Previous month:
October 2012
Next month:
December 2012

Book Note: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

I think I've established here the fact that I am not a big fan of dogs. The odd thing about that is that I grew up with a dog—we got our small white dog, Brittany, right around my first birthday, so I always thought she was my dog. She was a good dog, friendly and happy but quick to bark at strangers (a positive quality for a dog in a houseful of girls). She was my companion for plenty of hours of playing in the backyard. I loved her and she helped make my childhood happier. But I have zero desire to have a dog now. In fact I often joke with Kendell that "not owning a dog" is the only thing we've ever agreed on! It's the poop thing, really. And the way your hands feel after you pet a dog. And the doggy smell. I don't know, exactly. I just don't want a dog.

I tend, therefore, to not read a lot of books that feature dogs as important characters. On the other hand, I try to read most of the major award-winning novels in any given year, and despite the fact that Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (which won the National Book Award) actually features a dog on its cover, something drew me to it. It tells the story of a family living in Mississippi in August of 2005---the summer that Katrina hit. People tend to think about New Orleans in conjunction with Katrina, but the worst damage was actually in the Mississippi coastal towns, which were all flooded. In some places the flooding reached 12 miles from the coast.

This is a poverty-stricken family we discover in the book. Their mother died giving birth to Junior about nine years ago, and the father tries, but he's also a drinker and a hitter and a little bit unreliable in the job department. Randall, the oldest brother, is trying to win a scholarship spot to a basketball camp that could help him earn a college scholarship; the next brother, Skeetah, is trying to keep the puppies of his pit bull, China, alive and healthy. And then there is Esch, the only girl and the character through whose eyes we experience the story's twelve days. Esch, who's 15, is trying to keep on top of her summer reading assignment for English, Edith Hamilton's Mythology, as well as trying to deal with her dawning realization: she pregnant, by way of her rushed and sad encounters with Manny, Randall's best friend. Manny has a real girlfriend, but he still likes Esch enough, and Esch, a heartbreaking combination of toughness and twitterpation, likes him better than all the other boys she's been with because "it was easier to let them keep on touching her than to hear them ask ‘why not?’" With Manny she feels like it's different, like he's choosing her because he loves her. "He wanted my girl heart; I gave him both of them."

One thing I loved about Esch was how her reading influences how she thinks. She is mesmerized by the romance stories in Mythology and weaves the experiences of Io and Artemis and, mostly, Medea (the woman who was betrayed by Jason) into her interpretations of what happens. This reminds me of the power of myth and its universality. And of how, when life grows desperate, story can be the rope we pull ourselves through with. That is the strength of those old stories for Esch. She is desperate: hungry all the time, and uncomfortable at the small bulge her t-shirts no longer hide, and nauseous and still wanting Manny to really see her.

Within the scope of the novel's twelve days, we get a glimpse of the life this family lives. They are an interesting combination of hard shelled and soft, aggressive and tender. Skeetah's relationship with China infuses all of the family members in one way or another. For Esch, China—who doesn't really seem to like being the mother of puppies and would rather continue on fighting other dogs—she is sort of an anti-hero. Each of Esch's significant experiences seem to occur in relation to one of China's, so at times I had to stop and think: is this happening to China? or to Esch?

Salvage the Bones is a perfectly Amy sort of book. Which means I loved it but I read it trying to think of who else would also love it. It's a harsh book in experience, but written in a memorable and haunting voice. Plus there is a sense for me of experience lived backwards. I remember thinking, while Katrina was happening, just how strange life was: that there I was, sitting on my comfortable bed nursing my baby while my kids played outside and my husband made quesadillas while, at the same time, at right that very second, someone was living in misery and terror that no one could do anything about. I wanted my thoughts for that random person, who could even be dying, to be enough to save her, but of course it couldn't be. I couldn't do anything from my vantage point. Reading this book brought me back to that moment, gave me a story I cold hook to that experience and even though by reading I still couldn't do anything to change the outcome, it let me feel like more of a witness to the experience so that, too, could weave around my life.


Use Your Stuff #4: Patterned Paper

Its background was the palest of pale blues—almost, but not quite, white. It had a random sprinkling of stars as its pattern, pastel stars that looked hand-drawn, precise yet sketched all at once. It seemed then (in the dark early days of scrapbooking when almost everything you bought was some variation upon hounds tooth, gingham, or polka dot) to be the most perfect thing ever printed for baby-boy layouts.

I loved that patterned paper.

But I only had one sheet. So I carved into it carefully. I used it to back a photo but I cut out the part covered by the picture. I punched it. I cut it into ever-smaller shapes, the narrow rectangle, the oval, the heart. I used almost every inch of it.

And then my friend Brooke, who was then still, like nearly all my friends, also a scrapbooker, called me from a scrapbook store in California. Where she'd found a stash of my favorite patterned paper, and did I want her to bring me home another piece?

I had her bring me home five.

I carefully filed it away to be used again someday. You know—on the perfect layout. And there it stayed until a future purge, when I desperately hoped that someone else would love it as I once had.

It's a classic scrapbook supply mistake I think, buying too much of something you love. I still do it, I confess, only in a different way: if I fall in love with, say, yellow and grey patterned paper, I never buy six sheets of the same pattern. But I might eventually buy ten different yellow and grey pieces. (And eventually purge five of them, on that sad day in the future when I am tired of yellow and grey.)

Sometimes the allure of a pretty (elegant, chic, cute, trendy) patterned paper is impossible to resist.

But I've learned the hard (and a-little-bit-expensive) way to follow my cardinal patterned paper rule: only (unless it is a neutral pattern, a topic I shall write about another day) buy one sheet of it. In rare and desperate cases of total and complete adoration, buy two.

Of course, then you have to take home and use your paper, and honestly: I use mine. I long ago lost my fear of cutting into a pristine piece. It is just paper and no matter how much I love it I will always also find something else I love.

Lately one of my favorite ways of using a patterned paper is in small chunks. You can make entire sunbursts using only color-coordinated scraps; you can punch a surprisingly large amount of shapes from a leftover bit. (Currently, my curvy square punch gets the most use.) If you have a piece that's 8" wide, you can cut almost anything you want with your Silhouette. (Another topic I shall eventually write about.) One of my favorite recent layouts included these circle squares, which I don't really have a name for but which I love inordinately:

September write house amy

Using smaller pieces means you get to revisit something you love more than once, both when you’re making layouts and later, when you flip through an album and spot it here & there. But perhaps what I love best about all this cutting into patterned paper is that it gives me a sort of simultaneous happiness: I'm using stuff I love so I don't feel guilty about buying it, but I'm saving some of it for later so I don't worry about running out.

Pure scrappy happiness!

Here's another recent patterned-paper rich layout:

Amy sorensen patterned paper

I used six scraps of patterned paper; the circles are punched and the bracket pieces are cut with the Silhouette.

If you, too, are itching to use some of your patterned paper, here's today's Use Your Stuff challenge. Make a layout that:

1. Uses an entire sheet of patterned paper for the base.

2. Mixes patterns based on the paper’s mood. "Mood" in patterned paper is sort of a nebulous and individual thing, but it also is a great way of combining things. Start by finding a paper that feels to you like it connects to the layout’s topic, and then look for other patterns that have the same feel. Often it is color that creates mood, but size, repetition, and shape of the pattern do too.

3. Uses some patterned paper cut into smaller shapes. You might even try cutting just one shape out of an entire, pristine 12x12 just so you know you can.

For some other ideas on using patterned paper, click HERE.

Happy scrapping!

The Grandma Party

June 2008.

I had to look it up to make sure, but I gave Haley the right answer when she asked me this week when the last Grandparents Party was that included all four grandparents. Kaleb's third birthday party. The following autumn, we moved Dad into the care center where he lived for nearly two years, and Nathan's party in November, when he turned nine, was the first one with just three grandparents.

I started the tradition of the Grandparents Party the year Haley turned four—the year she got her little mermaid two-wheeler. I put into place a family dinner on the Sunday before each child's birthday when I realized that I am awful at doing birthday parties. All the little kids! and the planning! and the endless shopping! and the feeling of mediocrity in my abilities! I decided that I'd only do friend parties once every other year, but the Grandparents Party would be a way to still celebrate birthdays.

Things didn't always go as I planned. Sometimes we went out to dinner instead of me cooking. One year we had to reschedule because of the stomach flu; one of Jake's was postponed because of a heavy snowstorm. I usually made too much food and took too long in making it—I never finished cooking when I thought I would. But the tradition remained: the birthday child always chose his or her favorite dinner and dessert, and I always insisted on a photo of the child with each of the grandparents.

(I am so grateful to have those photos! They were inspired by one of the very few pictures I have of myself with both of my grandparents, on my twelfth birthday.)


(Grandpa died the following December)


 November 21, 2010 was the first Grandparents Party with just grandmas, but the last one when the two grandpas were still alive. Even though Kent was at home being cared for by hospice workers, Beth came to Nathan's party; not twenty minutes after she got home, Kent passed away holding her hand.

Nathan's next Grandparents Party, in 2011, was the first one after my dad died. If you had told me then that his next birthday would find us down to just one grandma, I would have never, ever believed you.

I still don't believe it, really. When we go to Beth's house to check on things, it still smells like her and it still feels like she's just in her bedroom and will come out at any second.

But time moves forward. Boys turn 13. And last Sunday, we had Nathan's Grandparents Party. With just my mom. We followed all the same traditions of course: he chose the meal he wanted (roast beef, gravy, mashed potatoes, carrots with brown sugar & butter, my mom's Jello with raspberries and pretzels, and fresh dinner rolls, with carrot cake for dessert) and we took the photo with grandma. I worried about not having dinner ready on time and we ate too much and sang happy birthday and opened presents.

Beth wasn't there.

My dad wasn't there.

Kendell's dad wasn't there.

And we all tried to be happy but we all felt those absences.

When Beth passed away, one of the things that Kendell inherited was her pink flowery dishes. So to make sure she was included even though she wasn't there and they didn't match the tablecloth, we ate dinner using her plates.

Beths pink dishes

Later, when Kendell and I were cleaning up, we discovered that each one of them had been numbered with a red label maker, one through twelve, with seven, nine, two, and four missing. I don't know what those numbers meant or why she numbered them. It was, for a brief moment, a sort of communique, a flash of thought passed on to us from beyond the grave, as if she still had something to say.

As if she knew we hadn't forgotten.


Use Your Stuff Challenge #3: Monochrome with a Pop, plus a Sneak!

(I know! You didn't think I'd manage it two weeks in a row, did you? It's OK. I didn't either. I often doubt my own reliability.)

I believe that a bit part of being able to use your stuff (instead of getting weighed down by it) is being able to organize it in a way that works for you. I have most of my scrapbooking stuff organized by color; it's all in those 12x12 Sterlite drawers, with one drawer for embellishments and one for paper for the entire rainbow as well as neutrals, black, and white. I do have a few theme drawers: Christmas, Halloween, Birthday, and Baby, but everything else is by color. It took me awhile to figure out that that's what works best for me.

An added plus to having your supplies organized by color is it makes it so easy (and really fun!) to make monochrome layouts.

I confess that I don't like the word "monochrome" because it sounds so...well, colorless. But a monochrome layout is really an explosion of color; it just happens to be only one. Using a few embellishments, some alphas, and some patterned paper (and, ok...maybe some ribbon? Or some washi? Or, if I ever get brave enough, some misting?) of the same hue gives you a chance to think of your supplies in a different relationship. How does this yellow thing work (or not work!) with this yellow thing? Is there some other yellow thing that would go better?

I made a monochrome layout because I've been thinking about pink a lot, lately:

Monochrome pop
Pink was my mother-in-law Beth's favorite color. I found this photo of Haley with both of her grandmas and the journaling just sort of fell into my head and then out my fingers (love when that happens!) and I knew I had to make the layout pink. And I didn't just use my own stash: the flower stamp, the pink Prima flowers, and some of the brads came from the scrapbooking supplies I inherited from Beth.

Want to play along? Here's this week's use-your-stuff challenge:

Make a monochrome layout using:

  • Something new! One of the best things to get over that "this new thing is too special to use" feeling is to use it as soon as you can. On this layout, the flower patterned paper and banner sticker are both brand new, as are the alphabet letters I used to stamp the title.
  • A unifying neutral. In my layout, the neutral is grey: I used a grey pen to write the date and to outline around the photo and the embellishment and grey ink on the edges of the journaling and the background. It gives the layout a consistent feel as well as a subtle breaking-up of the colors.
  • A pop of a different color. This is something I learned from quilting: toss in a little bit of a contrasting color. In my layout it's the sky-blue flower. The extra little pop adds excitement!

And a suggestion on monochrome layouts: try to use the same tone of color. There are warm pinks (the rosy kind) and cool pinks (with a blue tone), for example, and they each carry a different mood. Stick with one hue then play with the tints (light) and the shades (dark) to add contrast.

And! as an added bonus, here is my sneak of my layout for the WCS December gallery:

Beauty is a light a sorensen sneak
It's not really monochrome, but it uses something new (an alpha stamp from Close to my Heart) which might be one of my favorite new things. And...I really gave away zero clues to the December topic! (Which is sort of a clue in itself.) If you want to see more sneaks, check the WCS Facebook page throughout today.

Make sure to link me up if you decide to take my challenge to use some of your stuff.


How I Remembered the Particulars I Forgot

I'd forgotten something of him, the way he moved his body perhaps, or the space in a room he took up with his thoughts. I remembered that I'd forgotten when I saw the man in the chair at the library and recognized him by his hat and even though my dad never wore a black suede cowboy hat like his brother Monte's, I still for a second thought, Dad's come to visit me at work! before I knew it was my uncle Monte and not my dad sitting there.

I put onto the correct display shelves the armload of books I was carrying and then I went to say hello to Uncle Monte, knowing it was risky because he is, like Dad was, known for talking. For talking for a long time, regardless of where the other person might need to be. But of course I said hello because even though he doesn't look just like my dad, he looks like my dad in that similar way siblings have. The way they move their bodies, the space their thoughts take up in a room, as if all those years of living together caused them to form the same way of being.

Mostly though it is right in his eyes, it's in the way he looks up at me and it is something about his smile and looking at my dad's brother in a chair in the library where I work and have thought about my dad but never seen him. It's that look that makes me remember all the things I've forgotten about my dad, the sound he made when something seemed stupid to him, the way he drank a soda before his mouth forgot how, how his back looked crooked when he walked. The way he walked. The way he moved his body, the space he took up in a room.

The sound of his voice saying my name.

I didn't forget I had a father. But somehow I forgot I had a father, had that father who was maddeningly long-winded, who once backed Kendell's truck into a pole at a gas station, who kept to himself. Who loved me like no one else ever did. I keep him with me but the particulars, the details, slide away; he's only been gone for one year, three months, and eleven days, for one Thanksgiving, one Christmas, four birthday dinners, two anniversaries, two Halloweens and a thousand photographs, but he's been gone for so long.

When Monte looked at me and we talked about the weather and why he was in my library and what he was reading in the newspaper I could tell his thought was my thought and if this was a movie instead of just writing you could hear how they overlapped: I miss my brother/I miss my dad/I miss my brother/I miss my dad/I miss him.

I miss him, I miss him, I miss him.

Maybe, try though a person might, maybe the particulars always slide away. Maybe it is inevitable. But the missing. The missing never goes away. I wouldn't want it to, because if I didn't miss him that would mean that all the particulars were gone. Not missing my father would be like I never had a father at all, and I hope desperately to never be so stripped of memory that I forget I had a father. Even though he forgot, in the end, that he had a daughter. That he had any of us.

Maybe, though, there will always be reminders to bring back some of the particulars: the way his body moved, the space in a room his thoughts filled up.

Booknote: Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

Whenever I travel, I spend as much time choosing the book(s) I will take with me as I do planning the trip itself. In fact, "road trip" and "lots of reading time" are synonyms to me; this is because I can't stand just sitting. Just waiting. But if I have a book? Six hours of driving fly by, a long wait for a layover seems like minutes, and whatever lazy hours I happen to find myself with (on a beach, for example) are whiled away pleasantly.  

But it can't be just any book.

I want something that's long enough to last the trip but not so long that I'll have much left to read when I get home. I want strong characters and a good plot and lovely writing, but it can't be too literary, either. And it needs to have a certain feel, something that is hard to explain. A sort of resonance that gets along well with the trip in general. So, for example, when I went to Mexico this summer I read State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, which I loved and which managed to work, even though Mexico is nothing like the Amazonian jungle. (I also read Juliet by Anne Fortier, a retelling of Romeo and Juliet which had so much potential but was so, so awful! About fifty pages in, I started folding down the corners of every page that had a cliche or something else eye-roll worthy and I think nearly half the pages were folded down by the end.)

When I took the boys to Disneyland last month, after much careful thought, reading of reviews, and searching out opinions, I decided that the fantasy novel Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay was my story for the trip. I say "story" because I was driving, so instead of reading I listened to it. This meant that my first experience of driving to California the entire way (I have, of course, driven on our other trips with Kendell, but never the entire way) was interwoven with the regal and elegant voice of Simon Vance, telling me the story of The Palm, a medieval-Italy-esque country that has been overtaken by two rival wizards.

My only other experience with Guy Gavriel Kay's work was Ysabel, which I read about fifty pages of (on another trip to California!) before it was ruined by the infamous Rogue Wave of 2010. I was so traumatized by ruining a library book that I didn't check out the replacement copy. Ever. I just continued to keep the author near the top of my to-be-read list.  Tigana was a perfect traveling book for me. The Palm is a country of nine provinces, four ruled by Alberico of Barbadoir and four by Brandin of Ygrath. (The ninth province, Ferraut, retained a sort of freedom that will be important as events move toward the climax.) Twenty years ago, these two sorcerers took The Palm, battling both the people of the country and each other to gain control. Brandin, the more powerful sorcerer, casts a spell after the Prince of Tigana kills his son: anyone who was not from Tigana, or who was born after the battle at the river Disa, cannot hear or understand the province's name. He destroys all of the art, literature, and architecture of Tigana and then renames it Lower Corte.

he story is about a group of people from Tigana who are trying to overthrow Brandin because once he is killed, the name of Tigana will come back. Poets, wizards, a prince, musicians, and vagabonds weave in and out of the story. Honestly, there are a lot of characters, which is something I know some readers don't like. For me, they were each distinct enough that even listening to the story I could keep them straight. Another thing I liked about the novel is its pacing. The events of the story take place over a little bit less than a year, with flashbacks to each of the major character's pasts. Rather than showing everything that happens during this year, the plot focuses on the main events and works in neat summaries of the lesser events. 

I also enjoyed the book's female characters. This isn't fairy tales and princesses sort of fantasy; there is magic in the world but most of what happens feels historical. Neither Dianora nor Catriana, the two man women, have magical powers. Instead they are women trying to make a life in a world that is very bitter and hard. They each have things that happened in their childhood or adolescence that influence their choices as adults; they grapple with choices and try to do the right thing and find the best way to use their individual strengths. Dianora, however, is the female character who continues to haunt me. Her father was one of the artists of Tigana, and a few years after he was killed—once her brother leaves and her mother dies—she decides that it is up to her to bring Tigana back. She sets herself the task of killing Brandin and does this by (eventually) becoming one of his concubines. I had read in my research that there was a character who falls in love with her rapist (a plotline I abhor and the one thing that made me uncertain as to whether or not I should even bother with the book), but it is a little bit more complicated than that reviewer made it out to be. Dianora names it as the central question of her adult life: how does she resolve the fact that she both hates and loves this person? She doesn't want to love him. This conflict is why she lingers in the saishan (the women's quarters of the palace) for years without killing him. Partly she is waiting for the right situation to kill him; partly she doesn't know if she is able. 

This part of the novel reminded me of Faramir's central question (in Lord of the Rings), when he looks at a soldier from Sauron's side whom he has killed. Is the soldier evil because of the side he is fighting for? Or is he just an ordinary person caught in an evil war? Of course, the wizard Brandin is much more than an ordinary person; he is the man who engineered and brought to pass myriad deaths and evil circumstances. But from a certain perspective, he is also a person who is trying to bring good to his native country, Ygrath, in the form of wealth and agriculture that is sent there from The Palm. He is obviously an antagonist, but his motivations are layered and complex. Dianora is caught between those two versions of him.


I didn't quite finish listening to the book before I got home from my trip; I had about two hundred pages left. I was so absorbed in the story, though, and I knew my time for listening would be limited, so I just checked out the book and finished it. I'm glad I had both experiences with the story. Simon Vance's voice and reading style were perfect for Kay's writing style, but only listening I was sometimes a little bit lost. Once I had the book in my hands and I could look at the maps, the things I hadn't understood fell into place. Vance's voice sort of spoke over my own internal reader as I read, but his voice was so good that was perfectly ok.

But the best thing about Tigana is that while it’s fantasy, it reads like it’s real. The characters have real conflicts that they must resolve with their intelligence and strengths. They have to make hard choices and do hard things and make sacrifices. They sometimes ruin relationships or put other people in danger. The potential weakness in fantasy is, I think, its potential for conflicts to be resolved by someone waving a wand and saying "Oh, I know a spell for that!" This book doesn’t do that. Instead, it took me to a landscape that doesn’t exist but which I could imagine and then made me suffer along with its characters.

What do you look for in the books you read on your vacations?

Use Your Stuff Challenge #2: Die Cut Tags

More than a year ago (almost two, let's be honest!), I wrote a series of posts at Write. Click. Scrapbook. about using your scrapbook supplies (instead of hoarding them while you wait to find the perfect use for them until you wait so long you no longer love it). It's one of my favorite series I've written there because I really do try to use my stuff and not be bothered by the it's-not-new problem, or the I-want-to-be-trendy feeling. You can read them here:

Day 1 (patterned paper)
Day 2 (alphabets)
Day 3 (tools, like stamps and punches)
Day 4 (bits & pieces)
Day 5 (how organizing stuff makes it easier to use stuff)

After that post I wanted to do a regular feature on my blog: challenges to use your stuff.

And I did exactly one.

It's time to take up my goal again of a weekly Use Your Stuff Challenge.

This week's focus is on die cut tags. It seems like these used to come out as a part of every new line. I think they're not as common anymore, but I'll bet you have some in your stash. Some of them come on a sheet and you have to punch them out; others are in a package. Either way, find a few and use them! They are good for a variety of things:

  • write the date and/or place of the photos
  • arrange three or four similar ones in a block, then write your journaling across them
  • use them as the base for your title
  • create a collage of die cut tags as an embellishment
  • stamp, paint, or doodle on one (or a few)
  • use a circular one to replace an "o" or an "a" in your title

For my challenge layout, I used a round tag and a narrow one to make the letter "i":


Want to play along? Here's the challenge:

Make a layout using at least two die cut tags and some scraps of similarly-themed patterned paper.

Even though we are at the beach in this layout, I didn't want it to be about the beach. I just wanted to make something girly and pretty, so I used a bunch of floral patterned paper scraps.

Link me up if you play along!


In the minutes after Kendell leaves somewhere and takes all the kids with him, I have a moment of panic. My entire family is in that car, I start thinking. What if something happens? And then I start envisioning fiery crashes caused by drunken miscreants. It's entirely the same scenario (with different imagined disasters) when Haley drives herself and the three boys somewhere. Or even just when she drives herself: my heart races while I imagine something awful before I can control myself. Just a few examples of the following fact about me:

I am a worrier. More specifically, an imaginative worrier. I can come up with something horrible to worry over about nearly any possible situation.

Then there's this fact. The TV show E.R. ran for 15 seasons, and I didn't miss a single one of the 331 episodes. Partly this was because I had one of those TV-show crushes on Dr. Carter, but mostly it was because the medical world is fascinating to me. (Back when I was trying to decide my career path, I briefly considered becoming a nurse, but once I realized I'd have to touch actual bodily fluids of complete strangers I decided that nursing was not the path for me.) All of the things that can happen to a human body and all of the procedures we've developed to counteract all of those things. I'm not a doctor, and I don't even play one on TV, but I have studied  lots of TV doctors.

All of which combines into the fact that when Kaleb's pediatric cardiologist told me yesterday about the changes in his heart and then followed it up with "don't worry about it, though," I had one of those deep (but very inward) (and highly sarcastic) laughs with myself. This was our third visit with the pediatric cardiologist. The first time we went, I didn't have much of a clue as to what to expect or how to feel, other than hopeful that what we knew—Kaleb has a bicuspid aortic valve—wouldn't completely change his entire life and the desperate desire that it wouldn't require surgery. Last year, our second trip, I was a complete mess. I didn't sleep the night before because I was terrified that things would have progressed in some dramatic way. But they hadn't, last year. Last year, nothing had changed.

So I went to our 2012 appointment yesterday feeling the slightest bit optimistic. I was less anxious (although: still anxious) and a little bit closer to feeling like getting an echo and an EKG done on my 7-year-old was not as scary as I'd thought. It would all be OK. And his valve still is OK. But he now has some slight thickening of his aorta, which is the main artery that leaves the heart with oxygenated blood. Like his bicuspid valve, this thickening—a slight bulge—will probably never affect his life in a completely negative way. Statistically, he's likely not to have surgery.

But we still have to be careful. He will continue having an echo and an ekg and an appointment with his cardiologist every year. "And he should also not play contact sports," the doctor explained. "No football, basketball, or karate because of the nature of the sports—all that shoving and hitting and pushing." She continued to explain that this is because if his chest is hit at just the right angle and with the exact amount of force, and if his bulge has thinned too much, it could burst.

And then that little, silly bit of a sentence: "but try not to worry about it, though." Kendell was sad over the fact that Kaleb can't play football or basketball. As I would prefer all of my children to be long-distance runners I'm not as upset about the sports themselves. What I don't know to do with is this suggestion: don't worry.

I've always been a worrier and a dreamer; my imagination can take me to dark places. Add to that the fodder of medical stories in my head from years of E.R. (and, yes, now Grey's Anatomy) and yeah: I'm just barely keeping it together. Because couldn't that just-the-right-angle-and-force impact on his chest happen in any number of ways? Like...a car crash, or rough-housing with his brothers or his friends, or a fall off of his bike, or what if he was walking down the hall with books in his arms and he fell, and he was literally killed by books?

I know it sounds hysterical. Probably even a little bit silly. But I can't help it. I've been trying to remind myself: it could be worse. I could be the mom of a kid with cancer of any sort. Or of disabilities. Or of any other medical scenario. The statistics are on our side. But only sort of, because sometimes it starts to feel like what are the odds? Look at Kendell: what statistical anomaly gave him both aseptic necrosis and a unicuspid aortic valve? In one person? Two percent of the population has a bicuspid aortic valve, and of those two percent, about half have surgery sometime in their lives. Being in that group of two percent already feels like it's close on the heart. On my sweet, littlest son's heart. And while, when I went through it with Kendell I was afraid, I wasn't ever really afraid. There was something in me that let me know without any doubt that he would be OK. Somehow I'm not sure I'd feel that, going through it with Kaleb.

But what scares me more than surgery is accident. All those accidental chest hits that I am imagining and worrying over all while I'm not supposed to worry. I can't help it though. I can't stand it—the thought of losing him. Last night, when everyone else was asleep, I went to check on him. He was sleeping, like usual, with his head at the foot of his bed. I tucked him back in and then I couldn't resist: I lay down next to him and hugged him and I cried a little bit. I don't love any of my children more than the other, but I do love them differently. The combination of experiences between each child and me is what creates the resonance of our relationship, and mine with Kaleb has its own sweet, complicated pitch. He was the baby I gave myself to utterly, whose moments I tried to hold on to the tightest, if only because my other children had taught me how fleeting those moments would be. Out of all my children, his existence was the one most fraught with the possibility of not happening at all. All the prayer and the hoping and the begging and the weeping I did to get him here! How can that existence, so worked for and wanted, be threatened by a misplaced nudge, by a bulge, by a genetic abnormality? Was he always going to be an impossible, nebulous wish? What will I do if I lose him?

Oddly enough, what made me stop crying last night, to let go of my clutch on my son, was the memory of another lost child. He was the son of a friend of a friend, a girl I met once at a scrapbooking retreat. Her four-year-old had been killed when they were on vacation; he was kicked by a horse and, she described in a tone of voice I will never forget, "his heart was shattered." Maybe it was the similarity of possibilities that brought her story to my mind that dark night. Or how all those possibilities felt like they were shattering my heart as well. But it made me remember: even without a bulging aorta, life is fragile. A perfectly healthy child could be killed in any imaginable way at any second of existence. (Or unimaginable: I'm certain that part of my imaginative worrying comes from the illogical belief that if I imagine it, it won't happen.) Disease isn't required for death to happen. Which is a horribly gloomy way to brighten myself up, but somehow it did. It was enough to give me the courage to let go and go to bed and see what happened tomorrow, which is all any of us, even with tricuspid valves, can ever do.

October 2012

October is my favorite month. (September runs a very close second.) I always try to savor every single beautiful, golden day. This year’s October was so very different, with Beth’s death. It tinged all the golden days with sadness. (It still doesn’t feel real, to be honest. I keep thinking of future events and how she’ll be included and then I remember all over again that she won’t be.) Kendell and I spent a lot of time cleaning out her home and getting it ready to sell. He took the responsibility of figuring out the probate, meeting with the lawyer, managing paperwork, and going to court.

It was a strange October.

But there were happier things, too. Such as:

  • Haley practiced so much for her choir concert. (She is so in love with her choir!) She also asked a boy to the Sadie’s dance. He said yes!
  • In his art class, Nathan’s teacher had the students draw the posters for the school play. His won the contest! He won two tickets to the play and took Kaleb with him. (He wasn’t happy about taking Kaleb, but all of his friends were either in the play or had already seen it, and I wasn’t home and Haley had class and neither Kendell nor Jake wanted to go so Kaleb it was!)
  • Jake has been begging us to buy him a new bed for awhile. When he found out that he got to have Beth’s bed (she had just purchased it not three months ago) he was so excited! We decluttered and reorganized his bedroom and ordered him some new queen-sized sheets. Now I’m working on making him a new, queen-sized quilt.
  • Kaleb got to inherit Jake’s bed. It’s fatter than his old bed (which had been the bed for the youngest kid since we bought it for Haley when she was little) and he loves it!
  • I took the boys to Disneyland. This trip was planned six weeks ago, so I couldn’t really cancel it even though we were busy with Beth’s process. It’s interesting how the timing worked out, I changed my mind about 50 times over which week to go, but the one I ended up picking was perfect. (Except for I missed Haley’s choir concert.)
  • Kendell and I hiked Timp together. We beat our previous best time to the top (I got there in 3:22 and he was 3:27, and our previous time was 3:35.) This sort of makes me happy and sort of bugs me, as I don’t really care how long it takes to get to the top! But it was a nice day to hike and I’m glad we were able to squeeze it in.
  • Becky and I ran the Halloween Half marathon together.
  • Kendell and I discovered a new restaurant to love, Thai Village in Provo. We’ve always loved it’s sort of developed into an obsession.
  • I ran 38.5 miles. Between the funeral and the trip, it wasn’t a great running month for me!
  • I made two layouts. As with running...not a lot of time for scrapping this month!
  • I started eating sugar again. I’ve been baking up a storm...three batches of pumpkin-chocolate-chip cookies, a pumpkin cake, and some gingerbread cookies.
  • For Halloween, Haley and Jake stayed home together to pass out candy. Kendell, Nathan, Kaleb, and I went to his sister Cindy’s house for dinner and trick-or-treating. It was a different Halloween experience than we’ve ever had before, but still lots of fun!

How was your October?

Looking for Peace in the Midst of Bitterness

(Please note: this is a political post with my political opinions, which are not meant to offend you. I'm just sharing what I think, not judging you for what you think. Politics aside, there is a recipe at the bottom of the post!)

Last night I fell asleep at 9:15. Partly this was the time change catching up to me, but mostly it was because I couldn't bear listening to the election results. But I still woke up with an anxious heart and a troubled mind. Today felt to me, in fact, like doomsday. Or at least, the beginning of the end of something.

I wasn't blind to Mitt Romney's faults. I think he should have chosen a different vice president, preferably a woman. (It's best not to get me started on the Republican perspective on women.) I think he comes from the filthy rich perspective and his environmental ideas are reprehensible. But I also think he is motivated by a moral compass. I don't say that because we happen to share the same religion, but because I felt like he earnestly and truly wanted to make America better.

I don't feel that way about Obama.

I think his environmental policies are better than Romney's (but still need vast improvements urgently). I think the Democratic perspective on women is one that goes along with the 21st century. I think his foreign policy is laughable and will have a world-wide impact for decades to come. Every time he promised to make more jobs I felt like screaming from my frustration—how does government create jobs? His handling of the economy couldn't be worse, and Obamacare? Obamacare will, in my opinion, become the cancer of the middle class.

Sure, the cost will sting a bit for the wealthy, but hello: they are wealthy. They will feel it less than the middle class. I don't believe health insurance should be managed or provided by the government. I think it should be provided by employers and be managed by insurance companies; I think government's role in health insurance should be to oversee (to insist upon) reform. (I do know that there are plenty of people who legitimately need assistance with health care. I have needed it before myself. But I think it should be a temporary thing, not a lifestyle choice.)

I also don't understand why insurance should be free. Didn't we learn in kindergarten that nothing is free? Someone will have to pay for Obamacare, and it will be middle-class people like you and me. People at Kendell's job are already talking about how, when we re-enroll in our health insurance next spring, the price increase will be unbearable. Couple that with the increase in taxes and the lack of pay raises and I am already starting to worry that I'll have to find a different, full-time job. All of which might sound like I don't want to help other people who are less fortunate than me, which isn't true; I do. I just don't think that Obamacare is the direction the help needs to take.

But what bothers me more than Obama's policies is his moral center. To me, it feels like he wants to be president because he likes the power and the fame, not because he wants to shape a strong, contemporary America. To me, the American he's shaping isn't even America anymore. It's more socialist than democratic and much more vulnerable. Couple that vulnerability with Obama's failures abroad (the Benghazi thing, the Israel thing) and it starts to feel nefarious.

I don't trust him and I don't think he has made my life better.

So today was a hard day for me. The ruthless gloating, the news pundits going on and on about Romney and how weak his campaign was. "But he won 49% of the popular vote!" I kept arguing back to the radio, "which means almost exactly half of the population wanted him to win." But mostly, it was the relentless anxiety and the knowledge that I am powerless to change any of these things.

So I searched for something to appease my anxiety. I scrapbooked. I went running. I ate the rest of the cake I made yesterday for work. I wandered around Target and bought some clearance Halloween stuff and some peppermint extra-dark-chocolate Lindt truffles (I am eating one right now as I write this in fact). I put away all of my Halloween decorations and got out all my Thanksgiving ones and repotted three of my plants and reorganized my linen closet and put together a big box of stuff to take to the thrift store and vacuumed the cobwebs off of my front-room ceiling. I listened to Kaleb talk while I cooked dinner.

I cooked dinner.

And, despite the other anxiety today brought (Kaleb's echo for his upcoming appointment with the cardiologist and all the accompanying terror that brings even though he's likely to be just fine), my little efforts at finding peace in my heart helped—a little bit. I don't feel any more optimistic about our future. But I do feel grateful that, for now, I have control of my home and my influence over my family at least.

Here's what I made for dinner. It's become a recent favorite at our house:

Buffalo Chicken Taquitos (adapted from Real Women of Philadelphia)

4 cups chicken, cooked and shredded (about 3 breasts)
12 soft-taco sized flour tortillas
2 cups monterey jack cheese, grated
4 ounces cream cheese
1/3 cup Frank’s hot sauce
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup bleu cheese crumbles
2 T butter
1 tsp Lawry's seasoning
1 tsp garlic powder
2 T vegetable oil

(I doubled this recipe and have some leftover taquitos.)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spread a thin layer of oil over a cookie sheet. Over medium low heat, melt butter. Add Lawry's and garlic powder. Stir to combine and cook for 1 minute. Add cream cheese and stir until melted and completely combined with butter and spices. Whisk in hot sauce, bleu cheese, and milk then simmer for about five minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Combine chicken and sauce. Lay out a tortilla; fill with 1/3 cup chicken and a sprinkling of cheese. Tightly roll up taquito and place, seam down, on the oiled baking sheet; repeat until chicken is gone. Brush taquitos with vegetable oil on the top. Bake for about 10-12 minutes, then flip the taquitos over and let bake until golden brown. Serve with bleu cheese dressing (or sour cream & salsa if you're Kendell).