Archive for the ‘Portraits of Home’ Category
Last week my baby started first grade. Which means that from the hours of 9:00 to 3:30 each day, all of my children are now in school. When a friend recently asked me how I felt about that I answered: “Euphoric and terrified at the same time.” Euphoric because I can finally focus on finishing my novel and getting it out there. Terrified for the very same reason.
I realized how scared I really was about this on the morning my kids started school. As soon as they were out the door, I jumped on my mountain bike and headed up to the foothills near our home. I was almost to the top of the trail when a large, tawny-colored animal crossed the path ahead of me and disappeared into the trees. It had only been about 30 feet in front of me, but with the bend in the trail I hadn’t gotten a good glimpse of it. Most likely it was a mule deer. They live in these hills, and come down from the mountains in small herds to devour any unprotected vegetable garden in their path. But as it hurried away into the scrub oak, I swear I saw a long TAIL. My brain screamed MOUNTAIN LION, and I turned my bike so quickly in the opposite direction that I hit my back wheel on a rock and got a flat tire.
I hurried out of the park as fast as I could, and took the paved road back home. Unfortunately, that road took me by the cemetery, and as I walked past, pushing my bike alongside me, I noticed the vultures that nest in our city cemetery circling overhead, their great dark wings hanging heavily against the sky. “If I were writing a story,” I thought. “The mountain lion and the vultures would make really potent symbols.” I continued to ponder this. “What,” I wondered, “would they represent?”
And of course, that is when it hit me: fear. My own fear. Of failure.
I had to laugh at myself then. And laughing gave me just enough courage to sit down and write, so as soon as I got home, I pulled out my computer and got to work. Now I’m struggling through. I have to admit, it is taking a LOT of chocolate. But I am looking fear in the face and I am doing it. I haven’t seen any more mountain lions slink past, and the vultures have stopped circling overhead. I found a quote recently that I need to blow up in ginormous writing so that I can remember it if a shadow passes above me, or something heavy moves in the trees. It is by Gordon B. Hinckley and it goes like this: ”You have not failed until you quit trying.”
If you drive up the road a bit from our home in Alpine, Utah, you can find the homestead of a pioneer legend, John R. Moyle. He was one of the first pioneers to settle this area, and the city has preserved parts of his original home in a quiet little park where you can visit and learn more about him.
His story was told by Jeffrey R. Holland, an apostle of the LDS church, during a session of our general conference. Here is an excerpt:
“John R. Moyle lived in Alpine, Utah, about 22 miles as the crow flies to the Salt Lake Temple, where he was the chief superintendent of masonry during its construction. To make certain he was always at work by 8 o’clock, Brother Moyle would start walking about 2 A.M. on Monday mornings. He would finish his work week at 5 P.M. on Friday and then start the walk home, arriving there shortly before midnight. Each week he would repeat that schedule for the entire time he served on the construction of the temple.
Once when he was home on the weekend, one of his cows bolted during milking and kicked Brother Moyle in the leg, shattering the bone just below the knee. With no better medical help than they had in such rural circumstances, his family and friends took a door off the hinges and strapped him onto that makeshift operating table. They then took the bucksaw they had been using to cut branches from a nearby tree and amputated his leg just a few inches below the knee. When against all medical likelihood the leg finally started to heal, Brother Moyle took a piece of wood and carved an artificial leg. First he walked in the house. Then he walked around the yard. Finally he ventured out about his property. When he felt he could stand the pain, he strapped on his leg, walked the 22 miles to the Salt Lake Temple, climbed the scaffolding, and with a chisel in his hand hammered out the declaration “Holiness to the Lord.”
In honor of John Moyle, the youth of our local ward, or church congregation, made a trek last Saturday, walking from our home in Alpine to the Salt Lake City temple. I joined the youth, including my 12-year old son, Hunter, in the long walk to Salt Lake.
This afternoon one of my Halloween decorations mysteriously lost its two front legs: a cute little kitty, now permanently crippled because the ceramic paws are completely shattered. My first thought when I found it, sitting in its usual place, with all its bits and pieces lined up beside it, was ‘Why do I bother with decorations when I have four kids running around the house?’ My second thought was, ‘Who did this?’
So I began questioning my children. Surprisingly, not a single one of them admitted to breaking the Halloween cat. One of them tried to blame the dog, but our little Westie couldn’t have reached the shelf where it had been on display. Another one of them tried to blame Dad (never a wise move). So I let the case rest.
Until tonight when we sat down to dinner. A surprise development occurred when I asked my eleven year old to bless our food. ”Dear Heavenly Father,” he prayed, “Please bless the food. And please bless us that we can talk about the things that are upsetting or troubling us.”
“Thank you, Hunter,” I said when he had finished his blessing. I was little worried about that last part, though, so I turned to the rest of the family and asked. ”Does anyone have anything that is troubling or upsetting you that you want to talk about?”
“Yes,” said Pierce, my five-year-old, waving his hand up in the air.
“What is it?”
“I don’t like this dinner.”
“Okay,” I said. ”Anyone else?”
Hunter looked at me, his face all trouble and concern. ”I broke the cat, Mom,” he said. ”I didn’t mean to.”
He probably expected me to be mad. It was a cute little kitty. But I couldn’t be angry. Because I was looking at his face, and seeing all that trouble and concern, and it made me much sadder than a broken Halloween decoration. I put my arms around him and kissed the top of his head. I was so grateful that I could make all that guilt and sadness go away, just by forgiving him. And so grateful that he would tell me what had happened so that I could forgive him. ”Next time tell me right when it happens, okay?” I said.
“Okay,” he said.
And I hope he will.
Spring is here. Ribbons of yellow daffodils are growing on the side of the road. Robbins are hopping around, their red breasts puffed out in front of them. And soccer season has begun. My weekly schedule is suddenly an ink smear of places I need to be. I’m having a hard time keeping up with it all. In fact, I’m NOT keeping up with it all. Last Friday I completely forgot about a music evaluation my son, Hunter, had for piano. It was an exam of sorts, including sight reading, performance, theory, and technique. He’d been working toward it for months. And I forgot. So did he. We both felt terrible. Tears-on-our-cheeks TERRIBLE.
First thing Saturday morning I called his teacher, Rebecca, to apologize. “I don’t even have a good excuse,” I confessed. “We just forgot.”
Hunter’s piano teacher is one of the kindest, most gracious people I know. But even so, I expected her to be frustrated. Disappointed at the least. I would have been. Instead, she responded by saying, “I am so happy to know that everything is okay. I was worried that Hunter was sick.”
Before I had a chance to plunge into an even deeper state of guilt, our sweet teacher went on to say, “Now, Janessa, I’ve had this sort of thing happen to me many times. I wish I had been gentler with myself. Please. Be gentle with yourself.”
There wasn’t much I could say to that, especially not with the tears welling up in my eyes. I shared her words with my son, Hunter, and saw a wide-eyed look of gratitude and adoration appear on his face.
Be gentle with yourself. What a valuable lesson. I hope Rebecca knows she is teaching Hunter so much more than how to play the piano. And I am learning, too.
Lucky. That is how I felt today when I dropped my four year old off for preschool. He stopped on his way to the door, turned around, shouted, “I love you, Mom,” and blew me a kiss.
The little things do it every time – make me realize how wonderful life really is. That little kiss, sent to me across the chilly February air, blew away a thousand thoughts and concerns that have been pressing on me lately, most of them concerning the word MORE.
That word, ‘more’, has been such a burden lately. I need to lose more weight. I need more fashionable clothes. I need to finish more of my book. I need my house to look more put together. I’ve been so focused on what I don’t have, and that little kiss brought it back to me: the remembrance of all the things I do have. All the little, tiny, precious, priceless things.
As I drove away, feeling lighter than I have in a while, I thought about the word more, and what I really need more of: more gratitude, more patience, more love, more doing good for others, more fun with my family, more laughing, more smiling, more hugs, and more, more, more feathery kisses blowing my way on light and lucky breezes.
Saturday evening we drove home from a bike race up in Park City, happy, tired and covered in dirt. When we turned into our quiet town, we looked up to see this welcoming us home:
It arched, end to end, over Alpine. We followed its ribbon of color to see if we could find the elusive rainbow’s end. Of course we never could quite reach it, but the colors were so vivid, it really did seem we could reach out and catch hold of it.
Moments after coming home the sun broke out from behind the clouds and the rainbow was gone, but it left its imprint in my mind, along with these words by William Wordsworth:
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky;
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
Clearly I am no videographer, but on Friday we took a trip to Wonderland, and here is what we brought back:
Everyone has been home for the past three days, and the skies outside are damp and gray. The perfect equation for a very messy house. Today in the midst of my spraying, scrubbing and sweeping I remembered what my friend Lisa said, which I quoted in my last post: “Dishes are no big deal.” I think hearing her say that resonated with me so much because I often allow housework to take up an unnecessary amount of my emotional energy. Not long after picking up my sponge, I find myself feeling a lot like poor, miserable Atlas, holding up the weight of the world.
Why do I allow housework to do this to me? I remember with perfect clarity the first time I suffered from housework-induced ennui. I was a newlywed wiping off the edges of a dirty toilet bowl. I felt so dissastisfied and depressed that I sat down immediately afterwards and wrote a pathetic little essay about it in which I cursed my sorry fate.
I’ve managed to come to terms with housework quite a bit since those early days. I’ve decided that cleaning my house is just something that needs to be done. Not my calling in life, my destiny, my raison de vivre. No. It’s no big deal. Like shaving my legs or going to the dentist. I don’t enjoy it, but I get it done.
And I do understand the value of work, whether tedious or not. Which is why I can’t make myself hire a cleaning service. I need work, and I know my kids need it, too. They don’t fight when they are doing their jobs. They are focused on working, and our home hums with industry and satisfaction. For five minutes. Maybe. But I’ll take what I can get, and keep reminding myself that the repetitive, mundane tasks don’t accumulate to equal the size and mass of the densest planet in our solar system. Poor Atlas, indeed.
The lilacs are blooming, the creek that runs past our house is swelling with a fast-moving swirl of cold mountain run off, and the sounds from the schoolyard are growing more and more exuberant. Summer is coming.
Slowly. The air is still a little too cool. The list of to-do’s a little too long. But we are all taking a deep breath and holding it. Waiting for school to end and for lazy summer mornings to settle in; afternoons out of doors with popsicles melting in our hands; evenings surrounded by scrub oak, riding through the foothills on our bikes.
But before we say goodbye to the school year, I have to stop and reflect on how much my kids have grown since last August. The new shoes I bought them don’t fit anymore, the pants have long since worn through at the knee. My ten year old, especially, has grown to a whole new person – tall, smart, and confident. He has had a great year. I’ve saved a letter he wrote to me back in January, for his parent-teacher conference. I thought it said so much about his year as a fourth grader, and his thoughtfulness. It gives a sweet savor to the year’s end.
School is going great! I feel like I am improving in math and other subjects. Even though I am learning so much there are some things I need to improve, like staying on task and working more quickly.
At recess I mostly play tag but on Tuesday it was great to see you at the Book Fair!
Lunch is great too, thanks for making home lunch for me. It is funny what conversations we have at the lunch table.
I love the times when you come to teach writing!
Today’s post is really just a couple of pictures of the quilt I made for my daughter’s twin bed. She asked for a Little House on the Prarie themed room, infused with a touch of Barbara McClintock’s Dahlia. Of couse I loved the literary references and set about making a wagon wheel quilt using a pattern and fabric by Denyse Schmidt.
I have two reasons for posting about this quilt. One: I worked hard on those curved seams! And the quilting wasn’t easy, either, on my standard sized sewing machine. It is a very happy feeling to have it finished and see my daughter snuggled under it at night.
Two: I want to go to this. But I didn’t feel like I really qualified without blogging about a quilt that I had made. So now I am legitimate!