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

Glitterati

Tonight when we came back from the hot tub, the snow was sparkling.

I had forgotten how it does that.

Like the world is made out of glitter.

Speaking of sparkling, Savannah got a video camera for Christmas and has been delightedly documenting our every move.  Here is her first video. 

And just for the record, it snowed all day again today.  Two feet of fresh glitter.

Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold

The boys are on the floor playing legos.

Olivia has her earbuds in, celebrating her Christmas with Taylor Swift and the boys from One Direction.

Savannah is making electronic cupcakes and David is programming his new running heart rate monitor.

We are snug and happy in the lap of a huge mountain.

A mountain we were nearly lost on forever just yesterday.

We took the kids skiing and after getting everyone's ski boots and skis on (surely the hardest part) we were making remarkably good progress.  The girls were independently skiing and taking the lifts by themselves.  Caleb was competent, if timid, and Ethan was wildly careening and crashing, but happiest when tearing as fast as he could down the icy slopes.

It was snowing lightly all morning, but after lunch, conditions deteriorated quickly.  The flakes got bigger and faster and the wind started blowing.  I could no longer see the girls skiing down the mountain from the lift.  We decided to head for home.

We were on an unfamiliar mountain, but eventually figured out there were two ways home:  the gondola or the "short cut."  The gondola was a gentle enclosed ride to the bottom.  But since the short cut involved skiing to the bottom, and the kids were doing so well, and we had already paid the lift fees, we decided to get our money's worth and ski down.  How hard could it be?  We'd just follow the green trails all the way to the bottom. 

Trouble was, pretty soon we were lost.  There was so much snow and wind we couldn't read the trail signs or the map and even the green trails became treacherous with all that new powder.

There was crying.  (The kids.)

There was screaming.  (Me.)

There was gnashing of teeth.  (David.)

There was fervent prayer from all of us: Get us off this mountain.  

At one point Savannah lost control and ended up in a huge snow drift with so much powder that she lost one ski and both poles.  Only her head was sticking out.  I laughed so hard I couldn't breathe while she screamed.  She saw me laughing and started laughing herself, until she had to dig four feet down to find her ski.  We never did find one of her poles.

Olivia went somersaulting down a particularly steep section of mountain (who knows where we were at that point--green or blue or black diamond, all we could see was white) and lost both skis and had to try putting them back on in the powder at a 65 degree angle.

The ski patrol came by several times to ask us if we needed help, but apparently they only send rescue snowmobiles to help the bleeding and broken and since we were only desperate and in over our heads we were on our own.

Unfortunately, when you are in this situation, on a foreign mountain, in blizzard-like conditions, with four panicked and inexperienced skiers with you, there is only one way home:

Down.

A long way down.

At the lowest point (emotionally but not vertically) we were huddled together on the mountain. I was sitting in the snow.  Too tired from digging for skis, and trying to get them back on the kids' feet, and pulling kids out of snow drifts, and dumping out boots and gloves, and trying to bully children down the mountain, to stand any longer.

The youngest two were crying.

Caleb was trying to put a positive spin on things, "Well, we'll never forget this Christmas Eve."

The ski patrol came by one last time. "Are you in trouble?"

David just stared at him.  Because, um, yes. 

Olivia asked, "How much farther to the bottom?"

"Only a mile or two.  You're almost there."

Olivia started weeping.

David gave everyone a pep talk.  There were protests.  I put things more starkly.  "Unless you want to die on this mountain, there is only one way off it.  Get up and put your skis on.  Now!"   I could be a motivational speaker. 

Needless to say, eventually we found the bottom.

All of us in one piece, er...six pieces.

We only lost one ski pole and believe that to be a supreme triumph, considering.

Funny enough, the kids were so delighted to be down that they are only looking back on the whole thing with fond reminiscing, as if fear of imminent death and blinding snow with all that screaming and crying only added to the fun.  By dinner, everything was hilarious. 

Merry Christmas, from us, alive and well, far over the misty mountains cold.

Stress Makes Me Cheeky

Well.

Just like that, it's the beginning of December.

Seems like I just published this photo, and here we are again. 

For the record (because you know I like keeping score, especially if I am winning) I got my tree up early this year.  A first for me.

Because this weekend we are hosting the entire neighborhood for Christmas dinner, a hayride, and a holiday concert.

Ha!  Pork tenderloin for four hundred.  Good thing I'm amazing.

My mom called me yesterday and said, "What can I do to help?"  And I thought, "Oh, I guess I'm supposed to get out of the fetal position and do something."

Be brave, I tell myself.

Did I tell you the whole event is outside?  Which is probably the reason for our current "cold snap."  We even had to light our first fire of the season on Monday night.  And we didn't have to turn on the air conditioner to do it!  Plus right now I am wearing socks.  See?  Cold.

My Christmas cards arrived late yesterday afternoon.  (David and I had a debate about what picture to use this year.  I won.  Which is a shame.  I told him I wanted one where we didn't look "perfect," one that "reflected our real life."  He said, "But it looks like we just rolled out of bed."  "Exactly," I said.  At which point he gave up.  Which, again, is a real shame.  I think it's pretty clear that this whole thing is his fault.)  Plus I'm seriously considering not writing a letter this year.  David says our friends would protest.  I'm thinking they would be relieved.  What can I say that I have not already said a thousand times?  Entropy.  The fall.  You can fill in the rest.  But then all there will be to do when people open the card is to stare at our very real picture and wonder how bad things really are over here. 

The best part of my week was singing "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" with my lovelies, all of us around the piano on Monday night.    

And, yes, I am at least as tired as I look.

The Sweet Mojave Rain

Most of my house was giddy this morning.

Rain.

Rain!

There was some digging through the closets for the rain jackets we haven't used since our trip to British Columbia.

There was an unsuccessful trip out to the storage room to hunt for the bent and broken umbrellas that we only use once or twice a year.

Olivia could hardly contain herself.  She must have kissed me four times in her excitement over the foreboding skies.  And as she was leaving she declared dramatically, "I'm off to make wedge history!  Wish me luck, mother!"  (That is a direct quote.)  And then swept out into the wet.

Savannah, on the other hand, clearly felt duty bound to counteract Olivia's excitement and woke up crying.  I could see the storm clouds blowing through her all morning.  One minute weeping, one minute nothing but thunder and lightening.  It was treacherous mothering, I tell you.  She kissed me once, quietly as she left.  A tiny, reluctant rainbow at the end of the storm.

I was exhausted by the time they all left.

The last couple of days have been especially difficult for David at work.  He comes home all chewed up and consumed.  Last night his brow was still sweating when we went to bed. 

And that means, of course, that the last couple of days have been difficult for me as well.  I have to row alone while he stares out at the sea and worries about other things than our swamped little boat.  Sometimes I feel like hitting him over the head with my oar.  When he finally came home last night I was alone in the kitchen because I had sent all the kids to their rooms.  I had had enough.  The storm clouds had gathered.

David asked, "Are you mad at me?"

I said, "I'm mad at all of you."

The lightening was cracking.

When we gathered for prayer we all held hands, but didn't let go of our grudges.  David began.  We bent our heads.  About halfway through his tongue slipped and he said, "Please help us to stop fart..."(then he corrected and said)..."uh, fighting."

When he said "Amen" the room dissolved into laughter.  We lay on the floor and laughed and laughed.  And every time one of us looked at another we laughed again.

And the clouds opened, the rain fell, and washed all the rest of it away.

Rain. 

Sweet mojave rain.

And just in time, too.

Five Posts in One

I've done all my recent writing in my head.  Which is fun for me, and not as much fun for you.  Anyway, the posts are starting to stack up.  In their entireties they were both clever and profound (you would have liked them), but for the sake of time and in consideration of all the people around here clamoring for clean underwear (the nerve!), you are getting the Reader's Digest version.  (Did I ever tell you the story of how I was actually published in the Reader's Digest and lied about my name?  True story.)

And so, Post One:

On Thursday night I took the girls to see Little House on the Prairie, The Musical at Gammage.  It was just marvelous, and it is quite possible that I cried through half of it.  At one point Olivia looked at me with tears in her own eyes and nodded compassionately.

I sat there in the auditorium with my own Mary and Laura and thought about love and sisters and sacrifice and hard work and faith and building a life for your family and long winters and what we would do to keep warm if we lived in the Dakota territory before insulation and central heating and indoor plumbing.  I thought about what it means to live in a happy family and over and over again I told myself, "This is now, this is now," just like Laura did in Little House in the Big Woods.

When it was all over we went to the talk-back where Olivia raised her hand and asked the cast if they had all read the books, and then with my girls clutching their own treasured books we waited outside the stage door for autographs.  

And on the way home, over the Christmas music, I could hear the girls talking about their favorite parts, and how it is so sad to read such good books when you are young because you might never find as good books the rest of your life.  I smiled at that and secretly agreed.  And as I drove home through the dark streets and listened to their voices in the back seat and heard Savannah ask Olivia why she was crying at that one part, I was grateful that they each have a sister.  And that in the long, cold winters of their lives, they will always have each other.

 

Post Two:

 The makings of 23 centerpieces.

If you've been reading this blog for a bit, it becomes fairly obvious, fairly quickly, that I married better than I deserve.

What can I say?  It is an indisputable fact that I have excellent taste in men.

This week offered more evidence of this. 

David and I were supposed to put on the ward Christmas party on Saturday night.  Food and seating and entertainment and Christmas cheer for two hundred.  Saturday was also the day of a one-day quilt retreat with my family in Park City, Utah, about 700 miles from here.  I hemmed and hawed about going.  I tried to change the date of the ward party.  I decided not to go to the quilt retreat.  Then I hemmed and hawed some more.  Finally David said, "Let's just buy you a ticket.  I can feed two hundred people by myself."  Unbelievably I said, "Okay."

And that it just what he did.  The party was a roaring success.  Last night in bed he told me in complete honesty that he thinks it was the best ward Christmas party he's ever been to.

I am not a bit surprised.

After all, I have excellent taste in men. 

 

Post Three:

We finally had a cold snap.

Cold enough to wear beanies and knit gloves with our jackets in the mornings.

Did you know it only takes about one day for children to lose one or both of their gloves?

Lucky for us, the cold snaps around here only last about two weeks.  I don't know how all you real-winter folks do it.  My entire month's budget would be spent on gloves.  30 days, 4 pairs of gloves per day...it adds up.

The other day I was at Target for a completely different reason and saw that they had their gloves on sale, 2 pairs for $1.50 in all kinds of cute colors.  I thought, "Sold."  I bought everyone two pairs of gloves.  This morning the girls were both down to one pair and Ethan couldn't find any.  He finally ended up wearing mine.  I suspect I will never see them again.  Oh well.  It will likely be summer weather again by the end of the week.

 

Post Four:

Remember that post about wanting to be snowed in somewhere?

On Sunday morning after a delightful quilt retreat, we were in Park City preparing to leave.  The man who plows the driveways in the neighborhood came by and laughed at us and told us we weren't going anywhere.  It had snowed 25 inches in less than 12 hours.

We went back inside and considered staying another day and I called David and told him I thought we might be snowed in and he said the roads looked fine from here.  If we could just get down off the mountain he thought the highway would be passable.  It was, but just barely.

As we were white-knuckle crawling our way down the mountain I thought about how when my romantic notions actually come to pass in real life, they are not nearly as romantic as I thought they would be.

My readers in Wisconsin and Michigan and Massachusetts have my apologies.

 

Post Five:

My Christmas cards are still sitting neatly in their boxes. 

I have threatened several times that they are going to end up in the recycling bin. 

David just nods.

He's been through this before.

And now every time someone else's Christmas card arrives in the mail, a little trickle of ice-cold panic sluices through me.

But still they sit.

I am waiting for inspiration. 

I am waiting for Christmas spirit.

I am waiting to figure out just what it is I learned this year.

The writer in me is still sorting.  Sorting the lessons from the regrets, the gold from the sand, the moving from the mundane.  There is something there, the water just hasn't cleared enough for me to see it yet.

I hope it clears by Christmas.  If not, I have given myself permission to fill the recycling bin.

And David will just nod.  (See Post Two.  I told you.)

The Jet Stream and the Finger of God

At long last the jet stream has finally gone our way.

(According to this map we're as cold as Wisconsin this morning and my joy can hardly be measured.)

After months of high pressure systems and sweltering temperatures, it is not too much to say that I think the dip in the jet stream looks like the finger of God and the reprieve feels a lot like grace.

I opened all the doors and windows in my house this morning to give it a proper welcome.

My girls pulled out their scarves for the winter walk to the bus stop and Ethan and I climbed back into his bed for a Scooby Doo retrospective.

I took Ethan to the doctor yesterday who told me that his "influenza" is actually just strep throat and started him on a course of antibiotics.  This is probably the first time in my life I've seen strep throat as delightfully good news.

Strep throat as grace. 

Strep throat as tender mercy.

I know how to count my blessings, and this morning jet streams and bacterial infections count.

The Only Solace of September

Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy and I put up the rest of the tomatoes and peaches on Tuesday.

(They are my loyal canning companions.  It was nice to see them again.)

And then, because I couldn't help myself, I bought three more boxes of peaches yesterday.

I'm out of bottles, of course.

And shelf space.

But it's now or never.  There are no more peaches in November.  So we're making the most of it.  And eating peaches on everything.  Last night I had some on my hamburger.  Delicious. 

In bed last night, as I was drifting off, I remembered my grandmother's peach nectar, a drink so good it makes you feel wicked.  And I made a little plan to make some of my own.  That thought alone is enough to make me happy for the rest of September.

Which is saying something.

Because September is my hardest month to be happy.  (With May the close second.) 

It is the interminable month of the year.  Back at school full-time, the schedule and the early mornings taking their toll by now.  The heat is still oppressive while the rest of the country is getting a respite, and envy is making me crazy.  I am so madly jealous of every resident of Wisconsin right now I can hardly stand it.

And so I console myself with Austen and dreams of peach nectar. 

And sometimes I feel nearly human.  Though I was so prickly with David this morning he may disagree. 

Never mind.  I am off to drown my regrets in peaches and cream.

Just hope I bought enough.

Flagging Already

The second day is always harder than the first.  There's less adrenaline and more reality on the second day. 

And we are already showing signs of exhaustion.  (Incidentally, I rewatched that morning video I made yesterday and was astounded by the puffy bags under my eyes.  Looks like I haven't slept well in days.)

Last night at the end of dinner, Ethan put his head in my lap and told me he was ready for bed.  I could have eaten him for dessert.  It had been a long, full day.  His first day of the full schoolday, and he was done by seven.  He told me that he had yawned most of the day.  (Especially during the rules, he said.)  I tucked him in and then went in the girls room to read.

Last night it was The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.  A lovely little book you ought to read to your girls every year before school.  Before I got to the last chapter the girls were asleep beside me.  I finished it anyway because it is that good, reading aloud to myself and crying at the end.

Caleb went to scouts but came home when the obligatory after-scouts basketball game started.  Ready for bed, he said.

With everyone tucked away, David and I sat in bed and talked about the day and the year and David's new intern and the little signs of puberty starting to show around our house.  David rubbed my shoulders, which were already tied up in their pre-summer position, and we talked about how fast life was going.

And then the power went out too.  Exhausted after such a day, I imagined.  As worn out as the rest of us.

And it stayed off almost twelve hours.  The kids had cold cereal this morning with slightly warm milk, hair was tied up without curls, and Savannah finished The Hundred Dresses by lantern.

After the kids left I could think of nothing to do without power and so I went back to bed and napped until I heard the air click back on and the dishwasher start chugging again.

And perhaps most amazing of all, we had rain this morning.  The sky covered in clouds and a slight dripping everywhere.  Like even the sun was tired and maybe even the heavens are adjusting.

Hedonism has a price.

Last Night I Dreamed of Kalamazoo

Last night I dreamed that David took a new job in Kalamazoo and then turned into an orca whale and could no longer speak English.  I chased him as far as I could into the ocean, but eventually had to head for shore.

I woke up in the heat.  And was both disappointed and relieved.

I've lost all my motivation.

For everything. 

I keep looking at my kitchen and trying to talk myself into scrubbing it.

I need a motive.  I look through my old motivators, searching for reinforcements.

Number 1:  A smidge of OCD

RIM pipes up, "It would be clean."

All I can think is, "So?"

Number 2:  Food

"You'd have dishes to eat on."

All I can think is, "It's too hot to eat."  That's when I hatch a plan involving popsicles for dinner.  No dishes required.

Number 3:  Target

"As soon as you get your work done you can go to Target."

All I can think is, "I'm not leaving this house til the sun goes down.  Or it's September.  Whichever comes first."  It'll probably be September.

Number 4 (the fail safe):  Sex

RIM gives it one more try, "Nothing's sexier than a clean kitchen."

All I can think is, "What?  Now that's just crazy.  You didn't seriously think I'd fall for that did you?"

Besides it's too hot for sex.

Then again, I'd be naked.  (Ideally.)

Still.