Monday, December 28, 2009

Twelve Gifts: #3 A QUESTION

22 years ago last August, this adorable man asked me a life-changing question that is one of life's most amazing gifts: He asked me to marry him—implying that he loved me enough to want to spend the rest of his life with me...and all of eternity as well. Sometimes I am still in awe of that willingness to commit. Without a moment's hesitation, I answered YES! (I'd actually been waiting for this particular question for MONTHS...much longer than it ever felt to wait for Santa to come!) Somehow I just KNEW he was The One.

I was lucky enough to be working as the editorial art director for a regional magazine at the time, and scored our fashion photographer, Dirk Douglass, to do these engagement photos.

And then 22 years ago today, wearing my mother's heirloom custom-tailored dress, I knelt across the altar from him and whispered a reverent but rich-with-anticipation "Yes!". Our lives have been a series of non-stop adventures ever since.

—Oh, and just for the record, I would STILL say yes!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Twelve (more) Gifts: #2 MERCY (in the form of a Candy Cane)

I looked at the clock as I backed out of the garage, and true panic set in. It was already ten minutes later than I’d planned to leave. But if I timed all my stops right, and lucked out with a good parking place, I could still make it to my final in time. I whipped around the corner and was racing down the hill when I saw the lights. Not red and green. Red and blue. I slammed on my brakes (while pretending to be inadvertently fiddling with the radio) and went nonchalantly by. Until the lights spun around and followed me.

I couldn’t believe it. Just a couple of blocks from my house I was being pulled over. Officer Henderson stepped up to the window and introduced himself, requesting my insurance and I.D. While he was back in the squad car doing whatever they do back in the squad car, I texted my husband: “I just got pulled over. If I wasn’t already late for my final, I definitely am now!” And then I sat there and squirmed while I waited impatiently for the officer to come back with my ticket. Hubby texted back: “You got pulled over?! (sad face) Did you get a ticket?”

I imagined all my stressed-out students sitting there wondering where their teacher was, and then imagined the cops getting some kind of perverse pleasure out of taking their sweet time, making sure I was extra EXTRA late in order to teach me a lesson. After what felt like several centuries, Officer Henderson stepped back up to the window. Visions of having to return our kids’ Christmas presents to pay for a speeding ticket danced in my head. Clumsily.

“Here’s your Driver’s License.” I thanked him. Possibly not very sincerely. “Now...going 16 miles over in a residential zone is not safe traveling. I’m giving you this...”

(If you’re not sitting down, I suggest you do so now.)

“I’m giving you this candy cane from the city police department as a reminder to slow down.” My jaw dropped. And then I laughed. “Really?”

“Yep. That’s it. Have a Merry Christmas.” Yeah. You too. Go figure.

I texted Jeff back: “They gave me a candy cane.” His response was "What?"

So it turned out I was about 15 minutes late for my final. But I had an AWESOME story to tell when I got there! --And no ticket.

I loved that gesture of mercy, during the season we most celebrate the true Giver of Mercy. A candy cane that let me off the hook. And the funny thing is, it made me want to extend that same kind of mercy to those around me. To give them the benefit of the doubt and a second chance. (I might even throw in a candy cane.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Twelve (more) Gifts: #1 VISION

Last night we had the rare and humbling opportunity to hear from Stephanie Nielsen, of the beloved Nie-Nie Dialogues (and the infamous plane crash).

And today I cannot stop thinking about this extraordinary person.

She gave every woman in the room the most remarkable gift, my first of the season: Vision.

She talked about how beautiful and amazing we are because we have skin. Skin.
I've actually never been very comfortable in my own skin. I've even found lots of reasons to complain about it (I'll spare you my litany of defects.) The bottom line is, the word grateful never comes to mind when I think of my skin. I've always felt instead like I got the short end of the stick in the Heredity lottery. Yet suddenly Nie-Nie had me marveling at the miracle that own soft, self-healing, waterproof, pliable, wearable skin.

Now ditto that whole paragraph and replace the word "skin" with Bodies. One of my favorite things she said in this gift of vision: "I am not my body." So true. Here we are defining ourselves by our bodies, when our innermost selves—our spirits—may not look anything like our physical bodies. I am not my body.

She talked about Choices. She said she chose to come to earth...and chose to come back after nearly dying. She said the choice and the offer that was given to her felt almost like a bishop's interview, and that it wasn't an easy choice. She was told there would be plenty for her to do on either side, but she thought of all the joyful things she'd miss -- her daughters' weddings, her sons going on missions, and she chose life. She chose to come back. It gave me a huge, larger-than-life appreciation for the chance to spend a series of days and years here on earth.

She talked about Angels. She talked about guardian angels she believes are assigned to her (and to each of us) -- she calls them her "team." She spoke especially of her departed grandmother helping her out of the plane, and remaining with her to this day. That resonated for me, and reminded me of similar experiences I've had...times when loved ones from the other side of the veil have come to comfort, heal, and support me through difficult times. Heaven is so much closer than we think.

She spoke of the Savior so knowingly and lovingly, with such certainty. I found it the perfect way to usher in the season celebrating his hear her testify so humbly about His role in her life, reminding us how important it is to involve Him in all of our decisions, in all of our trials, in celebrating our joys, every day of our lives. It felt truly sacred to be in the presence of one who knows Him so well.

When it was over, I looked right into her eyes and tears welled up in mine as I reached up to give her a hug, and told her candidly how beautiful she is. Her eyes are like crystal pools of light and love, carrying a depth of vision few of us will ever know, as do her words. I hope to hang onto that vision she gave us all Christmas long...and over a lifetime.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Twelve More Gifts (by way of introduction)

I've been working on your Christmas present for weeks. Seriously.

It has nothing to do with super-cute wrapping ideas or crafting (because I suck at that). But Christmas is about gifts -- culminating, of course, in wise people bestowing precious offerings to the Lord, and God giving the whole world the Greatest Gift of All. So I've been reflecting on all the gifts I've given and received over the years and selected my absolute favorites. And I'm sharing them with you (you can also find last year's selections here).

Some salient patterns emerged as I pondered these favorite gifts. Amazingly, all of them can be shared, in one form or another. And none of them came from The Mall. The other amazing thing that surfaced in my present-ponderings was that I have far more than twelve favorites...complete with the stories to go with them. I was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude. So, as my blog runneth over but my time runneth short, I'm limiting these to twelve. And maybe I'll save the rest for next year!

Here are my twelve favorite gifts, each one my gift to you.
I hope you open and treasure every one.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Back By Popular Demand...

I'm still frantically writing the last 2,500 words of my novel (tomorrow's the last day), but several of you asked me to re-post my December resolutions in November. So here they are, just in the nick of time. As I read over them now I realize I so needed this reminder. Thank you for requesting the repeat. And I'll be back on December 1 with Twelve (more) Gifts.

Turning Those Rants into Resolutions

This year I resolve to:

I resolve to "just say no" to the alluring drug of every holiday obligation: office parties, piano recitals, school programs, art fairs, and anything else that pulls me away from my family during the evening. Instead, I want to spend December singing carols, reading stories, sharing scriptures, and feeling home.

I resolve not to turn into a "wicked stepmother" of fairytale proportions on December 24, suddenly panicking over what's not done and taking it out on those nearest and dearest to me. I will not yell at anyone to help wrap, help assemble, help mail, help deliver, help organize, help clean, help cook, help decorate. I will not yell. Period. I will speak in reverent tones and spread nothing but joy on Christmas Eve. I commit now to a stress-free Christmas Eve, whatever the cost.

I will not allow my burgeoning to-do list to eclipse my morning workout. I will not eat a dozen of my own fresh-baked cookies on-the-run every day because I can't make time for a good lunch. I will not eat a steady stream of chocolate from 8 pm to midnight to help me stay awake. I will simply go to bed. And get up early enough to incorporate a workout into my day. I will take care of myself first.

Next year I will not have a cow when we bring up the Christmas china, only to discover that the contractors were not gentle when they moved the crate and the entire set is shattered. I will just be grateful we have food, and plates to eat it on. I will be grateful we had contractors work on our basement instead of doing it ourselves. I will be grateful Christmas is coming, with or without the special plates. I will not let anything so immaterial as a material loss get in the way of my holiday spirit.

While I love my innate flexibility and utter spontaneity, leaving too much to the last minute, or worse, to chance, is one of my biggest weaknesses. I will plan more and fret less. I will make a list and check it twice. I will make room for the most important things first.

Sure, we did the "giving tree," the donation to the food bank, the children's book drive, the open house benefiting Mothers Without Borders, and enjoyed participating in all of them. But I want to feel like we made a sacrifice as a family that made a significant difference. I resolve to set aside money all year long to do one significant act to bless someone else's life.

That was one of the most meaningful things I did last December, and I already have at least three more posts already written in my head. I'm going to prepare a few early, write a few more as they come to me, and be glad I have that time to reflect, and rejoice in those of you who take time to respond.

I'm actually glad this hit me this way this Christmas, because NOW I'm totally worked up, totally motivated to make changes, totally on board to start making progress NOW.
It feels good to turn those rants into resolutions, and hopefully by next December those rants will become raves. I'd love to hear your rants, and how you plan to turn them into raves this year.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I'm Grateful for the Wilderness

In fairy tales, the wilderness is a frightening place where characters either run for refuge or are order to fulfill a mission, face a great challenge, meet someone instrumental, or learn an important skill. The wilderness is an instrument of change.

The same is true in scripture, both ancient and modern. Consider:

Our first parents were cast out of the Garden of Eden to a wilderness...the lone and dreary world. Without that step into the great unknown, the world would never have been populated. We would not exist. Adam said, "Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.
And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient." (Moses 5:10-11)

Moses led the children of Israel out of captivity...and spent the next forty years circling the promised land, in the wilderness. It was in the wilderness that they witnessed the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea, built a golden calf for idol worship, and received the Ten Commandments.

Lehi was warned in a dream to leave behind his riches, his possessions and his remarkable real estate and journey into the wilderness with his family. The entire Book of Mormon begins with this crucial story of one family's journey into the wilderness.

Mormon pioneers were cast out of their homes and farmland and driven into the wilderness, crossing thousands of miles on the plains before arriving in the Salt Lake Valley.

John the baptist was raised in the wilderness. Living in the wild was somehow essential to his preparation as a baptist and an elias, one who ushers in.

Christ spent 40 days praying and fasting in the wilderness, and ultimately retired to the wilderness, the Garden of Gethsemane, to talk to God and atone for our sins.

This year our oldest son spent two months in the wilderness. It was a much-needed instrument of change. The beating down of the earth's elements seem to soften his heart in ways nothing else had succeeded.

At some point every one of us, just like fairy tale characters as well as prophets and patriarchs, will have to pass through a personal wilderness. Perhaps several, both literal and figurative. These wildernesses are frightening places, full of unknowns, full of danger...but often harboring wise leaders, helpful guides...and always effecting change.

This year my gratitude for the wilderness is profound. I am grateful for the progress our son made there, for the peace and reflection that comes to me when I escape there myself, and most especially for the wilderness Christ was willing to enter in our behalf. I am acutely aware of the fear that comes as we leave our personal comfort zones to embark on a journey. I am in awe of the peace that is offered, often in the very face of life-threatening danger. I am humbled to my knees at the wilderness Jesus bore for each of us. And I rejoice in the miracle and power of change.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

It's My Favorite Holiday.

No, not Halloween. That was yesterday. Besides, free candy isn't nearly as awesome as free sleep. No, I've been looking forward to this day for a full six months. And like all major holidays, the celebration actually begins the night before, on My-Favorite-Holiday Eve, when we perform a cherished ritual each year: Setting back the clocks.

Can you think of anything more magical and worthy of celebration than a 25th hour in an overcrowded 24-hour day? Or reversing the role of aging, by actually turning back time? I live for this day!

Today in particular there is much to be celebrating:

1. My Favorite Holiday — one free hour to do whatever we please...sleep, party, create — this is every woman's dream.

2. Speaking of favorites, I have answered Luisa's tag and listed my own favorites here: To The Fifth Power. (Interestingly, Luisa tagged me for my first meme in addition to this one. I think I'll call them Meme One and Meme Two.)

3. The beginning of NaNoWriMo. (National Novel Writing Month.) Yes, I've decided to do it for real this year. (Although I must add that I value sanity over word count, and will not hold myself to the whole 50,000 if my life starts falling apart at the seams!) I'm joining blog favorites Brillig, DeNae , LT Elliot (no relation to TS?) and Melanie J...and writing a book called The Bridge Club Chronicles: A snarky account of the misadventures of four creative teenagers who choose to rebel against society in ways that are both harmless and hilarious. Please cheer me on. (And forgive me if I become a blog slacker in the meantime.)

What are your doing with YOUR free hour?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

An Unlikely Fan

When I was little, my senior-in-high-school cousin broke his neck playing football, and came home to our house in a body cast. And I wondered, at the ripe old age of seven, WHO in their right mind actually DOES this? Glories in beating each other senseless? The answer never came.

So. I have never been to a football game where someone else didn't pay my admission. And even then, I always take a book. There are no Superbowl parties at our house. We host Oscar parties. In our home theater. Yeah, I live in that world.

So, you can imagine how long it took me to shrug off the disbelief when Mr. Cool said he wanted to sign up for football. Tackle football. In a league for kids. Complete with helmets and pads. And bullies. And it only costs, what? A whopping $300? I did my best to talk him out of it. But he was relentless. And we believe in giving our kids opportunities. Even ones we're not crazy about. So I drove to some sports store across town that I SWEAR I never even knew existed, and waited in line to sign him up. I looked around at the other families signing their kids up to ravage each other. Holy NASCAR! There was not a lot of refinement in this crowd. I was ready to walk out on the whole thing. Then I saw another mother that I know and trust, dutifully signing up her very bright, well-rounded son. And I regained my confidence. Wrote the checks. Sucked it up. Did not say ONE WORD to the little guy about how I REALLY feel about football.

And now, two-and-a-half months later, I am both changed and grateful. Start with his coaches—fathers who donate five nights a week to helping these boys succeed. Who praise and encourage and ENJOY them rather than berating them. (And they're currently undefeated!) I see my little Number Eleven down there on the field sacking the quarterback. Sometimes I have to remind him not to tackle ME! And now I'm the one in the stands cheering and shouting, "Get him! GET HIM!" I'm somewhat amused that I'm the mom who never misses a game. (Even though I still read my book during half-time). I may not be crazy about football. But when it comes to Mr. Cool, I am a total fan! My fierce love for him is what keeps me in the stands. Keeps me chauffeuring to practices and games. Keeps me cheering him on. Keeps me doing all the other Mom-things I do, that will continue long after the championship game is over...

...and well into the eternities.

Go, Team!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sometimes October Breaks My Heart

Yesterday I heard a powerful rustling outside the house, and turned to watch the oak tree outside the window shed half its a single gust of wind. They all fell at once, in a rush, coating the ground beneath with giant, curling brown-paper confetti. No time to float, or linger. Just here. Whoosh! Gone.

It seems that in the space of a week we have moved from soul-soaring, saturated a flurry of falling leaves. And I feel my spirits falling along with them. I look to the mountains above our house, and the cloud cover has dropped, obscuring the mountaintops with a thick, hazy fog. I feel similar clouds sinking over my heart. A heaviness sets in.

It's not just the weather, nature's life cycle, that does this to me. It used to be that certain dates in October would bludgeon me with their weight: the 7th, the 10th, the 12th, the 25th...
The day I felt no movement, heard no heartbeat, delivered a lifeless daughter, and buried her. A whole month when my body could not seem to get warm, stay warm, even wearing a winter coat indoors. Now their arrival is barely noticeable. Memories just descend in quiet moments, like a blanket of leaves.

I'm driving home from work, and suddenly she is with me, and I am back there, reliving a thought or a feeling, a moment that was key to her passing. I might even find myself mentally cradling her little head again. Sometimes I'm surrounded by her presence and the sweetness of it moves me to tears. Other times I see an eight-year-old girl and think, instead of baptizing our daughter, we had a baptism by fire.

Last night there was a woman who reminded me of my mother. It was also an October when my mother realized she would, in fact, die. Resigned. And told me so. No pink ribbons could possibly make me any more aware, and the irony is certainly not lost on me. In October.

Sometimes, in October, my feet are so heavy they scarcely move. Sometimes, in October, it is really hard to get out of bed in the morning. And hard not to go back there after the kids go to school. Sometimes, in October, I need to bury myself in a book, escape into someone else's story. Sometimes, in October, my eyes well up with tears with no warning at all, triggered by the most fleeting gesture or thought.

Don't worry about me. I'm okay. I've made it through lots of Octobers, and I'll make it through countless more. But if you see me and my smile's not quite as bright, or my step doesn't seem as light, if the look in my eyes feels distant or my brain acts a little's not personal. It's just that I'm having an October moment. Or maybe a whole October day. Because sometimes October breaks my heart.

That said, I know that a broken heart ultimately pairs up with a contrite spirit, leading us Home. It's the sacrifice He requires from us. And in that perspective it seems like a very small a price to pay.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Because I can't say no...

There is one blogger to whom I simply cannot say no. (Okay, there might be four or five. But that's about it.) So when Luisa tagged me for this meme and said, "please play" how could I resist? Here I present my semi-tweaked version of Kashkawan To The Fifth Power:

Five North American Cities in which I'd seriously consider living:
(I'm assuming this implies I haven't already lived there, or Pasadena would be top of my list.)

San Diego
Colorado Springs
Cold Springs

Five songs to which I WISH I could sing all the words:

Faure's Cantique de Jean Racine
Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium
Rutter's What Sweeter Music
Elton John's The Greatest Discovery
Jason Mraz's Life Is Wonderful

Five Childhood Friends I'd love to see again:
Margaret Lloyd
Paula Gillette
Ellen Clark
Lola & Linda DiLello (twins count as one, right?)

Five Delicious Dishes I could make with Luisa's food list if stranded on a Desert Island:
Bread, Butter, Eggs, Apples, Chocolate
(I completely ditto Luisa's food list,
so I had to come up with my own twist here.)

Pain au chocolat (assuming the bread can be reworked into a croissant)
Caramel-Apple Bread pudding
Bread cubes and apples dipped in Chocolate Fondue
An excellent omelette
Hot chocolate and buttered toast (this is my preferred midnight snack)

Titles of Five Upcoming Blog Posts I have yet to publish:
(If you use these we'll know where you stole them!)

Noises Off!
Exhaling Love
Sure-Fire Motivator for Kids' Piano Practice
The Karma Police Are After Me
In Praise of Praise and To Best or Not to Best (2-part series on praise)

(Comments are off on this post.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Bogeyman of Edinburgh

The idea came to us in the hallowed halls of Cambridge, where I totally imagined Fagin to be collecting orphan boys, and Macbeth lurking in the next cloister. Just as our semester was coming to a close, my friend Dottie and I stuffed our Sidney Sussex towels into our duffels, and plotted a way to tour the UK for a few weeks on a Brit-Rail pass. (It’s a great way to travel when you’re young and foolish.)

You have to know my friend Dottie. She is a tormented writer. And the most hilarious storyteller. Truly, I am convinced that the universe conspired to have the most bizarre things happen to her, simply so she could write about them, tell the world her stories. You can imagine my delight in tagging along with her. I felt more like an accomplice than a sidekick!

In order to save money, we planned on taking “night trains” instead of staying in a hotel. We'd magically just "wake up" in the next city. It seemed like a great idea, but since the UK is geographically challenged, the only trains that would grant us a full eight hours of (not) sleeping were the ones that ran between England and Scotland. Even then, schedules were quite compromising. (I distinctly remember disembarking in Inverness at 5-something in the morning, and wandering the foggy streets until the bakeries and coffee shops opened). I have many, many spine-tingling stories of these Brit-Rail adventures, but one of the most memorable (that I thankfully lived to tell) took place on our first visit to Edinburgh.

We arrived in the late afternoon, just before sunset, and basically had a few hours to wander the city before catching a night train to London. We locked our bags at the train station and started making our way to the center of town when we met a little old Scottish man on the street who offered to show us around the city. We looked at each other, and shrugged “why not?”, so we suddenly had our own private tour guide of hidden Edinburgh, Mr. Thomas Bogey. That was his real name.

[I write this now and want to wave my arms and shout “Hello, girls! Red Flag! The name alone should be enough of a warning! Run while you can!” but...]

We couldn’t believe this little old man was willing to spend hours escorting us through Edinburgh to show us his favorite sites. He didn’t know any good sweater shops, but he assured us he’d give us an amazing tour of the city. So we loped alongside him as the sun lowered and the shadows lengthened over Edinburgh.

He did take us to most of the key places, and he knew a great deal about the history and such, but what began to be disturbing was what ELSE he knew. He’d stretch out a gnarled finger and say in his thick brogue, “Right over there a little girl and her mother were killed. Their bodies were found just beyond that thicket.” or “Right over there a young lady disappeared. No one ever saw her again. Papers say she fell in the river, but I don’t think so.” “Right over there a teenage boy died. Shot in the head. Nobody found out who did it.” Holy cow, was this guy ever giving us the creeps! How did he know so much about every murder in town? And why was he telling us? I secretly decided the only reason he was so obsessed with all this killing was because HE'S THE ONE WHO DID IT!

I exchanged a few wary glances with Dottie, but neither one of us dared say anything for fear he’d do us in right then and there. He led us through so many dark alleys and deserted byways I didn't know if we'd ever find our way back. Finally we got near enough to the train station that we thought we could make a run for it. We told Mr. Bogey it had been a lovely tour, and we thought we should be heading back to the train station now, but he wouldn’t hear of it. “Nay, lassies, it’s only half past seven and your train doesn’t leave till nine. Besides, ye haven’t seen Scott's Monument. It’s just around this bend here. Come can't say ye've been to Edinburgh and not see Scott's monument.”

[What was next? Robbie Burns’ grave? Mwaahhahaha!]

So a few minutes later we found ourselves reluctantly standing beneath the gothic spires of a looming 200-ft. tower: Scott Monument. “Lovely.” “Mm-hmm. Very nice. Okay, let’s go.”
But the Bogeyman was unrelenting: “Ye have to go inside and climb to the top. Ye can see all of Edinburgh from up there. It’s most beautiful as night falls.” "No, that's okay. Really..." But Mr. Bogey insisted on dragging us up there...and paying our entrance fees.

[What? So now that it’s FREE it’s okay? Hellooo...!]

The next thing we know we’re entering the monument and climbing this rickety, only-wide-enough-for-one-person spiral staircase up-up-up to the top of Scott Monument, like we're in the sequel to Vertigo. As we climb, the morbid thoughts increase: “This is it. This is where he’s planning to do us in.” And there was no way out. Ahead, there was my friend Dottie, carefully and breathlessly making her way up the stairs of doom. Behind me there was only Thomas, the Bogeyman of Edinburgh, poised to hurl me down said stairs. So I kept climbing.

When I finally crept out onto the balcony at the top, relieved to see sky again, Thomas started in on another tale of how some unlucky lad fell to his death from that perch. A little breeze picked up and I got the shivers. The Bogeyman made his way over to the edge of the balcony and motioned for us to come look. I stayed frozen, clinging to the stairwell for dear life. But Dottie was making her way to the railing where he was waiting for us. I can still see her, with her big black-and-white tote bag slung over her shoulder. And I called out to her, in that muffled, motionless, make-no-sound voice, the way it happens in nightmares: “Dottie...Nahooooh....!” But it was too late.

She was already there, next to Thomas, looking over the edge. I had to do something. I made my way to the lookout and grabbed hold of Dottie’s purse strap, (as if that were going to protect either of us) and she had hold of my arm. We each clutched the railing with an immovable death grip. I gasped audibly. And took in the breathtaking sights of Edinburgh, shivering in the evening breeze. Our hearts never stopped racing. But neither of us was hurled to her death.

After a few minutes fearfully gazing over the city, we stepped rather gingerly down as our would-be assassin led us back over the rickety stairs and then disappeared into the evening shadows. That was it.

We compared notes all the way to the train station. We were both convinced we were being led through the city by a serial killer. And that he was planning to hurl us to our deaths from the top of Scott Monument. But it turns out the terrors of certain-and-imminent-death were all in our heads, and our Bogey-man was none other than a curmudgeonly Boo Radley, with a brogue.

Or was he?

I’ve asked myself time and again if this was a bonafide brush with death, and we were mysteriously protected by a ring of guardian angels, or if our fears were altogether unfounded. Perhaps Mr. Bogey himself was our guardian angel, protecting us from some other unseen evil as he escorted us through after-hours Edinburgh.

— Which ultimately makes me wonder, how many other unlikely angels go unrecognized? And how many irrational fears keep us from fully enjoying the moment at hand?

My apologies to the four of you who read a serialized version of this during my first month of blogging. This has now been edited down and slightly retooled for Scribbit's October Write-Away Contest: Fear. (I also need to add that I totally got the idea to resurrect an old post from InkMom, who reposted a positively spine-tingling, horrifying story! Be sure to visit her next, if you haven't already.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I need a search engine for my house.

Tonight I was looking for a book. Amid the 118-or-so (yeah, I actually counted them) that are stacked on and around my nightstand. I peered over dusty piles, reluctant to take them apart, just kind of glancing at them askew, and maybe tilting them slightly to reveal their spines, for effect. And suddenly I thought, Can't I just enter the title somewhere, and have the book I'm searching for magically appear on the top of the stack? Google. I need google for my overrun book collection. Now.

And then there are those elusive car keys. Yeah, and the cell phone. Couldn't I just enter "keys" and "phone" when I'm ready to leave, and have Yahoo! make these essential items resurface from wherever I absent-mindedly set the time I get to the back door?

Last night I was up until 2 am ransacking my office (you cannot even imagine the towers of paper I dismantled, sheet by sheet) looking for the new phone card I bought to send to Josh. I spent untold hours searching for a card-with-a-code I bought for $15. Something is very wrong with this system. I needed to be able to enter "phone card" or "code" and have it magically appear so I could email the code to our son. The computer has me so spoiled.

So this morning as I was pondering my need for googling things around the house (sock mate, anyone?) it occurred to me that what I really need (on top of all the computer-generated efficiency for my home) is a search engine for my heart. Wouldn't it be great if we could summon up Patience and Sacrifice and Forgiveness at the precise moment we need them? Separate them out from all the millions of other things—some more applicable than others—that are swimming around inside us, and bring the Top Hit to the surface.

Screaming kid? Sulking teen? Husband running late? P-a-t-i-e-n-c-e (click!) Mercy would be there, too...m-e-r-c-y (click!) and I know that Charity is somewhere in here...I just can't put my finger on it right now. I need a search engine to bring it to the top, highlight it, give me a link.

I'm sure that in quieter moments, the Spirit does precisely that. Works on my heart. Enters key words. Sorts by relevance. Brings clarity. But only when I provide the space. I need to slow down and really search. From a single Source.

Proverbs 20:27 The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts...

Psalms 77: 6 I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"All I'm Saying Is, Kindness Don't Have No Boundaries"

I cannot remember when I've enjoyed a book more thoroughly than The Help. In fact, I was so completely immersed, the voice in my head started phrasing things in black vernacular English. The characters are strong and lovable and distinct, the plot is well-woven, and the suspense just about killed me at the end. Here's what I initially wrote on Goodreads:

Okay, I started reading this a few days ago and I cannot put it down! It's about a handful of black maids in Mississippi in the early 60s. There is humor and suspense and drama so intense sometimes my heart is just pounding as I read. The perspective is invaluable. I'm tempted to file it under "life changing"....

So far the line that sums up the book for me is this: "All I'm saying is, kindness don't have no boundaries."

When we first moved to Los Angeles, we lived in the Crenshaw District, where we were the minority. Every week we saw these amazingly strong black women bedecked in Sunday dresses and bright-colored hats, walking to church. These women may have worked during the week as bus drivers, child-care givers, and hotel maids, but on Sundays they showed their true colors. They were strong, faithful, even powerful. They were bright and beautiful and brash. They anchored the community. The Help gives us an inside look at the domestic workweek of the 1960s version of these wise, impervious women we admired.

I finished the book a few weeks ago (early, for a change) and can now affirm that I marked it as "life-changing" — a distinction I save for very few books. I was so engrossed in the story, the characters, their lives...I really did read way into the night with my heart pounding from all the growing suspense. I couldn't bear the thought of anything bad happening to these courageous women. I realized I'd become very protective of them. Aibileen was innately good, astoundingly wise, and consistently mentored kindness. Skeeter was headstrong and courageous, willing to stand for what was right when she was surrounded by opposition. Minny was a hoot! She had the iron will of a linebacker. Something about her just DARED anybody to mess with her. (And hardly anybody did.) The sacrifices they made were truly extraordinary.

Some surprising (possibly life-changing?) things came up during our book group discussion. First, we debated on the ethics of hiring domestic help, period. I weighed in heavily in favor. Don't get me wrong — I love my house and my children, love working and serving in our home. But there was a time (about a dozen years, actually) when I NEEDED the help. And was grateful for it. I bonded with those who came to our aid. Maria, Corrina, Alba...I love these women. I was glad to be able to offer them work, glad to have their influence in our lives.

There is a certain vulnerability inherent in opening up your home to hired help. They know all the little nooks and crannies where you never think to clean. They know how many times you dropped off your son with a wet diaper or forgot to comb his hair. They know how you behave when you're stressed-out. There is such a high level of intimacy and trust, and discretion is at a premium. Some people are very uncomfortable with this. (I remember my grandmother saying she could never hire a cleaning lady — she felt like she'd have to sit her down and visit, fix her lunch, essentially treat her like a guest. Then again there is my mother-in-law. She finally broke down and hired a cleaning-lady...not to do all her work, but to work beside her, clean side-by-side. After a very short time the cleaning-lady quit. She simply couldn't keep up with my mother-in-law!...Those of you who know her will understand why!)

Somebody else brought up the idea of Aibileen writing down her prayers. Aibileen said she thought they were more effective that way. Much like the brother of Jared, people would ask Aibileen to add their concerns to her prayers because they knew she had a pipeline to God's ear. Minny said, "Rumor is you got some kind a power prayer, gets better results than just the regular variety." Our book group seemed genuinely intrigued with the idea of writing down prayers. Only two of us in the group had ever tried it. One wrote them as sort of an Artist's Way stream-of-consciousness that she came to recognize as her innermost pleadings to God, and she also noticed answers appearing within her writings. That was cool.

I actually used to keep a separate Prayer Journal. On the left side of the page I'd write what I was praying for or about (and add a little check mark for every time I asked about it again) and on the right side of the page I'd fill in the answers as they came. Every prayer was answered. Not a single right-hand page is blank. So I might have to agree with Aibileen...they work better that way. Maybe just because I'm paying more attention.

I don't think it's a sign of weakness to ask for help — in our homes or in our hearts. I think it's a healthy step, one that has the power to make us at once humbler and wiser. But only if we approach the seeking of help with the type of genuine kindness that knows no boundaries.

And I think it's divine to actually be that help. Think, "But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant." (Matt. 23:11) Nowhere have I seen that scripture better brought to life than within the pages of The Help.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Exceeding Expectations

Color possesses me.
That is the meaning of
this happy hour:

Color and I are one.
I am a painter. —Paul Klee

Last weekend I drove up the canyon on the brink of tears.
This was not sadness, people. I was exulting in all the beauty that surrounded me. Fall colors will do this to me, without warning! Sometimes the intensity just overwhelms me. On top of it all, I was embarking on an adventure: A whole week away, with just me and my paint...and Charles Reid.

The Reids said they haven't been to Jackson Hole for 25 years. (That's a long time.) And I'm so glad they decided to come back. As I sat in the classroom on that first day, I had that same brink-of-tears feeling overcome me. The green dot on my nametag placed me on the front row, and I could hardly believe I was in a studio with Charles Reid, watching him paint, sitting so close I could watch every nuance unfold! Sometimes the entire class would hold its collective breath as we watched him work a few colors together on the paper...and then we'd all let out a collective, simultaneous, deeply satisfied "Hmmmm" or "AAhhhhh" when we saw him turn it into something particularly beautiful.

Charles and his wife, Judy, are the loveliest people. He is quite possibly the world's greatest living watercolorist, and yet was unerringly kind in his critiques, always very encouraging, and looking to find something praiseworthy in every piece. She is a former kindergarten teacher, and ran the workshop with just the right balance of kindness and efficiency needed to keep 18 artists on track.

Here's what I painted this week:
(The first three were done live, from posed models, and the rest are from historical photos in and around Jackson Hole. The last one isn't finished.)

As the workshop came to a close, and I watched Charles paint for what could be the last time, I was again overcome with joy—just the sheer awe of watching him work, doing things so daring we'd never think to attempt them ourselves, and then watching the sensational results that followed: The touch of the master's hand. That afternoon I had the distinct impression that this was a tiny glimmer of what we all must have felt as we watched The Creator shape the earth, spinning the universe into existence with a mere stretch of his hands. We knew we were witnessing something glorious.

I hope I never lose what I gained this past week. I hope I never see a face or horse or a landscape in the same way after watching Charles Reid paint. I hope all that wonder and expression and confidence and genius will somehow insinuate its way into my own work.

Jeff and the kids joined me in Jackson Hole on Friday morning, and we spent most of the weekend swooning over the grandeur of the Grand Tetons. Followed by a long drive back to reality.

Sigh. Deep Breath. I'm home.

p.s. If you missed Mr. Cool's commercial (it aired between conference sessions) here's a link to view it on vimeo:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's the Chance of a Lifetime...And I'm Taking It!

When I was just a young girl, my dad brought home this book. Instantly, I was in awe of this amazing painter who could create such beautiful, lifelike portraits with what seemed like just an effortless flick of the brush. I pored over the pages and pages of portraits, speechless with admiration.

Then, more than a decade later, my sister-in-law asked me to do a painting of the romantic spot where they got engaged...a small villa outside Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. A little panicked and rusty, I called my dad to see if I could spend a day in his studio, and he pulled out this book. As I carefully watched the way the artist laid down clean washes of mingled color, organizing complex landscapes into patterns of shapes, I regained my confidence, and created this:

For the past ten years I've been painting seriously, sometimes full-time, and taking week-long (or extended) workshops from some of North America's finest watercolorists, including Ted Nuttall, Joseph Stoddard, Carl Purcell, Linda Kemp, Brenda Swenson, and Jean Grastorf. I've bought their books, and frequently demonstrate their techniques in my classes at UVU. Each of them has been amazingly influential, pulling me out of creative ruts, shaping my approach and leading me to exciting discoveries.

But ever since I opened that first book I mentioned (and deeply for the past ten years) I have held out this dream of studying with the master, Charles Reid. He lives on the east coast, and primarily teaches there—and in Europe. His workshops frequently sell out over a year in advance. But this year he's venturing farther west, and I found a workshop within driving distance. Of course, when I inquired, the workshop was full. But they offered to put me on a waiting list. Okay, whatever.

Then earlier this week, they called me to say they had one opening...and they were offering it to me. I was practically giddy. I immediately called my husband, hoping against all hope that he'd at least be willing to consider the idea. Knowing my lifelong dream, how rarely Charles ventures west and how much I idolize him, he didn't even hesitate. He just said, "I think you should do it." (Bless this man!) My amazing dad offered to teach my classes for me next week. (Thank you, Dad!) And so, I'm off!

I feel like a kid at Christmastime waiting for Santa Claus to come. I am DYING over this opportunity of a lifetime to watch him paint, work directly with him, learn from the master. So all next week I will be in a small resort town near Yellowstone, painting every day from 9:30 to 4:30 with the inimitable Charles Reid.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dream and Variation

Back when we were living in California and our kids were little, I had a recurring dream I called Driving Blind. Each time was slightly different, but the basic experience was the same: I’d be driving along, and then suddenly I couldn’t see where I was going. At all. Sometimes it would be from some obstruction, like a palm frond falling on my windshield; other times my vision would just suddenly go blurry, and then fade away altogether. More than once in these dreams I was able to make my way to my friend Barbara’s house, my safe place, for rest and healing and rescue.

Barbara is a decade or so older than I am, and has an empty nest (read: quiet house) which seemed impossibly peaceful and Edenic compared to our frantic pace. Even the children would remark on the feeling at Barbara’s house, recognizing the spirit there. Barbara listens so intently, loves so purposefully, and nurtures so eloquently. I learned so much from her as a young mother. She saw life through a lens that provided greater distance, precise focus, perfect clarity. It makes sense that Barbara represented a safe haven in my dreams about driving blind.

I recognized these dreams as a spiritual wake-up call, a sign from God that there was something important in my life that I wasn’t seeing. If life is a highway, then driving blind meant impending danger. I needed better perspective, clearer vision. I needed to be more alert to my surroundings. I needed to be less reckless in my approach.

Caution. Slow down. Look where you’re going. Stay the course.

Yesterday, during a much-needed Sunday afternoon nap, I had a variation on the “driving blind” dreams of my past. This time I dreamed that I was on a road trip with The Princess and one of her friends. We were cruising down the highway, and I was getting sleepy. Somewhere around Las Vegas I suddenly woke up (still dreaming) and realized I was in the passenger seat. The two fourteen-year-old girls had pushed me aside and were taking turns at the wheel. Her friend Jackie was driving, flying down the freeway at break-neck speeds, laughing: “Woohoo!” Terrified, I tried to get her to realize that this was dangerous and she had our very lives in her hands. She just kept laughing, and speeding...right through a crowded amusement park! (Thank heaven it was only a dream!)

This time I think it’s reminding me to be alert in a different way—reminding me who’s in charge here, who needs to be in the driver’s seat: Me. I know my daughter and her friends think they’re grown-up. (Frighteningly, they even look grown-up.) They’re good girls and they try hard to make good choices. But The Princess can be manipulative, try to reach over and take the wheel. I need to be here to set and enforce limits and boundaries. Hold onto the keys. Remind them what’s age-appropriate and what’s clearly not. Be alert. Watch for signs. Keep everybody moving forward, on the right track. Repeat endlessly:

Caution. Slow down. Look where you’re going. Stay the course.

Woohoo! Wish me luck!

So, what do you dream about...and what do you think it means?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Much Ado About Nothing?

George Carlin once had a hilarious comedy routine preying on our paranoia. Somewhere he had read that only female mosquitoes bite. But the females don't buzz. Only the non-biting males buzz. So he talked about the ridiculousness of us, lying in bed, riddled with anxiety because we hear a mosquito buzzing around the room. "Relax", he said, "it won't bite!" And then the awesome kicker: "BUT—" he quipped,"If you hear NOTHING...."


Hold that thought.

Nearly 18 years ago my mother died of cancer. When she was just a year older than I am, she had found a lump and went in for a mammogram. The doctor told her it was nothing. She relaxed and went home. Two years later she went back, stating simply that the lump was getting bigger. This time? It was Stage 4 cancer — a malignant tumor, metastasized throughout the lymphatic system. She died four years later, after a very hard fight.

Hold that thought, too, if you can manage two at once....

So, a month or so ago I very vaguely referred to an abnormal mammogram in this post. They found, essentially, nothing. Mailed me a letter confirming there is no evidence of cancer. But because of my history, they sent me for a follow-up ultrasound. Again, nothing. They called and said I should come back in six months for a follow-up. But I think my mother's story scared them. Because the next day they called back and said they were scheduling me with a surgeon. (A WHAT?) "Just for a second opinion," they said. "It's probably nothing."

So today I spent nearly three hours in a surgeon's office (a whopping ninety minutes of those in the WAITING ROOM—which must be a metaphor because sometimes it seems like my whole LIFE is a waiting room!) only to be told that the reports and the exam conclude there is (you guessed it) nothing. But because my mother's nothing turned out to be a very big something, this time they're recommending an MRI. Oh my goodness, I wonder, Where will it stop? In my case, we have to panic when we hear nothing. Because when we're afraid of NOTHING, suddenly EVERYTHING is suspect.

Next week I go in for the MRI. Hopefully they will find whatever it is. Because there appears to be no end to the amount of nothing that can be found, and no end to the lengths they are willing to go in order to find it!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

She Loves You? Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. (And then some.)

My Dear Oldest Son,

I’m sure you didn’t think it was very significant when we picked you up on Friday and the first thing The Princess asked you was, “Have you seen your room?”

Let me tell you a story....

When I was nearly four years old, I tripped on the sidewalk in my shiny black shoes on the way to Sunday School. I landed on the right on the curb, earning myself this attractive black eye just in time for Christmas:

The first thing I said? “I want to be in Grandma’s bed.”
Grandma W was the most nurturing person in my world. She was practically the center of my universe. She seemed to have magical powers, turning black clouds up on end to display not just their silver linings, but bright rays of gold shining through. She was the very embodiment of unbridled joy, and her bed was the very essence of all that meant “comfort” to my four-year-old heart.

My wise parents acted on my wishes, and I soon found myself resting on mounds of down-feathered pillows under layers of hand-stitched quilts, in Grandma’s hand-carved oak bed. Right where I needed to be. Suddenly it didn’t matter if my head hurt. I was comfortable. I was safe. I was loved.

*Flash forward a few decades.*

The other night The Princess was feeling sick. She had a fever, a sore throat, a stomach ache...and woke up in the night with a fierce case of the flu. What she did completely surprised me. She crawled into YOUR bed! (even though this photo is of her on the couch)

My first impulse was to scold her. To lecture her about spreading germs, and unnecessary cleaning projects. And then I thought of my three-year-old self longing for a place that was comforting, that reminded me of the very essence of Home. And she chose the space that reminded her of YOU. That was her comfort place — the haven kept waiting for her big brother.

And so I let her. She camped out there for three or four days. And then made sure to tidy everything up and change the sheets before you came home.

So I’m pretty sure that when she asked you if you’d seen your room...she hoped you wouldn’t mind the flowered pillowcases and mismatched sheets (hey, at least they’re clean!) and I think she also kind of wanted you to know that your room had been her safe place last week. A place representing all the comfort and protection and love her big brother has to offer. Which of course means more than you’ll ever know.



Monday, August 31, 2009

That Gaggle of Friends I've Been Craving on Guernsey

The gentleness of Heaven broods o'er the sea—Listen, the mighty being is awake.

I rarely take the time to reread anything. I'm far too much of a plodder and ponderer for that to be at all practical. And yet I've been rereading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society to present to a book group from my church today. What delightful fun to revisit those wonderful characters, who, by the end of the book almost felt like friends. As I wrote here,
At some point I was drawn into their world so completely I could not put the book down. The characters came to life, inhabiting my subconscious. One night I actually had a dream that I went to Guernsey to hang out with them. I was a little sad when I woke up and realized it was just a dream. I love these people. I love their simple way of life. I love that they founded their whole book club in an effort to make a harmless lie become rock-solid truth. I love their silly quirks and antics, and their acceptance of the same in each other. I love the humanity that rises to the surface.
This second time around, I liked it even more. I found the letters in Part One more enjoyable, partly because it was so much easier to keep all the characters straight now. I also noticed all kinds of things—from subtle nuances to wry hilarity—that I somehow missed the first time around. The most salient themes emerged as integrity, kindness and courage.

I found a bit of the fiery Juliet, witty author and teapot-hurler, in myself today when I fired off this email to my husband (after a vexing and unproductive phone call to a creditor):
I responded very quickly and calmly and saccharine-sweetly (but seething venom), "Okay, well I'm going to blow a gasket very soon so I need to get off the phone right now, but I'll have him get back to you. Bye." Then it took everything within my power not to throw the phone through the closed window, shattering glass and phone parts from here to kingdom come. Somehow I managed to set it back down on the desk. :)
I also found a deep resonant empathy for the Islanders when I read that the most difficult part of the war for them was sending their children away (as evacuees) in order to keep them safe. Having recently sent our son away (to a boarding school) in order to keep him safe, I completely identify with the love, courage and raw emotion associated with that choice.

I visited a friend this week who actually grew up on one of the Channel Islands and spent hours poring over scrapbooks, newspaper articles, and photos of Jersey and Guernsey. Photos that would blow you away, they're so beautiful. Big, rocky cliffs covered with cascading greens, rising up out of sandy beaches. Quaint villages and crowded seaports. I fell in love all over again. (And cannot resist the urge to paint it.)

So of course I'm still pining away for a chance to go there and visit in person—a chance to befriend such wonderful, quirky, and unpretentious people. We talked this morning about how blogging today is similar to the collection of letters in the novel, weaving lives together through so many individual voices. And then I had an epiphany: I don't need to fly around the world for that. I have a whole cadre of equally delightful characters right here at my fingertips:

There's Heidi, a witty romance writer and mother to an adult child with highly special needs
There's Heather of the EO, who warms her way into everyone's hearts with just a handful of well-chosen words, and reveals such faith through her mothering.
There's Kimberly, a wry Canadian whose self-awareness and personal growth are both amusing and inspiring.
There's Brillig, who grew up all over the world, bubbles with enthusiasm, and is so down to earth you can't help but love her immediately. She parents four children, including a toddler with autism.
There's Mrs. 4444, who comes from a huge, FUNctional family, works with Special Ed teens and has the most contagiously positive outlook on life (probably necessary for that career).
There's Jessica, whose faith is a pillar and whose beautiful writing runs so deep.
There's Eowyn, who is a natural nurturer and a brilliant editor. And she makes a mean loaf of bread. With homemade jam. Yeah.
There's DeNae, who literally makes me laugh out loud with every post. And knows the scriptures inside-out. (Go figure) She gets it. Big time.
There's Melanie J, who is talented and funny, and astounds me with her inner strength. (Did I mention that she looks like a supermodel?)
There's Kazzy, who writes like poetry and finds so much meaning in everyday wonders, including her special-needs kindergarten.
There's InkMom, who won me over from her sidebar alone...and who has the coolest curly hair.
There's Steph @ D&D, who always stays on target, seeking the divinity in motherhood.
There's Novembrance, who is beyond brilliant, and published a killer cookbook which I use almost daily.
There's Kristina P, who visits everyone in the blogosphere, making us all laugh, and sometimes makes us blush with her outrageous mockery. Yet there is such caring beneath all the snarkiness.
There's LT Elliott, who astonishes me with her unerring kindness and generosity of heart.
There's Breckster, filling a tiny NYC apartment with music and knitting and literature and cooking...and soon another baby on the way.
There's Allison, hilarious diva from California on an adventure in North Carolina...almost like a reverse Beverly Hillbilly!
There's the fabulous Munro family, in Queensland, Australia, so full of enthusiasm and zest for life, coupled with deep faith: Sandy, thoughtful mother of eight and voracious reader; and Tammy, perpetually jovial filmmaker and brilliant pianist.
Ditto the deep faith for LisAway, in Poland. There is something about this girl that just draws people to her like a magnet.
And there are many more friends here I'm just beginning to discover.

To quote Juliet, "I began writing letters to strangers in Guernsey, now friends, whom I would indeed like to come and see." and later, "Guernsey is beautiful and my new friends have welcomed me so generously, so warmly, that I haven't doubted I've done right to come here —."
I echo Juliet's every word, merely replacing Guernsey with Cyberspace. Most of these "strangers" I've now met in person. And they are even better in person than their wonderful words can convey.

There is also a menagerie of characters right here in my very own neighborhood. I can't possibly list them all, but I promise you, some of their idiosyncrasies amuse me no end, while their pure goodness blows me away. And I left behind an entire surrogate family in California, all of whom I dearly love.

So I guess I don't need to travel to Guernsey to find those kinds of friends. In fact, in some ways the book helped me appreciate even more the ones I have right here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

I'm just a click away...

A longtime blogging buddy of mine asked me to guest-post on his blog today. That's right—I said his. And it was a not a typo. I have one blogger-friend who's a man, and he's known as Gunfighter. He works in law enforcement in the Washington, D.C. area, and is a wonderful father, a seeker of truth, and a great writer, plus a heckuva nice guy.

I wrote the post last weekend, about my experience seeing the movie Julie and Julia...and the emotions it brought up for me. The thought process was pretty intense.

But it's not here, it's over go pay a visit to my friend Gunfighter.
Then come back and tell me what you thought.


Thursday, August 20, 2009


  • Lazy mornings and lavish midday brunches (Crepes with peaches and whipped cream, anyone?)
  • Long unscheduled days, open to all kinds of possibility.
  • Lingering conversations, unhindered by the demands of time.
  • Vacationing to favorite getaways, until we're worn out from our own self-imposed fun.
  • Finding a comfy spot to curl up and bury our nose in a book, and another, and another.
  • Lounging on the patio and dining al fresco.
  • Practicing golf swings with Grandpa.
  • Walking barefoot on the lawn, with grass tickling our toes.
  • Wonderful friends visiting from faraway places.
  • Sticky snow cones staining our tongues and dripping down our wrists.
  • Leisurely walks on mountain trails to warm springs and gushing waterfalls.
  • Downtime to think, and ponder, and daydream.
  • Fabulous sleepovers with cousins, cousins, and more cousins.
  • Late-night movies, revisiting old classics and new releases with equal fascination.
  • Dad reading novels out loud before bed.

The kids started school yesterday.
Our summer is officially over.

But the magical sun-drenched memories will warm us when the weather chills.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Capturing the Spirit of it All

I am ashamed to admit I succumb very easily to flattery in all its forms. Just before I left on vacation I received an advance reader copy of a new book. I was almost giddy that I’d been selected to read and review it. Don’t cringe when you see the title. Okay, do. Because I did. Sisterchicks in Wooden Shoes . Could it possibly be any more “chick lit”? Besides, I try to steer clear of those books that show the author’s name ten times bigger than the title. This woman sounds like a factory. I glanced inside to see what else she has written, and was even more skeptical when I saw how prolific she is. She’s probably written as many books as I’ve written blog posts.

And yet—

I read this definition on the back:
Sisterchick n: A friend who laughs with you till you cry and cries with you till you laugh; a gift from God.”

That resonated for me. I have friends like that. A very small handful. And I start to understand the wide success of this franchise (for lack of a better term for this enormously popular series of chick-lit novels.) These deep friends-who-feel-more-like-sisters all share a common bond that the author touched on in her definition: A spiritual component. How refreshing to have someone acknowledge that openly and honestly in mainstream fiction!

I glanced inside and read the prologue. Wow. An abnormal mammogram. And her mom died of breast cancer. And her first thought is she needs to spend a week on vacation with a wonderful friend. Has this woman been spying on me and my world? Did God send me this book? (I actually took a second look at the return address.)

Then I read the next chapter and fell in love with the main character. Because who doesn’t love a woman who engages in blatant cookie-dough therapy? I’m actually starting to think this book is about me. (Except that it isn’t. Because I don’t have any friends in the Netherlands.)

I dived right into the book, and couldn’t stop turning the pages because of the friendship, the spirituality, the resonance. (Besides, if it’s about me, I need to know what happens and how it ends.) This woman gets it. She gets women and their need for God and to close friends who share their beliefs.

I read about the devotional book she found on the night table of the guest room at her friend’s house, and remembered that I have a devotional book resting next to the sofabed in my guest room as well. I loved how comfortable they were discussing things of the spirit right along with the everyday, that it was such a natural part of both their lives. Because this is how my deepest friendships are too. It wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t share experiences and insights with that kind of depth and resonance.

The writing style didn’t appeal to me most of the time. I thought there were far too many descriptive details, along with every word of every conversation between the two friends. It’s kind of like hanging out with a friend who talks too much and won’t let you get a word in edgewise. In some ways I felt like I was tagging right along with them on vacation...but as the mute third wheel, eavesdropping like Gladys Kravitz. But I must admit I enjoyed the ride, even from the back seat.

As much as I enjoyed tagging along, it didn’t make me want to pick up the series and read all the rest of her books. Although it did make me want to join in the conversation. And ultimately, almost like nothing before, it made me want to write my own series of books about my own trips with my own Sisterchicks. (Except I don’t know if I can bring myself to use that word.) :)

I want to write about the life-changing hiking trip to Mammoth Resort with my friend CB, when I was deep in a post-partum depression. I want to write about my trip to the Salt Lake Temple with JH, and the great conversations we had driving up and down the canyon each day. I want to write about meeting AE in Colorado Springs, and how we saved each other’s sanity that week. I want to write about the time AS showed up at my house, unannounced, bearing two bags of Trader Joe’s goodies, and spent a wonderful week talking and cooking. I want to write about the museum trip with MB where we suddenly found ourselves conversing about the atonement with such joy in the shared discoveries. And I want to write about my amazing trip to California with MG to support her through an in vitro fertilization treatment, and the powerful effect it had on me.

My Sisterchicks (ouch! there I go, using that word again) are real. The time I spent with them was crucial, at pivotal points in my life. I honestly believe God placed them directly in my path at key moments in order to help me through some tough experiences (and vice-versa). Despite any issues I may have had with the writing, I’m grateful to have read a book that helped me remember and appreciate my own beloved soul-friends with such rich, vivid detail.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

When "Back to School" Launched Me Forward

I went away to study Graphic Design at Otis/Parsons in Los Angeles when I was a skinny, shy 18-year-old. I was dragging a suitcase and kicking along a box of art supplies with my foot, slowly making my way to the curb to hail a cab. I was terrified to be alone in the heart of Los Angeles by myself. (Can you imagine? Coming from UTAH?) The dorm was right across the street from MacArthur Park (which we affectionately called MacMurder Park for the nightly killings taking place there.) I didn’t know a single soul. It was a scary-fast way to grow up and enter adulthood.

There was a broad range of characters...people so interesting and/or funny you’d swear I made them up: The rich Australian playboy whose dad ran a hotel school in Geneva and had just come via some fancy boarding school in France. The guy who walked and talked like a penguin, majored in fashion design, and almost got expelled for flushing plastic bags full of veggies down the toilet. The kind-hearted Jewish girl whose single mother was battling cancer. The smart kid from the midwest who drove his own car out, and loved to listen to bluegrass music. The couple who got kicked out of the dorms when the maids found whips and chains, and the bed smeared with whipped cream and honey. (I was like, What?) My own roommate from Chicago, who was allergic to air conditioning (Kill me now--I had to shower three times a day to survive that heat!).

That first evening, a teacher spoke to all the incoming students in the grand ballroom, attempting to educate us on being street-smart in the big city. She said she had her personal painting studio in the roughest part of town (although I honestly couldn’t imagine anyplace rougher than where we were!). She told us she kept getting stopped by panhandlers and was even mugged a couple of times on her way to the studio...until she got smart. Then, inspired with a solution only an artist would devise, she literally put together a “street-person costume” complete with bedraggled clothes, a big, baggy jacket, mismatched shoes, and an old misshapen hat she pulled way down to hide her face. She said once she started donning her “homeless outfit” to go to the studio, no one ever bothered her again!

Yeah, that first day of Design School was like crashing head-on into a train called World. But it didn’t kill me. To the contrary, I found it terrifyingly exhilarating, more like a launching pad hurling me toward real life!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

In which I acquire five additional children...

My adorable little sister got home from the hospital yesterday. She is eight months pregnant...and was suddenly having gallstone attacks, along with pancreatitis and an overtaxed liver. It's a pretty dicey scenario. A little miracle on Monday allowed her to avoid surgery and return home. Now the doctors are trying just to keep the symptoms at bay and put off surgery until after the baby September.

She told me she was craving my Gazpacho* (which truly is’s from Michael's Restaurant in Beverly Hills) so I whipped up a batch and drove it to her house, an hour away. While we were there it occurred to me that I could take her kids back home with me, and give her an extra day of rest. She didn’t argue. (She never does. She’s totally fun-loving and easy-going.)

So, after a 30-minute lesson on how the kids’ carseats work, we were headed for home. With seven kids. I had a total Sound of Music moment: “Seven children?” “You do like children, Maria?” “Well, (gasp) yes, but, uh--SEVEN?!” Then I heard all their giggles tumbling over from the back seat like wind chimes and realized I finally (for a day, anyway) had the big family I had always envisioned. I reveled in it.

I woke up this morning with a start, remembering that I had seven children to entertain for the day. Summoning my inner Julie Andrews, I dismissed my usual morning demeanor (somewhere between grumpy and zombie) and staggered downstairs to fix everyone breakfast with a smile. Luisa's pancakes were the perfect answer. They were fast and delicious.

I braced myself for lots of whining and fighting and little people needing constant entertainment. But there wasn’t any of that. Magically, the older girls doted on the younger ones, the boys played together perfectly, and everybody had a great game of hide-and-seek in our acre of yard. It was painless. And fun. Even at mealtimes.

Actually, I think I was blessed. So that my sister could be blessed with some rest. I was so grateful I could lift her burdens for a day. When I delivered her kids this evening she had a radiant glow about her. That alone made everything worth it.

*California Gazpacho
6 cups tomato juice
1 red tomato, peeled, seeded, finely chopped
1 yellow tomato, peeled, seeded, finely chopped
1 medium cucumber, seeded and finely diced
1 medium Maui onion, finely diced
1/2 each red and yellow bell peppers, finely diced
1/2 bunch cilantro, stemmed and finely chopped
1 clove minced garlic
1 lime, juiced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Extra cilantro for garnish

In a large mixing bowl combine the tomato juice with all the vegetables, the lime juice, olive oil, and vinegar. Cover and chill for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into chilled serving bowls. Spoon a dollop of sour cream onto each bowlful and top with a sprig of cilantro.