Not calm...but bright

When I talked to my family on Christmas morning, it was 10:30 and they were just finishing opening their stockings. We, like many of you, I'm sure, had been up for hours and had already opened presents, put presents together, played with presents and eaten breakfast. Having gone to bed at 2 A.M. on Christmas Eve, Eric and I were ready for nap time. But there was bread and apple pie and cranberry sauce to make for dinner. And there were movies to watch, games to play and wrapping paper to squash into the recycling bin...so our naps were put off until the children are grown.

When Marley opened her new pink and red purse I could read her smile in an instant. It said I'm like mama now! Within minutes she had hooked it to the new toy stroller Santa had brought and was pushing her baby doll around the house with a confident air.

Brigham retreated to his bedroom to put together his new Lego ship and didn't resurface until almost 3:00 in the afternoon. We found that in his intense focus, he'd eaten nothing but a pack of gummy lifesavers all day. Eric Jr. spent most of the day bouncing his two new basketballs around the house and playing catch with his new baseball mitt.

At five o'clock we walked next door for a lovely, chaotic dinner with our neighbors and two other families. Snowflakes dusted our shoulders as we walked back home with tired, happy children.

After a good night's sleep, I spent some time today thinking about our Christmas. Interspersed among the beautiful moments were many hours of stress, indecision and general not-being-the-mother-I-want-to-be. So here, more for my benefit than anyone else's, and in the hopes that I can do a little better next year, is my Christmas after-action review:

I decided at the last minute to help the boys make presents for each other and their sister, so they would have something other than getting to look forward to on Christmas morning. Unbeknownst to Eric and me, my cousin had taken all three children to a pottery store and had them make presents for us, which they were excited to see us open (and we were excited to receive!!). The sibling gifts, not so much. They had made them hurriedly on Christmas Eve, after being spoon-fed ideas and instructions from me. Next year I'm keeping that tradition, but will start much earlier and give them less input, so they feel like the gifts are really coming from them and are more proud and excited to give them.

We all loved our Christmas Eve dinner of cheese fondue, a tradition inherited from my mother-in-law. It's a favorite of everyone in the family, and it's special, fast and easy to make. I could maybe do without lighting the dining room table on fire for the second year in a row, but really, that table is dying a slow death anyway. And I like the kisses I get each time someone loses their bread in the pot:).

Family presents are always a quandary for me. A lot of families I know, being large, have some sort of sensible system for keeping gift-giving manageable, like drawing names, only giving to kids, etc. My extended family is just small enough for that not to work, but large enough to break my budget every year by a significant amount. This year, as in years past, I resolved to keep my shopping to a minimum and go small on gifts. And this year, as in years past, I felt a little pang on Christmas morning opening thoughtful, generous gifts and knowing that I had not quite reciprocated in kind. But a budget is a budget, and if I die trying, I'm going to learn to stick to mine! So, I decided to fix the shortage of energy and money by getting ready for next Christmas starting now. My plan is to use rainy days and the occasional family-night for projects and crafts that can double as Christmas presents. I hope this can help us all focus more on giving and showing our love to our family and friends, rather than scrambling around for gifts at the last moment. With a new baby on the way, I'm really going to have to get a jump on things, but what better time than now, when ideas of all the fun things we didn't have time to make are still fresh in our minds?

The last big change in our Christmas plans is a sad, but inevitable one. About a week ago I overheard the boys' friend ask them if they believed in Santa Claus. Brigham's response was "eh- half and half," and Eric said "I'm not sure what to believe." So we knew that Santa's days were numbered, but we decided not to broach the topic until the weather warmed up and thoughts of Christmas were far from the their minds. Then tonight at dinner, Eric turned to me and asked me directly if Santa was real. What could we do but break the news then and there? Brigham took it well, but I caught the well-disguised disappointment in Eric's eyes. I asked them when they'd started to doubt and he said about a year ago, when he realized there was no such thing as magic, reindeer couldn't fly and Santa was too fat to fit down the chimney. But I could tell that he'd held on to a tiny spark of hope until a moment before when I had stomped it out. He was quiet for a minute and then asked, "but what about the letters we get from him every year?" I croaked something about my mom sending them and then let a few tears slip out. Then everyone laughed at me and we moved on to happier subjects.

So that leads me to the next big change I want to make in the way we do Christmas. Each year I watch my kids' faces light up when they pull the wrapping paper off of their heart's desire, only to set it aside five minutes later to open the next toy, and the next. After a while they're so overwhelmed with good things that they lose their ability to appreciate them. I like the idea of Santa bringing each kid three presents: something you need, something to read and something just for fun. Then I'd like to make one gift for them and buy them one gift and let that be it. When you add in all the gifts from family and friends, plus the fun stuff in their stockings, it's more than enough. I think I'll wait a while to let them absorb the Santa thing before I lay that one on them, though.

This morning, in lieu of church (it's Georgia, and a snowflake touched the ground!), our neighbors came over and we read Luke 2 together. What stood out to me was the way in which everyone- Mary, Joseph, even the Savior himself, had to figure things out as they went along. Which is what I feel like I'm doing all the time, which is just fine.


Even though she was a cow...

Marley currently has an obsession with one of my favorite books: The Story of Ferdinand. As I was reading it for the third time today I tried to soak up the wisdom in the simple story.

Ferdinand was a peaceful bull who, rather than run and jump and butt heads together with the other bulls, preferred to sit just quietly under his favorite tree and smell the flowers. His mother worried that he would be lonesome all by himself and asked him why he didn't want to run and play. He told her he liked it better in the shade, under his favorite tree and (this is my favorite part):

...because she was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow, she let him just sit there and be happy.

Each of my three children is Ferdinand in their own way. They each have ways of being happy that are foreign to me. Eric prefers to keep his emotions mostly inside his own heart and head. I would explode. Brigham sometimes breaks away from the group he's playing with because whatever they're doing doesn't seem fun to him. Togetherness would trump interest for me, every time. Marley sleeps naked. I'd freeze.

I'm not there yet, but I'm trying to learn that they are the ones with the maps to their own happiness, not me. My best moments as a mother are when I can remember to stand back and cheer on their daily efforts to be true to themselves.

Maybe someday it will be said of me: she was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow. ;)


Race Report

When we arrived at Kiawah Friday night the air was balmy and breezy, music was playing and the island was crawling with smiling runners. After getting Eric checked in we headed to the condo we were sharing with my mom and Jeff, chatted for a bit and then turned in early.

I woke up at 5:45 to the sound of rain outside our window. Eric downed some peanut butter toast and farmer's market eggs, I made plans to meet my mom later and we bundled up and walked down the street to catch the shuttle to the starting line.

They took off with the gun at exactly 8 A.M. under still drizzly, much chillier skies. I took off in the opposite direction on a quickie run of my own to burn off some of the empathetic stress. The race clock was at 1:10:00 when I made it to the turn around point with Eric's gloves, a bottle of water and two nutri-grain bars. While I waited I talked with a sixty-something mom whose three kids were all running, and a twenty-ish looking woman from Florida who was cheering for a friend. I mentioned that I had planned on running, but had gotten pregnant instead, and she asked how many kids I had. I said this was my fourth and waited for the usual shocked reply. Instead she smiled and said, "that's great- I have six at home." I was the one with my jaw on the ground for a change. I was dying to know if she was Mormon, Catholic or just crazy, but didn't have the guts to ask. I love talking to people at races- so fun to hear their stories and make new friends, if only temporary ones.

Eric rounded the turn at 1:31:00, looking strong, but cold. He downed everything, put the gloves on and got back on the road while I turned around and headed to the finish line to look for my mom, who was running the half. Thank goodness for the double-loop course or I would have been in trouble!

I practiced my iphone unlocking skills (not so easy when your fingers are numb!) while I waited to snap a picture and cheer her on to the finish. My favorite part of watching a race is the faces of people crossing the line. They range from smiles to tears to total incredulity. My mom looked focused and relieved when she came around the bend. After getting her some food and a bathroom break, we went back outside to wait for Eric.

3:10:59 clicked by on the race clock and my heart ached a little for him, but I knew he would finish strong and use this as another learning experience on the road to accomplishing his goal. Plus I was having so much fun I didn't mind the thought of doing it all over again in a few more months, as I knew I would be. He had stayed on pace until almost mile 23, when he realized he would have to completely destroy himself to make in it on time, so he took a few walking breaks and relaxed his pace, crossing the line at 3:19:57.

We hopped on the shuttle back to the condo, showered and packed up. We ate lunch with my mom and Jeff at a little pub where we watched the Duke game on the TV behind the bar. Then we got in the car and drove back to our little ones, who were not snug in their beds, but happily waiting up for us. We gave them the treats we had brought back, tucked them in and collapsed into bed.

Maybe it wasn't our lucky day, but it felt that way.



Eric and I are sneaking away tomorrow afternoon for a quick trip to South Carolina. Eric is giving his Boston dreams another shot in the Kiawah Island marathon. I have high hopes- the course is said to be flat and "easy" and perfect temps are in the forecast (kind of important when you're not wearing shoes).

I've written a multi-page email to Leslie and Greg who will be staying with the kids, cleaned the floors, pre-made dinners, washed the sheets and all the running clothes.

I feel like I've run a marathon already...


Pigs flying and other recent happenings

We had a lovely Thanksgiving respite in Durham, filled with laughter, relaxing and lots of food and friends. Being with dear friends always charges me with energy and reminds me who I am.

Some highlights from our trip...a pre-Thanksgiving Tessem feast of delicious grilled pizza...a visit to Shady Lane featuring dinner with the Straubels and dessert with the Spences...a return to Easley to see beloved teachers and friends, playdates for Eric with his buddies Brayden, Liam and Ben...Eric and the boys' visit to one of Eric's favorite Duke professors who is recovering from cancer...1 A.M. almost every night- Brian and Eric begging Lindsay and me to stop talking and let them get some sleep...an incredible Thanksgiving dinner with the Alders and Larsons that ended with Eric stepping in what he termed a "poop crumb" on the living room carpet*...and finally, a Mexican feast at the Rays', just in case we hadn't gotten enough to eat the rest of the week.

Thank you everyone- we miss you more than ever.

We had such a wonderful time, in fact, that I dreaded our return to Atlanta. As we pulled into our neighborhood I thought of our old house on Shady Lane, looking just the same, even hung with the Christmas wreaths we had left up in the attic. But then, when I opened the front door of our little old rental, an unexpected feeling settled into my heart. I breathed in and thought,

It's good to be home.

I thought of Eric in the kitchen on Saturday mornings, making eggs to order for all the neighborhood children. And of Jen's piano music floating through my bedroom window on Sunday nights. And downtown Decatur, all lit up for Christmas. I guess my plan of not getting too attached here isn't working after all, and I have to say, I'm kind of glad.

We slowly settled back in over the weekend and managed to unpack and decorate for Christmas while battling nasty post-vacation colds. All that bed-time-flaunting and overeating catches up with you in the end, doesn't it?

Now onto the flying pigs: little Eric cut his hair. We made a deal- if he would cut it short, we would not say the word "haircut" for an entire year. The best reaction was from Marley, who stared at him for several minutes, trying to comprehend the fact that he actually has ears.

After school today I nonchalantly asked him if the other kids had said anything about his new look. He told me lots of boys said they liked it, but that he "didn't hear any comments from the girls." Then he added that he didn't want to hear any comments from the girls.

I can tell it's going to be a good December.

*As far as we could tell it was an escapee from a squirming toddler diaper change gone wrong.


A few things...

First, Marley would like to publicly thank her personal seamstresses, Eryn and Cindy. Eryn made the adorable brown dress pictured below. Cindy made the precious white dress in the picture from the last post. What did I ever do to deserve such kind and talented friends?

Last week it was time for the 2nd and 3rd grade musicals at the boys' school. I guess not many people have kids in consecutive grades, because they repeated the same performance twice- 2nd grade at 6:00 and 3rd grade at 7:00. Eric made us close our eyes and plug our ears while the second graders performed his class song, which we did, even though I think the parents sitting next to us were slightly offended. It was a "garden" theme, and each class dressed up and sang a song about a different kind of plant. Brigham was a weed and had a cool rap to sing. Poor Eric had to be a "lovely flower" and do ballet moves to the music from Waltz of the Flowers. I had to question the music teacher's sanity on that one, but he was a good sport.

The following night was Eric's 9th birthday party, for which he decided to invite friends over for pizza, cake, and a movie. All went well, aside from one child having to go home sick and another one trying to kick in our kitchen door just as all the parents were arriving, big Eric scolding him, and his mom showing up while he was crying hysterically on our couch. Kind of embarrassing, but a fun night was had nonetheless.

Eric really wanted a chocolate cake with black frosting, so tried my best and used up my entire jar of pro-grade black gel food coloring, but it still looked brown. Oh well, it tasted good and he didn't seem to mind.

And finally, I discovered that my worries over Marley's glasses covering up her cute face were totally unfounded. She's even cuter than before, if that's possible. Every now and then I catch her trying to put them on top of her head, like she sees Eric do with his sunglasses, but other than that, she's kept them on!

We're headed to Durham for Thanksgiving...can't wait to see old friends, visit old haunts and eat delicious food. I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving:).


In a strange land

Yesterday during sacrament meeting I had a moment. I was sitting between the boys in the very front pew, watching Eric give a talk while keeping one eye on Marley who was running wild in front of the stand. I pictured the scene in six months, with another little person on the pew and realized that we are on our way to taking up our own row.

My mind wandered to a time when I was six or seven and one of my friends told me that my Dad talked funny. I still remember my feelings of utter incomprehension- he talked perfectly normally! It was years before I was able to hear the heavy Egyptian accent that was obvious to everyone else. I was just so used to it, I never even noticed. Even now that I can hear his accent, I still have to occasionally ask him what a word he just used meant- his vocabulary is better than mine.

The other night we got a letter from one of the young men in our old ward. We've been writing to him while he's on his mission in Denver. He told us about a sixteen-year-old girl he's been teaching who's getting baptized in a few weeks. It took me back to when I was sixteen, feeling a small part of what my Dad must have felt when his plane landed in New York thirty-something years ago.

The church seemed like a parallel universe I had never known existed. A place where we make macaroni and cheese from scratch*....and where we sit in a sunlit room on Wednesday nights listening to all kinds of advice about living the gospel and write notes in a cute little journal....where families pray before they eat....where we all have relatives who live in Utah....where women (and men) think of staying home to raise a family as a career (huh? there's more to life than getting into a good college and then going to graduate school!?)....where we watch Disney movies even though we're teenagers and everything around us is rated-R....where we go to dances with actual decorations where boys actually ask girls to dance....

I could go on, but my point is that it was all foreign to me, and I watched it, riveted, totally convinced from the almost very beginning that I wanted to live there, in that parallel universe, with those amazing people. At first I didn't think about being one of them, I just knew I wanted to be there, because I felt loved and supported.

I realized soon enough that there were things I would have to sacrifice to live in that world, but I decided it was worth it. As the years passed I began to change, bit by bit, so slowly I hardly noticed it. I got married and had my own beautiful children. I went to church Sunday after Sunday. I met friends who showed me behind the scenes of those incredible families I first knew when I was sixteen. That they were human, with human weaknesses, that their houses weren't always clean, and their macaroni and cheese wasn't always from scratch...but that it's normal and okay to have weaknesses and imperfections, because they help us to be humble, compassionate, more like the Savior. I even had in-laws in Utah!

Sitting in church yesterday I realized that I'm not a stranger in that wonderful land anymore. Those women that I looked up to, who cooked and cleaned and sewed and served and prayed- I am one of them. Minus the sewing. And my children don't hear my accent. And that elusive goal- taking up your own whole pew at church- it's within my grasp:).

*It's not that I'm saying that only Mormons cook from scratch or do any of these things for that matter, it's just that, honestly, I had not been exposed to those things before I was introduced to the church. Once in college, I was suprised when my friend Carrie, who wasn't a member of the church, brought me dinner. She reminded me that "Presbyterians do nice things too!"


On a good note

When we moved to Atlanta, life grabbed me by the collar and gave me a good spin around the room. Before I knew what was happening we were involved in all kinds of activities, from velodrome racing to choir, to chess club, to 5K's, to art lessons, to cub scouts. I guess I got a little overexcited about the fun opportunities of living in a big city.

Over the past few weeks several of those activities have wound down for the winter and life has returned to a slightly more relaxed pace. But I've noticed something disturbing: during those months of running ragged, after days of getting lost on roads I didn't know, racing from activity to activity, frantically checking homework and slapping dinner on the table, I had formed a pretty consistent habit of tossing Marley into her crib, collapsing on the couch and then shooing the boys off to bed without much of a goodnight routine. And those were the nights I actually participated, as opposed to watching from the couch while poor Eric handled it solo.

As I thought about this I decided that there are certain points in the day that make a lasting impression on my kids. I pride myself in my ability to always look (and usually be) ecstatic to see them when they wake up in the morning. Or....when I wake up in the morning I should say:). I usually send them out the door with a smile and a kiss and a genuine wish that they have a wonderful day. When they get home from school I'm ready with snacks and inquiries about their day. My favorite thing to ask is "did anything interesting happen at school?"- that always gets them talking.

But then. Sometime during dinner prep I fizzle. By bedtime I'm totally out of steam and feel like I have nothing left. But the other night, as I plunked Marley in the crib and turned to sneak out, her sweet, soft "night night" tugged at my heart and pulled me back into the room. I sat down on the floor and started singing. Half an hour later I heard her breath in that way babies breathe when they've just fallen asleep- mothers know it. I smiled to think of my voice carrying her safely to dreamland. Then I went into the boys' room and read them a chapter from their book and kissed them goodnight in their beds. And even though I was still tired and still drained, I felt so good. Like I had really done my job that day.

From now on, I want everyday to end that way. I can't be a perfect mom all day long, but I can end the day with songs, stories and kisses.


Date Night

The other night I realized that in the three months we'd lived in Atlanta, we had been out on exactly one date. So Friday night we shooed the kids over to the neighbors' house and took off into the city.

The plan was practical- I had some things to return at Ikea, so we would head there first, eat in their cafeteria (disgusting, in a yummy kind of way) and then hit the Apple Store for some advice from the genius bar on why the nano I got for my birthday won't turn off...

On our way we had to drive through midtown, where Eric works. The tall buildings glittered in the dark and my mind wandered to what it would be like if we had just met. If this was our first date and he was impressing me by pointing out the different buildings and landmarks in the city. I was pretty sure we wouldn't be headed to Ikea for 3.99 Swedish meatballs.

So when we passed a swanky Thai restaurant and Eric mentioned that someone at work had told him it was the best Thai in the city, I proposed we ditch our plans and eat there instead. We made the detour, stopping first at a bakery down the street from the bank to pick out a dessert for later.

Dinner was lovely. After finishing every last crumb on our plates we walked back to the parking garage and opened the tailgate on the Volvo. We sat and talked while we ate our desserts- a chocolate tart for Eric and a bacon cupcake for me. Back at the bakery I had taken one look and snatched it up. I can think of two reasons why a woman would do such a thing: She's either a relentless adventurer, or she's pregnant.

I've never been very adventurous.


Scenes from a new beach

As summer wound down we decided to go exploring on the gulf coast. It was our first true family vacation, all by ourselves, and our first time on the gulf.

Day one brought back memories of my childhood summers on the Outer Banks, with biting black flies out in force. The three boys were a bit disappointed to see that St. George Island, Fla. looked pretty similar to the Carolina coast. I had promised "sugar white sand and clear emerald water" and I think their imaginations got the best of them. You COULD see to the bottom of the ocean.

On day two the black flies decided to get their kicks on some other beach and we relaxed and enjoyed the sun and sand. Eric swam out to meet the dolphins passing by but never got close enough to really swim with them. I was watching from the shore, trying to direct him when I saw a huge SHARK swim past. Of course that didn't phase him at all.

The night before we went home we drove across the seven-mile bridge to Appalachicola, a beautiful victorian fishing town on the coast. We had an amazing seafood dinner in a gazebo on the water.

Sunday morning we woke up early and headed back to Appalachicola for church. There were five cars in the parking lot and about twelve people inside. Of course I had remembered to pack everyone's church clothes but my own, so I stuck out like a sore thumb. The service was beautiful and we even stumbled upon some old friends from our UW days who were in the area on a camping trip. Small world!

Back in the car, we listened to Peter and the Starcatchers all the way home, and Marley even held it together until we hit the city. Amazing what a few days at the beach will do...


Happy Halloween!

We did the candy bit yesterday at the church "trunk-or-treat", and tonight since it's Sunday, we're staying home to answer the door. The kids are disappointed, but I'm secretly looking forward to cozying up, munching on pumpkin pie made from real pumpkin and letting the neighborhood come to us. Although that's one more opportunity to see inside the brick house that's slipped through my fingers (that picnic last weekend- outside, dang-it!). Oh well- there's always next year...... I'm off to carve jack-o-lanterns!



Yesterday morning I picked Brigham up from school and took him and Marley to our new eye doctor here in Atlanta. I built in a few extra minutes for my favorite ritual of getting lost whenever I drive somewhere new, and we were making good time until we hit I-285. I should mention that it was raining. Apparently in Atlanta that means we lose the ability to drive and traffic comes to a complete standstill. When there were five minutes till our appointment and my directions said we still had 14 miles to go I called to office to tell them our situation. They were wonderful and seemed unfazed so we continued creeping along.

When we arrived (45 minutes late) I remembered that I hadn't ever called our old eye doctor to have Brigham's records transferred. I called Lindsay in Durham to get the number and soon had instructions to fax them a release form along with a promise that the records would be faxed right back.

Meanwhile the doctor came in, sweating and looking stressed. I apologized for our lateness (I have to say I give pretty good lateness apologies, having had lots of practice) and again, he was totally understanding, because of the rain. He said everyone was late and he was just trying to catch up. Then he mentioned that his wife had just given birth last week and though I tried really hard to suppress the words I just couldn't help but say, "Bless your heart!". He did the drill that we've been used to having a tech do, put drops in both kids eyes and sent us back out to the waiting room.

Back in the exam room an hour later we raced through more pictures, charts and procedures, with Brigham cooperating like an old pro and Marley taking her sweet time, covering her face, playing peek-a-boo and hiding in my shirt. The mechanical clown clanged its symbols and Dr. Elliot waved his Donald Duck toy and I trilled and clapped and coaxed, until all the hoops had been jumped through and it was time to get to the bottom line.

Briggie's vision is the same as it was a year ago, despite how hard he's worked to wear his patch two hours a day, six days a week, just like they told us. I had a choice to make: either stick with the old plan and accept the fact that he'll never have better than 20/40 vision in his right eye, or to up the patching to 7 hours a day and see if we can get those last elusive 20 points.

I wanted to cry for him. Brigham has been patching almost every day since he was four and a half. He probably can't remember life before the patch. I thought back to when he was three and started closing his right eye all the time. At the park one day Lindsay gently suggested that we have his eyes checked. I wrote it off as a tick. Eric had ticks and it looked exactly like a tick to me. Then one day we were at McDonalds and Eric asked Brigham to tell him the letter he was pointing to on a sign. He couldn't read the letter without closing his right eye.

I know that patch is itchy, sweaty and horrible. I know it must be frustrating for Briggie to have to use his "fuzzy eye" when he's doing school work. I know kids look at him funny sometimes. I know he gets SO TIRED of answering the oft-repeated question, "What happened to your eye?". But he never complains. I wanted so badly to throw a patch-burning party, buy him a huge present and call it quits.

Then I thought of his happy little face when I pick him up from art class every Tuesday afternoon. I pictured him hunched in his bed at night doing origami by the light of a flashlight. I remembered the pride in his eyes when he told me his dragon picture had won the class vote and would be the design on their field day t-shirt. My heart told me that Brigham needs both eyes to be able to fully express the creativity that pulses through his veins. So this morning when I pressed the patch over his eye, making sure to close all the gaps, I reminded him not to take it off until he got home.

Back in the doctor's office there was more news to digest...Marley has differing degrees of farsightedness in each eye- what the doctor termed "a perfect set-up for what her brother has". We'll start with glasses and hope that's enough to convince her brain to keep using both eyes. I'm ready to pray like crazy for help in keeping the glasses on her head and in one piece. I know it's vain, but it breaks my heart to think of her beautiful brown eyes covered by thick lenses. But I am so, so glad we've caught it early and that we have the ability to help her.

So...more appointments, more patching, more time spent searching the house for lost glasses....

What can say except, bring it.


Dinner plans

There is this house in my neighborhood that I'm obsessed with. I met the woman who lives in it while we were waiting for our kids at the school one afternoon. She had a B.O.B and I was thinking about getting one, so I asked her if she liked hers. I asked where she lived and she named the street, specifying, "next to the blue house".

The blue house is like the pretty blond cheerleader that everyone loves: cute in an obvious sort of way. But the house next to the blue house is like the girl who doesn't immediately stand out, but once you get to know her a little, you think she's pretty. (I use this analogy for a lot of things: towns, schools, teachers, houses...it's very versatile.) Anyway, personally, I always go for the less obvious- the diamond in the rough- and that's what this house is. It's long and low, with a faded brick exterior. The yard is a plain, flat expanse of grass with little in the way of bushes or flowers. There are no curtains in the windows, no pumpkins on the porch. I imagine the interior being equally plain and unadorned: white carpet, very little furniture, mostly blank walls. It's peaceful and uncluttered in a zen sort of way. I love it.

I spent the day putting the house in order and cleaning the bathroom, which included the sinkful of broken glass I found when I woke up this morning. It took me ten minutes to figure out that a light bulb above the mirror had somehow shattered and landed in the sink. For a moment I imagined Eric deciding to change it in the early morning darkness, but that just didn't seem likely. Later I asked him and he said he'd heard it explode spontaneously in the night.

Brigham went home with a friend after school and Eric and little Eric are heading to the airport soon to meet our dear friend Paul for dinner during his layover in Atlanta. Which leaves me and the girl for dinner and just try to guess where we're going?

The brick house.

They're Indian and they're hosting a dinner for the International Friends club at the school. And I'm half-Egyptian and I'm dying to see inside the house. We're taking pumpkin bread because I never have the time to learn how to make stuffed grape leaves. I'll probably walk, with Marley riding in the B.O.B. of course:).


Cleaning day(s)

I'm cleaning house today and tomorrow and thinking of a book I read a few years ago about a community of Orthodox Jews living in Tennessee. My favorite parts were just before the holidays (and it seemed like there was one around every corner), when the women busied themselves cleaning and cooking. You could feel the anticipation and excitement rising from the pages.

My heart was light as I pushed the vacuum cleaner under the crib to suck up dust bunnies and the odd silly band. I imagined my clean, peaceful house on Friday afternoon, ready for the words of prophets and apostles to echo through its halls. I thought about how messy and cluttered my life and my heart sometimes get, and how nice it is to get to cleaning day and know that everything will be put back in its place, and the floors will smell good and the bathtub will shine.

That's a nice feeling.


Evening on East

Before we left Durham we took a few minutes to right a ten-year-old wrong. Let me just sum it up by telling you that at one point on my wedding day I overheard the well-intentioned, but socially awkward photographer we had hired asking my Dad to "Please step away from the tripod, sir." The pictures were- how do I put this- devoid of any speck of artistry, interest or personality.

One day I was reflecting on this as one of the great regrets of my life (in all seriousness) and Lindsay said, in all seriousness, "Why don't you just redo them?" I had recently unearthed my wedding dress for my friend Cindy Lynn to wear at her wedding and my hair was even close to the same length it was when we got married. Why not indeed?

Melissa agreed to take the pictures, so on a sweltering night a week before we moved we reenacted our wedding day on East Campus under the magnolia trees. Even though it's not where we got married, Duke is the place where our marriage was born. We met there, made our first home there, and it felt right to be there barefoot and weighed down by white satin.

By the time I saw the pictures we were long gone to Atlanta, and the sunlight shining through the giant trees with all the memories they hold made me cry.

Then I remembered that I got to take that handsome guy in the pictures with me and I felt better.

I would follow him anywhere.


Old at last!

(Me on my twentieth, with friends Kelly and Carrie)

Today is my thirtieth birthday
. I've watched a lot of friends turn thirty over the past few years, and it never looked like very much fun. Here I am though, welcoming thirty like a new friend I already know I'm going to love. Maybe it's because I so frequently (less frequently now, come to think of it) get told I look like I'm nineteen, which would be a compliment, if it didn't imply that I'd had my first baby at age eleven, but I'm relieved to finally be able to answer: "I'm actually thirty years old thank you very much!"

I've been thinking a lot about the past decade of my life and its twists and turns...I began married life, learned to cook, became a mother, finished college, moved across the country and back again, bought a house, got a dog, raised chickens and made friends I hope I'll have forever. My twenties were full and productive, marked by constant change. Although I know there will be flux in my thirties, I'm looking forward to less of it. I want to find a place where we can put down roots, work more on becoming the mother and wife I want to be, add to our family if we feel right about it, and eventually go back to school to prepare for a career I will love and that has meaning for me. I'm sure there will be plenty of surprises along the way, but I feel like I can face them confidently, knowing I can rely on the Lord for help.

The past decade was focused on building foundations- of our family and of my own testimony of the Savior. As we sang the second verse of By Still My Soul in church today, I decided to make it my "motto" for my thirties:

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake

To guide the future, as He has the past.

Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;

All now mysterious shall be bright at last.

My experiences during my twenties have helped me develop the kind of faith that allows me to act on what I think is God's will for me. But beyond that is the kind of faith that brings peace and confidence when everything seems to be falling to pieces all around you and you forget for a moment that there is a plan and you're doing your best to follow it so everything will be okay in the end. When I look back on my thirties, I want to be able say I've got a little of that kind of faith too.


San Fran vs. Hotlanta

While the rest of my family is doing this:

...out in San Fransisco while visiting my brother and my only cousin, I just got my long run out of the way and stocked my house with bananas. We're getting ready for a visit from our very favorite people:
(minus Russ...unfortunately, because we would love to see Russ too- especially if he would make us breakfast!) The Alders are making the drive down 85, because a whole month is way too long for us to not see them! We're planning a trip to the Georgia Aquarium, dinner at our new favorite restaraunt: Farm Burger, and for Lindsay and me, a visit to Ikea. I can't tell you how much I need to just sit with my best friend, who knows me inside out, and not have to explain anything- just sit and talk, like old times. And even though I'm missing being with my family in California this weekend while they wander the Sonoma valley, I'll be with family here in Atlanta. And I won't even have to be a designated driver:).

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go clean the one bathroom that all 10 of us will be using for three days, put sheets on the guest bed, and take a nice long shower.

Happy Labor Day weekend!

P.S.- The bananas are for Carson, who is four, and loves bananas. And me- he tells me all the time. Probably because I give him bananas.


Monday, 7:51 A.M.

Waking up to the alarm this morning felt like coming out of a coma. Or what I imagine that feels like anyway. I lured Brigham from sleep with the promise of mustard toast- don't ask- and started sorting go-gurts and pretzels into lunchboxes. Eric was already at his usual perch on the living room sofa, staring out the front window as kids with parents who are morning people walked past on their way to school.

I forget what they fought about over breakfast, but I know they did, just like I know they put their shoes on and brushed their teeth and combed their hair. The hatred and the rage that they regularly feel for one another is a part of life now, so common I only notice it when a plaintive maamaaaa rises above the raucous. Some days I wonder if they'll ever speak to each other again when they leave home. Truly.

Then the moment- me in my pj's in front of the open door, one eye on the dog doing his morning business, one eye on the two of them as they mosey toward the crosswalk. I open my mouth to shout at them to look both ways and that's when I see it: Brigham starts to cross and, almost imperceptibly, Eric lifts his arm, stopping him. The car passes and they're walking with the crowd, leaving me in my pj's in the front yard, holding the dog's leash, wondering just how much I know about those two and their little boy hearts.

This gives me hope.


Live from Atlanta:

One last peck around the yard before moving to their new home at Don and Emily's

Holy Cow. That was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. Worse than wedding-planning and birthing children. Emotional and physical exhaustion like I have never known. But the worst of it (I think, I hope) is behind us.

I think I can now call myself an expert in stealth packing. Two days before we moved our house was in showing condition. That made for about two hours of sleep the night before we left, but it payed off when we signed a contract for sale literally 10 minutes before we hit the road.

It's all a blur now, but a few things stand out: Kathleen scrubbing cabinets like her life depended on it and ducking into the bathroom to cry. Eric bringing Marley home from Kim's, bathed, fed and wearing Aubrey's PJ's. Eric S. drenched in sweat and swearing up and down that he loves helping people move. Russ's breakfast fit for a king. Ann showing up out of nowhere and cleaning the oven. Becky calling "I love you" over her shoulder. Clint taking our picture on the front porch. Pam folding the load of laundry I didn't have time to dry. Crying into Lindsay's voicemail while driving down 85. My wedding dress on the seat next to me. Watching Mustang lay his head in Marley's lap in the rear-view mirror.

I kept my eye's locked on that yellow moving truck carrying my three boys and everything I own for 7 1/2 hours. We finally arrived to an eager crowd of young men from church ready to move us in. Our new neighbors took the kids to their house for pizza and cartoons. Jeff, Eric's old hall-mate from Duke, brought pastries and stayed until midnight putting together our beds. We slept the sleep of the dead.

The next day the landlady needed to come in the house for something while we were out returning the truck. I thought our house on Shady Lane was small, but this house is smaller. She called later to ask, in all seriousness, if we could really fit everything in, and to assure me that if not, she would not mind us breaking our lease. I tried to convey, in as non-hysterical a voice as I could muster, that I was not budging from this house for at least two years, I don't care if I have to take everything I own, including my Grandmother's fine china, to Goodwill. Just kidding- I don't have my Grandmother's fine china- luckily she's still using it- but you get the picture.

Two weeks later I'm amazed at how our things have taken to this little, old, quirky house. With a lot of purging, a little maneuvering and liberal use of the attic, we fit perfectly. I'm learning how to manage without a garbage disposal and getting used to the 8:00 school start-time. I can get myself to Publix, the train station and Ikea. Oh, Ikea, how I've missed you!

The neighborhood is unreal. The only way I can describe it is to say is that at 5:30, moms start knocking on doors looking for their kids. My little house alternates between sleepy silence and a cacophony of popsicle-wielding children, overexcited golden retriever and no-longer-napping baby. One day last week the four-year-old from next door came over while no one was here and watched Finding Nemo for an hour while I cleaned floors.

Mustang survived his initiation to city life: a close brush with a tractor trailer while running along busy Ponce de Leon. Marley and I stay busy during the day organizing (and un-organizing) the house, while Eric thinks deep mathematical thoughts and goes for barefoot runs on his lunch break at the Fed.

My heart is still aching for everything we left behind, but I think that maybe we can make this work...



Church was kind of rough today. Every time I turned a corner I saw a face I'll miss. I sat on the floor in nursery during Sunday School while Marley cried and clung to me. My phone rang once and I leaped up to answer it, with the hope of seeing 'central showings' in the caller ID. No luck.

We came home and ate bruschetta with sparkling grape juice by candle light while dark clouds and thunder rolled in. Change flickered in the shadows as we talked and laughed shooed the dog away from the table.

After dinner I sat on the sofa with a marker and a pile of school supplies. Year-round school starts tomorrow here, and the boys decided they wanted to go for the two-and-a-half weeks before we move. I'm sure this will only make it harder to leave, but somehow it feels like the right thing to do.

Eric put the baby to bed and read James and the Giant Peach to the boys while I swept the dog hair from the kitchen floor and wiped the counters. Put everything in its place. Straightened the lamp shades, set out the lunchboxes.

I thought about the coming changes. I thought of Eustice and his dragon skin. And how this is the one chance I have to live a mortal life and learn all that I can from its challenges and trials. If I could choose between an easy path without growth and one that will test and stretch and prod me, I know which one I would pick.

And anyway, I don't get to choose do I?


What happens when you leave home for a week...

...and leave your children in the care of an opthalmologist.

...and neglect your garden.

Eric had a conference in Rome a few weeks ago, and since it was our tenth anniversary I decided to go along. It was lovely. Eric lost his phone (which was doubling as our camera) to either a pickpocket or the back seat of a cab, I'm not sure which, and so we have no photographic evidence. But we did go- really! And it was lovely! Basically, we ate amazing food, saw amazing art, met amazing people and Eric unwittingly joined in a gay pride demonstration. Standard stuff, pretty much.

I think I've discovered, or maybe confirmed something about myself, though. I'm not a traveler. I don't like physical discomfort of any kind, be it lack of sleep, dry eyes, stiff legs or an empty belly. If I'm uncomfortable, I'm unhappy and there's just a certain amount if discomfort inherent in traveling. And boy do I hate power-trippy airline employees.

When we came home, we spent an absolutely insane week working to get our house ready to go on the market and now that that's been done, we're enjoying a few days of respite while Eric's Brazilian friend, David, is in town.

THIS, I like. I like that when he walked into our house he touched the walls and asked what they were made of (apparently there's not a lot of drywall in Brazil). I like that while I was making dinner last night he was outside taking pictures of our neighborhood because he thinks it's so beautiful. I liked hearing Brigham ask, in a slow, deliberate voice: "WHERE WERE YOU BORN?" and when it was clear that this had not been understood: "WHERE DID YOU COME OUT OF YOUR MOM'S TUMMY?"

I like hearing about Brazil, where a nanny is called a "baba" and makes in a day what I would pay a 14-year-old to watch my kids for one hour. And where they eat dinner at 10 o'clock at night. And where it's normal to shower 3 times a day. I like our new Havaianas. I like listening to Eric speak Portuguese- my favorite language.

So I guess I'm not a total provincial American boob. I do like other cultures, I just like learning about them in the comfort of my own living room. Maybe I won't show my kids the world, but I think I see exchange students in our future....


Leaving on the midnight train

When I woke up this morning I was missing a child. Eric had taken little Eric with him to school, where they watched the U.S. World Cup game instead of Eric teaching his class. It's hot. Too hot to teach, too hot to run, too hot to do house work, too hot to pack up your life.

We took a little trip to Atlanta this weekend. We visited the Atlanta Federal Reserve, who wants the rights to my husband for the next two years. I'm reluctantly -VERY reluctantly- handing him over, in exchange for a decent salary, health benefits and a shot at teaching position at a good school when he's done. Which he promises will be in two years, three at most. But I've heard promises like that before.

While Eric was being fingerprinted at the Fed to make sure he's not a crazy Arab terrorist (I tried to tell them I'm the crazy Arab in the family but they didn't listen), the kids and I watched through a glass wall while little robots with names like Abe and Felix wheeled huge amounts of cash up and down a dreary hallway. We learned that the Atlanta Fed shreds ten million dollars worth of unfit currency every day. I sometimes feel like that's what they're doing to my life, but I didn't tell them that.

We drove around Atlanta looking at house after house, trying to find one that I could actually see myself living in for the next two years. After two days, our best option had a rent double our mortgage here and, brace yourselves:

The front door opened into a closet.

Really, really.

Eric is still wishing we had snapped it up, but I had to draw the line somewhere. I will give up my home, my friends, my everything here in North Carolina but I WILL NOT ENTER MY HOUSE THROUGH A CLOSET. No, no, no!

Needless to say, I've done a lot of crying over the past few days. I'm a roots girl. I hate travel, I hate moving, I hate the end of the school year, all of it.

Someday I'll sink my roots down deep and never have to dig them up. That's what I keep telling myself, at least.


Teacher of my heart,

*This year, just like every year, I have cried and probably will cry a lot more over the end of the school year. I decided to write something that would express at least some of my feelings for the incredible teachers who have blessed my children's lives thus far.

Please, forgive me for the inadequacy of the little wrapped package in my son's backpack this morning. I know you must have lotion and candles to last you several lifetimes.

I wish I could give you a gift worthy of the one you have given me. I wish I could give you a room full of trophies, ribbons and framed diplomas. Except, instead of commemorating degrees and honors, there would be one for every moment of triumph when a reading concept has clicked; one for each argument you have compassionately helped settle, one for every tear you've dried, and every confidence-restoring hug you've given.

I wish I could give you a crystal ball that you could look into and see my son as he moves through the defining moments of his life. The day he gets his driver's license; his first day of his first job; the first time he holds his very own baby. You will be there, in all of them, because of the imprint you've made on his heart in one short school year. You did more than teach- you valued, you encouraged, you inspired.

I wish I could give you a paycheck that could compensate for all the early mornings you would have rather stayed in bed; all the expensive sweaters you never bought, all the dinner party conversations that passed you by because your job was not high-powered or prestigious in the world's eyes. You saw beyond that. You chose to listen the voice inside you that said your life's work was the most important thing in the world- the work of nurturing, guiding and shaping human beings.

There were days and weeks that I was not what I should have been for my son, when I fell short in my fulfillment of the sacred duties of motherhood, and on those days you were there- a refuge, a safe harbor, a wise friend. Where my words of praise were taken for granted, yours rang truer because you didn't 'have' to love him, and his confidence has blossomed under your care.

Of course I know that no tissue-wrapped present can ever repay the sacrifices you've made and the gifts you've offered. There is only end-of-the-year present worthy of a beloved teacher, and you have that already. It's the pure love that only a child's heart can feel.

Thank you, from the bottom of my soul. Though his memories of you will blur with time, the love and acceptance you have shown him is a part of him now. And I will never forget that.



Brigham went out to gather eggs the other day. I noticed he was wearing only underwear, so I wasn't surprised to hear Eric stop him at the door. He told him to put shoes on...

Let it never be said that our hens lead an uninteresting life. And do let it be said that they are fabulous pets. Yummy eggs every day for very minimal effort and almost no cost. We have two loyal customers who buy the extra eggs and just about cover the cost of the feed. Eric built the coop out of free scraps he found around town. And they're such fun to chase around the yard! Plus it adds to our aura of quirkiness- always a good thing.

Did I ever mention that I took a pottery class in January and February? It was fun and now we have some cool things to eat and drink out of. I think I'll make that a yearly tradition- a fun class to bring a little joy to those dreary winter months.

Did I also mention that I tried my hand at gardening this year? I picked a patch of dirt where weeds seemed to grow extra fast, poked some holes in the dirt, threw in some seeds that my cousin sent me in the mail and see what happened?! They grew!! I'm already dreaming of next year's garden...


Two revelations and an explosion...mother's day at the beach

The first full day of our beach trip was mother's day. Eric silently removed the baby from the room so I could sleep in. Then no one brought me breakfast in bed. They know me so well. I passionately hate eating breakfast in bed.

Later, in the midst of the chaos of five families getting ready for church, the boys brought me their presents: a painting of a flower, a flower, a handmade card. I thanked them and hugged them and stretched my smile as far as it would go. Then the hustle and bustle faded back in and I turned my attention to other things.

We went to church right next to a Marine base. Both of the speakers were soldiers. It reminded me of my love of military people, developed in my R.O.T.C. days. At the end of the meeting, each mother was handed a giant chocolate bar. Enough for us to share with our kids and still have some left for ourselves- brilliant.

In Relief Society where there was a lesson on prayer. I remembered something that happened to me a long time ago in Seattle. Brigham was a week old and I needed to take him to his first doctor's appointment. It was probably my first time leaving the house with two kids. Nothing big, but it seemed big at the time. I was running late, and something happened with the car. I couldn't find my keys, or it wouldn't start- I don't remember, except that I didn't have a car to get Brigham to the doctor, and my toddler was probably crying, and I was probably hungry, and sore, and exhausted, and scared to death of how I was going to do this everyday on my own. I guess I figured it out, because I have a memory of sitting in the doctors office eating a peanut butter and honey sandwich later that day.

That night I went to return something to my neighbor, Danielle. We talked on the doorstep for a few minutes, and then she said that she wasn't sure why, but she felt like God had put it in her heart to tell me that they hardly ever used their second car and anytime I needed it, to just ask. In fact, she would be fine giving me a set of keys. I was confused. Clearly my Heavenly Father was mindful of me and the situation I'd been in earlier in the day. But why prompt my friend that I needed her car if it didn't lead to me actually using it? I never did use their car.

As I sat listening to the lesson, the spirit whispered the answer to the question I'd had all these years. I never asked for his help. I was probably too frustrated, too tired and too overwhelmed to even think to pray at that moment in my life. But he wanted me to know he was there, with a plan, ready to go. I think he wanted to bless me. To make my very stressed life a little easier in that moment, but he can't give me what I don't ask for. He won't violate my agency that way. And he is patient enough to wait seven years (almost exactly- Brigham was born on mother's day) for the right moment to teach me that truth.

Then we went home and it was my night to cook dinner. I made cinnamon rolls and one of the glass pans exploded when I set it on the counter. Miraculously there was still enough for everyone to eat their fill. The children all sang a mother's day song and someone put them to bed. I don't know who, just that it wasn't me.

We grownups stayed up late talking, so that it was past midnight when I reached for the lamp beside my bed and my eyes caught on the card little Eric had made me. I picked it up and looked at it, really looked, for the first time. I saw how he had written the words Happy Mothers Day! in pencil and then traced over them in marker, a different color for each letter. There were two butterflies with little M's on their wings (for Mama I think). Two hearts and a carefully drawn sunflower. Inside was a message: Roses are red, Pansies are white, I think that you are such a delight! More hearts, and on the back: Moms Rock! In my mind I could see him at his desk at school, head bent, biting his tongue, carefully drawing, tracing, considering, hoping. I cried myself to sleep, and then the next morning I went and told him how much I loved his card- really told him.

That night I prayed: Please, please. Help me to pay attention. To see. To see past the defiance, the smirking and the acting out, to the lovingly traced letters and carefully drawn butterflies.