Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I have finally found a plant that I can't kill. Several glorious zucchini plants are sprawled across my garden boxes, and for the first time EVER we're actually eating food from our own garden. Well, technically we're also eating food from many neighbors' gardens, because my black thumb is notorious and over the years people have taken pity on me and designated us as the drop-off for surplus produce.

The kids liked the theory of eating something we grew ourselves far more than they liked the reality of zucchini stir-fry. Of course, if they controlled the menu we would live solely on macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, fruit snacks, and grape soda, so I take their opinions with a grain of salt.

I know, I know, there really isn't any honor in harvesting zucchini. My friend considers it the weed food. She laughed until she cried when she saw how many zucchini plants I put in this year. "Is it even possible to kill zucchini," she wondered. Since I'm probably the ultimate test, I can state with some authority now that, no, apparently it is not possible to kill zucchini. Those hardy vegetables can survive even me.
Not everyone would be thrilled with a garden full of zucchini; fortunately I love zucchini. I could eat it every day. Good thing, as apparently I will be.
My gardening methodology is one of benign neglect. Come to think of it, that pretty well describes my parenting. Many posts ago I blogged about how parenting was like gardening--you don't control the outcome; you only control certain aspects of the environment. If that's true, I suspect that God, knowing how I am with growing things, sent me zucchini children. Hardy, resilient, independent, abundant, and thriving in spite of me--yep, that's my kind of kids. Good thing I love zucchini.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Adoption Financing Presentation

For my friends in the adoption world, I'll be presenting a workshop at the FSA conference August 8-9 on adoption financing. I'd love to see you! Check out the schedule for other awesome classes with my friends Brenda & Angie, and don't miss the chance to see the incomparable Krista Oakes, who is there not only to teach a few classes, but also to receive the FSA award this year (whatever it's called--I can't remember...). You can link to Krista's blog from here, or go to onkristasmind.blogspot.com. She's my hero! Oh, and you can also catch the keynote address with Sister Barbara Thompson of the General RS Presidency--very cool, I love that lady! See you there!

Friday, July 18, 2008

I Can't Wait for School to Start...

As I prepare for a new semester, inspiring and prodding (okay, mostly kicking and dragging) young writers and writer-wannabes, this seemed appropriate to share.

From English teachers across the country, actual student metaphors:

Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thighmaster.

His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free

He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

She grew on him like she was a colony of E.Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

The plan was simple, kind of like my brother Joe, but unlike my brother Joe, this plan would work.

The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.

McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00pm instead of 7:30.

Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36pm, traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19pm at a speed of 35mph.

They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth.

John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River.

Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it has rusted shut.

Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for awhile.

He was as lame as a duck. Not a metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a landmine or something.

The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one long slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

Monday, July 14, 2008

HRM Carole the Cool

Wahoo! My sister Carole and her husband Paul were sealed in the temple a couple of weeks ago. See photo above. Not the green door pic, the other one. The following weekend we sort of house sat for them for a few days, which was an adventure in itself. Mercie locked us all out of the house for several hours, requiring help from the police and the one and only town locksmith to get back in, Eric stuffed a bead up his nose, requiring an emergency trip three hours back home to the doctor, and Grace reprogrammed their family room TV...and that was all just in one day of our visit.

Anyway, Carole's been on my mind lately. I've decided that if she weren't my sister I'd probably hate her. She's like Mary Poppins--practically perfect in every way.

She's an incredible mom. Really. She juggles five kids in a yours-mine-ours family with helping to run a family business, church responsibilities, daily workouts, and maintaining a house that would make Martha Stewart green (more about that below). As I held Claire yesterday I noticed that her hair smelled nice. Then I realized that Carole had washed her hair the night before. Hmm. She actually bathes her children regularly. Novel concept. I hose mine off in the front yard once a week. You think I'm kidding. Unless you're my neighbor, then you know I'm not.

She has great fashion sense. When I was a teenager periodically my clothes would disappear. I never could figure out why my favorite sweaters or dresses or blouses were there one day, gone the next. Years later Carole confessed that she and my sister Becca had been so embarrassed by some of my outfits that they occasionally took the worst offenders out in the yard and burned them. I had to forgive them because, let's face it, they were right. I'll own up to the talents and abilities I have, but dressing well is not one of them. Heck, look at the picture above. There's a beautifully groomed, poised, polished woman and right beside her is a woman who is...not. As an adult I get to be the beneficiary of her skill. She's the perfect shopping companion, and even better, when she cleans out her closet she gives me the hand-me-downs.

There is a reason her nickname is Martha. Even with five kids, her house usually looks like a photo spread from Better Homes and Gardens. The really amazing thing is that it ALWAYS looks like this, even when she was living in teeny little grubby apartments. She's my go-to gal for anything decorating, and I've learned over time that she is always right. She said to skip the orange (I called it terra cotta) paint on my front door, and boy, was she right. Speaking of which, after three years of living with that mistake, I finally fixed it! I stayed up really late (thanks Michelle!) and painted it a strange shade of super dark green with the unappealing name 'sealskin,' and it's ever so much better than orange. THAT'S the picture of the green door.

Carole's a perfect--and delightful--contradiction. Her sense of humor is "Dumb and Dumber;" her spiritual insight and wisdom often blow me away. When I'm feeling tossed to and fro, spiritually speaking, a phone call to Carole straightens me right out. She has a gift for combining faith and practicality and going right to the heart of things.

She's one of those women who would make all the other women at church sick except that she's so freaking nice you can't hate her. She chaperones youth trips, ferries boys to Scout activities, substitutes in Primary at the drop of a hat, works in the RS presidency, fills in for the ward organist from time to time, and makes it all look easy.

We've had our moments. When she was four I begged my mom to send Carole back where she came from. When we were teenagers I once chucked my alarm clock at her head and called her unprintable names.

Growing up is a good thing. Now that we're both adults and friends, I'm glad she's my sister for two very important reasons.

One, coolness by proximity. Maybe she'll rub off on me, and even if not, people will assume I'm sort of cool like Carole just because we're sisters.

Two, I have hope. If she weren't my sister I could write her off as the impossible ideal and spend my energy quietly jealous and hating her. But she is my sister and we share the same genes, which gives me hope that maybe someday I too can be cool like Carole.

Someday. For today I've got to run outside and hose off the kids, just as soon as I find my orange polka-dot lounge pants that I haven't seen since Carole was here last week...

Things Stuck in Noses, Part Two

A few days ago Mercie told me there was a bead in her nose. Assuming that she was just jumping on the bandwagon, I ignored her. Unfortunately Eric came home from the doctor with a huge stack of stickers, and all four kids have been plotting how to get back to the doctor so they can also collect massive quantities of stickers.

A day later Mercie told me her nose hurt because there was a bead in it. I took a cursory peek in her nostril, didn't see anything. I felt the outside of her nose; no bulge.

The next day Mercie got mad at Eric (something that happens approximately 11,435 times a day). She opened her mouth to take a deep breath for the loudest possible scream and when the scream came out, so did an object--from her nose. A slimy, snot-covered clear plastic bead.

All four of my children have now tried shoving things in their noses, with varying results. On days like today I remind myself of Roseanne Barr's credo: "As a mom, if the kids are still alive when Dad gets home from work, then hey--I figure I've done my job."

Monday, July 07, 2008

Moments of Grace

For quite awhile now Sundays have been hard. Just hard. Mostly Sacrament Meeting, sometimes other times, but mostly that particular 70 minute period. I joke that if I were a drinking woman, Sundays would be a multiple-shots-of-vodka day for me. Sometimes I wish I weren't joking.

I know why it's rough, it is what it is; I trust that eventually it will get easier. Therapy helps. Priesthood blessings help. Relying heavily on the Lord--fasting, prayer--all help. I think at times I'm making progress. Then a particularly rotten Sunday pops out to deflate my optimism and I'm back to that dark little place where I wonder why on earth I keep putting myself through this nightmare, on purpose, week after week, when there is a super easy alternative called 'just stay home.'

Last Sunday my palms looked like hamburger by the time Sacrament Meeting was over. Digging nails into my hands to keep myself on the pew, fighting a visceral urge to run for the door will do that.

As I sat there in my personal black cloud of despair, all I could think to pray for were little pinpricks of light, some tiny rays to break through and give me a reason to come back.

I could stay home. I could worship on my own terms, in my own way, and take my chances. But even on the worst days, I still trust God's plan for my happiness. I trust that when He asks us to gather together and fellowship with the saints, there is a reason. I trust that when He asks us to participate--together--in sacramental ordinances, there is a reason. I trust the reasons all involve our happiness, not our despair, not our depression or angst or turmoil or trauma. And I trust that in some miraculous way I don't begin to understand, when we are where we're supposed to be, doing what we're supposed to do, grace takes over and makes it enough.

So I sit in Sacrament Meeting and fight the panic and fight the despair. The Sacrament is passed and I do what I always tell my kids to do--think of Jesus. Just for a moment the storm is stilled. I turn my heart to Him and there isn't room for anything else.

It's testimony meeting. The cynical side of me snickers. In years past my favorite Fast Sunday activity has been testimony bingo. Use the back side of the program to make a bingo grid, put the names of all the testimony meeting 'regulars', and see how long it takes to get a winning row. In our ward, not long. There are a couple of people I trade off putting in the center free spot.

Today I hardly register the testimonies. I hear other people professing what they know and believe and all I can do is doubt. Doubt that they know it, doubt that what they believe is really true. I'm still calling out silent prayers. I still know God hears me. I'm not sure I know much else.

Then my friend Julie gets up to bear her testimony. It's quiet. Reverent. Peaceful. I can almost see the shaft of light breaking through from her to me. Her testimony isn't grandiose or self-promoting. It's pure and true. I feel the Spirit confirming her words to my heart. The contrast from the negativity and darkness I've been wrapped in and this sweet, familiar comfort of the Spirit is a wonder. I soak it in and marvel at tender mercy. For the rest of the meeting I'm more open. Little pinpricks of light break through here and there.

In Primary we practice a new song. I haven't paid much attention to the third verse but today it jumps out at me. "He is always near me, though I do not see Him there. And because He loves me dearly I am in His watchful care..." My dad gave me a blessing a few weeks ago. It promised, among other things, that the Lord would be with me and that I would know beyond a doubt that He was near. As the primary children sing the words, peace flows over me and I do KNOW. Really know. Even when I'm wrapped in a fog of doubt or despair or pain or whatever the heck it is, He's still there. Even when I don't recognize or see or feel, He's still there. My angst doesn't negate His love.

My mom sent me a blog post she stumbled across that has comforting relevance.

Sitting there in the foyer by myself on that bleak February afternoon listing to talks I couldn't decide if I believed a word of, I felt the strangest, most unaccountable sense of mercy. There were no answers to the complexities of the Great Apostasy, or to the more pressing, personal complexities of how on earth it is that I am to go on in this church. There was no sense of clarity about what to do or even what to think. There was just a sense of not being alone in my aloneness, as if some divine, compassionate hand had brushed the tears from my cheek. There were no answers. Only grace. ... I have been so foolish and so wrong. I have mistaken the voices of well-meaning human men and women for the voice of God.

I think sometimes grace takes two different forms. It comes directly from the Source, as a healing balm directly to our broken hearts. Sometimes it comes more indirectly, through the voices of those well-meaning human men and women. I treasure moments of grace when my soul communes with God while the world stands still. And I love those sacred moments when I hear in another frail and flawed mortal like myself the voice of God.

His grace is sufficient. It's enough. Not only to save, heal, sanctify, cleanse, and exalt, but to get me through one more Sunday.

Monkey See, Monkey (Try to) Do, or 'Lego' of the sibling imitation!

Last week we sort of house sat for my sister while she and her family were out of town. More on that in a separate post.

On the last night there I heard snuffling, snorting, and weeping from the kids' room long after they were supposed to be asleep. Eric was the source of the commotion, and after lots of prodding and prompting he disclosed that his nose hurt. I finally located a flashlight and could see, stuck way up near his sinuses, a blue lego. Given how long it had taken to get everyone else to sleep, how far we were from our doctor's office (three-hour drive), and the fact that this was the third time I've dealt with a child who stuck bizarre objects up his/her nose, I told Eric to go back to sleep and we'd deal with it in the morning. Yep, I'd nominate myself for Terrible Mother of the Year except I'm already a shoe-in for the past five years' running.

The next morning he was fine. The 'lego' was still there, but other than the occasional snort and a suspicious bulge above his nose you'd never know there was a problem. I told the kids that we had to get packed up and on the road right away so that Eric could get to the doctor. They were incredibly intrigued. Grace immediately started imagining the most bloody, dramatic methods that the doctor might remove the lego. She had everyone enthralled, so I slipped upstairs to get dressed.

A few minutes later Mia came in holding a teeny little lego and wearing a quizzical look. Holding out the lego she said, "Mom, how did Eric get that lego in his nose? I can't do it."

postscript one: to date, Mia has had three beads removed from her nose, four fruit loops removed from that same nostril, and an earring surgically removed from her ear (it's a very long story, the moral of which is that three years old is not the right age for ear piercing. Note to self).

Postscript two: the lego in Eric's nose was, in fact, not a lego at all, but a blue bead. The day after the doctor extracted it I walked in the front room just in time to see Eric contemplating a handful of pink beads before holding one up to his nose experimentally. Now he knows that bringing beads anywhere near body cavities makes Mommy scream really loud.

Top Ten Things I'm Most Grateful for Right Now

10.) anything by Jennifer Weiner
9.) Mary Chapin-Carpenter and all my Johnny Cash CDs
8.) Nature's Secret Ultimate Fiber (my sisters know what I'm talking about)
7.) Barack Obama. Nothing to do with politics--I just like having someone so sexy running for president. Yep, it's totally shallow. I'm trying to decide if sexiness is a valid reason to vote for someone. Save the hate comments; I'm only partly serious. Maybe.
6.) Children who dress themselves. Even better, older children who have learned how to change the younger ones' diapers. And they especially like changing poopy ones. They use half a package of wipes, but hey--I'm good with that. Anything that decreases my own poop exposure. (Is it just me, or is poop a frequent theme in my posts? Christa, I know what you're going to say...)
5.) Trident Original Gum.
4.) a good gym
3.) a good therapist
2.) smart people. Even better, smart people who like me. (I mean, obviously they like me, since they are smart...)
1.) Adri, Erynn, all of the Emilys, Lexie, Lucy, Mariah...all the people who help mother my babies, save my sanity, and make our home a happier place. Like Grace says, "She's not a babysitter--she's our family!" Thank God--and I do--for "family" in whatever configuration it comes.