close, for comfort

From as early as I can remember I have always lived close to people that have mattered to me. But the question is: was I lucky those friends lived close by, or did they become my friends because they did? I don't know that it matters, really.

This video was taken on the micro-walk from my best friend's house to mine, which takes a total of, well, under a minute. Proximity can be a blessing or a curse, but I can honestly say I have never had it work to the negative, thank goodness.

I like being close to church, and school, and work, and the market (all of which I can walk to). It is handy. It makes life just a little easier. I appreciate it immensely in the busy life that I lead.

Do I let things that are not physically nearby become close to me? How can I get better at that? I know I need more than the convenient. Sometimes the faraway things can move right next door if I let them. Personal reflecting time. Scriptures. Family. God. I need to shrink my "world" and welcome these new neighbors.

Multimedia message

I am sitting here at one of our district special ed new teacher induction meetings, which have been going on all week. Can I just say I love my job?

Musical Monday: Shenandoah

I am a Virginian, and for over four-hundred years that has meant something to people. Virginia is a place where ghosts of presidents float. It is where you can walk on top of the snow because the ice makes a shiny shell. It is where carpeted hills roll and roll and almost sing.

click on the title below


Oh, Shenandoh, I long to hear you.
Away, you rolling river.
Oh, Shenandoh, I long to hear you.
Away, I'm bound to go,
Across the wide Missouri.

Tis seven long years since last I saw you.
Away you rolling river.
Tis seven long years since last I saw you.
Away, I'm bound to go,
Across the wide Missouri.

And I did.

accompaniment found online

MM still to come

Due to new teacher induction classes early this morning (and that darned snooze button) I will be posting my Musical Mondays entry later this afternoon. So please come back later and take a listen.

losing mariah, intro to kaye

I introduced you to Mariah last week, and today I thought I would post an excerpt from her mother's perspective. I tried to make Kaye sound a bit perturbed at almost everything, but I wanted her to voice a lot of the things that most people think but don't say. Kaye is distant from her two daughters, even though Rachel gives and gives to try and get things to feel right between the three. So, here is my introduction to this second character.


If I could just get out of work by 3:30 each day I wouldn’t have to sit in all of this traffic, but because the kids need so much stroking and attention I end up staying later than I should and doing the job their parents should be doing. My girls never needed as much attention as my current students need, thank goodness. They were always on the ball and well-adjusted. But Rossbury Academy has changed over the years, just like every other institution dealing with youth. Where did I put that CD Elizabeth gave me about learning Polish? Honestly, I think it is hiding from me because it senses that I am reluctant to learn anything from it. Only six more weeks until I get to go on this eye-opening trip with the Bodens, and I am regretting it already. Playing the widow everyone tries to include is a hard role, and nobody tries to include me as much as Bill and Elizabeth do. They are good, kind-hearted people, and I love them dearly, but two weeks in Krakow with a man that will be having NASCAR withdrawal? I am just grateful that Elizabeth and I can talk about things that matter, like we have been since the sorority days.

Oh, wait. I think I have it. Unbelievable. It is the CD about the Revolutionary War that I bought for Johnny last Christmas. He was such a history buff. I swore to him that it couldn’t be in my car one morning when he was in the mood to listen to it while he drove into the city. Why couldn’t I have just looked a little harder instead of mocking him for always losing things? Why didn’t he look in my car for himself? I always have so many questions and there is never anyone around to give me any answers. Well, maybe I should stop by the market and pick up some bok choy for that Chinese dish I have been wanting to try. Grading papers is a much more pleasant experience with a plate of good food sitting beside the stack.

I remember some of the dinners Mom would make when Eileen and I were growing up. She had her issues, but she sure was a wonderful cook, with her kale soups, seafoods, and anything baked. Why does it seem like each generation of women behind us produced better cooks, seamstresses, and homemakers? It’s like we keep getting more and more diluted as we move forward in time. Will there come a time when we won’t know how to even take care of our own basic needs? The girls think I am too thin, and they say they are concerned about my health. I wish they would worry about themselves more and not make me uncomfortable with their questions. I never liked being mothered and can take perfectly good care of myself.

This man they have bagging groceries is such a sad sight with his tatoos and his humming to himself. I am surprised they couldn’t find a job for him back in the stockroom where he wouldn’t make some of these customers uncomfortable. A dollar ninety-nine a pound? This will be interesting to see the cashier make change after she accidentally closed the drawer. Close enough. Consider the difference your tip.

I am glad to be on my way home now after a grueling day of trying to convince 12 year-olds that George Washington, at age 44, was quite a young Commander in Chief during those trying times when America was demanding independence. Forty-four. Mariah’s age. Maybe I was so caught up in that battle with my students because it has been months now that I have been repeating those same words in my own mind. Why can’t I convince my students that 44 is young? Why can’t I convince God? Maybe I shouldn’t have chosen teaching as a profession. I always enjoyed politics and I think I could have made a real difference in that arena. There was that time Sue Gledhill and Joanna Dockweiler almost had me convinced to run for that seat on the school board. It seems small but it could have led to other things, other paths. Sometimes it takes years before any real payback comes from teaching, like when Jason Helms called me after he had returned home from doing volunteer work in Indonesia. It had been eleven years since I had even spoken to Jason, and there he was on the phone telling me that I had inspired him to do something important with his life. I am not always looking for a pat on the back, but it helps.

Eight miles and it takes me just under an hour to get home. Maybe I should have moved out to Santa Monica years ago and gotten closer to work, but closer to work means farther away from the girls. I say that as if it would really make a difference. The crowd in Santa Monica isn’t really what I want socially I suppose. I raised my family in Cheviot Hills and I can’t seriously imagine living anywhere else as long as I have control of my arrangements. What am I going to do about the broken cement in the driveway though? Johnny always enjoyed taking care of those kind of details and I can’t seem to get interested. At least we got the house repainted last Fall, so that is taken care of. I wonder if it is foolish to consider redoing the den? I find myself spending more and more time in there lately and am getting tired of the carpet and even the paint color. I wouldn’t want to offend Rachel by changing the color, since she was the one to choose it for me. It will be perfect for this room, Mom . You need to try and loosen up a bit. I guess coral pink for 6 years isn’t quite loose enough. I need change right now. Not so much that it is disconcerting, but enough to distract me and keep me busy after I come home to a quiet house that is so loud it is deafening.

Why won’t the Harcourts trim those shrubs? Every time I come around the bend on Forrester I have to use my brakes more than I should have to. I wish everyone would just take care of their own space. I would never aspire to be friends with every person in the neighborhood, could barely stomach the idea really, but I would love to see a little bit of ownership around here.

On a long day like today I am so thankful for my garage door opener that is like a big magic button that allows me passage into my own private world, where I can lock everything out. There have been times when I have somehow managed to even lock myself out. I come in, drop my keys in the yellow glazed clay bowl Mariah made for me when she was in third grade, and wander around the house looking for me. I look in the fridge where there are remnants of lasagna and spinach from Monday night. I look in the pile of mail that has been building up for the past few days. My name is on every envelope, but I am not there. As I swing around the banister and start going up the stairs I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the old framed wedding photo of my parents, and I realize that I am actually spread around this house. Once I walk in I seem to dematerialize into a billion particles that can be found all over. Part of me is looking back from the reflection in the glass, but not all of me. I drag what is left and climb to my room where I dig through the small lump of laundry in search of my baby blue flannel pajama pants., which I put on before I go back down to the kitchen. The old tattered chenille bedspread on the quilt rack holds a bit of me. I stayed up until 1 a.m. for a week to finish that in time for Rachel’s ninth birthday. She was finally ready to sleep away from her sister and I wanted her first experience flying solo to be special. I wonder why she has never asked to have it for her own daughter?

Phone messages. Elizabeth should know better than to ask if my passport is ready to go. I go somewhere every summer. Somewhere meaning to Europe. She is spending a lot of time thinking about this trip and I am finding it so hard to leave, especially now. I need to call tomorrow and make sure my new cell phone service will allow me to make and receive international calls. I have to be available for Mariah, just in case. She may need me and I wouldn’t want her to feel abandoned by me. Other than that I will not be spending too much time and energy on planning for Poland. Elizabeth is acting as travel agent, concierge and cheerleader, and I plan on staying out of her way.

When there is only one person living in a house she can’t blame anyone but herself when things go missing. How many red pens have I misplaced around here? I only use them for grading papers, although when Johnny and I used to spend Sunday mornings doing the L.A. Times crossword puzzle I would sometimes use a red pen. It gave me a sense of authority. He would tease me about that. I needed something to give me the upper hand against him, even if it was just psychological. We had a real competition thing going on between us when it came to Sunday mornings. Maybe even when it came to other things. There were so many things he did well, but there were also so many things he could have done even better if he only had tried harder. I guess it won’t hurt to use a blue pen on these papers, and the students might even be able to take my remarks easier if they are written in a softer color. Maybe I will save the Chinese for tomorrow and just have a glass of wine tonight while I plow through these.

prayer answered on the nightstand

My husband and boy #2 are having an adventure hiking King's Peak this week, so I am here with my youngest two boys. We have had a good week with time together, just the three of us, that we don't always get.

But I was just lying here in bed, alone, wondering about my oldest son. The one I worried about 5 years ago. The one that used to get under my skin and inside my heart almost in the same second. He has been serving as assistant to the mission president for the past couple of months, and due to the vast amounts of traveling he has to do each week (the Kenya Nairobi mission covers the countries of Kenya and Tanzania) we do not always hear from him on his regular preparation day. I am usually okay with this, knowing he is doing important work, but this week I have been missing him a bit and hoping all is well on his side of the earth.

My phone buzzes telling me I have gotten an email at 11:51 pm, and before reaching over to the nightstand I say a quick silent prayer that it is from Perry, my African son. I wanted to share with you some of his experience. Please forgive the length. I tried and tried to edit the email, but couldn't do it.

Last Wednesday I felt like I was in front of a tribunal. A local school asked to come to the church to learn more about our religion. A group of around 50 teenagers came to the chapel here at the mission office. They all sat in the congregation and some of us missionaries sat up on the stand. We showed a short video about the church and some of our basic beliefs, then the floor was opened up to questions. Anyone could raise their hand to ask something. On the stand fielding questions were the missionaries (Elder Paulo and myself, as well as two senior couple missionaries), the stake president, the stake mission leader, and Elder Usi (area authority seventy). The teenagers were, as far as I could tell, all foreigners. It's been awhile since I've been around that many white people close to my age. We took turns answering questions. The session lasted about ninety minutes or so and then they all left. I learned a few things from the whole experience. One is that the missionaries who proselyte (us young single missionaries) should answer questions. We've heard most of them before and we know how to answer CONCISELY without going off on a ten minute sermon that leads the questioner more in the dark. Another thing I learned is that many of my peers (most of the group we were speaking with) do not have a knowledge of the scriptures. They would ask questions like they were representing Christianity as a whole but it was quite apparent that they had little to no knowledge or understanding of the scriptures. I think sometimes I don't realize some of the things I have learned and developed as a missionary. A basic knowledge of the scriptures is one of those things. Anyway afterwards I spoke with a few of the students, they were from all over (some from the US, others born in Kenya but from European families, etc). The only way I can describe it is 'weird'. Instead of fumbling away in my broken Swahili ("Habari, una toka wapi?") I just used normal English. The whole thing just seemed foreign to me.
The weekend consisted of driving to Eldoret for zone conference and then spending time with the missionaries there on exchanges. The drive is quite fun in the rain, there are many dirt diversions from the main highway (mucho construction-o). I didn't want to get our truck stuck as we drove through a giant puddle so I floored it. The tidal wave literally went over the whole front of our truck and ran down the roof onto the back shell's window. Boys will be boys.
We made it there and back safe, nothing too out of the ordinary except for that we didn't even get stopped by the police on the way. Western Kenya is the bread basket of the country, we stopped and bought 10Kgs of potatoes for 200 shillings (about US $2.50). That was pretty awesome.
The water situation is not getting any better. My companion and I spent close to 8,000 shillings (US $100) on water storage tanks that we are going to hand out and use to help missionaries. They say that there is also a food shortage on the horizon. And power as well. Sometimes I just have to laugh and shake my head. The people here don't complain much though, I have to hand it to them for persevering.
Yesterday Elder Paulo and I went up to the Kilungu Hills, about a three hour drive south of Nairobi, to check on a newly formed branch there. The Mitini branch has boasted of having investigators' classes twice a week (there are no full time missionaries stationed there so the branches have to be self relient when it comes to missionary work). President Taylor asked us to comply with the branch president's request to visit. We drove up the mountains in a thick fog. It's very cold up there. The Kamba tribe has inhabited all of the surrounding mountainsides, terracing the hills to grow maize, bananas, etc. In a building (just a step above a 'shack' in my book because it's made of stone) on a peak in the middle of nowhere there is a branch. We taught investigators' classes, each of us going to one, from ten to noon. Without stopping. All of my class was in Kikamba, their tribal language. The second counselor in the branch presidency was my translator. The average age of my students was probably 50+. They were little, weathered grandmas with leathered faces and sunken eyes. There were also a few men there. Despite the cold all they had were colorful sheets ("kangas") to wrap themselves in. I taught, as simply as I could, about God, prophets, the family, and the gospel. I made them repeat (several times) back to me the five principles of the gospel. Many of them knew little-to-nothing of common Christianity. It was a peculiar experience for sure, though very powerful. They are such good people there. They live simple lives without all of the distractions and stresses of our city lives. Buses only go up there once a week (Tuesdays) so they are disconnected from any of the nearby cities on the highway to Mombasa.
We saw a giraffe on the drive back from the Hills. Just right near the road, chomping away on a tree.
I love you all. The Church is true, and Jesus DOES live. I know it.

Musical Monday: Bring Him Home

This was a tough one for a few reasons. First, it is sung by a man in the production of Les Miserables. Second, it is a theatrical piece and deserves to be dramatic. And third, it is technically difficult, covering a good range and having a somewhat tricky bridge in the middle.

But I love the story of Les Mis. Starting over with the resolve to do right. Then slipping. Then starting over again. Which one of us doesn't live this same cycle?

Bring Him Home

losing mariah, an intro

In September of 2003 I spent a week in Boston visiting my beautiful red-headed 40-something cousin. She was like an older sister to me my whole life, grabbing my hand when we pulled up in their driveway for a visit, and pulling me to the swing set where she would push me for what felt like hours. She had long hair and listened to Carole King and rolled her eyes at her parents when they weren't watching. She was wonderful. And she was dying of cancer. This was it. I was not going to see her again after this visit, and I could barely wrap my heart around that truth. Two weeks after I got home from the visit the call came. She was gone, and so was a slice of me.

Three years later, almost exactly, I spent a full month writing about 1700 words a day until I finished my 50k-word novel. It was a story about a terminally ill woman who spends her final weeks trying to make sure things are in order, both tangible and intangible things. I decided to tell the story from three rotating perspectives. Mariah (the dying woman), Rachel (her sister), and Kaye (a distant but present mother). There is dysfunction and there is intense love, all needing to be reconciled. Some of the things are obviously inspired by the story of my cousin, Leigh, but many things are my own. It was very cathartic for me, as I mourned. At the suggestion of my husband I am going to put some of it up here. Here is my attempt...


Things. Things that can be stacked. Things that are in boxes. Things that carry with them real memories. Things that mean nothing to me, but for some reason I need them. Maybe we all feel like if we have stuff around us then we really exist. The stuff proves something. It’s like our own little collection of artifacts, and if we surround ourselves with enough of them we can become immortal. And so many of the things I have aren’t even mine really.

Vo’s old broaches and handkerchiefs from seventy years ago when she was just learning how to do needle work. She probably was a new bride then and they are a symbol of her womanhood in a way. Dad’s old high school football jersey. If Rachel knew I had that hidden away here she would march right over and demand it.

Somehow I have become the family archivist. The photographer. The librarian. I don’t even remember when I took on those roles, but it is a given that I will document everything important that happens in this family.

Mariah, did you get a picture of that? Mariah, have you seen that old edition of the world atlas that Uncle Mike used to read to us out of? Mariah, don’t you have all of Kaye’s letters she wrote home when she was in college?

I can’t really say if I have minded all of these expectations, but somewhere deep down I think it is beginning to weigh on me a bit. It takes some real energy and space to keep track of people’s lives, and I am running out of both. When I bought this house a few years ago I was so glad it was on the small size because I was dedicated to keeping my life clutter-free. I guess I have done a pretty decent job, but recently these walls are closing in and I am ready to push them out a few feet.

Too bad the closet in my guest room is where I need to start. I could barely pull my jeans on this morning and now I am expected to drag that futon away from the closet door? Yeah, right. Why am I so horrible at asking for help? Rachel, TJ and Daryl were over all evening yesterday (well, until I passed out on the couch) and I just couldn’t bring myself to admit I might need some help moving a two-hundred pound piece of furniture. I am such an ass sometimes.

Musical Monday: Fields of Gold

I love the wistfulness of this piece. Hope I did it some justice (I found this cool accompaniment online).

Click below and enjoy.

Fields of Gold

from kenya to peru

Yesterday my friend and her family sent off their oldest son to Peru for two years. He is a great young man who has a natural goodness and was also raised up well by his parents. The perfect candidate to go out in the world and do some good.

As I stood on my friend's driveway last night to see how she was doing we both welled up a bit. The lack of contact is hard, both the verbal contact, and in the case of both of us, the physical contact. Tall sons who like to wrap their arms around their mothers and, at least with my own son, rest their heads on top of ours. Good boys (men) who leave a real hole when they are gone, even though they are having the blessing of filling up someone else's life for 24 months.

My husband was standing there with us, and to lighten the mood he reminded us that there are some things that actually get irritating about having a gangly 19-yr old boy around the house all the time.

But, not today, honey. Today we like to think of our boys as perfect.

And, funny thing, I am still thinking that way this morning.

Musical Monday: Cast Thy Burden Upon The Lord

I chose my little song today based on some time I spent on Saturday.

Yesterday I penciled in some "me" time and took a long drive up to the Oquirrh Mountain Temple and back home, by way of the west side of Utah Lake (on the recommendation of friends). I was in a dress, having attended a baptism in the morning, but I climbed into my car, kicked off my heels, and started driving. I listened to classical music and just let the thoughts bang around in my head. All is well enough, but there are small cycles of struggle, right? Some new financial obligations, growing children, bang, bang, bang.

The west side of the lake was so rugged and abandoned. It was therapeutic to drive on smoothly paved roads through miles of crunchy dry grass and skittering grasshoppers. At one point I got out of the car to take some photos in a field only to find that there were literally hundreds of little spiders popping out of their hiding places that I had disturbed. A lightening-quick sprint back to my bug-free car left me laughing at myself, glad I was in the wilderness where nobody could see my arachnophobia. But the laugh felt good, and I plugged on until I rounded the south side of the lake into a little farming town called Elberta. Rusted tractors, orchards, old ladies ordering strawberry shakes as I stood in line at a walk-up window to get a soda and some food. Cute ladies who pulled their crisp one-dollar bills from their pockets.

And then as I approached my neighborhood, the overwhelming feeling that I was loved and remembered. I don't need to bear even the smallest personal concerns all by myself. There is someone that is constant. He wants to lift the weight.

Cast Thy Burden Upon The Lord

is it hot in here, or is it just me?

I am enjoying a free month here. By "free" I mean, no classes, and no time at the new job yet. It has been a chance to be an at-home mom, and I am reminded of how much I like being home. I clean, I cook for the gang, I have lunch with friends, I go on afternoon walks. It is good and it is me, for the moment.

And in six weeks number 2 will be moving out to go to school and it will go down to four people around here. How did everything change so quickly? How did we shave one-third of our population down here in the house?

The den needs a good organizing and going through, but I run across scrapbooks in the big closet and can't see what I am doing through the waterworks. I turn into a sniffling ball of mom and I can't see unless I empty my hands to wipe my eyes dry.

I am excited about school and new challenges for me, but it seems like these opportunities are screaming: Hey! You are old now! Your kids need you a bit less! And you are old!

Yes, a few times this Summer I have complained about the heat in a nicely air-conditioned building. Everyone seems to stare at me as I fan myself with whatever paper I can find in my purse. And I have woken up some mornings sticky on the back of my neck with sweat. flashes? Yes, I am older now. My kids need me less, but I am learning that they only need me a little less for temporal things. They still need me (maybe even more than in the recent past) for other things. Advice, reassurance, guidance through the tough teenage years, or the re-entry after a mission. It is a good time to remember my blessings of more independence and freedom, and kids who are growing up well.

Now, where is that ice pack?