Friday, December 27, 2013

Window to my world

In our living room there is a large picture window, spanning about a third of the long room. The three-sided window offers a spectacular view of the mountains, sweeping from the Presidentials in the east toward the Franconia and Kinsman ranges in the southeast, and it is this view which most often catches the attention of visitors. For me, though, the window provides a view more dear than the mountains of home.

Through the window, I see the seasons changing, the days turning from sherbet-hued sunrise to alpenglow dusk, my children playing and growing. This is the window to my world.

From the window, I can see the field where my husband and I stood with our friends and family one sunny, late-August day and promised to love, put up with, and celebrate each other the rest of our lives (not in those exact words, but that’s pretty much what marriage vows boil down to).

When my children were babies, I spent countless hours, fuzzy with sleeplessness, rocking and feeding them by the window. From my perch in the giant recliner, I would watch the sun come up as I figured out how to be the mother of newborn twins and, later, another babe. While they dozed, I would gaze out that big window, watching the chickadees flit from bare lilac bushes to bird feeder, busily surviving in late winter, all of us waiting for the brightness and warmth of spring sunshine.

Those babies are nearly 7 now and spend much time by the window and the bench seats below it. They sit at the table there to do their homework, create artwork, watch the snowcats moving up and down the slopes of Cannon Mountain, and look for animals and birds. The chickadees still come to the winter feeder, along with a pair of blue jays and an occasional passing flock of gold finches or cedar waxwings.

In the fall we look out to see bears climbing the apple trees, and peer into the creeping dusk looking for deer. We’ve come to know the deer who frequent our field: the large doe and her not-quite-grown youngster, the young buck with only one spiky horn, a handsome 6-point buck, and an even larger one who appeared only once (that we saw), the day after the long hunting season ended, walking regally through the field, unbothered by the barking dog.

From the window I gaze into the quiet of early morning, before anyone else is awake, looking for the silhouette of mountains to emerge from the darkness, trying to determine what type of day it will be. Red sky in morning? Sailor (or skier, hiker, bicyclist, gardener) take warning. From the window we watch the clouds pushing through Franconia Notch and the moon rise over Lafayette.

I can watch the seasons change through the window, from the intricately bare branches and snow of winter to the pale pink blossoms that fill the apple trees in spring, then the purple burst of summer lupine, the yellows and golds of late summer, fall’s final surge of patchwork color, and back to white again.

From the window I am watching my children grow, from toddlers peddling tricycles to kids building bike jumps out of logs and plywood. From not-quite-2-year-olds shuffling around the driveway on plastic, strap-on skis to daredevils plunging head-first down the snowy hill on sleds. From babies crawling through the grass to builders orchestrating major sandbox excavations.

Our house could be described as “lived in,” with dirt on the floors, toys often scattered through several rooms, and clutter on the tables. The bumped-out spot where the window is may be the most lived-in place of all, the table piled with kids’ homework assignments, my notes, magazines, crayons, laundry to be folded. Not surprisingly, all three wide panes of the window are perpetually smudged with small fingerprints.

The children push their hands against the glass as they look out at the deer and the chickadees, or watch for someone to come down the long driveway – my husband returning home, grandparents stopping in for a visit, friends coming to play. Someday I will watch from the window for them to return from first dates, college semesters, and new lives in other places.

From the outside, the window also provides a glimpse into home. When we return on dark December evenings, we see the twinkling glow of Christmas tree lights. There are often kid creations hanging in the window – cut out paper snowflakes and painted candy canes in winter, flowers and shamrocks as spring approaches, the favorite drawing of the week. When I return home from a solo outing, I see my family through the window, building puzzles, playing games, reading books.

Whichever way I peer through the glass, it is a window to the world my heart holds dear.

Original content by Meghan McCarthyMcPhaul, posted to her Blog: Writings from a Full Life. This column also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the December 27, 2013 edition of the Littleton-Record.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A year's worth of memories

Amid the tree trimming, letters to Santa, cookie making, and present wrapping madness of the holidays, I take a trip each year down memory lane, perusing photographs from the past 12 months in the process of creating photo calendars for family members.

It is a fun ritual to look through the photos of the past year, deciding which to include in each calendar, and remembering some of the things we’ve seen and done. A year’s worth of photographs stretches from winter outings into springtime mud puddles, summer fun, the colors and activities of fall, and back to winter again. Around we go.

Every photograph offers a glimpse into one moment of time, and each one evokes emotions and memories. Every image comprises a story, or at least the introduction to a story. Of course, the moments we photograph and save are generally the happy ones, whether big events or impromptu clicks of the camera during good times. In this way, we commemorate the joyful and proud moments and ignore the less-than-cheery events.

Looking through photo files of the year gone by takes me quite a while, as I become sidetracked by the details I’ve already forgotten, things that would likely fade from memory without those images to hold them: the happy-and-a-little-bit-nervous smiles of the first day of school, giggling walks through the lupine field, spontaneous living room dance parties.

Contained in the 2013 collection are a summer week on Cape Cod, an autumn trek to Montreal, visits from the cousins from Tennessee and California, a wedding celebration, and plenty more: bike rides, hikes, holiday festivities, jumping into leaf piles, skiing through snowy glades, the intricacies of constructing fairy houses and decorating the Christmas tree.

Looking beyond the most recent set of photographs to images from years past, I remember my children’s toothless baby grins, how crazy the littlest one’s hair was when she was tiny, the furrowed brow my son often wore as an infant, and that the sweet-bordering-on-mischievous gleam in my eldest daughter’s eyes is the same now as it was in her earliest months.

I remember how my children, as toddlers, loaded freshly harvested carrots and potatoes into their Tonka trucks and carted them from the garden to the house, the springtime bouquets of bright dandelions they picked, their first snow angels, my then-2-year-old son teaching his baby sister to crawl, that baby’s first bike ride without training wheels, how grown up my daughter seemed in the costume for her first dance recital.

In photographs I see that some of the outings my family enjoys now are similar to the adventures I had as a kid. I have a picture of myself around age 6 helping my father build something, and one of my son at the same age wielding a hammer with his grandfather. I have a photograph of the pigtailed little girl I was sitting at the top of a hike with my mom, and one of my own two daughters in nearly the same spot with her a few decades later.

Around and around we go.

The kids will clamor to flip through the new calendars when they arrive, before we wrap them up and put them under the tree, remembering together some of the fun of the year just passed. They also love looking through the older calendars and the baby books, finding within the pages their smaller selves and remembering the stories contained in these photographs.

As the year comes to a close, the 2013 calendar will join the small stack of calendars from previous years, which we’ll dig out of the closet every now and then, flipping through the memories. And before the 2014 calendar is unwrapped and hung on the wall, we’ll have begun taking the next round of pictures, creating new stories as a new year glistens on the holiday horizon.

So the world turns. Around and around we go, snapping photographs, holding onto moments, and replaying memories along the way.

Original content, posted by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul and posted to her Blog: Writings From A Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the December 13, 2013 edition of the Littleton Record.