When someone asks Tuck how old he is, he uses his left hand to press down two fingers on his right, holds up the remainders and says "free."

That answer says so much about this age.  Footloose.  Spirited.  As a bird.

I looked at him this morning, at the way the breakfast sunlight caught in his lashes, and felt an urge to stash all the details I could about this stage.  The way his summer skin is 'brown as a butterbean', as Grandma Jan says.  The way mosquito bites cover his body, because with all the recent rain it seems as though when we kill one, ten come to its funeral.  The way truth has a habit of falling out of his mouth and the way he tells me everything he thinks and feels, the same everythings over and over again.  The way he says wow like he means it, turning it into three syllables, wee-ow-wah.  The way he pulls strings I didn’t know I had.

The way he pushes buttons I didn't know I had.

The way he climbs the hill I ask him not to climb. The way he sighs the sigh of a thousand years of irritation when I tell him it's time for a nap. The way he turns the television back on after I've turned it off, sneaks more milk from the fridge after I've said he's had enough. Although I’m sometimes met with defiance and contempt and often with dramatics, when I remind him that he is being disobedient, when he senses my disappointment, he is remorseful.
His liberty is less an assertion of power, I think, and more an opportunityDespite it, or perhaps because of it, free is turning out to be pretty fun, highly comical and mostly amazing.  And I just want to remember it all.

As an aside: I've directed our readers to Amy Parrish Photography (her portrait business has recently been renamed Atelier) before, and don't intend to stop any time soon. Over the weekend she photographed one of my former fifth graders, and I just can't get over how beautiful this soon-to-be senior is. Nor can I get over how generous Amy continues to be, to our family, and to others.


You are. Exactly.

Month seven was when you truly became mobile, going from DNC to trans-room, as your daddy describes it.  We're learning new door-closing habits almost as quickly as you're learning new escape routes.
You stand much of the time, balancing at the edge of the bed, cruising along the front of the couch, leaning over the side of the tub.  You love to take steps, one foot in front of the other while your fingers tightly grip ours.  And you like to hang out at the back door, just like your sister and brother did.
With two new stalactites dripping slowly from the top, you have four teeth total.  You bite bananas like a big kid, chew Cheerios, and even drink from a regular cup.
You clapped independently for the first time this weekend, appropriately even, as you watched cousin William come down the water slide.  And you clapped through the grocery store this morning, up aisle seven and down aisle eight, attracting shoppers right and left. 
I would not be surprised if at least one person who sees these pictures of you in a box asks that we pack you up and ship you to them.  You're irresistibly cute.

You are eight months old now, and you are perfect.  If there were a page in your baby book that asked us to describe you, we’d simply write: “Exactly who we hoped for.”  You are, Tollie.  Exactly.



1.  knee high
2.  Gpa Rod does bedtime books
3. post-storm playground clean-up
4. ten summers ago
5. quiet baby toes
6. summer sky

7.  new bench in Ankeny
8.  breakfast of champions
9.  kitchen help
10. fountains with family
11.  art museum after church
12. one hundred six page script

13.  bakery baby (muffins and rolls)
14.  pre-pesto veggies via neighbors
15.  feeling Brave(ish)
16.  date day
17.  down the hill and up the rock
18.  first rib bone

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This kid's

gonna save the world, starting in his own backyard...*
*Justin Roberts lyrics


Biggie Tolls

Sometimes Grandma Jan throws a little Mister in front of Tollie's name, and Andy and I both laugh, because that was our band director's name.  We're equally guilty of calling him a variety of nicknames.  Occasionally we shorten James Tolliver to JT.  Often via text or email we refer to him as T2, probably because we've been abbreviating Tucker as T for so long.  And sometimes we just call him Fat Baby.

Really, we're so glad to call him ours.


One Rib

Over the weekend, Tollie learned that Betz boys get REALLY excited about the Jazz and Rib Fest.
Older posts:
Jazz and Rib Fest 2010
Jazz and Rib Fest 2009

Also over the weekend, in Iowa, there was a Pampered Chef party to raise money for BDSRA in memory of Celia.  The party is open through Tuesday, July 24 -- if you'd like to add something to your own kitchen, or to buy a gift for a friend, use this link and click "shop online" so 15% of your purchase can benefit BDSRA: http://www.pamperedchef.biz/chefannelie


Let's hunt for insects.

It began as a simple request.  He wanted to "hunt for insects."  He wanted evidence that he matters.

It began when he removed crystals from Celia's chandelier.  While I was busy with his brother he climbed up on the bed to reach the fixture and then buried himself, and his "treasure," under the pillows.  We talked about fragile and electricity and danger and don't do it again, please.  Later he came down the steps wearing a guilty smile, clutching his pockets.  "Mama, you don't say NO to me, please."

It began as a simple request and grew to a silent, frustrated plea.  So we filled our water bottles with ice, grabbed an orange, some granola, sunscreen, a diaper, stashed our stuff -and a napping baby- in the all-terrain stroller.  Under the noon sun, we walked one block over and into the woods.
He does. He matters more than anything else. So I let go of everything except my direct encounter with him, gave him my wholehearted all-here-ness.  I became not involved in bug finding but engrossed in the wonder of him.  He squatted to study a spent seed pod, reached to pull branches down to eye level, rolled rocks and sang with the birds.  He filled both hands with nature but then realized he would like to hold mine.
My grateful concentration kept the miracles from blending in with the nitty–gritty.  Because when he’s plucking flowers for my vases and plunking "presents" in my palms, that's all that matters.  Him.
It began this morning, the same way most days do.  But it ends with me wondering how I'll ever remember how much I love him today.



This year was different. It was the first Canadian fishing trip since Celia's diagnosis that I didn't feel the need to escape. I looked forward to the trip, like every year, but the isolation is what I used to crave. No one to take care of but myself. I think any parent can associate with the desire to get away, but extenuating circumstances over the past few years made me yearn for escape from reality in a different way.
There was less guilt going this year, although there was still plenty, leaving my wife with a moody three year old and a moving 7 month old. But, for the first time since 2007, there was no anxiety about returning home. In fact, the return trip was filled with excitement. I always miss my family while I am at Scotia, but there was no around the clock nursing care to dread, no wondering about death surrounding my return.

Now, I know most of you don't come to the blog to see pictures of Canadian wildlife or to read big fish stories. So, appease yourself with this picture of one of the reasons I was excited to come home, and then show this post to your husband...
Tollie is actually wearing an outfit -with a fish on it- Adam and I wore when we were little!

This year, like many years, we were surrounded by amazing fauna:
  The resident black bear made an impressive cameo. We ran into him swimming across the lake. We were able to get crazy close, considering the bear was less interested in us and more interested in getting to the other side of the lake!
We saw a bald eagle cruising for lunch.
I don't know what kind of snake this was, but it didn't bite me.  I took this picture of it for Tucker.
Oh wait.  That last picture is a dead animal.  Smoked fauna, if you will.  Brisket, to be exact.  And it was amazing. 
I captured an elusive speckled trout in Laforest creek.
Poppy John, this one was for you - parachute adams fly on my brand new Fountainhead Rod under a canopy that made it difficult to cast. It was awesome! Thank you.

The bass and pike fishing was pretty good this year, too!

Not pictured:
1. The mother moose and two calves we saw running along a sandy beach.
2. Any northern pike, since the biggest one I caught I didn't photograph.
3. The perfect, drowsy smiles both boys gave me upon my return.



Fishful Thinking

We sent lots of big fish wishes up North this week while Daddy was gone. And we had lots of big smiles and hugs for him when he got back!