Saturday, December 24, 2011

Scenes of Christmas


Setting up the tree.


Helping Daddy with the lights.


Daddy decorated Cim. She begged us to hang ornaments off her for the next week.


Our tree and presents on Christmas morning. (Half of the gifts are from the Dollar Tree or tag sales--shh!)


Cimorene discovers her stocking. It had a bear, which meant she automatically loved it.


"Look what I found! Can I keep it?"


Daddy got a stocking too. Santa was sneaky, so he had no idea he was getting one.


Santa's belly and red robe had nothing on mine!


The stocking stuffers were all Cim really needed for the day. Birds, a cat, and a glitter wand. Oh yeah.


Our pondering princess. She put the headbands on herself.


I'm not sure what she's trying to turn that bird into, but apparently it's not working.


Ryan had fun wrapping.


I loved his decorations. This box held the traditional bag of Doritos. :-D


"You better watch out..." --This song has never seemed so appropriate.
 
As an extra gift to me, Ryan changed the poopy diaper. Cimorene didn't care what was going on--she had her toys.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Castle Cakes

The other day I was a at a tag sale and found a cake pan that I had to have. Now, normally cake pans don't have that kind of magnetism for me; I usually don't make more than one or two cakes a year, so why would I bother buying lots of pans? This pan, however, was a Nordic Ware castle pan.

When I showed it to Ryan he got really excited, because apparently his class has had a running joke about one of the guys having a castle. We decided that the first castle cake should go to his class.

I was really worried about getting the cake out of the pan, so I watched a video of tips on the Nordic Ware website first. This was our first attempt:





It came out a little dark, so we decided we'd eat that one and try again for his class. This was our second attempt:


His class loved it, and we felt validated for our efforts. The next day he came home and said they were having a pot-luck at school for about 60 people this weekend, and he had told them he'd bring a castle cake. For that many people, though, he thought we should probably do two. We grabbed a box of red velvet mix and one of dark chocolate. Here's what we got:




So what have I learned from this? That a really awesome cake pan has the power to turn a 1-or-2-cakes-per-year person into a 4-cakes-in-three-days person.


I also learned that it's time for me to buy a set of medieval legos. These cakes are just begging for knights and dragons.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Keeping Faith in Humanity

Two weeks ago I was really stressed out. I was trying to get a washing machine, we'd been wearing dirty clothes for two or three weeks already, and things kept going wrong. In the middle of problems and stress, though, I was helped by two wonderful men who need to be thanked by name.

The first was Eddie. I found Eddie on Craigslist, selling a washing machine and dryer. I asked him if he'd sell me just the washing machine (a wonderful family had given us their old dryer), and we made arrangements to pick it up. When we picked it up, Eddie said that he had hooked it up a couple days earlier and it ran fine, and that if for some reason it didn't work for us, he'd give us our money back. That's a rare type of promise from a Craigslist dealer, so we were sure the washing machine would be just fine.

Well, of course when we got the machine home and hooked it up, it ran water all over our floor. And of course we didn't know what box most of our towels/rags were in, and we hadn't bought a mop yet, so we used 3 rolls of paper towels to clean it up.

I texted Eddie and told him what had happened. And, amazingly enough, he held true to his word. He told us he'd give our money back.

The next day I went to a store that specialized in appliance repair but also sold used washers. That's where I met Mike.

Mike was a sweet, friendly man about my dad's age. He told me about his granddaughter, who's a toddler, and he just loved Cimorene. I explained the problem we'd had, and he was eager to help. He said it was probably a really easy fix, and that Ryan might be able to fix it himself. He told me some things to have Ryan look at, and then sold me a new cord I needed for the dryer--at a 25% discount, because my husband's in the military (I think it was partly that and partly that Cim was being super cute and giving him high-fives).

Ryan looked at the washer that night, and I called Mike the next day to tell him what we thought the problem was. He told me to have Ryan call him later and he'd walk Ryan through some more diagnostic things. He even gave me his cell-phone number, which he said would self-destruct after one use, because he doesn't normally give out that number--keep in mind, he's doing all of this without expecting to make any kind of profit.

Well, the washing machine ended up being pretty rusted out, so we decided it wasn't worth the hassle of trying to repair it, but we were able to go get a really nice used one from a store that Mike recommended. They delivered and installed it for free because my husband's in the military, and then they hauled away the old one to dump for us (they didn't even want it for parts). Oh, and Eddie gave us our money back as promised, so everything turned out really well for us.

I'm still planning to make Mike and his staff cookies. I don't know if they have any idea what their kindness and helpfulness meant to this pregnant lady who had just finished a month-long hotel stay with a teething one year old. I don't know if this situation would have seemed like a big deal for most people, but by day 3 of the scenario I was feeling pretty overwhelmed, and the fact that EVERYONE involved was so kind to me made it seem much more manageable.

I'm grateful for the bright spots in trials, the things that make you say, "yeah this situation stinks, but the world is a good place." I'm grateful for good men like Eddie and Mike, who have a sense of integrity and charity, and who help me keep my faith in humanity. There are awful people in this world, but there are also some who are wonderful, and who do little things to make people's lives easier. This is my thank-you to them.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Belated Birthday Tribute


Ryan turned 27 last month, and amidst the craziness of moving and military, his birthday sort of got lost. So here's the post that he should have gotten several weeks ago.

The other day I was listening to a song, and it struck me for the first time just how much it reminded me of my wonderful husband. Those of you who know Cooley, picture him singing this with gusto:

(I highly recommend you listen to the song as you read the lyrics.)

Big Time
by Sam Payne

Hey kid, wanna hit the big time? I pushed my glasses up
And I put down my comic book, surprised that they were approaching me.
Jumped in, they took me to her papa; told me every detail
Seems they'd taken his fair daughter, needed one outside the family
To take the briefcase full of cash to the Italian with the limp
And wait inside the car for them to slip her in.
Someone to drive her home and be presented with a check,
About the size that he might never have to work again.
Sounded like the Big Time to me.

You know what everybody says about the plans of mice and men
Well I wound up in a freezer, with the oxygen a'goin fast.
She lay beside me on the concrete
Goose egg about the size of the lump within my throat
And my life began to pass.

So I tripped the frozen tumblers with the earpiece of my glasses,
Surprised the man outside before he made a sound.
Then I went and threw my body between her and flying bullets,
Hotwired us a car and left that part of town
Headed for the Big Time.

Big check, big congratulations;
An extra zero for the freezer time, and for the inconvenience of the bullet holes.
I swear you could have heard a pin drop as I watched myself push it back across his desk
And heard myself say, "That's not how it goes.
'Cause every hour of the last few, I've spent them every one
With my body and my soul upon the line for her.
I was in it for the money, but I'll trade it if she'll have me
For a chance at fifty years with her, or fifty more."

"And I'll take more than bullets for her.
Give me a lawn to mow, give me some kids to grow.
More than bullets for her.
I'll stay on through gray mornings when we're both confused and slow."

I guess we rode into the sunset; at least it seems we did
But a million years have come and gone, and details have begun to go.
Big check torn up long ago; or I assume it was;
Perhaps there never was one in the first place.
Well, it's tough to know.

Could it be I met her back in college?
Maybe I just asked her out to Dairy Queen.
Would my life be any less upon the line for her, if that were true?
Would you still believe me if I said
I've been feeling like the Big Time?

Ever since I met her, like the Big Time.

Ryan and I have had some crazy adventures. This blog, on which we post so infrequently, tells only a tiny portion of our adventures in China, Rexburg, Utah, Pennsylvania, and now California.

But while I love knowing that my husband would "throw his body between [me] and flying bullets," the little daily things mean so much more. Things like a couple days ago when he was on his hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor with paper towels because it was really dirty and we didn't have a mop yet; watching him dance with Cimorene in the living room; hearing him come in from the garage singing.

While we plan to keep having adventures and singing bouncy tunes, I'm grateful for a husband who is also willing to "stay on through gray mornings when we're both confused and slow" (we seem to have had enough of these lately).

These are just some of the things that I love about him; every day I'm more grateful to be married to such a wonderful man.

Happy birthday, Ryan. You're my hero.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sisters

Yesterday I was shocked to be told that I will having another little girl in January. I'm not sure why I was so certain I was having a boy, but I was definitely surprised.

Since then I've been thinking about how unprepared I am to raise sisters. All I had were brothers; If I don't even know how to be a sister, how will I raise some? Of course, my concern mostly just stems from the same insecurities any mother feels about raising children in general--am I really ready for this?

I keep having the song "Sisters" from the musical "White Christmas" run through my mind (this is the best video I could find). My daughters will be 18 months apart, and I hope that as they grow up they will consider it a blessing to have a sister and friend so close to them. I'm sure there will be times they want to pull each others' hair out, but I hope that overall they love having a sister.

For those of you who have sisters, what is your favorite thing about having/being a sister?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Such as I Have

As we were driving a couple days ago, my dad had an audio version of the New Testament playing. I was struck by the story in Acts where Peter sees the lame man begging and says, "Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I unto thee" (Acts 3:6, KJV). He then heals the man--a much better gift than money.

I've been feeling bad this summer because I haven't had money to help my parents buy groceries or help pay for my younger brother's missionary service in Denmark like I had planned on. I've felt like I showed up and have been a burden all summer; I was sick for most of the summer, and my mom has spent a lot of time taking care of me and Cimorene as well as all her usual responsibilities.

But for the last few weeks I've been feeling better, and I've started finding ways to contribute. While my mom's been at school I've spent time cleaning. I've cooked several meals. I drove my younger brother to work, sports, or meetings every night last week. Such as I have, I've been giving. And while I still wish I could contribute financially, it doesn't eat at me anymore. My spirit is more at peace, because I know I'm contributing.

But I know that in a couple months I'll be back in a position where I have little energy, feel overwhelmed, and don't feel able to serve anyone. I struggled with that when Cimorene was born. Logically I knew that my job at that time was to take care of my daughter, but I still felt guilty that I wasn't taking better care of my house and husband, and that I wasn't serving anyone around me.

As I was thinking about this, I remembered an experience I had when I was about 6 or 7 months pregnant with Cim. I was feeling bad because I felt like everyone had been serving me lately (mostly my husband), and that I hadn't been helping anyone else. I prayed one morning that God would help me find someone that day to serve.

That afternoon, right after I got to one of my classes, I overheard two sisters talking. They were discussing how they had both missed lunch that day because of tests, and how hungry they were (it was about 2 p.m.). I suddenly knew how I was supposed to serve. Less than an hour before, I had bought a 12" roast beef sandwich, and I had only eaten one half. I quickly pulled the other half out and offered it to them. They were surprised but grateful, and my heart was full.

It was such a small thing, but so big for me. Just knowing that the Lord could still use me, even when I was tired and overwhelmed, helped me feel valuable and needed.

Remembering that experience helps me to remember that there's always something I can do, but I have to be looking for opportunities to serve. They may not always be obvious, and they may seem small, but they will be there, and if I'm praying and staying close to the Lord, I will see them. And then, such as I have, I will give.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mornings

This is an excerpt from my journal entry this morning (I've just started writing in my journal again, which feels really good).

In the mornings it's easier for me to be calm, to be quiet. The day has not yet built up inside my head in heaps and jumbles that spill over and get shoved to the side again and again. It's even easier if I'm outside in the morning, feeling the sun that is not yet hot and the air that is not yet tired.

I've lost a lot of morning joy over the last year and a half as I've been morning sick, exhausted from being up all night with a baby, or sleeping away the morning as my daughter naps and another new life forms inside me, using up all my energy. While I know it's part of the season of life I'm in, I'm grateful for mornings like this one, where the house is quiet, I am quiet, and I can remember why I love mornings.

I feel a physical, mental, and emotional uplift as I sit and just reflect on mornings and quiet. I feel more ready for the day, more capable of making it a wonderful day.

And it was.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Feeling

I have very sadly neglected this blog for many, many weeks now. Most of the summer, actually. There are a few reasons for this, but the biggest is that I have spent much of this summer "existing" instead of living.

When Ryan left for Basic Training in the Air Force, I shut down emotionally. I didn't know how to handle him being gone, and instead of just facing the heartache, I ran from it. I tried not to think about him, but since everything reminded me of him, I ended up trying not to think at all. I say I tried not to think about him, but it was really just the actuality of him being gone that I couldn't face--I spent a lot of time thinking about him "from an angle," if you will. I became obsessed with a couple of Facebook pages that offered support for those whose husbands/sons/boyfriends/etc. were in Basic Training. I spent hours poring over information about what to do in San Antonio when I went out for graduation weekend. I searched the internet constantly for information on military moves and housing in California. These things made me feel closer to him, more a part of his world, without making me actually face any of the emotions I was running from.

The main problem with shutting off one kind of emotion, is that all emotion seems to run down the same pipeline. If you stuff a plug in that pipe, the bad stuff gets backed up in there and the good stuff gets stuck with it. Block pain, block joy. Ignore the nervousness and you'll miss the peace.

Now, I'm not saying it's good to dwell on pain and nervousness and fear. But experiencing them and letting them flow through you and then out is part of life, and when you bottle them up they just get worse. Ask me how I know. ;-)

About once a week I would break down and cry, Usually either after Ryan called or when I was waiting for him to call. It was like I suddenly let the plug out for awhile, let most things drain out, and then stuffed the plug back in for another week or so. But when all those bottled emotions were coming out, I only seemed to get the bad ones; the good ones had apparently evaporated.

Maybe you're starting to see why it's a bad coping method.

The worst part, though, is that one of the primary ways I recognize the Spirit of God is through feelings. When I attempted to block those hard emotions that I didn't want to face, I was also blocking all the peace, love, and reassurance I could have been receiving from my Heavenly Father.

Spending a weekend with Ryan in San Antonio for his graduation from Basic Training helped me realize how much I had been blocking. I was suddenly so happy, happy in a way I hadn't been able to be since he left--not only because he was gone, but because I was blocking all strong emotions.

I've recommitted this week to living instead of just existing, and I'm not only happier, I'm more productive. And I've suddenly started noticing things I could blog about again, which means I'm actually thinking (amazing, I know). And though I'm still missing my husband (hopefully only a couple more weeks until I can move to California), I know I'll get more out of my last couple weeks here with my family and my daughter than I have out of most of the summer.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Eleven Months; Eleven Weeks



Today Cimorene is 11 months old. Today Baby #2 is 11 weeks along.

The question on many people's minds (and some people's lips) is, "Was this a surprise?"

Well, it depends on what you consider a surprise.

In March I had a dream about a baby boy, and I woke up pondering. (No, this does not necessarily mean it's going to be a boy; last time I dreamed of twins and got just one baby girl.) Surely it was too early to think about having another baby, though; after all, Cimorene wasn't even sleeping through the night yet.

I went to the temple that day, which, for those of my friends who aren't of my faith, is a place where I feel very close to heaven. It's a place where I feel very confident about the answers I get to my prayers. That day I prayed about whether or not I should have another baby, and I felt very comforted about the whole idea. I went home and talked to Ryan, and told him the answer I had gotten, but told him I wanted him to pray about it too. Later that day he came back and said that he also felt it was time to have another child.

God said jump and I jumped, and I'm excited to be having another baby, but I haven't always been able to maintain the peace I felt about it that day at the temple. Cimorene did start sleeping through the night just days after I made the decision, which helped me start feeling like a human being again (it had been over 8 months since I'd slept well, after all), but that in itself was difficult, because it made me reluctant to give up that healthy, alert feeling. Then I felt guilty for feeling reluctant. I got pregnant quickly, and I was happy about it, because I knew it was right. I was overwhelmed at the thought of putting my body through pregnancy again so soon, but I knew God would take care of me.

That knowledge hasn't changed, but sometimes it's hard to keep perspective. Guilt popped up in my emotions a lot. I felt guilty that the thought of being pregnant overwhelmed me when I had so many friends wishing for a child. I could think of at least 5 young married couples off the top of my head who were struggling with the wait for pregnancy. I wondered why I was getting another child when they were still waiting for their first. Instead of feeling grateful that I was able to get pregnant so easily, I worried about how I would tell my friends.

Part of that burden was removed when two of those friends contacted me within a couple weeks of each other to tell me they were pregnant. I was so happy for them, and also relieved that I could tell them my news without worrying.

Remember how I tend to get overwhelmed? I think I've used that word a few times in this post... Well, here's what I was seeing. I have a baby who's teething. I'm sick. My husband's leaving for Basic Training. We're buying a car. I have to drive it out to California later in the summer, where I have to move into housing that I've found long-distance (oh wait, I have to find it first) without the help of my husband, because he won't be allowed to leave base at first. I have to get through an entire summer without my husband, when I've not been away from him longer than one night in the last 3 years.

I'm still stressed over some of that, but here's what I've seen in the last few weeks.

I'm sick while at home with my wonderful mother, who helps take care of me, plays with my daughter, and changes her diapers when the smell makes me gag. My mom feeds Cim oatmeal in the morning when I can't even sit up straight. She makes me food when I can't get off the couch. My little brother runs up and down the stairs to grab things I need, and he plays with Cim. My dad plays with her. My older brother plays with her. She's in heaven with so much attention, which is good because there are times when I can't even hold her.

I'm not nearly as sick as I was last time. Last time I threw up every day until I reached 16 wks. This time I'm still sick all day (not just mornings), but I've actually had some decent days, and I've only thrown up a few times. (I'm sure you all wanted to know.)

Looking at the way the last few weeks have gone, I can't imagine getting through this stage of pregnancy while Ryan was in language school, say, or starting a new job. Had I waited 6 months to get pregnant, I would have had to go through this by myself for most of the day, and then worry about being too much of a burden on Ryan at night when he was already stressed. Cimorene would have been traumatized by the fact that I couldn't hold her or play with her as much, and I would have felt horribly guilty about it. I would have been living in a new area with people I didn't know and no strength or energy to go out and make friends.

Maybe it would have been different; I'm sure God could have strengthened me and provided a way to get through it. But I can't help admiring His timing, and the way that was provided.

The other emotion on this roller coaster is, of course, joy. Ryan, Cimorene, and I went and got the first ultrasound done 4 days before Ryan left. When I saw that little baby rolling and kicking and waving on that screen, I was filled with excitement and joy. It had arms and legs. It had a face that was almost discernible, even at 9 wks. It stopped rolling and waved one arm at us, just like Cimorene did the first time we saw her on that screen. I saw my baby, and it was mine, and I loved it, that rolling little white shape. I was excited at the thought that in January I'll get to hold him or her (or February if this baby comes late like Cimorene did; I'm due Jan. 25th). All the sickness, all the stretching, the shoving around of my internal organs, the recovery time, the extra weight--it's for a baby. That baby. The one in the picture up there. And that thought brings me joy.

I know that God wanted this baby to come to our family with this timing. Do I understand it? I'm starting to. I'm sure I have more to learn, but I'm definitely grateful that God is the one planning these things.

So back to the initial question: Yes, in a way, this baby was a surprise. I was very surprised in March when I realized it was time to get pregnant again already. But it was also planned--and we were given advance warning by the master planner so that we weren't too surprised.

And now we wait. 29 weeks left. :-)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Joyful Chaos

For those of you who have read the Harry Potter books, you may remember with horror or fondness--depending on your inner tolerance for chaos--the Weasley's house, "The Burrow."

Coming back to my parents' home in Pennsylvania felt like coming home to The Burrow. My parents live in a large white farmhouse, which looks a bit like one of the large barns the area is known for. As you pull up, you're struck by something odd: tin foil in all the windows. Actually, it's emergency survival blankets, shiny-side-out. It reflects the sunlight and keeps the house cooler, because in an old farm house you don't have central air-conditioning.

When you get inside, there's a big stone hearth in the living room with a wood-stove insert. A spinning wheel usually sits in the entryway beside baskets overflowing with wool and yarn, but knowing how much Cimorene would love the spinning wheel--and not wanting any Sleeping Beauty instances--my mom took that upstairs. She also moved the loose wool, but she left several baskets of yarn, which Cimorene has enjoyed tying in knots.

My mom is a country-style decorator, using things like frilly gathered curtains (which she made, of course), quilts, and those baskets of yarn that I mentioned. Supervising it all are the bears. This happens to be one of Cimorene's favorite parts about my parents' house. There are teddy bears everywhere.

My mom has collected Boyds Bears for as long as I can remember; she always gets one from my dad for Christmas, and sometimes she gets them for other occasions as well. There are bears on the mantle dressed in overcoats and mufflers. There are bears in little summer dresses. There's one next to me now with tweed pants, a tan, chenille sweater, and a black bow-tie. There are bears on the bookshelf, bears on top of the entertainment center, bears on the piano. There are bears in baskets, bears on corner shelves, windowsills, and even one upstairs in a bathrobe. Including her little Boyds figurines, I'm counting 57 in the living room alone.

It's not all country-style, however. The corner shelf is filled with bears on the bottom, but the top shelf is full of asian items, and a Taiwanese painted umbrella hangs from the ceiling above. Somehow, despite these things being completely different, they still seem to fit together.

It's not just the house that reminds me of The Burrow, though; it's the feeling. Joyful chaos. My mom tries really hard to keep everything clean and organized, but somehow between all of us kids (Nate, Neil and I are all home right now, and, of course, Cimorene, who makes more trouble than the rest of us combined) things just stay a little... well, exciting. Heh heh.

Poor mom.

I love it, though. It feels like home to me. As much as I would love my own home to be spotless all the time, it's a good reminder that I don't always feel comfortable in a perfectly decorated, perfectly spotless house.

Like my mother, I will probably always stress about how disorganized I am, or how crazy my house is. But I will also throw awesome parties where I make Chinese food or indestructible pinatas, and I will pick gallons of raspberries from the bushes in my backyard, and I will run my kids to all their activities, and I'll have a homemade windowseat in my bedroom where I can sit and read.

Being here is a good reminder for me of what I really want my home to be like. It doesn't have to be spotless. It just has to be a home. A little joyful chaos is what made Harry Potter fans fall in love with the Weasley's home. It's what will make my children love mine.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Favorite Kids' Books

I've been revisiting childhood as I read to Cimorene some of my favorite kids' books. While she may not yet appreciate the matter-of-fact style of the bizarre-yet-fun "Counting on Frank," or understand just what's so funny about "A Porcupine Named Fluffy," she certainly enjoyed the pictures in the book I got my dad for Father's Day a couple years ago, "Mary Had a Little Jam." Someday she'll even understand the wonderful absurdity of "A Little Pigeon Toad." And it won't be long before she'll join the many other little kids (and adults) who have cried and then smiled with the triumphantly simple book "Hug."

I also want to read her every "Little Critter" book ever written, as well as "Berenstein Bears," "Amelia Bedelia," "Magic School Bus," and so many others.

What are your favorite kids' books? I feel like sometimes I'm so in love with my old favorites that I'll miss the chance to find new favorites, so I'd love to hear some of yours.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Adventures Lead to Books

On Tuesday Ryan got home from work and said it was time for an adventure. We loaded Cim into the car and took off for the nearest pawn shop. I considered buying a drum set (okay, not really), or a cool sword with dragon wing crossbars. Ryan looked at guns and a bunch of random cds. But what did we end up with? 4 books. For $7. Oh yeah.

Next we went to a thrift store called "Someone's Attic." Cimorene made grabs at shiny aqua track suits and orange shirts. I dug through a bin of framed pictures and found a giant framed map of the geographical features of North America. I also found a pair of 4-inch-plus-an-inch-of-platform shoes covered in small sparkly stars. But what did we leave with? A book. $1.50.

Then we went to get the car's oil changed, filter replaced, and the state inspection. Less fun. We went and looked at guns in C-A-L Ranch while we waited.

And then we finally made it where I had been wanting to go all day: The used-book store! We spent about $20 there and picked up about 10 books (some were 2- or 3-in-1 books).

As we walked out, we realized that Jiffy Lube/C-A-L Ranch was the only stop where we didn't buy a book. Apparently, when we're bored or being spontaneous, we buy books. And I'm really okay with that. :-)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Walking Without Fear

We've entered the mobile-baby stage, and as Ryan says, Cim has entered it head-first. Crawling hasn't caused any damage yet, but she's begun cruising around the furniture, and with that comes a lot of falls. But she doesn't seem to mind the bumps and bruises on her head. If she falls against the wooden chair, she'll let me hug her for maybe 20 seconds, then she's done crying and trying to climb the chair again.

I'm sure all parents are amazed at this fearlessness and determination. After all, how many adults do you know who would try something over and over, day after day, getting bump after bump after bump...

Oh wait, that's like life, isn't it?

Some people, I think, deal better with life's jostling than others. Sometimes we get hurt and we won't ever let our defenses down again, even if it means we stay curled up in a little ball inside ourselves, unwilling to live life. Something I've been working on since my sophomore year of college is not holding on to old walls that don't have a purpose anymore. I started letting down emotional defenses just in time to get engaged to my wonderful husband, and it was a big lesson for me on just how important it is to walk without fear.

I no longer have the problem of letting down defenses around guys that I like (so glad to be out of the "single" stage--I was really bad at it ((probably one of the world's most incompetent flirts)). But my emotional walls are not all gone. I find myself sometimes even throwing up spiritual walls--I didn't get a prayer answered the way I expected, or a trial hurt more than I thought it should, so now I don't want to pray for things that are important (stupid, I know, but occasionally it happens).

But really, even when I think something hurts SO BAD, it's like my daughter who has hit her head on the wooden chair. It hurts a lot--in the moment. I may need a hug. But in just a short time the pain is gone, and if I would just let go of the memory of the pain, I could start climbing again.

And then, like my daughter, I'll be able to stand on my feet and wave at the people who helped me back up, laughing and pounding my hand on the chair as if to say, "See, it really isn't so mean after all."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Finally Spring

I turn Cimorene's hat so that the brim shades her ear that is toward the sun. It's 66 degrees, the warmest it's been since last summer. I pull a piece of string cheese off and place it on my palm. Cimorene grasps it with her forefinger and thumb, then shoves her entire fist into her mouth.

We share the cheese bite by bite, sitting on the grass at the park. When the cheese is gone, Cim turns her attention to the dandelions. She manages to pop the head off one and delicately shreds it, holding it in one hand, pulling the yellow petals off and watching them fall onto her leg.

That was last week, when we went to the park every day and soaked up as much sunshine as possible. Today it's raining, but that's okay, because it's not snow. Through the window, through the rain, I can see daffodils in bloom. Spring is here, really here. Finally.

Edit: Same day, a few hours later, it's snowing. Sigh. Guess that's what spring is here...

Monday, May 2, 2011

What is My "Holdning"?

A few weeks ago my younger brother, who is currently a missionary in Denmark, sent home a translation of a talk he gave in church. He had a note at the beginning that caught my attention.

"Elder Nørgaard [his native Danish companion] translated it quickly for me, so the language isn't as polished as it would otherwise be. Also the word he translated as attitude was the Danish word 'holdning' which doesn't really have an English equivalent. It's basically attitude, perspective, conviction and position all in one word."

I've always been fascinated by words that don't have a good translation into another language, but this one made me really stop and think. In his talk, James mentioned several holdning (not sure how you pluralize in Danish) from the scriptures, good and bad examples, such as, "It's too hard" (1 Nephi 3:4-5) vs. "I must obey" (2 Nephi 33:15) He ended with the ultimate good example of holdning, which is Christ's expression, "Thy will be done" (Matt. 26:42).

Lately, my holdning has been pretty negative. I could probably sum up my attitude, perspective, conviction, and position with the phrase, "Why bother?" (Yes, I've been depressed. Picture the robot from Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy.)

I've begun trying to change that. I've been reading my scriptures more, trying to find little moments to exercise (Cimorene likes watching me do push-ups, but I can't do sit-ups around her anymore because she tried to mimic me and threw herself backward onto her head). I've been taking Vitamin D3 to try to make up for the lack of sunlight. I've even put on makeup a couple times, because it makes me feel like I'm actually doing something with myself.

But more than anything, I've been praying for a change of heart. A change of holdning. And I'm getting there. I'm managing to be less irritated by little things, complain less about how little sleep I get. I'm smiling more. I'm enjoying my daughter more.

Someday my life will represent the statement, "Thy will be done." For now, I'm starting with, "I want to be good--please help me."

And He does.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Using the Language

About thirty-five years ago, 18 missionaries had the opportunity to learn Farsi and preach the gospel in Iran. Then it became a war zone, and the mission was closed.

Yesterday I got to visit with one of those 18 missionaries. We took him some Chinese food and sat and talked for awhile. He doesn't get a lot of visitors and doesn't get out much these days, because two years ago he had multi-visceral failure. He had his small intestine removed, and his liver has zero functionality (he's been on a waiting list to get a new one for almost two years), so he's very susceptible to illness.

He mentioned his mission, and I commented that I doubted he got much chance to use his language skills as an accountant at a university in Utah.

He spent the next hour excitedly telling us stories about all the opportunities he's had to work with the Persian people, whom he obviously loves. He told us about international students coming to the university, and about the group of 30-40 Persians he associates with here in the valley. He told us about doing translation work for the church's General Conference broadcasts. He told us there are some missionaries in Toronto who speak Farsi, and Persians studying the gospel in California, and how he's been working with both groups. He talked about the Persian doctor he met when he went to Pittsburgh for his surgery. Even as sick as he's been, he's been working hard translating church materials into Farsi, waiting for the day when missionary work will again be allowed in Iran.

I was reminded of all the ways that learning a language as a missionary can affect someone's life. I think of my mom tutoring the Chinese middle and high school students who moved to southern Virginia speaking no English. I think about working at the fruit stand a couple years ago with four people who spoke Spanish and one who spoke Portuguese and enough Spanish to get by (I learned Spanish words for many of the vegetables as well). Or about the fact that for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City they did not have to bring in any translators because there were so many returned missionaries wanting to help--instead, for the first time, they were turning translators away.

Because my mom served a mission in Taiwan, I grew up speaking some Chinese. I met my husband in a Chinese class in college. He was there because he did so well with Spanish on his mission that he felt he should learn more languages.

Not every missionary gets to learn a foreign language, but I'm grateful that the chance is offered to so many. And I'm grateful for examples like Brother Kerr, who has continued to use his Farsi in any way possible for 35 years, showing gratitude for the chance he was given. Only 18 missionaries got to go to Iran. Seeing the light in his eyes and hearing the strength in his voice despite the frailness of his body, I glimpsed a piece of why Brother Kerr got to be one of them.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Worry Triggers

My mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, and I were talking today, and my mother-in-law brought up that my father-in-law is so worried about all his kids that he can't sleep at night. He's stressed out because none of his kids have followed the pattern that was common in previous generations of picking a niche career and following it, working for the same company and ensuring a future.

We discussed how that isn't really the way the world works, these days. I don't know anyone who has graduated in the last decade who has worked for one company and is planning on staying with that company until they retire (I'm sure they're out there, I just don't know them).

Ryan's dad is worried about his kids who are joining the military (so far, 2 in the army and Ryan in the Air Force--another is considering army). He frequently reminds us that the military "owns" us now, and that we shouldn't count on anything, or, apparently, hope for anything, because they'll take everything they can get and mess up our lives any way they can.

Okay, I know that happens sometimes. But I also know people in the military who love it, and in this economy I'm grateful that we're going to have a job, insurance, and someone paying for our food and housing. Not only that, I'm looking forward to the possibility of being stationed overseas. Also, I don't buy my father-in-law's attitude of "You've sold your life to them forever," because my husband signed a 6 yr contract, and if we want out, we can get out then. And if we like it, we'll stay.

I honestly haven't been worrying about my husband's career and the future stability of our family. We've prayed hard about this, and we feel that Ryan is going the right direction, and I trust the Lord to take care of the details. These things haven't been a concern for me.

But as we talked about it today, and my mother-in-law expressed her and Dad's fears of insecurity for their children, I began to worry. What if we're wrong? What if the military's not the right choice? What if we end up with no job, no way to take care of our family?

That's when I realized that I'm more of a short-term worrier. If someone else brings up the long-term worries, then maybe they'll bother me, but I'm much more likely to be stressed out by short-term things.

Like living in my in-laws' basement for another two months. That one has me stressed.

But as I thought more about the future issues, I decided they're not worth worrying about right now, which is why I haven't bothered. I really do believe and feel that things will work out, and that as long as we're working hard and doing our best, we'll be taken care of. We may not have everything we'd like, but we'll get by, and that's good enough for me.

I don't know what being an Air Force wife will be like, but after the last few months, I'll just be happy to have a steady income again. So I'm going to choose to be hopeful. We've made our decision, and I think it will be good for us. I even think there will be things I love.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mmmmm. Artisan Bread.


Our first loaf of bread
After reading my friend Cindy's posts about bread, I decided I needed to make some. I really wanted to try the artisan bread she's mentioned a few times, so we looked up the basic recipe. Wow.

When the book is called Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, you're tempted to scoff in disbelief. Don't. Just buy it. Even though we've only made the basic loaf, we're hooked. Fresh bread every day without making dough every day? Oh yeah! No kneading? A million recipes from just a few freezable doughs? I'll take it.


This was the easiest and most satisfying bread-making experience I've ever had. If this is what being a homemaker is all about, maybe I can handle it after all. At least now one thing my home will never lack is fresh bread--they may be eating PB&J for dinner, but it will be on homemade bread.


We can't wait to try more of the recipes. Especially the one where you take sweet dough, put chocolate inside, deep fry it, and then dust with powdered sugar. Mmmm....


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Homemaking Breakthrough

I'm not the best homemaker. Okay, I'm actually pretty bad at it. One of the main problems is that I hate cleaning. Surprise.

But I want to be a good homemaker, and I decided I need to learn to clean without dwelling on the fact that I hate it. It takes too much energy when I'm thinking how much I hate it. Maybe if I just do it, I'll have energy left to think about obscure things like decorating (I haven't hung a picture myself since I left home when I was 18).

With that lofty goal in mind, I set out to be a better housekeeper. Then I realized that I'm still living in my in-laws' basement, and might not have my own apartment again until late summer or fall. Sigh.

In spite of this, I was determined, so I tackled the one room in the house which is "our space," which is, of course, overflowing with things that would normally be spread out around our apartment. I dusted, vacuumed, and shoved the piles into more orderly piles, creating a larger space in the middle of the floor which made the room feel much less overwhelming. I was very proud of myself. It took me two days.

Okay, so two days for one room isn't great, but it's a start.

Then this evening I was in the kitchen, and realized the dishwasher had just been run and was full of clean dishes, so I started to put them away. And that's when it hit me: there is a household task that I don't hate. Not only that, I actually like it. I like unloading the dishwasher. I like placing the clean, shiny dishes in orderly stacks, each in its precise cupboard. I enjoy seeing the dishwasher emptying, and knowing that I'm making tangible progress. I like grabbing up handfuls of silverware and seeing how many handfuls it takes me to put it all away.

Now, don't ask me to load the dishwasher. Grabbing dirty dishes and trying to rinse food off, then trying to fit everything in, and finding more dishes that you missed as soon as you start running it--not my idea of fun. But unloading it, I do enjoy.

And if I can come to like one part of tidying up, perhaps in time I can learn to like the rest of it. It might be awhile, but today it's seeming more possible.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sick Days

For the last three days, Cimorene and I have both been sick. Not a really nasty bug, just a cold, but it's hard to see her sick when I'm not feeling up to doing much about it.

At the same time, I've found that there are plus sides to this particular trial.
  1. My daughter has been much more cuddly. For those of you who know Cim, she loves to be held but does NOT cuddle or snuggle unless she's on the verge of falling asleep. So I've enjoyed, over the last couple days, her frequent micro-cuddles: she turns and buries her face in my collar bone or shoulder, holds it for about 3-5 seconds, and then pops back up like she's coming up for air. Sometimes she'll even lay her head on my shoulder for as long as 10 seconds.
  2. I have a wonderful husband and mother-in-law who have taken Cimorene at different times so that I can lay down and nap or read. I've felt much better for these periods of down-time.
  3. I haven't felt at all guilty about reading books that don't require any brain power. When my head is pounding, I can't concentrate on anything but fluff, so why not pick up another Regency Romance? (I'm slowly and inexorably making my way through my mother-in-law's shelf. Then maybe I'll move on to my father-in-law's...)
I'd still rather not be sick, and I'd rather not have a sick baby, but I'm grateful it's no worse, and grateful for the things that make it just a little better.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sunshine!

Photo credit: Rob Thomas

The temperature outside is 48 degrees, which, after living in Rexburg for so long, seems incredible for early March. Beyond that, the sun is out, and there's not a vicious, spiteful wind to make me rue the misleading sunshine.

To take advantage of this fantastic weather, I went outside in capris and a t-shirt and lay spread-eagle on the concrete walk that runs along the side of my in-laws' house. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the yellow-green of my eyelids. You may question that, and say that it ought to be orange, at least.

But see, I had a flowerbed next to me from which the snow has melted, and so I could smell dirt. Dirt and sunshine with a bit of a chill speaks spring to me, and spring is that soft, yellow-green of my childhood on the Virginia/Tennessee border. The trees will all still be brown and spiky, and the brush will poke up beneath them, some of it curled from the weight of snow. But beneath that, everything is turning green, blending with the tans to make that peculiar yellow-green that I see behind my eyelids when I turn my face toward the sun and smell the dirt.

I stole this picture from a website pulled up by Google images. It looks just like several chimneys I saw growing up. And it looks like spring. Right down to the daffodils.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Funny Farm Memories of Cold and Warmth

As I shivered today and tucked my toes underneath me on the couch, I suddenly remembered a winter day years ago at the Funny Farm (my family's farm on the border of Virginia and Tennessee). The propane tank which normally heated our house had run out, I think, and so we were left with just a wood stove on one end of the house. It was warm enough to heat the family room, my parents' bedroom, and one bathroom. Everywhere else was very, very cold.

I must have been in my early teens, because my older brother was at school but James, Nate and I were still homeschooled. Because it was too cold in by the computer (long before we had a laptop) or the schooltable, Mom called a snow-day. We all grabbed novels and climbed into Mom and Dad's bed, pulling extra blankets in with us. Curled up at different angles (I think James was lying across the foot of the bed, but the memory's fuzzy), we read all day. Dad brought food home--our stove was propane-powered as well, and thus out of commission--and we ate it on the unfinished wood floor in the family room.

It struck me today how miserable that day could have been. Had my mom not been willing to just laugh at one more mishap (it was called the Funny Farm for a reason--anything that could go wrong generally did), we would all have grumbled about the cold and felt put-upon. Instead, we got to spend some close time together doing something we all loved, and I now have a memory of cold that fills me with warmth.

That memory is a good reminder today about how much attitude counts. Was that day a trial or a blessing? Rarely do I experience something that feels like both at the same time, but thanks to my mom's courage and smiles, that day was both.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Late-Winter Resolution

I have finally decided what I want my New Year's Resolution to be. Unfortunately, it's no longer January, so I've missed a couple months, but I figure it's like Christmas cards: better late than never. (Okay, so I have no plans to send out Christmas cards, but it's a nice thought.)

Actually, it's less of a resolution than a theme for the year, but I'm resolving to put it into effect and make it part of my life.

I, Shannon, hereby commit to living life as an adventure. I want to wake up in the morning excited for the day. I'm going to start a journal where I write something every day that was an adventure. It might be drawing a smiley face in the snow. It might be fitting back into a pre-pregnancy outfit. (I found another pair of my old pants that I can fit into, hooray!) But for quite awhile now I've been ignoring all the adventures, and that makes me less eager to wake up in the morning or think about the future.

No more. From now on, this year is about the adventures.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Singing to My Daughter

I've sung a lot of lullabyes. I used to sing to the Richard twins when they'd go down for their nap, and then to all the Richard kids at night. When I went on vacation with them, I'd sing to the whole family, in the car, or at night. I sang to Zoe in a tent during thunderstorms at girl's camp in Tennessee (Zoe has Down Syndrome and is a great camper--unless there's thunderstorms), and to a cabin full of 12-13 yr old girls at girl's camp in New Hampshire. I sang to my girls when I was a youth camp leader in Tennessee and Pennsylvania. And now I sing to my first daughter.

I varied the selection, singing different songs for 12-year-old Delaney than for 5-year-olds Gage and Wyatt, but I always stuck to religious songs when it came to bed-time songs. During the day I'd sing folk songs, or pop songs, or put on some dance music; but at night I sang the most comforting songs I could think of, which were always those that spoke about Christ and hope for eternal things.

I realized the other night, as I was on the third verse of "I Am a Child of God" for the fourth or fifth time that day, that I have sung that song more than any other. It's not because it's my favorite--I've actually gotten quite sick of it at times. But when the twins were little, it was the song I always sang before their naps. Zoe and Camden (siblings, both have Down Syndrome) always requested the same song. And Cimorene calms down faster with that song than with any other.

Having sung it so much, I tend to not notice the words I'm actually saying, but lately I've been paying more attention.

I am a child of God, and He has sent me here
Has given me an earthly home, with parents kind and dear.

I am a child of God, and so my needs are great.
Help me to understand His words before it grows too late.

I am a child of God; rich blessings are in store.
If I but learn to do his will, I'll live with Him once more.

(And the generally unknown 4th verse from the primary songbook)
I am a child of God; His promises are sure
Celestial glory shall be mine, if I can but endure.

Some of my earliest memories with this song include confusion. "Parents deer?" I pictured my parents with antlers and hoofs. "And so my knees are great?" Well, they were generally scraped, but they weren't bad, I guess.

I learned what the words meant pretty quickly, but I never thought much about just how comforting they were. How many people in this world know that they're a child of God, and that their needs are important just because He loves them? How many would be happier if they knew and really understood that? Do I even really understand? How many times do I forget that doing His will is the important thing? And I won't tell you how often I need reminders that His promises are sure. God will come through. Everything he's promised--peace, forgiveness, eternal life, that my family can be together forever, that we'll live in our bodies again, and so many personal promises--these things are sure. I have to do my part, of course, but He will not fail in His.

What more do I need to be happy and hopeful in this life? No wonder so many children, whose hearts are pure, love this song. It speaks of hope, and love, and our divine nature and eternal destiny. I'm grateful for the chance to sing it ten times a day to my daughter. I only hope I can teach her someday what it means.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bubble-wrap Reading

I hereby confess: I like reading romance novels.

Before you freak out, let me clarify. I like reading Regency period romance novels--and only some of those. I stick to Regency for two reasons. First, they're generally clean. I've had to put down a couple, but the code of conduct expected of young ladies of society at the time lends itself to a safer read. Secondly, they're funny. The emphasis is usually on wit and an appreciation for the ridiculous.

These novels are what my father-in-law once described as "bubble-wrap literature" (he put Louis L'Amour under the same blanket). No one knows why popping bubble-wrap is so satisfying, but it draws us nonetheless. The same goes for reading these books. We know how it's going to end, usually from the first chapter on. The characters aren't people we're going to befriend and think about for weeks afterward. In fact, if we feel we know them at all, it's only because we've seen the same stock characters in other novels of the same genre. Chances are, reading one of these books will not change your life, and you probably won't have much desire to re-read it or recommend it to a friend (some of Georgette Heyer's books may be an exception).

Who cares? This is sheer escapism.

When I say that my father-in-law calls it bubble-wrap, don't think he's being derogatory. He has 3 shelves full of Regency books himself (his wife's are in the other room). And he's one of the most learned men I know (I count 14 bookcases in the house, most of them floor-to-ceiling, and he's read almost everything on them, from Dickens to Hugh B. Brown to Robin McKinley).

So why do I get embarrassed to admit that I read them?

I've recently created an account on goodreads.com. I want to keep track of all the books I read so I can look back at the end of the year and have a great sense of numerical achievement. Despite this, I've left off probably eight or nine books in the last two months. Why? Because they're fluff. Or, to stick with my metaphor, bubbles.

I'm too embarrassed to post that I read a Regency romance novel, even if it was handed to me by my PhD father-in-law? Yes. But not anymore.

I'm writing this post as a confession, because letting the secret into cyberspace here will allow me to defiantly add those books to my list. (It doesn't have to make sense, just accept that that's how my brain works.)

And you know what? I like happy endings, and reading about balls and earls, tete-a-tetes and repartees (forgive my inability to place the proper accent marks), and all sorts of other ridiculousness. Also, the books are generally small, easy to hold, and easy to focus on when I'm feeding my daughter or when I'm too tired to actually think.

But just in case my literary friends are starting to worry about me--especially after my previous posts about wanting to stretch my brain--I have another announcement. I finished Steinbeck's Cannery Row. And loved it. So there.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Valentine's Memories

I've been thinking back this week about different Valentine's Days. I have some years in particular that stand out to me.

Age 15 -- I received my first real valentines ("real" meaning from a boy and not just because he's handing them out to the entire 3rd grade class). Brett and Nathan, two of my best friends in my mid-teens, both gave me valentines. Brett gave me one of those little boxes of chocolates. Nathan left an anonymous (the secret came out later) candy heart that said "Pretty Eyes," which started a series of inside jokes culminating in "Pretty Eyes" being painted on some bleachers at a combined-stake service project (don't worry, he was supposed to be painting them). Those two boys did more for my self-confidence that whole year than I could ever thank them for.

Age 19 -- Freshman year of college. My first boyfriend had broken up with me a month and a half earlier, and I figured Valentine's Day would just be depressing. Then Mandi informed me that Valentine's Day was amazing and that she would be my Valentine, because it was one of her favorite holidays. We swapped Valentine's goodies, and I learned that the Dollar Tree sells roses in February. Thank goodness for friends!

Age 20 -- Sophomore year. My roommate's boyfriend had left town to prepare for his mission, but he sent me a letter with money and asked me to buy her some roses and chocolate and set them up in a pretty way. I did an awesome job, if I do say so myself... This was also the year I was secretly wishing that Cooley would surprise me by deciding he liked me and sending me a Valentine. That was stupid, though; I knew he only saw me as a friend. I didn't get the Valentine, but 15 days later we were engaged.

This list, of course, leaves out the years where I wished the Grinch would switch from Christmas and steal Valentine's Day. But hey, it's my blog, and I can be selective with my memories if I want.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Learning to Think

The other day my father-in-law was talking about how this couple-month period in our lives is like Eden, because Ryan's not working (hasn't found a job yet), we don't have to worry about rent, we only cook once a week or so, and we can just do what we want.

If this is Eden, why am I not enjoying it more?

Ryan says I'm tired. Not sleeping for 6 months will do that. And it's true; I've never functioned well without my proper 8 hours of sleep. But it's more than that.

Where is the excitement for a new day, a new adventure? In her book Walking on Water Madeleine L'Engle talks about how young children always wake up excited, and she says that an artist must do the same or they will find no inspiration, because they won't notice the little curiosities of life.

I haven't felt much like an artist lately. I decided to resurrect this blog to help me find an incentive to write. But most days when I think about blogging, I think, "I don't have anything to write about. No one wants to hear about another diaper blow-out."

Then I ask myself, do I not have any thoughts? Do I not reflect on anything, or ponder, or wonder about anything? Wonder is the most inspiring thing for a writer. Where is my wonder?

I realize it's not that I don't have thoughts, it's that I generally don't pursue any of them far enough to create anything sensible from them. I have a lot of under-developed thoughts, which I dismiss before they have time to ruminate.

Well, why do I dismiss them?

I think it has something to do with the way that I always worry. I used to look forward to things, but our plans have changed so many times in the last year alone that I don't dare look forward anymore. I try not to look at the future, because it scares me. I just know there are big, nasty trials waiting for me around the next corner.

Well, duh. That's the purpose of life, isn't it?

But it's one thing to know trials are necessary, and another to not be afraid of them. I'm realizing, however, that my fear of future trials is crippling my ability to function in the present. I have a beautiful daughter and an amazing husband. I am healthy (despite the lack of sleep), and I have good friends and family who love me. I am a daughter of God, the ruler of the universe. Not just the God of this world, or country, or my church, or the God of my parents. The god of the universe. And he's on my side. Could I ask for better odds?

I'm setting a goal to blog at least 3 times every week. I'm going to find things that make me wonder or ponder, and I'm going to let those thoughts spin in my head, then spill them out as words and arrange and rearrange themselves until they teach me something.

Maybe the posts will be profound. Maybe they'll be humorous. Maybe they won't make sense to anyone but me. But as long as they show that I'm thinking, they'll be worth it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Trusting Friendliness

Going to China did some interesting things for Ryan and me. Where I came back with 6 months of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), Ryan developed a heightened awareness of his surroundings and a distrust of strangers. (If you haven't heard our China story, don't go looking for it in the posts below. They scratch the bare bones of what happened, but skip all the stuff that caused the above-mentioned reactions.)

Yesterday as we walked through Walmart, we were struck by that feeling that something was different... turned out it was the layout of the store. We had no idea where the baby section was, and we were wandering around discussing the fact out loud when a man about 20 ft. away asked us what we were looking for. We told him, and he said, "Oh, it's over here," and walked us there.

He looked to be in his twenties and had two little girls with him, probably 2.5 and 4 years old. He had a bit of a beard, and a slightly airy voice. He took us to the appropriate section, and saw that we were looking at baby monitors.

"Oh, do you need a monitor? I have one I'd sell you. We paid $60 for it, but we never used it because our apartment was small enough to hear them crying. I'd give it to you for $30. It's one of those that has two receivers." He indicated the $60 monitors on the shelf.

Ryan and I looked at each other, but we weren't sure what to say. Meanwhile the older girl came running around the corner holding a Disney princess umbrella. "Daddy, Daddy, we need this for the rain outside!" Her sister came running up as well, holding an umbrella almost bigger than she was. She grinned up at me and said, "Sponge Bob."

Turns out his name was Frank. We found that after we had exchanged phone numbers and gotten his address. He called his wife, and she said to only charge us $20 for the monitor. That was cheaper than the single-receiver short-range set at the store. He said he'd go home and find it, then give us a call.

Ryan and I discussed afterward that our first instinct was to distrust even the fact that Frank offered to show us where the baby things were. We could tell he was just being nice, but part of us wanted to know why. Why would he be nice? What motive could he have for offering to sell us his monitor instead of the one at the store? Did he just want to sell it? Could it really be that he wanted to save us money and clear up some space in his house at the same time?

We went that night to pick up the monitor. It was dark out, which meant our guards were up even more. I sat in the car with Cimorene and locked the doors quickly behind Ryan. I kept wondering why I was sending my husband to knock on the door of someone we knew nothing about.

But Frank was not sitting there with a gun, ready to steal Ryan's wallet; he was in the living room where his younger daughter had fallen asleep curled up with blankets on the floor. He gave Ryan the monitor, and Ryan gave him the $20. They discussed how they'd both worked at the cheese factory in town. And Ryan came back to the car.

It's sad that we were both so hesitant to accept friendliness for what it was. We looked for hidden motives, instead of believing that Frank was actually just a nice guy. Neither of us felt genuinely uncomfortable about the situation, or we wouldn't have gone to his house, but both of us had that little cynical voice that said people aren't really just friendly like that. I'm grateful Frank showed us otherwise.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Resurrecting Old Talents

One of the best things so far about living at my in-laws’ house is that they own a real piano. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it.

I’ve played every day this week, and instead of just playing the easy things, I’ve pulled out my old classical books. I feel like the old man in a cd by our friend Marvin Payne called “The Planemaker.” The old man, when he tries to pick up his tools after years of disuse, exclaims, “I don’t understand! It used to be so easy.”

Playing classical music used to be much easier for me, but I’m getting better, and by the time I leave here I might even be able to play my old competition songs again.

One of my favorite piano books, which has quickly become a favorite of Ryan’s dad and brother as well, is the book I bought in China. It wasn’t a random purchase; I went to the music store looking for a book with certain songs, songs my mom played when I was growing up, from a book she’d bought in Taiwan.

Funnily enough, the composer (actually, I’m not sure if he writes them or is just a pianist) isn’t Chinese. He’s French. But the Asians love him.

I played my first Richard Clayderman song when I was eleven. I remember mom coming in several times to tell me to play the notes evenly first, and then I could play them quickly. I protested that I was playing “with feeling.”

Those songs were my older brother’s favorites, and he’d ask me to play them when he did his math homework. I also got to play one at a recital when I was twelve—the only performance piece I ever chose myself.

My life has changed a lot since those days, but playing those songs makes me feel like a pianist again, and for just a few minutes I remember what it felt like to have my biggest concern be whether or not I had practiced my two hours that day. These days I’m lucky to get ten minutes, but I appreciate them much more.

I'm still working on playing the notes evenly. But there's definitely feeling.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sitting at His Feet

Last night we sat at the feet of my father-in-law. I mean that quite literally—Ryan and I sat beside each other on the floor with our backs against the uneven spines on the bookcase while his dad read to us.

It was past midnight. Cimorene was asleep downstairs, and Ryan and I were enjoying the freedom of just wandering around the house (those who are parents will understand the reluctance to go to bed and end those quiet moments after the child is asleep; even though you’re exhausted, you feel like your own person for awhile).

We followed Dad into the study, talking, and I started glancing through the books on his shelf. A casual mention of a title was all it took.

“Have you ever read Thurber? No? Well, you’ll have to read this one. Here, let me find a really good one.”

Thus it began. We sat at his feet as he read to us from “Fables for Our Time.” We learned about a moth who wants to fly to a star, and so he doesn’t get burned flying around lamps like the rest of his family. Another was about a man who sees a unicorn, and his wife plots to have him committed, but when the police and psychiatrist come, they end up taking her instead, because the man denies having seen it, and so he lives happily ever after.

After one of the stories, I glanced up at the books behind me and said, “Word Studies? What’s that one?”

That’s when the real teaching started.

My father-in-law is a teacher. He has a Doctorate of Education degree, and he has taught college-level religion courses for the last 30 years.

Word Studies turned out to be a study on the New Testament, with the original Greek next to the King James text. Dad flipped to a favorite section and showed us how the book worked, flipping to the back to show us the longer translation for a passage which made much more sense in Greek than in the King James translation. He started talking about how that related to this passage, and that related to this…

The result was that I felt alive, in a way I hadn’t since I left school a month ago. I’ve gotten bogged down in the last few weeks with diapers, the fact that I haven’t slept, and my daughter’s newly developed separation anxiety. I’ve been feeling grey and lost; I wasn’t accomplishing anything, I wasn’t moving forward in any way, I was simply existing—and in my in-law’s basement, no less.

But sitting at the feet of my father-in-law made me realize what a great chance I have these couple months while we’re in limbo. Ryan’s dad, as well as having a wealth of knowledge in his mind, has an enormous library, both of which he’s eager to share. I’ve now started reading At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald, as well as that collection of James Thurber’s stories. I should probably pick up some Dickens along the way (I’ve never actually read any), and I’m determined to finally read a Steinbeck (probably Travels With Charley; I’ve heard it’s not too depressing. My father-in-law also recommended Sweet Thursday).

I’m plotting ways to get Dad talking—I need to come up with some thought-provoking questions—and I’m feeling much less worried about the next couple months. Even if I still haven’t slept.