Monday, December 17, 2012

a broken heart

Of course I've been crying often this weekend. Friday I wanted to hug hug hug my children when they walked through the door. So I did. But I also (inexplicably) snapped at them. And again on Saturday. And again yesterday.

And today, I cried after I dropped Josh off at seminary and just felt like the whole world was too much to manage. So I asked David for a blessing, picked myself up by my bootstraps and made lunches.

And then the dog peed on the floor when Kate let her out to say hi to the neighbor boys picking up Sophie. And I started to sob as I cleaned up the mess (telling myself it was because I'd had to clean up four messes yesterday and I'm. just. not. cut. out. for. this. chaos.)

And then I came home after dropping off carpool and the drycleaning (in my pajamas...and of course I saw people I know) and I cried again. And so I took a nap. (Five hours of sleep a night for weeks on end doesn't make this momma happy.)

And then I read this: What Six Looks Like and that did it to me again.

As I read it and wept (it was more than crying this time), I realized that most of what's going on in my head is just plain messy grief. I remember the first time I realized grief could just make the whole world feel off without realizing that I was really mourning. It was my brother's birthday, a year after his death. I had been doing just dandy for a long time, and I thought about him that day with love and remembrance, thinking I was handling it OK, but everything just felt SUCKY. I was mad at everyone in the house, I was frustrated with myself, and then I forgot to pick up the kids from their first day of school because it was an early out day. It was while talking to my mom that I recognized the truth: I was just plain sad and mad that my brother was dead, that my world was different than it had been, that I missed him and wouldn't get to wish him a happy birthday, that I couldn't be sure of the future anymore.

And today feels like that day, but bigger. Bigger, because while I ache ache ACHE for the families whose loved ones were ripped away so terribly, so awfully, so horribly, I also ache for the family of the young man who committed this atrocity. I ache for the boy he once was, for the pain he felt and the pain he caused. I ache for those who struggle with mental illness and for their families. Until you've lived with mental illness, seen its ravages on someone you love, you don't understand the immense pain, the questioning, the agony that it can create. And once you've seen it or lived it, you understand that there are very few black and white cause and effects for those in its grips. I'm sure most have you have read this blog post: Thinking the Unthinkable. It is powerful and terrifying and reminds us that those who struggle with mental illness (both the individuals and their families) need our love and support and dang it, an overhaul of our nation's mental health care.

And finally, I read this blog post from Ann Voskamp. For some of you it may feel too trite: God is there in the midst of this horror? And yet I know He was there, in the teachers who protected, in the first responders who showed care, in the nation's love and outpouring of grief for the fallen. And I also believe He sent angels to those who needed them most. And I believe He wept for them and He weeps for us.

So I'm going to accept that not much will get done today. I will grieve the loss of life, the loss of innocence, the loss of trust. I will grieve that our nation will get enthralled in chaotic debate about gun laws and responsibility, in placing blame. I will grieve that sometimes it feels as if there IS no peace on earth.

But there is. And there will be. There will be peace while I hear about the happenings in French class from Sophie after school. There will be peace when Kate plays "Joy to the World" at her piano lesson this afternoon. There will be peace when we gather our family around the Christmas tree tonight to read another story. There will be peace when I read an Old Testament story to Benno, snuggled in bed with his stuffed animal fox. There will be peace when my son and daughter play at an orchestra concert together tomorrow night, creating crazy beauty with so many other crazy beautiful teenagers. There will be peace because we will all make it and recognize it. It's how we survive grief. It's how we create hope: by being inside the blackness and lighting our own little candle against it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

So You're Thinking about Getting a Puppy...

(This post is dedicated to my dear friend, Lori, who TODAY welcomed Ester, their foster seeing-eye puppy! I'm so excited for her. She will be an amazing puppy mom and I'm sure knows way more about raising puppies than I do after reading the 100 page seeing-eye dog manual.)

Saturday was the seven week anniversary of Maisie joining our family. I thought I would wait at least six weeks to make a full report on her arrival and its impact on the Greenhouse, as that seems to be the minimum time for me to begin to adjust to new circumstances. Babies, resolutions, tragedies, and now a new puppy: I seem to settle into the first phase of the new normal after that first month and a half (unless it's a move, and then I think I must always plan to give myself three years to feel normal. Ha. But also not ha.)

Ahhh, the joys of a new puppy: their sweet little faces, their little licking tongues, their scampering, prancing, and soft soft fur. Could there be anything so loveable? They're like sweet little animated stuffed animals, pawing their way into your hearts.

People all say, "Oh, puppies are so much work, like a new baby."

And to this, I say, "Yes." And also, "No." Because while my new babies certainly kept me up at night and took constant supervision, my new babies did not have piranha-sharp teeth, or knives for nails. And also my new babies didn't chase down a five year old to gnaw at his hands or pull his hair with their teeth. And also, my babies wore diapers. 

Puppies do not wear diapers.

Oh, and really, puppies should wear diapers.

So here's the good news: Six weeks has passed and life is truly finding a happier place.

But here's the bad news: Those six weeks might have really felt like six looooong months.

So I thought I'd do another Public Service Announcement to let you know what to do if your family starts to beg you for a puppy and you start to feel your resolve to say no wavering:

Run. And practice saying no.

UNLESS you are really willing to open your heart and home (and by default, your carpets) to a little peeing and pooping vampire with a gorgeous face and a loving heart: in that case, say yes and learn from me.

#1 Buy yourself this book before you even get your puppy: My Smart Puppy

Is it really that important? Yes. Yes it is. I did much reading on how to train dogs when we Natalia joined our family almost seventeen years ago. I was so grateful for all the advice I read. And My Smart Puppy is better than all of them. It provides clear, simple and great advice, and is very very specific about how to address hard puppy behavior. Bonus: It comes with a DVD. We waited three weeks before I bought it, thinking I remembered how to train a puppy. Ummm...no. I needed help.

#2 Buy the gallon sized refill bottle of Nature's Miracle, along with the normal spray bottle. And also the Costco package of paper towels.

Nature's Miracle is a miracle. No, really. It is. I love it. I rely on it. It is a great friend to the puppy-loving household. Because here's the truth: your puppy is going to pee in your house. I hate to tell you this. I do. But it's likely that your puppy will probably pee in your house a lot. A LOT. And that is even if you are crate training, even if you're doing the umbilical cord thing with the leash, even if you're always watching for cues. And then she'll start understanding how to let you know she needs to go outside. That's great. And then she'll be more reliable, which is nice. But just when you think your cute puppy has got the whole housetraining figured out, she'll get riled up by your son, run around and then pee under your dining room table and you'll be grateful you can refill your spray bottle again. (I hear that the 1.5 gallon sized bottle with the special nozzle isn't a great idea. It leaks or something. So stick with the basics.)

My process: lay down paper towels, then many layers of newspaper, then another paper towel, then a rag. Then jump up and down on the pile of papers. Then spray the living daylights out of the whole area. I mean SOAK the carpet so the Nature's Miracle goes down into the fibers. Let it sit for a while (even overnight if you're busy), and then if you want you can blot up the Nature's Miracle if you want. I don't usually. And it works, darn it. Hooray.

(Last night we found another wonderful use for NM: taking care of the mess when your child has a bloody nose and runs for the bathroom, leaving a trail behind. It's great stuff, people.)

#3 About housetraining: Get a bell for your back door. 

My friend Michele told me about this one, and it's pretty slick. We attached a string of bells to the back doors both upstairs and downstairs. Before we took Maisie out, we say "Outside", take her paw and have her hit the bell. Then out we'd go. Within two days, she was hitting it herself to go out. When she hits it, we immediately take her out, even if we think she doesn't need to go. If she is faking so that she gets some outside time, we pick her up and put her in her kennel. If she isn't faking, she gets lots of praise.

#4 Keep this phrase running around in your head: "You must be confused."

This is a gem from My Smart Puppy. If you find yourself upset with the dog for not making it outside on time, or nipping at your hand yet again, or tearing up another sock, just force yourself to shake your head and say, "Oh, you must be confused." Somehow, this phrase has the ability to take me from angry to a lot more loving. I'm practicing it on my kids, too, and it sometimes even has the same effect.

#5 Keep the puppy with you all the time she is not in her kennel.

ALL the time. Not most of the time. ALL the time. That way you can watch for cues and drop everything to take the puppy outside and not be surprised later when you find out what she's been up to when you took that 2 minute break in the bathroom. I just hooked her leash to a kitchen chair or table leg, or a doorknob, or my belt loop.

Which leads to #6...

#6 Please kennel train your puppy from the very first night. You will be grateful.

You need to be able to take a break from your puppy, so get her used to the kennel. You will have some LOOOONG nights. The first night Maisie was here, I ended up sleeping on the floor in front of the kennel with my hand poking through the door so she would stop whining.

That wasn't my favorite night.

But the next night I slept in my bed with the door turned towards me and she only whined three or four times.

And the next night was even better.

Except I didn't think about this little piece of advice:

#7 Maybe don't get your puppy right before winter hits.

Or you'll be outside 4 or 5 times with a puppy with diarrhea in the middle of the night with sleet falling on your head while you wait for your puppy to go to the bathroom where you've designated, but where she doesn't think she wants to.

Which leads to #8...

#8 Don't feed your puppy treats. Use her food as her treat.

Turns out some treats lead to diarrhea in little puppies. Who knew?

Well, now I know. And so do you. I just wouldn't want you to learn it the way I did...on another LOOOONG night.

And amazingly, kibble works great as a training treat. Maisie thinks it's way more awesome to get food from my hand than from her bowl.

#9 If your puppy hates the kennel, use a food-stuffed Kong as a bribe.

Trick I never knew with Natalia but I wished I had: stick kibble in the Kong, then seal it with peanut butter. You can give it to the puppy like that or put it in the freezer to make it trickier to access the food. I only give her the Kong in her kennel when I'm leaving for a while. She loves it and runs right to the kennel.

#10 Take care of nipping quickly.

When your puppy nips, say "NO BITE" firmly (but not angrily. Remember: "You must be confused.") and take her immediately to her kennel. Leave her there for a brief timeout, then take her out, train her, and give her immediate praise for good behavior. After two days of this kind of training, Maisie's out-of-control nipping dropped by way more than half. She's doing so well now that she gets a timeout only once a day or so.

#11 Make your kids start helping (and picking up poop) from Day 1

Self-explanatory, really. My kids rotate days of responsibility. They complain. The first few weeks, one cried every time it was her responsibility. But they don't complain as much any more. And if they don't pick up the mess when they're supposed to, they have to pay a fine.

In short, training (thank you, My Smart Puppy) and consistency have allowed us to survive the puppy days with our little Maisie. And seven weeks later this is what we have:


A puppy who tolerates being dragged everywhere by everyone and even tolerates being forced to practice the piano.

A puppy who knows Sit, Stay, Down, Come, Shake, Speak, Dance, and Jump (she knew all of these commands at 12 weeks. I was blown away. It was seriously fun to watch her pick things up so quickly.)

A puppy who runs full speed to my children as they come home from school with a wagging tail and a leap into their arms.

A puppy who eats socks (OK, so we haven't fixed all our problems.)

A puppy who loves to play tag with us around and around and around the house.

A puppy who is starting to learn to run with me.

A puppy who is totally chill with taking a bath or a shower and getting the hair trimmed out of her eyes.

A seriously happy puppy who is rapidly becoming a beloved member of the family.

It took some work and tears and frustration to get here, but I can honestly say I adore the little ragamuffin. She makes life more complicated (I just started exercising again...that was way too long of a break) but I really do believe that most things of worth come with a price. And the price we've paid for our sweet Maisie is now feeling worth it. I wouldn't have said so that first month. I was having MAJOR dog-owner remorse. We all did at different times. But now that we've done a lot of the work, I love having a little buddy around. And it will just get better.

Monday, December 3, 2012

One Thousand Gifts


For my birthday in October last year, I bought myself this cute little gratitude journal. I had been inspired over and over again to pay more attention to the good things in my life, to be more grateful, and I thought it would help to have a pretty place to record them. Like so many of my good intentions, this one took some time and some more promptings to begin, but finally on December 2nd I began my gratitude journey.

I didn't originally start with any kind of end in mind, but after reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp (thanks to Catherine for the inspiration), I decided that I would work towards listing 1,000 gifts within a year. Yesterday was that year mark. 

I finished this morning.

In my continued attempt to be gentle with my failings, I am declaring that one year and one day isn't so bad.

The outcome of my experiment with gratitude?

This year has changed me.

My heart is more tender. My eyes are more quick to find beauty. I am quicker to remember to forgive. I see God's hand in the beautiful and good things in my life, as well as in the struggles, the conflicts, the bad, and the ugly.

I'll be honest. I'm still a mess of a soul. My kitchen isn't cleaner. (In fact, you should see it right now.) 
I'm not more organized. I still struggle with not being snarky. I let days go by without remembering to study my scriptures. I haven't repaired all the broken things in my life.

But I now have tools to manage the dark times, the bad thoughts, the laundry, the relationships that hurt, the extra 5 (ok...15) pounds, the worries.

The most important tool of all is the one that I was guided to nurture last year: finding a way to express my gratitude to my Heavenly Father for the mess of life. The list in the cute orange book is an outward expression of an inward change. When I wake up feeling overwhelmed by my weaknesses, I force myself to think about my gratitude for them, for the humility that comes at another failure, for the new day I've been given. When I'm disappointed at an unkindness, I express gratitude for the chance to practice forgiveness. When I look at my piles of laundry, I think about how blessed we are to have more than enough clothing to keep ourselves warm. When I feel grumpy about how tight my pants are, I force myself to recognize the enormous blessing of having more than enough food to eat and that my family never goes to bed hungry.

As I force the thoughts to flow, my heart is often softened. And if it's not softened enough to feel perfectly happy, it's softened enough to allow movement towards happiness. I saw this earlier in the year when I was often angry and bitter about some hard situations. As I was finally prompted to express gratitude for the hurdles I was facing and for those who I felt were creating so much pain, I found myself able to release my bitterness, to open myself to desire joy and peace for those I felt were wounding me. If I started to let my mind dwell on the darkness again, I made myself fight the battle again. And again. And again. And eventually there was peace and grace and beauty out of the ashes of my anger.

This took six months of writing down blessings. It did not come overnight. But it did come. And while I still fight the impulse to be unkind, to dwell on slights, I find that getting to the place of peace and forgiveness is generally a prayer or two (or ten) away and I now have faith that I can get there.


While I was surprised at the joy that gratitude for hard things has brought, I've also been happy to find the increased pleasure I've had in already good things. Noting blessings and gifts has allowed my heart to be touched by the sheer gorgeousness in relationships, in the seasons, in sitting with a five-year-old and reading Christmas books. It's as if I have a magnifying glass on the world and can see details of grace and beauty that may have been unnoticed before.

Here are a few samples:

#20   A few hours of sibling peace as they sorted Legos
#50   Not having to clean up after a dog
#140 That Tiernae is the new Relief Society President and not me...
#141 That I know if I were called to be RS Pres, the Lord would strengthen me
#251 Apples and peanut butter
#323 Constant forgiveness, constant grace
#454 Being strong against the forces of carrot cake, whoopie pies, and chocolate chip cookies
#459 Nighttime walk under the stars
#677 My blue and purple heels
#679 Inspiration about the protection of covenant keeping
#760 David's stint as the human pinata
#761 That David's fall as the human pinata did not result in more damage
#762 That we have insurance to pay for the ER trip for the human pinata
#765 Maisie not peeing in the house while David and I were at the hospital

A few months into my journal keeping, I noticed that the spirit started nudging me in a new direction: service. As I become more grateful for my own life, I find myself more able to see needs in others and try to do small things to help. I'm not great at this yet. It's taking a lot of effort to get myself to act consistently, but I have faith that this is a worthwhile effort and that I might find myself transformed by my efforts to serve as much as I have by my gratitude.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Introducing Maisie

So this is how it happened to me.

I was outnumbered.

We were outnumbered.

It was four to two in favor of dogness in the GreenHouse (and just take a guess which two were casting negative votes?)

And yet I had this ace in my pocket: I am the mother. We are the parents. We get to choose when we add a furball to this household.

So which vote did we cast?

That would be a no. No way. Not for a long long long long LONG time.

Not until I had forgotten what torture cleaning up after a dog can be. Not until I had forgotten the agony of having to decide about what to do with my ailing companion when her quality of life had left her. Not until I had experienced one full dogless year.

Oh. Oops. That date passed in September.

The begging continued. And continued. And continued. And increased. And increased again.

David and I remained firm. We are the parents.

My children reminded us that they had never known Natalia as a puppy, that they had only known her old and frail.

They talked about the fun of an animal in the house: the bonding, the cuddling, the love.

They promised that they would take over all doggy responsibilities: the walking, the cleanup, the feeding, the training.

Sophie said all she wanted for her thirteenth birthday was a puppy. Or an iPhone. (Sigh. Teenagers.)

David and I did not budge.

Well, except...

I started looking at dogs on KSL.

And talked a lot to our friends who owned the cutest, sweetest, not tiny, non-shedding dog around: Maggie the goldendoodle.

And remembered what it was like when Tally could run with me, and when she would lay her head on my knee when I was sad, and how devoted she was to us.

But still...we weren't changing our minds.

(But that Maggie sure is cute. And so well-behaved. And how great is it that she doesn't shed?...)

(And look, here is a sweet goldendoodle on KSL. Oh look, here are some more. Oh, aren't they darling?)

No. Not budging.



The stalemate continued.

Except (obviously) there was some movement on one side of the argument.
 
And this is how it went down. (I hope this doesn't sound flippant, or disrespectful, because for me, it was the opposite.)

A month ago a friend lost her teenage daughter in a tragic accident. I was rocked to the core, devastated for them, for their extended family that I love and respect. I was brought to my knees in grief for their loss.

And we went out and bought a dog. That very day.

I remembered what it was to feel the earth quake because of losing someone I love. I remembered feeling some regrets for not cherishing more, for not loving more, for not risking more. And I thought about my sweet children and their desire to love, and how long they'd begged, and how could I say no to embracing the beautiful chaos of more love? Wouldn't I rather live with chaos than regret?

So along came Maisie.

Did I say beautiful chaos?

How about just plain chaos?
 

OK, it's beautiful chaos.


Most of the time.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My Last Political Post for a Couple of Years. I Promise.


You are all reading the Facebook posts, I'm sure.

They are exhausting me.

I've been thinking about our beautiful election day. No violence. No mobs. No threats. I LOVE election day for what it represents. I LOVE election day for the patriotism it inspires in my heart. We have the right to vote. To CHOOSE. To elect officials who love our country, who have devoted much of their lives to public service. We have the RIGHT to disagree with our local, state or national leaders! We have the right to call our current president Satan, or Hitler, to make racist comments about him and there is NO RECRIMINATION (well, other than a lot of people thinking you sound silly, but that doesn't seem to stop people)!

This is a gift. It's the representation of the blood and lives of countless soldiers and politicians who have made it possible for us to live freely. I am beyond grateful for this gift. I respect our armed forces, past and present. I also respect all the men and women of all political parties who have sacrificed to put their lives into the public eye for our country. They face ridicule, disrespect, and unkindness on a daily basis. Do I agree with all of them? No way. But I choose not to allow my disagreement to make my heart bitter.

Thanks to many of the FB comments on my wall, I've been thinking about fear again, and the places that it takes us. I've been thinking about how creating divisions and groups in our minds is dangerous. I've been thinking about The Big Lie again, and the way people use it, and the way people get sucked into it. People's attitudes are more disturbing to me than who we chose as our president. I've been thinking about the quote I just heard (but can't find, so apparently I'm misquoting it. Plus I don't know who said it. So I'm less than helpful here) that for our nation, the person in the White House matters much less than the person in your house.

There is an antidote to all of this rage and fear and hatred. It's found in faith and peace and hope (even if you're not religious, these are powerful antidotes.) In my scripture study today I read Titus 3. It is SO appropriate to our discourse in the public sphere.
1-2 Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness to all men. 9 ...Avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.
Love it.

Would I feel this way even if my candidate had lost? Well, here's the shocker.

Wait for it.

He did.

(Just for the record, I didn't change my vote last minute because I distrust Obama. I'm actually thrilled to see him get another four years. One of my reasons I changed was that I just felt that the current low level of public discourse and distrust he faces may never allow him to have the bipartisan support we need to get any legislation of import passed and that maybe a clean slate with a new president could help.)

So be nice! Take a chill pill! Go see a movie or read a good book! Turn off the media! Don't listen to those talking heads who are all about death and destruction and the end of America! Do something good for someone in your neighborhood! Make a nice dinner for your family and pray with them that we will all learn to be kinder, more civil, and can work together for the good of all...also, that we don't turn into socialists. (Ha ha. Kidding!)

(And talk about personal sacrifice in the realm of public service: I wanted to get this post finished so badly that I ignored the whining puppy. Until she peed. On my lap. You're welcome.)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Someone Stop Me. I'm Getting Political Again.

I just spent an hour on a political post.

I think I won't post it.

Here it is in a nutshell:

I'm still kind of undecided about my presidential vote.

I don't like it when people assume that I'm stupid or uninformed or a socialist because I'm not conservative.

I don't like it that people malign our President because he has different political views than they do.

I think Governor Romney is a basically good man. I think President Obama is a basically good man. (I don't think they are always well-behaved: witness the debacle that was Debate #2.)

Be nice. Be civil. Have discussions about the principles behind your beliefs. Have a respectful conversation with someone who has a different opinion. Learn about that opinion. Find common ground.

Vote. Vote thoughtfully. Vote carefully. Vote rationally.

And when you vote, please don't assume that someone who votes for someone else is the enemy. There's really only one enemy, and that's the one who loves it when we fall into hatred, distrust, and contention. Don't play into his hands.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why I Am in Love with Summer #3

I adore our summer sunsets. I am seriously in love with them. They are this glorious most of the time.

(Side note: When we moved in, my vision was always drawn to the refineries at the base of our mountain. I hated the refineries. I'm still not a fan, but I've found that as I lift my vision to see the abundant (and obvious) beauty of the lake, the mountains, the skies, the sunsets, I barely notice their ugliness. My wish? That I can learn to do that with all the rest of my life: all places, all situations, all people.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

summer thought wanderings

My house is covered in Lincoln Logs and Playmobil.

My children are singing to the radio in the kitchen in the middle of the breakfast and lunch dishes (and it's 1:49 pm).

I have a piano blog post that was due on the 14th that hasn't been written yet.

I didn't get up early and exercise.

My laundry is scattered over many household surfaces.

The weeding hasn't been done since Friday.

And ya know what?

I think I'm OK with all it.

(Well, not really. I'm really anxious about all of it, but I'm trying to tell myself I'm OK with it.)

If I tell myself I'm OK with it for long enough, will it come true?



Summer is half over. It makes me sad.

Josh turns 16 in less than two weeks. In less than two years, he'll have graduated.

Time's running out.

I think I'm OK with that, too.


(Not really, again.)




I'm trying to learn to live in the moment, desireless.

It's not always working out so well. Right now I have the desire for a clean house, a flatter stomach, and a big fat fresh chocolate chip cookie...oh, I mean a sugarless nasty green smoothie...OK, really a cookie.

I also desire mad improvising skills.

I also desire that that one person who hates me will get over it. Cuz really, it's stupid to hate me. It's like hating cheese. Cheese isn't perfect (it can make you fat or it can make you sick if you're lactose intolerant), but it's also just cheese. It can't help its fat content or its lactose. And even though it has its drawbacks, it's super yummy on pizza, and overall isn't truly evil.

Yes, I just compared myself to cheese. So maybe she's right to hate me.

Where was I? Oh, yes...I was saying that when I am slightly, almost desireless, it is very freeing.

Here's some wisdom from the Tao:
There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.

The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.
I read this and copied it in my scripture journal a couple of weeks ago. I've been pondering it here and there. I'm working on letting things go their own way and becoming an observer. (And isn't WORKING at observing, being peaceful, and allowing things to go their own way an oxymoron?)

I've become such a good observer that I backed into a pole in the parking garage at Westminster College today.

Doh.

I seriously love summer.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Why I Am in Love with Summer #2


Today Ben and Kate finished their first session of swimming lessons at the Tennis and Swim Club up the street. They both passed their levels (Kate goes on to Level 5 and Ben to Level 3.) Kate is a good little swimmer and enjoys the pool, but Ben? Ben adores water. Adores. The minute he is in the water, he is grinning. He grins as he bobs up and down. He grins as he practices floating. He grins as he does big arms or dives to the bottom to pick up a ring.

So overall, swimming lessons have been a major success. I love to watch them learning new skills, especially when they learn them easily and happily.

As a treat for completing their lessons, they each got to choose something from the freezer at the club. Then they asked if they could walk home. I told them I'd meet them at the bottom of the hill to help them cross the busy road, but that they could. 

So hand in hand, they walked across the parking lot and down the driveway, eating their dripping chocolate Creamies. And my heart sang.

I don't know what it was about that exact moment, that exact scene. The fact that they both felt so capable, so strong after working hard for two weeks? That they had been so darling to watch? That they love each other enough to hold hands? That the sun was beaming down and the wind was NOT blowing (thankfully, after way too much wind for way too many days)? But somehow, in that moment, I felt a rush of love, of satisfaction, of peace, and I thought: "If this is all there is, if my life stopped today, I would feel like it was enough. This moment is payment for so much."

I don't know why. It was just two children in swimsuits walking home, eating Creamies, holding hands.

But it was magic.

And that's another reason I love summer.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Confessions of a Five-Year-Old Worrier

Benno is on a "self-tattling" streak. These are some of the things we hear all day long:

     "I said a potty word." (This is generally "butt." Sometimes it is "poopy.")

     "I thought a bad word." (This is usually taking the Lord's name in vain, which he heard on an HGTV show and used promptly, much to the horror of Miss Kate.)

     "I watched Spongebob at Zach's. But only for a minute."

     "I went into the street."

     "I was mean to Zach."

     "I went past the stop sign."

     "I scratched (or hit or pinched) Lacey (or Kate, or William.)"

     "I was playing a hitting game."

He runs inside from playing, confesses, takes his discipline, and heads back out until the next incident. And the next incident is usually just a few minutes later.

Totally darling? Umm, yes. But also a little worrying, thanks to the angst in his voice in these confessional moments. Our poor little man is very disturbed about his inability to stop himself from making mistakes, and while I am often hiding a smile while asking him to take a time out on the stairs, I really worry a little that he will have a hard time learning to accept himself, flaws and all, as much as we accept him.

It's really very easy to accept him. He's darned cute.

And darned funny.

And apparently, extremely darned honest. (Can I make sure he still has this quality when he's sixteen?)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Two Years


Brett, our almost-brother, and Brent

Can you just take a look at that grin? Does it take your breath away like it does mine? When I saw this picture earlier this week after Brett posted it to my Facebook wall, I was shocked to immediately burst into tears. It was the grin that stabbed me in the heart, that infectious grin that I haven't seen for two years. I sat at my kitchen table with saltwater pouring down my face. Sophie saw what was on the screen and put her arm around me. I caught my breath, dried the tears and closed the screen.

We miss him. We miss him dreadfully. It's terrible that he's missed two of his birthdays, two Christmases, two new babies (a niece and a nephew that he would have adored,) not to mention so much laughing, so many conversations, games of Big Boggle, boy movies with all the brothers, brothers-in-law and Josh, family dinners...oh, too too many things.

I've been thinking about the Jack Gilbert poem I posted a few weeks ago, especially these lines:
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
So today I decided to delight, to accept my gladness and grab the joy there is all around me, to remember my little brother by living fully and happily. I ran and hiked on another gorgeous trail near our home, talking to him about how much we miss him, how much he would enjoy the kids right now. I bought wildflower seeds to scatter. We nixed the yard work and cleaning. David and I went to breakfast with friends, then took Josh to The Avengers. I took Sophie and a friend to City Creek and to my favorite gelato place. I ate blackberry cobbler. I took pictures of the sunset. We watched a family DVD with the kids. I read to Ben and snuggled Kate. And through it all, I remembered him.
 
One of the hardest lessons I've learned through the last two years is that there is no safe and easy path through life. The world can indeed be a ruthless furnace, but every day we accept that truth and love our time here anyway is a day to celebrate. And so today I celebrated Brent, his life, and the fact that I loved him so much that his loss has created this hole. Holes left in our hearts are the proof of loving recklessly, with abandon, despite the risk of pain. The hole of his life is huge in our family's collective hearts because we loved him hugely. I would rather love hugely and risk huge pain than live a quiet, safer, subdued life with a quiet, safer, subdued heart. I may not have felt that way earlier in this journey, but I now make this conscious choice every day: to love, to cherish, to risk.
 
Rest well, my sweet little brother. You are missed. You are loved.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Why I Am in Love with Summer #1

At 8:40 tonight, Kate ran in the front door with Ben and a crew of neighbor kids in tow as I practiced Schubert.

"We haven't had dinner yet, have we, Mom?"

And the answer to that, dear ones, is no, we haven't.

(In all honesty, no one else has had dinner yet, but I have had a piece of Great Harvest bread, 3/4 of a roll, a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and to add some fruit, a fresh strawberry shake. So I'm good.)

(And yes, I've finished my pact. How did you guess? Did the carb-loading and excess sugar consumption tip you off? I was searching for chocolate too, but my stomachache stopped me from looking too hard.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

It's just a blink. I swear.

Please excuse the double dose of maudlin, but I just dropped my baby off for his very last day of preschool.

I was sucker punched. I didn't see it coming.

Because I didn't see it coming, I might be forgiven for also not realizing just what happens when you allow yourself to look back for a picture of your youngest to post on your blog about sending him to his last day of preschool...

You find this picture:


And when you find THIS picture, isn't it possible that you might not quite imagine the hand that reaches into your chest and twists your heart, pulls it, and squeezes it until you almost can't breathe?

Look at those little faces. Look at the promise in those eyes, the potential. The futures ahead. Here they all are, my four precious precious gifts, and I have to ask myself, what have I done with them? How many many times have I fallen short? How many many times have I forgotten to see them for the glorious spirits they are?

EVERY SINGLE DAY.

It's enough to send me to my knees, I tell you.

And really, is there anywhere else to go?

I take a glance back and wonder how I can be forgiven for failing them over and over, for not giving them enough structure, for not providing them enough magic, for getting caught in the mess of life and not rising above it.

I take a glance forward and fear that I'll still fail them over and over, that my best intentions will never be met, or my second-best intentions, or my mediocre intentions, to be quite honest. These glorious people...how could I have been entrusted with them?

On my knees, I beg for grace to make up where I lack. I beg. And beg. And beg. Because isn't that the only way to wholeness? To allow grace to fill in the gap? The gaping, yawning, immense gap between the mother I wish I were and the mother I really am?

Job's wife looked back with regret and turned into a pillar of salt. If I look back with regret, I may well be paralyzed as well. Fear paralyzes, doesn't it? Isn't that a lesson I've learned over and over? Fear that I won't be enough, fear that more loss is ahead, fear that I can't do what is needful... The more I dwell on these things, the less likely I am to take one step and one more step and one more. To read another book at bedtime, to plan a trip to the zoo, to lay under the stars on the trampoline, to snowshoe through sparkling white, or to speak of eternal things while walking in fall leaves.

The only way through is grace.

Well, and gratitude. That helps, too.



I leave an era of little people behind today, an era of grasping hands, of baby food, diapers, learning ABC's, of literally climbing up and down my body, Little People, lisping voices, putting on Daddy's shoes, teething, singing nursery rhymes, eating rocks, eyes big with wonder at new discoveries, sleeping with crowns on their heads, uneven steps, princesses, superheroes, and the infallible belief that I know everything, that I can make everything better.

They now know that I'm fallible. It's hard. But being fallible doesn't mean I've failed them. They have love in abundance. They have clothes and food and books and toys and work and a roof over their heads. They have smiles that light up rooms. They are learning...maybe not as fast or as well or as perfectly as I imagined when they first laid that little Josh in my arms, but they are learning.

The world awaits them. They'll learn the same thing I'm learning now, that despite its imperfections, it is full of glories and wonders and beauties. They'll learn that they'll fall short, that they'll fall down. I'll cross my fingers that they'll lift themselves up and keep trying, keep going, keep looking for things to make it worth being here in this beautiful, treacherous, amazing world. And maybe one day they will (God willing) drop off their littlest at preschool and maybe they'll wonder the same thing...

How did it happen so fast?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Instructions


Ben turned five in April (sigh.) and has entered that most darling boy stage: The Lego Stage.

It helps that at Christmas, Josh and the girls jumped back aboard the Lego Train and spent days and days sorting and building Lego creations. How could any nearly 5-year-old boy resist that kind of temptation?

For his birthday, he wanted many Legos. One morning just after his birthday, he decided to put together his new truck. And I watched him change from a little boy to a big boy. Snap. Just like that.

We started with him asking me what step came next. I showed him in the instruction booklet and he'd follow. Within a couple of steps, he decided he didn't need me and sent me back to my piano. He leaned over the book carefully, sticking his tongue out in concentration, and looked at all his pieces, finding just the right ones. If he got stuck, he'd ask for my help, but the minute I came over, found the problem and pointed it out, he'd say, "OK OK OK. I can do it. I can do it," dismissing me again.

I was a few feet away, kind of practicing, but mostly watching my baby grow up. I'd play a few scales, watch him put the wheels on, work on a right hand Mozart passage, watch him find the windshield. And all along, he was growing up.

They do that to you, you know.

They grow. They change. They learn. They master.

Eventually they leave us behind. They say, "OK OK OK. I can do it. I can do it."

And that's how it's supposed to be.

I'm sure you can't blame me, though, for feeling like while there might be instructions for Lego creating, there aren't enough instructions for mothering little Bens (or Kates, or Sophies, or Joshes) who turn into big Bens overnight, leaving me breathless, a little tearful, but with a full full FULL heart.

(Whose heart wouldn't be full, seeing this boy and this truck? He's mine, for now, and he still needs me for many things beyond Lego creating. And I'm so so so grateful for that.)


Monday, May 7, 2012

Everything Beautiful in HIS Time

Today as I was doing my morning scripture study, I came across this gorgeous verse:
Ecclesiastes 3:11 He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.
It reminded me of an experience I had almost two years ago, just a couple of months after Brent's death. I was in my old neighborhood to play for a friend's funeral (remember that summer? That summer so full of loss? It still kind of blows my mind to think of it) and when I got in my car afterwards, I saw that I had a little bit of time before I had to be home. I felt a gentle nudge to see a friend I hadn't seen since the move, so I drove over to her house to meet her new baby.

As we visited, she shared with me that she had lost a brother in his twenties. We cried a little together, appreciated seeing each other and had a nice time just being together. As I was heading to the door to leave she said, "I need to apologize to you."

Of course, I couldn't imagine that she really did, but she proceeded to tell me that a couple of years previously, she had had a series of dreams about me. In her dreams, I kept telling her, "I would really love for you to make me dinner." (Honestly, what an obnoxious dream me! The nerve...) She said she would wake up and wonder what on earth these dreams were about. She thought about calling me to ask if there was something she could do for me, but was a little embarrassed and didn't want to bother me. As far as she could tell, everything was going just fine in my life.

It was months and months later that she learned that our family had been at that very time enduring a truly terrible ordeal. She felt guilty that she hadn't listened to the promptings in her dreams. She had thought about it ever since but had not ever shared the experience with me.

Here's what is so fantastic...when she told me this story, I was totally overwhelmed. The recounting of her experience at that time in my journey of grief told me something I needed more than I had needed a meal back in those rough times: it told me that God is mindful of me, in ALL of my extremities, enough so that he had sent dreams to my friends to ask them to watch out for me at some of the lowest times I'd ever imagined. And He had given her the chance to share this experience with me at the very moment I needed it most...NOT those years before, but at THAT time, years later. He made the experience beautiful in HIS time.

I have had many times that I have had good intentions to serve someone in some way, but something has stopped me from following through. (Sometimes, of course, this is NOT God's work, but my own failings.) At times, I've felt something blocking me until much later, a stupor of thought and action. When the way opens, and I finally follow through, I see His timing in its beautiful perfection. I don't think I've ever seen it in quite so elegant a presentation as this visit with my friend. His work is planned from beginning to end. While we're in the middle of it, it's hard to see OR accept the design. But it's there. And it's beautiful.

(And I think this ends my long-winded philosophical posts for a little while...I've got some family catch-up posts to write and pictures to post!)

Friday, May 4, 2012

after the flood, all the colors came out

This morning, my running partner had a massive headache, so I up and ran all by my lonesome at 5:45.

5:45 is very early, dontcha know?

It's not so early anymore that there is no light, and that makes running much more pleasant, as does running the Shoreline Trail. I miss it so much when it's wet and soggy. I went a few months without setting foot on the trail, but I seem not to be able to miss a week (or even a few days if I have my choice) anymore.

There's a short and narrow path about a mile from the trailhead, up a fairly steep incline, that leads to an overlook. I've been stopping there lately, breathing deeply, taking in the valley below me: the refineries and gravel pits (uhhgly), the train tracks and airport (interesting) and the trees, mountains, clouds, and lake (gorgeous.) I think about the mass of humanity waking under my feet, the worries, joys, sufferings, and delights experienced by each soul in the reach of my glance. It's a perspective I cherish. It reminds me that as enormous as the pains we suffer can be, when seen from a distance they seem manageable. Hard, yes, but manageable.

There have been some giant rifts in our family in the last year: rifts so vast that my perspective couldn't grasp how we would ever bridge them, how they could ever be manageable. The damage hammered me to the ground, as fragile as I already was from so many other losses. I wept bitterly, I questioned, I yelled and screamed and wept some more. I'm ashamed to admit that I allowed the bitterness to seep into my bones, that I allowed my mind to sit, to dwell, to scratch at the wounds.

In the middle of the torment, I ended up asking for help from a few different sources. I had friends who allowed me to use them as sounding boards. I went to the temple. And finally I ended up getting some help from a psychologist. These were all helpful in their own way, and I found myself managing daily life pretty well, even though daily life was pretty much lacking the shine and glow of days past.

But here's the miracle. After the flood, the miserable, horrible, happiness-quenching flood, beginning maybe all the way back at the move, maybe even further back than that, all the colors are coming out. And they're something else, let me tell you.

How has it happened for me? Quite honestly, through grace. But the grace I've accessed is in DIRECT correlation to my search for gratitude. The more grateful I am, the more I'm finding to be grateful for. And the more I'm grateful for, the more gorgeous this life is turning out to be.

I ran on this morning after hitting the lookout, back down the trail, through the neighborhood and hills that have become part of me. I put on my iPod, hit random, and ran. And ran. And ran.

And reveled in the colors. In the clouds. In the light. In the peace.

Because here's the miracle. AFTER I found the joy in life all on my own, AFTER I lost my bitterness, AFTER I turned my feelings over to God, AFTER...

the bridges started to be built.

And not slowly, either. Like Amazing Home (or Bridge) Makeover fast.

God is good. He can lift us up to places to overlook our lives, to see the uhhgly with the gorgeous, and to be grateful for all of it. And even if the bridges are never built (but I tell you, they ARE being built!), the truest miracle is our strengthened, thankful hearts.

Philippians 4:6-7 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with THANKSGIVING let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Pact: or why good friends make the world go round

The boys and their guitars
I have to tell you about our Pact, because it's so much fun and you seriously might just have to make one, too (with me, maybe?).

We've made some wonderful friends in the last year. (I love my friends. Really. What would I do without you? Really.) It's been fantastic to stretch our hearts to include so many more people to love. I already felt spoiled rotten to care about as many people as I do, and to have even more people to cherish? It's a joy, I tell you.

Two of these new friends are Natalie and Aaron, and we just adore them. After commiserating about how hard it is to be motivated to practice or be healthy or whatever else we're feeling non-motivated about, Aaron had the bright idea to make a pact. So we did. We each chose what to include in our individual contracts, then met for lunch and to exchange checks.

Here's how it works:

Each of us has different elements to our contracts (practicing, exercising, whatever).
We decided on a time frame (until Memorial Day weekend).
We wrote 3 checks to each of the other participants (a total of $20 per round for this time).
Aaron made a Google spreadsheet for us to record our progress.
Every time we slip, we let the others know that they can cash the first (or maybe the second, or hopefully not the third) checks.


Boom. Instant motivation.

My contract?

Practice 10 hours a week
Run a minimum of 12 miles a week
At least 2 days of strength training
Spend 15 minutes on finances every day
Keep a food journal and stay under the calorie limit 5 days a week
(My secret part...scripture study every day...I didn't include that, but I'm holding myself accountable.)

We're two weeks into it. How's it working?

Well, the first Saturday, I finished my practicing at 3:25 am. Ummmm...not so fun. In fact, pretty dang miserable.

I was sure I'd do better last week.

So Saturday night at 11:30 pm, I still had 2 1/2 hours of practicing to do, and I was falling asleep sightreading, so I called uncle and told everyone to cash my first checks.

Turned out it was OK, since everyone else has failed once, too.

I've been running better (15.5 miles last week) and practicing WAY better (memorized 2 pieces already) and eating WAY WAY better (lost 5 pounds.)

The best part? Everyone's invested in each other. I sent out a whiny text today about losing motivation and not wanting to practice and my arm hurting and got support and kindness and a kick in the rear.

I think I'll have to re-start another pact after Memorial Day if it continues to go this well. Anyone want to join me?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Another poem

Yesterday morning, I read this post at Segullah. It knocked me over.

The whole post is beautiful, so read it, but the poem...oh, the poem...

So here it is. (And I promise that my next few posts will be less heavy. My life is full of light and fun and spring rebirth and music and teenagers rolling their eyes at me and so much laughing...it's not all philosophy and pain. Really, it's not.)

A Brief for the Defense

by Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered caf├ęs and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Gift of Darkness

I recently found this lovely Mary Oliver poem. It's been rattling around in my head ever since I read it first:
 
The Uses of Sorrow
 
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
 
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.


As I've worked on becoming more grateful, I've had to confront some bitterness I've kept close, cherished even. (Note to future self: Keeping bitterness close? Super bad idea.)

Facing the ugliness wasn't easy. I've nursed and polished the hurt, noticing every little facet of it, allowing it to take up so much more head and heartspace than I ever intended. Since I'm on this journey of gratitude, I decided to turn what I'm learning to this very hard task. I started talking about why I was grateful for the pain itself, why I was grateful for the givers of pain. I started thanking Heavenly Father for the experiences I was enduring. I prayed to love those who had hurt me and to find more about them to appreciate. I prayed that they would have peace and happiness in their lives.

Guess what? It's working.

And it's a gift.

The experiences?

Gifts.

And those who gave me these experiences?

Gifts, too.

When is it easiest to sense the truth in Oliver's poem? When I'm emotionally healthy, when I'm sleeping enough, when I'm studying scriptures, when I'm communicating with the divine. At those times, I see that opposition in all things is a true principle: I won't become the woman I can be if I hold all my pain too close. Frankly, I can't hold on to pain and hold on to peace at the same time. So I'm opening my heart, letting go my desire for control or revenge or whatever else wants to tuck itself close and feed like a parasite. And that space I'm freeing up? I'm accepting new tenants: Peace. Happiness. Love. And hope...it's so great to have hope back.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

And...She's Back(?)

Oh, how I love these people. (And can Ben NEVER make a normal face in a picture?)

Don't you love those blog posts that say, "It's been SO LONG since I've written!"

This is one of those blog posts.

This blog post is to inform you, delightful readers, that my intention is to return to our regularly scheduled posts, more for my own sake than for yours, of course. I just need to keep track of this messy, beautiful life for me and for these five people you see pictured. If you'd like to come along for the ride, come along! The more the merrier!

I can give you lots of reasons to explain why in 2010 I posted 359 times, 2011 I posted 45 times, and this year I have posted 2. I'm sure some of those reasons will be discussed in future posts. Some of them will never be discussed. I will say that being refined is a ridiculously hard process, harder than I ever imagined, and sometimes public discussion is not appropriate to some of the refining processes.

And yet here I am; here WE are. On the other side of the nastiness? I sincerely hope so, at least on the other side of THIS part of the refining. My experiences have taught me, however, that there will be more refining to come, that this life is full of refining times, and that trying to avoid them has never done me any good. They will come when they will, and I can only attempt to handle them more gracefully in the future.

So here's to happiness ahead...and a few more posts in the future!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Life Lessons from Val #1 (and #2)


My mom is a wise woman.

When she reads this, she will say that that is not true.

Those of you who know her well will agree with me, though. She's not one to often give advice, despite raising nine children. She doesn't think she has all the answers. But she is kind, loving, and non-judgmental (sometimes to a fault) and people love her: from the dry cleaning lady to the checkers at her grocery store, she is a friend to everyone she meets. Obviously she has some wisdom that should be collected.

The lesson I'm going to share with you today is to memorize and use this phrase:

"You might be right."

She taught me this during the last year while I was dealing with an (some?) obnoxious child (children?) who wanted to find fault with each other constantly. This led to me wanting to find fault with them constantly. Mom suggested we use that phrase whenever someone said something we just KNEW was wrong so that we didn't have to correct them (and become even more obnoxious.)

We said it over and over to each other that day as a joke. It was kind of brilliant on a couple of levels. On the surface, it's brilliant because while we are saying "You might be right," we're thinking "But you're not..." so it satisfies the natural man's desire to stick it to our opponents.

But the deeper lesson I learned? Whenever I say "Hmm. You might be right," I'm actually allowing myself to back away from my position. And sometimes (just sometimes) I find that my opponent may actually (a little bit) be right.

Of course, now if you hear me say "You might be right," you'll know what I could be thinking, but I guarantee it goes down easier than saying "You're flat out wrong and let me tell you why."

And Life Lesson from Val #2?

Dance whenever possible. And wherever possible:


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ben's New Year's Resolution

"Don't put ZhuZhu pets in you's hair."