Monday, December 28, 2009

(Port-a) Potty Conversations

Last night, we spent a delightful evening with my in-laws. They live in South Carolina near an animal park that must have an astronomically high electric bill at Christmas time, because they have lights numbering in the millions. Every tree, building, fence, animal enclosure, and gate is draped with swags of multicolored little starlights.

I thought MayDay might have a little baby heart attack. Each time he said, "More (breath) Ti-tas (breath) wights!", his voice increased in pitch, timbre and intensity. "More. Mooore! MOOOORE! Ti-tas! Wights! MOOOOOOOORRRRRE!!!!!!!!!" I have never seen him so excited about anything.

Towards the middle of the Christmas light driving tour, you enter a fenced enclosure filled with some small European breed of deer (I'm not sure exactly which breed -- it was hard to see the sign in the dark). You can buy a bag of grain for a dollar, and the deer will come right up to your car and eat out of your hand. Oh, the fun of it all.

The deer were a little skittish -- who wouldn't be? Something just felt wrong about a disorganized group of cars, headlights blazing, slowly stalking these relatively defenseless creatures haphazardly through a big field from which they can't possibly escape, even if we were just trying to feed them. Eventually we coaxed a few up to the car and each child had some creature eat something out of his hand.

But the funniest part was how each kid best thought to call the deer over to our vehicle. Since we were driving so slowly, we let them get out of their car seats. We wound down the windows and they half hung out, one each with Nana & Papa in the back seats, and one with me in the front. As soon as we saw the deer, G-Dog started doing the little clicking noise my dad makes to call his dog. ConMan just started randomly throwing grain to catch their attention -- I must say, this seemed to be the most effective method. And Lil' MayDay -- well, he just started yelling, "Dude!" Because we all know that in secret deer language, dude is exactly how they refer to themselves.

The highlight of my evening came after the driving tour. At the end, there is a petting zoo. You can buy a bottle for $1 and feed it to one of the many baby goats. They have camels and bison and reindeer and oxen and lots of sheep and goats and donkeys. And a big bouncy slide. And Santa Claus. Loads of fun all around.

The boys had a great time. Daddy took them all on the bouncy slide, and, of course, while he was up there with no shoes on, G-Dog had to use the potty. The Port-a-Potty.

I have found that one of the singular pleasures of being a mother of boys is that I never have potty duty when we're out in public. But Porta-Johns are gender-neutral. I swallowed all my indignant protestations and herded my little man over to the nice row of disgusting toilets behind the bison house.

I say disgusting, but I can only assume, because it was so dark we couldn't really see anything. (Thank heaven for small favors, right?) This is how the conversation went:

ME
(very firmly, as we enter said potty): G-Dog, don't touch anything.

G-Dog: Don't touch anything. Don't touch anything. Don't touch anything. Don't touch anything.

ME: Okay, G-Dog, I'm gonna stand you up on the side here and you just pee into that big hole. Do you know what's down there?

G-Dog: Don't touch anything. Don't touch anything. Don't touch anything.

ME: It's a big disgusting pit full of all the things that come out into the potty and you can't flush it, it just all stays down there being gross and stinky.

G-Dog: Don't touch anything. Don't touch anything. Don't touch anything.

ME: Good job, G-Dog. Let's zip you up and then we're done!

G-Dog: Mommy, I was gonna touch something and then I didn't.

ME: G-Dog, you are awesome. Almost done here. Don't touch anything!

G-Dog: Mommy, can I touch you?

ME: G-Dog, you rock, and you can touch me any time you want. Done!

Can I emphasize here how much I DON'T do Port-a-Pottys? I know, what a mom, right? I was really tempted to just take him out in the trees and let him pee out there . . . but I didn't.

And the bonus for G-Dog? He didn't touch anything. He spends his potty-time trying to devise new reasons he shouldn't have to wash his hands. This kid doesn't flush. He doesn't put the toilet seat down. He doesn't even turn off the light in the bathroom. He only touches the sides of his pants. And he has developed this method of standing just right so he literally doesn't have to touch anything.

This isn't so good for the cleanliness of the boys' bathroom, but G-Dog is thrilled when he keeps himself from being contaminated, and thus, avoids the decontamination process. Or so he thinks.

For now, hand sanitizer tops my list of most useful, miraculous and indispensable modern inventions.

Another repost . . . cut me some slack, I just had a baby already! But it was a fun story, right? And admit it . . . rehashed InkMom is better than no InkMom at all.


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Friday, December 18, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers

When we were kids, we spent Christmas Eve traveling to my grandparent's farm and back, all in the same day. My parents didn't want to miss the big family get-together, but they felt strongly that we kids should all wake up in our own beds on Christmas morning. (Secretly, I think they were trying to get us to sleep a little longer . . . to no avail.)

This four hour one-way trip done twice in one day kind of prevented the establishment of Christmas Eve traditions, but we still managed to have some good times.

We spent the drive home listening to The Forgotten Carols, counting Moravian stars, making drawings in the mist we breathed onto the windows and scanning the sky for a glimpse of Santa Claus. Somehow, the magic was preserved even though we were not "nestled all snug" in our beds.

One year, about two hours away from home, our car died. I don't remember exactly how it happened, but it was cold and late and when we coasted into a gas station from some obscure exit ramp, all the lights were off and there seemed to be no one around for miles -- no houses, no cars, no civilization. On Christmas Eve, with four little kids, in a van that didn't work.

Suddenly, from out of no where, we saw headlights. A big Cadillac pulled up behind our minivan, and a man in what I can only describe as a gold lame' jumpsuit got out of the car and approached my dad's window.

"Do y'all need some help?"

He volunteered to drive us to a hotel so we would have a warm place to sleep and help us find a tow in the morning. We piled into his big boat of a car. I felt so special to sit in the front between this kind stranger and his big-haired blond wife in a fur coat. My mom and dad sat in the back with MommyJ and our brothers, and we were on our way.

My mom says she and Dad started to get worried when he kept passing hotels on the interstate. Mass murderer? Crazy mental asylum escapee? One after another, after another, he just drove on past. Finally, my dad spoke up . . . aren't you going to stop? This motel would be just fine.

"No, sir. Children should be home on Christmas Eve."

And he kept on driving until we arrived home at 3 AM on Christmas morning.

I don't remember what gifts were under the tree when we awoke later on; I don't remember what we ate or who we saw or anything else about that day. But I will forever be thankful for the kindness shown to my family that cold, cold night years ago.

This year, I have spent too much time away from my family. I have not been around for bedtime since December 3. Instead, my evenings have been filled with rehearsals and performances, choir practices, church meetings, office parties and other things that seemed so important when I was committing my time to them. After two concerts last Saturday night, I came home and checked on my little ones just to remember what they look like.

So, in memory of Roger and Teddy, who got us home for Christmas, I pledge to say No! And to really mean it! Roger was right . . . children should be home for Christmas, but so should their parents. In this season that ends up being the busiest of the year, why don't we all simplify? Why do we feel so compelled to fill our time with things that are less important than those things that are real?

Next year, I promise to do better.

Forgive me, but I love this story, and when I originally posted it last year, I had about 5 readers. And they only read what I wrote because they share my DNA, and didn't want to disappoint me when I called (pathetically) 15 minutes after I posted to make sure they'd read it. Hope you liked it!

 
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gift-Giving 101, or Why I Don't Want a Vacuum Cleaner for Christmas

At some point, things just die.

That's what happens twelve years into a marriage. Almost all of the things we bought when we got married have now fulfilled the measure of their creation and are desperately gasping out their last great, heaving breaths -- washing machine, clothes drier, television, and, alas, the vacuum cleaner.

My kids are into Raisinets lately. And they're also really big on molesting the Christmas tree. I swear, it's a good thing we do real trees because an artificial tree would not make it to see another season with my children beating on it. Yet another thing that will breathe a sigh of relief when I finally take it out of my house.

So I was vacuuming the other day. I noticed some chocolate-covered raisins on the floor, and sucked them up, then made my way over to the tree to get rid of the many, many needles sacrificed on the altar of toddler tree redecoration efforts. As I went over (and over and over . . . 12 years is a long time for a cheap vacuum) the area surrounding the tree, my vacuum cleaner pooped on the carpet.

Or, that's what it looked like. It took me a minute to realize the Raisinet had been rejected by my Hoover -- spit right back on the rug like a little mouse turd, pooped out in midstream just like MayDay, who can (and does, frequently) clear the room with a foul stench while simultaneously putting together a train track and telling an entertaining story about his imaginary accomplices.

Sigh.

I need a new vacuum cleaner.

But it's December. It's Christmas. It's my birthday. It's CPod's birthday. I'm not spending my money on a vacuum cleaner.

And (are you listening?) CPod better not be either.

When it comes to gift giving, I'm complicated. I love to be surprised, but I also like to be happy. At the beginning of our marriage, those two things were mutually exclusive. Now, thankfully, my dear CPod has mastered the art of selecting the perfect gift for me to open on Christmas morning. One year, he bought me a print (genuine, official, signed, numbered and smacked on the butt as it went out the door) of the Greg Olsen painting, "Mother's Love". Not the close up, but the real one. The big one. Now it hangs over our bed. A few years later, he bought me a print of a painting that hangs in the BYU Museum of Art that he knows I love; it hangs over our fireplace. Another year, he gave me an entire box of Godiva key lime truffles. Mmmmm. He has developed a knack for choosing jewelry I will love, fine kitchen tools I will appreciate, and delicious-smelling things that will make me swoon.

But a vacuum cleaner? No way. I just don't think the sight of a new Dyson under the tree would have quite the same effect as, say, a beautifully wrapped bottle of L'Eau d'Issey. (Oh, yes, ladies. He even does gift wrap!) There's just something about vacuum cleaner that says, "In case you weren't sure about your place, little woman." And maybe there will be high heels and an apron in the next package. Now, don't get me wrong, without the vacuum cleaner in the picture, I'd be all over those stilettos, and the apron, too. But gifts are supposed to be something that I wouldn't be able to justify buying for myself, or that I wouldn't think of, or that make me remember fondly the person who gave them. Lucky for me, CPod does not subscribe to the Homer Simpson school of gift giving: I don't have to use the bowling ball engraved with his name to remember that he loved me enough to give me something I love on Christmas morning.

Speaking of things that I love -- check out my new signature! My awesomely fantastic brother-in-law used my own handwriting to design that cool little sign-off. Isn't he great?


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Friday, November 27, 2009

Miracles, Large and Small

In the spirit of the season, I've been counting my blessings. Admittedly, I have special reason to be thankful this year since we have welcomed little Miscellany, a particularly delightful addition to our family. (A note to some of you out there: Miscellany is not her real name, in case you were wondering. We use aliases around here, remember?) We are blessed to have her at all, and that, my friends, is a story of miracles.

I'm grateful that I wasn't born 100 years ago. 100 years ago, I would have never had children at all because in vitro fertilization was not even a germ of an idea in the mind of the most brilliant scientist. I would have been childless and sad.

One hundred years ago, if, by some miracle, I had conceived, I would probably have miscarried. Have any of you had a Rhogam shot? If you have, you've been blessed by a modern medical miracle, too, as you were prevented from having an immunological rejection of your fetus.

One hundred years ago, little Miscellany would not have survived her delivery. When my water was broken, the amniotic fluid rushed out of the sac and suddenly we all heard the scary sounds of a fetal heart deceleration. As her heart rate plummeted to the 50s, suddenly my hospital room filled with nurses. They all knew their jobs, and did what had to be done as my doctor attached a monitor to the baby's head, reinfused amniotic fluid into my uterus and then manipulated my numb body into multiple positions in an attempt to find a place that didn't stress the little one any further. My mom and my sister stood in the corner and sent up prayers on our behalf, and watched my doctor do the same as she donned her surgical scrubs. My husband held my hands and my eyes as he helped me grasp the oxygen mask covering my face. The anesthesiologist stood behind me ready to dose my epidural as another nurse shaved my abdomen in preparation for an emergency caesarean section.

And then . . . and then, I experienced a tender mercy: an overwhelming sense of calm, and a certain knowledge that all would be well. I knew the baby would be fine, regardless of her doorway. I breathed deeply, and I felt the baby settle. And then the fetal heart tones began to regulate, and steadily increased to a normal level. It was the scariest 15 minutes of my life. We delivered her, with great joy, the old fashioned way, and without further complication even though the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck.

I am grateful for the miracles discovered and applied and perfected in hospitals and laboratories all over the world every day. I am thankful to the practitioners, doctors and nurses alike, who know their stuff, and risk their lives, names and reputations every single time they engage in patient care.

I am grateful for the miracle of a kind, caring, and devoted husband. I'm not exactly sure where I'd be (probably institutionalized) if it weren't for the efforts of my dearest one. He is the greatest. What's that scripture? I cannot say the least part of what I feel. And I love him.

I am grateful for the miracle of the Magic Grandma. Every time my mom walks through my front door, she saves my life. Miscellany is three weeks old now, and for her first two weeks of life, my mom came over every day.. She walked into piles and piles of laundry, dishes gathered and untouched since she had last done them, an emotionally fragile and sleep-deprived mommy, and three very stir-crazy, energetic and rambunctious boys. She built forts, channeled energy, straightened messes, and soothed frayed nerves. And she did it with style, managing to juggle all of that plus running a business and a stake Relief Society program without missing a beat.

I am grateful for my dad. His quiet, selfless service and sensitivity to the Spirit are miracles unto themselves. Since the baby was born, he has several times just shown up to take my boys with him somewhere – anywhere. And the hour of quiet that entered the house as they left was golden and peaceful. He is also the one who, while my mom mitigates and tries to make my husband feel better by saying some little feature on Miscellany's face looks like Daddy, instead says, “Nah, this baby looks just like InkMom.” And I know he means it because when he looks at her, he looks like he is remembering.

I am grateful for the miracle of sisters who are best friends, and best friends who may as well be sisters. I have experienced an outpouring of love and support from friends whose lives are at least as busy as mine. They have cooked and cleaned for me. They have made me laugh. They have taken care of my children and increased their own burdens as they have lightened mine. One has taken beautiful pictures of my baby. (You must go see them. Here and here.) My dear Heather left her own five children with family and came to visit from Idaho with her husband. While he went to continuing education classes at a professional conference, she scrubbed my hardwood floor and played games with my crazy boys. She mopped pee off of the tile in the little boys' bathroom and changed poopy diapers. She sword-fought with them and let them creep down the stairs early in the morning to wake her up in the basement That is friendship!

I am grateful for the miracle of my three boys, who love their sister so much. I am surprised by this. MayDay has been the baby for three years, and I worried he would regard his sister with hostility. Instead, the first thing he did when we brought her home was get his beloved blanket and spread it lovingly over her little body. I expected G-Dog to maul her to death, but I did not expect him to say, every morning, “I think she's a little bit bigger today, Mommy.” He gives her so many hugs and kisses that I'm certain she'll grow tired of them before she's a few months old. When MayDay was born, ConMan just ignored him – as in, if I don't look at him, maybe he's not really here. He is not as effusive as his twin, but he is still enamored of his baby sister. He approaches shyly, and looks up at me with big blue eyes. “Mommy, she's so pretty!” And she is.

My life is blessed by miracles. Isn't yours?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Miscellany

1. I've been a little stingy with photos of pregnant me. So in case you needed evidence, here I am 10 days before delivery:



2. I also neglected to blog about Halloween. The moment has passed, but still. My children were ADORABLE. And it's my blog. So here you go:


GDog as Luigi, ConMan as Mario, and MayDay as Toad, all characters from Super Mario Bros. In case you've been living under a rock since the early eighties. We stopped at a video game store on Halloween, and the boys were already dressed for trick or treating. The overgrown children who run the store gave my kids some serious props for their costumes, and the boys really thought they were something.

3. Also, my husband is adorable. He's the greatest daddy in the world. Here's a good shot of all my boys, after we carved our pumpkin for FHE:



Now that we're home from the hospital, he's been carrying the weight of the entire world on his shoulders, as he has taken up the slack when it comes to dishes and meal preparation and most major parenting duties for our three older children:


I swear to you this was spontaneous.

4. And now, introducing . . . Miscellany: 8 lb 1 oz, 20.5" long, born at 8:02PM on Thursday, November 5, 2009. She is our lovely girl child, all in her own category, the one item on the miscellaneous list. Here she is, in all her beauty, exactly 24 hours old:



In the delivery room:



And, oh, the hair! It's not red! No offense to my red-headed men, but honestly, it's about time some of my genes were expressed.



And another one, just because I can:



And another one, just because I love her:



I'll spare you the gory details of the delivery, except for these two choice tidbits: we were mere moments away from an emergency c-section when the crisis was averted (who needs wax? I heard the shaver and knew I was in trouble!); and when my doctor told me to push, it was merely a formality, because by the time the words were out of her mouth, Miscellany had pretty much arrived. My mom and MommyJ were there, and, of course, CPod, and we spent the better part of the day laughing. Good company and entertaining conversation will go a long way to ease the pains of labor, let me tell you.

Miraculously, Miscellany is still alive, in spite of her brothers' very heartfelt and loving attempts to "help" Mommy change her diaper, or nurse her, or clean her umbilical cord, or move the bassinet . . . you get the picture.

I just looked at my Google Reader and, heaven help me, it has 152 items. Maybe in my spare time . . . yeah. Love to you all, and know that even if my presence here in cyberland is scarce over the next couple of weeks, we're making it, we're healthy, and I'm probably lurking somewhere, unable to type one-handed, or too lazy to use the iPhone to comment. Later!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Loose Ends

Tying up loose ends, that's what I've been doing here the past couple of days. My due date is Wednesday, and while I don't expect to make any frantic midnight trips to the hospital or anything before then, I'm trying to be prepared in the unlikely event I actually go into labor unassisted. So . . . blogging loose ends, mostly about pregnancy, neatly tied up. You probably won't hear from me again until baby girl has finally made her entrance into this world.

1. I put the down comforter on our bed weeks ago. And then it got warm again. But now . . . now, I sink into the pillows and relish the weight of winter time. It is a singular pleasure to hear the rustle of a down comforter, and feel cozy, snug, safe in your warm bed. I've been waiting for this since May!

2. I believe people shorter than 5'4" should only be required to gestate for 38 weeks. Anyone with me? Because, seriously, there is NO WHERE for this baby to go . . . but out. And my body does not seem to be willing to comply. Did you know I've never gone into labor (and neither has my sister, nor did my mother or my grandmother)? With the twins, I was induced because amniotic fluid was low on baby A, and it was a necessity. With MayDay, I was induced with  foley ball (e-mail me if you want to know what that means) because after a long and painful induction with the twins, I was a little pitocin-shy. Now, at 39+ weeks, I am, to quote my doctor, "High, tight, and thick." Nice. In other words, I'm still going to be pregnant at Christmas.

3. I had forgotten that pregnancy lowers all kinds of boundaries for people. For example, I find myself talking about the state of my cervix with people who don't normally have an interest in how my reproductive organs are functioning. Even strangers ask me questions that would be totally inappropriate were it not for my obviously pregnant state. Yes, thank you, I do know where babies come from. Yes, I am also aware of what . . . action may be taken at home to possibly bring on labor. Same thing that gets you knocked up in the first place, right? No, we weren't trying to have a baby, but we just couldn't keep our hands off of each other. Too much information? Well, you're the one that brought it up! I mean, do people realize when they ask these questions that they, strangers, are really asking to know some of the most intimate details of my life? It's as though the only reason anyone would have more than two children is a lack of self control. Which brings me to . . .

4. Last week, we stopped by Verizon on the way home to take care of a cell phone problem. The boys had been cooped up all day, it was near bedtime, and we were right in the middle of what we affectionately refer to as "sleep throes" so instead of leaving CPod in the car with them, we all came inside. They ran around the store, and maybe they were a little noisy, but they did not mess with any of the display phones or destroy property.

As I neared the front of the line, CPod corralled them back to the car while I finished up our business. The woman in front of me, who five minutes before had asked me when I was due and if I knew what I was having, began to make small talk with the agent assisting her. "Don't you just love it when people bring their kids in here and just let them run wild?" she said to him. He just nodded, and she kept going. "And she's pregnant again!"

Really? Really? Oh, how I wanted to say something to her. It would have been easy to engage her in a brief but scathing conversation about parenting styles, kindness to strangers, Verizon's lack of posted policy regarding the presence of children in their store, and -- egad -- passing snap judgments on people you do not know based solely on 5 minutes of observation without interaction, and what types of judgments people might make of her based on her southern-redneck accent, smoker's voice, mullet haircut, and the Sam's Club employee ID hanging around her neck. Did I make any of those judgments? No. I know too many good, intelligent southern rednecks to assume they're all stupid, and I can't disrespect anyone who has a job -- of any legal type -- in this economy. I'm much more likely to judge her based on the duplicity I witnessed in the brief minutes of our encounter. People make me crazy.

5. We had our Trunk or Treat last night at church. It was . . . a bit much for me, I think. If we had that many people at church every Sunday, our ward would split. And they never plan for as many people as we actually get, which makes it just plain chaotic. My children, however, were adorable. (Photos to follow after real trick or treating tonight.) ConMan & GDog dressed up as Mario and Luigi, and MayDay was Toad -- all from Super Mario Bros. They've been planning this since August, and, I'm proud to say, since they gave me so much advance notice, and because Grandma so graciously crafted an adorable little vest for our little Toad, their costumes did not come pre-assembled in a bag from Target, thank you very much.

6. CPod came up with an awesome last-minute costume: The Edge. (Awesomely fantastic U2 lead guitarist, for you cave-dwellers.) He put on one of the boys' little beanie caps, drew on a goatee, and hooked a little kid rock star guitar in the carpenter loop of his jeans. Only three people at church got it. In case we weren't sure before, we now know for certain who are the three coolest people in our ward.

7.  I wore an orange t-shirt and taped jack-o-lantern face parts to my belly. Really, it was my only fitting option. And that, my friends, is the main reason why . . .

8. I'm done going to church until after the baby is born. Seriously. Because I just can't bring myself to wear my uniform of yoga pants and oversized hoodie to Sacrament meeting. It's not that I'm that huge, really -- I've only gained about 12 pounds (because the secret to healthy pregnancy weight gain is to just be fat before you get pregnant), but at this point, nothing feels good, fits right, stays where it should, or, most importantly, flatters the shape of anyone who looks like Humpty Dumpy. Who was probably a pregnant woman anyway.

Signing off until baby gets here!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Check me out!

I'm guest posting today over on Mormon Mommy Blogs . . . go check it out!

(And don't miss my post from yesterday . . . it's all about my husband, and it's truly, truly entertaining. Two posts from InkMom in less than 12 hours! What has the world come to! It won't hurt my feelings if you save one for tomorrow. Circuit overload is a distinct possibility, I know.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Terror of Chipman Hall, or Why My Husband Makes Me Fear Our Children

Disclaimer: I'm sure that somewhere out there in the gigantic blogosphere, someone is married to, or knows, or is, one of the BYU freshmen that my husband tortured so mercilessly his first year at that august university. To you, I sincerely apologize. Please don't hate me because I married him. I can assure you that he eventually matured into quite a civilized adult who has been threatened with his life if he shares any of the stories of his wayward youth with our children. Hopefully, this will ensure that the cycle will not continue should our kids all end up at some university together in the future. And I only share this stuff now because I figure the statute of limitations has long run out.

Do you remember the kids in your freshman ward at BYU who were always up to something? They were fun to be around, but you were never sure you wanted to stay too long because someone was bound to come up with a "great idea" that led to yet another encounter with Officer Wayne of Campus Police. Before the internet, what else would a group of rambunctious non-drinking or drug using college freshmen do with their time?

My husband knew Officer Wayne so well that if it looked like Campus Police was going to show up, he and his buddies would hightail it away from the scene of the crime faster than you could say, "One day they'll all be RMs."

It all started with his dorm assignment. See, CPod is a smart guy, but the whole honors thing? Not really his . . . milieu. Somehow, though, he was assigned to Chipman Hall, first floor: the honors dorm. Luckily (unluckily?), he found a few other guys who shared his love of a good time as well as his healthy disrespect for all things Dungeons & Dragons and/or a capella singing related. CPod, Dale, Nathan and Matt made it their mission to make their mark on the honors dorm by alienating as many groups of people as possible. RAs were not off limits; girls were, but only because these boys admired them so much. But the biggest pranks were reserved for the guys across the hall: The Freaksters. The disrespect was mutual, and pranks were volleyed in both directions. CPod claims they differed philosophically on a fundamental level -- they were destined to never see eye to eye, and I fear that if we still lived across the street, the pranks would still be ongoing.

The Freaksters were a group of like-minded individuals who spent most of their free time playing Dungeons & Dragons and singing together in the shower. (I so wish I was kidding.) During Thursday night visiting hours, they would host a big Dungeon-fest in their room; people would crawl out of their respective caves, decked out head-to-toe in dragon-master, elf and wizard regalia, and congregate in the room across the hall from CPod's. They sat three-deep on the skinny beds and rolled their million-sided dice as they obsessed about their cards and hit points and whatnot.

One night, early in fall semester, CPod and his buddies knocked on the Freaksters' door armed with an industrial carpet dryer. As the door opened, they turned on the dryer and watched the players scramble in their cumbersome costumes as all of their important papers, cards, and dice were plastered to the window by the impressive wind tunnel generated by a commercial-grade fan.

This was only topped by the time they filled a huge trash can with water, propped it against the Freaksters' door, and knocked again. This time when the door opened, an enormous wall of water flowed through the room and back again, soaking Freakster costumes and gamepieces aplenty. Those industrial carpet dryers came in pretty handy then.

Not exactly an auspicious beginning.

The Freaksters, though, were by no means innocent. They reciprocated swiftly as the prank war escalated: a giant snowball was left to melt in CPod's bed. CPod's room was ransacked, drawers dumped, closet emptied, bed overturned, and pictures torn off of walls. They tried to outsmart the non-honors occupants of the honors dorm by leaving threatening notes quoting Star Trek, or written in Old English quatrains.

But CPod and his boys would not be put down.

One night, one of the Freaksters left his door open as he visited another dorm mate down the hall. CPod and his homies snuck in and stole all his underwear. I could stop there, right? But no, it gets worse. They scrounged together enough change to completely buy out one of the refrigerated vending machines: put in your money, open the little door, and enjoy your yogurt, or egg salad sandwich, or whatever. But behind each door, they replaced the yogurt or sandwich with one pair of underwear. Every time the kid needed a clean pair of underoos, he had to find $1.25 to buy it out of the machine. It took about two days for that vending machine to be removed from their hall for good.

CPod is a South Carolina boy. What does that have to do with anything? I'll tell you: it's the state of legal fireworks. And in the pre-September 11 libertine era of air travel, he could not resist the temptation to smuggle some contraband from the motherland when he came back after Christmas break.

The Freaksters had a strange bathing ritual that took place several evenings a week: four of them gathered in the communal shower and sang harmoniously together as they simultaneously took care of their personal hygeine. Let me be clear: they met on purpose so they could sing together, naked, in the shower. CPod and his friends thought this was a little beyond strange. And since the war was ongoing, they came up with an ingenius use for CPod's M-80s. They put the fireworks on a board (to protect the tile, of course -- they weren't about destroying property, just egos and self-respect), lit the carefully-timed fuses (to give them more time for escape, lest they should look guilty), and slid the wooden block underneath the bench where people could sit to wait their turn for the shower. The four singing Freaksters harmonized away, until the fireworks exploded and, in their panic and self-preserving, adrenaline-induced haste, all rushed for the same exit from the shower, resulting in the unmistakable smack of naked people crashing haphazardly into each other.

This one was investigated as a bombing. CPod and the gang escaped to his sister's off-campus apartment and stayed there overnight until things died down back on campus.

There are more of these stories. If I had had my wits about me, I would have made CPod sign a prenuptial agreement regarding the possibilities of future mis-education of our children. He claims he has since seen the error of his ways, but I've heard him eagerly tell these stories too many times to believe that one. The truth is, I'm a little worried it's in the genes, and our kids won't need to hear the stories to repeat history. Let's hope you don't have a reason to know my boys too well should they go to BYU in about 14 years.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Heart of Rock'N Roll Is Still Beating

I'll try to keep this brief. I know most of you don't really care about this stuff.

U2.

It. Was. Awesome.

And I didn't bring my camera. Molly that I am, when Ticketmaster told me no cameras were allowed, I took them at their word. No matter that EVERY OTHER PERSON in the entire building (all 70,000 of them), except, of course, for MommyJ, Josh, or CPod, brought a camera. We had to make do with sub-par camera phones. And those pictures are not even worth putting on here. So. I have no proof. Only memories.

While U2 was fantastic, the awesomeness did not begin with them.

It began with these guys:


That's right, folks. Muse opened for U2. This was a huge bonus, since opening bands for the Atlanta concert were not announced until a few months ago -- long after we bought our tickets.

Now. The last time we saw U2, Gavin Rossdale's short-lived venture Institute opened. We were not impressed -- more like disappointed since both CPod and I had been fans of Bush for a while. Let's just say the difference between studio recording and live performance was . . . significant.

Not so with Muse. They were absolutely spot on in a live venue. Go see them! It was a fantastic performance.

Enter U2. Talk about huge. Take a look at this:



I have never seen a concert set like this before. Between bands, we watched all the tech people take their places on the set. I'm talking dozens of follow spots, camera operators, and guitar wranglers, many of them perched precariously on tiny chairs high above the audience, harnessed to the giant claw of a stage.

It was a spectacle, worthy of the price of the tickets, and impressive in it's sheer size and scope: excessive, larger than life, grandiose, self-indulgent, and absolutely one of the most fun experiences I have ever had in my life.

They played, and played, and played some more. Inexhaustible. They changed up their set list enough to keep us guessing even though we (read: CPod) are total nerds and thought we knew what would come next. We heard old stuff, and new stuff, and rare stuff (Stuck in a Moment, acoustic version, thank you very much!) and the greatest stuff. Can I say it again? It was awesome.

And I have some notes.

The Edge -- you are amazing. You are a quiet, bald Irish dude and in ordinary, every day conversation, people refer to you by the coolest nickname anyone has ever had. But man, you can play yourself some guitar. I am never disappointed by what I hear emanating from whichever of your dozens of instruments you have picked up. In fact, I have decided that you may actually be the biggest reason I love U2 so much. Some part of me responds to the iconic strains of The Edge playing his guitar, and I will never stop loving it.

Larry Mullen, Jr. -- oh, my. The arms. Drummers should NEVER wear long sleeves.

Adam Clayton -- I think they must keep you around because you're a pretty cool guy. At least, that's how you look on stage: unruffled by all those people, just playing your bass as though you're the only person in the room.

Bono -- I'll be honest: sometimes I listen to U2 in spite of you. Love the lyrics, and you're quite the showman, that's for sure. But I think the ego required to do what you do on stage must make you a pretty difficult person to live with the rest of the time. Bless your wife and family!

So, if you're jealous, and you should be, then you should watch the live video stream from the Rose Bowl concert on October 25. It will be awesome, and as Motherboard said, you can wear your pajamas. I'm all about the pajamas these days -- they're the only clothes I have left that fit me! You MUST see the set to believe it. It's amazing. Here's the preview:



I'll be watching!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

SOS

In which I reminisce about my baby and ruminate about life as it is right now. And try not to cry.

Has anyone ever told you that having twins is easy, blissful and no harder than dealing with a singleton? No? I didn't think so. Because they would be lying. Conditions certainly improve as multiples get older, but I don't know that it's ever easy. The whole will always be greater, harder, more intense, scarier than the sum of its parts.

My twins are good boys -- they are bright, and happy, and fun, and, had they been born singly, I would probably have considered them each to be a relatively easy baby. But when there are two, there is little time for a break in between taking care of everyone's needs. My sister, who also has twins, once referred to herself as a dairy bar. She's right -- early on, when you're nursing and haven't quite figured out the whole tandem thing, by the time you've gotten number two fed, burped and changed, number one is hungry again, and before you know it, it's time to go to bed, and you haven't even had a shower because one baby or the other has been nursing all the livelong day.

When my twins were barely a year old (still nursing), I found out I was pregnant again -- miraculously, since conception occurred the good old-fashioned way instead of in a fertility clinic lab.

Total honesty here: I cried. For days. Just ask MommyJ. I was already a basket case because I did not feel well-equipped enough to handle the children I already had. I was afraid throwing one more into the mix might push me over the edge.

I prayed mightily to the Lord that he would carry me through, that he would send me, first, only one baby at a time, and second, that the baby would be one with an easy disposition. I sent my white banner up the flag pole and dialed in my SOS. And he sent me MayDay.


This past Saturday, we celebrated MayDay's 3rd birthday. From the first day, he has been a balm of a child. He was the answer to my fervent prayers for mercy.


MayDay is the greatest sleeper I have ever encountered. He loves his bed and usually has his eyes closed before I've even turned out the light. He snuggles in to his pillow and "Grandma blankets" with a contented sigh and drifts off without a struggle, every single night.

Today.

MayDay is a very talented mess-maker. He can't eat anything without getting it all over him -- peanut butter from ear to ear, fingers full of Cheeto dust, yogurt on his eyebrows. But the same kid can't stand to be messy. As soon as he's done with that PB&J, he's off to the bathroom to wash his hands with smelly soap, which he also loves.

First day of school:
GDog (standing one step down), MayDay (in his backpack even though he doesn't yet go to preschool), ConMan


He laughs at his own jokes -- which, especially for a three-year-old, are quite funny. He loves his daddy. He camps and hikes with enthusiasm. He sometimes loses his blanket, and blames it on me. He talks a blue streak. Sometimes he talks with his thumb in his mouth. He loves new clothes (because most of his have been handed down from his brothers). His cheerful disposition is reflected in his big, sparkly blue eyes. MayDay is the first to come running to offer assistance when I ask for it. He sucks his right thumb, and I cannot look at his teeth without seeing dollar signs, because trips to the orthodontist will most certainly be in his future. He is a giant, and his big brothers had better watch out, because one day soon, he will be bigger than they are. They are, after all, only 20 months apart. This also means the big boys do not remember when he was not around: he is the essential third member of their cohort, and their inclusion of him in their play has spurred him to accelerated development in many areas. He has to keep up!

MayDay shares his blanket with any snuggle-partner he can find.

As I have contemplated the joy this child has brought to our home since his birth three years ago, I have come to see that the Lord has answered my prayers in ways I was not necessarily able to see when I received them. My SOS is always heard, and this is an immense comfort to me, especially now that we seem to be sending up an inordinately high concentration of distress signals into the heavens.

As I write this, CPod's mama is in recovery from the kidney and pancreatic transplant surgery she underwent through the night. She has been diabetic for 40 years. This stressed her internal organs enough to put her in end-stage renal failure, requiring both dialysis and an eventual kidney transplant. She also received a new pancreas, which, if it revascularizes the way we hope, will begin producing the insulin her own pancreas has failed to manufacture for the past 4 decades. In other words, she will no longer be diabetic.

As I write this, I am stressing out about cash flow in our business. We are not the only ones, I know. Our industry is rather elastic, and while I hate to blame it on the economy, I'm grateful for that excuse because otherwise, I might actually have to do some serious analysis of our business practices -- but I know they are sound and I know we are doing our best. My poor husband, who is excellent at what he does and has an outstanding reputation amongst his peers in the field, is beginning to take it personally.

As I write this, I'm doing a mental inventory of our obligations. Our personal finances are in good order. We have felt, over the past year, a near compulsion to get completely out of debt. We have paid off a car, and all of our student loan debt, save a paltry $700 that I am just about to finish off with some of our savings. Now that we are weathering this economic storm, I know that compulsion was more of a prompting -- and that we will survive this lean time primarily because our personal cash flow needs are so minimal.

As I write this, I am steeling myself for the next step, in which I may possibly lose the luxury of a husband who is home a lot. Something has to happen to supplement the cash flow of the business -- it needs a big shot in the arm until we get a handle on things. This might mean less CPod at home around the same time it means one more child in our family. It will be temporary, but it will be hard.

As I write this, I am counting the blessings I have in my life. They are innumerable. They are ever-increasing. And I am praying mightily, as I did when I was pregnant with MayDay, that the Lord will be merciful and help us get through this -- that we will come out smiling on the other side and be more faithful as a result of the trials we have endured.

Pray with me?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Waking Nightmare

Michelle over at Scribbit sponsors her monthly Write-Away Contest which, after a summer hiatus, is back. Yay! This month's October-appropriate topic is Fear. I immediately thought of a piece I wrote last December, so this is a repost. I only had, like, 5 readers back then, so hopefully this will be new to most. Read on, and then go enter you own piece. It's a fun contest with a fun prize, too!


This is absolutely a true story. And it's not for the faint of heart.

When I was in high school, one of my best friends (we'll call him Skippy) was the son of a rose grower. His dad and grandfather owned a huge compound of greenhouses that grew the most beautiful and fragrant of flowers in every variety and color imaginable. The facility was composed of two long rows of greenhouses, stacked like the rungs of a ladder with access at the ends. I remember seeing inside the greenhouses once when I was younger. The roses had been there for so long that some of the stems were as thick around as my wrist. They tangled and twisted around trellises that had become integrated into the plants.

Skippy would bring me flowers if I had a bad day, but other than that, I didn't really think about the greenhouses too much.

Many years later, Skippy's dad had to close his business. The cost of growing roses in this country became higher than the cost of importing them from South America, so he closed the doors and sold the property, greenhouses and all.

It was sold and resold, sitting vacant for several years.

Meanwhile, something terrible was going on inside.

A friend of ours (we'll call her Vi) became interested in renting the greenhouses to start a wholesale plant nursery. She contacted the current owner and scheduled a time to view the property. She arrived to look around and began in the storefront, which included the business office and a small cold storage room where, once, customers could select their own cut flowers.

This is where things began to get a little strange. Vi, an active outdoorswoman, immediately noticed the telling odor of copper pennies, and as her olfactory nerves registered the danger, she began to see movement in places where there should be none -- slithering, hissing movement as the snakes that had infested the empty office took note of the intruders.

She quickly moved on.

Hopeful in spite of this as she contemplated the possibility of starting a new business, Vi entered the first greenhouse. The roses were still there, wild and unkempt after years of neglect. But the constant warmth and humidity had fostered another kind of growth in the absence of regular cultivation, for the infestation apparent in the business office became something akin to a horror movie in the greenhouses. Snakes of countless variety and size tangled in knots and piles all over the greenhouse, hissing aggressively at Vi and her intrusion into their realm. They hung from rafters and coiled around the roses, indistinguishable in places from the turning, twisting plant growth.

Vi exited as fast as she could, but was undeterred in her efforts to open her business in this location. She hired someone to bushhog inside the greenhouses, thinking that surely, he could get rid of the problem. Five minutes in, he turned around, drove the tractor out, and refused to do the job. Turns out, what Vi had seen in the first greenhouse was just the tip of the iceberg.

She walked away.

Sometimes there are just too many snakes.

I have thought about this a lot over the past few months. I am terribly disturbed that these greenhouses, now a phobia-inducing breeding ground for horror, were once the guardians of the symbol of love, beauty and purity. That neglect and lack of cultivation could turn a fertile garden into a den of vipers. Is that really all it takes for the serpents to take over?

I believe this is an apt analogy for the fertile ground of our lives. We have so much opportunity to bring forth good fruit, but the seeds of corruption are sown as soon as we fail in the constant pruning and retraining that are so necessary in cultivation.

I drive past these greenhouses regularly, and as I pass, I am simultaneously compelled to speed up and slow down. I want to see the snakes . . . but I want to have already seen them so I don't have to actually go and do it. We watched The Dark Knight last night, and I recognized the same feeling: I wanted the memory of already having seen it, without the stress of experiencing it in the moment.

They have begun to dismantle the greenhouses this winter, while, I assume, the snakes are underground. I should have gone to peek in the window before the cooler weather hit. Maybe if there are still some greenhouses standing in the spring time, I'll muster up enough courage to satisfy my curiosity.

Anybody wanna come?

Monday, October 5, 2009

A few little pieces of delightfulness

I saw my OB today. Good news: the baby vault it locked up tighter than Fort Knox. I know, you're all scratching your collective heads. You mean she's 36 weeks along and she doesn't want to be getting ever-closer to finally having this baby?

Au contraire, my friends. But I don't want to drop this baby in some random hospital in downtown Atlanta. And because going into labor is not something the women of our family do well (or, at all, if history is any indicator), I have been cleared for travel. Which means . . . tomorrow night, CPod and I will be rockin' out at the Georgia Dome to first, Muse (bonus!) and second, U2. Go ahead, be jealous. If I weren't going myself, I would be green with envy.

Now, just say a prayer for MommyJ's husband, Josh, who has been feeling poorly as of late. I will dispose of their tickets if I must, but it would make me much happier to be able to share the experience with them.

********************************

We had a superb experience this weekend watching General Conference on BYU-TV via our DirecTV dish. I used to love conference weekend. Until about 3 years ago when suddenly our twins were mobile and chasing/caring for them precluded first, any listening, and second, any retention. This weekend, a miracle happened: they listened. They played quietly. They worked on their conference packets, coloring and doing mazes and decorating ties. They yelled out "Joseph Smith!" or "Temple!" in stentorian tones to earn treats when they heard one of the speakers refer to an image we posted to prompt their attention. (Perhaps it was not the best of ideas to add a picture of our Savior to the other ones from the Gospel Art Kit we posted on the doors to the tv cabinet . . . their references to Him were, ahem, not exactly reverent.)

And my love for General Conference weekend is back. With a vengeance. My sincere thanks to Steph at Diapers and Divinity for her inspiration and ideas about enjoying conference with small children -- she knows her stuff, that Stephanie!

********************************

ConMan & GDog both had a great week at school, and as a reward for their good behavior, CPod took them camping. (Lest you think we reward our children every single week -- this was in response to some poor choices perpetrated by one of our twins who shall remain nameless, and needed some further motivation to learn some healthy respect for the rules at school.) MayDay went, too. I went out to dinner with a friend (and ordered mushroom pizza drizzled with truffle oil . . . truffles always make me feel bought, because you could put truffles on dirt and the dirt would taste better than anything else you have ever eaten in your whole entire life) then came home, watched shows my husband doesn't enjoy, and then went to bed. By myself. In a completely, eerily silent house.

And I slept until 11AM on Saturday morning. I really didn't think I had it in me to sleep that late, but sleep I did, and, wow! I had forgotten what it feels like to get enough.

The menfolk arrived home just before noon, so we scrubbed all the dirty children and then fed them lunch while we listened to the first glorious session of General Conference.

Here's my secret: as nice as it was to sleep in and not be awakened by turbo-charged, energetic preschoolers, I missed them. A lot.

********************************

Sometimes, I think ConMan just lives in his own little happy universe. He is frequently oblivious to the world around him, and, when he's in one of his little reveries, moves at his own pace and cannot be rushed. Saturday, it took him twice as long to finish his lunch as it did his brothers. They had been playing legos for 15 minutes while he was still sitting at the table extemporizing conversations between his Cheez-it crackers.

As I cleared the counter of crumbs left over from making PB&J for all the little ones, I listened to Elder Bednar's talk about expressing love to your family members. Suddenly, ConMan stood up in his chair, turned around and said, "Mommy, I love you!"

He smiled, then said it again. "I was listening, and I love you, Mommy!"

I nearly cried. I was so happy not just that he was paying attention, at least a little, to the words of our apostles, but that he had enough practice saying it in the first place that he was comfortable expressing his love for me so spontaneously. He can say it, because he hears it. And because he says it back. And because he knows it.

Sigh. Sometimes, I do something right after all.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sleepiness

On the InkMom Scale of Alertness, one being comatose and ten being caffeinated, I wake up every morning at a solid 2. The twins wake up at an 11. They launch from their beds as though shot from a cannon, their little springloaded bodies that have been tightly coiled in sleep all night long finally releasing all the accumulated potential energy into kinetic, bounding, noisy BEING.

Sigh.

It makes me a little crazy. They wake up MayDay, who needs more sleep than they do, before he really should be up. They crawl up in my bed and have loud conversations about whose turn it is to talk. They run laps down the hallway. They operate with all cylinders firing but no direction, something akin to a bouncy ball in a racquetball court: random, crazy, unpredictable, and a little painful if you accidentally cross paths.

I know I should be grateful that they're that excited to go to school -- I mean, I guess I'd rather have to focus their energies enough to get out the door than have to cajole and convince and bribe them into their carseats. By the time they get to school, they have been sufficiently wiggly to expend surplus energy, and, miracle of miracles, they're both actually able to focus on learning/playing. But my goodness! Some sympathy for the sleepy one over here, please!

If the big boys have a good week at school, they get to go camping with Daddy on Friday night. I am thankfully exempt from attendance at this exciting event due to my extremely gravid state. Pregnant women, according to CPod, especially ones with only five weeks remaining, are precluded from sleeping anywhere but a real bed. Which, keep your fingers crossed, means I will get to sleep . . . until I wake up. All by myself. Oh, my goodness. I don't remember the last time I just got to sleep until my internal timer decided to acknowledge daylight.

******************************

So I've been thinking about what it would take for me to wake up as alert and happy as my children are upon their reentry to consciousness. Twelve hours of sleep every night? A gradual transition from sleep to wakefulness instead of the full throttle launch forced on me by the big boys? How about intentionally waking up an hour before the boys do so I can have a period of quiet time in which I am not required to interact with others? Yeah. That will happen.

I just don't think it's in the cards.

They must get it from CPod.

When I was in high school, attending early morning seminary, I was a monster. My mom would come in my room to wake me up at her own physical and emotional peril, because she never knew if I would be throwing verbal projectiles or real ones. I'm better now, but only just -- no more rudeness, unless you count scowling.

My mom maintains that she wasn't a morning person until she taught early-morning seminary. It is her fervent prayer that each of her children will have the same opportunity. I ask her to please refrain from calling such curses down upon my head, because I could seriously curl up in a fetal position right now just thinking about a 5AM alarm every day.

Oh, well. I'll count my blessings. My kids are obviously getting enough sleep, and they love school, and they wake up happy to start the day. I'll try not to put a damper on their enthusiasm with my lack of morning cheer. Let's just hope they don't grow into an attitude as dismal as mine!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Who We Really Are

Last month, our stake here in western North Carolina hosted an 11-stake women's conference. As a member of the Stake Relief Society Presidency, I was privileged to participate in planning and carrying out this wonderful event. Sisters drove from 5 states, some as much as 6 hours, to join us for our "mountain blessing" and hear from Sister Julie B. Beck, the General Relief Society President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because of my calling, I had the opportunity to not only attend all four sessions at which she spoke, but also to interact with her and her lovely daughter in a more personal way.

Do I need to say the entire weekend was a fantastic experience? It was also a whirlwind. Her schedule was packed: a fireside for our stake on Friday evening, a training meeting on Saturday morning for Relief Society and Priesthood leadership for all 11 stakes, and two general sessions in the afternoon for the women of all 11 stakes. In all, nearly 2000 people attended at least one session.

I took six pages of notes. I'm not kidding. On graph paper, in very tiny script. She opened the floor up to questions in every session and I recorded every answer. I've been rereading those notes for a month now trying to figure out why I was so affected by her words, and I think I've finally figured it out.

Sister Beck is a normal person.

That sounds really strange. And maybe a little disrespectful. That's not how I mean it to sound. Let me explain. She talked about how many extremely qualified people there are serving in this church today, specifically in Relief Society: heads of corporations, great scholars, political servants, women who have experienced much and made invaluable contributions to society in general and to the church. Her qualification to serve as the General President of Relief Society? She worked on the PTA. She took care of her children and raised them in the Gospel. She served in many capacities in her local ward and stake.

I don't know this for sure, but I bet if we dug up some people who knew Sister Beck before she was the General RS president, they would tell us that she is still the same old Julie. That she laughs at the same things, that she still folds her laundry the same way, that her food storage is maybe a little out of date, that she gets tired and weary and worn out, and that she loves to serve the Lord. Just like she always has. And all of this makes her extraordinary.

So what is the difference? I think the key is in this quote from President Ezra Taft Benson:

“Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life in the service of God will find eternal life” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988], p. 361).

What I saw in Sister Beck was an example of a willing servant: someone who has turned her life over to God, and discovered the very thing President Benson spoke of, that He will magnify us if we will allow Him to do so.

I have since been pondering what keeps me from doing the very same thing, and I just might be lacking in faith. It requires a great leap of faith to give back to God the things that seem to be essentially ours -- the only things that will leave this life with us when we go, our essential characteristics and the knowledge we've gained as a result. But those very things that we will take with us are the direct result of those characteristics that were ours when our spirits were created -- in other words, He gave them to us.

This makes so much sense to me, and yet . . . and yet. I hold onto things that prevent me from being able to serve wholeheartedly. I cling to little pieces of the world while simultaneously trying to figure out why I can't find the time to do the most essential things in my life. I have a suspicion that were I just to hand it all to the Lord, every single piece of my life, the good, the bad, and the ugly, He would magnify me, as well.

I find great irony in the fact that we struggle to give ourselves up to the Lord, when what He would do with us is make us more essentially us, better than we can do alone, happier, stronger, more joyful, comforted, peaceful. Please, God, let me lose myself . . . so that I may become me -- the me that He can see even when I cannot.

And me, magnified? Well, I hope it will be even half as wonderful as Sister Beck.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Soup

Today, my grandmother came to visit me. Not really. But I made her soup, and it was almost as though she was here.

I've been feeling a bit under the weather as of late -- not pregnancy-related, so don't worry. Just some sniffles that have now morphed into an elephant getting comfortable on my lungs, which cough frequently in ill-fated attempts to rid themselves of the heavy beast.

I think of my grandmother often: whenever I laugh; whenever I eat popcorn, pot roast, applesauce, frozen peaches, or anything with her Pennsylvania Dutch salad dressing; whenever I watch a beauty pageant on television; whenever I shop for or fold linens and towels; whenever I look through my cookbooks and find her ambidextrous, spidery hand-scrawled notes in the margins; whenever I hear a joke that makes me blush a little; whenever I catch myself humming.

Today, I wanted her to scratch my back with her crooked, arthritic fingers while I fell asleep in her big guest room bed. I wanted to open her linen closet and inhale the scent of clean sheets that equals comfort way back in my hippocampus, the primitive part of my brain. I wanted her to give me a stick of gum -- Wrigley's white. I wanted her to let me try on all of her peep-toe pumps, slingback heeled sandals and costume jewelry while she made her soup.

Her soup. I don't remember the first time I ate it. I don't remember not eating it. I remember sitting at the table in her kitchen, air redolent with the scent of simmering soup, looking for patterns in the strawberry wallpaper. I remember the same soup cooking in my house as I grew up. My mom served the soup with it's divinely-inspired counterpart: fresh homemade whole wheat bread.

Today, I needed the soup. I didn't have the energy to make bread, but the soup . . . oh, the soup. It was perfect. And delicious. And if I could have taken some to my sick sister, MommyJ, I would have.

Grandma Ayres' Hamburger Vegetable Soup

(I am not strict with these measurements. In fact, I kind of made them up. Because mostly, the soup is a list of ingredients and a big pot. So just go with it.)

1-2 lb. ground beef (lean)
3 medium carrots, diced
2 medium stalks of celery, diced
1 large potato, diced
2 medium onions, diced
1-28 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. brown gravy sauce
1-2 bay leaves
1/8-1/4 tsp. basil
Water, to cover

Brown the ground beef, and drain off the fat. (MommyJ rinses hers.) Put it in the pot with everything else. Cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cook until it smells right. Eat it. Then eat it again the next day -- it will be better.

Make it when you don't feel good. It will make you feel better. Make it for other people when they don't feel good. It will make them feel better, too. Make too much, and then give it away. Make way too much and give some of it away, then freeze the rest. No matter how you make it, comfort is sure to follow.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

One thing that makes me happy . . .

. . . is this song: U2's Stuck in a Moment. It came up on my iPod yesterday and I smiled. I still love the regular version, but there's just something about a voice and a guitar that really, really does it for me. Each time I hear it, I remember the first time I heard the acoustic version, which was as the final encore at the U2 concert I attended in Atlanta in 2005. And then I remember how CPod moved heaven and earth to find a recording of it to give me for Christmas. Every time I hear it, I have happy memories. I decided to share, so I searched for it on YouTube and found this:



Imagine my joy to discover that they have also been doing the acoustic version on this concert tour . . . and that I will, hopefully, be listening to it exactly three weeks from right now!

So just press play, and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Really, Really Great (True) Love Story and It Isn't Even Mine. And also some random stuff.

Last week was busy. My calendar is full in September. And October. And then I have this little thing written on November 4, and NOTHING else. 8 more weeks! I can see the light!

Okay. So last week was busy because it was a symphony week . . . rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal, concert, concert. Not terrible, but only because it only happens six times a year.

We begin every season with a pops concert -- last year, all Cole Porter; two years ago, Gershwin; three years ago, I think it was Broadway. Fun stuff, especially if you're old enough to remember who Cole Porter was without watching De-Lovely.

This year, the program was all Irving Berlin. Generally, I don't love playing these concerts because the viola parts are, um, less than challenging, unless you're incapable of feeling off-beats. But we always have great singers, and the songs are familiar, and the audience leaves happy, so I usually come out of it with some degree of satisfaction as well. And a paycheck. Which helps.

Can I just say that I had no idea Irving Berlin wrote so much music? Seriously. We have him to thank for such perennial classics as "White Christmas" and "God Bless America". But there's so, so, so much more! I did some research and I think I have a retroactive crush on a man who died at the ripe old age of 101 -- just as I was entering puberty.

How could you not love a man who, when his sweetheart was disowned by her Catholic telegraph magnate father for marrying a Jewish immigrant upstart with no background, signed over the rights to the song he knew would be a sure hit? Because that's exactly what he did. He wrote "Always" when they fell in love. And all royalties from that song, played in a million different places a million different times, went to her as well. He made sure that even if something happened to him, or their union did not last they way they thought it would, she would not be left without means because she decided to marry him.

He wrote "Blue Skies" (smilin' at me . . . you know this one!) to celebrate the birth of their first child. Read the words. You'll love the song more now that you know why he wrote it. Same goes for "Always". I was the first to fall when CPod and I first met, but if it had been the other way around, he couldn't have missed with lyrics like those.

Irving Berlin died in 1989. He was 101. His wife died the year before. They were married for 63 years -- inseparable until the very end. That, my friends, is a love story.

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In other news, my refrigerator fried my hairdryer tonight. Lately, the water dispenser in our refrigerator keeps freezing up. And the only way to get the water moving again is to open the freezer door and heat the panel up with a hairdryer. It takes a while, so I pulled up a chair. I was talking with CPod while he leaned on the counter and then all of a sudden I was holding a blowtorch. I guess I should count my blessings. I could have been actually drying my hair when the appliance in question decided to melt down. Frizzy, curly hair I'm okay with. Fried? Not so much.

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I'm nesting. Intensely.

Right now, my living room looks like a tornado hit the little girls' section of a children's clothing store and dumped it's entire contents in front of the fireplace. I'm sorting all the clothes given to me by my sister (I mean loaned) and another friend and, of course, the things I've purchased.

I have to say, I've never before bought tights for anyone but myself. It's a brave new world, friends. A brave new world.

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Does anyone know how to get little boys to AIM? Please don't say Cheerios. You'd be surprised how my children define "edible". I think if I have to wipe a puddle of pee off of the floor or the little place on the side of the toilet where urine likes to collect ONE MORE TIME I am going to buy a really huge litter box for the back porch. Yes, CPod does the toilets. But not hourly. Maybe what I need is one of those little sign-in sheets you see in fast food restaurant bathrooms: initial here when you've inspected the toilet. Except the only initials would be mine, scrawled in ever-bolder and angrier strokes as the day wore on.

One day last week I caught ConMan "aiming" with his non-dominant right hand while holding a tootsie pop with his left. Really? I mean, get your priorities in order, son.

I think I'm going to start locking the door to my bathroom (maybe even to CPod) lest the throne in there should be defiled in the same heinous manner.

Indeed, something must remain sacred.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Little Heartbreak

On Sunday after church, we had a potluck lunch. While I staked out a table with MayDay, CPod wrangled the twins, keeping our place in line. G-Dog and ConMan held his hands, but after sitting through three hours of meetings (and truly being on their best behavior), they were more than a little rambunctious. They held on tightly to CPod's hands while swinging to and fro across the front of Daddy, the human jungle gym. They played peek-a-boo behind his back and laughed and carried on while they waited for their spaghetti. None of this behavior was abnormal, and it certainly wasn't inappropriate for the setting.

A couple stood behind them. CPod overheard the wife say to her husband, glancing significantly at my two wonderful boys, "ConMan is the good twin," as though trying to explain away their behavior by casting one child as the bad influence.

We're not sure if the boys heard her, but regardless, CPod turned around and said, "Actually, Sister So-and-so, these are two very good boys." He gave her a very pointed look that made it clear to her that her comparison of the twins, and her subsequent judgment based on limited knowledge, was absolutely inappropriate and could be damaging to the tender psyche of a young and sensitive boy were he to hear her say it.

Here's the thing. G-Dog is an enigma. Though he and ConMan are twins, he takes his 97 minute headstart seriously -- never have I met a more assertive child. He is the oldest. I'm convinced that if it hadn't been for the extraordinary measures required for us to conceive in the first place, G-Dog would have been born not just first, but alone. He is opinionated and headstrong and persistent, extremely logical and inquisitive. But he is also very energetic and BOSSY and is constantly seeking for new ways to control his environment. (Don't say it, Mom. I already know he's just like me.) Add to that a very delicate and sensitive emotional side and a deep and sincere love for all things little and helpless, and you get a kid that to many, is too much work to handle and not worth the required effort.

I'll be honest here -- I have moments with all of my children that require way more effort than I have to give sometimes. Eighteen months ago, the child that required the most effort was almost always G-Dog. Because we have worked hard at developing communication skills with him, and begun a continuous dialogue about his feelings and how they relate to his behavior, his temperament has stabilized immeasurably and life in our house has been a lot easier. We have learned how to take each child's individual characteristics and use them to our advantage when tailoring consequences and rewards. We delight in their differences, even though, sometimes, those unique things that make them tick also make our parenting lives more difficult.

I am afraid that I can almost guarantee that the people G-Dog meets through his life, especially those who teach him in school, will not all be willing to see his "difficult" behaviors from a different perspective. This will be further complicated by his twin-ness: ConMan's unique characteristics are simply easier to take for many, and the comparison is, I fear, inevitable. Inevitable -- and unfair to both kids.

Sigh. I don't know how to protect them from labels, from people who don't realize how much their words can be prophecies. I hope G-Dog and ConMan will be able to hear my voice above all the other ones, reinforcing them, holding them up, helping them know who they really are and how much potential they each have by divine right. I see God in both of them. Please, may He help me help them to see it in themselves.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Marriage of True Minds

I can't believe I'm going to be this sappy in front of so many people. Oh, well. It is what it is.

I had this theory when I was young (and thinking about love) that for a marriage to succeed, those who entered into it had to be opposites: that on a big continuum of qualities and characteristics, each partner needed to be equidistant from the center line. This was largely based on observations of my parents, a definite marital success story, but by no means the only type. My mom is intense and expressive and passionate and (don't get mad, Mom) a bit of a reactionary and full of bluster. My dad only raises his voice to call the dog in, takes everything in stride, never gets ruffled, and, if I'm being honest, has a lot less to say than my mom does. This also means my dad is a bit oblivious to many of the little things that go on in a marriage, but never misses when it comes to the really big, really important parts. They were, individually and together, excellent examples for me as I was growing up, observing, and formulating my own ideas about what a truly committed partnership should be like.

When I was a teenager, I vividly remember watching some sappy, sad tv movie with my mom and my sister. They both cried through all the appropriate parts of the show, and while I could understand why they were moved, and I could have told you that it was sad, I did not react with the same level of emotion. It was always like this. I thought I was missing something, like part of my girl-genes were not plugged in the way they should be. It wasn't that I didn't feel things intensely -- I have always felt personal feelings and experiences with great intensity and passion -- but when it came to other people, or depictions of other people designed to evoke emotion, I still, somehow, remained detached, with rare exception. This makes me sound cold. Maybe I was -- engaged in my own life, but standing apart from everyone else's. Then, I could have waxed poetic for hours about a Dvorak symphony, and was frequently reduced to tears by a musical experience; I dove head-first into literature and identified acutely with the works and characters of the masters; but I was, to say the least, intense, more than a little self-centered and seriously lacking in the empathy/sympathy departments.

I don't honestly know how my family tolerated me.

I've already written The True Story of CPod and InkMom. Go read it if you haven't yet. It was fun to write, because I got to remember all the fun parts of dating and courtship. And while all the fun parts are an important part of the story, probably the best part, they barely scratch the surface of the changes that I underwent when I met this man.

Suddenly, I cried. At stuff I wouldn't have cried over before. I remember coming home for Christmas that year, getting teary-eyed over a vacuum commercial, and wondering what was wrong with me.

It's taken me a while to realize what happened, what strange power CPod held over my emotional self. But I think I've finally figured it out. For the first time in my life, I was thinking more about someone else than I was about myself. And it opened this door into . . . reality. I walked through it into a place where everyone, not just me, was experiencing heartache and happiness and shame and love and disappointment and joy and pain, and it was a world full of colors that I hadn't noticed before because I had been so focused on myself. He literally held the key to my heart, and with it, he flipped the switch on my ability to empathize, to see things from another perspective, to love.

We celebrated our 12th anniversary a week or so ago, and as I've reflected on our experiences together, I have marvelled at the Lord's visible hand in our lives. What if I had, actually, married another narcissistic musician? I shudder to think what a trial like, oh, I don't know, 7 years of infertility would have done to a marriage like that one. But for us, that trial solidified our commitment to one another, to live the Gospel, to be satisfied with the incredible blessings we already had just because we had each other.

I would argue that ours is one of the greatest love matches of all time. I hope everyone feels that way about their marriage. But I know it about mine. We are supremely, divinely, perfectly compatible. My heart still skips to feel the delicate touch of his hand on my arm, to meet his eyes across a room full of people and know that he is mine, to catch a glimpse of his tall and lanky figure in the audience from the stage during a concert, to see him chase around our clutch of rambunctious boys who all, contrary to genetic probability, look just like him.

William Shakespeare wrote many sonnets about love. My favorite is Number 116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose Worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom:
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

This is what we have -- the marriage of true minds: that mellows and intensifies its flavors with age; that lasts through tempests (don't think we don't have them!) and stands constant while our ships, though moored together, float independently on the water; that inspires in its participants a desire to be better, and as a whole, accomplishes more than ever could be done individually. My successes are his successes, his triumphs, mine, and our sorrows are ours together. He humors my intellectual excesses, tempers my emotional instabilities, strengthens my spiritual frailties, encourages my outside endeavors, and keeps me laughing through all of it. And while I have been known to fail here and there, and my efforts sometimes fall short, I know that my presence in his life is just as essential to his happiness as his is to mine: equally yoked in more ways than one. Blessed. Lucky. Loved. Forever.

Happy anniversary to us.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tongues, Interpreted

Okay, friends. Sorry I'm late!

Here are the answers . . . followed by our winner. Who, I swear, either hacked my wireless network to steal the answers or is a really stealthy stalker. Really, I was pretty sure no one would get any of the correct answers, and I would have to do a random drawing. Not so!

Four-leaf clover:

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Alligator:

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Lemonade:

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Elevator:

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Leprechaun:

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And our winner is . . . Laree! She got three answers correct, and she is the ONLY ONE who got three answers correct. Which means she wins. Yay! Laree, send me an e-mail with your logistical info and I will mail you the fabulous cilia forceps. I expect you to rave about them on your blog after you've discovered their wonders. My mom says they pluck hairs that aren't there. I tell her she needs new glasses.

Thanks for playing, everyone. It's nice to be indulged occasionally!