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.


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 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)
Stairs to "my" attic.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

3 of 3


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.

Friday, July 16, 2010

1 of 3

June in Junction

When winter wanes, and the cold spells have at last exhausted themselves, the air becomes heavy and sweet, carrying the perfume of nostalgia.

In June, I think about my grandma. When I was little and one of seven children, we visited her house almost every summer. In the sleepiest, tiniest town of Junction, Utah, there was something for each of us.

For the teenagers Reed and Isaac, the opportunity to quietly break in to the empty high school and literally rule the school. They were escape artists, spies, bandits, outlaws. Who knows what other property they trespassed? They always came back to the air-conditioned haven of grandma's house, flush with happiness and smiling secretly. Then they would go down to the basement and sew. Shorts. To be paired with suspenders and Converse. Hallowed ground they walked on, from my 7-years-old standpoint.

For Liz, an opportunity to learn to sew, to bake, to do those gentle things with which she has always been synonymous. Gentle Liz. But sometimes she accompanied the boys on their forays. She was better at hiding her glee when they would return. In her case, still waters do run deep. When at last she divulged some of her clandestine teenage adventures, I was too surprised to speak.

Abby was awkwardly caught in the middle, like me, but with the advantage of a couple more years' experience. She knew it all. She was my boss. She had the social skills I did not, the navigational capabilities I lacked. She kept me safe, she made me brave, and she never let me forget it. I resented her mother-hen hovering, but I didn't trust myself without her. I need all of my sisters like I need water, but of all my sisters, ours may be the most complex of sisterly connections. One year she got to accompany Reed on one of his adventures. He swore her to secrecy. She didn't tell me until about four years ago.

For "the little girls", Maddie and Kate, there were tiny dollies, dainty tea sets, a day bed that was curtained off into what we called "the emergency room" (because in a pinch, it became a room). There was paper for drawing and writing, shoe boxes to be converted to doll habitats, fabric in abundance for dolly accessories or impromptu ballgowns.....

Oh, the fabric. A wall with bolt after bolt, hanging up, begging to be pulled down and felt. My grandma, always sewing, often making us dresses. In my world of hand-me-downs, those dresses were gold. They were not only mine to wear, but made for only me to wear. Made for my little body. Made with me in mind. Every time I put on a dress she made for me, I couldn't help but think how her hands had touched every inch of the fabric, dictated every stitch and fold and dart. She sewed flawlessly, and she still does, when her back will allow her to sit long enough. We tied quilts. We made doll clothes. We watched her finish projects. She was always busy with something.

And for me? What was there for me, besides the dresses?

Everything and anything. I was perfectly in the middle of the girls, allowed to rest with the little girls or stretch a bit to the big girls, a free agent. Some days I had tea parties and played dress-up. Other days I walked with Abby to the corner store and bought candy and lip gloss, or went with her to ride Paint, our neighbor's horse. (That I couldn't do without Abby. She was completely confident and perfectly able with that horse, but even amidst my inward thrilling at fulfilling horse-riding dreams, I could never completely relax. He would begin to trot and I would sob, crying, "Abby...Abby!! I'm going to die!!!")

The backyard of my grandparents' house was massive. A huge blanket of green grass and a large garden plot were the source of happiness. Food from the garden--squash, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, peas, and cucumbers--adorned the table at each meal. There was a spinning clothesline. The boys would have us hold onto the poles and then spin it around and around until my grandma came out onto the porch and yelled at them to knock it off. (Always turning around with a secret smile as she went back inside.)

Work didn't feel like work. Shelling peas, mashing potatoes, harvesting the garden. We worked up incredible appetites which even picky tendencies could not dampen. I looked at my plate, thought I wouldn't like it, felt raging hunger in my belly, ate, and loved it. There was often homemade ice cream for dessert, ice cream that we got to watch as it froze. Bottled peaches in abundance and homemade pickles. Apple pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate chip cookies. We played hard, we ate well, and we slept the deepest sleep. I don't remember deeper sleep than the summers at my grandma's house.

Things are somewhat different now--less in the garden, a couple of trees that had to come down; Paint no longer lives, our bike rides have become four-wheeler rides, and we are one less in numbers--but the moment we pull into their gravel driveway, I feel my shoulders loosen and my back un-knots as I walk into their house and into my grandma's arms. Here, I am home, and here I am nothing but myself. I am 7, I am 13, I am 18, I am 25, I am ageless. Here, time is vague. It all meshes together and we can't decide which memories were yesterday or 18 years ago.

If I am feeling philosophical and wondering what Heaven will be like, visions of my grandparents' house come to mind. Rolling in the green grass and swinging on the rope swing that hung from the weeping willow; eating carrots that my hands had plucked from the ground and washed under cold water; running fast and free until I fell down and laughed; smelling the good earth underneath me and feeling electric with life.

When home is like that, home is heaven.

*Happy Sidenote: Our latest reunion was June of this year in Junction

My Boat Has Not Sailed: Three Essays

Lately I am feeling swallowed by my family life, guilty that I'm not writing more and frustrated that my creative juices seem to have slowed to a molasses-crawl.

I have these words inside--but they refuse to form and make the book I feel such a need to write.

I get scared that it will all go away in the tidal wave that is motherhood....

and then yesterday, I read this amazing bit of writing and had to share it, because it is the thing keeping me going. The thing that makes me feed, bathe, cuddle, and teach my children while I let flashes of potential genius go by (or wait until I can pay those flashes proper respect).

Mommy Mantras: Affirmations and Insights to Keep You from Losing Your Mind

It's In There

A poet I know said she didn't write one word when her kids were small. Being so focused on satisfying the physical and emotional demands of young children leaves very little left over for artistic pursuits. She reassured herself that her urge to write would return by using the mantra it's in there. Rather than visualizing her art as a boat that had sailed, leaving her alone on the shore with tiny, hungry cannibals, she saw it as a seed that was lying dormant. With the proper conditions, it would bloom. This goes for hobbies, reading for pleasure, or urges to do anything but watch movies (if you can stay awake). When you wonder where your desire to learn Italian went, remind yourself it's in there. When you have more than four hours of uninterrupted sleep a night and have time to think of things other than diapers, choking hazards, and the lyrics of "Yankee Doodle," who can tell what might spring out of you?

To keep my spirits up and keep my creative drive alive, I've decided to post three of my favorite pieces (essays?) that I've written. I'll post one today and then two more in increments after that. I am sharing essays that are memories I have--because I like my writing best when it's personal. Though it's hardest for me to write well about the most personal things, it's also the most rewarding.