Fire and Fog

[In full disclosure, this post was written over a couple of days, with intermittent and international wi-fi coverage...and by now it barely makes sense to publish it at all. And yet, here I am doing it anyway.]

Thursday morning

I was going to share a photo on Instagram this morning, but found I had more to say than the little caption box is designed to hold.  Instagram is not really my preferred format anyway, as evidenced by my pitiful collection of photos. Given the choice, I will choose the 1000 words over the substitute. Every time.

We just passed the 45th parallel, exactly halfway between the equator and the North Pole, and I am carsick.  Out of practice, I suppose. 

The green hills and bouncy clouds of Oregon look exactly as we left them nearly four years ago.  Keeping vigil until our return.  The grasses are slowly turning into pines the closer we get to the Pacific.   No wonder Lewis and Clark kept going. Every mile is more beautiful than the last.  Of course these hills will be shaved bare again before we see the tides.  I love the dressing and undressing of rolling hills.  These road trip stripteases never get old.

Friday

Early last evening we made it to the northern end of Washington, Oregon's dark, foreboding cousin. The greens are deeper, more menacing, and capable of swallowing you whole if you step too far off the road.  It was a shock to step out of the car into the damp and the chill and David and I were forced to climb up and untie the car-top carrier to find jeans and socks and close-toed shoes.  (Though on the morning news they were talking about the heat wave and I couldn't stop laughing.)

We woke this morning to somebody blowing the fog horn over and over, long and low, and the gulls calling.  It already feels like we're in a foreign country even though we haven't yet crossed the watery border a mile or so into the Pacific.  We are headed north.  As far north as we can get.  When your backyard is as hot as the surface of the sun, the only thing to do is head north.  And as Caleb reminded me in southern Idaho, the earth turns slower the closer we get to the pole.  Just what I had in mind.  More time together, more savoring, elongate each gorgeous, precious moment, roll around in it.   I am determined to make the sun stand still.

I feel like I ought to say something about my long absence from blogging, rather than dumping you directly into our vacation.  My life seems pretty magical when the posts go from holiday to holiday, eh?  (Look, I'm already speaking Canadian!)  But now there is too much--too much to say, too much to remember--and the last few months have been like a wildfire, burning out large swaths of my memory and leaving only a few stubby highlights among the smoldering, smoking ruins.

There was school and work and church and lessons and school musicals and finals and an endless lineup of orchestra concerts. Though to say it in one sentence like that does nothing to convey the heat and terror of the firefight.  I also happened to throw an Indian-themed wedding for my youngest sister.  I didn't sleep during the entire month of May.  Mostly from searing and unrelenting fear.  My own mind can be a fearsome thing at three in the morning.  You will be surprised to learn that this made me mildly difficult to live with.  Despite my worries (and David's collateral suffering) it turned out lovely.  People who happened by slowed down and got out of their cars to crane their necks at all that love and beauty. 

And then finally, blessedly, the fire was out.  Summer was here and puzzles and games and movie marathons became the most pressing issues of every day.  And slowly, I have learned to sleep again. Ten minutes more every day.  Soon I will be downright slothful. 

Best of all, here we are in line to board the ferry to British Columbia.  We are headed out to sea, straight into the fog.  North, like I said.   Inside my head they are playing a rousing rendition of "O, Canada" and outside my head the earth is slowing down as it arcs along its orbit through space.

One slow, lazy, glorious turn at a time.

Transient

Not Many Stranger Things Have Happened

Don't you wish I had something to say? Something funny? Something clever? Dare you hope, something worth reading?

Ya, me too.

I've figured out that Monday night is the perfect time to write, while I wait for my kids to finish practicing Mozart's 40th Symphony with their orchestra. I have a couple of hours to kill, with no one to interrupt or nagging laundry to protest.

Perfect.

Trouble is, my inspiration has not coincided with my calendar.

Pity, that.

What's left is a recitation of our strange-but-true weekend. (Sure to be less than brilliant. If you give up here, I'm not going to say you made the wrong decision.)

I had a mild-to-moderate breakdown on Thursday night. (David would definitely characterize it as more moderate, bordering on complete lunacy, but he's not telling this story.) Anyway, by the time Friday morning was upon us, I think he had given up all hope of a decent weekend.

(This is not the strange part.)

After I dropped the kids off to make their way through the final day of the quarter, I went to the gym. (Again, contrary to popular opinion, this is also not the strange part.) But instead of the treadmill or the Zumba class, I went to yoga, to try and get my brain or my hormones or my chakras in line. While I was in downward dog, I realized I needed my toes painted. (Look how focused I am in yoga! I am so good at so many things!) So, uncharacteristically, I went to get a pedicure. The girl at the salon said "Do you want a manicure too?"

"No."

"Are you sure?"

"Okay."

And while she was doing my manicure and we were sitting face-to-face, she said, "Do you want your eyebrows waxed?" I think if anyone asks you that question, it's just like if someone asks you if you want a mint. They're trying to tell you something. And yes, you want one.

So what else could I say? "Yes."

And while she was waxing my eyebrows, she said, "Do you want me to do your lip too."

You got it.

It was a strange morning.

But I did feel better.

Strangely so. Even David noticed the change and found something a little odd when he kissed me at the end of the day. "What happened?" he asked.

On Saturday between sessions of General Conference we ran to Old Navy to get fleece coats for our weekend in Utah. While we were there I tried on (gasp!) and bought (shock and awe!) a pair of skinny jeans. I know, downright eerie. Who knows what possessed me, as normally I don't like my clothes to actually touch me. But there you go.  It's fair to say that by the end of the weekend, I was practically unrecognizable.

And then, perhaps strangest of all, on Saturday night, after priesthood session, all the other kids were at friends' houses, so Caleb and David and I went for sushi. And over chef special rolls and wonton soup we talked about the new missionary age announced that morning. And what it would mean to us.

My sister Rachel had texted me that morning: How does it feel to have just lost a year?

Strange, indeed.

(And yes, to answer your question, that is an enormous amount of sushi for three people.  We strangely, notoriously, invariably overorder.  Saturday night was no exception.)

Inexorable

Last night I didn't want to go to bed.  It was the last day of summer and I hated to see it go.

So I had a fight with David.  To stall, see?

I was actually mad at the universe, but David was closer, so I worked out a way to blame it all on him.  Which sounds hard, but I made it look easy.

I set the alarm before bed, but I didn't need it.  I woke early and lay there listening to my quiet house, reveling in the thought of my children softly snoring and breathing in the last deep breaths of summer air.  I lay there keeping watch as the last precious grains of sand in our summer hourglass ran out.

All night long, my heart and mind knew morning was coming, ticking off the hours one heartbeat at a time, as the inexorable rotation of the earth brought me around to face the sun and the calendar again.  I feel like my very life is as round as that orbit.  Circling around and around, from school to summer and back again.

And here I am again.

My brother asked me this morning if I cried.

No, I did not.  Because this morning as I said my prayers, the word "inexorable" came to mind. Vocabulary as revelation...what could be better?  No amount of crying or pleading can change my fate.  Put a smile on.  And so I prayed for strength instead, and then went to make blueberry pancakes.

And then this.

When I dropped the kids off at school, at the beginning of already another school year, all the teachers were standing outside wearing shirts that said:

Let's eat, Grandma!
Let's eat Grandma!

And when they turned around, the back of their shirts said:

Punctuation saves lives.

Hilarious.  I laughed out loud and then grinned all the way home.  Which assuaged my loss some and made me remember how much I loved going to school myself.  Which in turn reminded me to be happy.  For them.  For the stories they will bring home to my dinner table.  For all that they are learning and storing away in their brilliant little minds.  Put a smile on.  And it is not to much to say that it felt like heaven had arranged the whole thing just for me.  Vocabulary and punctuation as answer to prayer.  Perfect. 

And now I feel so good there is even a chance that David may get a kiss and a hug after work rather than the dirty look I had saved up for him.

Which would be a tender mercy indeed.

A Post With Too Many Asides

first-day-of-school, goodbye kiss

This morning I was encouraging the girls to move faster ("It's 7:27 and I still haven't heard any practicing," "Olivia, if I see you in just your bra one more time..." "Girls, do you know what time it is?"),  when I noticed Savannah's to-do list, hanging on her bulletin board.

It read:

spelling test

P.E. (tena shoes)

water bottel

[an aside: it's clear that those last two things do not bode well for the first thing] 

perseverance

[another aside: is it weird that she can spell "perseverance" but not "bottle"?]

Sigh. 

Last night as I was pulling the Wimmer Truc out from under my broiler and slicing it into sandwiches for dinner, I suddenly started crying.  I was suddenly so tired I couldn't do anything else but cry.  In the minute between the broiler and the table, I hit the wall.

This is officially our thirteenth day back at school.  Not that I'm counting.  And while I am trying my very best (our family theme this year: Be Your Best) to be happy and "enjoy the journey" and all that, I have to admit that I'm already wiped out.  I told David, who looked around the room utterly baffled (his mind whirring to figure out what tragedy happened between the oven and the table), "I've gone as far as I can go."

The trouble is, thirteen days is not very far.

Especially in comparison to the hundred and sixty-seven or so days still to go.

It's not just me either.  Savannah herself has cried her way out the door the last two mornings.  Which is, I imagine, why "perseverance" made it onto her list. 

Which almost makes me feel more sorry for her than I am for myself.  Almost.

[a final aside:  is this the BEST whining you've ever heard?  I thought so.  Be your best...at everything.]

Last night in bed, I asked David, "Do you think I'm going to make it?" 

"Sure."  A smile.

"Are you aware of everything I'm up against?"

Another smile.  He assured me that I have made him fully aware.

"Okay," I sighed, and he gave me a hug.

Perhaps that might have been a better tactic than the "change-your-attitude" speech I gave Savannah this morning.

Rats.

Oh, summer, how I miss you.  It was so much easier to be my best at the beach.

You know?

For Money

It has been five days since the Garden of Hope Spring Tea (my big fundraising event of the year) and I am out of excuses.  It is time to post.

I cleaned my house.  Long neglected.

I paid the bills.  Long overdue.

I went to the store and the library.  Long out of anything to eat or read.  (There is a running debate around here about which is worse.)

Today I intend to go to my final class and iron David's shirts.  The man has been ironing his own since February.  And after that I have a list of things I've been meaning to get to: wash the girls' bedding, organize the swim cupboard, prepare the file boxes for the end-of-the-year school treasures, breathe, sleep, nap, smile.  All good things and all about time.

Last night I had a dream that David no longer loved me.  Too hard to live with, plus the house was a mess, he said.  I woke up and had to be reassured several times before he left for work this morning.

When I think back over the last three months, I want to dance (it's over!) and cry (it was hard!).  David has been calmly coaxing me through the ensuing maelstrom of ups and downs.  You can imagine.

Anyway, did you know I was a philanthropist?  (Honestly, there is almost no end to my amazingness.)

Well, I am.

I made this quilt and raised a whole lot of money for the cancer program at David's hospital.  (He should be so lucky, I tell my horrid dream.)

And even better, I looked gorgeous doing it.  (Hello.)

David and I have a standing joke that since he didn't marry me for my money he must have married me for my looks.  This post is evidence that it seems I'm good for both. 

Tomorrow, a real post. 

P.S.  A generous and heartfelt thank you to all of you who sent cards and help and good wishes my way during the madness.  They meant more than I can say. 

The Post Script to Two Weeks of Insanity

I know I am prone to exaggeration. 

I know I am prone to melodrama.

(I keep telling David that it adds to my charm.)

But it is not too much to say that I have been drowning.  To busy trying to stay afloat to even write a distressed SOS.  The waters are just now finally starting to recede, leaving me exhausted and mildewed.

It all started when I thought it was a good idea to take a class on writing and force a few deadlines on myself.

Which would have been fine, if it weren't that I forgot that the last time I took a class I did not have four children and two church callings and one large, full-time job feeding, clothing, and cleaning a family. 

Which still might have been fine, if I hadn't forgotten that I also do volunteer work on a committee to raise funds for cancer services and our big event is just a couple of months away, and my sister and I also spend much of our free time travelling and teaching a class on body image.

Which still had a microscopic chance of being fine, it I hadn't also said "yes" to various other people and commitments, which didn't seem hard at the time they asked, but impossible by the time it was time to deliver.

And so it has not been so fine.

(At one point amid the hosting of a dinner/dance for a hundred people to celebrate the latest minor-holiday and helping Caleb sift through 80 pictures of growing petri dishes for his science project and trying to finish my round robin late again, I told David that I was having fantasies about getting cancer so that the only thing on my to-do list was "go to chemo."  He made me take that back.)

Yesterday my family ate cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and I took a two-hour nap in the afternoon. 

I had gone as far as I could go.

This morning Caleb asked in a hopeless voice if we were having cereal again for breakfast. 

I said yes. 

And then I turned to David and whispered that I am failing.  He just smiled at me and nodded.  He loves me anyway, I suppose.

Now for a story.  About the best part of the last two weeks.

A couple of weeks ago I had to turn in a manuscript, either a short story or a chapter, for my writing class to review.  We workshop the piece, which means you make a copy for everyone in the class and they go home and read it over the weekend and make all kinds of marks and suggestions and comments on it and then on the following Tuesday we talk about the piece.

After I turned it in, David said that if I could let eighteen strangers read it, I could surely let him.

So I did.

When he got done with it he only made one comment.  And it was, apparently, not the right one.

David took me to In and Out where I cried into my milkshake and asked him hundred times what I was thinking and what I was doing with my life and what was I going to do now and what was the worst part, the writing or the story or both. 

Because, let's be honest, if there's one thing I really excel at, it is self-doubt.

(I keep telling David that it adds to my charm.)

When my blood sugar and my emotions were more stable he drove me home.

By Tuesday morning I had given up the dream.  Determined to be content reading and enjoying the writing of other people, to drop the class and get back to my laundry.  I decided to let it die or kill it off myself, and then I considered the funeral arrangements.  (Adele would sing, I would say a few words, the kids could do a reading of Steinbeck or Tolstoy to put everything in perspective and remind us that we weren't losing much, bagpipes at the end, etc.)

But my professor resurrected it with three little words and one punctuation choice written at the bottom of my manuscript:  "April, absolutely brilliant!"

Note the exclamation point.  You can bet I did. 

I could not be unhappy the entire day.

When David got home from work I still had the smile on my face.  We did a little celebratory dance in the kitchen.  And David told me how frustrating it is to be my husband but smiled at me the whole time he was saying it and I did nothing but grin back at him. 

Because of course I know that.  I live with me too.