Saturday, December 29, 2007

Viruses, Brothers and Superheroes

To be a mother, you know this hard truth. Motherhood is not for the squeamish. And nothing tests your mettle like sick kids. I would a hundred times rather be sick myself. I don’t say that out of any sort of nobility. It’s very self interested. I’m terrified when my kids are sick. My mind first jumps to the epidemic that will ensue when they all get whatever the sickness is, then my mind takes another leap to the future worsening of their symptoms and the fact that they’ll eventually be in the hospital on IV. Of course this has never happened but you never know. This might be the time.

So Braeden got sick. He had a fever and was needy and miserable. He wanted to sleep in my bed and kneed me in the back then ran to the bathroom to throw up…and in very Braeden like fashion…didn’t make it in time. It’s not a good moment when that happens. I’m not the long-suffering mother I aspire to be. I’m just plain not happy. It’s not really lecture time though. It’s only time for clean up.

The next morning I consulted the Internet. I read the difference between a cold and the flu. I started wondering why it’s “a” cold but “the” flu. Articles interest me. Why in England, for example, do they say, “Going to hospital” when in America we always call it “the hospital”?

I’m masterful at getting lost on a tangent but I got back to matters at hand and the article I was reading indicated calling the doctor for flu symptoms. It seemed like we were there so I called. I told the receptionist all the symptoms. She wondered what exactly his temperature was and I admitted I don’t have a thermometer. It’s one of those dark inadequate mother facts about me that I’d like to keep quiet but it keeps coming up. I could of course buy a thermometer but it seems like either they have a fever or they don’t. Does the actual temperature really matter? I guess so because they always ask me.

I asked the nurse if there was anything the doctor could DO if he did have the flu. Why drag my sick boy to the doctor and pay the $25 co-pay for nothing, right? She said, “I can’t diagnose over the phone.” I understood that but I again asked, “IF he does have the flu, is there anything the doctor can do?” Her tone was getting a little icy by then and she said, “I can’t know that because I can’t diagnose over the phone.” Fine. Sign me up.

So I bundled poor Braeden up. The kid who argues that he doesn’t need a jacket because he’s never cold wore a long sleeve t-shirt, a hooded sweatshirt with the hood up and his coat. He said, “I’m still cold.” We went to the doctor. He cracked a tiny smile when the nurse told him he was now 5 feet even but when she said, “So you don’t feel well?” he gave her a surly, “No.” The doctor poked and prodded and said that it was viral and there was nothing she could do. Braeden grumbled the whole way back to the van about what a “big fat waste of time” that was. It was but I was trying to be positive. “At least you don’t have pneumonia or strept throat or an ear infection.” Braeden usually leaves the scornfulness to Emma but he snarled, “Why would I even have any of those things anyway?” I didn’t know. But hey, he didn’t.

I got Braeden home and gave him some grape juice and Advil and he got more and more happy as the day progressed. He was chipper by dinnertime and ate his dinner and remarked about how much better he felt and I was happy.

Mark was a sneezing sniffling coughing mess. He felt a little warm. I didn’t feel disconsolate this time though. Braeden had recovered so quickly I had high hopes. I put Mark to bed early and he was almost instantly asleep. At 3:00 Braeden came in to wake me up to tell me Mark was coughing. I went in to comfort Mark and gave him some Dimetapp. (I’m a big believer in medicine.)

At 4:00, Braeden was again by my bedside, telling me that Mark was throwing up. I said the first thing that comes to every mother’s mind when she’s told her child is throwing up at 4:00 a.m. “Where is he?” Braeden said he was in the bathroom. There was Mark, kneeling neatly in front of the toilet. Now why couldn’t Braeden do that? I sent Braeden to bed with my gratitude and comforted Mark and cleaned him up and held him on my lap for a while. Sweet Mark. There’s just the tiniest part of me that likes it when he’s sick. He’s so snuggly and calm. I told him that he did such a great job making it to the bathroom. Mark always talks in capital letters but he said in a small lowercase voice, “Braeden ran with me.” It’s a heart melting image for me to picture…bleary eyed Braeden, hustling his sick brother down the hall so he can make it in time.

So maybe that’s what Braeden needs, a big brother to run with him. I guess it’s something we all could use.

Sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero. --Marc Brown

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mark's Birthday!

My newly minted 5 year old.

Why we had the party at McDonald's

Jackson, Mark, Jacob, Gavin, Hunter, Holden, Payton and Emma

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

So what IS that?

At the ward Christmas party, they asked people to come up and share Christmas traditions. Emma and Braeden went up and Emma said, "Every year our family celebrates Pikku Joulu." The lady with the microphone said, "That sounds nice, what is it?" Emma said, "Pikku Joulu." The lady said, "So what IS that?" Emma said, "Pikku Joulu." I was sending telepathic messages to Braeden to bale out his artless sister and he received them. He grabbed the microphone and explained that Pikku Joulu meant "little Christmas" in Finnish and every year we had a special Christmas family home evening and invited our grandparents.Here are some Pikku Joulu pictures.

Emma's new ornament

Braeden and Emma singing and Mark providing a visual aid.

Emma talking to Grandma Geri

Emma, Grandpa Linn, Braeden, Grandma Geri and Mark

Mark and Grandpa Linn, discussing Christmas bears.

Not a Pikku Joulu picture, but Braeden putting the angel on the tree

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Last Real Christmas Tree

When I was growing up, my grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, parents and siblings and I drove into the hills and tramped around in the snow and cut down Christmas trees. We would have the requisite snowball fight and I remember my grandma bringing thermoses of hot chocolate and chili. THAT was something to get nostalgic about.

Getting a tree here means driving our minivan—in the rain—to one of the many Christmas tree lots. They’re everywhere. (It is the Evergreen State after all.) We walk around—in the rain—and find a tree. We pay an enormous sum, then tie it to the roof of the van—in the rain—and then drive home.

In the rain.

After Christmas we drag the tree to the curb—in the rain—and pay the boy scouts to come and take it away.

For the past several years I’ve been campaigning for an artificial tree. A tree we can pull out of the box. No rain included. We have one faux tree already. It goes in the living room and we’ve put the real one in the family room. Why not get two artificial trees? I’ll buy scented candles! This deeply offended the romantic sensibilities of our children and Adam.

Now, I’m as sentimental as anyone. I still have ornaments I made in elementary school. (Adam tries to strategically place them on the wall side of the tree each year.) I know they’re ugly but it just wouldn’t be Christmas without the red velvet clumsily wrapped around the Styrofoam ball with rusty pins and sequins holding it all together. I already gave up my Norman Rockwell getting the Christmas tree scenario though. Time to move on.

I campaigned pretty hard last year—we even looked around at different artificial trees. But I was unanimously outvoted.

We did the whole tie the tree to the top of the van in the rain.
About a week after we’d decorated the tree and were enjoying Christmas adorned bliss, I went to our Relief Society party and came home to an unhappy scene.

The tree had fallen over! The water in the tree stand had doused the presents. Adam had rushed the kids’ presents with the melting wrapping paper to the bathtub in our bathroom so the kids wouldn’t see them. Emma had rushed Adam’s presents to her room so he wouldn’t see them. Since there were no presents for me under the tree yet, that wasn’t an issue. (It’s no fun being the mom sometimes.)

Remember in the movie Babe, when the goose keeps saying “Christmas means carnage”? Ornaments and lights were smashed, including the glass Stitch ornament Mark got from Disneyland. He said we would have to go to Disneyland again. I thought we could probably find a replacement ornament here locally.

I felt really bad that I was gone for most of the clean up efforts. Then I remembered that I alone wanted a fake tree. With a fake tree, all of that wouldn't have happened. And then I realized that it would be me rewrapping all the gifts again anyway so I didn’t get out of much.

A few days later, we decided to try again with the tree. We figured we’d done a better job setting the tree up this time. It was more balanced. Less likely to fall. We were decorating it, recapturing the Christmas joy. Without warning, when it was almost decorated, it fell over again. Again we whisked presents away that needed to be re-wrapped (by this time it was mostly sticking them in a gift bag…who cares if it’s Christmas-y or not… stapling it shut, and writing the name on it with a black Sharpie). Again we picked up pieces of broken ornaments.

This time we moved the tree to the front porch. It was in time out for the rest of the season until the boy scouts came—in the rain—to pick it up. We huddled the refugee gifts under the living room tree and Emma left a note for Santa.

“Sorry we don’t have a tree. It fell over twice.”

He understood.

This year, we bought a fake tree. In October. No one argued.

And you’ll be happy to know. The velvet, sequin ornament I made in 5th grade fared very well.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

I Don't Want to Cheer Up, I Want To Cheer Down

That's what Emma said when she was an indignant 2 year and I told her to cheer up. Tonight was a cheer down sort of night.

We dropped Adam off at the airport. He’s off to London and we needed cheering. We went to IKEA. I didn’t get lost on the way there (which almost never happens). That was the last thing that went well.

IKEA was very crowded. Maybe as crowded as I’ve seen it. I checked Emma and Mark into Smalland, the play place for kids 3-9. Braeden’s too old. That took some time and then Braeden and I picked our way through the crowded store. Braeden wanted to push the cart and he drives like, well, a 10-year-old boy. About the second or third time he ran into me I took away his car keys. Then Braeden started to complain. He’s as much fun to shop with as a 10-year-old boy too. It was Boring and Not Interesting and when were we going to eat? I kept reminding him that it was in the 3:00 hour and dinner was not soon. He said, “That’s OK. We can eat now and have dinner later too.” Not really the point I was getting at.

I was almost to the end of the clogged IKEA maze, to the place where they have the candles and vases and plants. My beeper went off. The beeper that means 1) you are a horrible mother and lost track of time and it’s been over an hour and you haven’t picked up your kids or 2) you are a horrible mother and your child is being kicked out of Smalland because he’s been hitting other children. I have found myself in both scenarios on previous IKEA visits. So I sheepishly swam upstream. We went back through the textiles and rugs, taking the shortcut to avoid the lamps. We pushed past annoyed people who wondered why we were going the wrong way through the store. We pushed past knowing mothers who knew the only two reasons why the beeper was going off. Some of them looked rueful. They’ve been there too. Some of them just stepped out of my way and I looked them in the face, daring them to sneer.

We’d been only gone 30 minutes so I thought Mark was probably hitting. Again. I thought we were past that. Turned out Mark was playing with some other boys and Emma was standing there looking mournful. She had been bored. I tried to explain the whole walking against traffic with the Here Goes The Bad Mother siren going off but she looked miserable enough and started to cry so I gave up. I put my arm around her.

“You can always call for me and I’ll come for you.” She’d seen the look on my face though. I’m not sure she believed me. She cheered up enough later to start acting goofy with her brothers. Kind of a good news/bad news sort of thing.

We fought our way through the store and got to the end where there were displays of Christmas decorations. I know we’re not to Halloween yet but you can hardly expect me (or IKEA) to get excited about Halloween decorations. I was pushing along through the displays, trying to keep Mark’s arms and legs inside the ride until we came to a complete stop. A woman with a look in her eyes I’ve only seen at ward dinners when the serving line is open or at Costco when there’s a good sample, shoved a cart directly in my path so I couldn’t go further. She then cut around in front of that cart, darting to a shorter checkout line. I wasn’t even intending to go to the checkout line yet. By this time I’m sure all my frustration was evident on my (otherwise always pleasant and cheerful) face. Her daughter, who was following behind, looked ashamed and moved the obstacle out of my path. “I’m sorry,” she muttered. I smiled. Maybe the entire world wasn’t bad after all.

I eventually joined one of the long checkout lines. Mark, of course, had to go to the bathroom. Emma volunteered to take him. Why did I think that was going to end well? Soon I looked over and saw them fighting. (Actually coming to blows.) They were done with the bathroom and Mark had decided he was going to wait for me out in the old parking lot on one of the display couches (it’s hard to explain unless you’ve been to IKEA in Seattle maybe). Emma was trying to prevent this action. Without me even asking (and I appreciate that, Braeden!) Braeden ran over and separated the two and I tried to pretend like I was neither responsible nor related to the group. Emma came back as Braeden’s messenger to see if they could all go out and sit on the couches. It took me less than 2 seconds to agree. I finished my purchase and loaded the van and we were off. We were going to eat at IKEA but by the time we were done, I was done with IKEA. There was no way I was going to fight through any more crowds. We would go to the Old Spaghetti Factory. We would dine like kings on spaghetti with mizithra cheese. We would be happy.

Foolish, foolish Thelma. We got to the Old Spaghetti Factory about 5:00. That’s early for dinner. We’d be seated right away. Then we could go home. Relax.


The entire lobby was full. Incredible. Because I had been sure every single person in Washington and perhaps Oregon too was at IKEA today. So we waited outside. It was chilly but not too bad. As the minutes ticked by, it got increasingly chillier. I kept telling Mark and Braeden to stop climbing on the outside of the building. I kept settling fights between who got to hold the beeper to tell us when our table was ready.

I kept listening to the couple next to me. They seemed to be on a date. The man was telling the woman that the polar ice cap had decreased 85% this year. “Wow,” she said, impressively.

He said, “Yeah, and that’s the earth’s air conditioning so we’re in trouble.”

She looked really concerned. He added, “My mom wondered why I bought an SUV if I’m worried about Global Warming. Like one SUV is going to make a difference! It’s not about the cars individuals drive. It’s about all the cars. It’s about a major financial commitment.”

He started to say that he would be happy to buy a hybrid SUV if they could come up with one he could afford when their beeper went off and they got a table.

So then I was back to telling Braeden and Mark to stop climbing.

We finally gave up and went inside. It was freezing. We’d already committed 45 minutes to our dinner and I wasn’t about to leave. Braeden went up to ask how much longer. 15 minutes. We talked about cutting our losses and going to McDonald’s across the street but we were already in pretty deep. We decided to see it through. Mark got on the floor and curled up in a ball with another little boy under a couch. Braeden and Emma and I huddled together against the jostling crowd and finally! We got the call! After an hour we were being seated.

We sat unattended for a long time at our table. Hey! We weren’t standing in the crowded lobby! We’ll happily just sit here. Then we were hungry. A guy came with water. We drank it. Nothing else happened.

Then the single most entertaining waiter in America burst on the scene. He literally jogged to our table and was panting from the exertion. Between serious gasps for air he said, “My… name… is… Michael… I’m… so… so… sorry… that… I… have…made…you…wait.” I think we were all just staring at him with our mouths wide open. He was extremely winded…and sweaty. He went on to explain in his breathless way that they were having trouble keeping up in the kitchen and our order would take about 35 minutes and he was trying to help in the kitchen. He looked at me expectantly.

I said, “Well, OK. But keep the bread coming.” He assured me he would and he came darting out with some bread. He took our orders and occasionally came running over to bring us something. Braeden and Emma decided that there was no problem in the kitchen he was helping with but that he was watching a TV show and trying to be a waiter during the ads.

Whenever Mark gets bored he has to go to the bathroom so we were soon making a trip. I left Braeden and Emma at the helm. When I got back they had a new theory about Michael. He was running on a treadmill that was powering the ovens in the kitchen. That was why he was so tired. Emma said she was afraid he wasn’t going to make it. She pantomimed for us Michael running on a treadmill then collapsing with his tongue lolling to the side. On cue, Michael showed up and threw our salads and soups on the table. He said, “I’m… going… to… go… help… in… the… kitchen… to… see… if… I… can… get… your… orders… done… faster…” Then he dashed away. It was all we could do to keep from laughing until he was back into the kitchen.

Michael was either watching his show or running on the treadmill because another waiter delivered our dinners. He was calm and moved at a normal pace and it seemed like slow motion.

Michael came tearing out later and I asked him for a to go box, the check, and some spumoni ice cream all around. I really should have stuck to one direction at a time. He brought us the ice cream. HEAPING scoops of ice cream. He said he’d printed the wrong check so he’d have to come back with that and he’d forgotten the to go box and that seemed like the end of the world. I was worried about his blood pressure. I told him it was OK. After he left, Emma indicated the big scoop of ice cream and said, “Another good thing about Michael.”

He came back and threw down several to go boxes. Came again later with the check. I pulled out my credit card immediately and sent him on his way, not sure when I’d see him again. He came back, with my copy to sign. He had charged my credit card $55 when our dinner had only come to $20 something. Of course he had already darted away so I had to go after him. I felt bad. Michael was really growing on me and like I said, I was worried about him. He promised me he’d fix it and we never saw him again but the manager came out and told us she’d voided the bill and only charged the correct amount and gave me her card in case there was any further problem.

We left.

It was 7:20.

Two exasperating experiences at two of my favorite go to, sure-to-make-me-happy places. I’ll give them another chance. Maybe. But not on the same night again. And not on the night Adam goes to London and I need cheering up. I can’t take the disappointment.

I’d better stick to baths. Sylvia Plath said, “There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.”

I agree Sylvia. And that’s where I’m headed now.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Let Me Tell You About Ann Cannon

I guess the story really begins with Louise Plummer. When I was a sophomore at BYU, I cautiously walked into a creative writing class that she taught, knowing I didn’t really belong. Yes, I had filled notebooks with incredibly silly stories but that didn’t make me a writer and I shouldn’t be in a writing class.

After that class I was still the college sophomore that looked so similar to everyone else on campus (my dad spent most of my graduation, without success, trying to figure out which girl with my exact shade of brown hair was me seated on the de Jong Concert Hall stage). Inside though, I was a different person. First, I loved Louise (she wanted to be called Louise and I loved that too). I felt exhilarated by the class and itching to get home and write my first assignment.

The elation continued through every class taught by Louise that I took. I was excited to write and excited to go to her class. I started viewing things through the eyes of how I would write about them. I wanted to take every class from Louise. I wanted to be her neighbor, her sister, her daughter. I wanted to BE Louise.

I married Adam and he knows me, and my obsessions, well so he suggested to my sister that I would like Louise’s new book for Christmas that first year we were married. Olivia had Louise sign it and she wrote “To Thelma, One of my favorite people.”

My heart still sings. In a fire, I would save that book after the family pictures but before the financial documents.

So years later, at BYU Women’s Conference, Louise Plummer was teaching a class. Along with Ann Cannon. I didn’t know who Ann Cannon was but that didn’t matter. Louise!

I went to the class before Louise’s class in the Smith Field House so I would be sure to have a good seat. I had Marianne with me and I clutched her knee when I saw Louise. My heart was still singing. I laughed and felt the similar elation of those college writing classes as I listened. And I loved Ann Cannon too. I learned that she writes a column for the Deseret News. I went home and read it on the internet. (Hooray for the internet!)

So that was two years ago and I’ve read the column every week. I love it. I email my favorite ones to Adam. I so admire good writing.

Then yesterday, I was looking at my blog and noticed a comment. It was by Ann Cannon! My first thought was that maybe Adam was playing a trick (ha,ha very funny Adam) and had impersonated Ann Cannon. Then I thought that’s ridiculous. Adam doesn’t do that kind of thing. I called Adam at work. “Did you email Ann Cannon?”


I could have died. Did he write it like it was from me? (No. Good thing because I really would have died.) He didn’t seem to really “remember” much of what he wrote which is troubling. I don’t want to be the pathetic untalented writer soliciting real writers to read what I’ve written. But still. Ann Cannon commented on what I wrote. And she liked it. I told Adam never to do anything like that again. But Ann Cannon!

I love that guy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Parenting 101

I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve come upon the treatment for all that ails parents. The cure-all. The only discipline strategy you’ll ever need.

First you need to write a list of all the things your children could possibly do wrong. Since I’ve only just recently discovered this approach, there are plenty of things I didn’t write down, that I should have.

Here’s how my list, years ago, should have looked:

1. Wear underwear. Especially if you’re wearing a dress. And going to a birthday party.
2. Don’t make a giant otter pop out of other otter pops and leave the kitchen a sticky mess.
3. Don’t put nail polish on your eyelids
4. Don’t plug up the shower to create a “pool” and cause water to drip into the family room downstairs.
5. Don’t pull down your pants in a city park even if you are a boy and really need to go.
6. Don't eat four string cheese sticks one after another just because you are four years old.
7. Your curtains won't hold your weight if you use them to propel yourself onto your bed. You will only rip out the curtain rod and make a hole in the drywall.
8. Putting pillows on the landing will not necessarily protect you from injuries after jumping from the top step.

Silly me. It didn’t occur to me to teach these things to my children. I was busy working on please and thank you and don’t hit your brother. If I’d sat down and made a proper list of all these eventualities, maybe we could have avoided them.

I should have thought up every possible impolite thing they could think to say at someone else’s house.

Don’t say, unprompted, “It’s OK, our house is messy too.” Or, “Is this ALL there is to eat?”

So I’m sure you get the idea. You need a list, and it should be a long list. Really use your imagination; try and get inside the peculiar workings of a child’s mind. You might even want to ask your child for help with the list.

Next, sit the little monkeys down. Read them the list. Information is power. I’m sure if they know your expectations, they will follow them. Never again will they be able to say, “I didn’t KNOW. You never TOLD me to put my clothes in the drawer. I thought I was SUPPOSED to stuff them under my bed.” Never again.

Now this should work. If it doesn’t, you could always do what the mother I observed at the park the other day did. She was exasperated (and I’ve been there) and told her child that if he didn’t come RIGHT NOW, he was not going to go to Disneyland. Your child may be smart enough to realize that you already have the trip planned and are looking forward to Pirates of the Caribbean yourself. They may call your bluff.

But it may work.

Friday, July 13, 2007

License for Laziness

There are two types of people that live here. There are people who are sun worshippers and complain about the clouds and wish it were just hot! The rest of us shrug our sweatshirt wearing shoulders and wonder what they’re talking about. This weather is great. Usually every summer there’s a little hot weather though. We just had three days of heat.

When it gets hot here. It’s not as hot as other places in the country. But still. When it gets humid here it’s not as humid as other places in the country. But still. When you are used to gliding along in the seventies, nearing one hundred degree temperatures is a shock to the system. I try to trick my house into staying cool. I carefully shut all the windows and curtains first thing in the morning and leave the house cave-like until night when it’s cooler. My house usually wins the game. The other night it was 85 degrees in my house at 10:00 p.m.

The first day of the sultry weather Mark had a Dr. appointment at 4:00 p.m., just when the house temperature was creeping up high enough to make us whiny. So the whole family took him to the Dr. It’s air conditioned there. Adam took his laptop and everyone brought a book to read and away we went. After the Dr. we went to the bookstore. Usually on errands I am impatient and hurry everyone along because I have THINGS TO DO. That day I didn’t. I had no interest whatsoever in hurrying back home. The bookstore is air conditioned. And it’s a bookstore. Let’s stay. After that, I dropped off a library book and we went out to dinner.

Things were cooling down by the time we got home. Not a bad evening altogether.

The next day was really hot. That was the day we approached 100 degrees around here. It was too hot to do any of our regular work. We sat in front of a fan and read and then Emma drew pictures of mermaids and Braeden lay on the floor and watched Matlock while I read to Mark and didn’t even mind that he was pressing his warm little body against mine. He seldom takes time in his running around schedule to let me read to him. It was too hot to run around or ride bikes or clean out the kitchen cupboards, which is the next thing on our list so we just didn’t. We sweated it out in our sweltering house then stopped for a leisurely grocery store visit and went over to Adam’s parents’ house. They have a big shady backyard. It was above 90 degrees in what had been shaded all day. We turned on the sprinklers and were in our swimsuits and ran through the sprinklers. Do you know the last time I ran through the sprinklers? Neither do I but it was marvelous. I felt nice and cool and sat in the shade and read my book while the kids continued to frolic. Our friends the Jorgensens joined us, then Adam came on his way home from work and we cooked hamburgers and the kids intermittently ran in the sprinklers and brought us raspberries from Grandpa Linn’s bushes.

Another nice evening.

Yesterday was starting to cool down and we felt a great deal of hope. We packed up the car and went to a lake in the mountains. It was in the upper 90s there but the lake was frigid. Adam’s parents and some cousins were there too and everyone else swam and Adam’s dad and I sat in the shade on our camp chairs and enjoyed the view. We were both born in the desert and aren’t as enthusiastic about water as the rest of the family. There was a nice breeze off the lake and as soon as the sun went down, so did the temperature. We cooked hot dogs and drank cold lemonade.

Our drive back to Seattle afforded us something we don’t see every day when we’re surrounded by trees…the sunset. I can’t think of words enough to describe it. The sky was red and orange and the mountains were glowing purple and every few minutes it would change into another glorious display and we’d say, “Look at THAT!”

Today is overcast although it’s supposed to be sunny later. Our house is 69 degrees because we slept with the windows open. Our marine air conditioning is working again. And I’m glad. We’re back to the rhythm of our summer days.

It’s not always the heat that throws us off kilter. Last winter there was a big storm and we lost our electricity. When we lose our electricity we lose our heat but we don’t lose our gas fireplace. I was reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder to my kids at the time and we felt a certain kinship to them as we huddled around the fireplace all day. There were of course differences. We flipped a switch to turn on our fire and Pa and Laura had to twist hay into sticks to burn. Also when we closed up our rooms to keep the heat more concentrated, there was not frost on the nail heads like there was in Laura and Mary’s room. In very Ingall fashion though we did our schoolwork by the fire. We had our silent reading time by the fire then I read to them by the fire. It was really pretty great. When you don’t have electricity, laundry and vacuuming are right out. You can't check your email and our cordless phone didn't ring. So we read. The house was just starting to get pretty cold when the electricity hummed on and the heater fan started and we were happy down to our cold toes.

For as uncomfortable as we were either time, it wasn’t terrible. A change is as good as a rest and sometimes being a little miserable means having a little vacation. And who doesn’t like that?

Friday, July 6, 2007

Morning in the Garden

Mark: Is this crab grass?
Me: Yes.
Mark (using scissors, his favorite garden tool): Am I cutting it?
Me: Yes.
Mark: Does crab grass grow?
Me: Yes.
Mark: Did you know that crab grass is where we get seaweed?
Me: I didn’t know that.

Mark: I’m talking to my friend bee.
Mark: He’s looking for honey.
Mark: Can I talk to bees?
Me: Yeah, you can. Do they talk back?
Mark: Yes. But I can’t hear them. All they do is bee.

Mark: Do you hear that?
Me: No.
Mark: What is it?
Me: I don’t know.
Mark: It’s the sound of the flowers drinking.

Mark: Why do we even live in this house with such an old TV?
Me: I don’t know, Mark.
Mark: It’s not funny, Mom.
Me: I know, Mark. I’m not laughing.
Mark: You were.
Me: Sorry.

Hot Soapy Water

If there is someone who epitomizes the puritan work ethic, it would be my grandma. And she taught my mother.

My mom goes non-stop. When I gave birth to Mark and my mom came to visit us, there wasn’t enough for her to do in cooking for us, keeping the house clean, reading stories to Braeden and Emma and doing our laundry. I was so overwhelmed by these tasks that I couldn’t see straight but she had Adam drive her to the craft store so she could pick up some handwork to keep her busy.

It’s not easy having someone like that for a mother. You start to kind of feel like a loser. I also was never too happy growing up that my mother had such a penchant for work. Every year we “housecleaned”. This was separate from Saturday cleaning which we did every week without fail. This was different from “morning jobs” which we were supposed to do every morning…vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms. This was housecleaning and it was intense. We moved everything. This meant unearthing all the things I’d stuffed under my bed and in the corner of my closet when quickly cleaning my room every Saturday. I wasn’t always popular when it was time to houseclean my room. Housecleaning also meant scrubbing. My mom would instruct us to get hot soapy water. And it had to be hot. If it wasn’t, we had to dump it out and try again.

We got hot soapy water and rags and we scrubbed the ceiling, the walls, the furniture, everything that didn’t get out of our way. I say we but I’m pretty sure it was mostly my mom and she was having us “help” to teach us to work. I don’t know that we really contributed all that much.

See, I’m a mother now and I do the same thing.

I used to think my mom was a little bit of a lunatic. Certainly her values were skewed. Why would anyone choose to do such backbreaking work? No one made us do it and—besides my bedroom, which really benefited from the good cleaning—it was sometimes hard to tell it had even been done. Worse, my mom seemed happy about it. She would say, “I can tell a difference.”

And now I too can tell a difference when I’ve moved everything, steam cleaned the carpet, wiped everything off with hot soapy water. My kids think I’m crazy. “Why are we DOING this?”

Yesterday I filled the kitchen sink with hot soapy water and instructed my children to clean the tables and chairs and kitchen stools. They’re becoming a little resigned to the task and didn’t complain too much. The doorbell rang and Emma’s friend Eshna wanted to play. Emma told her that she couldn’t until she was done cleaning. Eshna offered to help. Braeden, in oldest child fashion, explained, “We do this every summer. We clean.” Eshna, of Indian descent with a faint British accent, said in her gentle way, “We never do this at our house…but our chairs aren’t dirty.”

They probably aren’t. She’s an only child and the picture of politeness. I can’t conceive of chaos at their house and it’s hard to imagine our house without it. We’re a family that needs hot soapy water.

The one thing I can’t get over is the smell of wet wood. I think it’s the negative association of scrubbing walls in the log house I grew up in. I detest it. I was cleaning a wood bookcase with my children and the wet wood smell filled my nostrils and I said, “Oh, I hate that smell.” Braeden said, “It’s not bad.” Emma said, “It smells clean.”

And so the hot soapy water legacy marches on.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Oh Brother(s)

When I was in elementary school, they brought my brothers’ school pictures to me because they weren’t in school; my mom had brought them to the preschool picture day. Chris Nosworthy sat across the aisle from me and demanded to see what I’d been brought. Chris Nosworthy was bigger and taller and stronger than all the other boys in the fifth grade (he’d been held back a year), he was athletic and handsome and sort of a trouble maker and none too bright and all of these in fifth grade terms add up to a big success. He was the most popular guy in our class. I showed him the pictures. He said, “They’re cute.” It was quite a compliment for me. Usually his interest in me only extended to the answers in my reading workbook. I was the un-athletic smart girl with glasses and in fifth grade terms that doesn’t bode as well. Nerd city and I was the mayor. I’ve never been anything but proud of my brothers though. My connection to them has always elevated me to a higher place.

My brothers are all three tall and handsome and charismatic. They’re successful and smart and witty. Any girl would want them for brothers. The really amazing thing about them though, is that they turned out as well as they did. See, I’ve known them for a long time. I knew them when they wore patched and re-patched jeans and built roads in the dirt and always had grubby hands.

I remember, along with my sisters, tying one brother up with jump ropes when we babysat him. Now I ask him for financial advice. My brothers used to bug us when my friends came over, always trying to be involved and show off a little. Now, all at least six and a half feet tall, they talk over my head and I try to be taller, to be part of things too.

And my brothers are forgiving. The brother I used to hit with a wooden spoon sent me a $150 gift card for Safeway when Adam lost his job. One brother moved into my room when I went to college. When I came home for Christmas, I gathered up all of his things and threw them on the floor in his old room where the other two boys slept. (Yes, I am still ashamed.) This same brother now gives my kids rides on his horses and encourages me endlessly to do the things that are important to me.

And I knew them when they were teenagers.

How is it that the brother who rigged his truck up with such big speakers that the seats shook and the bass was physically painful, could now cradle his small sons so gently in his big arms? How could my dyslexic brother who always struggled in school and didn’t seem to even mind all that much, speak Korean on his mission? And then become a college graduate? The same brothers who used to stuff me in a closet (which is humiliating when they range from 5 to 10 years younger than you) now own homes and cars and trucks and have wives. And their wives! The same brothers who dated girls that caused their sisters to sigh very deeply, found amazing women to marry. Women those sisters are thrilled to add to their circle.

How did it happen?

I wasn’t around as much to witness my youngest brother as a teenager, so his manhood is sometimes the most startling to me. Somehow he morphed from a little boy, shooting baskets into a hoop standing on an upside down 5 gallon bucket to a college kid clearing a 6’11” bar in a high jump competition. He used to build bridges out of popsicle sticks and now he helps design concrete forms for parking garages. How did that happen?

I’ve never been taken aback by the women my sisters are. I don’t know if it’s because we were invincible teenagers together, sassing our mother and not noticing when we were being brats. Or if it’s because I know them so completely that I always knew their hearts and I knew who they were and who they’d always be.

Sometimes I worried about my brothers though. They were popular which is one of the most dangerous things that can happen to a kid.

I really shouldn’t be so surprised by how they turned out though. They were becoming the men they are all along. They taught us earnest Family Home Evening lessons on flannel boards. They drove too fast, but to seminary and they all served missions. When I didn’t want to drink the milk from Enoch’s milk cow, preferring “real” store bought milk, he’d leave me Drink Milk propaganda on my pillow. Now he convinces people to invest in his real estate deals. Enoch used to push me out of snow banks when he was a seventh grader. Tabor used to make me laugh so hard that it hurt and he still does. When I was a new mother and he was a teenager he gave me advice that was so wise and valuable that I know his now pregnant wife is a blessed woman to have him. Ammon, everyone’s baby, survived having four mothers somehow and survived being the youngest with busy siblings. He used to play chess alone sometimes when no one else was around or willing. He still is one of the most independent people alive. Skillfully navigating his life and avoiding the missteps his older sibling made just as he’s always done.

So my brothers. In my mind they’ll always ride around on stick horses. I’ll always be a little shocked every time I see them unfold their long limbs from their big trucks and unload their young families. I’ll be grateful that I knew them when they smelled like sagebrush and dogs and wore smashed up cowboy hats. And I’ll be grateful I know them now.

And what would Chris Nosworthy say?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


In primary we teach about prayers being answered. We tell simple stories. I recently told my CTR 7 class about a little boy who lost his pet lamb. He prayed and then found the lamb. In primary stories it always works out quickly. In life it doesn’t.

When Adam first lost his job, we lived near San Francisco. We went to the Oakland Temple, to bolster our courage I guess. I sat in the temple, praying and for the only time in my life, heard an audible answer that we would be blessed. I took that to mean a new job. And soon.

It didn’t happen. We prayed and prayed. Adam’s parents offered that we could stay with them. We prayed that he’d find a job before we had to move. Just to avoid the upheaval. The uncertainty. Braeden prayed Dad wouldn’t find a job. So we could go to Grandma and Grandpa’s. His prayers were answered. We moved to Washington. Time passed. Interviews infrequently came and went. Adam did everything he could think of. Everyone gave us advice. We prayed. I remember praying by my bedside, begging. Please, please. We can’t wait any longer. Soon I realized that yes, we could wait longer because we were. My prayers changed a little. I prayed for faith, patience, understanding. I still prayed for a job. Months passed.

Gradually and eventually something happened. Adam found a job. We found a house to rent. It was time to go back to California and get our belongings. We left the kids and Adam and I flew to San Francisco. Adam and men from our ward there loaded up a U-haul. It was a little on the small side but Adam’s good at spatial awareness and he got everything in. We were loaded to the hilt.

We hit the freeway and the truck started to rock if we got past 50 mph. It was alarming. Was the truck going to flip over? Everything we owned was contained in the truck. And we had over 800 miles to go. We talked back and forth about what to do. What was causing this unsettling rocking? How could we fix it? We realized the truck was unbalanced. In an effort to make it all fit, the oak bookcase, washer and dryer and other heavy things were on one side of the truck. If we wanted to travel with any degree of safety, we needed to stop and re arrange. That seemed impossible. It had been hard to make everything fit in the first place. And there had been about 10 men helping. And I was not very strong. And it was raining. How could we unload all our earthly possessions in the rain and reload them? Continuing like we were wasn’t going to work either though.

We stopped at the next rest area. Adam went into the bathroom and I stayed in the truck. My stomach was in knots. I had had a lot of practice praying in the past months and I prayed then. I prayed for some kind of miracle. For the rain to stop, for us to be able to somehow reload the truck. I looked up and saw Adam walking towards the truck and the rain had stopped. Adam climbed into the truck next to me and I told him that I’d just prayed for the rain to stop and it had. He said that he’d prayed for the rain to stop too. We looked at each other and climbed out of the truck to start unloading. Not only did the rain stop, but the wind started to blow. Pretty hard. The wet pavement started to dry. We opened up the truck and unloaded things: heavy things, light things. Soon the now dry pavement was littered with our futon, bookcase, boxes, a lamp. Adam quickly figured out how to get everything back in and I was able to help him. We got back in the truck and started out. The truck wasn’t rocking. We were safe to proceed. And it started to rain again.

Our prayers that day were answered as quickly as if we’d placed the order at a drive up window. We prayed for help, we got it. Like a primary story.

When I think about these two different sets of answered prayers, I wonder which I learned more about prayer from. What if Adam had been able to find a job the day he lost his other one, the day we started praying for him to find a job? We would have missed out on a lot of lessons learned. You’d have had a hard time convincing me at the time but we would have missed out on a lot of blessings too. So many blessings. We moved to Washington which was where we’d always wanted to end up anyway. Our children got a chance to get to know their grandparents. We had a lot of time with Adam. In the years since that Adam’s been working (and I’m grateful he’s been working!) we see much less of him. I feel sorry for Mark because Adam has never had as much time with him as he did with Braeden and Emma, in those days when he was looking for a job. We were blessed with enough of everything we needed. We had a comfortable place to live and food and clothing for our children. My prayers were answered all along the way. We were provided for and learned that we don’t always know when or how our prayers will be answered, but someone does. And they will be answered.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


In the first days of college, I met her. She was funny. That’s what I most remember. We were in different circles that first year but on the same floor, shared the same hallway and bathroom so we knew each other. We were moving off of campus as grown up sophomores and somehow, she and Natalie joined our group and we were all going to be roommates. I considered it a coup. I liked her.

And I was right. The more I got to know her and she revealed her weaknesses and fears and hopes for the future, I loved her. We were friends. She was so cute and charismatic that there was a steady stream of boys in our apartment. She was kind and sincere. She left me witty notes and she was funny, wickedly funny.

Every Thursday night, she’d tell us something interesting she’d learned in anatomy. Something for our “gee whiz” file, she’d say. When I was in the middle of a bleak bleak time she picked me up and loved me and made me laugh and made me have a good time. (Like I said, there WAS a steady stream of boys because of her.) Our junior year, we shared a room. She hung a huge canvas she’d painted on the wall above her bed. She’d push her snooze button over and over until I had to beg for mercy. One night she and Rachel and I read the entire novel, Love Story out loud to each other and cried together.

That year she had a boyfriend and she often invited me along as the third wheel. I felt uncomfortable at times, not sure I should tag along, but she assured me it was more fun when I was there and they invited me to take a spontaneous trip to San Francisco with them one weekend. We saw all the sights there were to be seen that were free and dodged people acting crazy on the piers and ate clam chowder in bread bowls and laughed a lot.

As we were driving home over the Sierra mountains she taught me every word of Carol of the Bells.

At the semester, she left school and served a mission. I got newsy letters from France. Funny letters that cheered me up and made me laugh and sigh and miss her. I married Adam while she was gone and was happy when she got home. Adam dropped me off at her family’s house and went who knows where and left me to chat with her for hours. I had graduated by then and she was still going to BYU. We saw each other infrequently and she’d still leave funny notes on my apartment door sometimes. When Braeden was born she gave me a baby blanket she’d had her aunt knit for me. I talked to her the night before I moved to Connecticut.

We kept in touch. We wrote a few emails and letters and called each other. With less and less frequency I guess as our lives moved on because suddenly I’d lost touch with her. She didn’t return my calls or emails or letters. I talked to Rachel and she said that she’d been really abrupt and changed somehow the last time she’d talked with her. I talked to Erin and she hadn’t talked to her or heard from her. I was worried. Had something happened?

Years passed and occasionally I’d try to find her. I never had any luck.

Then one day I got a letter from her, my mom had forwarded it to me because it had been sent there. I don’t remember the entire letter but one phrase won’t leave my mind, “I’m not writing to rekindle any friendship.” She had written to say she’d forgiven me. What?! I read on. She outlined things that made no sense. Things that couldn’t have happened. I couldn’t understand. I called Adam at work. I asked him about it, making sure I remembered my life. He said I was right. I called my sisters. If anyone knows my history, they do. Could this have happened? She’s not right—how could she be so mistaken? They didn’t know. They told me that what she said couldn’t be true. I didn’t think so but how could she have thought that, my friend…my smart and funny friend? They didn’t know.

She had left an email address in the letter. I wrote immediately. I tried to explain that I didn’t know what she was talking about. I apologized. I said please let’s be friends. I didn’t hear back from her.

I wrote her a few more times until I got an email back saying that was no longer an active account. I’ve looked her up on the internet. I figured out that she’s married. I’m dying to know what he’s like. How did they meet? Is she happy? And she has a son. I wish I could have made her a baby blanket. I wish I could have talked with her about the startling proposition of motherhood but I can’t.

I want to say, remember building that 7 foot tall Buddha snowman in Kiwana’s Park? Remember when we were taking a pumpkin pie over to some of the boys we knew and Natalie slipped on the ice and she went one way and the pie went the other way? Remember when we went to the Indiana Jones trilogy starting at midnight? We stumbled out into the daylight and went home and slept all day even though we should have been studying for finals? Remember?

I should just let it go. I am not lonely; I have wonderful friends. Friends that are beautiful and charming and funny. Friends that make me happy and are steadfast and forgiving. I should be indignant and forget her because it was all a big misunderstanding and I honestly don’t know what I even did. But I can’t. She’s my friend.


I wish I could bottle up last night, put it on a shelf and save it for a day next February when I’ve forgotten what blue sky looks like. Last night is why people live in Seattle. It’s what makes all that rain worthwhile.
Adam had a meeting late enough that he’d miss his usual train and the next train wouldn’t leave until over an hour after his meeting. He’d get home about the kids’ bedtime. I decided to go pick him up. We didn’t get home any earlier but we were together.

We had dinner then walked along the waterfront towards the sculpture park. Adam and the boys watched a seal while Emma and I lagged behind and she told me about The Golden River, a story she’s writing. We watched jellyfish in their graceful dance of rising and falling in the water. We saw ferries and sailboats and birds and a glorious sky. Between the water, sky and near and distant mountains, there were too many shades of blue to count. It was just beautiful.

We puzzled over some of the abstract sculptures then read their descriptions on the little plaques. Oh, OK, I guess that’s an eagle. I explained to Emma what a typewriter eraser is (there’s a sculpture of one). First I had to explain what a typewriter is.

We made our way to the small beach and threw rocks in the water. The kids scrambled up rocks and Adam and I sat on a huge log and I called over to Mark to be careful. I think it’s one of the main things he hears me say. It was perfect. The weather was the perfect temperature. Everyone was comfortable…me in my sweatshirt and everyone else in the family happily in t-shirts.
On our way back we walked along the lower side of the park and none of the kids could resist the steep grassy hill. They charged up it and rolled down it until they were dizzy. Well, except Mark, he didn’t really get the rolling concept and mostly just hurled himself down the hill.

(Be careful, Mark.)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Climate Controlled

I love going to Alfy’s. It’s the pizza restaurant near our house. We ate lunch there yesterday to celebrate the last day of school. We’ve celebrated birthdays there, the end of Braeden’s soccer season, (and I really felt like celebrating it being over because I hated it so much), and the end of Braeden’s basketball season with awards from his coach.

We’ve gone to Alfy’s on hot days when our big western facing windows made our house too miserable for cooking dinner. We’ve gone to Alfy’s tired, sunburned and sandy, on our way home from playing all day at the river. We’ve gone to Alfy’s on nights when I’ve had a bad day and Adam realizes it and says, let’s go to Alfy’s for dinner. (one reason to love him so much) We’ve gone to Alfy’s in the middle of winter storms when our power has been knocked out and they have power.

It’s always the same there. Climate controlled. The same guy has even worked behind the counter for the 6 years we’ve been going there. The d├ęcor hasn’t changed. Bold and warm; red and green. Not trying too hard to be Italian because we are, after all, in Everett, WA.

It’s safe and comforting to have places you can go to that are a refuge. One summer we were reeling in instability. Adam’s company had folded so he was looking for a job. Our lease was up on our house and we needed to move. We had less money than we’d had in our entire married life and three children. We found a house to move into and on the day we moved in, surrounded by the chaos and inevitable mess of moving, we were overpowered by a stench coming from the new refrigerator and there was filth and dog hair in the bathroom left by the owners. I can’t remember the reason, maybe we just fabricated one, but we went to visit Adam’s parents. Just walking into the soothing and familiar order of their house bolstered me. I felt like we’d survive. With them as our anchor, we could start over again and make it…and we did.

Sometimes our troubles are much more internal and less obvious. Sometimes I feel inside like I’m not waving but drowning. And I go to church. I see people in the hall and their faces automatically turn into smiles. I find myself smiling back. I sit in sacrament meeting and mindlessly twirl my finger around my daughter’s hair. I feel a surge of love for my children that is restorative. I open the hymnbook to the song we’re singing. A song I have sung since I was a little girl and know by heart. I’m going to be OK. I hear a familiar bit of Gospel truth from one of the speakers or in one of the songs and the Spirit touches my heart and I am reminded of what I know and believe. I am going to be just fine.

And who knows, maybe sometime I’ve smiled automatically at someone in the hall at church, someone that was hurting inside, and maybe that made a small difference for them too.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Making Potato Salad

I didn’t always like having brown eyes. My sister Marianne had blue eyes and she was older, taller and knew more about the world than I did. If I wasn’t like her, maybe I was the wrong one. (It didn’t help that I was also left handed and she was right handed…why did I have to be the one with so many flaws?)

We had Grandma with the Brown Eyes though. She was our great grandma, the mother of our grandpa who died when we were too young to remember him. We loved Grandma with the Brown Eyes! Among her charms were her sparkling disposition, lively family stories and pink phone in her’50s era rambler. She also had brown eyes. She greeted me by asking, “How are my brown eyes?” Her good-byes included, “Take care of my brown eyes.” When we visited her I thought that perhaps I was the luckiest girl alive to be blessed with brown eyes.

Different families have different legacies. Our parents have the dual history of pioneers—mainly from Scandinavia or Great Britain—crossing the plains to the West. Because of the entertaining stories Grandma with the Brown Eyes told us, I know more about her branch of the family than any other. She had a framed portrait of my grandpa, her son, looking handsome in his Army uniform with hat at a jaunty angle. I remember her taking the time to take my finger and point out pictures and names in her large Book Of Remembrance. She had a table covered with a piece of glass with more pictures underneath that she carefully told me about one by one.

Henrietta, her grandmother, crossed the plains when she was five and some nights cried for even a crust of bread. Sarah, her mother, was a beauty, widowed at a young age. They were characters alive. I felt roots sinking into the earth beneath me.

When I think of my great grandma, I think of those hazy early childhood memories in her wonderful house, I think of the pioneer stories, I think of the huge snowballs and peonies she grew on bushes in her yard and I think of potato salad.

One summer, when I was a little older and had I’m sure graduated from calling her Grandma with the Brown Eyes to Great Grandma Jaynes, she was visiting us along with her daughter-in-law, my grandma. My mom was making potato salad and asked my great grandma to make the dressing. She said, “No one makes potato salad like you do.” I think because I was old enough to appreciate what a good cook my mom was yet young enough to still think my mom must know everything, I was awed by that request. Great Grandma’s potato salad must be amazing.

I was old enough to help too. Old enough to feel grown up gathered around my mother’s kitchen table with paring knife in hand, peeling eggs and potatoes and slicing them. I was happily ensconced in a maternal nest that spanned four generations.

When I was in high school my great grandma died and I don’t think I’ve ever quite gotten over it.

I still love making potato salad. I have never made it for my family…I don’t really like it all that much. I love being gathered around the red checked tablecloth in my parents’ kitchen with my mom and sisters though. We peel and chop and talk until our hands are starchy and our souls are restored. The kind of restoration that always happens when you can reconnect and remember.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Books To Read

Perhaps later I’ll come up with a good way to organize these books but until then it’s just a jumbled list. I have two big disclaimers: I won’t be necessarily reading everything before I put it on this list and I also have a bad memory when it comes to the less than desirable parts of books. So if you come across a book on this list that is offensive, please stop reading it and forgive me.

Happy reading!

By Fannie Flagg:
Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven
Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man
Welcome to the World, Baby Girl
Standing in the Rainbow

ANYTHING by Maeve Binchey or Jane Austen

The Ultimate Gift by Jim Stovall

Looking Like the Enemy by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald

The Road by Cormac Mccarthy

By Jeanne Ray
Eat Cake
Step Ball Change

By Lawana Blackwell
Maiden of Mayfair
Widow of Larkspur Inn
The Courtship of the Vicar’s Daughter
A Dowry for Miss Lydia Clark
A Table by the Window

By Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Peter and The Star Catchers
Peter and The Shadow Thieves
Escape from Carnivale

By Shannon Hale
The Princess Academy
The Goose Girl
Enna Burning
River Secrets

A Dance for Three by Louise Plummer

By Eloise Jarvis McGraw
Mara Daughter of the Nile
The Golden Goblet

By Cynthia Voigt
Solitary Blue
Dicey’s Song
The Runner

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

For our July 2007 book club we had readers' choice. Here are the suggestions made:

If (Questions for the Game of Life) by Evelyn McFarlane and James Saywell

This book was less of a recommendation and more of a fun diversion for us, courtesty of Teresa.

Teresa recommend:

Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
She Said Yes by Misty Bernall (the story of a girl killed at Columbine High School because she refused to deny she was Christian)
The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny (a fantasy series)

Doreen recommended:

Monk series, Inspector Pitt series and a series about WWI, all by Anne Perry
mystery series by Dianne Mott Davidson
Hannah Swenson series by Joanne Fluke
Navajo series by Tony Hillerman

Ann recommended:

books by Anne McCaffrey--The Ship Who Sang among others (science fiction)
Dragon Rider Series by Anne McCaffrey
Death In-- series by M.M. Kaye
The Far Pavilion by M.M. Kaye
The Tilsit Inheritance by Catherine Gaskin
Edge of Glass by Catherine Gaskin
Property of a Gentleman by Catherine Gaskin
books by Dick Francis
The Cat Who--series by Lillian Jackson Brown
Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter
The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley
Exodus by Lion Uris
The Silver Chalice by Thomas B. Costain
anything by Mary Stewart
Love, Greg and Lauren by Greg Manning (chronicles the recovery of a World Trade Center survivor)

Stephanie recommended:

Tiger Tiger by Lynn Reid Banks (young adult fiction set in ancient Rome)
Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman (set in the town in New Mexico Stephanie is from!)

Thelma recommended:

Tall Weeds by Sandra Dallas (by the author of Persian Pickle club)
Victorian Serenade series by Lawana Blackwell
Loser by Jerry Spinelli (young adult fiction)

Suzanne recommended:

Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt (young adult fiction)

Jolyn recommended:

These is My Words by Nancy Turner
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman (essays on books)
Riddled With Life by Marlene Zuk (non fiction about the symbiotic relationship between humans and parasites...yes, Jolyn is intimidatingly academic here!)

Becky recommended:

If Life Were Easy It Wouldn't Be So Hard by Sheri Dew
He Did Deliver Me From Bondage by Colleen C. Harrison (book about overcoming addiction using the Savior for help...sounds great)
Drawing on the Powers of Heaven by Grant Von Harrison

Kim recommended:

Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer (a series that's keeping Kim up all night reading...set in Forks, WA)
Mole People by Jennifer Toth (about people living under the streets of NYC)

Heidi recommended:

The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (an Oprah book)

If you have comments about a particular book on this list please leave them. If you want to add something to the list, please email me and I will add it for you.

That's all for now...I'll add more as I think of them.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Here We Go A WASLing

Since I home school my children, taking them to school usually means yelling down the stairs, “School time!” Today was different. It’s time for the WASL test. Sounds like a festive holiday drink but really it’s the Washington Assessment of Student Learning and puts a bit of fear in the hearts of all the Washington learning students’ mothers.

I had to take Braeden to the Everett Boys and Girls Club for the day. I had him there a little after 8:00 and I can pick him up after 3:00. I was shocked when I first read the schedule a few weeks ago. They really expected me to drop him off to perfect strangers all day for an entire week? I know most mothers of ten year olds in America do that every day. Call me a late bloomer. I mustered my courage and told Braeden in a cheery voice, resolved to be tough for him. Not let him see my anxiety. I didn’t want to stress him out too. When you’re the mother you have to be a pillar of strength. It’s part of the job description.

He said, “Cool!” (C’mon Braeden, could you show a little devastation? For me?)

I’ve had a pit in my stomach for days.

I talked to Adam on the phone last night (still in London). I said, “I wish you were here to tell me that I’m overreacting and he’ll be fine.” He said, “You’re overreacting. He’ll be fine.” Then he added, “It is a pretty big deal though…and he’s never done anything like this.”

I didn’t know whether to be grateful for the validation or not. It is comfortable sometimes to think you’re just overreacting.

So I didn’t sleep well and wasn’t hungry for my breakfast this morning. I made sure Braeden’s little backpack was packed…dictionary, thesaurus, calculator, protractor, two number 2 pencils. I checked and re checked his lunch. Braeden casually ate his Cheerios and made jokes with Emma.

In the van I asked him how he was feeling. He said, “Fine…maybe a little nervous but just because I don’t know what it’s going to be like the first day.” (Do we share the same DNA?) Ever able to read me, he said, “Are you nervous Mom?’

“Oh, no,” I lied, “What do I have to be nervous about?”

We got to the Boys and Girl’s Club and he said, “I can just go in Mom. You don’t have to take me.” What?! I told him I needed to sign him in anyway. While we were walking to the door I thought this whole thing might be easier if he was sobbing and clinging to my leg. I never should have set him down when he was a toddler. He’s been moving away from me ever since and I’m not ready for this.

I shook the hand of the teacher in charge of his testing. She looked very young. Is she reliable? Will she take care of my baby? Braeden walked confidently over to the table to get a nametag and greet the other kids clustered around a table. I thought, I guess that’s it. I walked over to say good-bye, unsure how he’d feel about any display of affection. I said, “Good-bye Braeden.” He said, “See ya Mom,” and threw his arms around my waist in a quick hug.

He knew I needed the reassurance.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Pathetic vs. Enlightened

Adam left for London on Tuesday so I told our kids that we’d have a celebration on Monday night. Braeden thought that was very rude to celebrate the fact that he was leaving but I assured him it was more of a celebration of how much we love him and acknowledgement of how much we’d miss him. Braeden grudgingly accepted that.

I planned pizza for dinner (Adam’s favorite) and asked Adam to pick up root beer and ice cream on his way home from work for Family Home Evening refreshments…root beer floats being a favorite of Adam’s. I know what you’re thinking…what a good wife!

So Adam promptly forgot the root beer and ice cream. He got home and said, “I’ll go to the store right now.” (I wonder if he’d have been so willing if it was something like a can of soup that he’d forgotten?) He gave me a somewhat wicked grin and asked, “Do you want to come with me?”

I did a quick survey. The pizza dough was raising, Emma was at her friend Eshna’s house and Braeden’s friend Dillon was over at our house. I told Braeden and Dillon they were in charge of Mark. (Dillon’s 13 so I was completely legal.) We hurried out to the car and it felt like the last day of school or changing into tennis shoes after trudging around the playground in heavy snow boots all recess. What a thrill! An impromptu trip to the grocery store alone with Adam!

We bypassed the shopping carts and headed straight for the freezer case. No pushing Mark in one of those carts with a car in the front. No telling him to stick his head in the little car window so he doesn’t bash it into anything. No telling Mark to climb down from the top of the car where he climbs every time I slow the shopping cart down. We just walked to the freezer case.

We had a slight delay over the vanilla ice cream because Adam wanted to buy the very cheapest possible ice cream and I had to remind him that you can only make a truly good root beer float with the really good ice cream with little vanilla bean specks. Sometimes I need to help Adam when it comes to the finer things of life. We grabbed a 2 liter of root beer and were in and out of the checkout line in a flash. No one asked for candy. No one hung upside down on the bars separating checkout stands and no one asked to push the button after I zipped my credit card through the machine. Adam grabbed the grocery bag and I grabbed his other hand and we walked back to our car in a state of bliss.

How pathetic are our lives that a trip to the grocery store that took about 15 minutes was such a highlight?

Maybe though, we’re very enlightened…able to enjoy the small moments where we can steal them. I’ll choose the latter. I have to take what I can get.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Three Car Seats; Will Travel

I figured I could do it. No problem. I’m a strong woman from pioneer stock. I have an ancestor who walked to the West while eight months pregnant. Surely I could make an 800-mile trip from Seattle to rural Nevada to visit my parents in an air-conditioned minivan. With my three children. Alone.

We left home in high spirits. We were armed with good driving music, a menagerie of stuffed animals and action figures and the indispensable car tv/vcr. As we pulled into our first gas station, a pattern emerged. Six-year old Braeden said he needed to go to the bathroom. Four-year old Emma declared adamantly that she did not. I told her to go anyway and then she couldn’t find one of her sandals. Seven-month old Mark, awakened from his motion-induced reverie, started to fuss, then wail.

Back on the road I found myself in the vicious cycle of trying to keep my children, accustomed to the mild moist weather of the Pacific northwest, hydrated as we drove across the desert and dealing with the bathroom breaks. And they were often. And I know what every mother knows. When they say it’s an emergency, it is.

As the minutes ticked by faster than the miles I also learned two important truths. Lesson number one: Fast food is worth its weight in gold. I had resolved to be the Good Mother. We weren’t going to fill up on junk food while we drove. I had a carefully packed cooler of sandwiches (made with wheat bread no less), string cheese, grapes and yes, chocolate pudding (I have a soul after all). I pulled off the freeway in sunny Prosser, Washington at a grassy rest area. I pictured the idyllic scene of a leisurely family picnic. What looked sunny and pleasant from my air-conditioned vantage point was really a blistering 104 degrees and the scrubby tree we cowered under for shade didn’t help much. The jar of baby food that I was feeding to Mark ended up largely on my leg, which I was using to corral him while I tried to feed him. The kids actually begged me to get back into the van. Dinnertime found us in Ontario, Oregon where it was 110 degrees. We found refuge in a fast food restaurant, scooping up French fries dipped in dangerous amounts of ketchup and soaking up the air conditioning. For the rest of the trip I abandoned all pretense of being the Good Mother and sought kids’ meal toys—which are a lifesaving new distraction as long as each child’s is EXACTLY the same—and a grimy high chair to keep the pureed peaches more in Mark’s mouth and less on me.

Lesson number two: Wear pants with an elasticized waist. Unwilling to put him on the questionable floors of public restrooms, I had to tuck a very squirmy Mark under my arm to button and unbutton my jeans. Enough said; lesson learned.

When we finally got to my parents’ house, the quiet setting and stillness soothed my soul. I told my dad I was never happier to be anywhere and I told Adam on the phone that I was never coming back. If he wanted me, he’d have to come and get me. I guess like giving birth, you forget the pain though because after a few days of not being in the van it didn’t seem so bad. By the time our week’s visit was over, I had mustered enough courage for the drive home.

Our return journey taught its own lessons. I learned that no amount of scolding and muttering under my breath will change the fact that Braeden can’t open the van door from inside if the child lock has been accidentally activated. Luckily Braeden is very forgiving. Also, even if you think you’re cleverly taking a shortcut, if the road is unfamiliar and you’re not sure of the speed limit, you just might get a ticket from one of Oregon’s finest. It didn’t help that I was sorely distracted by Mark, who’d had it and was screaming and by Braeden and Emma who had to yell at each other to be heard over the racket Mark was making. The police officer that pulled me over had little sympathy for my plight. Chuckling, he looked into the backseat at Mark. “Well someone’s not happy,” he said as he handed me my ticket. Actually two of us weren’t very happy.

After we’d arrived home and gathered up all the toys from the van floor (somehow they multiply), Adam asked me if it had been worth the trip. I told him to ask me again in a few days. I’ve thought about it though and when I remember my children snuggled on my mother’s lap in the still twilight, having just witnessed a brilliant Nevada sunset from the front porch, I know I’d do it again. When I remember Braeden and his grandpa laughing at each other’s jokes or Emma, with about thirty barrettes in her hair lovingly placed by her cousin, I know it really was a great trip. I think more than the endless driving and fighting in the backseat over whose SPYKIDS 3 glasses were whose, my kids will remember me showing them my childhood swimming hole and their grandma telling them stories about listening to the same crickets when she was a little girl. I know I will.

Beige Suburb Blues

A while ago, I felt like I was drowning a beige death in the suburbs. How many possible shades of beige can houses be painted? Sometimes the suburbs really drag me down. Everyone is the same. Everyone in their big houses and small yards and mini vans and SUVs and fences the exact height that the homeowners' association dictates. Adam said that maybe I need to make more friends...get involved in more groups. NO! I need to be a part of FEWER things. I want to be just a little bit different. I want to be unique and less like these blander than dry toast suburbs. That's when I think I lost him. I don't completely get it myself. I grew up in very rural Nevada and while it does my soul so much good to go there periodically and look at the uninterrupted horizons and the enormous sky, I really don't want to go back there permanently. Costco and Target and the library and the doctors and dentists are just so very convenient here!

On the other hand, I am not ready to move to the city. I like the relative safety of the 'burbs and being able to send my kids out to play and know that they're safe. It's nice and quiet here on my street.

So what IS it I want? I don't know. At the pinnacle of this I'm-going-crazy-because-of-the-suburbs crisis, (and it was really less crisis and more inner whining), we were driving as a family through downtown Seattle and Adam, who is always much better at spontaneity than I am, decided to stop and have us wander through Freeway Park which is a park downtown that is built over the freeway--hence the name. There were all sorts of zany characters in the park and they looked at us with the same curiosity that we looked at them. Why are those school-age kids not in school? Where did that kid with the red curly hair get all of that energy? Why are their parents ambling along holding hands in the middle of the day? I felt like I could breathe again.

I think I've come to the conclusion that occasionally--regularly-- I need to step off the hamster wheel that is my life and take time to do things like write an old friend a long email, or make sugar cookies with my kids or do something creative. The never ending cycles of laundry, home-schooling, cooking, cleaning, cub scouts, piano lessons and flossing my teeth every day can not be what my life is about--who I am. If they are then I will always have this silent whining going on in my head.

So I am not the sum total of my to-do list (or more accurately what I didn't get done on my to-do list). I am someone with children, a husband and friends. I can make my house look fairly presentable if given about 15 minutes, I am really good at making brownies and finding good deals at the grocery store. We have a pathetic little yard and a beige house in the suburbs where we are safe and comfortable and usually pretty happy. And that's a rather impressive resume.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


I read that nearly one in six women take antidepressants. That astounded me. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a medicine enthusiast. I take Advil at the first sign of a headache and Dimetapp at the first sign of a sniffle. Also, if I felt now like I did when I had post partum depression, I’d be signing up somewhere for an antidepressant. I started thinking about antidepressants though. Surely I’m as unsteady as at least some of those one in six women (just ask Adam if you need proof—he’ll tell you). Why don’t I need antidepressants?

It’s because of my friends. They are human antidepressants. Marie in high school whose companionship assured me that although I was out of step with the comings and goings of what girls in my school were supposed to be doing, I was someone. I was part of Marie and Thelma, best friends. I was going places. Erin and Jamee and Rachel in college who laughed with me and led me on adventures when home was far away and boys didn’t return my crushes and studying was too mind numbing.

Then I married and moved across the country, to a place where I knew no one and no one knew me. I still had the lifeline of the phone but when I looked out my window at the foreign country that was New Haven, Connecticut, I was on my own. Then I met Apryl, then Mindy, then Lisa. They taught me as much as Parent’s magazine how to be a mother. We refereed our preschoolers’ playgroups and took walks together behind strollers. We celebrated each other’s pregnancies and births and children’s birthdays. I belonged to a group. When I gave birth to Emma and months later contracted mono, they were at the helm, caring not only for me but my children.

Our husbands finished their degrees and the relentless current of life separated us all from there. I moved on to California and right next door to Patty. Patty, the ultimate antidepressant. Never had I found a kindred spirit so quickly. It wasn’t very long at all until my day wasn’t complete unless I’d checked in with Patty and chatted. She was the one I turned to when Adam lost his job. I remember where I was sitting in her cozy apartment and the look of concern on her face as she handed me Kleenex and just listened, murmuring her condolences at all the right places.

My (let’s hope) final stop was to Washington. In Washington there’s Maria who threw me a baby shower and gave me more love and attention than anyone deserves. There was Anna who took daily walks with me, again behind strollers, and always amazed me with her deft handling of everything. You need friends like that to inspire you. Then there’s Janet. Janet, who I could talk to all day. Janet, who’s seen me at my worst and listened to me cry and who loves me anyway. If everyone had a Janet in their life there would be no therapists.

I am also lucky to have the slow release, long lasting antidepressants that are my sisters. My friends, to my constant dismay and sorrow, come and go as moves happen and life changes but my sisters are always there. It’s my sisters that saw me through glasses and braces and really bad hair. They were there through mean cousins, summer jobs as waitresses in casinos, and unfortunate fashion sense. They were with me in college and took a great deal of the edge off homesickness. Now they’re on the phone, reminding me who I am and where I came from and that they know me better than that.

So I’m one of the five out of six that doesn’t take antidepressants. I’m sure I could easily be one of the 1/6th, but I have my friends. They listen.

Useless Information

I wish the space in my brain that held useless information would relinquish some of it to the storage of useful information that I have a hard time hanging onto.

I can remember the birthdays of most of the kids I went to elementary school with. These are kids that are permanently frozen in time in my mind because I never see them or even think about them now…except for occasionally on their birthdays. Tanya Linnell, May 31: Brian McIntosh, August 30: Wyatt Winchell and Roland Archuleta, March 5: Aurora Salazar, April 4.

I can not remember how to order prints of pictures I took from with my digital camera on even though Adam has shown me several times how to do it. It would be useful to know how.

I can remember the cheers that were chanted at high school basketball and football games and pep rallies. I wasn’t a cheerleader. I no longer live in the same town or even go to high school basketball or football games in my current town. But I know all the cheers. “L-L-L-E-O, P-P-P-A-R, L-E-O, P-A-R, Dddddddddd-S!” (We were the Wells Leopards.) “California Grapefruit, Arizona Cactus, We play your team just for practice.” “Our boys are F-I-N-E fine on the L-I-N-E line and we L-O-V-E love them all the T-I-M-E time. They are the B-E-S-T best of all the R-E-S-T rest and we L-O-V-E love them all the T-I-M-E time.” I could go on and on.

I can not remember directions to anyplace unless I’ve driven there at least 5-10 times. (Riding there in a car does not help.) It would be useful to remember directions. But I can’t.

Today I got three Happy Meals at McDonald’s. One for each kid. The toys were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Emma said, “Mom, did you know that one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is named Leonardo?” To them TMNT are at the cutting edge of new toys. I said that as a matter of fact I did and that the other turtles were named Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael. (I didn’t realize that I knew this useless information but I did have a cousin who was VERY into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.) Braeden looked at me with a mixture of awe and respect that only a ten year old who calls all of his friends “Dude” can achieve. He asked, “How did you KNOW that?” I basked in the pleasure of his admiration—which happens less and less the taller he gets. I guess that sometimes, useless information comes in handy.


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