Friday, May 12, 2017

Almost Summer

We are down to two weeks left in this school year. Big things are happening -- like Abe taking his first ever AP test. (European history. He'll do great. While his friends joked about it having done little more than provide a nice door stop over the year, the kid actually READ the class's massive text book and is often found to be telling me things like how funny it was that for a moment he accidentally paired Catherine of such and such with Henry or Edward of whichever number when they would have made such an obviously opposing pair).

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And small things are happening . . . like me deciding Jesse and I have done his homework assignments enough times for the year. (Shhhhh.)

And in between things are happening -- like Daisy talking about end-of-year parties with friends, and Goldie and Penny signing up for a running camp, and me looking at the calendar and asking Mike about vacation days in an effort to find at least one long stretch in which we can manage to be at Bear Lake (and wondering if it will be with a repaired cabin basement [the flood!!!] or not), and Penny reminding us that Northern Ice (a seasonal snow cone place behind our local grocery store) is open again, and Anders insisting he's too scared to go to swimming lessons and too scared to leave me and go to kindergarten when the summer ends, and everyone wondering what they will do for books all summer with our library having just closed its doors in preparation to be demolished (and rebuilt).

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At times we think about big things like about how we only have a few more summers like this – all of us together for whatever adventures or chores come each day – before life will begin shifting to something very different: kids on missions, kids in college, and me no longer wholly involved in the crafting of each day for all of my children. Or we think about last summer – how it started out just like this, with no major expectations, but suddenly changed directions – handing us a three week impossible rollercoaster of “Dad (grandpa) is recovering. No, he’s dying. No surely he’s recovering. No, I think he is leaving.” And then his death. And then an unexpected month 2,000 miles from home.

But mostly we think ordinary thoughts involving whatever things are happening during whatever day we happen to be living.

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Such as:

Hans just hit four months. At three months babies can still pass for newborn-ish, but four months seems to complete the transition to . . . baby. After all, he’s beginning to sleep swaddle-free, stay somewhat upright in a stroller, and wear the clothes from boxes that I never bothered to pull out when he was first coming (because him being that big was an eternity away). It was hard, I think, adjusting to a newborn with two little toddlers running about; but I can’t be absolutely certain; because before I had a chance to really decide how hard it was, or wasn’t, he’d left newborn-ness behind. He’s a pleasant little fellow though. Calm and undemanding. I am forever having to go check to see if he has woken from his naps because he’s far too polite to ever cry to let me know he’s up. He’ll just lie there – patiently looking about or scratching his fingers on the side of his bassinet a bit as he waits for someone to notice that he could use a little attention.

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And also . . . for one brief, glorious moment, we had a pet squirrel. I suppose he wasn’t ours exactly, but he was here. We first caught sight of him during a Sunday dinner as he dashed along the strip of rock and bushes against our back fence. Mike insisted he would never stay (as we’ve nothing for him here), but I saw him day after day for the next week. He kept growing bolder and bolder -- throwing in, amongst his dashing, more and more intervals of . . . sitting (and nibbling on what, for all the world appeared to be weeds -- which, of course, couldn't possibly be true, [because too good to be true] and yet?) And we'd NEVER had any squirrels in our yard! Only rats. (And the rats, unfair though it may be, only filled me with low level revulsion. Poor things. I feel terrible even admitting it. What about Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh? I CRIED at the death of rats then!) Still, the case remained: I was thrilled to have the rats gone but delighted over the possibility of the squirrel -- our squirrel -- staying! I knew they could be a nuisance. My dad used to shake his fist at the squirrels in our backyard. They'd pick our apricots, take one bite in order to reach the pit, and throw the rest of the fruit to the ground. But even with their apricot-ruining ways I’d liked watching them run along our telephone wires and up and down our trees, and I couldn’t think of anything I minded a squirrel taking here in my own yard. He was welcome to our chicken feed and we had no fruit. So Penny named him acorn and I continued shouting, “Look! There’s the squirrel!” every chance I got. And then, he left.

Which is a bit of a sad ending, but an ending all the same, and off I go to feed the little people some lunch (and one of them just came in saying she’d stepped in chicken poop so . . . it’s somewhat pressing that I set this aside).

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Spreading Light

I’ve been thinking often lately of light. Specifically the light that encompasses all light – the light of Christ: the power, energy and influence that emanates from Him and gives mankind conscience, recognition of beauty and good, and even illuminates our mind with remembrance of all things related to our former heavenly home and all things natural to our truest inner being. At least, that’s what I believe it does, and why I believe the scriptures can truly say that all good comes from Him. (Moroni 7: 12, James 1: 17, Ether 4: 12, etc.) I believe that light always reminds us of who we truly are and motivates us to love, create, reach out, laugh, hope and even simply recognize happiness in our lives and enjoy things that we might not otherwise see. I believe our spirit is drawn to that light almost like a magnet and that it is so familiar to us that we often fail to realize how readily we feel and connect to it in even the most ordinary routines of our day, and how commonly it is expressed in even our simplest actions (and interactions), or felt in our emotions and desires.

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I know some of my dear friends who read here don’t share my beliefs, but we do seem to share similar core feelings and similar desires to become good and to embrace beauty, and I think that all of them would agree with my feelings on light – even if they don’t define the source as I do. Perhaps they would relate to the concept more fully as the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau did when he said, “. . . there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we . . . yield to it, will direct us aright. It is not indifferent to us which way we walk. There is a right way . . .”. I love that quote. And it is this same “subtle magnetism” that I call the light of Christ.

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More and more I am coming to see (though still struggling to put into practice) that we are constantly – at nearly every moment – in a position to spread, expand, and increase that light . . . or to stifle or even diminish it (and, at the very worst, to allow its opposite to gain a stronger hold). Which is why the smallest things do matter – the way we choose to interact and respond to even the seemingly most insignificant things is not, in fact, insignificant at all because when we choose light – when I say something pleasant to the cashier at the grocery store, or speak with gentleness when I am tempted towards annoyance with one of my children, when I thank Mike rather than complain, share a compliment, give a kind answer to an unkind comment, or nod acknowledgement to the driver of a car who just let me in – I am allowing that light to move forward, uninhibited in my sphere and the sphere of those around me, I am opening hearts and minds (including my own) to accept, feel and act upon even more light. And we feel it, don’t we? I know we do. Even someone pausing to hold a door for me as I head into a building causes my mind to feel an extension of light. Every time I read the scriptural words about darkness in the world, but the saints of God being “armed with righteousness”, I see them in my mind – people, dotting the whole earth, covered in armor and surrounded by powerful, glowing, circles of light. I see them shining out -- pushing back and fending off the darkness, extending light to others, and filling them with goodness and hope and love.

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The other day I received an email from Goldie’s English teacher. In her own moment of spreading goodness, she paused from the grading and preparing for her six English classes full of junior high kids, to find my email address and send me a note telling me how much she loved having Goldie as a student, and how amazed she was by Goldie’s kindness. And there it is. After receiving that message, I told my kids that being impressive or popular or well known among even an entire school full of their peers is, in truth, of no consequence. There are so many people who exist in this world and who have existed and yet will exist, that any opinion of any number of mankind here is utterly insignificant. BUT, to extend a kindness or lighten a load or give a small increase in happiness to one individual? THAT is everything. To increase joy even in the smallest degree to a single soul? That is significant. It scares me sending my children out into this world. I often want to keep them encapsulated in a bubble of safety – far from any darkness that might filter down on them. But, they have light to share! They have goodness to spread! And to extend that in the world – and be extended by those who will reach it out to them? That matters eternally.

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Wind Chimes

Saturday night the wind blew and blew -- knocking the kids' labeled Solo cups off of the counter above the kitchen sink, scattering loose pages of sheet music from the piano, and, finally, cooling our house from the 79 degrees it had sat at all day (though not nearly as quickly as it might have had our home so much as a single window on its east side). A stepping stool braced our bedroom door open against the wall (so the wind wouldn't rattle it around or bang it shut and wake little Hansie [who is nearly the size of his bassinet now and probably ready to be moved to a crib in the boys' room]). And the sound of our neighbor's wind chimes kept blowing in through our open windows -- making me nostalgic for my dad's old office.

It sat snugly in the topmost corner of our home (just across the landing from our huge attic and up the same flight of stairs that, when we were little and would come to tell him dinner was ready, he would carry us down -- letting us turn the lights off with our toes). It's where he typed, graded papers, listened to the likes of Mahler on KBYU-FM; and kept a couch for brief naps for him, and constant visits from his children. He used to hand me a sheet of typing paper and a red or black felt-tip marker so I could draw (using the manilla writing board he kept tucked by the side of his couch). One time, when I had just learned, vaguely, the concept of tithing, I went to his office requesting that he give me some money I could use as a tithe. He smiled, explained the law more clearly, but gave me a quarter for tithing all the same. It's where I went when, about to enter first grade, I was worried about what I would do if every kid had a pencil on their desk and I didn't, and when I fretted I wouldn't be able to find my family on the grand morning of the resurrection, and when I was heartbroken over having been told unicorns didn't exist. And, in later years, I came occasionally to talk, or to ask for a priesthood blessing, but more often simply to lie on his couch, listen to his fingers tapping away on his type-writer (and, eventually, computer keypad), and escape the noise and bustle of our busy home.

In the winter the office was kept warm by a little, old electric heater that turned off and on, off and on (the coils -- heating up red with a strange little vibrating buzz, and going off again with a characteristic click). In the summer, in absence of any AC, the heavy sliding glass door that lead out onto his small deck (from where you could look towards Ogden canyon and catch glimpses of El Monte golf course) was always open, and in the evenings -- when the canyon winds started up (which it seemed they always did) -- his various wind chimes would sound and ring. One time, in early college when I had grown too old (I felt) to go back to sharing a room with siblings, and when the house was extra full with friends needing a home and married siblings in transition (building homes, searching for jobs, etc.), he gave his office up for me. I never should have let him of course, but I was young and self-absorbed: blithely oblivious to the sacrifice it must have been. And so, his couch was replaced with a bed, his deck and view became mine, his desk for writing novels turned into my spot for studying the nervous system and fruit fly genotypes; and, for the next year, I slept to the sound of either that little heater, or wind and chimes from the open deck door (which, being two stories up, felt fairly safe to leave ajar all night).

Association is an interesting thing though! All of this from a windy evening and  the sound of a neighbor's wind chimes. I am liking this realization about . . . oh, I don’t know . . . our likes and preferences very often being more than simply surface, uninteresting, bits of information; rather: small evidences of having lived and experienced; proofs of having grown and become more through a complex and intertwining number of emotions and events. What did I know about wind chimes after eons in the eternities after all? Nothing. Surely nothing at all. Ah. But now I know. Now I know! It’s no wonder we morning stars sang for joy when our Father presented his plan for us to come here. No wonder we fought with our brother Christ for the opportunity to experience the full range of what that would entail. No wonder we will praise them both forever and ever after all of this! For wind chimes and Solo cups blowing off of counters and a million other small things that remind us of what we know and what we have become that we never knew or could have been before.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Illness, Meanness and Track Things

Late last night Goldie came up to announce (apologetically) that Mette was throwing up.

After cleaning bedding and child (and subsequently cleaning them a second, third, and forth time) I spent an hour next to her crib -- arm through the slats -- waiting for her to fall asleep (patting her little tummy, brushing the hair off of her forehead, and responding reassuringly to her nervous questioning ["sound?"] each time a car drove by or water could be heard rushing through the pipes in the walls).

Eventually her restless thoughts turned to her siblings -- who she began pronouncing firm and final judgements upon. (Well, one judgement really.)

"Anders: mean."

Pause.

"Summer: mean."

Pause.

"Jesse: mean."

She's been with us a full 20 months now which, one could fairly argue, is plenty of time for a thorough appraisal. Whether any of us received a gentler critique I was unable to discover, however, because at that point her eyelids finally grew heavy, and I was able to escape to my own bed where Hans let me sleep relatively undisturbed (I was fitfully dreaming of borrowing friends’ houses to complete odd, competetive, game-show-like tasks only to have Mette throw up and spread illness to their children) 'til 7:00.

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But! There have been happier times than . . . throwing up and “all my siblings are mean”. Case in point? The above pictures. There is little I enjoy more than a track meet. (Is that completely true? That “little I enjoy more” bit? I mean . . . I enjoy a great deal of things quite a lot. So I’m not actually certain about there being little I enjoy more. Nevertheless, I do enjoy track meets; so much so that I strapped Hans to me, stuck Mette in a stroller, held Summer’s hand, and called constantly for Penny, Jesse and Anders to stay close in order to brave Abe’s first home meet.)

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The next time I went, however, I cleverly employed Goldie in babysitting (Daisy was off somewhere with friends) and went with just Penny in tow.

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For all my enjoyment, I must say, . . . the butterflies! Ohh how it used to nearly kill me – the nerves and stomach churning that would accompany the final calls and then waiting for the guns to go off at my own track meets long ago. And I can SEE those same feelings rippling off of Abe when he is setting up his blocks and waiting for the gun. Once the gun goes off – well then you are running – the nerves are gone and you are simply going. But until then? It’s maddening! And I swear there seemed to be five minutes between “Runners take your mark! Set! . . .” and the crack of the gun in Abe’s 300 meter hurdles.

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Speaking of tracks. On occasion we will venture up to the track at Abe’s school (which, conveniently is about a block away) to let our kids run about, jump into the sand pit, and climb on the bleachers (or the pole-vault mat if we’re lucky enough to discover it out). We’re rarely wearing appropriate shoes, and often clad in pajamas, but when we happen to arrive at dusk, and the track is empty, it inevitably ends up being such a happy evening! The track is up high above the city. Our voices carry more than usual in the stillness and chill of the late evening air. Kids are asking to be timed in 400s, racing each other in the 100 meter dash, doing hand stands, and trying to dare leap over hurdles. It’s unaccountably pleasant.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

A New Post for Daisy

When one book is finished and another isn't readily available, Daisy, for want of good material (or, any material at all really -- as she's all tossed to the wind without a book to be reading -- [and so utterly engrossed when she IS reading that she must be forcefully pulled back to us]) asks hopefully if I've written any new blog posts.
 
But no. The answer, of late, is nearly always a no (which, I flatter myself, is a grave disappointment to her).

But one can never quite do all one might like (or even really should), can they. (I didn't put a question mark there because it felt less a question than a resignation). If you're reading Holland's pulpit-pounding assurances, you're wondering when you'll get to whatever happens in the book of Moses after that marvelous face-to-face with God in chapter one. And even if you're reading both (along with 2 Nephi), you're likely to be wrestling a vague dissatisfaction over not finding time for a re-read of the Guernsey Literary something something Potato Peel Pie book that so charmed you several years ago or even the Derek Walcott poem ("Love after Love") that your aunt just emailed you, or to be feeling a slight buried-talent sorrow over not learning the Lightroom editing software you've meant to since 2014 or for not . . . writing anything.

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There's still time of course. That's what my mother assures me. Years ahead for so many things. "Think of it this way, Nan," she says. (And, while I'm often "Nance", she's the only one to ever call me Nan except, on occasion, my friend Jessica.) "It's like you've agreed to teach Gospel Doctrine one Sunday, but you decide you want to help in the Nursery during your lesson time because they happen to be short staffed. Helping in the Nursery is a good thing, but not when you've agreed to teach Gospel Doctrine at that time." (Though it occurs to me now that the metaphor should probably be reversed.) Still. The idea. One shouldn’t mourn or feel too much guilt over all the good things they aren’t doing if they are doing the good thing they are supposed to be doing.

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But! Daisy did just have a birthday (a 15th one no less), and surely that's enough to pull me to the computer for a blog post? Yes. It is. Only . . . goodness. There are SO MANY pictures waiting to be made a fuss over and I'm not in the least sure of what to do with all of those. They’d make one post cumbersome. They should color up multiple posts, but . . . I can't guarantee multiple will be written, and, if they aren't? Do the pictures just . . . languish? Well, I suppose I shall just press forward "not knowing beforehand the things which I should do" and all that.

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School was cancelled on Daisy's birthday. I'm not sure why, but, in absence of any glaringly obvious reason, we naturally claimed that Daisy's birthday was a big enough occasion to warrant a school-wide holiday. Earlier in the week I'd done what any good mother who is rather poor at early preparation does -- I'd wandered through Target with two babies in the cart and two toddlers trailing behind me (when they weren't trying to hide in clothes racks or getting distracted by Star Wars hats) picking out sandals and shorts that I thought might make fitting birthday gifts. On her birthday Daisy invited friends over in the day time. (She's gone and gotten herself the most ideal set of friends -- low drama, bright and cheerful, and forever wanting to go the temple.) I fed them pizza and pretended they were eight by having them make little graham-cracker "gingerbread" houses (Easter houses). And then they played games (even letting Anders be on Daisy's team), and laughed at how Summer zooms down the stairs on her tummy at lightning speed. That evening we shot arrows (some from wooden bows that Daisy made) into a hay bale in the backyard (because it's the kind of thing Mike thinks up), ate Chinese take out, and the cake Penny and Goldie made (with a small interesting moment occasioned by us being short on candles, Goldie having substituted mini marshmallows on toothpicks for missing candles, and Abe having lit one on fire), and opened presents.

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In other news: Daisy and Goldie performed splendidly in their school production of Beauty and the Beast. Goldie as both a tree and a bucket, and Daisy as a villager (the baker’s wife perhaps?) and a napkin. Taking pictures from far away while holding Hans proved rather impossible, but, if you look closely you can spy Daisy in the back.

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And Easter came and went. It happened to be our Stake Conference so we got to attend church at the tabernacle next to the temple and all it’s lovely tulips.

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And before all of that, there was General Conference, donuts, Legos and coloring for a weekend.

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And a homemade rootbeer party that happened (compliments of Mike’s brother Dave). I was running errands at the time, but Mike set Daisy to getting a few pictures and, I’m sure, made certain nobody drank any dry ice.

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And Mette jumped on the trampoline with Penny. (It was several days of pure bliss when spring-like weather first arrived and Mette [who was still crawling when we last had a snow-free backyard] was set free to play outside. But then she discovered that wandering about outside is not nearly as good as having someone push you on the swing or jump with you [gently] on the trampoline. And now she mostly just wails miserably for those two things rather than contentedly exploring as at first. But, when I look at these pictures, I can’t imagine why I should want to ever do anything other than jump on the trampoline with this little cherub!)

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