Stress Makes Me Cheeky


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 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. 

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 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.)

Lost in Translation

This morning I was paying the bills and stretching the budget.  Robbing Peter to pay Paul and all kinds of creative accounting.  It was exciting.

David came in to tell me that he was taking a conference call and he would be unavailable from eight to eight thirty.

I stared at him, trying to translate.

It was something like:

"I'm taking a conference call so don't come in and loudly ask me to kill a scorpion or a mouse or where all the money went or if I can put the dishes in before I leave, and especially don't let Adele do her morning serenade.  That could be embarrassing.  I just need you to really try and be independent and solve your own problems without bothering me for the next thirty minutes.  Do you think you can do that?"

Which did not seem very nice, and which made me want to pick a fight but he had a conference call and I was exhausted, so I let it go.  (Well, not really...given that I am still talking about it.)

Now it could be that my translator is off.  But let's be honest, that seems unlikely.

The real problem of course is that I used to be capable.  And instead of wondering what is wrong with me lately (I'm thinking brain tumor), it's easier to be offended by the fact that David has clearly noticed the change.  When did I get so easily overwhelmed by my life?  When did everything become so hard?  How long have I been so tired I can hardly think? 

I keep thinking that my life is going to sort itself out, that my new path and purpose are going to reveal themselves to me, but I am as lost today as I was in August, four months ago.  I keep telling myself that it shouldn't be this hard, that I am in charge of my own life, but it's not helping.  I feel like an ex-con who is suddenly terrified by freedom, by a life without restrictions, and is ultimately more comfortable in prison and so he commits a crime just to feel safe and structured again. 

And you thought I was kidding about the brain tumor.  What else could it be?  Low blood sugar?  Anemia?  Hypothyroidism?  A B-12 deficiency?  Outright insanity?

The truth is I don't need a CAT scan, or a sandwich, or a nap, or a couple of pints of A+ blood.  (Though I wouldn't say no to any of them, especially the nap and the blood.)

What I really need is a little revelation, my own personal urim and thummim, with maps and directions for this strange new land.  The sooner the better.  (Preferably before I turn to life a crime.) 

And as an added benefit, traditionally urim and thummims also translate languages.  David should be delighted.

Sand in My Eye

How about something fun today?

I'm in a bad, bad mood.

In fact I may be teetering on the verge from "mood" to outright "funk."

It's that bad.

And it's all David's fault, of course.

Now he is reading that last line and I can hear him scoffing all the way from the hospital.  He is thinking, "That's outrageous!"

And it is.  (But don't tell him.)

I'm going to move on to the fun stuff in just a minute, but first, the straw that broke the camel's back.  (Because I know you are wondering.)  I went in the bathroom this morning to put Caleb's hair up for "Crazy Hair Day" and I walked through a substantial sand pile right in the middle of the floor.  I asked, "Who dumped their shoes out in the middle of the floor?"  And everyone said, "Not me." 

I know.  I was shocked too.  And if you are wondering how this is David's fault I will just remind you (as I reminded him) that he was the reason these children (and therefore, the sand pile too) exist in the first place.

I know what you're thinking.  "Wow, she can make a mountain out of a molehill  sand pile like nobody else I know."  What can I say?  It's a gift.

(Don't worry.  It's October.  I should be feeling better any day now.)

Now to the part where I make your life a little better.  Fun, right?

On the way to Utah last weekend, David asked me if I brought any books-on-tape.  I had.  But he wasn't interested in either of them, and so I casually mentioned that I had a bunch of "This American Life" podcasts on my ipod that we could listen to.  I've mentioned this before.  But honestly, David thinks my penchant for NPR is another of my charming character flaws, and has always declined.  But then he got a little desperate on our way out of the desert and I tempted him by saying, "There's a funny one I think you'd like."  And so he reluctantly consented.

We listened to every one of them before the trip was over.

I made a convert.

Some of them are so laugh-out-loud funny David and I just sat and hooted at each other and wiped our eyes afterwards.  Some of them are so sobering we just sat and looked at each other, our eyebrows doing all the talking.  Some of them are so informative we would have to pause the podcast and discuss our take on it, and how it made us think of something else we had to tell the other one right away.


And, as you know, I love being right.  So this was doubly wonderful.  David even asked me when it "normally airs."  Ha!  I told him Saturdays at two with a gleeful, triumphant smile.

So if you haven't already, you really should subscribe to the podcast and next week you can fold your laundry to the joy that is "This American Life."

And can I just say, that when I can't sleep and I am lying in my bed in the dark, I fantasize about being interviewed by Ira Glass.  And the stories I would tell him and the pauses he would make and the questions that would follow.

I can just imagine the one I would tell him about the sandbox I found in the bathroom this morning and after I told him the whole thing, how I harassed the children and made a federal case out of it and was nearly run through by the beam in my own eye, he would pause and ask, "At any point along here did you think 'This is crazy!'?"

And then I'd give a long pause.

And we'd both laugh, because of course I hadn't.

Epiphanies You May or May Not Want to Read

[The other day my sister told me, more or less, that my blog was just the same thing over and over again.  This post is about entropy and the return to school and my long-standing insecurities, all of which I have written about "ad nauseum," apparently.  So if you have something better to do than revisiting these themes yet again, go do them.  Otherwise, don't say I didn't warn you.]

This morning we went for a swim.  Trying to beat the sun to the pool.

On the way, the conversation turned to entropy.  And then to the fall and the resurrection.  And then, naturally, to the after-life, and the kids surmised about houses and babies in heaven.  I had to steer us back.

"We're not talking about the next life.  We're talking about this life.  And in this life there is the law of entropy."

The kids all groaned.

Because they know what's coming next.  A conversation that will turn into a day of fishing stuff out from under the beds.  And that's just for starters.

But after the swim, I was in the shower asking David to admit that living with me is hard, and that in addition to my many character faults, entropy currently has the upper hand in our house.

He refused.  (He's good like that.)

And then he said, "I don't care what you do.  I just want you to be happy."

I started to get emotional, but stopped myself just in time.  "But if I'm happy, what will that say about me?"

He looked at me.  Clearly mystified.

But in my head it goes something like this:  I live in a fallen world (remember all those briars and noxious weeds?), which requires toil and sweat and, yes, most of the time, tears.  And if you're doing it right, it means you're right down in the weeds mucking out your salvation.  And the harder you work and the more it hurts, the better the salvation.  Or, something like that.  Or maybe it's the harder you work and the more it hurts, the better the person you are.  (It's twisted either way.)

And for me, all of that gets mixed in with the return to school, which for the first time, this year will include all of my children leaving for the entire school day.  And not only do I feel that loss very keenly, I also feel like I will no longer be earning my keep.  (To say nothing of my salvation.)

I tried again, "The summer is one thing.  I can enjoy it because I'm with my children.  And the enjoyment of it is part of my nurturing of them.  Part of the job, see?  But if I enjoy my regular life, it means I'm not working hard enough, I'm not giving enough back, just taking up space."

And then he just sighed.  And kissed me.  Because he was long overdue at work and my issues are too big to resolve during his shave.  And like he said, he only wants me to be happy.

Why is that so hard?  Because what will it say about me?  That I'm more hedonist than pioneer?  That I'm more selfish than sacrificing?  That I'm more spoiled than deserving?  That I am more prodigal than saint?

That is, in fact, the case.

And maybe that's it.  That I'm bothered that this truth is finally about to be revealed to the world.  That it was only a show after all, and now I am about to be exposed.  I made it look hard in order to be worthy, carrying the burdens on my back as proof of my value.  I made my life seem like a sacrifice so that I would be worth the sacrifice.  Of feeding and clothing me. 

And, especially, of saving me.

And there it was.  The stumbling block to my happiness.  It was me all along.  My fight against entropy.  My fight to build the facade.  My fight to be enough.

I will never be worthy of the beauty and magic in my life.  Of love, of salvation, of redemption.  Of any of it.

But it is there anyway.

And I'm out of fight.  I only want happy now.

And maybe if I'm not brave enough to choose happy, at least now maybe I am tired enough not to choose fight.  And then maybe I will get happy by default. 

And I'm not picky. 

I'll take it any way I can get it.

The Road Again

David and I both dreamed of Christmas last night.

He thought it was because it was so hot, we both were unconsciously wishing for the cold.  I thought it was because our summer holiday is almost over and we are already unconsciously pining for the next one.

Regardless, it was strange to dream about the same thing.  Made me wonder what kind of conversations our two brains have while we're sleeping.  Silly ones, I imagine.  Racy ones, I have no doubt.

David kissed me thoroughly this morning on his way to work, because I am off again.  This time I am taking my two girls and their two dolls and my two sewing machines and heading to Utah for our annual "Kids Quilt Retreat." 

I got my laundry done just in time.  And managed to scrub my kitchen floor and clean out the fridge,  (keeping the health department at bay, see?)  just in time to leave again. 

The last adventure of summer.

I am tired of roadtripping.  Last night David and I went for a Jamba juice alone.  I was grumpy about it.  Which confused him.  And me too, frankly.  Sigh.  But the thought of more gas-station restrooms, and views from my car window, and beds that aren't mine had me a bit out of sorts.

David reminded me of why I was going.

And I thought, "Oh, yeah."

Sometimes it is very helpful to be married to someone who is very nearly always right.

Checking Off the List

It's time to start making some serious progress on my list. 

Checking things off rather than adding more.  (Or worse, watching old episodes of Arrested Development rather than doing either.)  Our road trip is supposed to commence in two days and we are far from ready. 

Speaking of checking things off...

On Wednesday night, David and I went out to dinner.  We sat in a booth and while I ate a mushroom ravioli that was so good I started moaning just a little and David ate an aged New York Strip, we talked about our lives.  The past, the present, the future.

When we got to the future part I told David my plans to be published.  Nothing new here.  We have the same discussion every birthday and anniversary.  I imagine we'll be having the same one fourteen years from now.  David tried to be interested, again.  And supportive, as always.

He said, "I'd like to get rid of at least one of those regrets.  You know, 'Check.'  Cross one off the list.  Then it could be 'The One Regret.'" 

I cringed a bit inwardly that my blog title has clearly caused him some pain.

And cringed even more that of my two regrets, to him the thought of me writing a book and getting published (a monumental, excruciating, and impossible task) seems easier to accomplish than for me to stop hurting the ones I love. 

And this morning after I flipped him off on his way to work, I acknowledged sadly, that he is quite right. 

Entropy, Repentance and Me

Last night David and I stayed up late watching a movie and Jimmy Kimmel's monologue.  (Quit halfway through because it was a rerun.)

And then David put the clean sheets on our bed as I walked through the house cleaning up the bits and pieces of our evening and putting another couple of pieces in the puzzle we are working on.

As I passed the laundry room I sighed. 

Last week my washing machine died.  And could not be resurrected. 

The repairman said to go shopping.  I did so grudgingly.  Partly because my budget doesn't have room for a new washer and dryer and partly because I found out that in an effort to make washing machines more energy efficient, the government instituted new standards (none of which included anything about making clothes cleaner which seems like a gaping hole in standard-making if you ask me [which nobody did by the way]) which only resulted in making the machines more expensive and less effective. 

(Whew.  That might have been a run-on sentence just now.  Too bad.  I've done enough repenting already today.)

Now don't get me wrong.

I like the earth. 

But why are saving the earth and having clean clothes mutually exclusive?

And (dang it) the machines I can afford don't match my laundry room like my old one used to and they also stick out way past my countertop and since my laundry room is really just a hallway anyway, it is really bothersome to have them sitting out so far. 

The guy who came to install them could tell I wasn't happy.

He said, "I can tell you're thinking something.  Do you have any questions?"

"Only the unanswerable kind."

"Try me."

Bless him.  I smiled.  "What do you know about entropy?"

He cocked his head.

I continued.  "I mean I just want to be able to wash my clothes, you know?  And in the meantime entropy is slowly destroying my washing machine bit by bit with every load, and at the same time the government thinks they know better than me and they are secretly conspiring to make me buy a machine that is more expensive and less effective than my current machine, which was slowly falling apart by the way.  And both of these things were happening simultaneously, until we reached this moment, when I have to buy a new machine that requires special laundry detergent and it takes twice as long to wash and doesn't match and costs a lot of money that I had planned on spending at the beach this summer." 

He looked a little nervous at that point, and in his defense, I may or may not have gotten a little teary by the end of it as well. 

Clearly at a loss he asked, "How many kids do you have?"

I told him, belligerently.

"Yeah.  That's a lot of laundry."

Starting to feel a little soothed, and slightly chagrined, I whined quietly, "And they stick out."

He could tell he was starting to make some headway and perked up.  "I think this is a great room.  Yeah, they're a little bigger, but there is still plenty of room to walk and you have a great little laundry room here."

"Okay."  I felt a little better.

But by the time David left for work I was fired up again.

He asked for clarification.  "So are you mad at me?"

"No, I'm just mad."

I gave him the same rant I gave the delivery guy.

A little too buoyantly, he said, "Yeah, but they're more energy efficient."

Which was clearly the wrong thing to say.  (Let's be clear.  There wasn't a right thing to say at this point.  Just walk away, darling.  Which is what he did.)

By the time he came home from work, I had repented.  I had remembered the millions of women washing their laundry in a dirty river, or over a washboard, or with nothing to wash at all.  And I got a little humble. 

And as the day wore on and I folded load after load, I got a little more.

And I remembered that I am not entitled to life without entropy.  I live in a fallen world.  And I could save myself (and my husband, yes please) all kinds of grief by simply accepting this one principle of the plan. 

I spend entirely too much energy fighting the fall.  And I do mean fighting.  Not to mention the exertion of repentance afterwards.

Perhaps I should start implementing my own energy efficiency standards.

Don't worry.  I can already hear RIM and CIM.  It'll never make it out of committee.