Friday, December 31, 2010

Here's to promise!

I resist the feeling that inevitably comes to me on this day--that sort of panicked "I have to improve NOW! I have to improve greatly, this second! I have to correct every bad behavior!"

Don't misunderstand--I am all for self-improvement and quiet introspection. I just always feel that the more anxiety-inducing sides of those practices are being shoved down my throat this time of year. Urges to do everything under the sun IN THE NEW YEAR--as if this last year was total crap if we didn't do those things, and as if this next year won't matter either if we continue to be whatever it is we wish we weren't.

The darker sides of this New Year's attitude got to me recently, I'll admit, and I found myself lamenting the things I hadn't done in 2010. Lose weight. Put more pictures on the walls. Wake up at 7 and work out every day. Write more than once every three months. Blog more often. Get out of debt. The list goes on and on, and mirrors most common lists.

And then I wondered, what have I done this year? What is of note? And in this prayerful wondering of mine, I was flooded by all the little things I have done, and how they have changed me this year. Not just what I've done, either, but how our family has grown. It's unmistakable! I feel like we've turned a corner.

I don't change diapers anymore. (And I do remember a time when I never thought I'd be able to say that!)

Reed is 8, chose to be baptized (I am so proud), and a little more independent; his reading has blossomed unbelievably and his maturity is beginning to blossom, too. That makes my heart full and achy at the same time.

Jaxon knows more letters and numbers than I've taught him. He continues to improve at expressing his feelings--something that I waited for. His sense of humor has just risen off the charts, and he is a joy to be around.

And Savanna, well, she's potty-trained, and she's also very much a little girl and hardly a toddler anymore. That is strange and wonderful.

I myself have worked hard this year--and pretty intensely for a few months--to correct mistaken ideas I had, the kinds of ideas that can make a person very unhappy. Sometimes it feels like the slow progress of grinding wheat by hand, this sifting through my emotions and memories and facets of my spirit. But slowly and steadily, I have learned a few things that have been slowly reconstructing me, inside-out, and I feel closer to my Savior than I ever have. That alone is worth it to me--worth all the things I haven't yet accomplished, but continue to work on.

Eventually I'll be back into the swing of working out regularly. Eventually I will have a comfortable relationship with food and my body. Soon enough, my house will be clean most of the time. Someday I will write that book, and someday my photography business will shoot through the roof.

But for now, I'm going to continue at this same pace, still determined and still mindful of what I need to change, but in no way frenzied. Not panicked about the things I haven't done yet, because the word "yet" holds a lot of possibilities.

So if I'm going to promise anything this year, it is to to remember that word itself--promise. We have promise. We have possibilities.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Year in Quick Review

ZERO- the amount of diapers I've changed today....because yes, Savanna is POTTY-TRAINED!

ONE deployment that miraculously never happened (praise be)

TWO pets that came and went (Simon the feral cat--good riddance--and Penny the sweet boxer--we still really miss her)

 THREE - the number of visits this year that I have been privileged to get with my sister, Abby, and her family (This number could be incorrect....but for the sake of this format, let's assume it's not.)

FOUR - now the number of hours (half what it used to take) to travel to my little sister, Qait

FIVE - five people in our family, and I can honestly say I'm (finally) perfectly happy with that number staying right where it is--unless I change my mind.

SIX - the number of friends or family of mine who are pregnant or just birthed a baby (this has been both beneficial and detrimental in the whole Baby Hunger department, as you can imagine)

SEVEN - the measly number of posts I've done since the beginning of October

EIGHT - the age of my oldest son. Still trying to get my head around this one.

NINE - the number of years Phill and I have been married--today! (It has been beautiful)

TEN - the number of posts I aim to do each month (I know you've seen this resolve from me before, but this time I'm following through. Call me on it.)

Friday, December 3, 2010

What Do I Do All Day? You really wanted to know?!

I'm amazed by the fact that this post idea was most requested of the four! Kind of flattering (and intimidating) that you all want to hear about my usually-mundane days. No special presentation, just a rundown of my days. Well, here goes!

Note: This schedule does not include other weekly or monthly things, like: Phill's drill weekend (where he works straight through the weekend), den meeting, pack meeting, photo shoots, doctor appointments, unexpected sickness, traveling up north or elsewhere, etc....just a cross-section of my most normal of days.


Example 1:
Up at 8:20.
8:21 Dress in workout clothes with the best of intentions.
8:25 Dress Savvy and make sure Jaxon is dressed.
8:30 Notice the time and panic, making resolutions for earlier rising tomorrow.
8:30 Make Reed's lunch while the kids eat a fast breakfast at the table.
8:40 Run around like a chicken with its head cut off, looking for The Other Shoe or Two Matching Socks or That Indispensable Piece of Paper for School.
8:45 Out the door to school.
8:48 Drop Reed off and go home instead of to the gym.
9:00 Eat breakfast myself in front of the computer.
10:00 Realize I've been on the computer for waaaay too long.
10:10 Finally get up from the computer.
10:10 Realize that working out is not going to happen today; change into "real" clothes.
10:50 Put down the book I've become immersed in and tickle Jaxon's back, feed Savvy's babydoll, make a snack for them--whatever they need.
11:30 AGAIN, put down the book I've become immersed in and clean the kitchen enough that lunch won't give us a terrible disease
12:00 Lunch
12:45 Realize that I was done eating lunch fifteen minutes ago and this darn book isn't helping me get anything done.
12:50 Make a monumental effort to pull myself together, play around with the kids (usually involves impromptu chasing), do dishes, clear countertops, and clean up the living room floor. Think about dinner, draw a blank, and think about it some more. Read a story to the kids and scratch Jaxon's back again. (Can you guess his love language?)
2:30 Collapse on the couch, thoroughly spent and fresh out of motivation. Cuddle with the kids as my eyes get veeerrry drooopy.
3:15 Jerk awake to the sound of my phone alarm. Rush out the door with the kids to go pick up Reed. Sit in car, reading (yes, again) until he's done at 3:30.
3:35 Come home and make a snack for the kids. Help Reed with homework or let the kids play outside for a bit. Procrastinate making dinner, either by hanging out with Phill (since he's usually home around this time), standing around outside with the kids, allowing myself to be sucked into Facebook (happens waaaay more than it should) or photo-editing, or reading.
6:30 Realize how late it got and that I still don't have dinner on the table
6:45 Come back from Little Caesar's
7:15 Have prayer, get kids' teeth brushed
7:25 Kids in bed
7:25 Sing less songs, but still give kisses/hugs/back-scratches and at least SOME listening time, and read for 20 minutes.
7:45 Collapse into a puddle of mush on the couch, bemoaning the state of the house and counting my failures of the day, knowing full well I could have done much, much better.
8:00 Resolve to do better tomorrow.
11:30 Finally into bed.

Example 2: 
Up at 8:00
8:01 Dress in workout clothes.

8:05 Have Reed shower while I help Savvy and Jaxon dress
8:20 Having already made Reed's lunch the night before, prepare a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs, ham, and toast for the kids. Eat at a leisurely pace.
8:40 Out the door.
8:43 Drop off Reed and head to the gym.
10:15 Pick up the kids from the gym daycare, come home
10:20 Snack for the kids, breakfast for myself while I read my scriptures

10:30 Shower, dress, blow-dry my three pounds of hair
11:10 After making sure the kids have all they need, sit down at the computer to do writing exercises.
11:40 Finish writing exercises. Do some dishes (if necessary) and make lunch.
12:00 Lunch.
12:30 Read to the kids, then cuddle with them while I read (my own book)
1:00 Set timer and set about getting the house squared away--dishes, laundry, countertops, table, floors, etc...
2:00 Cuddle with the kids again on the couch, make them a snack or watch them draw
2:20 Edit photos
3:00 Put away some clean laundry or (again) cuddle on the couch.
3:15 Leave to get Reed from school, reading in the car while I wait
3:30 Get Reed, come home
3:35 - 4:30 Help Reed with homework OR go to den meeting OR stand outside with the kids while they play in the front for a bit OR cuddle with Phill on the couch when he gets home OR edit photos
4:30 Start dinner prep
5:00 Eat dinner
5:30 Do dinner dishes, play in the front with the kids again
6:00 Bring kids in, get them bathed and pajama'd
6:30 Watch some toons together OR dance in the living room to music (way better option)
6:50 Scriptures, prayer
6:55 Have kids brush their teeth
7:00 Kids in bed
7:00 - 7:30 or 7:45 Sing to Savvy and give her lots of hugs and kisses, sing to Jaxon and make him laugh and scratch his back, sing to Reed and listen to him talk about his day. Read our current chapter book (Right now it's The Great Brain....thanks, Abby!) to the kids while I sit on Reed's bed--Jax hardly lasts through a paragraph, and Savvy on an ideal night is out by four paragraphs. Reed, however, will listen as long as I read. :)
7:45-ish Cuddle with Phill on the couch and watch shows OR edit photos OR do some blogging OR do some Reader OR finish some cleaning OR read a good book OR go get a few things at the grocery store
10:35 Make Reed's lunch for the next day, make sure all the stuff we need for tomorrow is located.
10:45 Get ready for bed
11:00 IN bed, done for the day

It's kind of embarrassing to have laid out the goings-on of my day like this. Believe me....I'm well aware of the areas that could use improvement! I'm working on being able to say I have more Example 2 days than Example 1. It's funny to me, though, how differently my day goes when I choose to wake up on time, or work out, or read my scriptures. (Or all three!) Just like everyone else, I know the things that make my day go smoother, and yet I fall short. Often. And forget the essentials.

Another thing that's embarrassing to me is how much time I actually have. When I'm organized, that is. When I'm not buried in a book or gazing at Facebook or sleeping in. I'm not in any hurry to fill my day up with more--I know how quickly a day can become jam-packed, and I'm steeling myself for when our kids are involved in after-school activities--but I mope and moan about how hard it is to get everything done...and it is, when I'm not really on top of my game. But I'm sure it's not as hard as I make it out to be! I know so many others who are far busier and still manage to get so much done.

I suppose my point is--take comfort! Look how very human I am, and please see me through forgiveness-tinted glasses when you consider that I am certainly working on it. :)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

(Again) a couple of things

Reed turned 8. He IS 8. I am the mother of an 8-year-old. Stick that in your pipe and...leave it there?

I am writing. As in book-writing. As in, tearing out my hair and yelling at the computer screen because my "book" is 3 pages long. Ah, well. I can't force this. In the meantime, I've done writing exercises from an excellent book--three days in a row! Laugh if you will, but sadly, that's more consistent than I've been for years.

Savvy is actually asking to go to the bathroom. Wanting to sit on the toilet. This should be ideal, but memories of the two previous potty-training drawn-out-disasters have me a little hesitant. Maybe some princess panties will get me motivated.

We spent Thanksgiving in California with my sister and her loves, and it was glorious. We saw the new Harry Potter movie--oh, how I loved it!--and ate at In-n-Out and went to Disneyland. (Not all in the same day.) Best visit so far.

My little Q comes to visit in a little over a week! I'm breathlessly excited, and we have a project we MIGHT start that MIGHT involve her fantastic art and story-making skills, and my writing.

So many of my friends are pregnant or just had babies, and I'm telling you, my arms ache to hold the latest additions--Cara's twin girls, Charlotte and June. Just a random factoid, this raging baby hunger. It's no secret. I think I've mentioned it to strangers in passing. "Oh hello you, with the darling baby in an airport restroom! May I hold your baby? What? No? What do you mean, that's creepy?"

Last: When it comes to deciding what to blog about, it appears I am as indecisive as Reed in a candy store, so I am going to let you do the deciding. (Way to avoid, eh?) Take the poll on the top right of the blog, if you please.

And as always....thank you for reading (what is really, this time, drivel).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

We're in trouble deep

So. Our Savvy.

She's spectacularly bold. Courageous. Strong-willed.

And sassy! And sometimes, well, sometimes she's totally sneaky. Sometimes it's really annoying stuff--like dumping all the kitties' water into their food dish so that the food plumps up and swells to fit the dish (EW.). Sometimes it's pretty harmless, like sneaking glances at my hair before she decides how she'd like her hair to be.

But today! Oh, that girl, she makes me laugh. Today, I was sitting at the computer, and I heard her in her room. She said, "Hi! I'm in my room! You see me? In my room?" -pause- "Hold on, I can't talk. My mom's talking to me." -total fabrication- -bigger pause- "I'll be right there!" Then she comes running out of her room, sailing past me, her braid-wavy hair flying and her pink Converse kicking up, and then she goes right out the back door, slamming it shut behind her!

I call out to her, and she glimpses me through the window, and then guess what she did?

She ran FASTER.

So I ran to the door, opened it, and said, "Savvy! Wait! Come here!" Her response? "Stop SEEING me!"

I said, "Savvy, it's cold outside. You need a sweater."

She was so relieved that she actually laughed, and said in a shaky voice, "Ooohhh...a sweater!" Right. A sweater. Which I'm so relieved to hear, Mom, because the little neighbor boy is totally waiting for me around the corner of the house and I told him I'd be right there. That's right. The neighbor boy.

Savvy is three years old, and she was sneaking out to see the two-year-old neighbor boy.





Phill, begin rehearsing that Scare-the-Boyfriend speech now.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Heart of Gould

When I was 13, we moved from Colorado to Germany. Amongst other things, my parents were especially excited about the musical opportunities (they assumed would be) afforded us there.

Having started playing the cello at the age of 11, I had used a school rental, a rental that had clearly seen better days. Not only was it cosmetically compromised, but its tone was swallowed, trapped, unable to give full scope to the incredible sounds a cello is capable of producing. I myself felt swallowed, trapped, and unable to give my full scope of emotions to this lacking specimen of a cello.

One day, my dad came home and virtually bounded through the door, catching me in a hug and announcing, "I found you a cello. You'll love this guy's studio. Simon's studio. You'll just love it!" The day for us to "meet" my cello donned gray and chilly, a pearl-white sky the backdrop as we wended our way behind buildings to reach the upstairs studio of Simon. We knocked. He answered. What I remember most is the smell. It reminded me vaguely of a sauna--of heated wood--and of sawdust, too, but just a hint. One side of the studio was a wall of windows, so the white winter light poured in from outside, illuminating the wooden floors, and the panorama of objects strewn all over the place. Like some mad scientist building a Frankenstein, Simon's studio was hung and littered with pieces of violins, pieces of cellos, strings, bows, and tools. And there, in Simon's hand, was the neck of my cello. Mine.

I was afraid to touch it. Afraid that it was too beautiful, and that my nerves would cause me to produce a sound that wasn't beautiful. That maybe Simon would say, "Nein..." and take it away from me. But he held it out to me, persisting until finally, with a timid glance at my dad, I took its neck in my hands, and sat down. I nestled its beautiful shape in between my knees and dared to touch the bow to the strings, willing myself not to shake. That first sound surprised me so much I almost dropped my bow. It leapt from the belly of the cello. The cello absolutely sang. And then I was unaware of Simon or my dad or the instrument-massacre lying in parts around me. I played, and instead of the sound stopping at my fingertips, I was filling the room with it, and it surrounded me and held me, suspended, until I lifted the bow from the strings, and the spell was broken. It was meant to be mine, like meeting a person who was somehow always your friend, even before you knew them.

The next order of business was to find a teacher. We had high hopes in this department, considering that we were in Europe, the proverbial cradle of elite musical instruction. Alas, we met with unexpected dead ends--teachers too far away, teachers too expensive, and teachers who were not accepting new students. But finally, we found Eleanor Gould.

"She sounds interesting," my mother said encouragingly. "She requested that she have the first lesson here, at our house, so she can see if she'll be able to teach you." I was intimidated. "Be able to teach me?" What did that mean? That if I squeaked a little while dragging my bow across my A-string, I'd be fired? Nervously I waited for her to arrive, and shortly, the doorbell rang.

She was tall. While I am short, and most everyone else is taller than me, Eleanor was TALL. She had on a strange, shaggy, fur coat, which was wet from the rain outside. My mom took it for her, saying something like, "This is an interesting coat. I'm sorry it got wet." Eleanor responded that it probably smelled like wet dog [it did], and then said, "Interestingly, it IS dog. Dog fur. I had it made after my dog died."

She was completely serious. To my mom's credit, she maintained a placid smile and said, "Oh! How interesting."

Eleanor's hair was black and long, and on her eyelids were swatches of thick, pale blue eyeshadow. Her voice was deep and rich, and she wore red lipstick. One of her eyelids drooped slightly more than the other, which I later learned was due to MS, something she didn't disclose until several lessons in, and only when pressed.

She came to sit down on a stool next to me, and when she sat, out of her mouth came a whoosh of air, "OOOoooofff...." I caught my mother's eye and bit my lip, hastily stifling the wells of laughter that threatened to bubble forth at any moment. When I played my cello, she rocked back and forth in time with the music, conducting me with one hand. She was business-like and straightforward, and the entire time I was worried that I wouldn't pass the supposed test. But at the end of the lesson, she declared me qualified, scheduled my first lesson, and rose from the stool with the same "OOOoooofff" as before.

She was strange, to say the least, and often abrasive in her teaching style. Furthermore, she taught me viola technique for my bow hold, which caused my next teacher some frustration, to say the least. But her area of expertise was viola, and we knew that when we started, and I had a two-year period in Belgium where I didn't take lessons and hardly practiced, which I believe caused my teacher in Georgia far more grief than a bow-hold incorrectly taught. It should also be noted that I was typically a bit of a basket case during my lessons, and she bore me well.

As our lessons progressed, the stranger aspects of Eleanor's personality were overshadowed by an increased desire on our parts to know her better. We asked her more questions. We inquired after her well-being more consistently. In short, we actively loved her.

During one lesson, I had a headache. She asked me to point out the spot on my head where it hurt most, and then said, "Hold on." She disappeared into her small kitchen for a moment, and then came back with something in her hands. She instructed me to be still--I wondered for a second what on earth she was about to do--and then she gently rubbed peppermint oil onto the spot where my head ached most.

Some little knot within--some hard little spot where I had harbored judgment or mockery or frustration--loosened. I found my eyes welling up with tears at her unexpected tenderness. Very quickly she was back to business-mode, but I didn't forget, and I won't forget.

Months into our lessons, she called me at home and said, "Would you like to come on an outing with me? To the orchestra?" I felt panicked. An outing? With my cello teacher? Just me? But I remembered the peppermint oil, remembered the loneliness of her tiny apartment, the blue eyeshadow on her tired eyelids, and found myself saying yes. When the night came to go, I was resolved to enjoy myself, whether it was going to be easy or not. I wore a nice outfit, and I smiled when I answered the door to find Eleanor standing there, in all her tallness. She was different, somehow. Relaxed, perhaps. We chatted on the way to the concert hall, and I realized finally how she was different on this night.

She was vulnerable. She asked me to come with her, extended herself and put herself on the line with the risk of asking a silly little 13-year-old girl to attend the orchestra with her. I don't remember what music they played. I don't remember the name of those who played. I know that I was lost in the music, and unaware of the rapture on my face until I turned to find Eleanor quietly smiling at me, knowing what I was feeling. And in her face I saw peaceful triumph, her happiness that the music had touched me.

Afterwards in the car, on the way home, she even laughed some. It was as if the actual atmosphere around us had changed. When she offered to stop somewhere for pizza, I agreed, wanting to suspend the strange magic. "Real pizza, though. Not your silly Pizza Hut. Authentic Italian pizza," she said. I asked, "Is there a difference?" She laughed loudly and stated emphatically that this was a travesty, my not knowing the difference between Pizza Hut and authentic Italian pizza. So we made our way to a pizzeria, where I learned that there is, indeed, a huge difference between the two. [Authentic pizza is out-of-this-world better.]

When she dropped me off that night, I felt an inexplicable sadness, one that had nothing to do with saying goodbye for the night. I felt sadness for her going home to a silent apartment. Sadness that I had not sooner allowed myself to be taught. Not cello, but compassion. Vulnerability. Loyalty, empathy and the kind of musicality that spills into all corners of our lives.

It is true that the stranger points of her personality are unforgettable, and yes, I still laugh to remember. But the poignant aspects of our time together, and her heart of gold, have left a far more indelible impression on me.


If you are wondering, yes, this is the cello created for me by Simon. She sounds even better these days.





Post-script: Eleanor Gould is an accomplished musician, which her long string of credits belies. While she may not have been the best cello teacher I had, I am certain she was someone's best viola teacher, and obviously she taught me plenty of important things.
Many things:

1. I am suffering from Perfectionist's Paralysis, hence the absence of closer-together posting. I know that's lame. I want to write more. I need to write more. Maybe I should set aside one or two days a week specifically for writing? At least a little something? Thoughts, my patient friends?

2. We are well out of the toddler stage with Savanna, at least age-wise (let's not talk about fit-throwing), and honestly, it is killing me. The fact that we have no more baby-babies in this house...*sigh*...it's going to take a while, I think, for this to be okay with me. For that small spot of aching to dissipate. In the meantime, I am trying to adjust my mind to the upcoming project of potty-training, and trying to get excited about this new stage of family life we're easing into.

3. I love Pandora. So, so much. It has been guiding me through editing the last five shoots I've done, four of which still need to be tied up in a nice neat package for delivery. Guess what? On one of those shoots, we were on the roof. And in the street. And making tires spew copious amounts of smoke. And there were hair models, and my cousins, and a scooter. Epic. What I have been referring to as a "breakthrough" shoot. [A shoot that overwhelmingly reaffirms why I do this and love this and want to keep DOING this]

4. Savvy has Croup, and it's sad. I had her at the doctor two days in, where she was given a dose of meds to head it off, so she's mostly over it. But at night, it's still bad, since all the crap [why don't they just call it Crap?] moves into her throat and she can't quite cough it up without lots of struggle. I'm praying Jax doesn't catch it, and grateful that Reed is pretty much above the age where it does him much harm.

5. Reed will be 8 in less than a month. I'm telling you, seeing it coming doesn't make it any less mind-boggling. [Why am I always so surprised that my children grow? No one told me they wouldn't. Quite the contrary, in fact.]

6. Have I mentioned this [on my blog here] yet? If not, click on over and please PLEASE feel free to sign up to be a part of it! This idea speeds up my heart rate and makes my cheeks go rosy; I am so happy to start. I feel like I've finally found at least a beginning direction for all this....creative angst?....that keeps threatening to come pushing out of my eye sockets if I don't channel it somehow!

7. I will write again soon. A little formulating, I think, and then a plan of attack. [Funny, this is a rather logical way of going about a creative endeavor, don't you think?]

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Spokane, the U.F.O.

Over a year ago, on one particularly early morning training run in preparation for the marathon (2009), I was out running long before the sun. As usual when running in the dark, I felt jittery and a bit paranoid, but knew that most of my run would be in daylight, so I plodded along the street, which was lit only by street lamps, interspersed further apart than I would have liked.

About half a mile into my run, I began to loosen up and shed my nervousness. I got into a good groove and as usual, began to enjoy the run. Suddenly, I spotted something in the distance. Something hovering strangely in the middle of the street. I was confused for a moment, then seized with something much like panic as I watched this object moving on the road....I squinted into the darkness, trying to make sense of it. Many options went through my mind: A cat?....Some sort of mobile camera? [It was 4:45 in the morning....we all know my mind goes to anxious places at such hours of the day]...a small, ferocious animal? At times, parts of it would glint in the inky-dark morning, and I would be overcome with a fresh wave of fear, thinking that this strange animal (?!) was quietly observing me. It was maybe 40 feet away.

I had stopped running, then walking, and simply stood on the side of the road, shaking and completely confused for several minutes. Presently, a car went past, and the object moved lightly away from the car. Something in my brain--probably the gear that doesn't usually start working until 8:00a.m.--whirred to life. Something about this was familiar. Then another car passed, and this object, this glinting, light object, was lifted high above the ground by the resulting air current. And finally it clicked into place.

It was a balloon.

A cellophane helium balloon.

Probably from some kid's party.

Something thoughtlessly let into the sky, with no idea of the terror it would cause an already-nervous morning runner.

Something completely, utterly, and hilariously harmless.

I laughed out loud, then continued laughing, which evolved into relieved tears and then more laughter. That Unidentified Floating Object--that shiny balloon in the dark--had almost unthreaded me at the seams. And all because I didn't know what it was.

This last Monday, I had a bit of a meltdown. A combination of plain old exhaustion and a delayed reaction to the news of our upcoming move. Somehow, when I first received that news a couple weeks ago, I processed it in a miniature, very-convenient way. I skipped Part 1, Assimilation, the part where you digest and then mourn the future event. The part where it's ugly and you cry hard enough that your breath comes in shuddering gasps.

I admit I wanted to skip that part. So after a few tears--the kind where you simply swallow that lump in your throat, and let it sit in your stomach for weeks--I sat down at the computer, wanting to be ready to move on to Part 2. Part 2 is Research. I googled "Spokane, WA" and spent a couple of weeks just absorbing facts, without letting the real scope of things reach my brain.

But Monday came, and, well, the floodgates opened. It was as if someone grabbed my shoulders and shook me, saying, "Do you not realize what this means?" Maximum processing happened. My dear friends, the upcoming events [read: newborns] coming in those friends' lives, events that I would possibly miss or of which I would only get to see a shortened version. The change of housing, of schooling, of friendships, for my children. [Hardest part yet] The adjusting.

And worst of all, the What Ifs.

The U.F.O.'s.

What if no one there likes us?
What if my boys hate the school?
What if the boys hate me for having to move?
What if my photography isn't well-liked there?
What if Phill gets deployed right after I get there?
What if I feel lonely for months and months?
And the more complicated set:
What if I love it?
What if it's a dream come true?
What if my children never want to leave there?

All of these things rose up and I examined them at great length, standing in a puddle of water-drowned tears in the shower. I prayed. First desperately, then fervently, then resigned, and then....something else. Hopefully. Faithfully. And at last, beginning to see that this Spokane, this U.F.O., well, this could be nothing more than a harmless party balloon. Floating in the dark for now, but a (maybe even delightful) relief when viewed up-close. So for now, that is how I am choosing to view it.

A balloon.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

All


My babies, today
I will keep the skinned knees
the dirty fingernails
the peanut butter smears at the corners of your lips

Today I won't be so loud and hurried
that I can't hear your softest voices:
No need to rush, only hush
and listen to the sounds surrounding me

Give me your words, your stories,
your songs, your laughter, your tears,
and your long conversations ending nowhere
I want it all

Babies, today
I will hold you close to me
though your legs reach past my lap
and continue to reach at surreal speed

Today. Today,
because one day--one day
I will have no skinned knees to kiss
no smears to wipe, no nails to clean;
you will keep your words to yourself,
locked in a box to which I don't have the key.
And words from you might need careful excavation on my part.

So today, babies
I want it all

The mess. The noise. The tears. The joys.
I want it all

Friday, September 17, 2010

Welp. It's that time again.

So for those of you that didn't read it on Facebook, I figured I ought to share the news:

Phill got orders a couple of days ago for us to move.

SPOKANE, WASHINGTON

in May 2011.

I'm full of conflicting feelings! Excited for a new spot and excited to live hours from where I was born (Tacoma), hours from my brother, and hours from family I haven't seen for a long time, but wishing (oh so fervently) that I could take all my friends and family with me. (That familiar ache.)

Ah, well. Such is the life of a soldier and his family! Bring it on, Change. I've got my hands balled up into great big fists and my right hook is just WAITING.

Friday, September 10, 2010

An essay

For those of you who are guinea pigs for my writing blog, forgive me for the re-post.


Lady Librarian
A true-and-embellished essay on the individuality of reading tastes, and, I suppose, my literary snobbery

"Can I help you?" she asks, her somewhat-protuberant brown eyes ready and interested.
"Well, I just read the Twilight series--"
"OOHHH." She stops me with her huge-gust-of-air one-word disapproval, only a finger's width away from rolling her eyes.
I'm taken aback, but only a little. I recover quickly. "Oh. You didn't like it?"
She shifts her weight from one leg to the other and says with barely-concealed disgust, "If you like it, I won't talk about it."
Somewhere in her mouth is one heck of a snicker waiting to come out, and somewhere in mine is a biting insult.
But I plunge ahead with calculated enthusiasm: "Well, I loved it. To death."
I note with relish how she has to fight to appear objective.
I continue. "I'm thinking that I'm ready to try some sci-fi or maybe fantasy. It's a genre I really haven't explored at all, yet."
At this, she lights up. She's probably thrilled to offer what she considers real literature. I'm wondering what she'll recommend. But before she can come to my rescue with a recommendation that will surely show me what a terrible series Twilight is and oh-my-how-could-you-like-it, the male librarian to her left says,
"Oh! I could give you some great recommendations. Do you know of Ray Bradbury? Or Isaac Asimov, maybe?" I do. I'm thinking this guy knows what he's talking about, because the one short story I read from each of his recommended authors was genius, absolute genius.
I'm wondering, now, what Lady Librarian has to offer that could possibly sound smarter than this.
She looks at the male librarian and says with some secret joke in her voice, "Oh, I don't know about that for her, do you? I mean...."
She trails off, leaving me to wonder if she thinks I'm stupid. Or worse, that I'm into bad romance. I'm wondering, now, if she's going to offer some bodice-ripping pulsing-member heaving-bosom steamy-affair Harlequin novel. She continues looking at him as if he's stolen her Magic Book Recommendation Wand and turns to me to say, "Well. You might like those, I guess [snide look in his direction, which he cheerfully ignores], but I would recommend The Name of the Wind." She says it like the name is ice cream in her mouth. As if she has distinct memories of quietly reading it, sighing, while her mate [does she have one?] snores beside her, while she is delighting in forbidden fantasy.
But I'm old-hat at tact, so I say, "Oh! That's an intriguing title." And she says with her big eyes and happy face and maybe some sweat on her upper lip, "It's amazing. It'll blow Twilight out of the water." Then, because I'm really nettled by her trying to one-up my book tastes, I ask, "Um....did you read the Twilight series?"

And I know I've got her.

Her face is a combination of snoot, snot, and snide. She says, "Well. You know. I just. I haven't read it but I started but if you like it I'm not going to say anything but it's just not for me--" and she can't shut up, she's trying so hard to back-track. It's a wonder she didn't fall over.

So I smile sweetly and say, "Well. Yes. Reading tastes are so individual, aren't they?" And I let the male librarian lead me to Bradbury and other noted sci-fi geniuses. The Name of the Wind is in stock two days later, and I go to pick it up. I'm hoping that it's ridiculous, just so I can laugh at her reading tastes the way she laughed at mine. (Because as kind as I can be, unfortunately I also relish a little viciousness now and then.) I open the inside cover and begin to read:
My name is Kvothe, pronounced nearly the same as "quothe." Give it a chance, I tell my snickering self. Names are important as they tell you a great deal about a person. I've had more names than anyone has a right to. The Adem call me Maedre. Which, depending on how it's spoken, can mean The Flame, The Thunder, or The Broken Tree.

"The Flame" is obvious if you've ever seen me. I have red hair, bright. If I had been born a couple of hundred years ago I would probably have been burned as a demon. Oooooo, a demon. I keep it short but it's unruly. When left to its own devices, it sticks up and makes me look as if I have been set afire. Oh, vomit. A hero with untidy hair. So original. (Although at this point I find myself guiltily thinking of Edward's untidy hair. But his is untidy because he's a vampire, and busy sucking blood and so forth. It makes sense.)

"The Thunder" I attribute to a strong baritone and a great deal of stage training at an early age. Really? Sure it's not something else?...
My first mentor called me E'lir because I was clever and I knew it. My first real lover called me Dulator because she liked the sound of it. Now I'm REALLY going to be sick, but I'm laughing too hard to vomit just yet. I have been called Shadicar, Lightfinger, and Six-String. I have been called Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane, and Kvothe Kingkiller. I have earned those names. Bought and paid for them.

But I was brought up as Kvothe. My father once told me it meant "to know."

I have, of course, been called many other things. Most of them uncouth, although very few were unearned.

I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. Oooo. Is that supposed to be sexy? I can imagine Lady Librarian breathing fast when she reads about you, and THAT is not sexy. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in...Of course you were, 'cause that's cool, right?...I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women [gag], and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

You may have heard of me...and here I'm thinking of all the Simpson episodes with "I'm Troy McLure! You may remember me from such films as...."

So begins the tale of Kvothe—from his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan...By now, I'm in a near-paroxysm of laughter. I can hardly breathe and I actually call my older sister to read aloud, while she is also losing it...in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a difficult and dangerous school of magic. In these pages you will come to know Kvothe as a notorious magician, an accomplished thief, a masterful musician, and an infamous assassin. But The Name of the Wind is so much more—for the story it tells reveals the truth behind Kvothe's legend.

After calming down and quieting my jeering thoughts towards the librarian who recommended such hilarity, I wonder about my own desire to write a book, and then feel sheepish that I would dare to critique an author, just because the writing isn't to my taste and is pretentious and contrived. I think, "But what if my first book makes someone laugh this hard, and this cruelly? What if my first book is seen as pretentious and contrived to some discerning reader?"

And then I stop feeling guilty and feel smug that the librarian who poo-poo'd my reading choices recommended something that is, in my opinion, many levels below what I consider quality reading. And Twilight's not even my most favorite. I wonder if the librarian flaunts the same opinion about Harry Potter. If she does, I'll have to kick her in the shins and run away, concluding that she is woefully misdirected and should not work in a library.

But because I realize I have the potential to write horrible drivel, too, and because, as I said to assuage the Lady Librarian's awkwardness, reading tastes are so individual, I decide to drive back to the library and passively deposit The Name of the Wind in the drop box. I don't need to rub it in her face that I'm returning it only ten minutes after perusing its pages. The inside cover of that book was embarassment enough.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A visual


Just so you know, he's even kinder than he looks.

Smells and Solidarity

In July, my parents were visiting my dad's parents, so that my parents were only a little over an hour away.

It was glorious.

Impromptu visits--four or five of them--gave me a little taste of what I've always wanted: my parents living in close proximity to our family. It was great to have them in our house, eating dinner with us, playing with our children and talking to us late at night.

But my dad did something on one of those visits, something so selfless, that I will never forget.

And it has to do with a toilet.

If you have been reading my blog for a year or so, and if you ever read my Facebook statuses, then it will be common knowledge to you that I have serious issues with the way two little boys (i.e., mine) use (abuse) bathrooms. Particularly mine.

There was this persistent smell. Like someone had peed on a piece of cardboard and then hid the piece in the wall. I'm sorry to describe something so gross, but I'd like you to understand the extent and grossness of The Smell. My parents knew that it bothered me. They heard my same refrain every time they visited: "So I've cleaned the boys' bathroom top-to-bottom, thoroughly and with powerful cleaners, and it still stinks...I'm sorry. Feel free to use the master bathroom."

Well, this last visit, my dad was on a mission. He wanted to help us with anything that needed helping-with. Shampoo the carpets? Done. Buy some food? Done. Carry something heavy to the garage? Done and done. Whatever it was, he did it. So on this night, I was reading to Jaxon and Reed as they fell asleep. And looking down the hallway, I realize that my dad is on his hands and knees, scrubbing around the toilet in the boys' bathroom. I walk in, almost panicked, and say, "Oh Dad, you don't have to do that! It's SO GROSS!" Everything short of "Please for the love of everything fragrant STOP!"

But he looked up, a huge smile on his face and said, "Hey, we're all in this together. I'm happy to do it." I asked softly, "Because you can't stand using that bathroom?" And he answered, "Not at all. Are you forgetting that your mother and I raised seven children?" And I understood that he wasn't doing this to make me feel bad--or even because he was just sick of it--he was doing it because he wanted to help me find a solution to a really annoying issue. He simply wanted to make my life a little easier.

I said sheepishly, "I'll let you, then, I guess...." And he thanked me. So what did I do? I tried not to cry. I know it might sound silly, but it struck me so. I understood that he really DOES have my back. He really does want to make things easier and he really does KNOW how hard the daily stuff of life can be.

"Dad, this is the equivalent of you washing my feet."
"I'm happy to do it."

Not only did my dad find the source of The Smell (people, unscrew your toilet lid from the bowl and look under those hinges....and I won't be offended if you DON'T thank me....), he removed the top shelf of the dishwasher so that we could wash the offending object (okay, I guess I'll just SAY OUT LOUD that we PUT THE TOILET SEAT IN THE DISHWASHER....) completely sparkling clean.

It's hard for me to ASK for help with some of the really gross aspects of my life, but I know I often need the help, and my dad's show of solidarity convinced me that the old proverb rings true--and might I add a twist? It takes a village to raise a child (and to make a little boys' bathroom smell good) .

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hurts So Good

We had a relaxed, quiet Sunday--my favorite kind. Phill put a roast in the crock-pot early in the day, and by 3:00 the delicious fragrance was wafting through the house. We all lounged on the couches, alternately napping, cuddling, and watching movies.

When dinner rolled around, Phill set the food on the table and I followed with dishes. We sat down and immediately the kids began their familiar chorus: "This looks weird." "But I don't like beef." "What are those black spots?" "Can I eat just three bites?" I could feel the annoyance rising within me and fought to keep it under wraps. I remembered something my beautiful cousin posted a few days ago--something from another someone who was definitely inspired. I kept my voice level as I answered with the same calm answer, numerous times: "This is dinner. If you don't eat it, you'll be hungry." I decided to actually spoon-feed Jaxon to get him to try his food--"Oh! Actually I like beef." and convincing Reed to have a few more bites of potatoes before he had more mandarin oranges.

Gradually their protests died. They weren't wolfing down the food, but they were eating, and their voices weren't raised in a dissonant chorus anymore. I realized my extra effort to be patient with them had produced a new environment.

Though they were still loud, the sounds became happy. Then they tried to talk to me all at once, and I found myself surrounded by their joyful voices, all trying to get me to listen to them....and suddenly something that is so often hard for me to handle became music to my ears. I looked at their faces and laughed with them, relishing the fact that they want to talk to me, they want my attention, they love me....and then that love--which is always there but sometimes obscured by all the daily detritus--that love just bowled me over and I wasn't just laughing, but crying, too. How blessed am I? And who am I, to be so blessed? What on earth did I do to deserve such abject joy? It bowls me over at times, so much so that I can hardly stand it, and I understand the phrase, "I love you so much it hurts." Moments like these are the ones I file away for reference in those times when the feeling doesn't come so readily. Moments like these make the difficult times worthwhile.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Summer [In a poem]

My humble apologies I offer to you
not blogging for days--more than a few
my life has been busy, definitely true
but that is no excuse, and I commit anew.

Our summer was full of reunions and fun
visits from family and the flu--I was done.
Don't get me wrong, I adore my loved ones--
but sleep and rest? I didn't get tons.

Instead I got mono of the nucleosis kind,
didn't know I had it through the distracting daily grind
Luckily now, I have put the worst of it behind
and I continue to recover with a freshly-renewed mind

Reed has started second grade, free from boredom's hold
I'm keeping Jaxon home this year, a choice which might seem bold
But he's not yet five, my middle boy, and extra time is gold
I know this was our best choice--and I'll still know it when I'm old.

Savanna grows in leaps and bounds, already three feet tall
Vigor and vim, sweet and sass, she entertains us all
Compassionate and gentle, she's a good mother to her dolls
Though with one shove of her hands she can make her brothers fall....

Phill is active as ever, sports and church ball galore
The man just can't hold still--for him it's really a chore!
With busy-ness, he's happy, and that is what I hope for
I just want to see him smile, this man who I adore

As for myself, I continue to do what I can to progress
through therapy, renewed resolve, trying not to regress
I am definitely far from perfect, but mistakes don't negate success
I keep learning to be brave, and I won't let my fears oppress


Monday, July 26, 2010

So long, Penny Lane

After much deliberation and with a heavy heart, we decided today to take Penny back to the sweet friends who gave her to us.

She is a well-behaved dog, and sweet and brave. It has been a blessing to have her in our lives and Reed and I sobbed in the car on the way to take her.

But she is a lot of dog for our young family. Perhaps it's that the timing isn't right. Some small part of me keeps hoping that we'll magically "find" a home with a huge fenced-in backyard, and that Penny will not always be so active (read: hyper), or that Savvy will somehow grow immune to Penny jumping up on her and accidentally clawing her. But I know this is right (at least for now) and while my heart breaks for Reed, who is trying so hard to understand, I am certain that this is best for us at this time.

I feel like I'm writing an obituary!

On a brighter note (is there one? I'm having a hard time finding it at the moment), Penny will be with her MOM AND DAD! (She got to see her dad only a couple of days ago and recognized him--she was out-of-her-mind-happy.) She will have space to run and owners who can devote all of their attention to her.

*sigh*

And still I ache.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

3 of 3: A visual aid

While I was committed to keeping this blog a writing blog only, One day, after a particularly long stretch without the computer working, I turned it on and inside my waiting inbox were a few Picasa albums from my darling little sister, Qait.

Here is the visual proof that Erbaut lives!

Belgium is full of great little nooks like this.
Our backyard boyfriend, a stone-cold fox. Liz (oldest sister) on left, and me on the right.....what was wrong with my clothes? Good grief. No wonder I wanted a bosom-enhancing dress. The purple panties were Abby's.
Me and my dear friend.....look at my expression. It's the ouch-I-have-braces look. And I remember I had lost my contacts....so I was blind and unsure. I was also a victim of Bad Haircuts throughout my adolescent years.
Um....really I shouldn't share this. Look how painfully skinny I am, my obsession with baby barrettes, and my knack for sewing things that really didn't work. How sweet.
Me on my first day of my first-ever job. Look closely and I look really, really angry. I was. I was so nervous that I was angry. My purse, to note, was homemade (by me) from a Snorks nightgown. I was into retro/cartoons/vintage/homemade stuff. My jacket was true vintage and I actually still miss it....
Kate, Maddie (with the table's centerpiece for a hat), and my darling dad in the Belgian dining room! See the fountain in the pond out back? And see the windows? See, see? Oh, ache. I miss it.
Huge windowsills, perfect for the girls' dollies and worlds.
Kate and Nigel (her birthday gift), my room in the background. Note carpet and wallpaper and bit of narrow staircase. Isn't it glorious?
Pretty random and not pertinent to Belgium, but it's us in the temple guesthouse in Frankfurt, Germany. I include it because it's so accurate. I had just finished a youth temple trip and I was only pretending to read. I was actually daydreaming about the cute boys I'd met.
The dining room/family room. The girls were watching Bedknobs and Broomsticks. The rooms were drafty.
Kitchen. Cute little sisters.
This dollhouse makes me wish I was seven again.
Again, I only included this particular one because it makes me scream-laugh.
Corner of the soap-opera livingroom.
Note wallpaper. (and Maddie's heart-melting eyes.)
dining room, weird tiled walls, Maddie's mouth full of food.
The pond after draining
The floor! The study/parents room on left, narrow staircase straight ahead, entrance to dining room where unidentified man is, soap opera living room to the right
The front door and Abby.
This armoire was impossible to move, something of a permanent fixture in the room. Sometimes I thought it was breathing. It was in the older girls' room. The Lion, the Witch, and the Beastly Armoire.
The church cemetery....
The church
The funny stone rooster marking the town of Erbaut

backyard (more kissing trees)
backyard
Stairs to "my" attic.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

3 of 3

Erbaut

When I was 15, we moved from Germany to Belgium. I was completely against the entire endeavor, and made my statement by refusing to enjoy any moment of the adventure, at least outwardly. My parents, of course, simply smiled and said, "We're sure you'll find something you love here."

We went with my parents on a little search to find a rental, we four girls who were not yet escaped to college, plus the oldest, Liz, who had escaped from college for a while. I quietly surveyed the emerald green countryside and beautiful old European homes as we drove, trying not to give my parents the gift of a small smile that was struggling to come out. We stopped at the house of a very tiny, very French old lady named Madame DuPont. It became obvious right away that she was a shrewd businesswoman, determined to get the money she wanted for her duplex. My parents talked back and forth with her for a little, got the keys to her duplex, and we drove on to go inspect it.

As we pulled into the little village of Erbaut, my heart was surreptitiously singing. Here were old houses, weird little corners, secret pockets of interest and history. I could imagine myself in some bust-enhancing corseted dress, feeding the horses, cows, and sheep. I was deliriously daydreaming. We turned onto the street where the duplex was, and I couldn't help but gasp. To our right was a beautiful, spooky old church, complete with a graveyard. And just a little ways past was a forest with a stream riddling through. A forest of tall, green trees, past the end of which was a field of unbearably open nature. I was mentally running through that field (in my busty dress) when we pulled up to the duplex.

A dark red garage, a mustard yellow front. A wrought-iron fence, stone walkway, and stone fountain. A dark red door. I was in silent heaven, though I'm sure my parents heard my glee. We put the key in the lock and walked in. My parents laughed, and I felt as giddy as if I'd just received my first kiss. This was a house.....the floor was hard and cold and painted with beautiful designs. (Marble? I don't know.) The doors were dark painted wood, with mottled-glass inserts. On the right were double-doors leading to what would ordinarily be called the living room, but which I deemed the ballroom.

It was enormous. One huge window faced the street, which was old and cobblestone-ish. I was transported to another time, some other time when I didn't have to move every two years and could show off my budding fourteen-year-old bosom in a corseted dress, entertaining guests in our ballroom, living on bread and cheese and wine and escargots.

My parents left me and my oldest sister, Liz, to quietly enjoy the living room together. We weren't quiet, though. The room was full of drama, and immediately she and I began a little soap opera together, with me turning to the window and with a grieving sob, saying, "Katherine, I just can't do this anymore." Liz played along perfectly. Liz, who was 20, but could still play with the oblivion of a daydreaming fifteen-year-old girl. She slipped into her role perfectly. "But....but....I don't understand! Why, Klevin? Why?!" Her tortured words rang out and rested in the sunlit air for a minute before I turned and shouted with laughter, "Klevin?! WHAT kind of name is that?!" And by the time the rest of the family was done touring the house, we were still standing there laughing, with tears rolling down our cheeks.

Our parents walked in, and my dad said triumphantly, "Well! You've decided to break your silence, have you? This house is pretty ridiculous, isn't it?" I immediately rose to its defense, partially mad to have had him discover me laughing when I was very busy being mad at him and his Army career.

I said, panicky, "I love this house! What do you mean, it's ridiculous? I want it! We have to rent it, Dad, we have to!" (Oh, my fifteen-years-old drama.) He beckoned for me, smiling, to come tour the rest of the house. It was no use. The things that made my parents groan or laugh out loud were only beautiful and charming and fairy-tale to me.

The narrow, steep staircase....the rocket-looking shower in the huge bathroom, which was actually two small bathrooms right next to each other. The windows that were near floor-level. The seventies-green carpet, the wallpaper that was surely fifty years old. The strange locks and strange doorknobs, the slanted walls in the back-bedroom. The two steps down into the kitchen, which was mint-ice-cream green, complete with a little bathroom, too. The laundry room that seemed to belong in a horror film. And the backyard, which I would have been torn from with screams and gut-wrenching pleas, had my parents not decided to humor us girls, who had been thoroughly romanced by this weird old house.

The backyard. A long stretch of grass with a stone pathway leading through some secret stone wall; trees that would bloom with wisteria, and honeysuckle bushes; a pond, which was filled two feet up with fetid water, but which had a stone bench nearby underneath the overhang of the wisteria tree. This backyard was made for daydreaming girls. A statue of some winged god perched obvious and naked in the green grassy part of the yard. We speculated about future outfits for him, and went through the doorway in the stone wall. I was immediately lost in my daydreams, no longer surrounded by my four sisters. It was weed-clogged and somewhat deadened, but held four benches and five trees, and I could picture myself under each one, kissing some beautiful boy. Just beyond this stone-walled secret garden was a section full of mostly nothing, but with a wire fence on one side. I knew that I could easily spy on the neighbors through that fence. In fact, I did spy on my neighbors through that fence--a very old couple. The woman was almost deaf, so we'd hear her calling in French to her husband. One day, I spied him in his yard, feeding birds. He spoke tenderly to them and let them eat the seeds out of his hands, and while I hid and watched, spellbound and holding my breath, he said softly, "Ah, ma petite famille...." His little family. I didn't let out my breath until he walked into his house, and then wept because it was just too beautiful.

The house was perfect.

With all its hilarious imperfections, nonsensical features, and old nature, this house was exactly the balm I needed. My parents smiled in good-natured defeat and returned to Madame DuPont, who was shocked to hear that anything had been even slightly unsatisfactory to my parents. Perhaps she, too, had been won over by the romance of this ridiculous house, imagining herself in the same dress with the same boys and the same beautiful life.

The back-bedroom with sloping ceiling/wall became mine. It was the smallest, but I didn't have to share. There were two huge bedrooms along with it on the top floor, each of which was shared by the older girls and the younger girls. I liked my hideaway, liked that I could hear the neighbors yelling to each other--and loved, most of all, my view from my window. From up there I could see our backyard, and the open field stretching beyond. I could clearly view my neighbors left and right, and I could watch my sisters in the yard below.

Soon after moving in, we discovered the garage attic. A pull-down ladder led to the dustiest room I have ever been in. My mother let me claim it for writing purposes, sweet nurturer of romance that she is. In that attic were magazines in French, magazines from the forties and fifties. Newspapers, too, with mysterious articles, many of which I happily assumed had to do with the creepy graveyard down the street. I sat at a little desk, with light pouring in through one window and a skylight--dust-covered light, but perfect, nonetheless. Sometimes when I couldn't write anymore, I'd peek out the window at my sisters in the backyard below. In that attic, I was Elizabeth Bennett, Jo March, Jane Eyre....

I should also mention that there was a skylight in the slope-ceiling two-bathrooms-in-one lavatory upstairs. We liked to open the skylight and stand on a stool, poking out of the roof from the waist up, and shout to whoever was in the yard below, "Hey! Guess what? I'm pooping!"

I explored Erbaut with my imagination soaring, feeling quite safe in that closed little village. The forest was eventually cleared away, with me standing on the side of the road sobbing, while the Belgian workers looked on, placidly smiling. (They must have had fifteen-year-old daughters at home.) But none of its appeal left; I ventured into the graveyard by myself one very-typically-grey afternoon, and enjoyed being spooked and saddened by the tombstones. Sometimes I left wisteria picked from our tree. Sometimes I cried, feeling that I would have liked to know all these dead stories, would have liked to recognize these names written in French and Flemish.

Once, my little sister Q and I ventured into a different section of town and discovered a beautiful public courtyard, beyond which were several properties. We walked along the road, feeling that perhaps we were trespassing, when we heard a hair-raising scream. We froze, terrified into paralysis. Then my sister began to laugh, and I followed her gaze to see three peacocks in the yard to our right. Peacocks, screaming, making our limbs shake with relief and residual adrenaline.

There were open fields everywhere with cows and horses and sheep; homes that looked so old you could be sure they housed Mozart's friends. On a lonely outing one day I found myself staring at a cow that was extremely close to the fence. I got as close as I dared--a foot away--and stood perfectly still, visions of possible bovine violence in mind. But it was perfectly harmless; it stuck its tongue in one nostril, out, and then into the other nostril. My laughter must have been like a shout, because it turned and walked away, probably with visions of possible human violence in mind.

We made ourselves at home. We were on everyday-pleasantry status with the neighbors across the street, who had sheep that bleated in a belching way every time we walked past; we usually told them to shut up. The winged statue in the backyard received a gift of purple underwear, sunglasses, and sometimes a jaunty hat. We became so used to him that we were momentarily confused when friends would look out the window and laugh in surprise. My attic continued to offer sanctuary, whether it meant writing stories full of intrigue and sadness, or perusing the pages of parchment-like newspapers, searching for names to match those on the tombstones down the road.

I had very few good friends while in Belgium, and our home and its surrounds were my favorite friends. Not anywhere stateside have I seen anything to compare to its charm, and it still lights my imagination on fire to remember it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

2 of 3

My Work: A Good Day

I wake up, already feeling the weight of responsibility like an elephant sitting on my chest. I commit. I rise out of bed and stumble into the bathroom to dress my tired body and camouflage the anxiety that is obvious in the muscles of my face.

I re-commit, and I remind myself that this is a daily sacrifice that will always, always yield a return. Perhaps not within my desired timing, but always. Always there will be a reward for this exhausting work.

I greet my children quietly, letting them wrap their arms around my waist and putting my hands on their cheeks; I lift their faces to best see their brown eyes, and I kiss their cheeks, their noses, the swirly spot on the crown of the head. I will myself to be present, to drink them in, to experience the purity that will soon enough be fleeting.

I make them food; I nourish their small bodies with my small hands. Scoop it up, put it in the bowl, watch their hungry eyes and their eager hands as they partake.

I make myself pause and watch them a little longer, looking long enough to remember how beautiful they are. The sparkles in their eyes. The laughter all the way from the depths of their bellies.

I remember when I was little like them, and that it was not golden--what childhood is completely golden? What a crock--but I remember that much of it was carefree; carefree enough that I felt safe, loved, nourished, and protected.

We have a good day, dotted here and there with the very human moments. My August boy suggests at one point that we put his May sister back into my belly, from whence she came, because she is being a bad baby. The suggestion has its merits, given the lonely state of my womb....but we gently explain that our May daughter is here to stay, and all is forgotten.

There is the usual: emotional sparks, physical scuffles, and willful resistance. But overall, peace. Overall, allowance. Allowance for laughter and questions and stories and impromptu lessons. A sort of enchantment over our house today, one that I know probably will not last too long, in the up-and-down swing that is day-to-day life. But I savor it, cradle it; hold it in the palms of my hands, like the faces of my children. When they smile, their cheeks curve against the curve of my hand, and it is like holding a perfect golden apple. Precious fruit of my womb.

In the evening, when dinner has been served, a rare family home evening lesson taught, and warm cookies consumed, I turn on the music.

They, all three, are transported. They move their bodies in whichever way the music dictates. They are at once graceful, amusing, pretty, sassy, genius. They dance in the most natural way: unfettered, no consciousness of self, no censorship. I watch them, my three living breathing masterpieces, and I can't help but feel a strange mixture of emotions: pride, and an odd little aching. The temporal nature of this particular brand of bliss is palpable. One day they will not dance with such abandonment; external factors may dictate the way they choose to move their bodies through this world and their most free dancing will probably be done only when they are alone.

I remember when I danced by myself, behind my closed doors, with joyful abandonment. Breathless and brave, I moved through my world with no eyes on me, becoming myself. Then, having exhausted my need to exist with no censors, I'd collapse on my floor and lay quietly. Aching to be a child again, when I could dance with no fear in a room of people.

I tuck the children into their beds, making sure the blankets cover their thin shoulders. My children are long and sinewy; they are strong, but thin, so that I never believe they are warm at night. Even when they sleep uncovered in wild postures--strewn like a fallen marionette over the bed. I have to sneak in and cover them back up.

My November son plays with my hair as I lean over his smiling face. He makes me look bald, and we both laugh hysterically. Then he says playfully, "What, do you have cancer or something?!" I think about how innocent he is. That he has no idea what this really means; I am for the moment happy that he doesn't know this sort of boldness is near-taboo. He ruminates that if I had cancer, my husband would have to leave me because I would not be "sexy" anymore. I gently and playfully explain that there is much, much more to sexiness than appearance....and wonder how on earth we came to this spot in the conversation.

I will tell you how: I was gentle today. My November son trusted me today, enough to say exactly what was on his mind, and ask me the strangest questions, the ones that make me squirm (or glow with pride) and wonder what he has been thinking for the last several months.

And although I am still trying to figure out what brought him to that line of thinking--cancer and sexiness? It evolved into a discussion about polygamy and divorce, even--I am reveling in one of the rewards of my work.

My boy--my boy, born in November, during the coldest months in Colorado--my boy, who will close his lips as tight as an oyster if he feels any sense of judgment--my boy talked to me in complete trust and peace tonight.

In this small and miraculous way, God Himself taps on my shoulder and whispers, You are making progress every day.

Every day, visible or not, I am doing this. I am here. I am not always acting with abandoned joy, speaking with gentleness, or living totally in the present. But I am doing this. Day in, day out, submitting to the Lord's timetable.

And for that, there is always a reward.