Sunday, August 31, 2008

Finding Life by Giving It Away

For a long time I’ve been thinking about starting a series of Sabbath posts where I share my spiritual thoughts from the week and how I’ve been working on applying the gospel of Jesus Christ study to my life as a mother. So here goes.

This week Roscoe’s youth group hosted a fireside from Mormon musician Jenny Philips. She talked about the time when Peter stepped from the boat to walk across the water toward the Savior.

Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? (Matthew 14:28-31)

Her point was that following the Savior often requires that we step out of our safe and known place and onto turbulent waters. We sometimes doubt that we’ll be able to make it, that we’ll be supported, that the promises of the gospel will really work for us.

To me, marriage and motherhood are definitely like stepping out of the dry boat and onto the water. First to yoke your life through marriage to someone else’s no matter what twists and turns life may bring. Then to raise children with wills of their own and to commit yourself to meeting their almost limitless needs.

To me motherhood also means living faith in the promise thatFor whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it(Matthew 16:25). Of course as a feminist I'm opposed to women letting domesticity erase their identities. But as a postmodern feminist, I reject the whole idea that domesticity is incompatible with independence and that motherhood undermines self-actualization.

In one of those wonderful Christian paradoxes, I believe I am finding my self and my life in a more full sense by seeking to literally give my life--day by day and moment by moment--to my family. In a good day as a mother, so little of it is about me.

Of course I carve out and then vigorously defend certain bits of private time and activities that are just for me. Of course service can be taken to self-destructive extremes. You can't give from an empty soul. But oftentimes the leisure I think I need is really the boat I should leave behind. The rest I really need is the Savior's. I am happiest and strongest when I succeed in letting go so I can walk, step after step, with faith buoying my feet.

Friday, August 29, 2008


1. The washer is fixed!

You didn't know that my beautiful, adored washing machine was broken. That's because it was too depressing to even think about. Especially when the first repair guy on the scene said it would cost $500 to repair. Then didn't return my calls for 6 days. While the dirty socks mounded higher and higher.

Finally I fired the first guy and got a new guy who arrived at my door promptly at 9:00 the very next morning and fixed it for $58. I gave him extra, just so he'd be getting at least as much as the guy who caused me such grief and cosmic justice could be preserved.

The drain pump was packed full of candy wrappers and tiny Bionicle pieces. So now I know how to fix that on my own, and the sound of the happy machine washing all my troubles away is music to my ears.

2. Things I haven't photographed this week because I still don't have a camera

~ Rosoce on his first day of 8th grade.
~ The butter on the rug.
~ Levi with his first missing tooth.
~ The 8 little Jesse fingertips I saw poking under his bedroom door when I went upstairs to bed last night.

3. Our week

Has been a challenge. Levi is apparently taxed by his full day at school and has behaved pretty badly at home. I'm not really addressing it right now. He's getting some extra patience this week, but he better snap out of it soon!

Also Logan is choosing to learn the hard way that he must fulfill his basic responsibilities before he can enjoy the privileges of family life. So far he's destroyed 1 bike helmet, lost 1 backpack and 1 pair of shoes, and properly completed his homework 0 times. His general MO is to earn all possible negative consequences, railing at their injustice all the while, before deciding life would be oh so much more pleasant for everyone if he just did what we told him to. Ah, the learning curve!

4. Pretty girl

We've decided it's time to move Jesse and Levi into one room and put Haley on her own (with the idea that she'll share with a foster sister soon). So this weekend we're painting the boys' room green, making Haley pretty curtains, and shuffling everyone around.

5. Seeing the light

Mark received positive feedback on his dissertation from the second of his two dissertation committee co-chairs. The one who's been ominously silent thus far. This is great news. It means no one is likely to jump up and shout, "Wait! I hate it! Change it all! Do it all over!" It means this man is liable to be a bona fide Ph.D. in a few months.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Heaven Help Us, or The Rug Finds Redemption

This is one of those stories about a momentarily unattended two-year-old, chaos, and butter.

I walked up from the basement to find Jesse sitting on the rug in a field of butter. Two square yards of wool with covered, clumped, and massaged with butter. Lots of it.

And who did I feel most angry with? Poor innocent Haley. Little Miss Nose-in-Everbody's-Business, who on this occasion sat quietly on the couch and tattled not one word while she watched her brother fetch a carton of butter from the fridge, bring it into the playroom, unwrap first one stick, then another, then a third, and a fourth, and smear them deep into the rug fibers.

Where oh where is that sonar that triggers me to holler, "ROSOCE GET OUT OF THE PANTRY!" from upstairs when he carefully eases the door open to sneak a snack? How did I miss the sound of Jesse the Red pilfering the fridge?

Haley, however, was wise enough to continue saying nothing while I heaved surly sighs and muttered things like, "I don't even know how to start cleaning this!"

But finally, as in life, redemption was found. The dirtier side of the rug had been facing up, and while I was at it scrubbing butter, I scrubbed the whole thing, and now the dirty side has become the clean side. The weak things became strong. The rug is drying in the sunshine, Jesse is napping, and I've lost the will to grumble at anyone.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

New year, new systems

Last week I sat down with my Kitchen Journal... (Wait! Have I never told you about the Kitchen Journal? Another day. )

So I sat down with my Kitchen Journal to plot out this school year's schedule. This year, I have kids on only three different schedules. But still I had figure out which mornings were preschool, which days would fit the gym or karate or grocery shopping, when to hold scripture study and homework time. It's really a beautiful plan and I do believe there's a spot for everything, but it's far too boring to share.

Here are some new innovations in this year's schedule:

1. Homework time

We've always done homework time after dinner, the idea being that when kids come home from school they need a break. So we let them play for a couple hours, do choretime and dinner, then homework. The problem is a certain child who shall not be named who is magically talented at taking advantage of the family's busy evening schedule to evade homework altogether and who practically flunked out the fourth grade as a result.

New plan: Kids come home from school to a clean kitchen table, whereon Mom serves snacks. No one gets up from the table til homework is done. The great thing about this--as with all good discipline systems--is that it puts the choices and the consequences on the children. If you want to fuss and whine about homework til your playtime is over, that's your choice. I hover in the kitchen and do prep cooking for dinner while I supervise.

2. Mom's scripture study time

So now I have to confess: my personal scripture study schedule has been a mess since I got married almost 16 years ago. Bedtime never seems to work consistently because that's my moment to be with Mark. Last year I determined to get up early for my own scripture study before family scripture study. I bought a comfy second-hand chair and put it in my office. Every morning I walked down to the chair, opened my scriptures...and spaced out. I'm really stupid when I'm sleepy and I couldn't focus myself to absorb one verse.

New plan: My scripture study time is 2:45 in the afternoon. (Are you bowled over by the genius of this bold plan?) This is after my two hours of work but before Jesse wakes up from his nap and 25 minutes before Roscoe gets home from school. I fix myself a little snack and sit down and read. My afternoon/evening hours are the most demanding part of my day, and this gives me a chance to balance and focus myself before I dive in.

3. Clothes Levi

This one is pretty silly, but I can't tell you how helpful it's been. My Levi has strong feelings about clothing. Most every morning he dumps out his drawers, scours through his clean laundry bucket, even riffles through the dryer in search of...what? A different blue t-shirt? And he cries and gnashes his teeth because he doesn't like the waistband of the available pants, or he wanted a long-sleeved shirt, or these socks are too stretchy. It's way too much drama for morning. (See above for my issues with morning.)

New Plan: Each night Levi makes a Clothes Levi on his bedroom floor. Somehow the choices seem less fraught the night before, and he lays out those clothes in seconds flat. The rule is he's not allowed to change his mind the next morning. Seriously, it's changed my life.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Raise the bar and hit your stride

English is chock full of figures of speech. More than you can shake a stick at. It drives speakers of another languages crazy--just ask Jessica, who's "tired and sick of it." (Of course Jessica is actually one of the most fluent English-as-a-second-language speakers you could ever hope to meet.)

But it's never occurred to me how many of our figures of speech come from track and field:

Jump the hurdle.
Raise the bar.
Stumble at the finish line.
Toe the line.
Cross the finish line.
False start.
Ready set go.
Pass the baton.
The home straight.
Second wind.
Set the pace / pace yourself.
Hit your stride.
Finish in record time.
Fast track.
Trial run.
Victory lap.
Take the lead.
Pick up the pace.
The last leg.
Jump the gun.

What else?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"I know how you feel but I don't know how you do it."

So this week Levi and Logan have started school but Roscoe hasn't. Can you tell I'm having fun with him lurking around me and making strange comments? We finally found him some jeans that fit his long, lanky frame--size eight%$@#teen!--and he looks like a million bucks. There are many moments when his kooky fantasy gobblydegook wears me out. Do I look like a person who wants to discuss the details the creation of orcs? But many other times it's a treat to have a son old enough to relate to, with a sense of humor I don't have to pretend to like. For now--salt over my shoulder--we get each other. Last night he showed me a scene from Lord of the Rings that he thought I would like--and I did like it. It's where Sam tells Frodo that the stories that matter are the ones where the heroes encounter evil but press on nevertheless.

Today at lunch Roscoe showed me this video:

He claimed that he would be a much better Mr Mom than the dad in this video. I pointed out that thinking you know better than your parents is a hallmark of teenagers. And he said, "Well, I never could be as good a parent as you."

Wow. Emblazon that one on my heart. Make me a plaque. Commission sky writers. This moment may never return again...until Roscoe has a two-year-old of his own.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Vocabulary Lesson

Overheard in the Qshurst-McGee van while driving to Target:

Levi: Mom, what does headquarters mean?

[I explain, using the example that Dad's office building is the headquarters of the church.]

Roscoe [in a serious tone]: Yes, and the office behind Dad's building is the hindquarters.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Happy Misfortune and a Call for Advice

The other day Mark was reaffixing the handle that some little hooligan had ripped from fridge. And I asked him, only half-jokingly, if he could somehow manage to destroy the whole fridge in the process. Because that's the only way I'll ever end up with a new one.

The very next evening I made the mistake of leaving my camera in a place where little hands could reach it with only the effort of pushing a chair to the counter. Not on the floor, not in the driveway, not in the toybox. But by the time I returned to put it away in the morning the camera was dead.

Have I been pining for a new camera for months? One that bathes my beautiful children in beautiful that appropriately captures the magic of their that focuses? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Do I have money saved for such a purpose? Uhhhh...

But desperate times call for desperate measures, and I certainly can't live camera-less! This morning I had to call neighbors and ask them to please take pictures of Logan and Levi as they rode by on their way to The First Day of School. So my wish for the fridge has now come true for the camera, and friends, I need your advice. Which camera should I buy? My only criteria is sharp, saturated, light-diffused pictures. Pretty much unlike anything seen heretofore on this blog.

Your suggestions?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Summer's Final Exclamation Point

We didn't climb Mt Timp, we didn't go to Disneyland, we didn't go swimming at our local pool.--all omissions the kids hasten to point out. But stand forewarned: I will accept no complaints about what we didn't do this summer. Our festivities started two weeks before school even let out. When we left for six weeks of partying in Dallas, school still hadn't let out. We saw six grandparents, seven aunts and uncles, and more cousins than I can count. Circus, swimming, splash pads, movies, card games, board games, shooting, rodeo, treehouse, playhouse, fireworks, ice cream bars, barbecues....

School resumes tomorrow morning--in less than 12 hours--and still we're squeezing the last drops of fun from our summer vacation. Our Benac cousins are having a reunion at the lovely Aspen Grove and we drove up for an evening visit. We saw all our beloved Benac cousins and the kids got one more shot with the Allreds. Cousin bliss and cool mountain breezes. That's it, kids. I don't know how I could have managed any more festivities for you. Thanks for being such fun recipients.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Our Saturday Project

I've always wanted wall-to-wall bookcases.

Dad cut the wood while I was in Dallas, and Mark and I polyurethaned and assembled. Now we can gather all those books perching in strange places throughout the house and give them a proper home together. Thank you, Daddy!
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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bachelor Pad Reclamation Project, Day 1-2

~ Unpack.
~ While we're at it, sort through the clothes in everyone's drawers, pack away outgrown items into the appropriate boxes, count t-shirts.
~ Shampoo the front room carpet. (Okay this one was nonessential, but it looks so much better now.)
~ Wipe the kitchen cupboards; remove the little gnats that are plastered there, apparently drawn by the lights Mark likes to leave on at night.
~ Clean out the fridge.
~ Soak the lawn.
~ Rake the fallen branches from under the willow tree. (This one thanks to Roscoe.)
~ Get Roscoe packed for a wilderness survival campout.
~ Remove dead herbs from the kitchen pots; plant new seeds.
~ Go grocery shopping; reintroduce the kitchen to things like eggs and apples.
~ Reintroduce myself to the gym.
~ Sort toys in playroom cubbies. (This one thanks to Logan.)
~ Dust. Everything.
~ Remove 7 weeks of soap scum from the shower.

Last night I asked Mark if when he came home he was immediately struck by the aura of cleanliness and a woman's touch. I mean, there was baking bread and everything. He looked confused by the question: "Uh, I didn't really notice." Oh well. But I'm definitely feeling more at home in my home.

And Mark is quite justified in asking me to point out that all those boxes of Hostess in the fridge were given to him by some ward member offloading soon-to-expire items from their store.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

We reclaim the bachelor pad

I drove and I drove and I drove. And I drove. For hours upon hours. I began to think I might die if I drove for one more minute. Then I thought of "Going on a Bear Hunt": "Can't go over it, can't go under it. Oh no! We've gotta go through it." So I drove some more. And then, finally, we were back home. We were gone for 6 weeks.

My first thought when I walked in the house was, "I like this girl's style--why, that's just the paint color I would have chosen." Then I began to notice things, little signs that this place had had a vacation of its own, masquerading as bachelor pad and pit stop instead of domestic haven.

Exhibit A: The pretty pot of flowers on the front steps

Exhibit B: The fridge

Exhibit C: The mail

Exhibit D: Certain areas of the lawn

In his defense, Mark did a great job maximizing his dissertation time. He rarely came home from work before 10:00. So our trip was a success on all levels. The kids had a blast, Mark made great progress, and I feel I was able to do some good for my family in Dallas. Now if my parents can only shovel themselves out from the detritus we left behind!

Return Stop in Albuquerque

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Accounts Payable Auditor

You know those lists of what mothers do? Chauffeur, menu planner, hair stylist, etc. Well the list should definitely include something like Accounts Payable Auditor. I'm sure I've saved our families hundreds of dollars by taking the time to wrangle with customer service reps over messed up accounts and charges that never should have been made. This week's examples:
  1. Requesting a refund for a $25 charge from the phone company for reconnecting our Internet service. This was a follow-up to an earlier (and longer) call addressing the fact that they had disconnected our DSL for nonpayment even though the payment had been made. (That call included some bizarre Catch-22 moments in which the phone rep asked for information about my payment which I could not provide...because I couldn't access my bank account information online.)
  2. Identifying the reason for a random $15 charge from my gym. Finally tracked it down via corporate headquarters as an "annual facilities improvement" charge. That rep wouldn't take off this year's charge, but she said I won't be charged for it next year. Chances of that actually happening are slim, so there's another phone call to look forward to next year.
  3. Cancelling a monthly payment to my parents for my share of their family cell phone plan, which I'm not on anymore. The payment still comes out of my checking account each month but is not listed as a payee or repeating payment or anywhere else on my account.

Am I the only person who spends way too much time--hour upon maddening hour--on this kind of nonsense?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

An object from Grandma's display cabinet

When I was about nine, my parents informed me that my cousin Allison and I would be flying to Illinois to spend a few weeks of summer vacation with my grandparents. This was very big news. I don't believe I had ever flown on an airplane, and I would be going alone. The purpose of our visit was to help my grandparents move to a new house across town. What does it say about me that I never for a moment questioned why my grandparents would need the help of two little girls?

On the airplane I sat next to a nice couple who sort of took charge of me. When the "cocktails" light illuminated, I immediately told them I was interested. "Why?" they asked, confused. "Because I love fruit cocktail," I responded intelligently.

Allison and I spent happy afternoons playing with Aunt Nancy's old barbies, tagging along with Grandma on her errands, and wearing the matching shirts she bought us. We went to Six Flags (I think) and a Renaissance fair.

But one of my sharpest memories is the day Grandma got this down off the shelf:

She tapped the pewter statue with her polished nails, which she said were made from oatmeal at the salon. "Look at the detail," she crooned. We marvelled at the little tiles on the floor, the ruffles of the lady's skirt, the tiny straws in the glasses. "Look at the detail," we responded.
P.S. I showed Grandma this post, just for fun, and next thing I knew she was writing my name with a Sharpie on the bottom of the figurine. So now you know how to get dibs on Grandma's stuff.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Circus Poodles

The other night we took the kids to the circus for the first time ever. There were contortionists and tight-rope walkers and acrobats and clowns and fireworks and ladies twirling from all sorts of objects. Oh, and elephants and tigers and zebras and a live band. But I'm surprised to say that I think my favorite of all was the poodles.
A lovely woman with long shiny hair and a sparkly outfit twirled her arms and waltzed gracefully around the ring, and five little poodles--yes, five--followed her with rapt attention. When she stepped, they followed. When she raised her arms, they stood eagerly on hind legs. When she spun her arms, they twirled in place.

So this is my new ideal for myself. To be like that circus performer. Stepping glamorously through life with a smile on my face, happily conducting the five shaggy little dogs behind me.