Time with just the four of us is hard to come by. Matt's hours at the hospital have been demanding, so any time we have him home is a time to slow down and simply be together. And how have we been spending that time? Taking the long way home to enjoy the fall colors, bundling up to be outside while it's still warm enough to work in the garden and sit in the grass, playing together, reading together, eating together- almost everything else can wait. Seasons are changing and our girls are getting older, and we know we can't wait for things to slow down because all the little moments will just pass us by.
"Let this be a season of slowing down and revisiting
What beautiful things can come to life in the waiting"
-Morgan Harper Nichols
Since taking these pictures just a few weeks ago, the leaves have already peaked and the tree branches are starting to look bare. We've had our first snow (it was a very light dusting, but still!), and Annie has turned THREE. We've been back to walk along these hidden backyard paths, collecting fallen leaves and finding new trails to explore. The funny thing is that we didn't even know these trails existed until the day we took our pictures, even though it is only minutes from our front house. But now this place feels like it belongs to just the four of us, like these pictures and this little moment in time, and all because we left the paved trail and took the scenic route.
Summer is wrapping up, isn't it? The end of August is slowly sneaking up on me, and I'm just grateful for these years before back to school, when summer will last as long as the weather does. We've still got time for swimming and bike rides and adventures outside. And thank goodness, because I really don't know what we're going to do with ourselves when it's too cold to venture outside!
With two little girls, you wonder as you set out to remote sunflower fields if it's going to be worth it. The time in the car, porta potties for the potty trainee, missing bedtime, a forecast of possible rain, and what if they don't enjoy it? Annie was a good sport last year, but she was way more interested in the barnyard animals than she was in the flowers.
But we're finding that all of that is just part of the experience. We are doing it for them, after all. For all of us, really. Emma was a good sport, a little buddy along for the ride. And I must say it was much more fun to carry her in my arms this year than to be 8 months pregnant like I was last year! And Annie? She wanted to drive every tractor and run through the rows and rows of towering sunflowers. She got ridiculously dirty, and had to go to the bathroom at the least convenient time, but she had so much fun, making us laugh with her big, almost-three-year-old personality and imagination.
Gas, price of admission- it was absolutely worth it to slow down and roam around the fields of flowers with just our favorite people. Especially because the blooms won't last- and neither will these short years before our girls are grown!
After two years of lab research, Matt will return to General Surgery Residency tomorrow. Things are about to change in a big way for our little family, and the reality is that we don't really know what to expect. So for our last weekend before Matt goes back, we were so grateful for this quick getaway to Ten Mile Lake.
Annie, it turns out, loves the water. Put a swimsuit and a floaty on that girl, and she is almost fearless! She loved playing in the water with her dad and found playing in the sand almost as enjoyable.
Emma, meanwhile, found the water too cold and too wet, preferring to watch from the beach.
We took it as easy as we could with two little ones in tow- being with friends, boating, fishing, sitting around the fire pit, and playing at the beach. And of course there was way too much good food.
If it sounds like heaven, that's because it was pretty close :)
Thank you to our friends for the invitation and the memories!
Before heading north to see family after our short stay in Joshua Tree, we spent one afternoon in the Indian Canyons. We hiked the Palm Canyon trail, and it was AMAZING. If ever you are visiting Joshua Tree or Palm Springs, or driving South on I-10, it is absolutely worth the detour.
We originally planned to stay for just an hour or so- we had family to visit and LA traffic to avoid. But there is something is so enticing about about a desert oasis! Matt and I both felt that Palm Canyon was one of the most unique hikes we had ever been on. One hour turned into two as picnicked in the shade and slowed our pace to enjoy the scenery.
Annie was in heaven. She hiked the whole time, throwing rocks in the water whenever she got the chance and sliding down the steeper sections on her bum. Needless to say, she was covered in a thin layer of dust by the time we got back to the car.
Since we've been home, Matt and I have started to put more effort into taking out the camera to capture little moments, slowing them down in the process, and allowing us to hold onto them forever. I didn't realize how much I was missing this piece of our everyday life. Somewhere in the midst of being pregnant last year or having a newborn, I think I fell into more of a survival mode than I realized. It didn't feel like I had time or energy for pictures or writing. And somehow even with all of our time at home due to social distancing, it has still taken me until just recently to find a balance.
But I'm recommitting. I want to look back on 2020 and have the life we're living be defined by the pictures we took. We may not take the vacations we had planned, we may not do as much or see as much as we have in previous years, but our girls are still learning and growing, and we're still making memories. We're still together and this is still our life and our story. And in that sense, 2020 still has potential to be a pretty good year :)
These pictures feel like they are from that illusive before- Do you know what I mean? It was before the world turned upside down, a different time and a different frame of mind. Between this day when we walked amongst the Joshua Trees and today, A LOT has changed, but sitting here, thinking back on these memories, I'm struck by all that has remained the same.
“It's the Joshua tree's struggle that gives it its beauty.”
-The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
We had planned the trip last fall, and in February we set out to visit family in California. At that point, only a few people were even wearing masks in the airports, and it didn't feel all that different from other trips we have taken (besides the fact that this was our first flight with two children!).
Before we headed out to see family and visit my hometown, we decided to drive down to Joshua Tree, just the four of us, to have our own little vacation. When you live far away from family, it is tempting to spend all of your vacation time just visiting them, but we've realized in recent years that we need to make an extra effort to make our own memories too.
It was such a luxury to have my family all to myself, experiencing something for the first time and experiencing it together. The rest of the world could not have felt further away.
We stayed in a cool desert Airbnb complete with hammocks and a jacuzzi. The stars were amazing at night, and we all enjoyed the new sights and perfect weather (especially coming from Minnesota!). We did the Barker Dam trail, a nice loop that even Annie enjoyed. The scenery, the exercise, the weather- it was all a breath of fresh air that left us rejuvenated and ready to return to reality.
Of course we couldn't have known at the time how quickly the world would change after we returned home. But when I look at these pictures, all I can think of is how lucky we were to have made those memories AND how lucky we are to be together now. So much of the outside world has faded away these last few months. Our home has become our haven, and our little family has become our world.
I've heard that the Joshua Trees got their name because they reminded early settlers of the prophet Joshua raising his hands up the sky in prayer. Whether or not that's true, I will always feel a bit of reverence when I think of this place and say a little prayer of gratitude- gratitude for the trip, gratitude for this special time together now, and gratitude for whatever comes next, because whatever the future holds, I get to face it with these people :)
When it comes to the Astiares, most people probably only associate Fred Astaire with Christmas, due to his roles in movies like Holiday Inn and Santa Clause is Coming to Town. But this holiday season has several influences on Adele's story that are mentioned throughout my book.
True to the historical fiction genre, the Christmas scenes depicted in book are based in fact but brought to life with fiction. I found very little about the Astaire's Christmas celebrations throughout the years, but these small pieces of their history allowed me to add a sense of time and memory to Adele's story.
Christmas in NEbraska
On the top floor of the grand Storz Residence in Omaha, Nebraska, a ballroom is named after Adele and Fred Astaire. When she was young, Adele attended a local dance school in Omaha, performing in recitals, including private performances at the Storz Residence. Since Fritz Astaire was an employee of the Storz Brewery, it was easy to imagine the family attending a Christmas celebration there where Adele would take center stage.
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK
"Fritz had pointed out the sound of music before they could even see their destination. Then, a turn in the road and a break in the trees opened up to the house itself, lit inside and out with hundreds of candles. It was a formidable sight, an enchanted castle of gray stone and high gabled dormers, and it made Adele think of the Beast’s castle—forbidding, but full of lively magic.The stark red roof still peeked out from under the thin layer of snow, and every one of the windows was aglow with of candlelight. The bay windows on each story of the house displayed lit Christmas trees, while every other window framed a holly wreath sheltering a single flame. Fir garlands of green and red were draped from the balcony balustrades, and Adele had taken it all in as a group of wassailers filled the air with familiar carols."
Christmas in New York City
At one point in my writing, I needed to stage a scene wherein a serious conversation takes place between brother and sister. Given the nature of their relationship, I had already written a couple of scenes featuring just the two of them, so I wanted to give the reader a glimpse of New York City, and imagined the quiet beauty of freshly fallen snow as the backdrop for what would pass between them. I was happily surprised to stumble across this New York City weather archive, which showed that the 1930 Christmas weather report for Christmas Eve was "3.9" of snow, which ended late in the morning on the 24th, provided a mantle of white for Christmas Day. This would be the biggest snowfall of the winter." The timeline worked perfectly to write a Christmas scene, and though the words are my own, this particular chapter will always feel real to me in a way that only the magic of a white Christmas can.
Adele also received a journal as a Christmas present from her father one year not too long after they had moved to New York City with their mother. That journal turned out to be the first of many for Adele, who was an avid journaler throughout her life. I made sure to include the influence of her journaling throughout the book, also using it as a tool to convey her inner thoughts in some chapters.
Christmas at chatsworth House
There is not a Christmas scene at Chatsworth in the book, but when I was searching for a way to show this great estate as the childhood home of Charlie Cavendish, I knew that referring to his Christmas memories memories there was sure to make Chatsworth feel more like home.
Chatsworth has a rich Christmas history. According to the Duchess of Devonshire, "The annual Christmas party for the school children is held in the Painted Hall and is as noisy and cheerful as can be. The highlight of the evening is the arrival of Father Christmas... [Santa] hides in the chimney of the huge fireplace guarded by four large men making a human screen... Eventually he emerges and hands out presents. Then off he goes, running along he gallery while 'snow' falls on the landing and piles of balloons float down. The performance never loses its magic" (Chatsworth: The House, 56).
I follow @chatsworthofficial on Instagram, and it was easy to imagine what Christmas must have been like for Charlie with the pictures they post of their annual Christmas Market and displays. I don't know whether Adele ever spent a Christmas at Chatsworth herself, but since she didn't return to the states in the time that she was married to Charlie, the chances are highly likely.
Family Christmas photo at Chatsworth, 1925. Charlie is to the far left.
One Last Christmas
Finally, in writing this post, I learned that Christmas of 1980 was the last time Fred and Adele were ever together in person (Puttin' on the Ritz, 400). They were close throughout their lives, and those last four days spent together over the holiday as Adele was nearing the end of her life must have been important to them both. Reading of this final meeting made me glad, in retrospect, that Christmas is featured in the book as it is.
Adele and Fred in Ireland, 1960s (The Astaires: Fred and Adele by Kathleen Riley, 242)
So let me just end by saying
M E R R Y C H R I S T M A S
from the desk where I spent these Christmases with Adele.