I’m Odds and Ends

This morning I read that we only have 18 summers with our children. I read this right after I found myself yelling at four little (and not so little) people who live with me to find their own dang flip flops, clean the glitter up out of the laundry room floor (again), pick up the balloons they dropped, and stop cutting that t-shirt in half to turn it into a crop top.

Sometimes it feels like time crawls by and sometimes it feels like it’s flying. But I always feel like I’m cleaning something up and raising my voice to someone. You might know how it is.

Yesterday was my youngest daughter’s tenth birthday, and this morning I came across a whole bunch of her baby pictures from when I was in the hospital with her. The first pictures of her cute chubby little face, with her big sisters cuddling her and looking at her in wonder (and me and her dad doing the same thing.) And now suddenly, she’s ten! How is it even possible? Have we already somehow used up ten of those 18 summers?  It seems like just last week that she was throwing a fit on the pool deck and getting herself kicked out of swim class!

And here I am, finding myself going back and forth between looking at my strong and ever-growing, ever-changing children in wonder, in amazement, in bewilderment, and in abject terror.

This year we’re having the “do you think that’s modest?” debate. I know that my oldest child is a very modest person. She always has been, and I don’t really think that becoming a teenager is really changing that fact. I do think that she doesn’t always realize how articles of clothing just LOOK differently on her body now than they used to. Same with my second oldest daughter. Me talking about it drives them absolutely nuts but it’s practically impossible for me to keep my mouth shut about it! I’m trying, but oh, how my grandma’s voice keeps coming from somewhere deep within me. I know who my girls are inside, where it matters. But when did they become these young women? When did it suddenly switch over and now there’s grown-up looking people standing in the place of my two little girls? 18 summers. And I’ve already used up 14 and 12 of those with these two.

So now I’m sitting here at the pool in the shade under a bunch of trees, listening to the kids yelling and the splashing and the sounds of Hotel California and Father Figure as the music floats from the speakers over the pool area. Those little white poofy things that are probably allergies incarnate are flying through the air along with the occasional little helicopter whirly thing and the breeze makes the 85 degrees feel more like 72. In other words, it’s one of those perfect early summer days. Even though the kids fly through the PBJs and the cookies and avocados I’ve packed during the very first rest break and they’re already hitting me (and Adelaide) up for money. I make them give her an IOU because they are constantly stealing each other’s money (whether purposefully or not, I can’t figure out, but I do have my suspicions.) They take their snack bar treasures and head to play tether ball.

During the long – and I do mean LONG – months of winter, this is what I long for. A day just like this. Exactly. And sometimes when it’s here, I forget to soak it in, to enjoy it. I worry about whose sock is this! and why didn’t you put your flip flops away! and who owes who $2.00! I mean, really, in the long run, what more is there than exactly this?

What more is there than my beautiful girls with their pooleyes squinting in the sun, their long, strong legs – not quite yet tan but on the way – my girls with their freckled noses and crazy laughs, my girls with their inquisitive glances and their quick smiles and quicker jokes. My boy with his “Dumb  and Dumber” hair cut, his constantly sagging swim trunks, his ever-dancing feet, and his never ending search for adventure by way of a skinned knee. Seven of our summers together are gone;  seven summers of him swinging from monkey bars, peddling his little green tractor for all he’s worth, seven summers of him begging for just one more Popsicle. “Or maybe two more, okay Mom?”

This breeze, this sun, this day, my babies. Soaking it in. I guess we think we have 18 so we can take our time enjoying them, but who really knows? This could be it for me. That sounds morbid, but as “Man Eater” finishes up on the radio and Take On Me starts up, the lyrics seems oddly fitting:

So needless to say
I’m odds and ends
But I’ll be stumbling away
Slowly learning that life is okay
Say after me it’s no better to be safe than sorry –
Take on me
Take me on
I’ll be gone
In a day or two.
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M&M’s and a Raccoon

Last month our church gave out little packets of M&M’s as an object lesson to help illustrate God’s love for us to our kids.

I, of course, proceeded to stick it on the fridge and then forget about it for a month. Tonight, though, I grabbed it while Jed was choosing a bedtime story for me to read to him and Adelaide.

So, the object lesson showed us how 1) M&M’s are all different, just like we are all different and unique. 2) M&M’s are filled on the inside, just like us (I especially liked this one – without the filling of God’s love, we are just like empty shells) and 3) M&M’s were created for a purpose, just like we were.

The kids really seemed to understand the metaphor (even though they were way more interested in getting to the eating part – even if it meant re-brushing their teeth) and impressively, they can now quote three ways we are like M&M’s.

After we finished, Jed handed me the book he had chosen: Adam Raccoon and the Circus Master by Glen Keane. If you’re not familiar with these little stories, they are parables re-told for kids with King Aren (a lion who represents God) and Adam Raccoon (a little raccoon with a penchant for getting into trouble. He reminds me of myself.) This one is a re-telling of my very FAVORITE story in the Bible,91n+Apiq82L The Prodigal Son. After running away with a circus and making mistake after mistake, Adam Raccoon decides to come crawling back home. He doesn’t know if King Aren will ever forgive him. But when King Aren sees Adam coming, even though he’s still a long way away, the king runs out to meet Adam with outstretched arms and then he picks Adam up and hugs him tight.

At this point in the story, both of my children are looking at me, not the pages of the book. Jed pats my arm and Adelaide hands me a tissue. They’ve both learned to deal with my emotional responses to, well, basically everything. But this time, they wanted to know more. They wanted to hear the real story out of the Bible so I read it to them straight from Luke 15. Here are their comments and the real reason I took time to write this out… I didn’t want to forget how M&M’s and a raccoon came together tonight to illustrate something wonderful to my babies.

Jed: “So God weally loves us. Just like that Dad. He didn’t even wait for him to get back. He just wan out to meet him.” Adelaide: “It’s like the ninety-nine and the one, Mom. He leaves the ninety-nine to go and find the one that’s lost. And then he’s just so happy when he finds that one. Just like when he finds us. Isn’t that called Reckless Love?”

Yes. Yes, it is.

And I’m so thankful tonight for little children and a church family who constantly remind me of the overwhelming, never ending, reckless love of God.

Where are you, Christmas?

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The other morning I got up early because I couldn’t sleep. I decided to read my Bible because it felt like God had been calling me, as I’ve been looking for peace in this holiday season. Looking to find some Christmas in this Christmas season, if you know what I mean. I’ve been struggling with change as people that I love grow old, get sick, die, move away, or re-prioritize their lives. It’s difficult, especially at Christmas, when your memories are so vivid and you just want things to be the way they used to be.

There are so many things to think about and life seems to be hurtling past at 100 miles an hour. Heartaches, sicknesses, deaths, troubles, things to do, people to help, places to go, prayers to be prayed – but I know that God wants me to have peace with the past and with the present. I know that He does, even as I sometimes fight Him as He tries so faithfully to give me His best.

I find myself singing the Where are You Christmas song (the Cindy Lou Who version, not the Faith Hill one, yuck) and it happened again this week. Where are you, Christmas? Why can’t I find you?

On that morning, I decided to read Isaiah 43 since I had jotted it down from something one of the trainers at my gym mentioned a couple of weeks ago. It’s funny that the kids’ library book on the table next to me was “Finding Christmas,” which was exactly what I was trying to do. Coincidence?

The passage in the Bible says:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by your name;

You are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.

When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned. Nor shall the flame scorch you, for I am the Lord your God, the holy one of Israel, your Savior. Since you were precious in my sight, you have been honored, and I have loved you…. Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing. Now shall it spring forth, shall you not know it? I will make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Not exactly a Christmas passage, is it? I decided to look up the word REDEEMED. After all, it says that He has redeemed ME. It means: To compensate for the faults of. To do something that makes up for poor past behavior. To atone or make amends for error or evil. To save from sin. To gain or regain possession of in exchange for payment. To repay, exchange, pay to clear a debt, carry out a promise, or buy the freedom of.

Wow. Maybe a Christmas story is EXACTLY what that passage is. His indescribable, amazing, undeserved gift. He’s done all that for me. Redeemed ME. Knows MY name. I am HIS. When I pass through the waters, he will be with ME. Not IF, but WHEN I pass through them. And then He plainly tells me to not worry about the past but to look for what he’s going to do for me in the future.

Today, after 4 days of a killer stomach virus, I found myself singing that song again as I tried to de-germ our house. But this time, almost immediately, four random things popped into my mind for some reason. One, how the kids bundled up into their snowsuits a couple of weeks ago to shovel the driveway of our elderly widowed neighbor. Two, when we helped a friend who’s having a hard time so her family could have a better Christmas. Three, when my girls gathered up a box of toys and clothes to give to a stranger – a single dad we’d never even met – so his daughter would have a gift to open on Christmas morning. Four – the thought “I am redeemed.”

Maybe all of those things are Christmas.

I love how God sometimes reminds you of the things that matter at a time when you least expect it, like when you’re fumigating your house with too much Lysol.

Where are you, Christmas?

I think I found you. Here, in my heart. My redeemed, loved, precious-to-God heart.

Summery Updates

It’s so hard to find time to write these days. I’ve managed to get a few of the thoughts out of my head this morning, so here are some summery updates on the people my life revolves around right now:

Jed is like a heat-seeking missile when he sneaks in to snuggle with us in bed in the morning. He looks like a tiny version of his father (except his dad doesn’t suck on his fingers while he’s sleeping.) He smells so good after a shower, like little boy and dreams and blankets and remnants of his dad’s “man soap.” With his new glasses and missing front teeth, he’s so cute that he’s hard for me to look at! And I never thought I’d care about sports until this guy came along with his immense love of flag football and his seemingly natural ability at baseball. I’m convinced that baseball is in his blood (his Grandpa Roy was signed as a pitcher before a shoulder injury took him out of the game.) When he walks up to the plate with the bat and I hear that metallic “thwing!” and the ball soars out over the field – way further than any 6-year-old should be able to hit it – something happens to my heart. When he’s fielding and catching and then chucking that ball all the way across the diamond, it just does something to me! I want to watch every game! He’s the boy-est boy I’ve ever met, but his little heart is so precious. We passed an accident on the highway and I said, “Uh-oh, we might be stuck in traffic.” His response? “Who cares about the twaffic wight now, Mom? We should be caring about dose people in dat car!” He teaches me lots of lessons like that.

Then there’s Adelaide, who I still see as a chubby little 3-year-old when I look at her, even though she’s now long and lanky and already nine. She loves to carry our dog around like a baby and I catch her snuggling him and singing to him on a regular basis. She’s constantly repeating herself and laughing at all of her own jokes (I have no idea where she gets that from.) She’s always trying to make people laugh – or yelling at them. She isn’t big on happyStorybook mediums. She either loves you so much she can’t contain herself or she despises you with a chilling fury and a stare that should turn you to stone. She is so much like me that it scares me sometimes. Heart on her sleeve, likes to draw and sing, emotional mess, gray-green eyes, suspicious nature, freakishly weird double joints, crazy hair, crying for no reason, anger issues…. She also surprises me with her deep thinking abilities because, honestly, you’d never know she was a deep thinker with her goofy faces, silly songs, and love of slapstick comedy. She said, “You know how you have to be still for a camera to focus before you can take a really good picture? Well, I was thinking about how we need to be still before we can focus on God. He can always see us, but we’re always running around and doing stuff and we can’t really see him unless we just BE STILL.” Wow. See what I mean?

Josie is exuberant in her love of life and all of the adventures she’s intent on having. She is scared of nothing, except crickets and aliens. She’s a bit of an adrenaline junky – she wants to jump out of an airplane, go rock climbing (check), zip-lining, swim with sharks, go cliff-diving (check), and go whitewater rafting (check.) She’s always looking for a hug, a puppy, or a baby to cuddle. She loves ALL OF THE PEOPLE, and the way she runs is so funny I can’t even explain it… she’s like a crazy person, and it’s the best thing ever. She’s almost perpetually in a good mood and I wish some of her optimism would transfer over to me. She’s very “Pollyanna-esque,” unless you happen to eat her leftover burrito or (heaven forbid) finish off the last of the chocolate milk and then may the Lord have mercy on your soul. Yes, once in a while her temper will rage, but it’s like a falling star – it burns out quickly and she’ll probably come looking for you because, as she says, “I just can’t be a grudge-holder. I keep on trying but honestly, I just really want to hug you.” She is convinced that God has great plans for her life and that she is going to change the world by running a home for needy children. I believe her completely, and seeing her passion for others often makes me realize that maybe I wasn’t put on Earth to change the world for good, but to raise children who will.

Sadie, 13 going on 20. She’s always hurting her foot/toe/ankle/leg – but not seriously injuring it. She gets the crutches out every now and then for good measure – and because she’s more dramatic than she likes to admit. She spends an inordinate amount of time choosing (and changing) clothes for any event and/or non-event (like going to the grocery store.) We’ve mutually decided to never shop for shoes together again because we can’t stand each other when we’re at the shoe store. Last time, she hid my shoe from me in a display and refused to give me its location. Do you know how hard it is to find a random shoe in a store full of shoes? The camouflage is amazing.) This was still better than the previous trip when we both left the mall in tears. She’s smart, quick-witted, a voracious reader, and she’s not afraid of hard work (once she gets started!) I’ve decided that God gave my notoriously slow (yet altogether wonderful) cousin Angela to me while I was growing up to prepare me for living with Sadie as my child (“Coming! I’m COMING! I’ll be there in a minute! Hold on! I’m almost ready!”) She’s growing up right before my eyes. It seems like one minute she was my little “long-legged-fracas” in a princess dress, climbing a tree, and now she’s almost grown up with braces on her teeth and a shoe size that’s bigger than mine. But I love how she still holds my hand, asks my opinion, hugs me goodnight, and prays with me. And every now and then, I still catch her in a princess dress or up a tree.

 

Catching Up

I feel like the days are just whizzing by. It seems like it was just Thanksgiving a few days ago and now it’s almost March. How is that even possible?

I try to make time for myself, time for my friends, time for my husband, time for God, time for my family, and special time for each one of my children but someone always gets left out. And I try not to beat myself up about it, but it’s hard to keep from feeling guilty. There’s always something to feel guilty about, isn’t there? The past few days I’ve been feeling guilty about not writing things down, so here we are.

Today it was very quiet in my house. My two older girls stayed upstairs for hours, getting extremely creative with hot glue guns, sequins, and construction paper. My two littler ones barricaded themselves in the toy room with a menagerie of little plastic animals, Slinkies, matchbox cars, and dinosaur habitats.

And so I did what most of us probably do… lost and reheated my coffee 3 times, tried to read the same thing twice before I gave up, loaded the dishwasher, played a word game on my phone, and read my email.

What a waste of time. Time keeps going faster and I somehow just keep on wasting more of it. I don’t really know where my days go. Reading, math, library trips, cleaning, laundry, cooking, grocery store, gym. That’s basically my life right now. And it seems like there should be more.

I don’t know, though. Now that I have time to sit and think for a minute, maybe life is just a lot of little moments.

walkPiggy-back rides down the driveway to the mailbox. Crazy outfits concocted from every pattern available in an 8-year-old’s closet. Strawberry muffins and homemade guacamole made by a girl with a faded pink blanket around her neck like a scarf. A million sequins and sparkles on the bedroom floor and the millionth “I’ll be down in a minute!” from an almost teenager.

Dinosaurs scattered on the floor. Dirty socks balled up under the couch. Popcorn in the microwave. A purple hairbrush everywhere except where it belongs. Handprints on the windows of the van. Laughter from the living room. Dance parties in the family room. Binge-watching of The Dukes of Hazzard and The Andy Griffith Show. Car Picnics. Sliding on the hardwood floor in sock feet. A constant pile of shoes by the door. “Mo-ommm!” at least 200 times a day.

“Breft-tast,” lunch, and dinner, day in and day out. Fights over whose day it is to unload the dishwasher. Candyland, Monopoly, War, Go Fish, Pass the Pigs and Pepper. Games and giggles and squabbles and pinches and stubbed toes and skinned knees and upset tummies. Shampoo in eyes and making giant soap bubbles in the kitchen sink. Searching for lost ______ (insert any noun here.) Hurt feelings, apologies, inside jokes (“I must confess, Mom. I ate Skittles off the floor today.”)

Building Robotics. Checking the Weather Channel and the Star Wars app. Studio C. “But have you ever KILT anyone?” Trying to wash the dog in the shower. Going on walks. Reaching back to hold a little hand while driving home. Fixing the outside pump in the pond, putting away laundry, writing funny songs, making videos, going to the park, helping Dad, reading out loud, playing hide and go seek in the dark, building burrows through blankets, putting on Thieves’ Oil and saying prayers. “Can I snuggle with you?” and “I had a bad dream” in the middle of the night.

I just have to remember to grab a one-on-one trip to the hardware store here, a special “You can ride in the front seat!” trip to the post office or grocery store there, a special night at the movies once in a while. Because there’s no doubt about it – they are growing up. And it’s happening fast. It’s happening right before my very eyes.

And they are amazing. They are the best, most wonderful things I’ve ever been a part of.

Maybe I’m wasting less time than I thought.

Piece of Peace

Today was a good day to go to a deserted beach. To breathe. To think. To pray.

Luckily, we just happen to have one 10 minutes away.

My oldest daughter had the great idea of heading to the beach – on a windy, fairly cold day. For no reason at all. My first instinct was to say no… but then I thought, “why not?”

We were the ONLY ones there. The only car in the parking lot. The only humans as far as the eye could see. It was good to be alone.

The smell of fall in the air mixed with the smell of the beach – sand, water, trees… my lungs were hungrier to breathe that in than I’d even realized.

My kids took off, excited to have the entire expanse to themselves. Theirs were the only footprints in sight.

15027909_10154797699523933_1973148621075045243_nI followed along but found myself sinking down to sit on a random driftwood log facing the uncharacteristically giant waves in our Great Lake.

And then I thought.

A seagull dodging the waves caught my eye and so I watched him. How he worked so hard, pumping his wings to get up to a certain height but then once he made it, he just spread out his wings and soared. Effortlessly. Peacefully. Until he came down and had to work once again to get up to where he wanted to be. He did this over and over. He didn’t give up. He didn’t curse the water or throw himself down or even fly away. He just dealt with it.

This might sound crazy, but that bird made me think: how sometimes waves flatten out just like glass, but other times they rise up like the ocean in a storm. And we are powerless to stop them. We are mere spectators as the waves just keep on coming. Sometimes it takes a LOT of work to get to a point where you can look around and soar.

Isn’t that the same as the storms that come through our lives? Through our families? Through our country? The only thing – and I mean the ONLY thing – we have complete control over is how we choose to deal with the storms.

A shriek of laughter floated back to me on the wind and I turned to see my children as they ran down the beach. Healthy. Tall. Strong legs dodging the spray, sturdy arms tossing rocks and dragging sticks to make “tail trails” in the sand.

Without warning, my eyes filled with tears.

How will I teach them to deal with things that shouldn’t happen? How will I teach them to love when it’s undeserved? How will I teach them the value of hard work? The importance of just letting some things go? To do the right thing, even when it’s hard? To treat people with respect even when you don’t understand their choices?

And I’m not sure about all of that. I didn’t have an epiphany. I still don’t know how to teach them, other than by example and a whole lot of praying.

But as I sat there with the sun on my back and the wind in my face, I realized that sometimes, you just have grab onto a tiny piece of peace wherever and whenever you can. And you have to tuck it into your heart to save for the rough days that are bound to come. And when you have to work – really work – to climb back up to where you want to be (and you better believe it’s going to happen again and again) you just have to bring that peace out and hold onto it.

Hold it tight. Love your children. Love your country. Love your neighbor.

Fall Day

Tonight the fluffy black cushions on the swing outside my kitchen looked so inviting that I glanced around to make sure no one was looking and then I collapsed onto it. Rarely do I ever just sit and do absolutely nothing. It makes me feel guilty somehow (I’m pretty sure it comes from being raised by two hard-core workaholics.) But tonight, it was cool with that newness of fall that is so welcome after a long, hot summer. The breeze was blowing through the leaves of the giant oak tree in our yard and the crickets were chirping. I could hear a frog or two from somewhere in the backyard along with the clatter of dishes from inside where the kids were cleaning up from dinner. Next door a dog barked and I heard the muted sound of a telephone ringing from a house across the street.

Doing nothing gives you time to think. Maybe that’s another reason I don’t “do nothing” very often: I’m a worrier and I don’t really WANT to think about a lot of things. Or perhaps I should say DWELL on them, seeing as how that’s what I’m good at doing.

But tonight, I just thought about my day. This morning, Jed went over to play with our neighbors while the rest of us took Sadie to the eye doctor. Her eyes were fine. It turned out that her seasonal allergies were making her sight a little blurry. Josie and Adelaide were very interested in the whole eye exam procedure and they were even more enthralled at the way the optometrist talked. It was so hard not to laugh at him (he sounded very much like Mr. Mackey, the “MKAY?” teacher from the South Park cartoons. I was shaking with laughter and trying to remain silent but my laughing made Josie and Adelaide laugh, and it just got worse and worse as he said to Sadie, “How’s 2? And three? And what about 4? Mkay… and 5? Well then what about 6? And then 7?”

After we made it out of there without totally offending him (I think) the girls and I bought Icees and shopped at Walmart. We needed gummy vitamins and gum, so of course I ended up spending $98. Sadie checked her blood pressure in the little machine next to the pharmacy. Adelaide asked for whitening toothpaste and Josie needed a new pair of leggings (we used her old ones with holes in the knees to make a scarecrow yesterday.) The girls were good the first 10 minutes, but then they got on my nerves with their singing (yes, SINGING) and general goofiness so we packed up and got out of there.

It just so happens that our local thrift store is right next to Walmart AND Wednesday is half-price day. It also just so happens that my girls love thrift stores (and a good sale) like nobody’s business. They begged to go in. I gave them 15 minutes. Sadie found brand new boots, Adelaide found a hat, and Josie found a “Josie-ish” sweater. I love that they love thrift stores and that they couldn’t care less about brand names and labels. It thrills the cheapskate in me.

We picked up Jed and the mail (my great uncle sent me a stack of old photos today!) and then we met my mom for lunch – Mexican, of course. Adelaide and Josie got in a fight over who got to sit by Grammie. Adelaide cried, Josie stomped off to the bathroom, and I sat next to Grammie and told them both to get over it. Sadie was only concerned with having her very own cheese dip. Jed was pretty focused on pounding tortilla chips to crumbs with his fist. It was a good lunch, especially since we looked through the photos while we were waiting. Josie thinks her Papaw was pretty much the most handsome guy who ever lived – even more handsome than Tim Tebow, and that’s saying a lot.

We read The Penderwicks in the car on the way home. Adelaide even read an entire paragraph all by herself and her sisters congratulated her. We all love that book – how the sisters take care of each other and stand up for their “family honor.” We talked about how one of them should name her little girl Rosalind someday and Sadie called dibs since it’s been her favorite book the longest (she’s read it five or six times.)

We also talked about how cultural norms are different from one country to another – and how on this very day in India, a little girl the same age as Sadie is working as a servant to her in-laws-to-be and drinking the water that she used to wash their feet in BEFORE she’s allowed to eat her breakfast (this may or may not have been used in comparison to the ridiculous poor pitiful me attitude displayed by Josie with her new leggings, Icee, and lunch in a restaurant for no good reason.)

Sadie then made up an awful song to the tune of “Winter Wonderland,” except that her song was about loins that were burning and butts that were churning. Perhaps the Mexican food did not sit too well with her or perhaps she’s a little too much like her dad. I think her song is called “Pooping in a Toilet Wonderland” and it is a great source of enjoyment to everyone in my house (under the age of 13, anyway.)

We came home and the kids played pirate ship outside. This is their new obsession. They pile up lawn furniture and jump from it while holding the rope on the Killer Death disc swing outside. They swing over to Jed’s motorized Jeep and come aboard the “deck.” This is all done in full pirate regalia. I hear voices yelling things like “Aargh, me mateys!” and “Avast! Aghast! Whatever that word is!” and “Crème Brulee! (that last one is Jed’s new favorite – at least it’s better than “Wiener Sausage.”)

Jed had football practice tonight and he made a touchdown on offense and stopped a touchdown of defense. He was very pleased with himself. Sadie, Josie, and Adelaide played Monopoly and a rousing game of “Run Around the Ottoman,” which is exactly what it sounds like… don’t get this one confused with their other game invention, “Guess What’s in the Sock.” I’m pretty sure Milton Bradley will not be hitting them up for ideas anytime soon.

That’s pretty much it. We school year-round so we take days off when we need/want to, and the end of September is the best part of the year to spend outside, in my opinion. My re-thinking of the day is complete, but this swing is so comfy that I think I might sit outside just a little while longer.