Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lesson

When I woke this morning I vowed to get out of the house by 9 a.m. It just needed to happen.

There were a few options open to us but at the top of the list were the free movie at the mall and the wading pool at Howard Amon Park. The movie meant a crowd, lines, and a theater full of children with exasperated mothers. The pool offered fresh air and at 9 a.m. it would be almost, if not completely, deserted. Decision made.

As anticipated, we had the pool to ourselves for awhile and when the crowd grew large we walked down the embankment to the river. And the goose poop. And rogue dogs. But it was good. Until it wasn’t (someone misplaced someone else’s quartz pebble and all hell broke loose) and home we went. I should probably make it a rule to always get out for an hour or two before it really heats up. I’m a huge fan of fresh air (I know that sounds stupid) and we don’t get enough of it around here this time of the year.

I’m at the pool right now, watching the kids’ swimming lessons as Josh watches “The Mr. Men Show” on my phone. The poor thing does not understand why he can’t be in the water too so I’m really thankful for this diversion. It should give me a few minutes to consider what to blog about.

I could blog about my blog . . .

I started this blog after I put together a book on the Blurb website. One of the many book options they offer was a blog book. I looked it over and realized quickly it was an answer to my journaling dilemma.

In church we’re often told we ought to keep a written record , a journal. The next generation and beyond can know us and we can share our faith and experiences with them. This is all well and good but I’ve never been able to write more than maybe a handful of days at a time before I forget about it and then feel guilty. Additionally, keeping the content fit for a future generation to read has been a challenge I never quite met. I tend to write the kind of journal entries one considers taking to the grave. "Dear Diary . . . "

I tried something a little like a private blog last year. I attempted to write daily in a word document and I added photos to illustrate. I stuck with this longer than anything else I’d tried but I couldn’t find an easy, inexpensive method of converting it into a book, and again, the content wasn’t necessarily fit for all or even most. The experience was useful because it reminded me of my love of writing. It was something I’d let fall by the wayside somewhere along the line.

I really enjoy writing but it was something I’d only remember maybe once a year when I would put together the Christmas letter. I loved writing it because I felt like I was talking to a friend. Lots of friends. Writing a blog has served the same purpose for me. The fact that ANYONE can read it keeps what I write fit for the future and the fact that Michael supports me by telling me to go write when I put it off ensures that I write each day. He deserves a ton of credit for that.

So I’ve gone from not writing to writing every day and it feels really good. It’s made me question a few things and wonder why I never pursued it. Looking back (I’m picturing a flashback, Scooby Doo-style, like when they recount the clues that led up to the capture of the latest villain . . . ) I don’t remember writing much until college. First semester, freshman year I had an English class taught by a professor visiting from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I loved this class. The writing came naturally and I loved the group feedback. When the semester ended I received an “A” and the professor asked if I would consider taking his 300-level creative writing course the following semester. Why not? I was the only underclassman and I earned another “A”. After this I thought I knew where I wanted to focus my studies . . . until the next year when I took another English class. I hated it. And the professor wasn’t too impressed with me either. And that was that. I majored in Anthropology.

I guess this is a cautionary tale. As my dad would say, “Let this be a lesson”.
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Monday, June 29, 2009

Crabby

Oh I was a mess yesterday! The waterworks ended and I woke in a little better spirits. When I went online I was touched by the messages on Facebook; other mothers letting me know they could relate. I received an especially heart-warming e-mail from Dianna Stiebrs and I’m getting weepy just writing about it. She poured her heart out to me and helped me know that this is everyone’s struggle. If you are a mom or if you have a mom, as she put it. That I’m not alone. She wrote something in particular that struck a chord in me:

“Whether we are 2, 20, 40, 60 or 90, we make mistakes, wonder why "that came out of my mouth", why we felt the way we did. Seeing the surprise and hurt on the face of our mother, child, friend, husband, when we are disrespectful or hurtful is what makes us regret what we have done or said. That is how we learn to feel the remorse and (oh dear here comes the word) guilt. That is how people (young or old) learn to be loving and caring.”

I think as parents we can talk to our kids till we’re blue in the face about this sort of thing but experience is a master teacher. And I stumbled across some more good advice later while unpacking from the trip. I ran across an article Dr. Merkley gave me at Josh’s annual check-up. I’d confided in him that Josh was a bit of a handful; much more than the other kids had been. He pulled this out and told me he wished he’d had it when he was a young parent. It had some solid advice so I’ll add the link:

http://health.usnews.com/articles/health/living-well-usn/2008/06/12/good-parents-bad-results.html

On a completely different note, I had a new experience today. I’ve never had to clean crabs before because I’d only ever had them with my parents or at a restaurant. Today I cleaned six of them and it was truly disgusting. I’d never had to see the yellow ick that lies beneath the shell and, I don’t know, what were those things? Gills? I popped the top off each one and liquid splattered my hair and the windows at my kitchen sink (this is clearly an outside job). When I was done I had two metal bowls of ice and crab, ready to roll. The totally revolting part of the job was over; the next part is something of which I have some experience. So now I have a gallon bag full of deliciousness and it’s time to go consult the American’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. I think I'll start with crab cakes.
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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Epic Fail

I've had a number of people tell me they like to read my blog; that it's funny. If you're looking for funny tonight you might want to check out cakewrecks. blogspot.com or failblog.org.

I woke up this morning feeling almost as tired as I did when my head hit the pillow. Ellen and I stayed up laughing, crying, reminiscing, and expressing our gratitude for the circle of friends we were able to surround ourselves with in high school. Not everyone, not even most people, are so blessed as to have great friends at that age and to keep them.
After pancakes and a visit from a local raccoon, Michael and I headed north to Yelm. We arrived in time to thank Kent and Paul Girard for a special delivery of crabs they caught this morning. I love, love, love fresh crab. I alone occupy that territory here so I’ll be eating outside.

I’ve had a hard day. It wasn’t the insane amount of car time (after lunch we headed back to Richland) but a combination of several things. Part of it is my grasping desire to remain ignorant of some things that have just lately come to my attention. Things I assume no one meant for me to know. Things I do not want to know. The rest and maybe larger part of my sadness, was the result of coming back to our kids and instead of a loving reunion, we received arguments and disrespect.

This is something I’m embarrassed to share (and yet somehow feel compelled). We’re parents. It’s a huge part of how we define ourselves. And I’m failing at it. Somewhere along the way we didn’t instill in these kids the fundemental principle that we are to be respected and I don’t know how to come back from that. I spent the better part of the drive today hiding tears behind my sunglasses. I am gutted.

I recently read this quote from Elder M. Russell Ballard and it struck me as very, very sad that I didn’t have this tattooed across my forehead from the time my children were small:

“You do not have the right ever to be disrespectful to your mother or your father. Period. If you haven’t had that taught to you before, write it in your journal and in your minds and hearts right now. Write down that I said you do not have the right to be ugly, to raise your voice, to slam doors, to scream or holler within the walls of your own home.”

It seems so basic. A generation or two ago it was common sense in most homes. What’s happened to us? I think I could write about that for days.

Elder Ballard’s words are absolute truths. My children can behave contrary to those truths but it doesn’t change a thing. Prices will be paid for it. When we arrived home tonight we unloaded the van onto the lawn and I gave each child different items to bring into the house. When it was Sam’s turn he looked at me and screamed, “You aren’t the boss of me! I’m the boss of me!” It reminded me of that sign we see passing through Yakima: YAKIMA the Palm Springs of Washington. You can say that all you want; it doesn’t make it true.
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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Surprise!

We meant to leave earlier this morning but we (I) dragged my feet, took my time. We didn’t need to be in Tigard till 6 p.m. and thought it would be nice to spend the day together in Portland. Being completely ignorant of anything Portland related, I googled “best lunch” and found a place called Nicholas Restaurant. It sounded inexpensive and tasty so I was game. I didn’t read far enough into the article to find that it was an a) Lebonese and b) cash only establishment. We found this little hole in the wall overflowing with people and smelling delicious. Everything I saw on the plates of the customers eating outside looked amazing. We ended up needing to walk three blocks to the nearest ATM but it was worth it. The crowd was a mix of what looked like possibly real Lebonese folks and locals. A couple of ladies next to us helped us decide what to order and soon after a group of bikers was seated next to us. We listened to talk of ashrams and the merits of lentils and rice. Only in Portland.

So here we are. In spite of a very full belly I wanted to take a trip to VooDoo Donuts. We found it eventually but with a queque snaking out the door and no parking to be seen, I gave up without much of a fight. Someday I’ll get one of those voodoo doll donuts, stabbed in the jelly-filled heart with a pretzel; today just wasn’t my day. With more time to kill we headed to Washington Square Mall and here I sit, high above See’s Candy in a free Wi Fi area. Would Ellen like a box of See’s for her birthday? I think I would.

Which brings me, the long way, to why we’re here. Surprise! Ellen is 40! Actually that milestone was reached last Monday but I didn’t trust myself to write anything till today. I just knew I’d give something away. Her husband Alan planned a surprise party for her tonight and I knew the odds of the secret slipping through these lips, these fingers were pretty good.

On Thursday night when the phone rang “Lines” showed up on the screen. Oh no! How could I be sure not to say “I can’t wait to see you!” or “See you Saturday!”? We were sitting around the table and Dad mouthed, “NOT A WORD!” . . . somehow, somehow she was none the wiser by the time I hung up.

I met Ellen early on in high school and loved her immediately. She was funny but also totally no nonsense. You could always count on Ellen to give it to you straight. She was my first LDS friend and as the only representative of her faith among our large group of friends, she was a good one, always holding her own. She was a really great first example for me and an important foundation was built. Later when more LDS people would come into my life I would happily let them in and even, in time, would listen. We’ve never lost touch and I appreciate the effort she put in to stay close.

We’ve still got an hour left. After running into old friends at the zoo yesterday I can’t help but worry that this might be the place her sister’s taken her to keep her occupied till the party . . . this would not be a good time for Cosmic Facebook!
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Friday, June 26, 2009

Small World

I’ve known Maria Girard (now Williams) forever. Our parents have been friends since the early 70’s and her grandparents sort of adopted our family as our large extended family was back east. I remember when she was born; I was so happy to finally have another girl around at holidays and family get-togethers.

I knew Maria was flying in from Ohio with the kids to visit her family for a month or so; I even made a point of writing on her Facebook wall about meeting up. Unfortunately the week flew by and, well, I just didn’t call. Totally forgot. Mom left her cell phone number on the counter for me this morning but I just stuffed it in my purse. I knew I didn’t have any time left this trip.

Michael flew in this morning and the kids and I picked him up at Sea-Tac. After three, yes three, attempts to reach the terminal. I couldn’t believe I was having such a time of it. I felt like a cranky old man by the time I finally got to him. Not a nice way to greet a husband you haven’t seen for a few days but he overlooked it and made me forget. He’s pretty good at that.

From there we drove to Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium because it was a really beautiful day and our membership would expire at the end of the month. We weren’t there ten minutes when I heard someone behind me calling out, “Tiffany!” . . . it was Maria! She just happened to be there visiting with a friend and we were able to spend some time catching up. It felt a little like meeting Diane at the beach; I don’t’ know, cosmic Facebook?

The next stop was Rocky Shores because the kids wanted to see what would replace the belugas. Upon discovering that it was only harbor seals they went below to check out E.T. and the other walruses. They love to recount the story of how the harbor seals had to be removed from E.T.’s tank because he’s an indiscriminant breeder. These kids of mine.

Josh pulled me over to look at the harbor seals and I heard my name again. This time it was Tod Morrish and his wife Jessica! I hadn’t seen them since the reunion last summer. It may be a cliché but it’s a small, small world. At the very least, a small zoo.
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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hometown

It wasn’t completely cold out and only looked like rain, so this morning I decided to take the kids to Northwest Trek. Our membership runs out at the end of the month and I figured we may as well get another trip out of it. No one was particularly excited by the idea (which is sort of unusual for these guys) and it took awhile to get out the door.

By the time we arrived they were finally excited to see the animals but we’d taken our time and wouldn’t be able to ride the tram till 12:30 p.m. We had an hour and a half to kill so we headed toward the wooded path and Sierra grabbed my camera. I enjoy not always being responsible for the photography but trusting a 10 year old with a D60 doesn’t feel right. She did fine though; it didn’t end up in the otter pond or anything and she was really proud of the photo she took of the otters mating. That’s my girl!

The tram ride is usually the best part. Almost an hour out in the park and lots of animals to observe. We always try to line up early enough to get into the first car but we missed it this time. Sierra and Kenny took the last two seats in the first car and the rest of us were in the third with a large group of children and a few chaperones. The kids were actually pretty well behaved but there was an older woman with them who could not keep her mouth shut. She spoke loudly (louder than the naturalist in the first car who’s voice we, theoretically, should have been listening to) about Horseshoe Lake. About Doc Hellyer. About bison, elk, moose, and mountain goats. About nettles, skunk cabbage, ocean spray, and foxglove. She would not stop talking. This was especially hard for my oldest who knows these animals and this tour as well as the person driving the tram. It wasn’t all bad; there was a tramful of laughter when the children noticed the bull elk’s dangly bits and pronounced that he was, in fact, a boy. You’ve got to love kids; nothing slips by them!

Dad came home tonight with the news that both Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett were dead. I think I read somewhere (probably a tabloid cover at the grocery store) that she was ill but the Michael Jackson part was surprising to me. I don’t keep up with that sort of thing but I hadn’t heard anything was wrong with him (aside from the long list of non-health related things we’ve mostly all been made aware of over the years). At dinner Ellen Lines (was Kennedy) called to commiserate; we could both relate to a time when people thought he was somewhat normal and his music was cool. We laughed and her sons danced to his songs in the background. It felt, in some ways, like the end of an era.

Tonight was the Prairie Days Parade in downtown Yelm and the older kids and I staked out spots early, breathing in exhaust in exchange for prime candy catching real estate. Grandma showed up with the younger kids closer to the start of the parade and the Martins joined us as well. The kids had fun scrambling for candy tossed high by firemen and princesses while Brooks, Mindy, and I talked, laughed, and editorialized on all that marched by.

I left Yelm in 1988, never to return as a resident. I don’t think I realized at the time that it would work out that way. It’s been 21 years and as I looked around tonight it hit me hard that this wasn't my town. I recognized no one who wasn’t with us. There are people who I’m sure consider themselves long-time Yelm residents who’ve lived here less time than I’ve been away. It’s gone from the one-stoplight town I remember to a bedroom community with all the amenities we so wished for back then. I guess I miss the old place sometimes.

When it was over Sierra and I went to the carnival and bought tickets for the rides. In all my years of living in Yelm I’d never been to the Prairie Days carnival and it was very cool to sit high atop the ferris wheel and take it all in. The lights of the city, the carnival, the water tower, the distant evergreen hills. It’s changed a lot but from up there it was my same small town again. Eventually we left the ferris wheel and as we walked toward the bumper cars someone hit me with a blow-up hammer. I turned to see Cory Henderson smiling at me. Who knows, maybe it still is my same small town.
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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Right

Day three and an ominous start. I woke to hear the oldest two fighting. Again. It seems to be a recurring theme. This time Kenny said something unkind about Sierra (and always with a smile which upsets her all the more) and she hit him. Michael comes to Kenny’s defense and the fight is now between the two of them. Now that I think about it, this too is a recurring theme. Michael and Kenny will get into it as well and Sierra will come to Kenny’s defense. Kenny seems to fly under the radar a lot. He knows how to stir the pot and when to walk away. The older two have the former down but definitely not the latter.

Sierra insists she’s right. Kenny should be punished. Why won’t I punish him? Talking doesn’t do any good. PUNISH HIM!! For the sake of clarity though, they each, always, insist they’re right.

I threw open the bathroom door in a rush to end this thing before Grandma got involved. Crash! A large picture frame hits the floor, glass shards mingle with my wet foot prints and I don’t know where to start.

One stern (and presumably pointless) lecture later, I cleaned up the glass mess and left the kids with Grandma.

Last night I found Denice Sweeney (Lingle now) on Facebook and asked if she’d have breakfast with me. She’s one of those people I loved having classes with in high school. I don’t recall hanging out outside of school but the classes I had with her had a lot of entertainment value. Unfortunately we didn’t keep in touch over the years and she didn’t come to our 20th reunion last summer. As I drove up to Doug’s I wondered if it would be awkward or strange; I mean not a word has passed between us in 21 years. But no. It was like no time had passed at all and two hours later we were still deep in conversation, laughing, and walking to our cars. I love Facebook!

Sierra called during breakfast to ask when I was coming home. Did I remember my promise to take her to the cookie shop she spotted in Rainier last night? I still had two frames to replace (couldn’t find one to match the other print that still hung on the wall) but afterward I found her waiting at the end of the driveway for me.

We headed into Rainier and as we rounded the corner out 148th by Runyon Road, she screamed, “Zonkey! Zonkey! I saw a zonkey!” I somehow avoided hitting the ditch but just barely. What in the world is a zonkey? And why is my daughter screaming about it? Once we calmed down a little she explained that a zonkey is part donkey, part zebra. And she just saw one? I don’t think so.

She kept asking if I believed her and I didn’t know what to say. I mean it was clear that she thought she saw it. I distracted her with talk of cookies and headed down Binghampton Street in Rainier to the Main Street Cookie Co. It’s a tiny little place that sells big, delicious cookies. I think she may have made the owner a little crazy picking the thirteen we finally arrived at (“I want 3 Snicker Doodles, no make that 4. I want 2 Double Chocolate, no, no 4. Lemon? I don’t know. Yeah, okay, 1 . . .”) but we left with some good stuff.

On the way back home we looked but didn’t see any zonkey, donkey, or zebra for that matter. She was a little disappointed but when we drove in she burst out of the van eager to tell the boys all about it. Big mistake. They just laughed at her. They were not buying what she was selling. A big argument ensued. Again.

To settle it once and for all, I took her back to the scene of the scream and brought the camera. Sure enough, there in the field was this zebra-looking donkey thing. I’ve never seen Sierra so happy! Happy to rub this in her brothers’ faces. But when you’re right, you’re right, right?
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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Friends

I love Facebook. There, I said it. I could pretend that it’s just a means to an end; that I don’t need it. But who’s kidding who? I love that I can now put faces to names I’ve heard from Michael throughout the years. Even ones he’s never mentioned. That I can actually communicate with these faces and names. I love that old friends, constant and once lost, can keep me up to date with what’s new in their lives. I love that I can crack myself up and within minutes find out it was funny to someone else too. I love that I can post that I’m headed to the beach and almost immediately hear from a friend who wants to meet me there. Don’t tell me that’s not incredible.

Day two of our west-of-the-mountains trip and I decided to take the kids to Tolmie State Park in Lacey. This is a park that I frequented as a child. I began bringing my own kids there several years ago and now it’s something we try to do each time we come for a visit. Let me say for the record, it’s not for the faint of heart. No, you have to be made of rather sturdy stuff to willingly be the mother of seaweed strewn, mud soaked, dead crab holding, sand dollar flinging kids. It’s really pretty nasty but oh do they love it.

When I mentioned our plan to visit the park on Facebook, Diane Upton said she’d meet us there. I love Diane. She’s such a fun-loving but very down to earth mother and is raising some seriously righteous kids. Before the days of Facebook and even e-mail, she was instrumental in making sure our group of friends from high school kept in touch and gathered together every year or so. I think a lot of us would have fallen off the radar if it weren’t for her efforts.

That being said, it would seem clear that we were close friends in high school. That, unfortunately, was not the case. She was best friends with Ellen Kennedy (Lines now); even had the half heart necklaces to prove it. I guess what made things awkward was that Ellen was my best friend. I think they were friends first but to me it didn’t matter. It just was what it was. Diane and I never got into a cat fight over it but then again, we weren’t those kinds of girls. Maybe a little more mature.

It makes it all the more interesting to me that I find myself in a very similar situation now. At the ripe old age of 39. Is that even possible? Apparently it is. Through the miracle of Facebook, I’ve made a new friend. She is, in fact, the same person I complained about in my post entitled “Facebook” on April 21. My first impression of her was that she was a real pit viper. A total jerk. And then something curious happened. One day I felt, out of the blue, impressed to “friend” her. It seemed absurd. There was no way I was going to do that. And then I did.

A wise woman (Mimi Mitchell, to be exact) once said something in a talk that stuck with me. Exact words I don’t have, but the main point was that when a person lashes out, it’s because they’re in pain. We shouldn’t respond with equal venom but instead we should work to help alleviate it. And this new friend of mine? She’s in a lot of pain. I’ve spent time learning more about her life, her struggles, her pain. I hope that the listening has been of some service to her. I didn’t expect to like her or to learn how much we have in common. It’s felt like one of those shows where never-met siblings are reunited. Totally unbelievable.

But not so fast. An old friend who’s stuck with her throughout the years of this pain and struggle is not at all pleased with our new friendship. I am encroaching on her “territory”. When I first learned of this I laughed. It had to be a joke, right? Soon though, it became particularly unfunny. How sad that we can get to the ages we are without knowing there’s enough of us to go around.

To end on a happier note, Sierra and Josh and I enjoyed a fun evening with Brooks, Mindy, Gillian, and baby Ben. We went to an outdoor presentation of The Misadventures of Cap’n Arr (“The Funniest Pirate to Never Sail the Seven Seas!”) and despite the fact that it was totally weird and way too loud, it was very cool to spend an evening with friends.
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Monday, June 22, 2009

Loopt

We were out of the house by 7:40 a.m., beating my planned departure time by twenty minutes. I should probably add that this was an absolute first and will likely never be repeated. It almost always takes much more time than I’ve allotted. But who’s surprised there? Yes, I’ve made this trip many times but five kids equals a lot of stuff to remember to not forget.

Before Michael left for work he uploaded the Loopt app. to my phone. I’d heard the name before but didn’t know what it was about. He showed me how to update where we were so he could follow along. At first I thought it was a cool idea. Might even make for a safer trip. I could refresh the location here and there, maybe even take a photo if we stopped. With a husband like Michael it would work out just fine. He didn’t freak out when we didn’t update our location for a few hours. A heck of a lot of this drive was in “No Service” territory (somehow they’re living without iPhones up at Rimrock Lake, White Pass, Morton, and points west. Somehow.).

As we drove, my mind wandered. Somewhere between Mika and England Dan & John Ford Coley (I have eclectic taste in music. No, not weird) it occurred to me that as fun as this app. might be for reasonable adults, in the wrong hands it could be really frustrating. As we drove I thought of places where I should refresh our location. I got anxious that we were going too far without letting Michael know where we were. And once we rounded the corner past Dog Lake and up to White Pass summit, I found myself impatient with the “No Service” signal. It was a strange feeling. Like I was tethered. I needed to let him know where we were.

But of course I didn’t actually need to; he isn’t that sort of guy. Chances are you already know that. So if I was feeling this way under these circumstances, imagine dealing with a spouse who was controlling. No longer Loopt but Leashed.

We made it home (1.0) by noon and my oh my did it not feel like June. Cool breeze, clouds, me in a jacket. Nice though. Green, green, green. Everywhere green. Loopt anxiety ameliorated.
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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day

I have a secret. Not for long but it’s mine for the next few minutes. I hate Father’s Day.

Don’t get me wrong; I love fathers. At least most of the ones I know. It’s just one of those holidays that sneak up on me, making me feel inadequate. I forget to send the cards on time and I almost never know what to buy. Michael always says not to get him anything but that doesn’t feel quite right. It’s hard to know how serious people really are when they say things like that. I lucked out on something for my dad this year so he’s covered. We watched “The Sound of Music” together each year when I was a kid and I found an LP of the soundtrack for $1 at the same rummage sale I found the first edition Atlas Shrugged for Tom. I’ve got it framed and ready to give him tomorrow (sshh!). That I feel sort of good about.

I imagine lots of guys feel this same way about Mother’s Day. You love your mom, your wife, whoever but how to make that one day special enough to convey it? Honestly, let me take a nap unencumbered by little ones and I’m good. Add a dinner I didn’t make and maybe some cake and I’m all yours. I think Michael would have loved that nap today but he did get the dinner (though he helped me with the grilling) and there’s fresh strawberry pie in the fridge. I hope it’s been a decent day for him. Heaven knows he deserves it.

On Mother’s Day I talked about my mom so I’ll say a few words about my dad today. My dad grew up on a farm, like my mom, in southern Ohio. He did well in school and had a “First Bus Out” mentality as he calls it, so he put himself through undergraduate, married my mom, and went to dental school. Eventually, by way of the Army, the three of us ended up at Fort Lewis. Tom came a little later. My dad is an avid fisherman, gardener, and woodworker. He’s always made sure I had plenty of fish and seafood when I visit and his garden is one of the wonders of my world. I don’t know how he does it all. My house is blessedly filled with things he’s created, such as my salmon chair, dining room table, cupboards, and multiple frames. And he’s funny. Did I mention that? He cracks our kids up and he has a deep love for them. He is generous to a fault and I’m continually thankful for the example of hard work he’s been to me and my family. He also does not read my blog (as far as I know) so I don’t think I have to worry about embarrassing him too much with all this gushing.

Well, the secret’s out.
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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Missing Piece

Another day, a different, perhaps more realistic and, dare I say, more enlightened perspective. It wasn’t that yesterday was abnormal as far as interruptions, messes, and general kid-related chaos goes. What made yesterday overwhelming was the pressure I put on myself to achieve some rather unrealistic goals. A lot of important things can fall by the wayside when I do that.

I grew up in a home with just one sibling and parents who don’t know the meaning of sit down and relax. Okay they do, but only after the end of a long day and “Winning the War on Filth” as my dad calls baths and showers. It was important to always be accomplishing something. I respect their work ethic so much but I’m finding, almost 15 years in, that I don’t know how to balance quality time with those around me and the non-stop, constant effort required to maintain a household, yard, garden and everything related to a family of seven. Michael tells me it’s a balancing act. It’s about priorities. I’m sure it is. I just have to figure out what those are.

People first. I know. It’s crazy hard for me to concentrate on playing with my kids if there are dishes in the sink or the rug needs vacuuming. Laundry waiting or a lawn to be mowed. I know in my heart and mind that I’m doing the right thing but it feels like nails on a chalkboard. Here’s where I probably need my head examined: Exterior order soothes me and gives me a superficial sense of inner order, even peace.

There’s a skill set, a missing piece, that I don’t have but I know it would solve a lot of this. I need to learn how to accept less excuses and to teach my children to do more. Reality is, I don’t work well with others and I take the easy way out, Robinson Crusoe-Style. It feels easy because I’m avoiding the here-and-now complaining and grumbling. My mom was like that; she’d just do what needed to be done rather than attempt to convince us that we should help. Truth was she probably didn’t need our help at all. But it’s not really the easy way out, as anyone who’s actually taught their kids to work would tell you. Unfortunately what it is, is a good way to turn to your kids into domestic cripples, unwilling and unable to enjoy work. The kind of thing that comes back to bite you in the butt.

I guess summer is as good a time as any (and probably better than most) to take on a project as lofty as this! Wish me luck . . .
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Friday, June 19, 2009

Pop!

All I had left was the laundry and the kitchen/dining room area. Granted it’s one huge area, but still, that was all I had. So I set to work and it went something like this:

Me: Work, clean, scrub.

Sierra: “I’m hungry!”

Me: “Find something to eat.” Work, sort, pitch.

Sam: “Can I have fish sticks?”

Me: “Sure.” Work, wipe, sterilize.

Michael Jr.: “Can I sell my GameCube?”

Me: “Ask your dad.” Work, sweep, mop.

Josh: “Yellowsicle! Yellowsicle!”

Me: Work, dust, vacuum.

Kenny: “Mom! Look at this Mudkip! It evolves into Marshtomp. That one evolves into Swampert.

Me: Work, smile, nod.

Sam: “Can I have some pancake stuff to dip them in? Syrup?”

Me: Pause. “Huh? No!”

Sam: “Can I at least have some cinnamon?”

Me: Blank stare. “No. No, no, no.”

Sam: “Mom, I feel like you’re evil.”

Sometime in the middle of all this starting and stopping I received a call from Jason Lee Elementary. They needed the kindergarten registration papers they made me bring to Jefferson Elementary a month ago. Sam’s approved to go to Jason Lee again next year but each year we have to go through this song and dance, getting permission. And of course, while I’m out I remember a birthday party tomorrow and a gift I haven’t purchased. Oh and we’re out of milk.

I get it all done and head home to continue fighting the good fight. I have faith. I can do this . . .

and . . . *POP!*

The game of Perfection I was shooting for fell short as I hear shouts of “Holy crap!” ring out through the air. Yeah, that’s right.

I run to see that Josh has taken baby powder and toothpaste to the carpeted stairs. He smiles sheepishly at me and then high tails it out of there. Two steps forward, ten steps back. I still have four loads of laundry waiting in the basement plus part of the kitchen but attention must be turned to the carpet.

There are days like this when I bite off more than I can chew. When the stars (or my children) seem to align in just the right configuration to completely undo me. I picture myself running up the down escalator.

Then Michael calls. He asks how I’m doing. I choose wrong and I unload on him. I wish I was a better, stronger woman who was capable of just reigning it in a little tighter. Able to smile and say I’m great. But again, I’m totally not. He talks me off the ledge, tells me it’ll be fine. And he probably has no idea how much I need and appreciate it.
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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Getaway

Calgon, take me away . . .

A postcard arrived in the mail and my heart skipped a beat. Did my eyes deceive me? Real mail. Not a bill, not an advert slick. Not one of the zillions of magazines that make their way to my mailbox because it’s all our frequent flyer miles will get us. Yep, a genuine postcard. From ABROAD no less.

Tom and Charlotte were sending us their greetings from the south of Spain. A destination wedding, a villa, good stuff. I’m loving the postcard; it’s so pretty it’s practically an escape in itself. I love that they thought of us.

My own little get away is right around the corner; I’m taking the kids to visit Grandpa and Grandma in Yelm next week. Okay, it’s not the south of Spain—it’s not even Seattle. And I’m bringing five kids with me. I don’t even know if Yelm postcards exist. This doesn’t add up to much but for this trip, the sum is definitely greater than its parts.

We take this trip two or three times in the summer and although I hate the preparation and the combination of heartbreaking mess in the van and assembled assortment of suitcases, grocery sacks, and fast food wrappers it ends with, it’s more than worth it. I hate to brag but I’ve got these parents and they’re pretty amazing. They feed six extra people (seven when Michael can get away) without missing a beat and they make sure I get my fill of seafood as it’s not totally appreciated over here. They entertain the kids and allow me to get away here and there. The Pacific Northwest weather is a blessed relief from this desert sun and the wind chimes swinging out back turn the clock back 30 years in my mind. Trips to the garden and barns, walks through the woods and to the pond give my kids the memories I’ll always have.

But there’s still that whole packing up and leaving bit. I hate few things more than coming home to a house in disarray. It can happen easily when there are six or seven of you and the main concern is leaving but man is it lame when the trip’s over. I’ve vowed that this time we’re driving away from a tidy home. I made my lists and enlisted the help of the older kids.

Today was the culmination of this deep cleaning adventure and the beginning of an experiment aimed at saving my sanity. I’ve long thought that if I could get it all done, get on top of the whole shebang, I could stay on top. Logically, it makes sense. That the effort to maintain it would be much less than the effort to overhaul it every so often. But it feels like a joke. Like I’ve put together a colossal game of “Perfection” and the timer’s ticking. Who knows? Hope springs eternal.
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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Reading

This photo says it all. It’s a picture Kenny drew, expressing his feelings about reading “Flat Stanley”. This boy does not enjoy reading.

Don’t get me wrong; he’s great at it. I don’t know what grade level he reads at but it’s certainly above the one in which he’s currently situated. For some reason though, he just doesn’t enjoy it. We’ve tried finding genres he might get into but so far he’s only really loved the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books and the Black Lagoon series. I guess my complaint is that they’re too easy for him and that when I actually crack the whip and force the issue, he reads and rereads only those books.

I’ve never understood not reading. My bathroom looks like a library and every room in this house is populated with books. I’m reading three right now (Lost Battalions, Basic Economics, and The Know-It-All). I just picked up a fourth today on a Barnes and Noble run: The Motion of the Ocean by Janna Cawrse Esarey. She’s an old (though younger than me) family friend and fellow Whittie. Really looking forward to losing myself in her exploration of a new marriage in close quarters. I love reading; it’s my escape. I guess if you’re 7 going on 8 and you’re Kenny, maybe you don’t need an escape.

Thinking back, we had the same concern about Sierra until just last year. But then she discovered the Twilight series. For a girl who still considers boys “barfsicles”, she was sucked into the series in record time. *sigh*. But the up side to being sucked in has been that she now understands that reading can be a lot of fun and totally absorbing. That she can sit down and read a book hundreds of pages long in just a day or two. This experience has upped her confidence and led her to other books that might otherwise have scared her off. I’m sure it’s the same effect the Harry Potter series had on lots of kids.

Today I pulled out The Phantom Tollbooth and told Kenny that he’d be reading it for half an hour before he did anything else. He ranted about how boring it looked, how boring it must be, completely ignorant of the irony. He sounded just like the main character, Milo. Eventually he settled down with it and read. And read. When the time was mostly up he reluctantly admitted to sort of liking it.

I wonder if reverse psychology would work? If I told him that reading sucks and I don’t ever want to see him do it in my presence, would that pique his interest? Maybe I’m not that desperate . . .
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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Land of the Lost

Yesterday morning I woke to the sound of Sam’s sweet five year old voice singing:

“If you want my body! If you think I’m sexah!” over and over. The scary part is that I found myself saying, “No, it’s ‘If you want my body AND you think I’m sexy’”. I had to stop myself mid-sentence and tell him to sing something else. He giggled; he’d gotten a rise out of me.

I’m caught off guard by these kids and what comes out of their mouths on a daily, even hourly, basis. Last night this conversation came out of nowhere:

Sierra: “Mom! Lemurs get high and get into gang fights! They’re close to bad humans.”

Michael Jr.: “Yeah, but chimpanzees hunt bush babies with spears they make. That’s worse.”

Kenny: “Do lemurs make out with each other?”

Sierra: (blank stare) “No, but apparently lizards do on ‘Land of the Lost’.”

This whole Motherhood-During-the-Summer thing feels like “Land of the Lost”. Lost with no real schedule, bedtimes totally off kilter, chores sort of out the window. Everyone just laying around reading, watching t.v., playing on the computers, begging to go the pool. Or fighting. I hate to be all scheduly (just made that one up myself) on them during their vacation but it might be necessary. I can’t deal with any more conversations like that after, oh, let’s say, 8:30 p.m.

And today was not a routine expedition. I spent a good four hours pulling everything out of the boys room, tossing, sorting, cleaning, organizing. I have never seen so much dust; I may have developed black lung. Thank goodness for Pandora set to The Fixx. With dust bunnies banished, several garbage bags filled, fresh sheets on the beds, and drawers filled only with clothes that fit, I think the boys are ready to start taking care of the room themselves.

And maybe ready to hit the sack early. Sam just asked me how to spell “butt cheeks” and I don’t think I’m up to finding out why . . .
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Monday, June 15, 2009

Support

I thought swimsuit shopping was humiliating but I forgot about the bra search. I remember once watching an Oprah episode about this. The statistic cited was something like 80% of bra wearing women are wearing the wrong size. I can see how that could happen; weight gain and loss can shift things around and honestly, who wants to measure themselves anyway? And even if you do, there’s still figuring out the formula to get you to a cup size. It’s not “rocket surgery“ (as seen on a church sign on failblog.org) but it’s also nothing I have any interest in doing. So I put it off until I’m stabbed with underwire and desperate for relief.

A Buy One Get One 50% Off sale finally pushed me out the door this morning but not before I measured and took notes. I’ve lost several pounds this year and I didn’t want to spend any time at the store figuring out what size I needed. I thought I was being smart.

And then I met HER.

I walked up to the counter and told the older lady working there that I had some measurements and wanted to know what size they amounted to. The first number was odd and a half. She told me that couldn’t be right; they only come in even, whole sizes. Blank stare. I don’t care what sizes they come in; I am what I am. “Come with me!” she demanded.

This was exactly what I wanted to avoid but before I knew what was happening she had me in a dressing room, her measuring tape around me and announcing a new size. “Now aren’t you glad I did that?”

She made my selections and rang up the sale. As the receipt appeared she circled a website and number telling me to go there for an additional savings on my next purchase. “Tell them about your experience here,” and across it she wrote the words “Highly Satisfied”. Oh I’m not so sure about that.

I wonder if there is a male equivalent to this sort of indignity. Maybe there isn’t. And next year I have the mammogram to look forward to. That’ll make this search for support look like a little bit of nothing.
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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Addiction

I tried to listen in church today. I really did. One of my many, many foibles is my irrational irritation, even inner rage at times, when I can’t hear, can’t understand what’s being said. I would be a completely intolerable deaf person. So the first hour of church always feels like an auditory test for me. We sit in the back because we have a few kids who aren’t able to behave themselves for an hour. We end up as far as possible from the voice at the pulpit and surrounded by others with chatty little ones.

I did catch a good portion of what was said today. The topic was addiction.

Carrie Jacks talked about the things you’d normally associate with the topic: drugs, alcohol, tobacco. Things I am more than familiar with from an earlier incarnation. She also discussed a Time magazine article about cocaine and the brain. The role of dopamine and addiction. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (a molecule that carries messages in the brain from one neuron to another) and it’s associated with the good stuff; pleasure, euphoria, bliss. Dopamine levels are elevated by activities that give you those feelings. According to this article though, scientists now believe that dopamine is more than just a chemical that conveys pleasure signals. It may actually be, as the article put it, “the master molecule of addiction.”

It feels connected to our battle with sin. So many sinful behaviors have the ability to make us feel mighty nice, in the short term. And the trouble with sin, it appears, is that one things leads to another. Essentially, our brains become hardwired to seek out these dopamine producing experiences. Hard wired for sin. This is where Satan comes into the picture; where we give away our agency because, “ . . . he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.” (2 Nephi 26:22). “[A]ll this was a snare of the adversary, which he has laid to catch this people, that he might bring you into subjugation unto him, that he might encircle you about with his chains, that he might chain you down to everlasting destruction, according to the power of his captivity” (Alma 12:6). Jesus made a long story short when he said, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (John 8:34).

But addictions aren’t just things we take into our bodies. Carrie also talked a good deal about social networking sites and blogs. Michael gave me a sidelong glance and nodded toward the front. Yeah, she was talking about me.

I started this blog in April and haven’t missed a day since. I don’t know how to not write it. Maybe I’m addicted to sharing my thoughts. I keep Facebook open on my phone all the time and check my mail regularly. I’m definitely addicted to being connected. I was at a party last night and I spent half the time texting Michael and messaging Sarah. I need help.

Apparently Sam thinks so too. This morning in church I pulled out my phone to look up a song in the hymn book (“There’s an app for that, “ as the commercial goes) and he announced, “What’re you looking at Mom? Jesus.com?!” He’s got my number.
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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Budget

“The real minimum wage is zero.” -Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is an economic rock star. He’s got this gift for getting to the bottom line, so to speak, and is able to make something as potentially dry and boring as the study of the distribution of scarce resources with alternate uses into something I’d actually read and reread. If his book “Basic Economics” were required reading at the high school level, or even earlier, the world would be a better place.

We’ve faced budget crises around here; Sam has no money but insists on paying for his own food at Dairy Queen (“Dad, can I have some money? I want to pay for it myself!”), Kenny wants to buy Pokémon cards at Wal-Mart but is short $2. Michael Jr. wants an iTouch but has no job to support such dreams. Sierra thinks of emptying her bank account for a digital camera she doesn’t have to share with me but can’t reconcile this with her love of telling the boys how much more money she’s saved than them.

For us grown folks the difficulties are more serious and center around questioning our continuing ability to pay for private school as well as every other mounting expense that comes with the decision to have children. It’s an area we can easily start off feeling confident about but lose our swagger as we see the negative effects of the economy all around us. It’s feels unreal; we live in an area that’s second best in the nation for job production and employment but we’re seeing businesses close all around us.

So, belts are being tightened and budgets drawn up. We’re saying “No” more often and making do where we can. I don’t know if the current state of the economy will touch us directly but the idea of living beneath our means is becoming more and more attractive.

Last night on "20/20" there was an interview with a man running a business from the recesses of his mother’s basement. He’s put together a magazine called “Found” and it highlights his collection of absurd, random bits of humanity in the form of pieces of paper he’s either found or others have found and sent to him. One of his favorites is a typed up budget he found one day:

Rent 600
Cell phone 50
Telephone 50
Elec/Gas 45
Cable 60
Bus/Taxi 60
Food 500
Liquor 600 incl. bars ($20 per day)
Laundry 30
Crack 600
Attorney 250
Misc. 50
Savings 100

Total Income Needed $3,195

You've got to give this person credit; they're at least attempting to live within a budget and save for the future--looks like we all have some belt-tightening to do!
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Friday, June 12, 2009

Fresh Start

A few days ago I printed out a calendar for each of the summer months, taped them together, and attacked it with a sharpened pencil. I filled it in with camps, holidays, swimming lessons, and trips to see Grandma and Grandpa in Yelm. In July I even had a wedding to add. I haven’t been to a wedding in quite awhile.

We don’t get nearly the wedding invitations we used to and I think it must just be where we are in life. At one point we went through a period of having several friends and family members getting married each year and after that it was an influx of baby announcements. We’re getting less of those too, which makes them all the more special when they arrive.

This August Michael and I will have been married 15 years. It seems like just yesterday and a million years ago.

I remember wanting something simple. Wear my mom’s dress, wedding in the parent’s backyard, potluck dinner, that sort of thing. I did feel pretty strongly about hiring a professional photographer but other than that I was flexible. Plans changed when we found out Lake Lawrence Lodge was available on a Sunday in August. That would allow more room for guests and alleviate parking worries. The couple getting married there the day before was decorating the place in white so we asked them to keep it up for us and we’d chip in and help with clean up. Such a deal.

In the months before the wedding, Michael and I taught summer school at Sanger High School in Sanger CA, his hometown. I taught 9th grade English and he taught Algebra. It was an interesting experience to say the least. I can still hear, “Miss Arnold! What’s a verb?” ringing in my ears.

Our wedding day was beautiful and everything went smoothly (although it hurt to smile after awhile and Michael insists I hesitated when saying “I do”). Our guests stayed and enjoyed themselves long after we left for a brief honeymoon on Orcas Island. It’s one of my favorite places on earth and it was one of my parent’s gifts to us. We didn’t have long though; we had to be in Cambridge, MA ready to move into MIT’s family housing at the end of the month.

It was a long drive across the country pulling a U-Haul and I remember vividly the Jeep’s seats and their inability to recline. We received calls along the way asking Michael to change a grade so a certain football player would become eligible to play as well as others telling us about particular events that transpired after we left the wedding. Events later known collectively as, “The Mistake on the Lake”. But it was cool. We were starting a new adventure and although it was back to the old stomping grounds for Michael, it was all new to me.

I sort of miss facing the unknown with Michael. He and I against the world. We’ve been in the same town for over 8 years which is twice our longest so far and I’ve got to say there’s something about a fresh start that is mighty appealing.
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Thursday, June 11, 2009

I Love Cindy Brown

Yesterday I received an e-mail from an old friend and it set the tone for a really decent day. I’ve known Cindy Brown (I know she’s Cindy Theel now but she’ll always be Cindy Brown to me) since college where we were housemates for the last two years and flipped burgers together at the SUB. I can’t think of Walla Walla without thinking of Cindy.

I’ve been blessed with many friends over the years but there have been very few who reflect the light of Christ like Cindy. I’ve never met anyone who loves like she loves and her influence for good shows the effect we can have on others when we let Him change us.

Cindy joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints early on in college. It was something she was given a hard time about by more than one person. Her faith was strong but being a person of faith, any faith, can be a challenge at a liberal arts college.

I wasn’t bothered by her religious choice; my best friend in high school was LDS. I knew she was doing what was right for her. It wasn’t anything I was interested in but I got it.

Cindy was a great roommate during our Whitman years and always up for some fun. With Cindy there was never a dull moment, never a time when you weren’t laughing or crying together. And you just never knew when you’d wake up in the morning to find Cindy crawling into your bed telling you to squish over.

A special memory I have of her is from our senior year. She introduced me to a single mom in her ward who was struggling a bit. At her home I noticed there was no dining room table. With my thesis defended and graduation around the corner, I knew I was done with the one my dad built for me. He told me to pass it on and Fawn seemed like just the person to give it to.

We graduated in May of 1992 and little did I know, the most precious gift I would receive was a battered copy of “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” from The Book Worm. Inside the front cover Fawn bore her testimony and respectfully asked if I would read this book.

I was in no way interested but in the following weeks I found myself reading it anyway. And it touched my heart. Believe me, I didn’t want it to. I had no interest in changing. Still, by the time I’d finished the book I knew I needed to read The Book of Mormon. I needed to know for myself.

I moved back east not long after graduation. I’d read The Book of Mormon and prayed sincerely to receive an answer to my questions. And answers I received. Not the answers I was hoping for (I haven’t shared that little tidbit with many before) but it came loud and clear. I had a collosal decision to make.

Knowing I’d received a witness I couldn’t deny, I called the missionaries and was baptized soon after. Although I’ve lost a few friends and angered my family considerably (they’ve since made peace with it) it’s a decision I’ve never regretted. I’ve never looked back and I have Cindy’s example to thank for this.

Something about Cindy that set her apart from most everyone I knew back then was how she saw the good in everyone. She saw things in me that I took years to recognize. I’ll always love her for that.
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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Swimsuit

Sad but true, a good marriage is not great for my waist line. My weight seems to follow the curve of marital bliss. Which is to say that in areas of real importance I’m doing pretty darned good. It just doesn’t help in the swimsuit department.

Today Mindy Martin mentioned going swimsuit shopping, an undertaking that strikes fear in the hearts of, well, me for certain. I thought about my bottom drawer, littered with suits that fit only the lower half or only the upper quadrant, emphasize jiggly bits, or display my albino midriff. All leaving me feeling overexposed and underscored.

I remembered seeing some new swimsuits in a Land’s End catalog recently. They looked like they might do the trick so I went to the website and engaged in a little retail therapy. What I found was something pretty cool. It might not totally eliminate all hazards of shopping without trying things on but it’s darned close. Land’s End has something called My Virtual Model and you create this avatar who tries on clothes for you. You put in lots of detailed information (grab your measuring tape!) and as you shop you can have your model show you what each item would look like. It’s funny I couldn’t figure out certain swimsuits were ugly until I saw them on “me”.

This sort of thing is best done with some privacy; Sierra was in the room when I started measuring myself and immediately called me a pervert! Once she figured out what I was actually doing, she couldn’t wait to get her hands on my laptop. She created a massive woman and pretended to want to try on small bathing suits. I tried so hard not to laugh. Mommy Fail.

I have two swimsuit questions. First, why are they so crazy expensive? I suppose there are a few factors. We generally don’t buy a lot of them so the price has to be higher than other sorts of clothes for the manufacturer to realize a profit. Also, we’re paying for the dream. The dream that we’ll actually go on a vacation and look super hot in it. Or maybe just paying to get the whole ordeal over with. My second question is why don’t the sizes correspond with clothes sizes? Those can vary I guess but swimsuits sizes always run really small on me. Really small.

On the swimsuit front we have had some good news today. Josh actually brought me one to put on him. No more all-nude review—we can actually take him to swim in public now. But me, I’m not so sure I want to be seen in one of these things. A few days ago I said maybe nothing can embarrass me anymore but clearly I was forgetting about this!
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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fun

“I like fun.”

Josh announced this to me recently as he blew bubbles in the kitchen. I turned and laughed out loud! He said it in the same way a person might say they like seafood or parasailing. It was something he felt was at least somewhat unique to him.

I need to work harder on the fun department. It’s so easy for me to get caught up in the never ending To Do lists—lists that are conspicuously free of cool stuff.

As a kid I had this idea (as, I suppose, most kids do) that adults were lucky. So lucky. They could do whatever they wanted. Of course reality hits and by that point you’re left dealing with kids laboring under the selfsame delusion. They look at how I spend my time and figure it’s because I really, truly want to. I really, really want to unload those dishes in the morning and fold clothes in the afternoon. I get a kick out of vacuuming and a natural high scrubbing toilets. They have done these jobs and know they are not fun. For them. I think they don’t realize what would happen if I didn’t do these things for any length of time.

It is hard to disabuse oneself of the idea. I mean I still kind of hold out hope that being an adult really does mean doing whatever you want. I just haven’t grown up yet, right?

It’s been one of those days. A few things went in a distinctly bad direction. In no way according to plan. Then I ended up getting my feelings hurt which I realize is completely my own fault. I’ve felt dangerously close to becoming like The Reptile Man, showing the kids THE IMAGINARY LINE OF DEATH. Do Not Cross! I’m like his water moccasin Cranky Frank. So ornery he often bites his own tail. Seems to describe me exactly. Today. Tomorrow’s just got to be different.

When my Grandpa Huck lay dying he wrote a letter to his wife and 10 children. In it he expressed his love for them and wrote this:

“Now I wish I would have spent more time in recreation with you than I did.”

I like fun too. I guess I just have to schedule it in like everything else.
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Monday, June 8, 2009

The Basement

As far as the basement goes, these kids have seen things through to complete catastrophe. I finally had all I could take. Legos impaled my feet as I fumbled toward the laundry room, basket overflowing. I stopped and looked around. There was barely a square foot of uncluttered carpet. An overturned box of anachronisms (Grandpa’s name for the boys’ collection of Papo knights, dragons, and other mythical creatures) lay midst a sea of K’nex, action figures, puppets, Happy Meal toys, costumes, and musical instruments. All instruments of torture under my always bare feet.

Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

There are two issues here:
1) Why haven’t I taught the youngest two how to pick up after themselves and
2) WHY DO WE HAVE SO MUCH STUFF?????

Right now I’m sort of fixated on the stuff.

Sometimes I feel like the larger part of what I do, day in and day out, is deal with, sort through, pitch, and put away stuff. Room dandruff. Some of it can be tossed but so much of it is just things in the wrong place. And of course with this much stuff, there just isn’t always a good place for everything.

When we bought this house I fell in love with the huge kitchen. It has a bar area long enough to seat all five kids and I envisioned breakfast each morning with them lined up (and me showered, coifed, and serving up pancakes—I’m living on Fantasy Island, aren’t I?). Instead it’s suffered the fate of all flat surfaces in our home. I clear it off every few days but it’s immediately taken over by other things in no time. I guess I’m the only one in the family like this but disorder and generalized mayhem affect my mental state.

It’s enough to make a girl want to take a vow of poverty and head out to the nearest hermitage.
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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Course Correction

“U-turn if possible”

I hear this all the time. We bought a Honda Odyssey back in 2000. With very few available at the time, we found ourselves buying one equipped with a navigation system. It hadn’t occurred to us that we needed one but it came in handy when we moved to New Hampshire soon after. The thing about these devices is that they’re not perfect. Ours relies on a DVD under the passenger seat; information that was probably outdated as soon as it was burned.

And it doesn’t know me. It can’t see through my eyes and see what the dangers are here and now. There was an episode of “The Office” in which Michael Scott drove into a lake because his car told him to keep going straight. You just can’t rely on this stuff.

In life, mid-course corrections need to be made frequently. We can get in our own way with pride, stubbornness, bad information, and negligence but if we’re willing to pay attention we have access to an awesome internal navigation system: The Holy Ghost.

One reason we need the influence of the Holy Ghost is that we can’t make course corrections if we don’t recognize when we’re off course. When we’ve sinned. If we don’t realize we’ve sinned then we don’t recognize our need for the Savior.

For as long as I can remember Michael has tried to impress this upon the kids. To get them to realize what the Savior really did for us. He wanted them to watch “The Passion of the Christ” and mentioned it frequently. I recently found the DVD hidden in the “Hoosiers” box so I guess we know how they felt about it. I imagine we’d probably get farther with them by bearing our testimonies more frequently.

I’ve been rereading “The Peacegiver” in a book group I’m in and in it the author James L. Ferrell emphasizes the point that it takes only one choice away from the Lord for us to lose interest in returning to the Savior. The necessity can easily become lost on us. He uses the example of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:9-13:

9 And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?
10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
11 And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?
12 And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.
13 And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.

Once Adam and Eve made the decision to eat the forbidden fruit, what was the first thing they did? Hid from the Lord. When God asked Adam if he did in fact eat the fruit, the answer he received was a little round about. Adam made sure he brought up the fact that God brought him this woman to begin with—she gave it to him. He could clearly see her sin but his own wasn’t so obvious to him. Eve was the same way. She highlights the fact that she was tricked. But can we make course corrections when we’re seeing, “through a glass, darkly”, as Paul put it? Not likely. Seeing the bad choices we make in a totally unvarnished light should be our goal. Without that knowledge we can’t truly get how much we need the Savior.

From experience I can say it’s painful to look at ourselves, really look. Change is a constant battle. Still, we've been promised some pretty incredible things if we just keep up the good fight.

Romans 8:18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Ice Ice Baby

“Yo VIP let’s kick it!”

And it starts. Little feet kicking the back of my seat with a vengeance, head bopping, hands clapping in time with the beat. And Josh’s 3 year-old voice belts out,

“Ice, ice baby! Ice, ice baby!”

How did we come to this? This song is Josh’s new favorite. A while back Michael downloaded “80’s & 90’s Dance Hits” to his phone and this is the song that Josh decided to obsess over. Not “Living on Video”, not “Space Age Love Song”, not even “I Want Candy”. It had to be “Ice Ice Baby”. It wasn’t a song I wanted to hear when it was released and nothing has changed since. It’s more than that though. I mean I listen to things I don’t want to hear all the time. This is different. Frankly, there’s something about listening to Vanilla Ice that’s just embarrassing. And that’s saying something; not much embarrasses me anymore.

To my supreme pleasure, I’ve noticed that I don’t care much about what people think. More specifically, about their judgments. We all like to be liked but I’m talking more about hiding ourselves or molding ourselves to fit the expectations of others. And the anxiety that accompanies the thought that maybe they’ve got you wrong. Or right for that matter.

I remember some of those feelings as a younger person and I remember when I first realized how stupid they are. When we bought our house, the owners left behind their dryer. It was old but we needed one and decided to keep it until it died. Eventually it did and the Sears guys came and replaced it with a new set we purchased. When the blue van pulled away, Michael and I went to the basement to check them out. To my surprise, sitting on top of the dryer were two tiny thongs; the guys must have found them behind the old dryer(do those get lost with all the socks?!). Michael laughed out loud saying, “They thought those were yours!”! At first I was alarmed but eventually I laughed too. Why should I care?

Today we pulled into the McDonald’s drive-thru to get something to tide Sam and Josh over while we ran errands. “Ice Ice Baby” was cranked and Josh was rocking out. I admit to feeling a little embarrassed. I asked Michael to turn it down but instead he turned it up. When the girl came to the window to bring the drinks she stopped and looked at us. She was incredulous. “Are you serious?” she asked. I pointed to Josh. Yeah, we’re serious. She started laughing and singing along. Maybe nothing can embarrass me now.

Yo man let’s get out of here
Word to your mother.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Happy Birthday Kerrilynn!

I decided on Ebinger’s Chocolate Blackout Cake after reading an article in The Week magazine. Ebinger’s was a beloved bakery chain in Brooklyn, NY until it closed its doors on August 27, 1972. None of the recipes were saved but according to those who remember it, this recipe is much like the original. Yesterday I baked the cake and cooked the pudding filling to be sure it would be ready today. I salivated looking at the final product; probably should have made two.

Today is Kerrilynn Robinson’s birthday and this is her cake.

Sometime after we moved to Richland in early 2001 I met Kerrilynn. We went to church together and her twin sons and my daughter were in the same ballet class. Our next children were born within months of each other. I appreciated her friendship; I’d made very few friends since we left Boston three years early (just the Bartons stand out in my mind—we miss you guys!). She was one of those people you meet and it just clicks. You know you’re going to be good friends.

I would be fooling myself if I said we have a lot in common. We don’t. She is the most together person I know aside from my own mom. She’s organized, extremely generous with her time, and incredibly talented. She burns the candle at both ends but you’d never know by looking at her.

Kerrilynn’s father passed away last week after several years of failing health. I was so impressed with the way she took over his household duties for as long as she did, with time she really didn’t have. Eventually he needed the care only a nursing home could provide but because of her efforts he was afforded the ability to stay in his home much longer than would otherwise have been possible.

For years now I’ve wanted to lend a hand; do something. But what to do? At a loss, a year or so after we met, I offered to make her birthday cake. I figured it was the last thing she needed to worry about. I’ve done it ever since, keeping my eyes open each year for new and interesting recipes. I don’t know if they always taste good and some years the execution is better than others but she puts up with my feeble efforts and I hope she always does.

Chocolate Blackout Cake

Give the pudding and the cake enough time to cool or you’ll end up with runny pudding and gummy cake.

Pudding
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup whole milk
6 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 tsp vanilla extract

Cake
8 tbsp unsalted butter (1 stick), plus extra for greasing pans
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting pans
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp table salt
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 cup strong black coffee (I used hot chocolate)
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the pudding:
Whisk sugar, cornstarch, salt, half-and-half, and milk in large saucepan. Set pan over medium heat. Add chocolate and whisk constantly until chocolate melts and mixture begins to bubble, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in vanilla and transfer pudding to large bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on surface of pudding and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours and up to 1 day.

For the cake layers:
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour two 8-inch cake pans. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in bowl. Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in cocoa and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Off heat, whisk in coffee, buttermilk, and sugars until dissolved. Whisk in eggs and vanilla, then slowly whisk in flour mixture. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool layers in pans 15 minutes, then invert onto wire rack. Cool to room temperature, at least 1 hour.

To assemble the cake:
Cut each cake in half horizontally. Crumble one cake layer into medium crumbs and set aside. Place one cake layer on serving platter or cardboard round. Spread 1 cup pudding over cake layer and top with another layer. Repeat with 1 cup pudding and last cake layer. Spread remaining pudding evenly over top and sides of cake. Sprinkle cake crumbs evenly over top and sides of cake, pressing lightly so crumbs adhere. Serve. (Cake can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.) Serves 10 to 12.
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