Friday, October 26, 2012

Nothing Wasted

(Generic stock photo of piano keys--but they're pretty)

Yesterday, we got Uncle Oswald (our 94 year old player piano) tuned. The technician was also kind enough to clean him out (he had layers of white powder ((perhaps cornstarch?)) under the keys, as well as plenty of dust), and she even went so far as to pull out banks of keys and adjust the playing action.

Needless to say, I've been anxious to play.

My darling daughters, however, have not been so anxious to let me. In fact, they've been running me ragged. While I did play one song yesterday, I got to the end of the day today and realized I still hadn't gotten to really sit down and enjoy the new tone and touch of our beautiful piano.

I put the girls to bed, and then sent my husband off to bed as well, because he has to be at work early tomorrow. And then I realized I was all alone, and the house was quiet. (Do you know how rare that is?! I finally understand why my mom would get so excited to be left home alone.)

I was a little worried that I'd wake everyone up if I played, but I decided I didn't care. I needed to play. I pulled out a book of New Age-style piano music by Paul Spaeth that I fell in love with as a teenager, pushed the soft pedal, and began to play.

The music that came out of that old instrument went right through me. There's nothing small about the sound from one of those old uprights, even when holding the soft pedal. The low register in particular echoes and expands and moves right out of the wooden casing of the piano and up your hands, through the pedals into your feet, through the floor, the bench, your bones.

My fingers slid, stroked, and ticked on keys made of actual ivory, keys that have seen more years than even my grandfather, who's 92 this month. Every time I touch this piano, I wonder what music it's played; how many living rooms it's sat in; what dramas it's seen; how many owners it's outlived.

But tonight, my thoughts weren't on the piano's history, they were on mine. I won't go into my full piano history here (I tried to write an essay once about what it meant to me to give up my dream of being a concert pianist and why I did it, and it was 5 single-spaced pages long and still didn't manage to convey what I wanted--I don't want to subject you to reading that), but let's just say that for several years I've struggled to figure out where I stood in relation to playing the piano, and I've lost a lot of technical ability, and so when I would play it was often a bittersweet and frustrating experience.

But not tonight. Tonight I was filled with joy for the blessing that piano has been to me over the years. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my mother who made me practice when I was younger, who pushed me to a point that when I decided I actually wanted to learn a song, I had enough background to go and figure it out, which eventually led to me taking lessons again and competing. I was grateful for the opportunity I had to learn from fantastic teachers who stressed technique and wouldn't accept less than perfection when it came to a competition piece. I'm grateful I learned to sight-read well enough to just sit down and enjoy playing, even when I haven't taken the time to practice.

One of the reasons my perspective has changed is that I'm teaching piano lessons now. And the more I teach, the more I realize just how much I learned with all those hours of practicing (2 hours a day for most of my pre-teen and teenage years). As I teach a seven-year-old about basic phrasing, I flash back to playing "Invention #1" by J.S. Bach, and chasing that pesky melody as it switched from hand to hand. I think of the difficulty of learning to play one hand louder than another so that the melody would shine through better. As I count eighth notes for a nine-year-old and discuss how to count in 6/8 time, I remember learning how to play eighth notes in one hand while playing triplets in the other, one of the last really technical things I remember learning before I quit taking lessons when I was 16.

And the more I remember learning, the less wasted it feels. I've realized that's one reason I've had such a hard time letting go of my piano regrets all these years: it felt like by not continuing to study piano, by letting my technical skill slide, I was wasting everything I'd worked so hard for. I didn't realize how much of it has become a part of me. I didn't realize what a gift it is to be able to sit in church and play nearly any hymn I'm asked to, even if I'm not familiar with it. I took my playing for granted, until I started teaching and realized just how many things have to happen between my fingers and my brain to make music come out of those keys.

As I sat and played tonight, I saw the wonder of it, and so I was grateful. I didn't mind the sour notes, I just fixed them, and was grateful I knew how. Instead of getting frustrated when my fingers slowed and tired, I saw how much they'd done, and was glad they'd gotten a good workout.

It was a glimpse of a bigger perspective; a view of the process, the results, and the future, even, as I pass the knowledge along through teaching; and it brought peace. It made me wonder what it would be like if I could see the rest of my life in the same way. I wonder what kind of peace I'd find if I could see more clearly the steps I've taken to become who I am, the person I actually am instead of my own flawed and critical perception of myself, and the person I'll be in the future.

Perspective is even harder to maintain than it is to gain, but I've glimpsed, tonight, that my efforts aren't wasted, even when my path turns. I'll just tell Uncle Oswald to remind me of that next time I struggle with thinking I'm working toward one goal when the Lord has a different one in mind.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sometimes It's Hard


(This is the first time I've written anything so introspective in a long time, and it could probably use about 5 more revisions. Still, I'm going to post it, because I'm proud of myself for thinking hard about something I'd rather ignore.)

I'm working on a couple of dance routines right now for the studio showcase in November. One is a Salsa team routine, and one is a Swing routine. Both are a lot of fun, but last night I really struggled with the Swing. Our instructor asked us to try a couple lifts, and they were lifts I had done before, things I thought would be easy. I was wrong. And almost every time I would attempt a lift, the instructor would give me that same pursed-lip face that my piano teacher used to give me when I hadn't practiced; the look that says, "are you just not trying, or are you really that incompetent?"

I got home at 10:30 p.m., exhausted but not sleepy (a common occurrence when I dance late). I lay in bed for awhile, but I couldn't shut my brain off, so I got up for some food. Which, of course, turned into clicking around on Facebook. Seeing as how it was midnight and I was feeling beat-up physically and emotionally, I decided to have a little pity-party on my status. I figured at that time of night no one would really see it, and I could get away with it.

I was wrong, of course. I received a lot of "cheer up" and "you can do it" responses, which I know were written with love and concern for me, but I found myself arguing with many of them in my head. 

I KNOW a good attitude is important, but all the "Little Engine That Could" attitude in the world won't make my body do something the muscles are not currently capable of.

Yeah, work harder, I wish I could. It's not like I can practice this on my own.

It'll come back--yeah, it would if I could actually practice it. But I'm not likely to ever have the chance to do many lifts again, so it's a moot point.

Time and dedication, two things I can't give right now. I can barely dance twice a week without feeling guilty.

The more I grumbled to myself, the more frustrated I got. But as I stepped back and looked at my internal dialogue, I started to see my real problem, which had nothing to do with the loving, encouraging comments of my friends.

This is more than just me not being able to do a lift and getting discouraged. It's more than being frustrated about the skills and muscles that I've lost (though that is frustrating). And I'm not lacking in confidence, because I know I can work and train my way into being good at lifts. After all, when I started doing lifts the first time, I was very, very bad at them (just ask my old coach--she once confessed to me that after our first lesson she wondered if my partner and I would ever be able to learn any lifts). It took a lot of hours and bruises to get to where I was when I stopped dancing to have children.

I know I COULD get back to where I used to be, given the right set of circumstances. Unfortunately, the circumstances required are not available at the moment, and are complex enough that I'm afraid they'll never occur again. The combination of a) time to practice, b) a partner to practice with, c) that partner having time to practice that coincides with your available time, and d) a place to practice that is available at the time you both have available, is a difficult one to find. Beyond that, I have to e) be physically capable of conditioning myself without breaking, which disqualifies any time spent in future pregnancies (lifts are a no-no while pregnant, lol) and whatever time I need to recover from them, and also means I probably can't just say, "I'll do it once my kids are grown" (since I already have trouble with my hips and knees, which have gotten worse with each pregnancy, I don't see myself being capable of doing such a strenuous form of dance in my forties/fifties). That means I only have a few, non-consecutive years left in which those circumstances could even possibly line up. 

I was very fortunate in college to be able to meet all of the above criteria at the same time, but now, without shifting my priority off of my family, I don't know that I'll be able to recreate it. I feel guilty if I take more than a couple hours a week to go dance, because, at least while we're living here, the only times available to dance happen to be the only hours my husband's home, and I feel like I hardly see him as it is. If I could dance during the day, that would be easier, but the thing about ballroom is that it caters to the hours when most couples are free, which means evenings. It's the same reason I wonder if I'll ever teach at a studio--the hours they need are the ones that are the hardest for a wife and mother to give.

I've known all of this for awhile, but it's still difficult for me to face, and it comes down to this:

I felt more passion about doing dance lifts, specifically ballroom cabaret, than for anything else I've ever experienced except for getting married and being a part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. But because God and my family come first, and because I can't see a way to reconcile my personal family priorities with the time and serious training cabaret requires, I will probably never dance cabaret again.

I gave up something I loved so much for something I knew would be better. But sometimes it's still hard.

Getting to dance at all is a wonderful gift, and it takes care of most of the ache. And maybe I'm wrong, and someday I'll do lots of lifts again. Whether I do or not, I'm sure someday I'll look back at this time and smile that wise, introspective smile that people get when they think of their naive younger self; that smile that says, "I see things more clearly now, but I remember the pain was real."

In the mean time, it hurts when I try an "easy" lift and fail. It hurts a little because I think I should be able to do it, but it hurts more because I'm scared if I don't get it right, the instructor will scrap the lift, and I'll never get to do it again.

But somehow, when I recognize why it hurts, it hurts a little less.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Moved by Art

"Gypsy Girl with Basque Drum" by William Bouguereau
This painting moves me. I first discovered it in my mid-teens, and sat captivated by the look in her eyes, the fingers clutching the drum, the hovering tears. I felt those tears, and, as I dealt with all the tumultuous emotions of being a teenager, I turned back to this picture frequently, finding a connection--almost a kinship--which helped me to make sense of my own emotions.

I've always loved the arts, but lately I've found myself yearning for them in a way I haven't experienced in years. Part of that could be how much my world has become removed from them--it's been years since I went to an art museum, sketched, or played classical piano pieces with any regularity. I avoided dance videos for a long time because it was too painful for me to face that area of my heart. I've kept my car stereo filled with things like Tarzan and Ace of Bass (don't get me wrong--these could be considered art, just not the type of art that my soul has been craving).

Saturday, I stopped outside a tourist shop on the Fisherman's Wharf, halted by a clear tenor voice singing in Italian. I stared at a tv screen's image of three young Italians singing their hearts out. I held Cimorene's hand and stared at the screen, transfixed by the music. "Cim, you hear this?" I said to her, pointing at the screen and trying to distract her from the rock she was trying to let go of my hand to grab, "This is music with class. You will learn to appreciate music like this." But how, I realized, was she going to learn that if I didn't expose her to it? Finding the clerk, I asked if she knew who the singers were. She looked at me in confusion or surprise, then said, "Oh, I'll ask." She did, and I discovered that the group was "Il Volo." The Flight. Appropriate, considering the way the song had made my heart soar.

The next day, Ryan asked me to start a Pandora station seeded with Sarah Brightman. I also added Andrea Bocelli and Il Volo. Friends, never have I had a radio station play so exactly what I wanted. It was amazing. In fact, I'm listening to it now, and it's still amazing. And Cim? She now tries to sing the high notes like Sarah Brightman. We'll work on that.

Last night we went to the church for Ryan to teach a Spanish Family Home Evening lesson. We were there for a bit before anyone else showed up, and I started to play the piano. My fingers are rusty. I stumbled my way through half of  Debussy's First Arabesque. It was my very last competition piece, and one of the most technically difficult pieces I ever learned. I found if I closed my eyes, my fingers could still remember pieces of it. My heart remembered it. And I remembered how I used to cry through my fingers when I needed to let out emotions.

For me, these pieces are connected--the painting, the music. The various art forms belong together for me, because they fill me in the same way. And I want them to fill my children. I want my children to listen to "Time to Say Goodbye" by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli. I want them to know paintings by Bouguereau, Degas, Van Gogh. I want them to appreciate classical ballet. I want them to see art, and be moved by it. And maybe, someday, to create it.

But even if they don't, I want it for me. I want to be surrounded by those things. This weekend, I was reminded of that. It may be one of those things that I have to remember all over again a few months or years from now, but for today, my heart is lighter. Today, I'm grateful for art.

Monday, August 27, 2012

China Therapy

Picture taken from hot air balloon in Yangshuo, China

This week I was asked to give a 5-6 minute presentation on China for a women's group activity at church. I was reluctant, and realized almost immediately that it was because I didn't know if I could talk about China for even 5 minutes without sounding bitter.

It's been four years now. Four years ago this week, I was experiencing all my China "firsts." Going to China was a dream I'd had for years, and it had finally come true--though it quickly became so unlike my dreams, or any of the stories I'd heard. Maybe this is why I'm so bitter, this comparison between the stories of others that inspired my own dreams and the actual experience I was given.

But after four years, if I'm still bitter, it's not China's problem. It's mine.

As I prepared for my presentation, I read back through all our blog posts from that time period (anything written in 2008), and I was a little surprised by the types of things we'd written. I had forgotten some of the funny stories. With some posts, I was amazed by how we had skimmed over what was really happening, telling pieces of what we thought people would want to hear, or what we thought they should hear. We told the truth--but generally just the smallest or most pleasant parts of the truth.

I also went back and looked through our pictures from China, pulling some together for my presentation. There were gorgeous pictures of Yangshuo like the one above--the two weekends we spent there were the best in our China adventure. There were pictures we'd taken in excitement when we'd first arrived. There was one picture Ryan had taken of me after we'd been there a couple months where I could see the deadness in my own eyes.

Perhaps I'm being overly dramatic. The immediacy of my negative reaction whenever China is mentioned, however, has convinced me that I have some working-through to do. Since writing is one of the ways I work through things, don't be surprised if you see several posts on China in the near future. I hope to go back through and write about both the good (there were moments of it, which I have to remind myself) and the bad, and hopefully find some peace. The posts will hopefully be scattered in with some other posts that I've had spinning in my head; looking at my post count from this year, I've been pretty consistent with one post per month--not impressive. I'm recommitting to write. (I'm sure I've said that same thing at least a couple times a year for the last couple years, but at least I'm trying, right?)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Quiet



I lower Mari into her bed, placing the purple pacifier in her mouth and folding the pink-and-yellow corners of the blanket across to trap her waving arms. My mind is heavy. There are lots of reasons, none of which justify my current level of inner turmoil. Perhaps it's the accumulation of too many little things.

Mari promptly spits the pacifier out and blows bubbles at me, so I know this will be a prolonged attempt, but Cim is asleep, so I have time. I put the pacifier back in and step over to the bookshelf, reaching for "Summer of the Great-Grandmother," a non-fiction book by my favorite author, Madeleine L'Engle. I hesitate, though. I don't know, right now, if I can handle reading about the decline of Madeleine's aging mother. My hand, frozen near the spine of the book, reaches instead to the one next to it, "A Circle of Quiet." And there, at the end of the second paragraph, I find exactly what I'm feeling:

"Vacuum cleaners are simply something more for me to trip over; and a kitchen floor, no matter how grubby, looks better before I wax it. The sight of a meal's worth of dirty dishes, pots, and pans makes me want to run in the other direction. Every so often I need OUT; something will throw me into total disproportion, and I have to get away from everybody--away from all these people I love most in the world--in order to regain a sense of proportion."

My eyes fill with tears, even as I tuck Mari's arm back into the swaddle and replace the pacifier once more. As I sit in my little rocking chair--it's little because I'm short and wanted one that would let my feet reach the ground--I read L'Engle's description of her "circle of quiet," her special place by the brook in the midst of New England farmland. I ache to be there; if not there, then somewhere other than here. I'm a country girl; I don't belong in this place where I don't dare step outside at night, or even walk the beach alone in the daytime. I don't belong in a place where a young mother gets pulled from her car at the grocery store in the middle of the day and attacked in front of her child just so someone can take her trunk full of food.

But even as I ache for the trees, rocks, stars, and evening breezes of my childhood, I am soothed by this author's description of hers. My heart takes a breath, and I feel my insides uncoiling. The lump behind my throat slips away, and 5 minutes later, I realize that the baby is asleep and I'm okay. I've found a circle of quiet in the middle of my daily routine. And for a few minutes, as I sit there, I am no longer an over-tired young mother, a stressed household accountant, a negligent housekeeper, a frustrated dancer, a former pianist, a wanna-be writer, or any of the other images I've superimposed over this person that is me. I just am. And, at least for the moment, I'm okay.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Writer With a Capital "W"

This rose bush grows up through the center of a hedge-bush in front of our house. Every time they trim it (like yesterday), the head gets chopped off the rose bush, but it keep sneaking roses out the top and front of the hedge. I love it.

I started out writing a post on my insecurities about writing, specifically my desire to do more of it, but my lack of inspiration or motivation. I asked questions like, "Can I be a "real" writer (the kind with a capital "W") if I don't have stories burning inside me begging to be written?" I even tried really hard to set aside my excuses and face up to the fact that I just plain haven't made time for writing in my life.

And that's where I stopped. And then I erased it all. Because that's really what it comes down to, isn't it? I can say I haven't written because I haven't had the stories, but perhaps I haven't had the stories because I haven't been writing. I haven't been developing my craft, so I wouldn't be prepared even if a story came along.

I tried to go further in this post just now, but again, I've erased it. It gets too whiny. So I'll ask this instead: What are your thoughts on artistic inspiration? Is a bit of talent enough to pursue artistic endeavors with, or do you have to have passion for it as well?

I know the answer to this probably depends on the person, but I'm interested in seeing others' thoughts on it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Writing Honestly


It looks like I haven't written anything on here for awhile. In truth, I've written, I just haven't posted anything for awhile.

I've been working on a post about dreams--the waking kind, the kind that help motivate and inspire and guide our lives. In fact, if you were really on top of things, you might have seen part of it when I posted it for about 20 minutes the other day. I had started the post a week or so before, and then came back to it a few days ago determined to "post something" on the blog. So I rattled off a second half for that post and put it up, which (temporarily) made me feel good about myself and like I had accomplished something.

But it didn't feel right. I knew I hadn't finished the post in the same spirit which had originally prompted it. This was confirmed when my wonderful, honest husband informed me that I had gotten stuck in metaphor, not given enough of my own thoughts, not made a connection between myself and the metaphors, ended flippantly, and essentially "wimped out."

Ouch.

He was right. I pulled the post down and hoped nobody had seen it.

I realized that my goal that day had been simply to post, not to explore my own thoughts or to search for truth, be it personal or universal. I was seeking self-gratification and a minor sense of achievement, where if I'd done the post justice I could have found self-fulfillment and a sense not only of achievement but of gratitude and satisfaction.

So, the post sits in my drafts folder, where it will remain until I've revised both my writing and my thinking. Because you, readers, deserve better. And I know better. And I deserve better, too.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Morning Affirmation

I now use about half the M&Ms, but this was my first batch and I was excited.

I tend to be very hard on myself, especially in the domestic sphere. I'm not a good housekeeper, and I'm very aware of that fact (though apparently not aware enough to have fixed it yet). But in the midst of my self-criticism, there are moments that make me say, "See, I'm not so bad." These moments affirm, uplift, and encourage me.

Eating homemade granola is my morning affirmation. When I push my spoon into a bowl of granola, I find myself thinking things like this: I'm eating something healthy. I MADE this healthy food. Even the dark chocolate M&Ms will just give me extra endorphins. Those dried blueberries are full of antioxidants. I'm not such a bad housewife. After all, I MADE this. My mom used to make granola. I'm not such a bad mom.


My logic on some of those may be flawed, but on days like today, when my granola container sits empty, I miss it desperately.

What's really funny, though, is that it makes me feel like a better wife and mother even though I'm the only one who eats it. Ryan's body can't handle that much fiber, and Cimorene can't handle the mix of crunchy and chewy.

But it doesn't matter. It still gives me the affirmation I crave. And so I'll keep making it. In fact, I'll go make some now.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

For My Mother (who deserves a creative title, but I can't quite get there right now)

Four generations of women. (And that's Cim, not Mari; they look so much alike!)
As Cim has moved into the toddler stage, I've suddenly discovered new things that I'm grateful to my mother for. Most of these were not from my toddler years, but they're things I never really thought to be grateful for until now.

Thank you, Mom, for telling me "be careful" when I climbed trees, instead of "that's too dangerous."

Thank you for just rolling your eyes and pointing at the shower all the times I came home as a mud-monster. (I remember at least once that I swam in the "bug water" just to see what you'd say when I came home.)

Thank you for letting me ride horses bareback and giving me permission to go in the "bat cave" without you there. I knew you trusted me to be responsible, and so I more often was.

Thank you for letting me go for a bike ride with that teenage boy in Taiwan (I was five, but I was in love, and I day-dreamed about him for years).

Thank you for letting us stay up late to finish the book(s) when Dad read to us.

Thank you for making car trips so much fun with books, the Three D's, and more.

Thank you for having the guts to haul your kids around on big adventures. Museums, national monuments, foreign countries, amusement parks, rock climbing--only now am I realizing just how much energy that took. (And you wonder why you're so tired these days?)

Thank you for teaching me to plane wood and to crochet, to backpack and to watch Pride and Prejudice. Thank you for making my brothers push-mow the lawn, not me. You taught me that a girl could do anything, but didn't always have to, and that it was okay to sometimes expect different things from boys and girls.

Thank you for taking time to develop your own talents, such as attending sewing seminars and doing karate with us. There are times these days that I have to remind myself it's okay to still be my own person as well as a mother.

Thank you for setting the boundaries and then leaving me to explore within them, geographically and behaviorally.

Thank you for providing a childhood that was safe and yet bursting with freedom.

I love you, Mom.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Surviving my own Stupidity, or Why Eleven Year Olds Shouldn't go Cow Tipping

Inspired by my friend Cindy (who was, in turn, inspired by "Anne of Green Gables"), I decided to write about a time when my own stupidity nearly got me killed.

As I looked back on my early years, I found enough instances to make me scared for what escapades my own children will get up to. Not all of the instances lend themselves to story telling, but a few are worth describing. So, after a bit of pondering, I've decided to write about a night full of adventure, danger, and, yes, stupidity.

I was ten or eleven at the time. The exact age escapes me, but since most of my best adventures occurred around that age, it's safe to assume it was one of those two. It started with with some plotting between two best friends, me and Jessica.

This picture's a year or two after the adventure.
I would have been just a little younger.














I don't know whose idea it originally was, but both of us concluded that it was somehow essential to our growing-up experience that we go cow tipping.

My house was the obvious choice when it came to staging the endeavor. The property just behind my house was over 70 acres with a herd of about 20 cows. Nobody lived there, and we had permission to play on the property. We usually avoided the cows and stuck to the barns, though--after all, barns didn't stamp their feet and snort at you if you got too close to their babies.

One momma cow in particular always made me nervous. She was huge and red, and she had one horn. And she didn't like kids.  This and other concerns, however, were incidental to our current adventure. After all, the cows would be asleep.

We went to bed at a reasonable hour--or at least, we went to my room, where we sat around wearing dark sweatshirts and debating whether or not to bring a flashlight. Finally we decided against it; after all, there were no city lights around, and the moon and stars were always bright enough to see by. Besides, we wouldn't want to run the risk of waking the cows up early by shining a light in their faces.

We waited until the fireflies were gone. We waited until it was completely dark. Even darker than we'd expected, actually, because clouds were completely covering the sky.

Carefully, we snuck out the window. (Actually, we weren't that careful, because I had floor-to-ceiling windows in my room, so all we had to do was slide it up a couple feet and step out onto the porch. Still, it seemed cooler to sneak out the window than to go into the next room over and use the door.)

The most likely place to find the herd was near the barns. We'd rarely ever seen the cows go into a barn, but they were fed near the barns, so it made sense that they'd sleep there.

Gravel crunched loudly under our feet, but it was too dark to avoid all the rocks and sink holes on the over-land route, so we stuck to the road. Soon the barns loomed, brown-black mountains against the blue-black of everything else. We could barely see their outlines. Still no sign of the cows.

"Where are they?" I whispered, "Do you see them?"
"No. Probably just a little further. Isn't the hay behind the barn?" Jessica whispered back.

In the end, it was so dark we didn't see them at all. But just as we passed the barn, we heard them. They were close. They seemed to be all around us, in fact. And they were definitely not asleep.

My mind was suddenly filled with the image of Big Red, and the size of hole her one horn could leave in me.

Being the confident, fearless eleven-year-olds that we were, we made a break for the covered hay bales. These were giant round bales, stacked two-high and mostly covered with plastic. The stack was 3 times our height, and we scrambled up and perched on the highest point we could find, shivering and listening to the cows chew their cuds. You don't know how ominous a sound that is until those cows have you surrounded in the dark.

I don't know how long we waited. We pretended to each other that we were just hanging out waiting for them to fall asleep so we could tip a few and go home; in truth, we were clinging to the hay for dear life waiting for our chance to run.

Eventually the herd moved off, and we dared to come down. We crunched our way back up the gravel road a bit more quickly than we'd come, slid my window up, and went to bed, promising to "try again another time."

We never did.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Surprises of Spring

Behind our house there's a steep downhill slope which quickly becomes a mass of evergreen trees. It looks so thick that I've never actually gone down there (which is strange for me, because once-upon-a-time I would have felt an irresistible need to explore such a place). 

A few days before Easter I walked out of the garage and looked over the hill, and I saw something white amidst the green.



Curious, I clambered down a few feet. This is what I saw:



This gorgeous lily was fighting its way up through the weeds and scratchy evergreens around it.

After exclaiming over it with Ryan, we came up with this theory: Someone bought a potted lilly. It died (or appeared to). They tossed it off the top of the hill to get rid of it.

But despite the circumstances and surroundings, it bloomed again.

Because it was a few days before Easter, my thoughts went first to resurrection. Then they turned to how we shouldn't judge others, because we don't know when someone might be spiritually sleeping instead of spiritually dead. Then I thought of Joseph in Egypt, who excelled and bloomed wherever he was placed.

By that point I didn't know what to write a blog post about, I just knew I wanted to share my beautiful lilly, which is in a place where nobody else is likely to ever see it (unless I drag them off behind my house to show them, which I admit I've already done with one friend).

So here it is, friends. Take your own lesson from it, or take your pick from those mentioned above. And don't forget to look around to see what surprises spring might throw your way.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Confessions of Ignorance

Today I followed a link to an article entitled, "50 things you should not say to autism parents." As I read the list, the thought that kept going through my mind was, how could someone think something like that, let alone say it? I don't know a lot about autism, but I do know enough to not say something like, "He just needs to apply himself more."

But, of course, it's easy to scoff at these types of comments when they're about something I think should be common sense. It's easy to forget that what may seem obviously rude or insensitive to me may be innocently-intended, merely a comment made in ignorance.

And now that I've given you a paragraph of abstract generalizations, here's my concrete example.

During Fall semester of 2010, I met an amazing girl named Cindy. We were in a class together, and though we'd only interacted a couple of times, we found out we had the same favorite author (those of you who aren't readers may not understand the instant bond that can create), and we became Facebook friends.

One day Cindy missed class, and I saw that she had posted something about not feeling well. I posted that I hoped she got better soon, and when I saw her in class a couple days later, we had a conversation something like this (it was a year and a half ago, so obviously it's not verbatim):

Me: "I'm glad you're here. I saw on Facebook that you weren't feeling well, and I saw you coughing today, but I'm glad you were well enough to come."


Cindy: "Oh, yeah, I had a rough day the other day. I have Cystic Fibrosis, so I always have a cough even when I'm not sick, but I do get sick a lot."


Me: "Oh man. Kind of like pregnancy, I guess, where you just never really feel well and it just kind of wears you down."

Yup. There it is folks. This is where you should be thinking things like, How could she even try to compare a life-long and ultimately fatal genetic illness with a temporary condition that brings so much joy at its conclusion? Or, That's so insensitive of her to say something like that when pregnancy is something so many women with Cystic Fibrosis can only dream about.


Well, I know that NOW.

This is something that I've felt bad about for the last year and a half, but I'm sure that, just like parents of children with autism, my friend Cindy gets insensitive comments like that all the time.

Getting to know Cindy provided an incentive for me to educate myself about Cystic Fibrosis. (If, like me in 2010, you have no idea what it is other than that it's "something medical," I recommend you read Cindy's own explanation of it here.) While I still don't know or understand all the many ways it affects the lives of those who have it and their immediate families, I at least have a basic understanding of what it is, and I'm slightly less likely to make ignorantly hurtful comments in the future.

I learned something valuable about myself from that conversation above, though. I learned that I'm in the biggest danger of making these types of comments when I'm faced with something I don't know anything about and I grasp at straws for a way I can relate it to my own experience. It's something most of us do automatically, because our own experience is the frame on which we stretch our view of the world.

But what if, instead of trying to relate it back to myself, I had focused on Cindy? What if I'd said, "What is Cystic Fibrosis?" and then really listened?

Nearly a year after my conversation with Cindy, I was staying with my mother when a friend came to celebrate her daughter's birthday with us. Her daughter had died years before, at the age of 10. She'd had Cystic Fibrosis.

Again I automatically tried to find a way to relate, mentioning that I had a friend from college who had Cystic Fibrosis. This time, however, I caught myself at that point and started to listen. And thanks to what I had learned from Cindy, I was able to better understand and be a sympathetic ear as this friend talked about her daughter's struggles.

I'm not always good at stepping outside myself. I'm not always eager to admit my ignorance. But I'm trying to learn from it, and I request the patience and forgiveness of each of you around me as you struggle every day with things I don't understand.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Feeling Beautiful

This is me attempting to smile and raise my eyebrows.
As many of you know, the day after I came home from the hospital after having Mariel, I ended up back at the ER. I had lost control of the left side of my face, and had no idea why. Turns out neither did the doctors. I had something they call "Bell's Palsy," which is what they diagnose when something affects the facial nerves but they don't know what. They said it could be a virus, strain from having the baby, pressure from an earache I'd had, or any number of other things. They prescribed me a steroid and an antiviral and sent me home.

One of the interesting things about Bell's Palsy is that not only do they have no real idea what causes it, they have no way of predicting how long it will last. They told me that most patients get better within two weeks, but for some it lasts months, or even years, before suddenly going away. Some never get better.

Honestly, I was so exhausted that I didn't care how long it might last. I was just glad that it wasn't anything serious, and I was anxious to take my two-day-old baby and go home. Sure, it was annoying that I'd have to sleep with an eyepatch on to keep my left eye closed; sure it bothered me that my taste buds weren't working right. But really, all that mattered at the moment was sleep. (Of course, that was the day that Cimorene woke up from her nap with a fever of 103 degrees. Sleep didn't really happen for another week.)

When I called my mom and told her the diagnosis, she commented, "Well, at least you're not single and trying to catch the attention of a guy." That was the first moment that it occurred to me to care how I looked. For a split second, my brain asked, "Will it bother Ryan that half of my face doesn't work? Will he think I'm ugly?"

But almost as soon as the worry entered, it left again. This was Ryan we were talking about, the man who could tell me honestly that he thought I was beautiful when I was morning sick and had just been puking. He thought I was pretty when I was out of shape and red-faced from running after a frisbee. He told me I was beautiful through both my pregnancies as my body changed shape and made me more and more uncomfortable. He told me I was beautiful as I was dealing with post-partum depression and was frustrated that it was taking so long to lose the baby weight from Cimorene. He liked me with makeup or without it, in grubby clothes or a ball gown. No, I didn't have to worry about Ryan. He'd still think I was beautiful.

And sure enough, one of the first things Ryan did that evening when he saw me was tell me he thought I was beautiful. Then he carried our sick and screaming toddler back into the doctor's examining room so that I could sit out in the lobby with our two-day-old baby and rest a little. And then he made dinner when we got home.

Yeah, he's that amazing.

It wasn't until a few days later that I realized just how much being married to Ryan has impacted my self-image. Once upon a time, I was very self-conscious. I wasn't as pretty as a lot of my friends, and in high school and my first couple years of college I tended to get overlooked by most guys. I worried about how I looked and was never very confident, even when friends and roommates told me I was looking great.

But last week, even the thought of not being able to move half of my face didn't scare me.

My Bell's Palsy is almost completely gone now. I can still feel it a little, but most people can't tell at all. I'm one of the lucky ones who got better in two weeks. But even more than feeling grateful that it's gone, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude for what it showed me about my relationship with my husband. I  already knew I had married an extraordinary man, but seeing some of the ways in which I've changed for the better because of being married to him makes me even more grateful.

Thank you, Ryan, for managing to convince me that I'm beautiful.

Monday, January 9, 2012

One Soul

We finally got a bench for my "piano"--a keyboard, actually, but it's the best I have--and I sat down yesterday afternoon to begin rebuilding one of my favorite Sunday afternoon traditions. When I was a teenager, Sunday afternoons were dedicated to music. I would pull out all our "churchy" music and play and sing, sometimes for hours. (This frequently got me out of tasks like helping prepare dinner, because my parents liked the music. I was a smart kid.) My younger brother James would frequently come and sing with me, and sometimes my dad would wander in for a song or two as well, but usually it was just me and the piano.

Yesterday I pulled silver and orange duct tape off the top of the box labeled, "Shannon's Piano Music," and grabbed the first book on the top. It was "The Light Within" by Janice Kapp Perry, a collection of songs I'd grown up on, easy to play and fairly easy for me to sing (if no one's listening and I don't have to worry about being a little off on the high notes).

I started on the first page and played through several of the songs without really thinking much, but when I got to the duet called, "How Great Shall Be Your Joy," my brain started buzzing. The words for the first verse are based on a scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants. It's a scripture I memorized first through this song, and later in early-morning seminary as a teenager.

D&C 18:15--And if it so be that ye should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my father!


This time, instead of my brain jumping to full-time missionaries like my brother James, who's currently in Denmark, I thought of my children. What greater joy could I have in the kingdom of God than to have my family there with me? What greater opportunity do I have to bring souls to Christ than when teaching my children?

But my brain kept going, because I've known too many wonderful parents who have children who have "opted out." Despite my best efforts, my children will have agency--that wonderful and terrible ability to make their own choices--and they may not choose to follow Christ.

And then a beautiful reality of this scripture hit me. One soul. Just one. God, who cares about the sparrows and the lilies and the hairs on our heads, cares about one soul. Including mine. Even if the only soul I bring to Christ is my own, I shall have joy.

I'll still do my best to help others, especially my children, to learn of Christ and come to Him. But in the end, the only soul I have control over is my own. I'll do everything I can to bring that one home to Him.