I wonder if people thought I had just had my vaccinations and had been “a brave girl” about getting my shots? Or that I had been to the dentist without crying?…

I certainly felt like an overgrown child.

Especially when my mom got tickled at me because my LIPS TURNED BLUE.

And my teeth.

And my tongue.

And, of course, the white undershirt that was peeking out from my v-neck tee. It had been white before The Juice Bar.

Now it had a big blue blob on it.

Because I’m a 33-year old Cookie Monster.

Anyhow, regardless of my momentary shame (that was soon replaced with uncontrollable giggles), I pray that I will never, ever forget what it felt like to walk beside my mama in this city of her dreams, ice cream dripping down our hands, the ocean to our left, the cobblestones under our feet, the cold, invigorating wind whipping our hair all over the place.

It was the stuff of dreams.

The wharf wasn’t so bad, either…

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~

The next morning, after eating our breakfast at the Union Street Inn, with a free morning and afternoon to spare before heading to the next leg of our adventure, we walked again to Main Street, this time as Nantucket was waking up for the day. Mom was, obviously, excited.

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Now…I don’t want to continually sound like an overly-dramatic gushing exaggerator, but…IT WAS LIKE A MOVIE!!!

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People greeting each other in the streets, sellers turning over signs in their windows and opening doors to customers, dogs out for morning trots with their owners, bicyclists getting in an early round of exercise, and…brace yourselves…a Farmer’s Market TRUCK setting up produce.

I stopped right there on the sidewalk and rubbed my eyes.

“This can’t be real…” I murmured to my mom.

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But it WAS real. And, in Nantucket, it was just daily life.

I wanted to sit on the sidewalk all of a sudden and cry my eyes out.

In fact, I want to cry right now, all over again.

I collected myself, however, and Mama and I managed to squeeze a lot of sightseeing and shopping into the rest of that day.

We visited the library. (sniffle sniffle).

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We shopped and shopped some more.

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More house swooning.

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Aunt Leah’s Fudge Shop. (Don’t even get me started. Best fudge I’ve ever had, and we’ve even ordered it online since! Get the Sea Turtle flavor and thank me later).

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Boat watching.

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(here’s Mom when she realized I was taking ANOTHER picture of her as she watched boats – I told ya I photographed her like she was my baby! And you haven’t seen nothin’ yet!).

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Fish n’ chip eating.

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Dock walking.

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Sigh. It was a fabulous, wonderful day, the birthday celebration of the CENTURY.

I think we should go back, maybe tomorrow.

Want to come with us??

~

Oh, boy, you guys, stay TUNED for the next installment, when Mama and I find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the playground of the rich and luxuriating. So, so, SO out of our normal mode of living…but SO FUN!!! Until then, here are some more pictures for you to enjoy! Thanks for reading!