Fall in the City in a Forest

Fall in Atlanta is stunning.

There's a tree on our running route that turns the most incredible color of yellow in the fall.  Weeks ago, as we passed under it, I pointed up and told Marley, "There's my favorite tree!"  She said "Oh".  Then, "Who gave that to you Mama?"  That's her thing these days- always wanting to know who gave her what.  "Who gave me these shoes?  Who gave me my pink bear?  Who gave me my bicycle?"  I laughed at her asking who gave me a tree, but then I said, "Heavenly Father did."

The air turned balmy at the beginning of November.  For days the girls and I explored the Olmstead park on our way home from our daily runs.  When the boys came home we wandered the woods behind their school and the nearby Fernbank Forest.  One day, on the way to the grocery store with all four of my kids and two of my neighbor's, I made a u-turn in the middle of the street and pulled over at a playground.  The kids ran and jumped and screamed at the top of their lungs in the indian summer evening.

Was all of this here last year?  Between the homesickness and the morning sickness I hadn't noticed the beauty of an Atlanta fall.  I'd missed the damp gray of the old mansions of Druid Hills against the warm fire of fall leaves.  The smell of wet tree trunks and the laughter of my children playing late into the afternoon.

My old friend, an uncertain future, has been my constant companion this fall.  When the days first started turning cooler, applications were going out, visions of new homes in new cities were filling our heads, and my anxiety level was high.  But as the leaves turned, my heart turned to a brilliant present.  As I spent every extra moment outdoors with my kids, I felt God's love surrounding me in this place I was so sure I could never call home.  It felt like a gift from a Father who knows me well enough to know that I would need extra support in this time of flux and change.

As I sat in testimony meeting this morning a thought formed in my heart, as clear as the blue Georgia sky.  The gospel is my home.  The savior is my home.  Wherever we go, he'll be there.



A few years ago, in a de-cluttering frenzy, I cleverly decided to store all the boys' outgrown Halloween costumes in a garbage bag in the garage. One state and two houses later- it's gone. Fortunately Brigham hadn't outgrown our family Halloween heirloom- the Chewbacca costume. Made by my mother-in-law, Eric wore it as a child, followed by his two sons, and now, as you can see, one daughter.
Some might go for a more feminine theme- a Disney princess, a ballerina, even a witch. But this girl was more than happy to rock brown fur. She even attempted a little Chewbacca roar.

Are you dying?

Here's a picture of Eric Sr. as Chewbacca all those years ago...

Happy Halloween.



It was a day without a Dad, like a lot of these home-stretch-of-the-PhD days. Afternoon loomed, evening lurked, bedtime menaced. I had extra kids in the mix because my dear neighbor is sick. So I called Mary- she and I bonded over mastitis at church one Sunday- and we went to the park.

We laid the babies on blankets in the grass and talked and talked while our kids ran wild. Our conversation covered the state of Oklahoma, a documentary about sheep, and sloppy joe's. When Marley started rummaging around in my bag looking for crackers, I pulled out my Jimmy John's menu. Fifteen minutes later a sweaty man on a bicycle handed me a box filled with sandwiches and bags of chips.

The kids devoured their sandwiches and begged for sips from my water bottle. I made them go to the drinking fountain. It was too nice a day for floaties in my water. When they asked, do we have to go home soon? I answered, No. We're staying here until bedtime. And they all cheered.

At seven we picked up the blankets, babies and bottles, and herded our dirty, exhausted children to the parking lot. Anticipating a rocky bedtime, I stopped at Wendy's for five orders of compliance in a paper cup. Otherwise known as frosties. By 8:30 I had a silent house.

Lots of days I feel like a mess of a mother. Today? Nailed it.


Days when the rains came

(Photo by Lindsay)

Today we had rain for the first time in weeks. Sometime in the late afternoon, the kids and I all migrated across the street to our neighbors' house for dinner. They mentioned the tornado sirens. Tornado sirens? I've never lived in a place that had sirens for anything- how exciting! Later, as I walked home to get some napkins, I heard them for myself, and couldn't suppress a huge smile. Tornado sirens! (No one seemed worried, and our neighbors are from Oklahoma, so I figure they know when to be scared.)

Back at home, in the middle of father-less bedtime chaos, the phone rang. My cousin Laura was on the line with her parents, the three of them driving back to L.A. from a weekend at Joshua Tree national park. I told them my exciting news of the tornado sirens and my Aunt asked if I had gotten naked and locked myself in my closet. That's when I decided I had to tell the story of the great tornado of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina....


It was late summer, and my cousin and I were just finishing up a several-week stint with our grandparents at their beach house in the Outer Banks. We were probably eight and ten.

It was late afternoon, and we had on our matching sparkly black bikinis from Belk's. We floated on our backs in the ocean and pretended not to hear Grandmom's calls for us to come on in, it was time to go home for supper. Realizing we were hungry, we eventually made our way to shore, just as a woman walked past, relaying news of a tornado watch in effect.

Laura and I looked up at the sky and saw black clouds moving in. Panic took over in our little-girl minds and we forsook our towels, flip-flops, even our beloved grandmother, and sprinted for the beach house. Grandmom ran behind, shouting "Girls! Girls! At least put your shoes on!", but we paid her no heed, now fully caught up in our imagined drama.

Back at the house I, being the older, wiser cousin, divined that it would be safest to head for an upstairs closet (not sure what my logic was there). We locked ourselves in and commenced crying and carrying on. At some point, Grandmom knocked on the closet door and insisted that we take off our wet bathing suits or we would catch cold. We obliged, opening the door a crack, tossing them out and quickly slamming it shut again. Now we were soaking wet, naked and carrying on in a dark closet.

About this time it occurred to us that we couldn't account for our grandfather's whereabouts. We heard the water turn on, and were able to infer that he was stubbornly taking an outdoor shower in the middle of a life-threatening clamity. This allowed us to work ourselves into an even greater frenzy, complete with wails of, "Grandaddy, please, COME INSIDE!!! YOU'RE GOING TO DIE IN THE TORNADO!!!"



And so on.

Eventually we got bored in the closet. The rain stopped, and we came out and put on dry clothes. We had many more happy summers at the beach with our grandparents before they sold the house my sophomore year in college. I haven't been to the Outer Banks since. But thinking back to this afternoon's sirens, there's still a bit of that little girl in me, who loves to drama of a good storm.

Fortunately I now keep my clothes on:).



I'm tired. Not I-didn't-sleep-well-last-night-tired. Or I'm-getting-over-a-cold tired. Or we-just-got-home-from-a-trip tired. Or even waking-up-in-the-night-with-the-baby-good-thing-she's-so-cute tired. In fact the baby, bless her sweet heart, has been sleeping through the night for over a month now.

This is more like a chronic, life-is-moving-really-fast-and-I'm-stumbling-behind-trying-my-best-to-keep-up tired. I won't bore you with the list of things on my plate- I'm sure they're familiar to you. And I'm sure things will settle down and/or my capacity to handle them will increase. But sometimes I wish I had my own giant purple Bumbo that I could climb into and just zonk out. Must be nice.


Going for a joggle

Before school started, we spent one last weekend on Isle of Palms. My mom is leaving the country in a few weeks, so this was our last chance to see her without having to cross an ocean. My brother, Adam, flew out from California and my grandmother came down from Baltimore.

We slept, played on the beach and talked until late. We celebrated upcoming birthdays and arm-wrestled. Adam, Eric and I (still sometimes referred to as "the children") watched Don't Tell Mom, the Babysitter's Dead. We visited the Piggly Wiggly (always a favorite) and gave in to the boys' pleas to drive the golf cart. We even met a talking bird down the street. (I was walking along and heard a squawky "HELLO!" from the front porch!)

Sunday morning found us at my mom's church downtown before driving west on I-20 back to Atlanta. That's a joggling board that the kids are sitting on...

There is something magical about the Lowcountry. We'll miss it this year while my mom has her Turkish adventure...


They warned us about the crowds...

...so we took up our positions in the air conditioned comfort of Eric's office. It was a pretty good place from which to watch the fastest member of our family participate in one of Atlanta's most celebrated traditions: the Peachtree road race. It's the largest 10K in the world!

Here's the star of the day- posing for a pre-race picture in front of a bunch of his maniacal scribblings on the whiteboard....

He preferred to hang out with the faster runners and avoid the beer-guzzling, cartwheel-turning, body-paint sporting back of the pack, which meant got up reaaaaaally early. Look at those puffy eyes....

Brigham and Marley stayed home with a good friend (good enough to come over at 5:45 A.M.- that's good!). Eric Jr. and I passed the time taking pictures and going from window to window, trying to spot Ryan Hall and the other super-stars runners leading the pack. Oh, and Eric, of course! Sadly, we were too high up to be able to pick him out of the sea of bodies....I suggested that next year he do something conspicuous, like paint himself gold.

Here they are approaching the turn to the finish line....

Good race, good fun!


Numbering the days

I was racing against the mercury this morning, rushing through my routine in an attempt to squeeze in a run before it got too hot for the girls to be outside. I paused to send a quick email to my mom about our plans to visit next week. When I looked up, Marley was buckling her baby doll into the swing-o-matic.

What is it about a newborn that makes you want to stop time? As Eric blessed Ellie on Sunday, I opened my eyes in surprise at the word woman. It was a reminder that my days of holding her limp, sleeping body against my chest are numbered.

But Marley, her baby doll, and my email reminded me of something: that when all of this is over- when I've read No, David for the last time, and had the last underwater tea party, and pushed my heavy-laden jogging stroller up the last hill....when the last lego has been stepped on, the last scout badge earned, and the last Halloween costume made...when the last prom dress has been altered, and the last college essay proofread....when all of that is behind me....

There will be grandchildren.


Lessons from the quiet

Before I got pregnant with Eleanor, Eric and I had planned a trip to the Northwest. Neither of us had been back in the six years since we'd left for North Carolina, and it had been two years since we'd seen Eric's parents. Plus, it was Eric's fifteenth high school reunion. (Who goes to their fifteenth high school reunion? I could care less about mine, to be honest. But apparently when you go to a crunchy granola school in Portland with 40 kids in your class, you care. And apparently Eric was one of three who didn't show up at the tenth, so he needed to redeem himself.)

Soon after we planned the trip, I found out that June 2011 would not be a good month for me to fly across the country, as I would have a new tiny friend in tow. (Actually, let me be honest: my tiny friend would have been fine. I'm a terrible sport about traveling in the best of circumstances, and with all that post-partum sweating and hair loss going on? I didn't even want to think about it.) I also didn't want to think about being left home alone with a toddler and a baby, so I told Eric that if he still wanted to go, he had to take the boys and Marley with him. He agreed, and that's the story of how Eleanor and I found ourselves alone together for the past seven days.

I took naps everyday. I cleaned the house and it miraculously stayed clean. I had dinner with friends, ran errands, wrote thank-you notes, watched The Food Revolution and folded laundry. I remembered to take the trash out to the curb. I threw away old toys. I kept the house at 80 degrees. I took up the entire bed. I snuggled my baby. It was kind of amazing.

Except at night, when I would call to get the day's report from Oregon and remember the chubby cheeks I wasn't kissing, and the crazy comments I wasn't laughing at, and the little backs I wasn't scratching. That's when I would remember that those things are my real life, and this is just a brief vacation- a chance to catch my breath and gather my strength for a summer full of noise, mess and fun.

Still though- I've learned some things in the quiet moments of the past week:

1. No matter how many kids you have, they all need periodic time alone with you. And YOU need it! This time with Ellie has been incredible. I really, really need to do this with all my kids.

2. What I do each day is hard. Wow is it easy to keep a house clean with one immobile child. And to keep everyone fed when one of us takes all her meals in powdered form. And to run errands with no hands to hold as I cross the parking lot. The absence of children has helped me appreciate the very real burden that each one is. I need to remember that and give myself credit for invisible work I do each day.

3. I need breaks. I'm not holding my breath for another week-long hiatus like the one I've just had, but I think I've just figured out the solution to the fact that everyone in my family likes camping except me.

4. I love my family. Without them, my life is quiet, calm, and kind of empty. Real happiness comes from the bonds that form through service and sacrifice......and folding laundry.

Their flight lands in an hour. The floors are clean, the beds are made, the fridge is stocked, and every article of clothing has been folded and put away. I give it until ten tomorrow morning before every bit of it is undone.

And for once, I'll be glad:).


I remember...

...your earliest days as a father. Racing home on your bike in between classes, you would take your infant son from me. Breathing hard from your ride, your cheeks red from the cold, you would plead "open your eyes...open you eyes...".

Can you believe that newborn is nine years old now? And that you stare into the eyes of a different newborn?

Thank you for nine years of holding, feeding, singing, playing, protecting, teaching and giving your whole heart to these four children of ours.


Eleanor's birth

Eleanor was born at home. I guess the pictures of her on my bed, only hours old kind of gave it away. It was a very personal decision for us, and one that we didn't share with many people before her birth. We researched and read, then pondered, prayed and searched our souls to find that a home birth was the right thing for this baby and this mother. Uncharacteristically, once our decision was made, I never had a moment's doubt that everything would be great, and it was....

On Sunday, May 15th, Brigham was baptized (and I'll write that story soon!). We'd had an incredibly busy weekend, to end an already packed month. Little Eric ran a local kids 3K on Saturday morning, beating the little girl across the street by a hair's breadth, to his very great relief. Then we headed to the bowling alley for Brigham's birthday party- cake and icecream getting ground into someone else's carpet- worth every penny. In the evening we put on our best and sent Marley across the street so we could attend the Atlanta Boy Choir's spring concert, featuring (he was the main feature to us, at least:) little Eric. So after the baptism on Sunday night, I said to several people, "Phew! Now I'm ready to have this baby."

Sure enough, soon after going to bed Sunday night contractions began dragging me from sleep. About 2 A.M. sleep ceded the battle and I got up to check email and let it sink in that our baby was finally on his or her way. At 3:30 I woke Eric up and we passed the wee hours of the morning tidying up the house, doing laundry and making lunches for the boys. At 6:00 I called Claudia, our midwife and told her I was in labor. She must have thought I was a little too calm, because she said she'd call me back after her shower and coffee. I was worried about traffic, and on that second call I was a little more firm, telling her, "I really think you should come".

She got on her way while Eric woke the boys up for school, telling them they would have a new sibling by the end of the day. They came into the living room, sleepy-eyed and bewildered. I'm not sure what they were expecting, but they seemed relieved to see a normal-looking me lying on the couch, smiling. Claudia arrived just as they walked out the door to school.

I moved to my bed while she set up shop and Eric got Marley up and ready to go next door. He lifted her on to the bed and she gave me a gentle hug and kiss. Claudia checked me and I was dilated to 5 cm, which disappointed me, because I felt like I'd moved past that point. But I reminded myself that sometimes the body takes a while to register the work it's been doing, and I'd probably get to a 10 pretty quickly from there.

Claudia's assistant, Audrey arrived and, per my wishes, the two of them sat in the living room and read while I laid on my side in bed and breathed through contractions. Eric was there next to me, looking appropriately concerned and jumping up to get me whatever I asked for. Mostly, all I wanted was quiet, calm and him. Claudia and Audrey would come in every thirty minutes to check the baby's heart rate. Claudia told me I needed to let her know when a contraction began, because I was so quiet and still- I silently thanked my hypnobabies training for that little ego boost:).

Sometime after 10 I called for Claudia to come in the room because I felt like I might be wanting to push soon. She checked me and sure enough, I was 9.5 cm dilated and cleared to go ahead whenever I felt the urge. Urge is not quite the word to describe what I feel when having a baby- it's more like an all-encompassing compulsion the strength of a thousand boa constrictors. I pushed gently through a few contractions and mistakenly though that maybe I'd be able to "breathe the baby out", as they advise in hypnobabies. That hope was crushed by the next contraction, which was long and accompanied by some sort of howl that I'm sure all the neighbors heard. I felt that old familiar burning and heard a sudden commotion as Claudia, Audrey and Eric (who was holding my leg) all realized the head was about to come out. I was urged to "slow it way down" so I wouldn't tear, so on the next contraction I did my very best to breath and not push so hard, which resulted in more interesting sound effects for the neighbors, but didn't stop the baby's head. Right away I heard a cry, and everyone started laughing, saying, "That's what you call a 10 on the the apgar scale!" Another huge push and suddenly I was holding my purple, slippery, angry-looking baby. Eric told me it was a girl, and I just couldn't believe it. TWO DAUGHTERS!!! A SISTER FOR MARLEY!!! In that moment I felt like I had everything I could ever ask for.

Once the placenta was out, Eric walked over to the school to tell the boys they had a new sister. They both wanted to cut the chord, so they held the scissors together and did it in sync- a sweet moment. While Audrey examined the placenta, she explained to them what it was and how it had kept their sister alive while she was inside me. Some people might think that's gross, but I loved seeing that my boys still had that wonderful curiosity intrinsic to childhood and didn't seem to notice the gross factor at all.

It was....perfect. That's all I can think to say about it.


Gee, we think she's swell!!

Eleanor Kathryn Aldrich
Born May 16th, 2011
8 lbs. 0 oz.


Temple thoughts

Eric and his family after being sealed in the Seattle temple.

Last Sunday the Atlanta temple was rededicated. It had been closed for two years for renovations, and for two weeks before the rededication, it was open to the public. Normally, even members of our church can only enter after age twelve, and if they're living certain key principles, so this was a special opportunity for us to take friends, neighbors and our kids to see the inside of a place that holds sacred meaning for us.

We went to the open house on a very crowded Thursday evening. I think we arrived at 6:45 or so and didn't get inside the temple until after 8:00, thanks to my total failure to remember that I actually have a good excuse to request a handicapped spot (and Mormons, bless them, are so wonderful to pregnant women). We had brought our three children, our neighbor's 9-year-old son (who is a member) and our wonderful neighbor across the street and her three daughters (who aren't).

At the Washington, D.C. temple with our friend Kadest, from Ethiopia, just after we were married.

The tour started with a video explaining some of why we hold temples so sacred and as I sat next to my neighbor, a newly-single mom, I had a flash-back to what it felt like for me, twelve years ago, to hear Mormons talk about their families. My parents were in the middle of an unpleasant divorce, and thoughts of eternal bonds and loving homes were like water to my parched sixteen-year-old soul. Oh how I wanted those things for myself.

Now they're mine, and though the hard work and sacrifices required were more than I'd bargained for, so too have been the joys. As I sat in that crowded chapel next to my neighbor, I knew she could feel the same promise I had felt more than a decade ago.

At the Nauvoo temple open house with 6-month-old Eric.

Inside the temple was crowded and chaotic, not at all how we're used to experiencing it. There were so many people there that night that tour groups and guides went out the window and we were left to navigate the rooms and crowds at will. The children were so excited, they couldn't keep their hands off anything. They touched the crystals dangling from the wall sconces, the stained glass windows, the leather benches, the hand-stitched lace altar-covers, the gilt frames of the paintings- all of it. And I let them- knowing that volunteers would painstakingly clean every surface before the prophet's arrival in a few days, and knowing too that the Savior must be smiling down at all this energy, exuberance and wonder in his normally hushed house.

We came to the sealing room, where couples are married for eternity, and showed them the mirrors reflecting into each other. When the boys sat down to rest for a minute on the couch at the front of the room, I told them that the next time they sit on one of those couches might be their wedding day.

Over the following days I thought constantly of my little eternal family- what they mean to me and what I mean to them. During runs through the park and evenings at the kitchen sink the spirit taught me something I hope I'll never forget: that it is not my privilege, or my responsibility to shape or mold these children I've been given. They are themselves, whole and complete, and my imperfect intentions and limited understanding have no business weighing them down. Rather, my opportunity as mother and wife is to shape this family, the bonds between the five (almost six!) of us, and to nurture and influence the feelings of love we have for one another. It's through that influence that my impact on their lives can and should manifest itself.

The temple is quiet now, the fingerprints gone, the frames straightened and the sconces gleaming. There are countless lessons left for me to learn within its sacred walls, but I'll keep close the one that came amidst the crowds and the laughter of my children.