One of these days—when our kids aren’t pulling us in so many directions—I will have an amazing vegetable garden. When the month of May isn’t so “May-I-please-sit-down-for-a-minute?!” I will find the time to really get in there and get my hands dirty. My garden will have enviably rich soil in the most perfect location to receive optimal sunlight. I will water and care for my plants, nurturing them into adulthood as I examine their leaves for signs of sickness or insect invasion. They will grow beautifully and reward us with an abundance of tomatoes and beans and melons and cucumbers.

Until then, I will reminisce about the summers of my childhood. I will remember the distinct smell of freshly watered plants and the taste of a sun-warmed cherry tomato plucked and wiped on my shorts before popping it in my mouth.

I will remember the days of late summer when my grandmother and my mother canned green beans in the kitchen, their faces red from the steam. The hard work of having a vegetable garden continued throughout the summer. Preserving the abundance from the garden was unquestionable, every piece should be eaten—either by us or our neighbors, either now or later.

The shelves in the laundry room were lined with Mason jars filled to the top with summer’s bounty. The deep freezer held jars of strawberry jam and sliced peaches. Everything not eaten right away was preserved for later. By February, when the last jar of strawberry jam was scraped clean, we began to dream of visiting the U-Pick strawberry field so that we could replenish our supply.

Preserving the sweetness of summer doesn’t have to involve giant pots of boiling water and steamy glass jars. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a bit of sunshine-y June and July in the dreary winter months of January and February? Try this: Keep a summer journal or write down what summer was like when you were a kid. Take pictures and make a photo album (not just the Facebook kind, a real one that you can hold in your hands) so that you can relive the best moments of this season. When it’s below freezing outside and the sky is filled with gray clouds, you’ll be glad you did.

Fresh coat of paint

I started painting our kitchen this week. If you wanted to know this little fact, there are a few telltale sign: The speckles of paint on my forearms and those persnickety spots on my elbows I never see when I’m washing up; The Cruella de Vil streaks of paint in my hair; The relative chaos of whichever room I happened to be painting; The recently rinsed-out brushes sitting on damp paper towels by the sink.

You can learn a lot when you start a painting project. You learn how quickly you can make decisions, like picking out paint colors. You learn the maximum amount of clutter your family can tolerate (i.e.-they don’t like the microwave to be moved to the living room). You learn how old you are based on how sore three days of rolling and brushing make you. And if you’re painting your kitchen cabinets, you learn that you have 19 cabinets doors to remove and lay all over the house so that you can paint three coats on both sides before replacing them using 76 tiny, tiny screws for the hinges.

But the most important thing I learn each time I tackle another room is how satisfying it is to slap on a new coat of paint. In the case of our kitchen, I have seen what had become a dull and dingy green haven for greasy finger prints and scuff marks transformed into something fresh and new.

It didn’t happen with a snap of my fingers. I put in some major elbow grease just to get rid of the actual grease that had accumulated on the cabinets. Then there was the primer coat, followed by two more coats. It was a lot of work but so worth it.

I love fresh, new beginnings. I love second chances. I love it when “The End” is not the end. And I love the Scriptures that celebrate this: “The old is gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” (Lamentations 3:22, 23)

As long as there is a tomorrow, there is a chance for something new. There is an opportunity for change and improvement. In the darkness, there is beauty to be found in the hope for a better morning.

Our little sponge

Though our African-born son has been in America for only two months, we’re often surprised by the speed he acquires new words and information. He has a few favorite English phrases, such as: “Mom, I hungry,” that he uses regularly, correctly, and usually early in the morning.

He has even learned nuances to our language, like the difference in tone and inflection of the phrase “Come on.” He’ll say it when he wants us to follow him and he’ll also use the same phrase with a certain degree of disgust and frustration when I kick or throw a ball in a way he deems inadequate. (He also says, “My fault” if his throw is a bit off and “Your fault” is he doesn’t catch something I throw—even if it’s a perfectly good throw, by the way.)

We are trying to teach him to be polite when he asks for and receives things. He has “thank you” down and “you’re welcome.” He’s had a harder time remembering to say “please.” He started off saying, “Mama, lipa!” when he wanted a piece of bread. Now we remind him to phrase it as a request instead of a demand. “Say: ‘Mama, may I have some lipa, please?’” we tell him. Now the conversation goes something like this:

Ezra: Mama, lipa!

Me: Try again.

Ezra: Say, please…

Me: Close enough.

When we were recently at church camp, I took him to the bathroom while everyone was meeting in the large assembly room. There was no one in the boys’ restroom, so I told him he could go in alone and I would stand outside the door and wait for him. He gestured for me to go with him, but I explained that I am a girl and can’t go in the boys’ bathroom and if he wants me to go with him he’ll have to go to the girls’ bathroom with me which is okay because he is small and my son. After that lengthy explanation, complete with pointing to the boy and girl pictures outside the bathroom doors, he paused a beat and said, “Say please?”

Seeing that one of the five other members of his family are always with him, we’re constantly wondering where he picks up the things he says and does. For instance, he was wrestling with our older son recently and suddenly stepped back, punched his right fist into his open left hand, and bowed low like he was about to begin a Taekwondo match. Where did that come from?

Anyone in the throes of parenting young children can attest to the heavy responsibility of teaching our children right from wrong and everything in between. I’ve known this for years but I’ve felt it more acutely this go-around. When our other children first joined our family they were newborns, unable to see past their fingertips and enthusiastically sucking on their toes each time they re-discovered them. In other words, not fully rational beings.

This time our little sponge comes to us as a clever 5-year old. He’s soaking up everything so quickly and hungrily and spouting it back out just as quickly. I worry if he’s watching too much TV or not looking at books enough. Should I make him practice writing his name more? What about those preschool activity books we got him? I worry about making sure we give him every advantage so that he can be successful as a person.

But when I stop the frantic worrying in my mind and take a breath, I tell myself that we will not do this perfectly but we will do a few things right. We will begin and end each day with “I love you.” We will look directly into the faces of the people we speak to. We will smile more than we frown. We will hold hands when we cross streets. We will pray together every day and list the things we’re grateful for.

When Ezra prays at night, we prompt him by saying, “thank you for…” so that he can fill in the blank. He says the name of everyone in his family, his bed, the car, all his favorite foods. One night he also said the “avion (airplane) to America.” Yes, baby, we are thankful for that airplane, too.