Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and The . . . Oh, I Can't Say It

Yep, that's me in the red lipstick.

Is it?

I hardly recognize myself. You might have that problem as well.

Because the truth is, if you were to knock on my door any given morning I would most likely look something more like this:

Surrounded by kids, no makeup, probably not showered, likely in pajamas - depends on if the clock has struck noon yet.

This, of course, is the naked nitty gritty of it:

There has never been a not-beyond-unflattering photo taken of me on Christmas morning (This being Christmas 2006). I have come to terms with this rendering of me. But I like the first one better. The photo of me with the kids is truth, flanked before and after by extremes that are only marginally representative of Jessica.

Our Stake Youth Presidencies - that would be Matt and Co. hosted an incredible evening on Wednesday last. A 1940's themed dinner and dance with special guests from each ward who came to tell us about their own experiences in the 1940's.

Teenagers and octogenarians fraternizing with some middle aged arbitration. No intimation that there were any disputes between our young and old, merely a means of "settling the differences" between young and old. There are a great many 'differences' stacked up in the 70 years between 84 and 14. And there is a great deal of good in throwing these unlikely dinner companions together.

After the dinner we all convened to the ballroom where a live orchestra and some experienced swingers awaited our frisky feet. A whole lot of 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2. Matt swung me round on my red shoes until my smile hurt like the day I got married and my muscles could barely hold my legs up. Our dear Hilda - A German who escaped to America during the war and is now a RoseParker through and through - held Ewan all evening while Matt and I danced. I tried twice to relieve her of the 12 pound burden but she wouldn't relinquish him.

In honor of dancing with my husband I wanted to look pretty:

This is nearly three hours worth of pretty.
Three hours!?
That's ridiculously self indulgent. As is the posting of so many photos of myself. Justified only by the fact that one must keep a record of the day they curled their hair. Which did not translate into curls for a day. Despite using approximately ALL the gel and hairspray I own, these were curls for . . . maybe two and a half hours.

This is me being Chani:

Matt calls it my poser lips.
Chani is a poser. That's why she always tilts the scale toward 'gorgeous' in her photos. She poses good.
Matt is right - those are poser lips - I do not regularly arrange my face thus. But I have a round face and this lengthens it in a Grace Kelly kind of way.
And I had best not go on in this opening of Pandora's Box of insecurities of the common housewife. As if having a round face were something to be ashamed of.

This is me being Grandma Leavitt:

I can see that this is a photo of my face in some particulars, but I have captured the era of Marba Rose in her youth - the mature kind of youth that comes before the mature kind of old.
If you look closely you can see the wrinkles at the corner of my eye.

Matt pointed them out to me a few days ago and said "We're getting old."
I said "You're getting old, I am the ageless Madonna."
He said "Madonna is fifty and nasty."
I said "The other Madonna."
He said "That's blasphemous."
I said "So is pointing out your wife's wrinkles."

Ok, this was not actually the conversation we had. It went something more like this:
Matt: I can see little wrinkles at the corners of your eyes. We're getting older.
Me: Yep.
Because what else do you say to such an inconvenient truth?

But while Matt and I danced, a fresh bloom of a youth who was once Matt's student asked him what year he was born. He was a bit evasive with her question.
"I have a secret for you," I told her, "I am a year older than him."
"NO WAY!" She exclaimed. "You look way younger than him."
It was kind of dark so I'm guessing she couldn't see my wrinkles.

See what I mean about the round face:

That is my real smile belying my real love for Matt.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Crowd of Small Adventures: BANG BANG

It's no secret that I am not immersed in the world of cool - the world of hip young singles (or pseudo singles as the case may be).
When it comes to music, I live vicariously. I suppose I always have. As a child it was my father's midnight vinyls that commanded my listening ear - Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joni Mitchell et al. As a teenager it was my big sister, my cool cousins bringing me Depeche Mode, Erasure, OMD, The Cure. In adulthood I could very well be hidden in the avalanche of popular-gone-Sesame-Street, e.g. Feist counting 1-2-3-4 monsters, or penguins, or chickens - that is, children could rule my musical ear if I let them. But NO. It cannot be so.

Instead I look to my kid sister as my new proxy. Chani kept singing after high school madrigals. She sings still. First in a group called Rubik's Hotel, and now an up and coming group in Las Vegas called Dusty Sunshine. She's hooked up in the local scene and passes on new gems to me.

Here is one:
A Crowd of Small Adventures

That is my cousin, Jack Wilcox singing and playing guitar, and nearly stepping on the lizard. I remember Jack as a very quiet, very blonde little boy at the family Christmas party every year at my grandparent's house. Who knew he could command so much attention by standing and singing in front of people. He has a unique voice, both lyrically and acoustically.

Chani happens to be in this video for a small moment - one of the onlookers at the boxing ring. Her boyfriend, Scott is one of the Thompson boys who created the video. Mike and Jerry Thompson directed it while Scott was working the camera - or at least one of the cameras. They have done some other videos and even a feature length film called Thor at the Bus Stop, which is the makings of a serious cult classic.

My kids and I love this song - Bang Bang - and the video. We hope you like it too. For your viewing pleasure you can check out a few more videos by the Thompson Brothers at Vimeo.

And you can find more songs by A Crowd of Small Adventures here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I'm Not a Witch, I'm Your Wife

Maren calls it the WITCHING HOUR.
I have heard Susie call it the ARSENIC HOUR.

Whatever it is, it deserves capitals and it deserves attention. The hour before dinner, the hour at the end of many in the house with small children, the hour after naps, the hour before Dad gets home. The hour we want to quit.

I know the pernicious ticking of these minutes mingled with the cries of all who live here making exhaustive demands for ridiculous unrealistics.

Let's paint the picture:

I am at the sink trying to clean up the kitchen so I can cook something to feed this family of children who will likely refuse the food I put in front of them when finally we sit at the table too late for our own good.

Ewan has been fed but is still crying while he reclines in the swing that mostly just spells a.b.a.n.d.o.n.e.d to him.
" I want a cookie, Mom!"
"No, we are eating dinner in an hour."
"I can't wait that long, I'm hungry."
"You just had a bowl of yogurt and a graham cracker. You can wait for dinner."
"Please don't yell, Caroline."

"I want to hold you."
"I can't, Cecily. I need to make dinner."
"I don't want my dinner - it's gross. I want to hold you."
"No Cecily."
"Is that blue fire, Mom?"
"CECILY, get AWAY from the stove."
My yelling is of course only a measure of safety, trying to scare her away from the flame, but it inevitably scares her into whimpering tears and I am forced to hold her while I should be attending to the cooking of whatever is on the stove.

Ewan is screaming by now. Cecily's wounded feelings are unsoothable, Caroline is still begging and accusing me of meanery, while Jonah refuses to clear the table off, stamping back and forth through the kitchen declaring how unfair it is that he cannot go outside to play.

I am crippled, standing in the midst of our mess from breakfast, lunch, lessons, coloring, half hearted attempts at working on Christmas gifts, cutting, paper, glue, dolls, boxes, markers, junk mail, books, candy wrappers, dirty socks, dirty diapers, crackers, cracker crumbs, blankets covered in spit-up, shirts covered in spit-up, damp towels, leaves, math sheets, sticks. I am rendered impotent by the milieu of stuff and the milieu of noise.

And then Matt walks in.

How often he enters this cacophony of trouble when his day at work has ended. How seldom is he met with my smile, dinner, happy children.


We greet him with need . . . thinking little of the needs he brings with him. His daily salutation as he comes through the door, fairly certain of the scene that awaits him, is "I'm here to help." And help he does. My good husband, gallant knight, swooping in to restore some idea that family is good and we can actually enjoy each other.

As yet, this circadian demise of my good self has not driven me to arsenic. But I would do well to remember when my husband walks through the door that like Billy Crystal's little henchwoman in The Princess Bride, "I'm not a witch, I'm your wife." As witching as the hour may be, as tempted as I may be to lash out at the man who fathered my chaos and leaves me to it each day, I am wife - not witch. His 'leaving me to it' is fulfillment of his duty to provide for us in a way that I could not. We live by the bargain of accepting our roles.

I told Matt the other night that I had figured out why we sleep. God knew that mothers and fathers would need desperately to arrive at the quotidian moment when they could lay the little bodies of their children in their beds and find enough quiet for enough hours to reset their tolerance for the work of parenting.

This is not a diatribe against my children, or my luck to be their mother. It is the truth of it; my weakness, their imperfection, our parallel attempt at being a family.

Life with children is hard and hard and hard, punctuated by moments of pure illumination. So let there be light.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Homeschooling Requires Jelly Beans

WHY ? why? Why?

Why do we homeschool?

This is the question a psychologist asked me two years ago with great incredulity when I went to her for help during my dark days of postpartum depression. It's a fair question, especially for someone feeling overspent, overworked, underslept, and overangry.

The answer to this question eluded me then as it does now. I have read books about why other people choose to homeschool and I relate with some of their reasons. I get catalogs from the great amorphous right-wing, conservative Christian homeschooler guild that is sure I am homeschooling so that the infidels in the schools won't whisper the name of "Darwin" to my little darlings, lest they be convinced there is no God.

I don't order from those catalogs .
And Darwin is not why we homeschool. Unless that is to say there would not be opportunity in public school to answer or explore all the questions my children have about who he was and what he did . We do have opportunity to indulge curiosity in a way that cannot be done by a teacher in a classroom. I have a finite number of curious minds to indulge. The logistical impossibilities are stacked high against teachers from the outset. I can't blame them for the parameters that restrict their abilities.

I am Christian and I admit this does play a part in my WHY. We don't watch television in our house. It is bad for us. This is a personal choice that has made us a happier family. We do not have any video/computer games in our home. Again, this has helped us turn to other forms of entertainment and engagement - namely each other. These choices stem from our Christianity, our own interpretation of how we, as a family, can prepare to know Christ. I do think that the influence of media and gaming found swirling around in the brew of popular culture in the public school is at odds with our choices as parents.

This, of course, may be considered being overprotective.
tomato - tomahto

I think I mostly find my Why in being privy to my children's moments of discovery. If I sent them elsewhere for their education I would not see the first stitches of recognition as they sew a new concept to their own young collection of ideas.

I am rewarded constantly by the time I give to my children in the name of education.

Jonah does a timed math sheet every day - one minute to complete 25 addition facts. The point is not necessarily finish all 25, but to continue to improve and get as many right as possible, an effort at proficiency. Jonah only sees the 25 that need to be completed and we have gone through many days of tears for the blank addition facts glaring at him at the end of one very short minute.

The crying.
Ughh, the crying.

One day I said to him, "Jonah, you don't need to be so devastated if you don't finish every addition fact."
Without hesitation he responded "Just give me some jelly beans if I feel devastated."

Caroline and I did a reading lesson yesterday; number 64 of 100 - the 100 that are in the lesson book. There will be a thousand more lessons over the next few years as we read together regularly. She has a story to read each day and they are getting longer. Yesterday's story was a full page and at the outset she slumps her body into the refusal posture that tells me we will be at it for a long time and each word will require frustrating coercion on my part. The battle ensued. But it was a funny story, as most of them are, about a boy who tries to send his mother a card but a cop gets it instead, and it inspired her to make two beautiful cards for me that said "Mom" with hearts and flowers.

Jonah and I read Shakespeare. Not the intense, full language Shakespeare that will come several years from now. And not the Henry V Shakespeare that is best left until one has developed a true appreciation for the slightly more approachable plays. We have read children's versions of the plays that make us laugh.
It did not occur to me the other day as we read Romeo and Juliet that the end of this story was very different from As You Like It or A Midsummer Night's Dream.
While Romeo was kissing the lifeless lips that would soon warm giving Juliet her turn to find the death of love lying poisoned beside her, Jonah was already crying. When Juliet turned the dagger on herself Jonah's crying became full sobs that wracked his little body. I couldn't finish. He had his head in his hands, full of tears, while he asked over and over "Why would he write this, why would he write this?"
When Jonah calmed enough to talk I finished the last few paragraphs where the Montagues and Capulets vow to resolve their differences for the sake of the lost youths.
I told Jonah, "It's not a true story."
"I know," he said, "it's just so sad."
"Why do you think Shakespeare wrote a story like that?" I asked him.
"To torture someone."
"Do you learn anything from it?"
"It teaches you one thing," Jonah acquiesced, "never quarrel, because bad things might happen and it all turns out horrible in the end."

Had I any jelly beans that day, I would have offered them as balm to his devastation.

Strangely, my biggest regret with this experience was that Jonah will never discover Romeo and Juliet for the first time again. The tragedy is known to him no matter how many times he reads it or sees it on stage. But at the same time I am so glad that I was with him to talk through his visceral response to a very unhappy ending. That is the gift of homeschooling.

A week may turn out very different form my vision on Sunday night of our next round of lessons. This week there has been letter writing to Norway, philosophical discussion about the nature of curfews imposed by Henry Plantagenet in England, uncovering Herculaneum (the lesser known city destroyed by Vesuvius in 79 A.D.), a trip to Temple Square to participate in another homeschooler's geography project, watching the leaves sprout on our sweet potato immersed in water, and the creation of two very impressive versions of pages from The Book of Kells.

It's a good week.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Without Invitation

Here is something I will not do again:

Google images of spiders.

Spiders are disconcerting in the best circumstances, but coming at me in ultra close-up, or ultra millions from my computer screen makes my arms feel week from the inside. My mind sends the cold sting of venom into my fingers.

I don't hate spiders. I don't love spiders.
I recognize that spiders eat other undesirable living things in my house, but they are their own kind of creepy. I find them hiding in my pile of towels in the laundry room more often than I care to. A strange red, crustacean looking fellow that ends up atrophied in the bottom of my washing machine if it does not escape before the awful drowning. I see the hairier type lounging in the upper corners of the house. I find them scurrying across the white tile in my basement - a flash of dark hoofing it from one hiding place to the next before I can bring down the nearest Animal Atlas in one crushing blow atop the offender.

This past week spiders have invited themselves into my days with no thought to how unwelcome they might be.

The Spider Encounters

Sitting in the dining room I hear Cecily scream in primal waves from the stairs. I lay the baby on the floor and run to rescue her from whatever injury has just befallen her. She is visibly unharmed but cannot stop screaming and shaking. On the step beside her - difficult to see in the carpet that camouflages its bulbous body - is a spider making a leisurely escape. Cecily is crying now, trying to speak through her tears, "My toes . . . 'pider on my toes, 'pider on my toes. Scary Mama."
"Did that spider walk on your toes?"
"Yes," she sobs.
"Did it bite you?"
But it has been several days now and multiple inspections have revealed no spider bite. It just walked across her lily white toes which nearly killed her from fright - no venom necessary.

Bringing the kids in from the car after a late Saturday evening at the Homestead. We are herding them down the stairs directly to their beds. I hold Ewan and walk right behind Matthew while he carries Cecily. While he is descending the stairs a spider is descending it's thread such that I think they are going to collide about face/shoulder level. He cannot see the spider, and it is happening too fast for me to warn him. But they just miss each other. Matt makes it to the bottom of the stairs and I wait for the spider to reach the floor so I can make sure to step on it on my way down.

I am driving. There is a mosquito zipping about in the space between me and the windshield that I cannot kill despite much thumping and waving of my hands. It mocks my iron fist with skilled evasive maneuvers. As I approach irate frustration and reckless driving that will surely put the four children I have buckled into my van in jeopardy the mosquito seems to stop mid air near the bottom of the windshield. I realize it has been caught in a spider's web. I laugh out loud to think that I could not bring down this little flying creature but some spider hiding out in my van has got the thing absolutely. There is obviously no escape for the mosquito that is now a meal. This is funny until . . .

A few days later I buckle the kids into the van after trick-or-treating at Grandpa's office. We say goodbye to Matthew as he drove separately and I slide into the driver's seat when I catch a glimpse of a FAT, hairy thing dart across the top of my windshield. My first thought as I am ejecting myself at light speed out of the car is "I know why you are so fat." This is no ordinary spider - as most arachnid close encounters are of the extraordinary variety. I reach in to find something with which to vanquish the oversized brute. All I come out with is a little packet of papers stapled together that is surely one of Caroline's homemade books. I position it with great care fearing that my one shot at annihilation will result in the thing jumping out at my face instead of being crushed on contact. My strike is swift and successful, resulting in a morbid crunch beneath my fingers and a brown smear across the glass. A little sign of Halloween cheer. Luckily I have baby wipes on hand.

I might have spared him since he took care of the mosquito for me, but the cardinal rule of insect eating spiders is that they must keep themselves unseen. Had he hidden in the depths of wherever I would have let him be.

It was his mistake, not mine.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Number Four and The Help just left

I am plus a baby

minus a mother



We have a new baby.
There are tell tale signs. The most patent of these being when I pushed him out. So. . . I'm pretty sure.

Here are some others:

As predicted, my belly is not big and tight any more, it is big and gushy.
I sleep really well now - but only for about three hours at a time.
My kids have watched Matilda 26 times in one week.
We have done no lessons in three weeks.
I sit in my rocker for hours every day.
I have read three books in three weeks.
I don't go to church anymore.


Here is the sure sign that the mother is gone - the MOTHER - the I can do anything despite being sixty something and in pain most of the time MOTHER:

That's the sure sign that she is gone.

The airport scene was awful. Since Cecily was pretty much resigned to having lost me as a person who could do anything for her over the month that Nana was here, I was pretty sure parting would be most painful for her. When I pulled the car up to the drop-off curb the tears started, but not for Cecily. Nana cried which made Jonah cry, and Caroline cry, but not Cecily.

Cecily turned her head. She wouldn't say goodbye, she wouldn't give Nana a hug. Her eyes were confused and filled with tears she would not let spill over. I suppose she thought if she wouldn't say good bye, Nana wouldn't go.

I got out to hug my Mom and steal from her little frame any emotional strength she might have in reserve to fortify myself for the remainder of the day. My first day of me and four kids by myself. After having her here for a month, letting go was difficult.

I thought it was difficult for me, but when I looked back at the car Jonah and Caroline were standing in the front of the van, both of them sobbing into their hands, giving a sad little wave every now and again and then dropping their tearful faces while their shoulders shook with the awful grief of it all.

We waved to Nana as we drove away, Ewan crying by this time as well. But still Cecily was quiet. Until we made our way through the drop-off circuit and headed for the freeway. Jonah and Caroline had quieted by then and Cecily's little voice declared "I want to say goodbye. I WANT TO SAY GOODBYE." She sensed the reality of separation. She was desperate. As we came around heading east on I-80 Cecily saw a plane taking off just in front of us and waved yelling, "Goodbye Nana, Goodbye!"

Nita Sue - you specialize in making yourself utterly indispensable - on both sides of the country. I hear they are crying their own tears back in New York waiting for you to come home.

The next morning, when I got Cecily our of bed I changed her diaper for the first time since Ewan was born. Nearly a month of her little two-year-old bottom being farmed out to be cleaned up by other hands.

It took me nearly a week to do my first load of laundry. And I've yet to fold it.

Good bye Nana.

We miss you.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Make Do

We do not live near any ocean - not the Pacific, not the Atlantic, and really not the Indian. We are land locked in North America.

I was nine years old the first time I saw an ocean . . . and a beach - oh the waves, and the rocks, and the shells, and the sand of it all. Sand under my naked toes, sand wet and sand dry, sand castles (or lumps), sand holes that fill with water from below, and sand in all the crevices beneath by bathing suit when we got back to the motel.

Our trip to the ocean was really a trip to Disneyland. The beach was an afterthought to Mickey, but it may have been the more formative experience for me.

Our family was without great means when I was a child. I didn't notice much, but I'm guessing if I were to see the household income verses expenses from that period of my life it might all work out to a bottom line of "approximately destitute." Like, meat was the venison my Dad brought home from a hunt, and spending cash for my sister and I were the few dollars we brought home from peddling home made cookies through the streets in our rusted wagon.

I loved my childhood. I never felt poor. Not even when Grah and I combed through the rubbish bin looking for interesting things to play with - empty bottles of any sort, that was our real bounty - we had an apothecary of plastic shampoo bottles that kept us entertained for . . .well, our childhood.

So my Mom coming up with the money to get our family of five to Disneyland was no ordinary feat. I'm guessing she didn't do anything illegal to get the cash - she's just not like that.

I'm guessing she sacrificed a few of her own necessities - she's just like that.

When the money was ready she loaded us all in the Dreaded Dormammu - our red and silver Volkswagen Bus - and we left Cedar City for the very foreign experience of California. We got as far as a few miles past Mesquite before the Dreaded Dormammu made some dreaded sounds and puttered to a stop on the side of the desert highway.

My Dad declared the trip a resounding failure and we would have to make our way home some how.

My Mom used words she doesn't normally use and declared the trip in full swing and it was up to him to find a solution.

She won.

The story is; Dad starts walking back to Mesquite, nice couple in a Mercedes stop to pick up the Damsel in distress along with her three children. Nice couple turns around to fetch Dad. Uncle in Mesquite takes care of the Dreaded Dormammu. Nice couple picks up their second Mercedes in Glendale that they let my Dad drive. We caravan to Vegas where my grandparents lend us their car and we drive to Anaheim the next day.

Thank you nice couple with two Mercedes who let strangers drive your cars.

My nine year old heart might have broken into sad little pieces had we not made it to California. It was my life's adventure at that age.
I ached to see Disneyland.
I ached to see Los Angeles.
I ached to see the beach.

So now, when Jonah tells me he "really, really, really" wants to see the ocean, I know how he feels. He is seven. Time is ticking away for our inland selves, and he grows impatient. Mountains and canyons are nothing to scoff at. We have some of the most stunning the world has to offer, but the unknown is hopelessly beguiling.

We have tried to plan California, but babies, graduate school, and money seem bent on keeping those 682 miles as distant as say, the Arctic.

On a whim, Matt decided to offer the children the nearest beach available to us on Monday.

It is a beach not without some faults, namely that it is the shore of the Great Salt Lake - which is not as much great as it is foul smelling. But there is water and there is sand, and if you live landlocked it is actually more fun than I imagined it would be.

So until I do as my mother did when I was nine, and figure out what I can give up for long enough to pay for the trip to California, we can make do with the remains of what Jonah calls "the Ancient Lake Bonneville."

Friday, September 3, 2010

Keeping Up With the Artists

We have two paint shirts, cut from the many white shirts that go "the way of all the earth" after Matt has worn them once or twice a week for two years. These shirts are marked with a history of little people's efforts at creating - it is the art of childhood smeared all up and down the front, or in some cases painted directly on to the shirt as the paper eventually becomes a bit boring. We need a new canvas, they decide, discovering fabric works nicely.

We have two paint shirts but three painters now. The littlest painter came to the table a few days ago after Jonah and Caroline abandoned their post. This abandonment is so strictly against the painting rules I can hardly contain my (anger - which I'm working on) response. They left all their wares and tools scattered across the marginally protected tabletop - far too inviting a scene for a momentarily unsupervised two-year-old.

I found her thus:

Paints are a heady temptation. I experience this temptation regularly, accompanied by the gloomy realization that I have no skills once the paints have been squeezed seductively from the tube. A brush in my hand has such a tentative meeting with canvas - beyond "hello" it really has no conversation. I like to watch my kids paint because their brush and canvas converse fluently.

Cecily is obviously no exception.

And she has christened her own paint shirt.

When Matt's currently white shirts are discarded to make way for a new batch of new white, I will snag two more for the little painters.

Perhaps I should keep one for myself and call it my painting smock. Perhaps it will sufficiently clothe my artistic apprehension such that I can smear paint on paper without fear.

Be warned - a little paint tray, left unattended, sporting an array of colors such as this might tempt your little ones, or even yourself beyond forbearance.

Two suggestions:

1. If you buy paints you must emotionally disconnect yourself from your children's clothes.

2. Buy a piece of duck cloth or canvas that can be easily unrolled to cover the table generously - it alleviates anxiety.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Forefathers and My Father

I know that everyone knows this part by now - the part where I can do almost nothing but sit on my bed. This pregnant body betrays me . . . or is true to me. I can't tell which one. I read recently a woman who at some point in her seventh pregnancy came to this realization; I can grow this baby as long as I don't do anything else. That's how I feel - capable of this thing my body does by itself with no conscious effort from me, but nothing else.

So, to get three kids in the car and go to the Utah Museum of Natural History is, well, a bit ludicrous. But I have a Community Exploration card good through the end of August that grants us free entrance into the Natural History Museum, Discovery Gateway, Red Butte Garden, and the Fine Arts Museum. Never mind that my belly is contracting, my feet swollen, my back tight and aching - we will eek out these free experiences before the baby comes, and before my kids go crazy in the doldrums of summer.

Side note - Discovery Gateway has been permanently removed from my list of worthwhile things to do with the children. Unless the establishment would like to grant us a family night all our own.

Insanity. Times ten. With pigtails and petulance.

"Other people's kids."
That's what Matt always says. As if ours were . . . well they aren't. But we like them best.

On this trip - to the museum, where there are things of actual interest, we listen to music. Jonah and Caroline demand songs from the MP3 as soon as we get in the car.
"Play such and such."
"No, play this one first."
"No, I don't want that one."
"You always pick first."
"I never get a turn."

Until we end up with some Miley Cyrus (I'm embarrassed that this is on the MP3, but there is a reason outside my own music taste, and now that I have an Apple computer, I can't remove it) song, that makes me cringe. Where did they gain such an interest in Top 40, pop, teeny bopper music?

But not always. Sometimes it is Fleet Foxes, Mykonos. Or Sufjan Stevens, Decatur. The Eagles, Waiting in the Weeds. Or Feist, Joni Mitchell, Ingrid Michaelson, Jennifer Warnes, Kings of Convenience, Loreena McKennit, Landon Pigg, Hungry Cloud - music being passed to them intentionally.

Today it is Dan Fogelberg - Forefathers. This is Caroline's choice, taken from the playlist I made in December for my Dad, when I thought he might die, when he wouldn't wake up, when his heart quit working.

A massive heart attack took him from upright to open heart surgery, to unconscious for five days. My Mom and I took turns sitting by his side nearly every hour of each of those days, but he was not be woken peacefully. Like a bear he was, like a lion in a cage, thrashing his big body about such that there was no choice but to keep the sedatives dripping into his blood and his captive consciousness. We felt very tearfully helpless.

Aubrey felt the most helpless being three thousand miles away. In her geographic impotence she offered a suggestion that I think made all the difference. "Take him some music. Just play his favorites for him, soft things that will help subdue his subconscious while they try to wake him up."

I did. Within a few hours I had collected the music that lives in my Dad's soul, the music he would set on the turntable under the alchemy of a needle that would give us song and just a bit of crackle at midnight when we should all have been asleep, but were instead being infused with the stuff that brought musical magic into our home. I put it all on my MP3 player in a playlist titled For Dad.

We played it over and over until Aubrey's prescription lulled him into a kind of dreamy awakening. So many tears for the familiarity of songs that have marked the moments of living for him. Which he seemed then determined to do - live.

Forefathers is the first song on that list. I cannot summarize the poignancy of this song that harbors the foibles of synthesized bagpipes and other sundry sounds of the 80's, but still makes me cry every time I listen to it. The words are a means of bringing me into the center of my familial tapestry. Within it I am placed soundly and happily in all the roles that are the mortar of my identity.

And Caroline says "Mom, this makes me think about Las Vegas."
"How come," I ask.
"Because it sounds like Tickle Grandpa."
"Yes, it does. I have always liked Dan Fogelberg, because I've always thought he sounds like Tickle Grandpa."

And I can see Tickle Grandpa, my Dad, lying in a hospital bed, with a tube down his throat, a machine heaving his mighty chest up - then down - then up, eyelids fluttering from the movement beneath.

I see him sitting up in the same bed, awake, raspy voiced, professing CHANGE on every front. "A mission" he says, "God" and "gospel" woven through all the days that will follow. Professing mistakes and a hushed decree that he will learn to dance - for my Mom - he will learn to dance.

Yes, it sounds like Tickle Grandpa, who is an active forefather, granted time to become so much more to the generations he has borne thus far.

Good choice Caroline.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Dickens' Debate

Her 5th birthday started with all of us laying in my bed.

This is how pretty much every day starts at the moment.

After many years of grappling with A Tale of Two Cities, I was determined to finish the last thirty pages before I committed my mind and body to any of the heavy duties of the day - like feeding everyone breakfast.

Jonah asked me to read aloud. His request came in the most critical, emotional, purposeful pages of the book. I read with tears barely held at bay. I gave voice to Sydney Carton as the unlikely Christ figure. We rode with the tumbrils through Paris to meet Madame La Guillotine. We followed the clicking, knitting Defarge en route to an unexpected encounter with Miss Pross. We were jostled in the heart thumping carriage of the little party desperate to abandon la vie francaise. Jonah held on to every word - enraptured. Caroline said, "When can I open my presents?"



Oh yeah. . . it's her birthday.

"Caroline," Jonah retorted with frustration, "we have to find out what happens."
"But I want to open my presents from Granny."
"Ugh," he replies, "if only you understood the glory of books."
"I know the glory of books," Caroline demands.
"No, I mean like, figuring out something new, and . . . the magical way the author tells the story."
"Well, I just want to open my presents."

And it is her birthday, so Dickens will have to wait another ten minutes to render the conclusion of his tale that has taken me nearly fifteen years to read.

We open presents.
We play.
We finally come to that famous sentence:
"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
How did he do it - Dickens that is - The first and last sentence of this book are arguably the most famous in English literature - except for maybe a few of Shakespeare's.
We eat pancakes per birthday request.

The culmination of our birthday celebration came in the evening when I used Caroline's new curling iron to put curls in her hair, dress in her fanciest dress, take a picture in the front garden, and dine at the Olive Garden - a very rare outing for our family.

Books are good. A Tale of Two Cities might be one of the best. But someday Jonah will also know the glory of children - his own - a little girl turning five. Even Dickens would have yielded to that glory.

Friday, July 23, 2010

"Retire to thy bed early..." - but probably not all day.

Twelve hours in my bed did a good deal towards reducing the permanent, pregnant swelling in my feet.

Last night I laid down at 8pm with the thought that I needed just a few moments to gather my strength before getting three children into their own beds. Sometime in the dark of night, I awoke with my husband asleep beside me and all three of those children in their beds, asleep, without my having contributed to the effort in any way.

While I showered this morning Matt asked what my plans were for the day. "To lay in bed as long as I can" I answered (in slight jest). I really liked the idea that if I stayed in bed the next two days I might be able to wear shoes to church on Sunday. But that wasn't really my plan. My plan is almost always to clean the house. My plan is waylaid nearly every day. Plus taking a shower these days requires nearly an hour of recumbent recovery, so I did, in fact, end up on the bed for some time afterward.

Caroline poured cereal and milk for herself in the dining room, but came to me so she could pray before eating. She was ok to eat by herself, but not pray by herself. She prays consistently for me that I will not have "a heartburn", like she prays for Tickle Grandpa not to have "a heart attack." I wonder how the two are related in her mind and figure I had better help her understand that there is actually no correlation at all nor is there any danger of imminent death for me.

She asked in her blessing on the cereal growing soft and unpalatable in the other room, that "the Bishop will get lots of tithing so he can buy lots of Books of Mormon and so he can give money to people who need it." I amen this prayer earnestly. There are so many things the Bishop does that I am both grateful for, and grateful I do not have to do. Not that I would mind giving people money, but exercising the wisdom and confidently gaining inspiration as to who should receive the money and how much holds no allure for me.

While I sat in bed - still recovering from the shower - Jonah and Caroline decided to pretend they were attending to me in a kind of salon for pregnant, suffering women. They each took a foot to treat with pumice stone and lotion, then rubbed my legs with a dazzlingly satisfying cream called "Lucky Legs" that Chani bought for me at Pea in a Pod, said to relieve the discomfort of swollen legs. It is minty and cool and an hour later my legs still feel better.

Finally, approaching noon, the kids ask if they can wake Cecily up so they can play restaurant with the play-kitchen in her room. I figure noon is a decent hour at which to waken the child that seems to be able and willing to sleep any length of time if left to herself.

We are all up now - no one left wasting away the day in bed. We'll see how close we come to a clean house today, the possibility of making something for dinner, keeping the kids busy, moving the sprinkler as Matt has asked.

Clean house...
Swollen feet...

It's a good life whatever the close of this day brings.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Your Mark Is Permanent

There are signs of my mother everywhere.

The last load of laundry that she put through my washer and dryer, still waiting to be folded.
The last two pieces of cheesecake and raspberry sauce in my refrigerator that she made for me on my birthday.
The scraps of towel she tore apart and used to clean my hardwood floor - that had not been truly cleaned in the six years we have lived in this house.
The towel she brought me to replace the one she tore up which happened to be a bit raggedy but still one of my favorites. The one she brought is my new favorite.
The new pillows she bought for me that support my aching, pregnant body each night and carry me through to a new morning - one day closer to the end of pregnant.
The towels put away in my cabinet that are folded differently than I fold them, but would not be folded at all had she not done it.
The lack of grass choking out my daisies.
The morning glories thriving in the pots on my front porch - growing from seeds she harvested off the dried up vines from last year and planted with the kids.
All the clean clothes left in my children's drawers.

And the empty space she left on the couch . . .in my kitchen. . .my laundry room. . .my garden. . .my inner sense of well being.

Luckily she leaves other signs - the kind that won't fade.

Like homemade macaroni and cheese with red sauce served at our table regularly.
Magenta bottles of pomegranate magic. . .or jelly, whichever you prefer.
Thursday taco night.
Little Cecily saying "Nana, Nana, where Nana, Mama?"
Instilling the confidence in me to keep trying to be a mother.
Organizing my medicine drawer.
Airborne when we feel the slightest itch in the throat.
Stevia for morning oats.
The nightgown she gave me out of her own suitcase after Caroline was born that I wear all the time while I am pregnant and nursing.
Her genes made manifest in my mirrors and my daughters.
#7 on my cell phone speed dial.

My Mom is in New York.
My Mom moved to New York.
She is in my sister's home now.
I know what kinds of things they do together - work - and some play - and make sure to take a nap every day.
Goodbye Mom.

It's alright. The next best thing to doing my laundry is doing Aubrey's. The Hannigs are lucky to have you, even if you don't do any laundry at all. And Heaven knows they've waited long enough to have Nana on that side of the country.

Until September 14th.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

"Mom Sorry"

I yelled at Caroline the other day - Caroline and Jonah. The kind of yell that is borne of my own exhaustion and unrelated frustrations, but comes out as though they have betrayed the very heart of me by . . . playing in the dirt.

The wrong dirt, at the wrong time. I usually don't mind my kids jumping into outside dirty. I had better let them do something, since everything with an electric cord, or batteries makes me get all impatient and irritated. But this was right by the newly planted tomatoes, and fit snugly in the twenty minutes after bath and before bed. So I am the backyard banshee, demanding obedience and some kind of retribution from a four and seven year old. I corral muddy little bodies into the house, pushing them with undo force.

Our back door opens into the house at the top of the stairs to the basement. We have trained ourselves to open gently and slow should there ever be a child at the top of those stairs. A child at the top of those stairs would be bumped right down to the bottom by a door flung open in anger. So when I flung open the door in anger it caught the moment that the baby was making her way through that little square of floor from stairs to kitchen. It also caught the side of her head. I waited for a split second envisioning her tiny body tumbling down too many stairs to the floor that had at least been recently carpeted, instead of the welcome block of hard tile that used to catch my kids when they fell down the stairs.

Instead she screamed and clung to the wall. Anger rushed out of me, replaced by a flood of shame. I left the muddy children, scooped up the crying baby, and locked myself in my bedroom to hide from my own parenting. Cecily and I cried together. Her head was fine. She wiped my tears saying "Mama crying?" Matt eventually came in to sit quietly with me, never chastising me for my ill behavior. Natural consequences worked well enough in this case.

After enough time had passed to make me feel almost ready to go apologize to the rest of my family there was a timid knock on my bedroom door. Caroline came in - no signs of mud and clad in pajamas - to offer her own silent apology.

She explained that she is the little girl in the picture and "The tears are me crying because I made a wrong choice."

I told her I made a wrong choice too, and I'm old, and it still made me cry.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

Try this on for size.

And just think about that bit of road in front of your house. All the life that passes by, the drama that unfolds within earshot or eyesight of your front door. Does it ever look like my street?

My street is cosmopolitan, metropolitan, thoroughfare of the unlikely, accidental tourist. Except I might be the tourist, and my experience here some days is definitely accidental.

Had I a camera at the time, you might believe the story I will tell. Since I didn't - have a camera - you might think I make these things up to try and get you to move in next door. You would be wrong. Certainly there are better ways to advertise for my neck of the woods.

But if you are reading this, it is likely that I do want you to move in next door.

Matt and I are standing on the driveway talking about any number of things we would like to do to the exterior of our house to make it look a little less ghetto-ish.

This is a challenge for a house situated squarely in - and I say this with absolute respect for the neighborhood and community I call home - an indisputable ghetto.

While we talk we hear music approaching in the distance. The kind of music that conjures visions of a souped up, lowered frame Cadillac Deville with shiny chrome trim, gold hubcaps, hydraulic lift, and a little statue of "Our Lady of Guadalupe" hanging from the rear view mirror.

Something like this, vibrating with the kind of base that announces itself several blocks before making an appearance in front of your house.

This car is no stranger to my life. It does actually cruise by every now and again thumping its thump to say hello. . .or beware. . .or ain't we some kinda cool. So I figure that's what's approaching while we stand in the driveway.

It turns out to be another kind of cadillac.

This kind.


There are two boys, both look to be at the latter end of teenage-ness. Both of them wearing ill fitting denim shorts/culottes - because they are not pants and couldn't be called capris. Just big, baggy denim things that showcase whatever manly undergarments a teenage boy wears. And a wife-beater up top without any effort to conceal that particular undergarment.

One boy is pedaling that cadillac bicycle, in recumbent splendor. Leaning way back on what I have always called a banana seat - which my blue, 1982 hand-me-down Schwinn had - and his arms reaching way out in front to grip the elevated handlebars.

There are two speakers affixed mysteriously in the space between the handlebars.

Yes, speakers - the sound part of your home Hi-Fi system.

There is a sub woofer in a trailer attached at the back of the bike.

This is no shoulder mounted ghetto-blaster from the 1980's. This is a proper sound system that would presumably be installed in the body of a Camaro, if only a Camaro were to be had. These boys could very well be in the pre-driving years though, so the wheels they are sporting are probably wicked cool within their circle.
Oh heaven. . .the idea of multiples of this duo. . .absurd.

Because here comes the other boy. He is running; trying to keep those strange pants up, trying to keep his untied, black, hightop sneakers on, trying to keep up with his personal trainer slash sound studio. It's a latino Rocky Balboa moment. Rocky running up and down some really big stairs in Philadelphia, Rocky punching a bag hanging from the rafters of a barn, Rocky hefting an oak tree through Russian snow fields. This boy is preparing for the fight of his life.

I should stop him and make him tie his shoes. But that's so motherly. He's focusing his energy on manhood right now, making muscles, producing testosterone.

Presumably, Dolph Lundgren Jr. is on the east side of town in some Gold's Gym using the high tech equipment and an ipod to ready himself for the fray that looms. He best remember that he'll have to cross the train tracks for this fight.

My money is on the homeboy running past my house. Of course my money is on the homeboy. We're from the same hood. We're practically family.

That is where I live folks. There are people here who've "got my back." I like it that way. Never dull. I just wish I knew where to go cheer for my homeboy.

What did you see on your street today?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Just What are Mary's Cockleshells?

It's not all that cute - the nursery rhyme scene, or the fairy tale scene. In fact, the Ambleside reading list we use for Jonah's first grade curriculum gives little disclaimers about nasty old hags chopping up children, just in case we should choose to avoid the gore.

We never avoid the gore.

For some reason it makes my kids laugh. Especially Caroline.

Last night we sat at the table after dinner while I preemptively told them a bedtime story to expedite the really long go-to-bed process. My Mom looked aghast as I started the story of two children whose parents couldn't afford to keep them anymore and led them into the forest to secretly abandon them. . .the bread crumbs, the cottage, the old woman, the oven big enough for children, and the roasted lady.

They loved it. Caroline giggled ceaselessly. "And guess what their names were?" I asked, "Jonah and Caroline." Which just set off fits of laughter.

"Ok," I admitted, "it's a real story about two children called Hansel and Gretel, and I'm sure I didn't get any of the details right."

"That is a true story of things that really happened?" Caroline asked. "Well, not exactly," my Mom said. "It's a story that was written by real people but the things in the story did not happen to real people."

This information was, of course, a little disappointing for Caroline. The image of the two children pushing the ill-sighted old woman into her own oven was impressive - one she had hoped to find truth in.

Jonah and I read "Forty Theives" from The Arabian Nights the other day. This is no tale for weak stomachs - pregnant stomachs being deeply entrenched in weakness - my stomach being deeply entrenched in pregnant. Two brothers want nothing more than riches. Kasim finds himself murdered and body quartered for his troubles, while Ali Baba has the luck of employing his brother's servant, the "shrewd and sharp-witted Morgiana,"- who perpetrates the deaths of 38 of the 40 thieves by pouring boiling oil over their heads while they hide in large clay jars.

We read the tale behind "Mary, Mary, quite contrary...", which includes thumb presses, guillotines, and cemeteries as her infamous growing gardens. We read this because I am now in possession of an heirloom, hand stitched, embroidered quilt made by my maternal grandmother that features twelve congenial nursery rhymes.

Tell your kid the "Bloody Mary" story, throw that quilt on them, blow a kiss, say "good night" and turn the lights off. This is a sure way to elicit formidable dreams, should the kid actually reach the sleeping stage.

But I can tell you this, I'd go for the quartering, and roasted old lady before I'd read another knock-off adventure of that insipid, Disney-fied mermaid that I used to really like.

Bed time stories evolve. So does our family. At the moment we've arrived at a benign rendering of the gruesome, but entertaining. Only classics though - no Chucky or other such modern nonsense. We only like classic nonsense.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Can't We Just Watch When We Want?

I cannot escape the television.

Many of you know we opted for a television-free home a few years ago. The longer we are without, the more I feel relieved and removed from all that television offers. But choosing to evict tv from our home has by no means evicted tv from our lives.

We cannot escape it,
wherever we go;
not in the produce aisle,
not at the checkout stand,
not at the bank,
not at the furniture store,
not at the restaurant,
not at the library.

In the two and a half minutes I waited in the checkout line at Fresh Market the other day, I was shown a new recipe and several home improvement projects that could transform my house. As if strategically placing a Cosmo magazine in front of my face (or worse, my children's face) were not enough, somebody thinks I just can't make it through the line peaceably without placating my wanton behavior, which is so obviously threatening to the cashier. I am known to accost the person behind the register every now and again with a sinister "Hi, how are you today?"

Trying to have a pleasant dinner with Matthew on a rare date night, I had to work diligently to block out the THREE television screens broadcasting different programs within my view. We must have chosen the wrong restaurant.

Maybe people are afraid to be alone together. Maybe television is thought to mitigate the terrible social awkwardness of actually speaking to each other, whether it be the few moments we transact in money with a stranger, the hour we spend on a date with an unfamiliar person, or the hour we spend on a date with a spouse of ten years.

I don't need a television screen behind the librarian to help me feel good about patronizing my local library.

A tv in the lobby does not compel me to trust one particular bank over another.

And I can jolly well select apples without the Food Network plying their wares over my head.

What I could have used was a television screen somewhere inside the plane that flew six long, silent hours from Phoenix to Philadelphia. My grocery store produce aisle wants to hook me with media in the 23 seconds I spend choosing onions, but US Airways is totally uninterested in securing my patronage with a media cocktail even when they have me cornered for six hours. If anyone should be interested in placating wanton behavior, it should be the airlines.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

As Long as She Talks, I Laugh

She is four - only a few more months - five is looming. She lost two teeth while I was in England. That's right she's four and she lost her two bottom, front teeth. But those two teeth came cutting through her three-month-old gums a site too early for our nursing routine. At twelve months my flesh could no longer handle her full set of teeth and we decided to go for the cow option. I suppose with teeth, it is early in, early out.

And with that premature gap in Carolin'es smile she carries on in her funny four year old way - charming me with what comes out of her head, out of her mouth.

A sampling:

"Mom, my clothes are too loosable."

"Wow, that bath was as quick as a camel eating."
"Oh yeah?" I ask. "Do camels eat fast?"
"And do you know what a camel is?"
"Ye-es" in total exasperation.

So, I am pregnant. This means a growing belly, and a growing need for clothes made to accommodate my immensity. Caroline hasn't quite figured out what the special word for those clothes are. Every time I put on one of my bigger than normal tops she asks, "Is that an eternity shirt."
"Yes, in so many ways," I tell her.

Last night we were talking about her preschool graduation that will happen next week. With zeal Caroline declared "I'm graduating from preschool, I'll be in kindergarten next year, and then I'll go to high school."
Yup, something like that.

The other day my friend was lamenting a few of her husband's, shall we say, little imperfections. Not really thinking about children's ears that hear more than we imagine, she asked in rhetorical exasperation "What am I going to do with him?" Caroline answered without missing a beat "Toss him overboard," in her best pirate accent.

Jonah and Caroline are sitting in the back of the van trying to remember the name of one of the boys in Caroline's preschool class who did something funny. Since Jonah spends the five minutes it takes to drop her off making the social rounds, he is friends with pretty much everybody in her class, so he knows all their names. The two of them are ticking off each boy they can think of, but still not coming up with whomever she is thinking of. Finally she pleads in frustration "Come on Jonah, just be in my head."


To be in her head.

A totally unnavigable place is Caroline's head.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Darwin Disconnect

A book review - Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution

The controversy - be there any in the first place - is irrelevant. While reading this book on the plane to England the man sitting next to me asked "Is it for, or against?" "Neither," I responded, "it's a biography."

Randal Keynes is the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin and he deals with the life of his progenitor in an objective, scholarly and warm manner. In an interview with Diane Rehm, Keynes said that he wanted to portray Charles through the lens of family. He achieves this primarily through Darwin's wife Emma, and the death of their ten-year-old daughter, Annie. His devotion to science never eclipsed his supreme devotion to family.

Be you a Christian and a Darwinist naysayer, be sure to develop a keen differentiation between what you have to say about the man's science and what you have to say about the man. Although he spent many years determining that, although he would not deny the existence of a God, he could not subscribe to a belief in Jesus Christ, he was most Christian in character. He had great love for and cared deeply about the welfare of other humans. Outside his work as a scientist and father to ten children he did much to help others help themselves.

Those who are "believers" should not look upon Charles Darwin as an object of wholesale derision. As one of history's most iconic figures Darwin is used as epithet, rude caricature, and source of ill-placed humor. His tender nature was wounded by such treatment, so much so, that he delayed the publication of his "Origin of Species" for years, not wanting to subject himself or his family to the scorn that would surely come.

The natural world fueled his development of intellect. Fatherhood heightened his sense of humanity. Both taught him to see terrestrial beauty in a way most of us cannot conceive. His heart was continually swelled with the beauty of form, relationship, emotion, and filial connection. He cried bitter tears over the death of his daughter Annie. Tears made more bitter by his inability to have faith in a life after the one he knew. Although faith could not offer him comfort, love could, and as father to ten children he certainly had no paucity of love. Charles profoundly appreciated life; whether that life came as gift from a Maker, or as the stunning chance of natural selection.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Sound and Scent of Sunday Morning

Sunday morning is an open window in the gabled bathroom on the third floor in Roger's limestone Victorian row house on the end of Queen Katherine Street nearest Kendal Castle. Out his front door and a few steps to the right puts one on the footpath up to the castle built around 1200 which housed many a Kendal Baron, most notably Thomas Parr, father to Katherine, the sixth wife of King Henry VIII.

The open window in the bathroom lets in the rousing historicity that hangs in the air of Britain. It flows through and mingles in swirled patterns with the steam from the shower that I can move this way and that with the motion of my hand, like a magic wand. It is England, it is the air that smells of coal fire, verdancy, and the lingering presence of many thousands of years of inhabited soil. The earth is so solidly marked by humans in this place, no respite from the workings of man, which has created the inimitable scent of Britannia. It fills me when I am here. It is the stuff of powerful nostalgia . . . the simple smell of place.

Today I accent the scent of Britannia with John Freida's Sheer Blonde shampoo - a bit of wishing on my part. It is a travel-size bottle I purchased yesterday at Superdrug in the Westmorland Shopping Centre, while in a stupor of travel-induced exhaustion. More than buying shampoo, I wanted to lay my body down on the floor with a pack of Superdrug nappies under my head and let sleep take me. Instead we spent our first 20 pounds on things with which to clean our weary bodies in the week to come - letting our various chemical concoctions slide through the bathroom window and mingle with Britain's olfactory ethos.

I have slept now, my head rested luxuriantly on a pillow, in a bed, rather than a pack of nappies on a tile floor. I am readied for the Sabbath which greets me now, through this same open window, with the ebullient tones of Kendal's bells.

In the ten months we lived here in 2003 and 2004 I opened the patio doors of our very small flat on Garden Road every Sunday morning, without thought to temperature or rain, to welcome the bells of the parish church. The sound seemed to pound in my soul, singing to the part of me that worships and finds the contentment of life in faith. "Ring out Wild Bells" Lord Tennyson proclaims. Oh yes, wild, and sweet, and filling the little space that is my home. And for some reason it feels so French. I've not been there. I've really no experience with all things French, and I can't imagine it to be more transporting than all things English, but there you are. The bells roll in through my wide doors and I am pulled away over the English channel into lands certainly no more magnifique than those I now enjoy.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

This is the last stanza in Tennyson's Ring Out, Wild Bells. They are all beguiling and worth repeating. A fit melody to accompany the hours before I go to worship.

I had not thought of the bells in the many hours on the plane, or the weeks of volcanic anxiety before the plane. They are a sweet surprise to me now as I meet my first morning of only six on this short stay.

Why do we not have parish churches and Sabbath bells in the thick of Salt Lake City? Well, at least beyond the Cathedral of the Madeleine. We are near enough that every now and again I can hear it. Back in our days in the Avenues Matt and I had an ongoing inquiry regarding for whom the cathedral bells toll. They are nice bells, but not Kendal on a Sunday morning bells. Perhaps the space which they must fill is just too large in such open sky. Kendal offers a nestled English scale that keeps the reverberations cozily fitted in the streets of the town.

As if the bells are not enough to keep my feet light on the walk to church along the River Kent, when they have finished we are serenaded with delightful bird song. Birds that Susie says "must just be happy to live in England." Like the cows that make such sweet cream because they live on England's "green and pleasant" hills. Maybe the earth itself keeps turning just because it is so happy to have England resting upon it.

This morning, the goodness of life is because England is here. . .and I am in it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Perspective in Ash

Today I wish we had television; Comcast cable with 23 different news channels to surf through. It is the first time I have thought such a thing in the 4 years since we abandoned television altogether.

I'm guessing I'm not the only one who had never heard of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano before last Thursday. In fact, "hear" may be a loose term in regards to this volcano, as I have only heard one person actually try to say the name. I believe it is more commonly known as the "Icelandic Volcano".

I don't mind. American ears, much less tongues, just don't do well with that many oddly chosen consonants.

So there's the ash.
Then theres 96,000 flights canceled over the last five days.
Then there is me, sitting in front of my computer, checking BBC and CNN for updates every couple hours. My eyes sting. My pregnant body wants a soft chair. In short, I want cable news to pour over me while I lay on the couch stressing over
whether or not we will fly to Manchester England on Friday for Matthew to face the grueling ordeal of defending his doctoral dissertation.

There is a proportionate amount of uncertainty swirling about in the ethos, above our technology dependent heads, companion to those millions of tons of ash being spewed by a heretofore unknown fracture in the Earth's crust. Such dense uncertainty leads to chaos in absolutes.
Absolutely no flights.
Absolutely no way home.
Absolutely no idea in anyone's head when things will change.

All this exported from Iceland.
I liked it better when Iceland was mainly exporting woolen goods.

Had I not spent a good deal of money on plane tickets to England for dates so in danger of being terminally affected by all this, I would have the luxury of being a curious, and slightly sympathetic bystander - as I usually am - in regards to most chaos and catastrophe that comes to me by way of NPR - with variations on my level of sympathy. This time my stomach hurts and my head reels from only the potential effect awaiting me...not to mention my poor, doctoral defense bound husband.

My anxiety and "suffering" is a little bit inconsequential at this point. I am a person, in my home, with my family, enjoying a bed, not yet caught in the web over Europe. Except that web is invisibly large. When considering the domino effect of closing Heathrow Airport the web gains some visibility as a thing that consumes the world. The British Empire may have let go their purchase on many a foreign shore in the last century, but you close down London's airports and it is felt in every far corner of the earth.

Yesterday Caroline stood at my side asking questions about the video clips showing stranded people all over Europe and the UK.
"Where is the ash, Mommy? Are you and Dad going to England today? Where is your airport"
I pulled out our Great Britain Road Atlas A-Z, and showed her Manchester, and the parts of England that might be reopened soon. She flipped through the pages stopping on London.
It looks like this:

"Wow," she said, with appropriate awe. Declaring, "That's the world, kiddo."

That's Caroline calling me kiddo, not me talking to the four-year-old.

And she's got it right. London is THE World. It lies at the center of so much civilization and economy - even today.

But as I put Cecily to bed last night and said a prayer that consisted of just this phrase; "Heavenly Father, thank you for my family," I became so profoundly aware that this little house, with these five people (almost six) is MY world. England is a thing that has contributed in no small way to the development of my world. But it is here, with this family that I find I am untouched by any amount of uncertainty...or ash.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Friends"...but not "Come-Over-for-Dinner-Friends"

I have a strange relationship with Anna Quindlen.

The first strange thing about it is that she does not participate in our relationship beyond writing for a general audience. This is a somewhat passive role on her part. I don't blame her. I have never called her attention to my existence, so....
Plus, she could hardly be called passive in that writing she does for that general audience. Anna has something to say. In fact, she has many things to say, with vehemence and resolve.

My Aunt, Janice introduced me to Ms. Quindlen in 1999 with One True Thing, a novel that became popular enough to make a movie starring Renee Zellweger. It was in that book I discovered that, like Mark Helprin, Anna Quindlen was an author who would teach me new words.

I love new words.

Then I read Black and Blue.

Then I took a writing class at the Community College back in the long days of acquiring my eight year Associate's Degree. Anna Quindlen wrote an essay featured in my writing textbook in favor of abortion, given as an example of persuasive writing. I was not persuaded.

In fact, it was our first disagreement.
Which didn't amount to much as my novice pen could not begin to offer words in contradiction to one of such craft and intellect. My argument went something like this..."uh-uh" (in the negative, with my head saying "no", and my brows furrowed)...but unvocalized and without any supporting points.

Then I read Blessings.

Then I read How Reading Changed My Life.
Anna and I shared a love of reading from an early age. We even shared some of the same books, characters, magic of literature in the development of self.

But as much as I loved her words - her art, I became increasingly aware that we harbor different world views. Reading has taken us in different directions. This became more obvious when, after my first contribution to National Public Radio, I was offered a token of gratitude by receiving a subscription to NewsWeek. Anna Quindlen had an opinion column published every other week on the last page of the magazine. I read every one.

We disagreed on more than one occasion. But I couldn't give up reading her column. I wanted to know what she had to say about everything because she said it so well. If I had reason and confidence at my command, such as she does, I would write an opinion column too.

Ms. Quindlen is Catholic. Quite thoroughly so, and still practicing. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It is impossible to discern if this creates more similarities or differences between us. We both believe in God. This is rather fundamental.

Then, in the midst of our differing faiths and world views, Elder Ballard of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke the name Anna Quindlen from the pulpit at the Conference Center during General Conference. Speaking about motherhood he quotes Quindlen speaking about her own mothering experience, saying ultimately, "I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less”

She is a generation beyond me, her children are grown, but I found that Elder Ballard's reference to Quindlen as mother created the most enduring link in our relationship thus far. Mothers - the universal sorority that eluded me entirely until I left the hospital with my first baby. Anna can argue with beguiling words in defense of all kinds of things that I work diligently in remaining unbeguiled. I still appreciate her voice.

And yesterday, when I turned the radio on to listen to the Diane Rehm Show, Diane was speaking to a woman I found a bit brash, opinionated, slightly too forward, but still likable. I get a little turned off by guests whose personalities are so commanding that they sort of "steal" Diane's authority. Diane rules.
But in the midst of speaking about whatever new book this bold woman had just published, she stopped the tide of praise in her own direction, and turned the spotlight to Diane in earnest sincerity. She announced to us listeners that our dear Diane has been recently named the recipient of the Peabody award.
It was Anna, whose voice I had never heard, but fit her perfectly in the revelation of her identity.

I would not have wanted to stand opposite her in debate club, but we stand together in our reverence for Diane. We stand together in a love of words. We stand together in a love of God, and an appreciation for motherhood. These are fundamental enough for me to consider us unthreatened friends.

Even if she doesn't know we are friends.