Every Day is a Gift

Timehop and Facebook keep reminding me of something: three years ago was the week that Kendell had his cardiac arrest. I usually like looking back on memories, but this one…this one I don’t want to remember. Kendell has processed enough (or he just never remembered) that he can joke about it. But I can’t. That was a terrifying, difficult experience, and whenever I remember that early morning—waking to that sound he was making, the way he looked at me and then, even though his eyes were open, he wasn’t looking anymore. My hysterical laughter when the EMTs dashed out the front door carrying him on a stretcher. The days of not knowing. Even when it seemed like he would be OK, it was still terrifying and difficult.

Whenever I do have to tell the story, I acknowledge in my head all of the times any medical person who’s heard the story looks at me astounded. I’ve even had doctors and nurses assume I was exaggerating, because most people really don’t survive an episode of v-fib. And if they do, they usually have some sort of hypoxic brain injury.

But Kendell is OK.

So whenever I tell the story, or when something reminds me of that experience, I wonder: why is he still here?

“He must have something amazing he still needs to do,” people have told me many times.

But today I was reminded that maybe not. Or maybe just reminded of what “something amazing” really means.

We went hiking together this afternoon, after he had an yearly check-up with his heart surgeon. Desolation trail overlook hiking boots
Everything seems fine, so we celebrated with a lovely five miles in Mill Creek canyon. Spring hiking is still snowy hiking, but old, melting snow is an entirely different experience. It’s soft and slushy, a little bit like hiking through a Slurpee. (But, of course, without the cherry flavoring.) Sometimes the snow on the trail was like a shark fin, sometimes it was like walking along a balance beam made out of snow-cement.

It was OK hiking up, but when we were hiking down, I was a little bit nervous. I’m still ginger going downhill anyway (I think I probably always will be, now), but the spots of the trail that were slick ice were a little bit scary.

Kendell hiked in front of me on the way down, and whenever he got to a slippery spot, he’d wait for me, and then offer me a hand down.

I didn’t ask him for help. He just knew I’d be a little bit anxious about slipping, so he made sure to help me.

I thought about his heart surgeon, just an hour earlier telling us that he is doing OK. And those memories popping up in Facebook. And the way, if I am honest, I still am terrified. I sometimes wake up at night, still, and just make sure he is breathing.

And I don’t think there is anything more amazing or extraordinary than today. A random Monday at the end of winter. A beautiful spring afternoon, 70 degrees with a blue sky and a light wind. Sitting on a cliff eating cashews together. His hand and his strength helping me to be safe.

Heroic deeds or extraordinary success: those might seem the reasons he’s still alive. He might still have that kind of work to do, I don’t know.

I don’t actually really even care. What I care about is that he’s here, that we have more days together, for however long. No one’s days are guaranteed anyway. We can only savor. We can only love each other in the best ways we know how.


Finding my Tribe

Back in the fall of 2017, when I reread the book It, I realized (yet again) how my worldview is shaped by the books I read. I read It when it first came out, in 1986, and one of the things I discovered in rereading the book is how deeply rooted in friendship the story is. It gave me the idea that when you need a group of friends, the universe will provide one for you. I found myself thinking about this idea quite a bit after I finished the book, and I realized that this is a trope in many books.

It made me look back over my life and consider my friendships, and how they have come to be. As a little girl, I was painfully shy; add in the fact that my family didn’t really fit in to the approved social group where we lived, and yeah: I was kind of a lonely kid. Back in 1986, when I was 14 and reading It, I had two groups of friends, my gymnastics friends and my school friends. I counted on my gymnastics friends for some things, and my school friends for others, but I was unquestioning in my belief in their support for me. Over the next years, I learned to question. I learned that friends can betray you in a myriad of painful ways and that there are actually very few people you can trust implicitly.

But I also learned that those few are immensely valuable in your life.

As a young mom, I had a group of friends who were also young moms. We played Bunco together, took our kids to the park, gave each other nursing advice and newborn gifts and caffeine on exhausted days. I loved that group of friends, but I always kept myself a little bit shielded. Then, in 2000, my world was totally rocked when my husband was laid off from his job. Everything changed in the next 18 months, and one by one, almost every friend in my little group fell away. We couldn’t relate or connect anymore; they were worried about stuff like when their hairdresser could fit them in next and how they could buy another Dooney & Burke without their husbands getting annoyed, and there I was, worrying about whether or not we’d lose our house.

The few people who stuck by me during that time are still my friends, but I learned it again. Maybe in books people have life-long friends who never betray them, maybe in novels the Universe or God or Whomever makes sure you have support during difficult times…but in my real life, it wasn’t happening.

I have individual friends but I’ve never had a tribe.

I’ve also never read a novel that told my story: how introverted people who are guarded because of previous experiences create friendships. Maybe that’s a story no one wants to read, and that’s OK because sometimes my life feels pretty pathetic. Like, if I died tomorrow, who’d come to my funeral?

Cue the pity-party music.

When my mom died, though (and, really: will I ever get to a space when I can write something that doesn’t refer to my mom’s death?), I had another realization about friendship within the context of my life. I do have a tribe. Some of them came to her funeral. Some of them came and took her fabric. Some of them brought me meals. Some of them sent me flowers or cards; some of them just hugged me, or silently squeezed my hand.

And all of them work at the library.

Librarians have a sort of strange reputation as dry, dusty, boring people who dress in cardigans and sensible shoes and care about uptight things like grammar and properly organized books on shelves and straight, tight buns without a strand of hair out of place. And, yes, OK, we do care about those things. (Although I actually prefer a loose, messy bun.)  But really, we are a vibrant and eclectic group of people. We love national parks and traveling and hiking. We bike, we run, we waterski. Not every librarian I know shares every one of my hobbies, but every one of my hobbies is shared by at least one librarian I know. (Except for scrapbooking… I’m still on my own in that craziness!) Many librarian friends quilt, others bake, others love flowers and gardening. A couple are runners too. Another librarian friend is my favorite person to send hiking photos to when I’m out on a trail, because she can’t hike right now (knee problems) but she loves seeing me do it. So I sort of take her with me.

This week at work, we had our regular staff meeting in a bigger room than normal, because there was going to be some kind of training and other people would be coming. I went to the meeting, sat chatting with my coworkers until it started, and the one of the librarians said “We’re not actually here for extra training, but to celebrate Amy!” and I looked around the room thinking “Oh, cool, I love Amy Monroe, she’s awesome!” and then I thought “wait, Amy Monroe isn’t here” and then I realized, “oh, wow, they mean me!”

Our library does this thing called the “You Rock” award. It’s a trophy sort of thing with a big rock engraved with the words “You Rock” and then as it is given to different librarians, their names are added. I’ve gone to many meetings where other librarians were given this award, but I’ve never really considered it as something I would be given. Because look at all the names on that trophy, names of smart, creative, wise, visionary librarians. I’m just me doing my little part-time work.

I was totally, completely surprised!

You rock award

A few people at the meeting said some really kind things about me. And as I looked around and saw their faces, and thought about the other librarians who have left but whose work and friendship have influenced me in many ways, it really, really hit me.

Yes, we librarians are generally an introverted bunch. Maybe we’re a little bit boring. We like to talk about things like literary theory and the evolution of television drama. We can quote weird things no one else has ever heard of.

But we are also kind, passionate, intelligent people who are deeply committed to living life. Books help us do that. And other librarians do, too.

The universe really did bring me my tribe.


Thoughts on Gardening

When I was growing up, my dad made us a beautiful yard. There were flowers and roses, gardens marked out with stones, a maple tree, a locust. We had a vegetable garden and a peach tree.

Being outside in that yard made me happy. Even when I was angsty and bitter as a teenager, I’d still sometimes sit out in the backyard, surrounded by the beauty my dad made, look at the mountains and feel a sense of peace.

But I never once—not once—helped him. I didn’t mow the lawn, prune the rosebushes, pull weeds, rake leaves. It was all my dad’s project, and I can’t help but wonder why. It’s not even that he asked us to help and we grumbled about it. It was just never a thing we did. Never a thing I even thought about doing.

But one of my greatest joys in my adult life is having a house with a yard.

Rose

If I could have 8 back, or 7, or 12, or 15, here is what I would do: I would ask my dad if he had another rake. I would go out to the backyard, under the honey locust tree, and I would rake leaves with him. Maybe we would talk. Maybe we would work silently. Maybe I would ask him: How do you feel about this space? Do you love it or resent it? Do you wish we helped you, or do you like the solitude?

Tell me how to prune the rosebushes, I’d ask him.

Tell me how to keep the trees healthy, the lawn green, the daffodils still blooming every spring.

And if I had my 20s and 30s back, I would do what I did with my own children, except more often. Let them spill outside into the warm spring air, the chilly fall light, the heat of summer. Give them a little trowel of their own, teach them what is a weed and what is a flower. Call them over to admire a potato bug or a spider, let a worm crawl along their palm, celebrate the random surprise of a garden snake or too. Listen to them laugh, run, play, or just sit in the shade of the trees while I worked.

I loved those days—days they have all grown out of. Now, Kaleb mows the lawn but he grumbles about it; he rakes the leaves and picks up the apples but with deep sighs and not a few eye rolls.

Each of my kids have reached, eventually, that age when they’d rather be anywhere else than helping mom in the yard.

And maybe I can’t understand it because I didn’t ever have to do it when I was a kid. Maybe because it was always a choice rather than a chore for me, I can’t understand the annoyance.

Because for me, working in my garden hasn’t ever felt like actual work. It has always felt like a sort of relationship, a way to tell the world I love it. And a way it tells me back, too; the roses aren’t just roses to me, but a sort of friend. I prune them and fertilize them (and yes, sometimes I talk to them), and they take care of me by giving me color and fragrance.

It is about memory and connection to those who are gone, too. My dad gave me two of my rosebushes, and my dark-blue irises. A different rose bush, the one I planted near the maple tree just a few weeks after Haley was born, I chose because it smells and looks just like one my grandpa Fuzz had. I have purple pansies because one grandma loved them and a patch of purple vinca because a different grandma had them in her garden. Zinnias for Haley’s childhood, hostas for Jake’s; orange California poppies for Nathan and little purple snow crocus for Kaleb’s.

Sweet William and hyacinths for mine.

It’s a sort of alchemy, gardening. You start with seeds or bulbs or roots, add patience and sunshine and water, and then: color and fragrance, a thousand different frilly shapes. It takes work and attention, but it’s a joyful sort for me. I thought flowers were magic when I was a kid and deep down, I still do.

This weekend I spent some morning hours in my yard, raking leaves. I trimmed out the dead asters, I encouraged my poppy which might just bloom a second time this year. I deadheaded a bit. I thought about myself, when I was five and six and loved picking all of the rose petals off of Grandpa Fuzz’s flowers to make cakes for fairies. They aren’t people, of course. They can’t love me back or tell me their stories with words. But they lift my heart—my trees, my flowers. They give me hope. They remind me that there is beauty still left in this world for now. It’s November and some of them are still blooming and I know that is evidence of the way we damage the world, but what can I do? Besides mulch, besides yank away the bindweed, besides stop and appreciate the sheer, remarkable beauty of light through a petal. Besides care for my tiny piece of the world, and relish the care it returns to me.

I always want flowers.


on Global Running Day, Some Thoughts on What it Means to be a Runner

“Running does not define who we are. It refines who we are.” ~Chris Heuisler

I read this in a meme somewhere a few days ago and the thought has stuck with me. I understand what he is saying: running changes you. It changes you in ways you cannot begin to imagine when you start running. Ways that have nothing to do with physical fitness and weight loss.

Running does refine you.

But…it also defines me.

I might not look like a “real” runner. I don’t have those thin-but-muscled spindly legs or defined abs. I don’t run in tiny running shorts (tiny runny shorts are, in fact, one of my worst nightmares). I don’t look lean and sculpted.

In fact, I look a little bit soft.

Global running day amy sorensen

And then there’s the issue of speed. If you only qualify as a runner based on speed, then I might not be a runner. Right now, while I’m recuperating from a lung illness, I’m doing a combination of running and walking, so my mile pace is in the 11 minute range. Can I call myself a runner when part of the time I spend running is actually walking? When I’m healthy and not injured, I’m thrilled with a 9.5-minute mile on a flat surface. I’ll probably never be fast enough to qualify for Boston.  Does the fact that my miles are slow mean I’m not actually a runner but a jogger?

Sometimes I am training for a race. Every once in a while that race will be a marathon, but usually it’s a half marathon. I have fantasies about training for an ultra but I’ve never actually done it.

Does the distance you run make you a runner?

Nah.

It’s taken me a long time. But after running for almost twenty years, I can finally claim the definition: I am a runner.

Not because running is something I do, but because it is something I am.

I’m a runner because I run.

Not every day, like some runners. But more than half the days.

Since I’m a runner, if I go on vacation I’m still going to go running. In fact, running on vacation is one of my favorite parts of running.

Since I’m a runner, I buy a lot of running clothes. I read magazine articles about other runners, and about running shoes and running techniques and running routes.

Since I’m  a runner I have a Costo-sized tub of protein powder in my pantry, and lots of nuts, and Kind bars and protein bars and Luna bars. There’s a box of Cliff Blocks in my nightstand drawer and five or six packages of Gu.

Since I’m a runner at least one of my toenails is funky and I almost always have blisters on my bunions.

There are lots of things that define who I am: I am a parent, a wife, a friend. I’m a teacher. I’m a librarian. I am a reader and a writer, a quilter and a scrapbooker. I am a hiker.

But yes: “runner.” I’m also a runner. It defines me.

And it does, in fact, also refine me.

Because I am a runner, I have a better understanding of how to process my emotions.

I’m a better writer because I am a runner.

Because I’m a runner, I understand my own body. I know the names of muscles; I know when I need rest and when I am just being lazy. I know the deep-down ache in my pelvis of running long and the catch in the lungs from running fast. 

I’m stronger mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually because I’m a runner. A better wife, mother, friend, employee.

Because I’m a runner I understand that I can do hard things. That sometimes endurance looks like patience, and that I have more strength in me than I sometimes know. That knowledge doesn’t just help me when I’m still five miles from home and I’m tired but I’ve got to keep running. It helps me when I am grappling with personal struggles. It’s helped me in long, terrifying nights spent in hospitals not knowing if my husband would live. It’s helped me when I got bad news about Kaleb’s heart. It helps me when I am lonely or sad because I know I am strong. If I can run half marathons I can cope with life's challenges.

I love my body more, despite my back fat and my thigh rub, my beginning-to-wrinkle skin, my soft belly, because I am a runner. I know it will almost always take me where I need to go, whether it’s up a mountain or twenty miles down the road. It is my apparatus for being in the world and I am willing to extend grace to the flaws because no one is perfect, no body is perfect, but some runs are perfect and I couldn’t experience them without my body.

I’m a runner because running is what I do. It’s a part of me as deeply essential to my Amyness as my other qualities. I am blessed to be able to run and I am grateful for that blessing.

It defines me, running. It refines me. It teaches me I am a badass one day and it humbles me the next. I would be far less of a person without running. And I hope I can continue running for the rest of my life.


Currently: The 2017 Late-Summer Edition

feeling the edge of summer. It's still hot here, and it will still be hot. But summer is starting to crumble.

Rose

grieving the end of summer. I don't really know how to deal with this feeling; my whole life is either looking forward to autumn or enjoying autumn. Maybe because this was Nathan's last summer before graduation, and I didn't accomplish almost anything I wanted to? Or maybe because I've had two traumatic autumns in a row, and my psyche can't imagine that it might be a calm and lovely and happy fall? Or it might even be that if fall comes, can winter be far behind, and last winter was so dark that a new winter feels impossible to get through? I don't know. I just know the thought of summer ending gives me a lump in my throat and a sadness I don't have a name for. It almost feels like fear.

savoringthen, the end of summer. Putzing around my yard a lot, pulling weeds here and there, stopping to smell flowers, pruning and admiring and touching. Sitting on my back porch, admiring the last green of the mountains and feeling the last hot sunshine. Sitting on my front porch, soaking in the summer light in my trees. Walking barefoot in the grass.

Front porch

discovering that I actually do like salads. I've always preferred soup. But I've discovered that I like non-boring salads with lots of different ingredients that (this is the key) someone else makes. Current favorites: the California cobb at Zupa's and the raspberry chicken at Costa Vida. The thought of buying and prepping all of those ingredients exhausts me. But picking one up for lunch or dinner? OK! (I am still a microdipper though: I only like a tiny bit of dressing.)

eating lots of berries and peaches and the heirloom tomatoes my neighbor let me pick last night from his yard. And watermelon—I try to have a diced up watermelon in my fridge at all times, all summer long.

Orange cherry tomatoes

appreciating the late-August blooms. Daylilies, purple bells, columbine, cone flowers, clematis, daisies: all done blooming. But I still have petunias, which are like limpid puddles of fragrant velvet. And zinnias! I always plant pink zinnias, but this year I also planted some mixed-color seeds. I have a beautiful yellow zinnia that I can’t stop admiring! 

Yellow zinnia

drinking Simply limeade and/or raspberry lemonade. This is on sale at Target all summer so I break my usual don't-drink-your-calories rule. It's sour and sweet and so delicious; another summer-long staple at our house.

reading. My house book is The Last Neanderthal (a prehistory crossed with a contemporary) and my purse book is The Promise of Shadows (Greek mythology retelling of a YA novel about a harpy/human girl). Wait, what? You don't have a house book and a purse book? I like to always have a book in my purse so I can read whenever. Yes...I could switch to e-books and stop carrying a book around with me. But I just like print books better.

listening to Bastille, Bleachers, and Bush. Also Lorde. And yes: Depeche Mode has been on heavy repeat.

listing a bunch of stories I want to get scrapped in September. I didn't do much scrapbooking over the summer and I am ready to get back to it.

writing an essay based on an ah-ha moment I had when we were in Hawaii, and feeling determined to polish it and submit it somewhere. It's got dolphins and stretch marks and turquoise water and fear and sadness and joy. Too much drama?

thinking about all of the travel I’ve done over the past 15 months and wondering why I haven’t written much about it. I want to blog about those experiences!

practicing Spanish with Nathan. He is loving the language and picks it up quickly. It's good for me to remember it and speak it as it's helped me be brave enough to use it a few times at work. I enjoy our Spanish conversations, even if they're sort of halting and filled with gaps while we try to remember a word (or Google it!).

celebrating (very quietly) that Kaleb seems like a new kid now that he's started school. He is so much happier as a junior high student than he was as a sixth grader—I hadn't realized how unhappy he'd grown until I saw him start being his happy self again.

recuperating from taking the shingles off of our roof last weekend. It was hard work; my arms are covered in slices and scratches and bumps from the fiberglass; I have a bruise on my right shin and my left thigh from bashing the shingles against my legs, and my hands are stiff. But it was an experience I will never forget (and will likely blog about).

finishing up a few summer TV shows: The Strain and Turn ​both had their final seasons this summer, and then there was that newest season of Game of Thrones, which left me pretty conflicted.

driving our Corolla because we sold our minivan and haven't bought anything new. We can't decide if we should just drive the Corolla or get what we want (a Highlander). Are we being indulgent to get such an expensive vehicle? We can't decide. I might decide for us, though, once it starts snowing. Anyway, plenty of test driving and discussing our options and I can't decide: if we do get the Highlander, do I want silver or pearl?

training for a late-fall half marathon, although I haven't actually signed up for a fall half marathon. I really want to run the Rimrock Half but the logistics are giving me stress. Or maybe Snow Canyon again? And am I even strong enough anymore?

pondering my faith. Some recent experiences have left me heartsore and frustrated and unsure of what I believe. 

missing Jake but feeling like we've gotten closer and repaired some things that needed to be repaired, and feeling like he's finding a stronger emotional place for himself. Things are getting a little bit better.

missing Haley but feeling so proud of her—she's doing an extra year of college but will have two majors and three minors when she graduates next year. She's handled a full load of difficult classes and lots of hours of working with strength and courage.

appreciating the structure of our at-home family. Which isn't to say I don't miss my kids who have grown up and moved out. I do miss them! But as they have​ moved out, I am trying to enjoy how our family at home is structured and how it works. Haley visits, Jake visits, we still see each other and talk on the phone and text; they’ll always be my kids and I still worry about them. But my life feels different now that I am not actively taking care of their needs. Four people make a lot less laundry than six did! Seriously, though. One of my friends wrote on Facebook about how she felt like her world was ending because her oldest was moving out. I remember feeling that way, too, when Haley left for college, but finding on the other side that the world doesn’t end, it simply changes. The only way you can make peace with the changes is to embrace them.

wondering (hoping? dreading? anticipating? fearing?) if some long-pondered and discussed changes might finally be in the works. Time will tell!

How is your world currently?

Petunias


Musing on the Lack of Eternal Daffodils: a Photo Essay

On Monday afternoon, I was outside mowing the lawn when I started to notice that I needed to snip a whole bunch of daffodils and tulips that had lost all of their petals. This made me think about how fleeting time is. I love spring, the way the light warms up with the air; how trees’ shadows change form from latticework to dappled shade; the way that color returns so slowly but without hesitation until suddenly you notice: color! And the flowers, especially the flowers. Especially daffodils (even more than tulips).  I want them to last forever, but they don’t. They can’t. And maybe if they did I’d get tired of them. But they are ephemeral, and so I love their happy yellow faces, which seem elegant and welcoming all at once.

In my yard, in May, they are all but done, except for a very few left in my back yard, which faces north and is in deep shade and so is like a second, late spring.

I finished mowing and then got out my clippers and started deadheading the daffodils. Tulips, too, and a few last purple hyacinths, now a crisp grey totally devoid of fragrance. It made me a little bit sad, the spring flowers gone so soon, April almost over, the stifling heat of summer on its way. The poem I always misquote started in my head: doesn’t everything end, and too soon? (It’s actually die, not end.) I snipped dead flowers and I thought about the missed opportunities of my life, the mistakes I’ve made, the times I didn’t sit by the daffodils and savor their beauty. Life is bittersweet.

But then I started thinking about something my sister Becky wrote on Instagram, about how everything has a beginning and an end, and finding peace with this cycle (instead of sorrow) is essential to our happiness. So I took a deep breath and I looked around. Yes, that beauty of early spring has passed. But there is still beauty here, too, on the first day of May. Just the light shining through green leaves is enough to break me right open.

So I decided to take some photos of what was beautiful that afternoon, just the things I could see. To savor, to celebrate. To help myself remember that individual beauty is fleeting but the world always holds different forms of beautiful things.

Can dandelions be beautiful? Well, the light shining through these ones in my neighbor’s yard seemed beautiful to me. Did you know that bees are healthier when dandelions are plentiful?

Dandelions

Perhaps I should’ve trimmed these—they are really almost done. But I didn’t. There is just the slightest bit of yellow left, so I left them until next week.

Daffodils

Purple is one of my favorite colors of flowers. I don’t even know what this is called, but it makes me happy.

Purple flowers

My dad landscaped our yard with many large stones. When we sold my childhood home last year, I wanted to bring the large pink quartz rock to my house, but it was far too large to move without a backhoe. I settled for this one and one other. It’s like having a bit of my dad with me whenever I am outside.

Dads rock

These iris will bloom soon, but just that ruffled tip…swoon.

Iris ruffle

This white iris is always the first one to bloom. There are still some bleeding heart flowers left, too. I love it when two plants that don’t usually bloom at the same time manage a simultaneous flowering!
Iris and bleeding heart

I planted about 25 lilies of the valley, in a damp and shady spot, a few years ago, but only two or three ever came up. Their scarcity makes them sweeter.
Lily of the valley

Little purple pansies…my grandma used to sing the little song to me, so this is her face in my garden.

Purple pansies

What's beautiful in your world?


Here at the End of Summer

Last night, I took Kendell by the shoulders and shook him (as much as I can "shake" my husband!) and said "do you know what happens tomorrow? Tomorrow I will have an empty house!" and then I burst into tears.

cousins jake nathan nikki devin abbey
(goofing off with cousins at a family party in June)

Because while I will appreciate the quiet, I wasn't ready. Because while I am glad they are back to schedules and homework and tasks and actually using their brains, I wanted more time with them at home. Because this year, I didn't want summer to end.

haley jake nathan model faces
(model faces on one of Haley's visits home)

Not that it didn't hold its many challenges. There were plenty of arguments and chore wars and some pretty intense discussions about choices, the future, and consequences. (Parenting teenagers is not for the weak of heart.) I have had plenty of moments when I have sat on my back porch and questioned every single choice I've made in the past 17 years and wondered how I managed to make such a mess of things. Or I've been so mad I couldn't sit still.

haley jake nathan kaleb 10th bday 4x6
(Kaleb's 10th birthday family dinner)

And it hasn't been the summer I wanted it to be. Jake and Nathan both had lots of scout adventures, but when it came down to us taking a family vacation, I couldn't get anyone to commit or want to take time off of work. Then I decided, I don't care, they're going anyway, this is Jake's last summer before he graduates. So I planned a beach vacation on the central California coast, starting in Cayucos and ending in San Francisco, with a day of driving the Big Sur highway, a zipline excursion, an afternoon in Muir Woods, and of course tickets to Alcatraz, with maybe a stop in Yosemite on the drive home.

IMG_0114 jake parade 3x6
(Jake works at Pizza Pie Cafe, and they were one of the entries in the parade. You should see him toss pizza dough. It's pretty amazing!)

But I waited too long. Alcatraz was sold out, all of the non-scary hotels along the coast were booked, Haley decided she couldn't afford to miss that much work.

nathan nikki pioneer day 4x6
(on Pioneer Day, Utah's state holiday)

So there wasn't a family vacation this summer. (Even though the one I planned would have been awesome.)

 boys laughing 4x6
(This is on Father's Day. It took awhile to get them to stop goofing off, but I love the photos I took of them laughing together.)

Back in the first week of June, when summer was just starting, what I wanted was for our family to draw closer and get stronger. I also wanted to make some good memories. I'm not sure I accomplished that. It was more complicated and messy. But as I sent Jake and Nathan off to high school together this morning, I realized it doesn't matter what I wanted to do. My chance at an idyllic summer is over. I didn't do all of it—but I think we are a little bit closer and stronger, despite the rough and complicated bits. Or maybe even because of them.

kaleb and jace soccer practice 4x6
(Kaleb played lots of soccer this summer!)

What I realized this morning as summer ended is that what I want is to hold on somehow, to everything that is fleeting, to the structure of my family right now before it changes again, and the activities and vacations are the way I try to do that. But it is also (or perhaps really) in the small moments—the time we laughed at a joke we probably shouldn't, or someone was unexpectedly kind, or we talked about nothing really important—that matter most to me. That is what life is, really, not the vacations or the extravagant outings, but the time we had together, where ever it happened.

 jake and snake crop
(It isn't a successful summer unless we both FIND a snake in the yard and TEASE Kendell with it!)

I just find, here at the end of summer, myself in the mental space I have been in for all of these years of raising teenagers. Wishing I could be better at it, somehow. Doubting my ability to be the mom my kids actually need. Wishing they could step into my heart somehow so they would know my intentions. Wondering if I have really shown them that I love them, if they can ever even know that. Wishing my heart could be still and I could just be confident, somehow, in feeling I had done anything right.

kaleb pond 4x6
(Kaleb and I had an adventure at a new man-made pond in my hometown. I taught him how to float on his back,)

The extra week of summer I feel like we needed could hardly have accomplished that anyway.

IMG_0258 nathan bbqing 4x4
(Nathan is the grill master!)

One of my friends says that the first day of school for kids is the equivalent of Christmas for moms: all the wishes finally fulfilled. There have been summers when I have felt that way, too. But as time runs out on summers with kids at home, the first day of school is less and less a reward for me. More and more, it is a reckoning. Did I do enough? Did I tell them I love them? Did I show them any happiness? I tried. I both failed and succeeded. I can only keep trying—to hold on, to savor, to show them I love them in my imperfect ways. To hope it will have been enough.

family at lagoon
(My favorite day this summer, when we all went to Lagoon and had a great time together. These people—my family is who matters most to me. Always.)

Thankful Countdown #10: Modern Wonders

I’m not entirely sure what fascinates us with end-of-the-world scenarios, but they are so popular right now. The post-apocalyptic world draws the imagination because it is rife with imaginative possibilities—what happens in a contemporary world that is nearly void of people? But it is that combined with the simultaneous possibility of threat, terror, sorrow, fear, loneliness…

It is one of my favorite genres.

Last week I finished the book Station Eleven, which is post-apocalyptic near genius. DownloadIt opens at the very beginning of the pandemic that will kill 99% of the world’s population, in a theater in Toronto where Arthur Leander, a famous actor, is performing as King Lear. It is his last performance, as he has a heart attack. Jeevan Chaudhury, an EMT in the audience, rushes up on stage to try and save him, and Kirsten Raymonde, a child actress playing the part of a young Cordelia in Lear’s mad vision, watches in horror as her grandfatherly friend dies. The plague starts to break that night.

The death of Arthur at the start of the novel is a sort of framing device, as many of the characters in the novel are either present at his death (Jeevan and Kirsten) or part of his story and thus part of the novel. It is a non-linear plot line, moving back and forth between Arthur’s story (how he found both success and emptiness through acting) and Kirsten’s (set fifteen years after the Georgia Flu epidemic). Kirsten is part of a traveling theater troupe, which moves between the small villages near where people have started trying to live together again, and it is her story in the post-apocalyptic world that carries the most drama.

This might just be my favorite 2014 novel. I loved nearly everything about it, which is saying quite a bit as I generally avoid books about famous actors, real or otherwise. I am not enamored with Hollywood and I don’t think very highly of most actors (not because of their creative abilities but because of the obscene amounts of money they make). But this wasn’t a Judith-Krantz-style Hollywood novel. Arthur himself seems to grapple a bit with his reality of having achieved so much fame and wealth, along with the conundrum of finding himself lonely anyway. Part of the story is his first wife’s, Miranda. Not needing to work after she marries him, she keeps herself busy by working on her graphic novel, Station Eleven, which is a sort of sci-fi, end-of-the-world, alien-large seahorse mashup that she only eventually self-publishes. Kirsten ties them together because she has one of the self-published copies. It is one of her greatest treasures, even though in all of her travels she hasn’t found anyone else who has heard of it.

I love it when books have that many layers. True, it makes it harder to gain a deep affection for the characters, as really, you’re getting less story overall. But what the author does here, how she ties things together and how each character’s story influences the others in way none of them can see, makes the characters deeper anyway.

It is a book that imagines the post-apocalyptic world in precise ways, how things are repurposed and the way the survivors come to making attempts at a “normal” life. It questions the purpose of art and creativity. It asks if the contemporary world is one that deserves being remade or if something different might be better. It makes you wonder about how your present has been influenced by your past, how the seeming-small choices changed everything, how we connect. I will be thinking about this for a good, long while.

But, in the way of all personally-influential books, it held an idea I did not expect. (I don’t usually share such long quotes, but stay with me as it is worth it.) One of the characters, a man named Clark who had been the closest thing to Arthur’s best friend and a confidant to Miranda after he cheated on her, has become a sort of curator of things from before the plague. He lives in an airport, and is looking out the window at all of the grounded planes (which have since been made into houses), thinking about his luck:

…not just to have seen the remembered splendors of the former world, the space shuttles and the electrical grid and the amplified guitars, the computers that could be held in the palm of a hand and the high-speed trains between cities, but to have lived among those wonders for so long. To have dwelt in that spectacular world for fifty-one years of his life.

This idea hasn’t let me go. Think about it: in all of the history of humanity, there was an unending amount of suffering. Hunger, cold, heat, discomfort. Thousands and thousands of years of the primary concerns being food, shelter, warmth. Then we, this contemporary version of “people” we’ve invented, discovered all we have, and changed the world. Changed the world in harmful ways, but also changed ourselves. Everything, nearly, that has been hard for humanity has been solved, or at least the big stuff. We have light and warmth in winter, cool air in summer. If we want to travel to Italy it takes half a day of uncomfortable airplane hours. If we want to talk to someone, it doesn’t matter how far away they are. If we are hungry there is food everywhere.

And we just, you know, live here. In this miraculous time without really paying attention to any of the miracles.

So my gratitude today is twofold. One, I’m grateful for books. Reading and those moments when you read something that utterly changes how you think about the world, books in that sense. But also books in their entirety of creation—the writers’ energy, the agent’s dedication, the publisher’s willingness to take a risk. The printing press. Paper. Artwork for covers. Ink. Fonts. Think of all of the technology it takes to make our modern books! I’m grateful for all of it.

Second, I’m glad to be alive right now. And I’m going to pay attention to the miracles I might otherwise overlook. So even though Thanksgiving and November are past, and I failed fairly miserably at my gratitude countdown, tonight I want to write down just a handful of contemporary wonders I am especially grateful for and would miss desperately:

1. Hot water. And all it entails: a clean body. Clean, fresh-smelling hair. No dirt under my fingernails. Also, the relaxing warmth of soaking my back in the tub. And the rejuvenation that comes when you sit in the tub until the water goes cold, reading a good book. Plus, have you ever seen what happens to me if we run out of hot water and I have to take a cold shower? The billowing anger that erupts out of me startles myself. I love, love, love hot water.

2. Toilet paper. I mean, really. Maybe it is the most significant invention of contemporary times. What does one do without it?

3.  Air conditioning. Being hot makes me grumpy. If I had to live through summers without air conditioning I would be a lonely, lonely woman. Lonely and hot with no one left to complain to about how hot I was.

4. Heat.Being able to say I love winter is sort of a luxury. You can only love winter if you always know you have a warm place to retreat from winter. I love winter because I love watching it snow, because of coziness and the slower days, because of hot chocolate and scarves. But, you know: I hate being cold. I can’t even deal with cold. I shiver and I get cold so easily. Having a house and a heater makes loving winter possible, and it really is miraculous if you didn’t understand how a person could flip a switch and make hot air come out of vents.

5. Costco. Think about it. Think about all of the work and technology and transportation that has to happen for a functional Costco. (Or any grocery store, really.) (I’ve had conversations with my kids about how, if the zombie apocalypse happened right now, we’d be glad we were at a Costco.) If we need anything—milk, eggs, butter, cheese, bread, those delicious lemon almonds they sold last December that I still can’t stop checking for every time I go—we just, you know, go to the store. We don’t have to hunt, butcher, pluck, wring necks. We don’t have to plant seeds, wait for them to grow, harvest, and store. We just drive to Costco and put stuff in our carts, and complain if they line’s too long. (It’s really pretty ridiculously wondrous, isn’t it?)

Near the end of the novel, Kirsten has an experience that makes her think, “it is possible to survive this but not unaltered.” That’s sort of how I felt about Station Eleven. I survived it, grinding through the tense moments with the fear that someone would die—but it altered me. I have felt especially grateful, after reading it, to be alive right now, in our age of wonders that are so marvelous we can’t even see the magic anymore—we take it for granted. The book has made me remember to stop and notice and fully appreciate them.


Thanksgiving 2014: a Happy One!

Throughout November, I’ve been working on scrapbook layouts about Thanksgiving. I printed about seven years’ worth of the very best Thanksgiving photos and set to work. It’s been interesting scrapping Thanksgiving like this. I’ve noticed patterns and discovered several last-ofs and first-ofs that I don’t think I’d have noticed otherwise. I also realized that I don’t really take a lot of photos on Thanksgiving.

I decided to rectify that this year. I was going to take some very specific photos. I wanted a picture of my mom holding an apple pie, because she usually makes them. (I made ours this year because she broke her hand a few weeks ago and wasn’t able to cook very much at all.)

I wanted a photo of Becky with her sweet potato dish (or is it yams?) because she introduced it into our family traditions and now it’s something many of us look forward to, even though we didn’t grow up with it.

Maybe, if I hadn’t been too embarrassed to ask someone, I wanted a picture of me holding a basket of Thanksgiving rolls.

I wanted a picture of me with my mom, sisters, daughter, nieces, and great nieces.

If I could get them to cooperate, one of all of the husbands, because marrying and putting up with Allman girls (however far descended from the “Allman” part) is an adventure they’ve all so far survived.

One of all of the cousins with my mom.

One of the food table, especially because I planned on bringing my Hall’s Jewel Autumn Leaf bowl that belonged to my grandma, and I knew it would feel like I had a little part of her with us there.

One of the dining table, with everyone eating.

And some candids.

Instead, I got photos like this:20141127_150401

 

Which is a fun, albeit a little blurry, one of my mom, me, and Haley in our boots. (Actually…Haley’s wearing my boots in that photo, so 2/3rds of the boots are mine!)

And this one of Haley being the little-girl whisperer (in a non-creepy way):Thanksgiving 2014 1(she was holding Suzette's cat, which is the friendliest cat I've ever met, and her little cousins Josie and Oakley couldn't resist.)

Kaleb eating with his cousin Oakley

Thanksgiving 2014 3

An awkward one of me and Jake, wherein my head and face look enormous:20141127_165502

More cousins:

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And a cute, irresistible baby:Thanksgiving 2014 2

And, yes, one of everyone at the table:20141127_151056

 

(And exactly zero of Nathan, who left before we cut the pies to go stand in line with his dad at Target, a choice I was not happy about, btw.)

All of them pretty awful cell phone pictures. I didn’t get any of the photos I wanted because I optimistically took my camera in to be repaired less than a week before Thanksgiving. Of course it wasn’t fixed in time! So I only had my cell phone to take pictures with, and I confess: those of you who only take pictures with your cell phones are a curiosity to me. It drives me nuts. I’m not sure anything frustrates me more! I know that, for a cell phone, they are OK. Much better than other, older cell phone pictures. But, call me a camera snob if you must: I’m used to the flexibility of my DSLR. I can make it do what I want.

So, I got exactly none of the photos I wanted.

(And Becky: that isn’t a guilt trip. It’s my own fault. I could’ve taken my camera in for repairs at the beginning of October.)

I know: there will be other Thanksgivings. But never this Thanksgiving, with all of my kids at home with me. With this family make up, the way it is right now. I’m terrified that it was my last Thanksgiving with my mom. Terrified. With everyone healthy and happy (as we ever are) and together.

So much could happen in two years.

So, since I don’t have images, some words about this year’s Thanksgiving:

  • One of my favorite little moments: Haley came home the night before Thanksgiving, and she & Kaleb watched How to Train your Dragon 2 together on his bed. I loved hearing their combined laughter while I cooked. He misses her so much and wants to spend every second with her that he can.
  • I was sick with a cold this Thanksgiving, and it made me realize something: a big part of the happiness in Thanksgiving is the smells. I couldn’t smell anything (I especially missed the scent of the cranberry sauce cooking) and it made me feel so much less connected to the day. Still, this will linger in my memory as the Thanksgiving I had a cold and couldn’t breathe without coughing, and somehow that is a good connection in a weird way.
  • The dishes I brought: apple pie, crescent rolls, cranberry mousse, pecan bars. I also made a berry pie but it was pretty small so I kept it at home.
  • Jake peeled all of the apples for the apple pie. Once I get him in the kitchen, he is a good worker. He literally whistles while he works, and if that doesn’t make a parent happy I don’t know anything that will.
  • I made my pie crusts totally with my Bosch. Instructions coming, but let’s say this: they were the easiest and best all-butter pie crusts I’ve ever, ever made.
  • While I was making the rolls, I dropped the cup of just-melted butter. A whole half-cube of butter splashed all over me and the kitchen. It made me laugh. I was covered in butter!
  • A little while after I cleaned up the butter, my sister-in-law stopped by our house…with a pan of stuffing! Kendell loved his mom’s stuffing (which is different from my mom’s in very specific ways that don’t make him very happy…I love both of them) and was sad it wouldn’t be part of his Thanksgiving. (I’ve tried but I can’t quite make it like she did.) So Cindy bringing Beth’s stuffing to share…well, of course it made me tear up. It was like a little piece of Beth right there with us.
  • The kids all hung out in the kitchen with me while I finished the rolls and put the apple pie together. They were eating berry pie (it didn’t last very long!) and laughing together (their cousin Nicki was there with her mom) and doing their running-joke/pun thing that they do, and I was just so happy to have them all there together.
  • I had another one of those I-love-you-so-much moments with Jake and Nathan in my sister Suzette’s kitchen. I was standing in between them while they joked with each other, and I looked up at them and just felt it…life is amazing. I hugged them simultaneously and tried to tell them what I was feeling but I’m pretty sure they just thought I was crazy.
  • It made me so happy (how many times can I write happy in this post?) that Suzette also had out some of her Hall’s pieces. More Grandma with us!
  • Becky brought a corn casserole that was divine!
  • Eating together. I sat between Haley and Kendell, with Jake and Nathan across from us and the rest of the grown-ups near. (Kaleb had already eaten and gone back outside to throw the football with his cousins.) There was joking, stories, memories. Of course, we eventually got to Aunt Suzette’s drying-pot-in-the-microwave story, but we usually devolve to that. The stories, laughing, and talking are the best part for me, even better than the food, because it reminds me that while we have some pretty crazy experiences and have maybe made some awful decisions, we are OK.
  • I sat on the couch and talked to my niece Lyndsay about her upcoming ultrasound. I’m not sure she’ll tell me what she’s having, but I’m dying to know!
  • Kaleb has been talking nearly all month about how bad he wanted a “real turkey. The kind with legs.” (Last year, when I cooked at my house, I just made a turkey breast because there were only seven of us. And because I’m a little bit afraid of cooking a whole turkey.) He, Jake, and Nathan polished off all four legs (Suzette cooked two turkeys) on their own. Kaleb was so happy he got a turkey leg to himself!
  • After the meal was over, I met up with Kendell at Target. (My opinions on the Thursday-edition-of-Black-“Friday” coming soon!) He’d gotten the door buster things I was hoping he’d get, but then we wandered around some more. (We=Haley, Nathan, Kendell, and me.) I was so tired and feeling so sick, I kept nearly falling asleep with my head on the shopping cart.
  • When we got home from Target, it was to discover that Jake had cleaned the entire kitchen by himself. Detailed it, and it was a fairly big mess. It was so nice to come home to!

I just searched so I could answer my own question: 8. I used the word “happy” eight times in this post (not counting that last use). I think it’s a good way to sum it up: despite the pictures I didn’t take, it really was a happy Thanksgiving. I hope yours was, too!


Thankful Countdown #11: Nathan

When I drove Nathan to school this morning (he usually rides his board, but he had a ton of extra stuff today so I drove him instead), I was thinking about the day after he was born. November 19, 1999—his birthday—was one of those gorgeous autumn days we get here sometimes, an anomaly of a day when you only need a sweater outside, and the light manages to find the last bits of glow left in the leaves still on the trees.

But in the late morning on the day after he was born, it started snowing. Kendell had just left with Haley and Jake, and the nurses left me alone, too. So I opened the blinds and sat in the hospital bed, holding Nathan and watching it snow. It was one of the most peaceful and sweet moments of my life. It was the time when I finally got to start building our relationship, independent of everyone else wanting to hold him and admire his incredibly long hands and feet. (When he was born, his feet were already too big for those newborn baby socks, which was a hint at the rest of his life: enormous feet.)

20141120_090611

You have a baby and you can’t help wondering…who will he be? How will he turn out? And I am starting to see it. From that incredibly sweet baby he has grown—oh my, has he grown, 6’ 2” tall already!—into a teenager, with all the accompanying stuff. Braces and homework irritations and interesting girls. He loves eating and can put down an extraordinary amount of food for someone so skinny. He likes going to the gym and lifting weights. He is an artist and spends hours drawing, with pencils and his new discovery, black fine-tip pens. He’s #25 on the basketball team. He gets really good grades and is in Honors history and English. He loves knives (this is his oldest affection…one of the first things he did when he could walk was try to get into the kitchen knife drawer) and has some impressive butterfly-knife skills. He likes skinny jeans and cotton shirts and looking nice. And right now his hair looks exactly the way he wants it.

_MG_4902 all 4 kids 4x4

But all of those things don’t exactly capture why I am grateful for Nathan. He was one of my life’s biggest surprises, a joyous surprise. From the second I found out I was pregnant with him (three months in already!), I had this sense of him as someone who is both fierce and gentle, and that is exactly who he is turning out to be. Fierce in his affections and dedications, sometimes in his anger. Gentle and good. He is a loyal friend and he doesn’t like when the people he cares about are upset. He inherited Kendell’s penchant for getting stuff done—if something needs to be done, he’ll do it without much complaining. He’s polite and happy and funny, and again...none of these words are really capturing it. He’s not a perfect kid of course—who would want perfection? But he is an awesome kid, and I love him so much, and I am entirely, thoroughly grateful I get to be his mom.