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Last night when I got home from the library (I work late on Mondays), I opened the door to a surprise. Kendell and the kids were sitting at the kitchen table, with all the lights off, just a candle burning on a cake. They started singing happy birthday to me, and I (of course) started crying. It was a sweet moment. Haley had hung up a sign, and they'd strung streamers:Bday 01

and everyone had made me a card. We ate cake and ice cream, and talked about their preparations (Haley forgetting to grease the cake pans and how Kendell managed to get the cake out unbroken anyway, the shopping, the deliberations in the card aisle, hoping I wouldn't be home late) and our day.

I tend to get a little bit bristly about my birthday as I get older.  I don't want it to be a big deal because it makes me uncomfortable to be in the spotlight. Still, I am relishing today anyway—the Facebook birthday wishes, the texts and phone calls from friends, and just the idea that it is OK to celebrate a little bit. Even Mother Nature seems to be saying happy birthday today:Bday flowers

That lone tulip (I need to plant new bulbs) and the bleeding heart bloomed just this morning; the flowering plum is, while permanently disfigured, still beautiful, and those yellow jonquils simply make me happy because they exist—they are tiny things, the size of my thumb, and I didn't plant them. They just showed up a few springs ago.

I keep thinking that I should have something profound and wise to say today. At least something witty. But all I have is this strange and happy hope that is burbling around in my heart this morning: that things will always keep on getting better, that I will be able to realize my before-I-turn-forty personal goals (the marathon, the novel), that my family will be happy and my kids continue to progress. That hope is exactly all I need.


Much Needed

I have been running on fumes for weeks now. Trying to cram a LOT of work into too little time, and not staying on top of anything, and feeling exhausted all the time. I think I need a straight week of sleep.

I need rejuvenation, both body and soul, and yesterday I got a little bit of the soul type.

When Kaleb got home from preschool, he said "Mom, look! It is a beautiful day. Lets play outside!" And so i did. I ignored my verging-on-messy kitchen and the laundry I need to fold, as well as the work I need to get done. Instead, I wandered around the yard with Kaleb. We rode scooters together, wide, loopy circles around the driveway. We admired the lush perfection of the clumps of snow crocuses and tried to follow bees—bees!—back to their hive. Then, while Kaleb played with his knights on the porch and chattered with me, I got down on my knees.

I gardened!

And it was glorious. All the dead leaves that had piled up in my front flower beds are gone. I got all the weeds out (I know, can you believe it? Weeds already?) I dug out some of the ground cover that had started taking over. I handed worms and potato bugs to Kaleb; we watched a few spiders scurrying along the foundation, disturbed by my digging. Then, when I was finished, we sprawled on the grass, under the skeleton trees, and watched the sky spin.

I'm still exhausted and a wee bit overwhelmed at how much work I still have left to do. My body is still edgy and worn out. But my soul? Well, it feels much better. "Sprinter weather," the clever weatherman called yesterday: halfway between winter and spring. That spring portion was just the revitalization I needed.


The Last Yellow Daylily

Years ago, when she was only three, and right in the middle of her "I'll only wear dresses" phase (the one I happily complied with, stocking her closet with a wide assortment of perfectly spinny dresses), I took a photo of Haley next to my yellow daylilies, just because they were blooming for the first time, and so pretty, and because she noticed them, and because she was pretty, too:

H daylily (forgive the pre-digital, photo-of-a-photo-on-a-scrapbook-layout)

Now, every time I see my yellow daylilies, I am reminded of that photo and, in turn, of that day. Just an average summer afternoon when my oldest child was three, and my second was only a baby taking a nap, or maybe he was crawling in the shade of the apple tree, and probably I turned around and took a picture of him after the one of Haley. I was still a student then, and Kendell still had his job that he loved, and we both had this certain idea of how our lives would be that has proven to be nothing like reality. In theory I understood how fast time would go, but in reality, not so much. I thought I would always have more days like that one, everyone small and happy. I imagined myself finishing my degree, being a stay-at-home mom for years and years and years, having more sons, more daughters.

I didn't realize just how hard I should have savored that particular, average day. I didn't know that while, yes, sometimes you get to repeat similar experiences---you get to be pregnant again, you get to hold another of your own newborn babies, you get to watch them grow and laugh and become who they are---you don't ever get to relive anything. I didn't realize then how much every moment counts. Especially the particular, average ones.

Daylilies do just what their name implies: each flower lives for just one day. Before they start blooming, the plant will be covered in tightly-furled blossoms, and then one day, one or two will open. The next day, those first blooms will have wilted, but new ones bloom to take their place. Today, as I walked up the driveway after my run, I noticed that the last yellow daylily had bloomed. That particular shade of yellow---rich, with an underlying hint of orange---reminded me of that day I took the photo of Haley in her second-favorite chambray dress which, in turn, reminded me of this day: particular, average. And I remembered: savor today, because no other day will be exactly like this one.

I'm glad the flowers reminded me. I try to savor things, anyway, but today seemed even more savor-able just because of the reminder. I will never have today back: Haley in her unpredictable, sometimes-prickly sometimes-happy moods; Jake on his last day of going without any technology for an entire week; Nathan's sunburned cheeks contrasting with his blue eyes and white hair; Kaleb perpetually happy to be included with his older siblings and still, perpetually, wearing pajamas. Myself, too: tanner than I've been since I was a teenager, ready to run Saturday's half marathon, mother of four wonderful children. Wiser and more heartsore than the person I was when the yellow daylilies bloomed for the first time, but more able to appreciate things, too. The kids all stayed outside with me while I worked in the garden. Jake captured a grasshopper, and Kaleb spotted a baby garden snake under the hibiscus bush. They laughed together, showing me things; they gathered around the patio table to eat watermelon; they tried to get the snake to eat the grasshopper but stopped when Kaleb started crying. I dug out ivy, marveled over the zinnias I planted where the lilac bush used to be, and tried to hold it all in my heart, tried to breathe and live and simply be herein this day when the last yellow daylily blossomed.Daylily


Platanus occidentalis + Autumn + Kids = Falling Gratitude

I’ve written before about how, during my childhood, yard work was exclusively my dad’s domain. He had four daughters, remember; I think mowing the lawn, weeding the vegetable garden, planning and planting the flower beds, pruning the trees, incorporating things like wagon wheels and old hand plows into his garden designs—all the stuff he did to give us a gorgeous yard—were his ways of escaping chatter about back hand springs, nail polish, boys, and shopping. While I truly loved our yard and am still attached to some of the trees and shrubs that grow there, I don’t think the concept of going outside and helping ever entered my head.

One autumn Saturday after a sleep over at my friend Kristi’s house, she and her parents went outside to rake leaves. They had me help, too, and we laughed while we raked, piled, bagged—and threw more than a few gleeful handfuls into the air. That day was the first time I realized: I liked being outside in the yard. And I also thought: I wonder why my family never does this together. Honestly, even after my little epiphany, I still didn’t think of actually going outside to help Dad; it was still too far out of the normal for us. But I started thinking, that day, of my own house, when I was grown up, and of raking leaves with my one-day children.

And that is why, today, I’m grateful for trees. More specifically, I’m grateful I to have a home with trees, and right-now children to rake fallen leaves with me. Rain fell nearly all day yesterday, and with it a deluge of leaves from my sycamore trees. Once we were all home, the kids and I went outside today to rake the leaves. Of course, like anything that remotely resembles a chore, leaf-raking inspires a certain grumbling. "It’s cold," they said. "The leaves are wet."

But with only a few minutes spent on "working," things start to change. Coats and jackets were cast off. Grumbling turns to laughing as kids throw leaves at each other and race one another to move piles from the lawn to the green-waste can. They work together, building the biggest possible piles, and then run to jump into them, scattering amber leaves among the laughter. Minor injuries happen—Jake’s big toenail the victim this afternoon—but there are photos of smiling kids, anyway. They bury each other in leaves and then roar appreciatively when the buried one bursts from his crispy-damp, layered covering. And at least once, each kid gets to climb into the can and stomp the leaves down so we can fit in more. Our family’s own version of grape stomping, I suppose, using the feet as instruments. We aren’t making anything, really, except for a little bit of future compost. And memories, of course. I start to wonder: what if my sisters and I had pulled on some gloves to protect our nail polish, gone outside, and picked up a rake? And: will my kids remember this autumn tasks as being sweet, as I will?

Sometimes, although they’d never say it, I worry that my neighbors are bothered by my big trees. Especially in November, when the leaves really start to fall. If the wind picks up, they scatter all the way to the other end of the street, making work for everyone. But part of me is OK with it, too. I like to think my trees benefit the neighbors, not just me—more oxygen, of course, but there’s also summer shade, and boughs to swing from. And maybe the scattered leaves work their magic in other yards and families, too. Maybe they all gather around with rakes, making piles. Laughing together in God’s best season.


Spring Snow

I think there was a collective groan yesterday among all my neighbors, because we woke up to a Sunday morning that looked like this:

Spring_snowEven for a girl like me, who loves snow, it is starting to feel like it's time to be finished with winter. It's been such a cold spring. But, as always, I am sincerely grateful for any snow we receive. Groaning aside, I know this fact: we still live in a desert, and we are still in our tenth year of drought. Besides, it wouldn't be spring in Utah without a spring snowstorm.

So, when I woke to the storm (which sifted snow down on us, off and on, all day), and my kids started to grumble (can't blame them, really), I had this thought: how long will it be before I watch it snow again? This will probably be our last snow until the fall. So, I decided to celebrate it a little bit. I made myself a cup of hot chocolate and drank it in my comfy chair by my front window, watching the snow fall. Then I decided I needed a few photos, too. The birds flocked in my flowerbeds, eating something, but scattered at the sound of my camera. Here are my pink hyacinths:

Hyacinths_in_snow Today, it's still cold. My driveway was a sheet of solid ice this morning, and I nearly fell later in the day, running errands with Kaleb (he did fall, although the only damage was to his jeans. "I all wet, Momma!" he said, five or six times on the way home). It's not supposed to warm up any time soon, either, so I'm not sure my flowers will snap back. I hope so.

I kept repeating this bit of poem by Robert Frost all morning. One of the hazards of being Englishly-geeky is fragments of memorized poems that repeat and repeat until you write about them, just to get them to be quiet:

from "Two Tramps in Mudtime"

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March.

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume,
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake; and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn't blue,
But he wouldn't advise a thing to blossom.

The water for which we may have to look
In summertime with a witching wand,
In every wheelrut's now a brook,
In every print of a hoof a pond.
Be glad of water, but don't forget
The lurking frost in the earth beneath
That will steal forth after the sun is set
And show on the water its crystal teeth.

Maybe Frost is telling us why April is the cruelest month?


Productive Morning

One of the things I wish I could change about myself: I am not a morning person.  I really, really hate getting out of bed in the morning, so despite whatever goals I set for myself, it's fairly rare for me to actually get up very early. I'd like to change that about myself because those extra hours really do make a difference in how much I get accomplished in a day. This morning, Haley had to be at the church for an activity at 6:45, which meant I couldn't avoid the alarm clock. I'd intended on a run after I dropped her off, but Kendell had to be at work earlier than normal. Instead, I came home, made Kaleb his requested eggies for breakfast, and then went outside. It was startling to walk out into a still-cool world, startling and inspiring; I nearly ran for my clippers, since I've been dying to prune one of my rosebushes. By 8:30 I had the rosebush pruned, the weeds in the front yard pulled, the dishwasher loaded, and a goal for the day: do something with the little, neglected patch of earth on one side of my porch.

Really, I need to pull out most of my flowerbeds and start again. My trees have gotten so big that most of my front yard is patchy shade all day, and the sun-loving perennials I planted when the trees were Kendell's height are now not doing so well. This patch has been empty since I tugged out the dying greens from the spring bulbs, save for a few scraggly sunflowers and the browning edges of a foxglove (one of my favorite flowers except for the fact that it doesn't bloom very long). By 9:05 I was in the greenhouse, Nathan and Kaleb pulling their own rusty red wagons behind me as I filled mine with flowers. An added bonus: everything was on sale! With the help of some impatiens, coleus, a phlox hybrid and another plant whose name I cannot remember, I changed my little bit of front yard from this House_before

to this House_after

Working outside in the still-cool day, in the shade, Kaleb running his green truck up and down the sidewalk and a few birds chirping at me: this was a peaceful start to my day. Something much needed. Plus, it was only 10:30 by the time I'd finished. And it's exactly why I'd like to change my morning laziness into productivity every day.


A Brand New Friend

There are some flowers in my garden that are just flowers---pretty things that make me smile. But there are other flowers that feel to me like friends; I feel a sense of reunion when they pop up each year. While we were away, some of my flowery friends came and went without me ever getting to say hello. Namely, my gorgeous lavender-tipped-with-white irises. Iris are friendly to me because I have so many memories connected with them: the time my dad correctly diagnosed the bugs that were eating them (my first---but, alas, not last---brush with the dreaded aphid); conversations with my sister Becky and admiring her beautiful iris; the complete stranger Kendell and I met one day in a nursery we'd never been to, who on the spot invited us to his garden to take a splitting of his iris; splitting my own iris and sharing them with friends. Plus, I know my grandma would love my favorite ones, too, since purple was her favorite color. I also like the smell---vaguely cinnamon; they smell, to me, like summer freedom since they always bloom near the end of the school year. Mine don't usually finish blooming so quickly, so I'm not sure what happened while we were gone, but I was sad to miss out on their blooming.

But today I walked out into my back yard and spotted this new friend: Iris

Isn't it gorgeous? I'm nearly ashamed to admit that I bought this iris at, of all places, Walmart last fall. It was in a clearance bin and I picked it up for fifty cents. Since I had zero expectations for it, I forgot all about it. So I was thrilled this morning at this sweet flower. It's a little bit old fashioned to me; it reminds me of a blouse an old woman would wear. But I still love it---delicate and pale and feminine. It is my happy thing for today!


First Blossom Day

Every year, about this time, it finally arrives: First Blossom Day. The day my little snow crocus blossom; the day winter seems to lose its grip:

Snow_crocus There's nothing cheerier than those saffron-orange stems against the lavender flowers. Even though the rest of my flowerbeds are sound asleep, and the trees show no sign of life, and the wind still bites, these little flowers remind me that winter can't last forever. Every time they bloom, I look forward---warm days, blue skies, kids outside, more flowers. But I also look back, remembering. I planted these bulbs (as well as most of my daffodils and tulips) way back in the fall when I was pregnant with Haley. I'd never heard of snow crocus, so I had no idea they'd bloom so early---just a few days after I found out she was a girl. Every time I see these flowers I remember how it felt, knowing I got to have a daughter. In fact, if I had to name the feeling "I'm having a girl" it would be "little purple snow crocus poking up in the cold air."

Anyway. Today I went outside with Kaleb, and he noticed the flowers first---strolled right over to them and picked one. He loved flowers last year, and has been a little bit baffled, I think, about where they've all gone, so he was thrilled to finally have flowers back. He doesn't say the word "flower" yet, but sniffs instead, so he said "Momma!", then pointed to his flower and sniffed. So sweet! I pulled a few weeds and got rid of some of the dead leaves around one of my rose bushes. I did so much last fall that there's not much spring gardening to do, except for pruning. But it felt so good to be back outside again. Spring's coming!


having a day

the kind of day when pushing the shift key seems like too much effort. not lazy. just sad. feeling like the dinosaur in the dr. seuss book. i'm sad. i groan. i drag my tail. i walk alone. heavy. old---ancient, in fact. nearly as extinct as that dinosaur. like a failure---as a mom, especially, but wife and friend and religious person as well as housefrau, too. and definitely, definitely as a writer.

realizing that my idea of what makes for a good life---for success---is so meaningless to the world. not even meaningless. not worth noticing. silly. yes--- silly. pointless. without merit. not just embarrassed---ashamed at my silly little ambition. need to give up my writerly aspirations and get a job at target. might be good at stocking shelves.

finally drag myself outside, as space in the green waste can cannot be wasted and the last detritus from the front flowerbed would fit. pulled out the carpet of cosmos shoots that sprouted overnight. stupid flowers---why sprout in cold october? don't they know snow is coming? got rid of leaves from maple tree. weeded. cut down dead flowers. somehow managed to look up and see this:Roses_in_october

and roses in october against the tarnished gold maple leaves are dramatic enough to yank me up just a little bit. there definitely must be changes in my life's goals. it's pointless to keep beating this dead horse. why wasn't that obvious before? but at least, at least that dragging purple sadness has started to fade. just a little.