Saturday, March 16, 2013


*This is a little unusual for me...I wrote this in one pass, no edits, because it was a letter to my daughter that I felt must get out in the moment--in fact, the anniversary of the moment (to the minute as I wrapped up this letter) that I first met all 7 pounds and 4 ounces of her :)

Dear Sera,

The minute I found out about you I cried. I have often tried to articulate this feeling—it wasn’t at all a sorrowful cry, but it wasn’t joyful either. I was in my apartment and dad was in the other room. I looked at that stick and I screamed, “BABE!” You can imagine the same word and the tone it often takes when I’m yelling at dad to come identify a brown recluse spider or help me put out a stove fire.

It’s been hard to describe that afternoon and what it felt like to proceed with the knowledge that you were there: cells were dividing, DNA was predicting, a heart was getting ready to beat, all of this, totally outside of myself was happening inside of myself—to my baby while I slept—or didn’t sleep as was the case that first night. I already felt like I couldn’t protect you and I was so nervous, but that wasn’t the reason for the tears.

 9 years ago today, 9 years ago tonight, this very minute, I was in a hospital room in Cleveland, Tennessee staring at your dad and holding on for dear life. Labor was beyond my control, but the intense and driving force of longing pushed me past my limits and into motherhood.

You were not an easy baby. I do not wish to gloss over that fact because in doing so we lose a valuable part of our story. The first night I nursed you, you attached yourself for 4 hours straight. I thought I would DIE. The nurses were appalled. They said sweetly, “You can take her off you know.”  They were wrong. You screamed if we didn’t swaddle you, didn’t bounce you, didn’t pat your back, or if I was outside of the 2 foot radius of your mom radar. The only time you didn’t cry was if you were nursing or sleeping, the first of which you wanted to do constantly and the latter you wanted to do …never.

I am thankful that the difficult months at the start of our story taught me (by God’s grace) to love, for sometimes love is easy, but most of the time, it is not.
I think it’s also important to talk about our beginning, because it has a lot to do with the end. I know a lot of people pine for the baby days wishing they could go back. I would like to take this moment to apologize for being an absolute crazy post-partum wreck, and that, exacerbated by your affinity for never sleeping but always screaming, is a big reason I do not ever wish to go back to the baby times.
But it is not the only reason.

Tonight I took you to Target to spend your birthday money. As we drove, we listened to some ridiculously old mix CD of mine that includes the Beatles, Elton John, and Counting Crows (among others), and as you were perfectly singing the “ahs” of Yellow Brick Road I suddenly felt like I was going to cry. It didn’t help that the next song on the mix was Billy Joel’s Lullaby, and my voice cracked as I tried to explain the reason behind the song. By the time Counting Crows’ Long December came on I was annoyed with myself for getting so weepy—and for being a cliché as I belted out the words to a such a distinctively 90s song. Nevertheless, I felt utterly connected as we sang together--I took the harmony (honestly, who doesn’t chime in on the “na-na-na-na-s?” People without souls. That’s who), and you kept the melody.

It's been a long December and there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can't remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass

I reached back and held your hand in the dark, barreling down that highway. Hold on to these moments. My girl. My sweet girl who sings Elton John and Counting Crows and who spends her birthday money on Lord of the Rings Legos and remote controlled robotic bugs. Who knew?

 … I think I did.
I think in some nook of my imagination, in a recess of my intuition, I hoped for you, exactly who you would be. Out of the spirals of DNA and swirling cells came the deepest pain and also the most intoxicating rapture I have ever known. And in that first moment of consciousness, not pain or joy but love, like a gladly appointed burden pressed out all my tears.

According to the laws of the United States, most of society, and probably your preference, I have been given 18 years to parent you. Here we are.


And although I still feel like I want to protect you, although it still feels very much out of my control, although I know we are barreling down a highway so much faster than I would like… I would never want to go back.

I do, however, want to remember this: to “hold on to these moments” even as they pass. I may only have 9 more years to keep you here, to geek out over fantasy fiction together on the couch every night, or to hear you wake up before me, but every year closer to goodbye is a year closer to you becoming fully you. I’m so excited to meet you next year, and the year after, and the year after that…so excited.

9 years from now we might be driving somewhere together. I might be taking you to college, or you might be showing me your neighborhood. Or you might still be in your room surrounded by bird nests and Star Wars posters. But I know the burden will not have lessened. I will still love you fiercely, and I’m sure you will amaze, surprise, and delight us all.

And I really hope you will not be too cool to sing along with your mom in the car.

Goodnight my angel, now it's time to dream
And dream how wonderful your life will be
Someday your child may cry, and if you sing this lullaby
Then in your heart there will always be a part of me.

Happy birthday little bird. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Weeks 3 & 4

Here are some ideas to get you started thinking of FAWM titles for me to write songs to. Post your ideas in the comments or on the Facebook Page!

I'm going to go ahead and post a bunch of themes--I may not post some of these on FB until Tues/Wed/Thurs (and may not post all of them on there at all), so go ahead and leave comments here if you follow the blog, or on FB when I post the themes.

Songs for children
Songs about loss or longing
Songs about childhood
Songs for an object (an ode)
Songs for spring
Songs for your best friend
Songs for your dog…or cat…or bird…or ferret, etc.
Songs for traveling
Songs for the south
Songs for dreaming
Songs for hope
Songs for wonder
Songs for leaving
Songs for church
Songs for a funeral
Songs for a wedding
Songs for working out
Songs for the literary nerd

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Week 2 - Songs for Your Neighbor

Here are some ideas to get you started thinking of FAWM titles for me to write songs to. Post your ideas in the comments or on the Facebook Page!

Songs for Your Neighbor
Songs for the Geek
Songs for Your Future Spouse
(Songs for neighbors of all sorts!)

Week 1 - Songs for the New Year

Here are some ideas to get you started thinking of FAWM titles for me to write songs to. Post your ideas in the comments or on the Facebook Page!

Songs for the New Year
Songs for Love
Songs for Hope
Songs for Dreaming

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

FAWM 2013

Happy 2013!
Four years ago I took on a challenge that I thought sounded fun, might gain some fan involvement, and would keep me writing in the most dreary part of the year: February Album Writing Month.

I had no idea it would result in over 40 songs written, 500+ song titles suggested, and in 2012, an album that I am incredibly proud of.

Best of all, a fun, fierce, creative niche of fans and friends has been established, and for each of you I am incredibly thankful.

Last year I took a break from FAWM to release Everything We Say.

It was fun and rewarding, but this year I'm back.
I missed the writing and I missed you all!

For those of you who don't know, here are the rules:

FAWM - Februrary Album Writing Month

  1. During the month of January I will collect song titles from you. You can respond here on the blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter.
  2. I will pick my 14 favorites but I will not reveal which titles I chose until FAWM is over.
  3. In February I will begin writing and recording rough demos of the songs I chose. 
  4. On March 1st I will reveal which titles I chose and I will post a free download of the demos.

This year there are a couple of changes and a few incentives:

  1. I will post one or more themes each week, and you can submit song titles accordingly (love songs, break up songs, kid songs, etc.)
  2. Everyone who submits a title will be entered in a drawing to win a free download of Everything We Say
  3. Everyone whose song title is chosen will get a free download of Everything We Say.
  4. If your song title is chosen to be one of the 14, you will be entered in a drawing to win physical copies of each: Everything We Say (2012), Coming Around (2009), and my Rain for Roots project & children's album, Big Stories for Little Ones (2012). 
Finally, please share this on Twitter, FB, Pinterest, and anywhere else your hear desires.
I would love for this to be the best FAWM yet.
Thank you so much for your involvement and enthusiasm over the years!


PS-Here is one of my favorite things (besides last year's album) that came out of FAWM - My first music video featuring FAWM song, "My Love is a Winding Street."

Friday, December 07, 2012

10,000 Mornings: In Expectation of Life

*This is a post about Advent, but it is also a post about pain, sorrow, fear....and expectation. It is for everyone I know who is suffering right now, but it is aslo for me. 

I don't believe in God. 

I tell my children that He loves them, and when my friends call on me with sick children, broken marriages, and personal crisis, I tell them that He is still good. 
 I tell myself that one day all of the brokenness will be made right, that the oppressed will be delivered, and that every tear will be wiped from our eyes. 

I tell myself this...but my heart resists. 
The whole story is amazing: redemption, deliverance, and love, but on Sunday afternoon I said this to one of my priests, “Yeah, it would be awesome...if it were true.” 

We have been reading Sally Lloyd-Jones’s Jesus Storybook Bible every day with our girls for Advent. Last night we read the story of Abraham. 
Abraham and Sarah are very, very old--too old to have children. 
God shows Abraham the sky and tells him to count the stars. 
He then tells Abraham that his descendants will be greater in number than those stars. 
He tells Abraham that his wife Sarah will have a child, but Sarah does not believe it. 

Of course I have heard that part before, and usually people (i.e., Sunday School teachers) like to use that as a teaching moment about the power of God vs. Sarah’s lack of faith. “Sarah laughed in God’s face, but God proved Sarah wrong!” 

Last night I saw it differently. I had deep compassion for Sarah. 
She is barren and she has to suddenly rearrange her perspective to expect goodness. 
I can just imagine Sarah, in her 90s, being told she would have a baby and thinking how amazing it would be...if it were true. 

Sarah doesn’t change her perspective, she doesn’t even believe.  
Nevertheless, God in his mercy gives her a son. I don’t see the story as an example of a power play by God, but rather God’s tender faithfulness. 

My whole life I’ve hoped for the impossible--that I will laugh with my sister again, say the words, “dad” again, and hold my little baby, breathing and alive. Imagining the reality of this is beyond any trite Bible-Bookstore picture of heavenly harps and clouds that I have ever seen. 

This is the epitome of hope. This is the antithesis of the deep sorrow I have known. I can’t begin to imagine it. Perhaps I don’t want to, not if I’ll be disappointed. 
Most of the time I think, “Yeah, that would be amazing ... if it were true.” 
Most of the time, it is very difficult for me to believe that it is.

As a child I was terrified of the night. I prayed for daily for God to take away my fear. 
While the nights remained difficult for me for almost 30 years, morning always came. 
Morning upon morning upon morning...more than 10,000 mornings. They never failed to come. 

We have all grown accustomed to our particular night. It is where we learn to expect death and where grief has colored our breathing in and our breathing out. It is where we have lost babies, husbands, wives, and hope. It is where I daily lose my faith, and where my prayers are reduced to a broken whisper, "Oh God, let it be true."

God has not answered me with a great revival of faith, though I often ask.  He has not answered my friends with healthy children or restored marriages. Nevertheless, He answers in other ways. 
He answers by being good and rewarding us based on his love for us, rather than our own belief. 
He answers with tenderness for the cynic, and faithfulness for the faithless. 
He answers with the morning--the reminder that the night, no matter how dark or long, will pass.

Before coming to the Anglican church I didn't know much about the meaning of the word Advent. I just assumed it meant, "Christmastime."

Literally, "Advent" means: Arrival, appearance, emergence, materialization, occurrence, dawn, birth, rise, development; approach, coming. 

Advent teaches us to rearrange our expectation, and to anticipate life rather than death. It causes us to hope for the arrival, materialization, and dawn of redemption. 
During Advent we light a candle each Sunday. 
The final candle we light represents Jesus, the light of the world. 
When I light the final candle it means that there will not only be a final night, but also a never-ending dawn.
So I am able, for a time, to practice waiting. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

First Family Vacation

Disclaimer: As I write this I have strep throat and don't feel much like being witty. Don't expect too much from this post--although mice do provide some comic relief...after the fact. 

My family has never taken a "family vacation."
Sure, we have stayed in hotels together, gone camping with other families, even driven across the country together, but this was always with some purpose other than a trip for just the four of us.
We have worked family time into wedding travel, graduation travel, even my touring schedule, but we have never gone anywhere, just the four of us, just to be.

Josh works very long hours and I have school/music/mama responsibilities so I feel like we never see each other. It is just a busy season in our lives and we are determined that it will not be forever, but for now it is what it is.

I decided we all needed to get away and hang out together in a cabin for a few days. No agenda, no real trip plans, just the 4 of us in a cozy cabin with good food and games.
If you know me, you know how "obsessed" I get when planning or doing anything, so in typical fashion, I read about 293847936 Trip Advisor reviews and made a few helpful spreadsheets (haha).

We wanted to go near Gatlinburg, but not really to it, and wanted to stay in a property that didn't feel commercial. However, every cabin that was off the beaten path seemed to be decorated in plaid and looked like a grandmother's mobile home. There is nothing wrong with grandmother's mobile home, but if I'm spending money on place, I want to be able to relax and really feel like it is a vacation spot.

After much searching we found what seemed to be a great cabin in Townsend, TN--close enough to the Smokies to go into the national park while totally avoiding Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg.
Here are pictures from the website:

Not too bad.

We packed up 3 days worth of carefully planned meals (including raw meat on ice to cook there), tons of board games, our kiddos, and we set out after work on Thursday evening.
I LOVE driving together. That night I loved listening to good music and talking and riding through the mountains with the moonlight overhead. It was great. We played a game trying to remember all of the states and their capitals and spent a good part of the night just laughing with our silly girls.
I had been DREAMING of this trip and I was so excited to get there!

We finally reached Townsend at around 10pm Eastern time. I had all of our check in instructions and we drove up the mountain to our cabin. Josh ran inside to check things out and did not come back out for awhile. I knew something had to be wrong. As soon as he came back out he told me that the heat didn't work. It was about 30 degrees outside and the cabin had been sitting vacant for awhile. It was COLD.
There was no telephone in the cabin (although the website said there was) and our cell phones did not get reception in the cabin OR in the town below.
We had to drive up and down the mountain multiple times trying to get ahold of the rental company from a pay phone. The website says they consider heat to be essential and that they provide 24 hour service should any problems arise. That would have been nice, but no one answered the phone and we had no other way of reaching them.
Finally we decided to try to sleep bundled in one bed until we could sort it out in the morning.

I had not been in the cabin yet, but as soon as I walked in my heart sank.

  1. It was NOT the exact cabin shown in the website photographs. I had specifically emailed and asked this and they told me it was. This cabin had small couches with bear tapestry cushions (yes, bear pictures), the layout was a little different, and the bed linens were not the same. I know that sounds picky, but I had paid for what I had seen and expected to get that. 
  2. I was FREEZING. Keeping a house cool in the winter is one thing, but a cabin in the woods with no heat in 30 degree weather is something else. COLD. 
  3. There were bugs. I know it is the woods, and I am accustomed to bugs while camping, but not to wasps in the bathroom and flies on the bed. The floors were dusty and it looked like it had been sitting empty (without being cleaned) for quite some time. 
  4. I was so tired I decided not to think about it and just go to bed. All of us were in one bed, Josh nearly asleep, when the girls and I all heard the same thing. I tried to ignore it. Surely nothing was walking on the beams above our heads?? Surely I was spooked. Then the girls spoke up in a whisper, "We hear scuttling!!" Scuttling is exactly what I had heard. I made Josh check upstairs. Nothing. He came back to bed. We all tried to sleep. I was too cold and decided to go sit in front of the oven for warmth for just a bit. Just as I walked into the kitchen something FAST ran across the floor. At first I thought it was a giant cockroach and I screamed. Then the girls screamed. Then it ran back the other way and the 3 of us screamed. The girls ran out into the living room and perched on the chairs. I tried to wake up a groggy and annoyed husband. Then I heard Amelie scream, "IT'S A RAT, IT'S A RAT!" And literally, both girls were hugging each other and crying, "Take us away from here! I want to leave!" That's when the mice began to dart across the kitchen floor and I started saying the same thing as the girls.
So, at 2am, we packed up ALL of the food we had unpacked into the refrigerator, packed up all of our belongings, and went to the only place we could think of where we could find last minute lodging nearby: Pigeon Forge.  Initially Josh suggested going home, but every time he did I just started crying, so he figured out to stop saying that.

Thanks to Trip Advisor we found a super clean Quality Inn with a refrigerator at a very reasonable price. I think the manager felt sorry for us and knocked about $100 off the bill. However, Pigeon Forge is like an even tackier Las Vegas in the middle of the mountains. Why anyone would go there on purpose is beyond me. Especially when there are BEAUTIFUL mountains all around. Here is a visual:

We checked in at 3:30am and had to be out by 11am.
I didn't even check for bed bugs. I don't think I had the heart to be disappointed yet again.
We got a free continental breakfast and decided to go ahead and find free wi-fi in Gatlinburg and to try to secure lodging.

This whole time we were trying to keep our food cold (thank goodness the hotel had a fridge) so we had to buy extra ice and throw it in on the coolers once we got to Gatlinburg. We found coffee and wi-fi and then I had a great conversation with the folks at Elk Springs Resort. They are rated #1 on Trip Advisor. They are rated #1 for a reason. Their service was TOP notch, and they worked to get us into a cabin ASAP.

We walked around Gatlinburg for a couple of hours waiting for the cabin to be ready. I think tacky stores + Christmas-themed-anything has to top Josh's list of annoyances. But how much do kids love tacky and Christmas? SO much. So here they are playing Santa and loving it.

We ate gluten-free pizza at Mellow Mushroom and then got the call that the cabin was ready. It was located in the "Arts and Crafts" district of Gatlinburg and in no way felt like touristy Pigeon Forge or downtown Gatlinburg. The minute I walked in I wanted to cry with happiness. It was PERFECT!

We settled in really quickly and the first thing we did was take a nap on the couch while the girls sat on the front porch "drawing nature" (according to Amelie). It was awesome.
We did nothing else that day except for play games and eat dinner together and listen to music. It was so much fun, and so relaxing.

The next day (Saturday) we did more of the same--eating breakfast together, playing games, and just hanging out. Sera is now a dominoes expert and wants to break the world record:)

In the afternoon we decided to go into the arts and crafts community and to also drive a little bit of a nature trail. The arts and crafts district is tacky in its own way, but I like it--like Santa Cruz or Cambria meets the south--hippie hillbilly. So awesome.
Then we went on to the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail where we got to see mountain top views and to also hike around a bit.

I was proud of myself for not googling, "Smoky Mountain Bear Attacks" before hand so we could enjoy the serenity of the woods (although you can bet I did that the minute I got home). Also, the little bridge (above) was above a little river and I was proud of the girls for walking across on their own! Amelie felt so brave.

That night we got BBQ and ate it at the cabin, played more games, and watched the movie Brave (my favorite!). 
The next day we checked out and decided to drive to the National Forest and drive the Cade's Cove loop on our way out of town. 

This is the girls at an old mill along Cade's Cove. They thought it was so cool to watch the water wheel and to see the mill grind the corn into cornmeal! They were also excited to get "Cade's Cove" badges for their nature bags. Sera already has a Junior Naturalist badge from Shelby Park and they both have badges from the Audubon Park in Kentucky. I think it's such a sweet thing for them to collect. 

The Cade's Cove loop is beautiful, and we saw deer, turkey, and finally, a bear.
My whole life I have been fascinated by and totally terrified by bears. I don't think bears are cute and cuddly, I think they want to eat people. BUT they are beautiful and majestic and I really wanted to see one...from the car...and we DID!  
He was sunning himself under a tree in a meadow pretty close to the road. We didn't have a long lens and didn't want to be idiots by trying to get closer, so we have no picture of Mr. Bear. 
However, plenty of people were idiots, and did try to get close with their cameras--within 50 feet (against park rules)!! 
Some people were even WALKING UP TO THE BEAR while holding their toddlers. It drives me crazy that people wouldn't have more respect for wildlife and also more caution with their kids. If that bear had attacked, it would be sad for the people AND for the bear (who would probably be euthanized). It was fun to see the bear, but I kind of wanted to get out of there before anything gruesome went down. 

All in all, with the exception of the first day disaster, and then me getting Strep throat the last day, it was a good trip. We already want to go back and will definitely use Elk Springs Resort again. They have lots of cabins with different amenities (some have mountain views, some are secluded, etc.). 
Most of all it was just wonderful to BE together. This is exactly what we had hoped for and what the girls got out of the trip. I'll leave you with the essays they wrote after getting home:

Our Trip in the Smoky Mountains
By: Sera Sage Oakes
                  Last weekend our family went to Gatlinburg. Gatlinburg is in the Smoky Mountains. It took three hours to drive there. The Smoky Mountains were really pretty and they actually looked smoky.
On Friday we went to a candy store. It is called the Candy Kitchen. We saw a man making taffy! I saw lots of delicious looking candy. I liked the candy store.
On Saturday I went to a lot of stores. We looked at lots of things. I saw wood ornaments and I saw carved birdhouses with mini houses instead of perches for the birds to stand on. I liked the stuffed animal black bear. My mom got it for me. I liked it. It made me want to see a real black bear.
On Sunday we went home and on the way we went on a nature drive. We saw how an old mill works with water that goes through a headrace and falls on the wheel and then the wheel connects to a wheel in a house. It turns, and then inside the house it grinds wheat and corn into flour and cornmeal. We saw a black bear sitting under a tree. It was staring at people taking pictures of it.
We stayed in a cabin. It was fun. I did not like the first cabin, which had a mouse in it. The next one was great! It had an awesome bathtub. It had a pool table! We played games like Catan Junior. I liked the second Cabin. The first one had broken heaters!
I liked the Smokies and I liked the candy shop, the stores, the water wheel, the black bear, the nice cabin, and the games. I liked spending time together. It was a good vacation.

Our Trip
By: Amelie Ashe Oakes
                  Last weekend we went on a family trip. It was fun. I went with my family into the Smoky Mountains. We found a nice cabin, we spent time together, and we saw animals.
                  At first we had a bad cabin because there were mice in it. Everyone freaked out except for daddy. After that we found a nice hotel, then we found a nice cabin. Our cabin had a pool table. There were no mice. There were nice rooms. We had a nice bath. The bath was like a hot tub and there was a hot tub outside.
                  We were able to spend time together on our trip. We got to play games. We played Catan Junior together. We watched a movie called “Brave.” We drove together. We went to a candy shop together. We got to see someone make some taffy. We ate pizza together for lunch. We went to antique stores and I got a black bear. It was fun to spend time together.
                  We saw lots of animals on our trip like deer and a black bear. It was fun seeing deer, the deer came right up to our car. The black bear was sleeping under a tree. There were lots of people taking pictures of the bear.
                  Our trip was very, very, very, fun. It felt good to spend time with my family. I liked the Smoky Mountains. I want to go back to the Smoky Mountains someday.