Thursday, July 14, 2016

Scrambled Thoughts XVII - End of School Style

1 - He's a heart-melter, this one.

And he knows it.  Just today this conversation went down,
"Hey Teek, guess what?"
"You love me."
"How did you know I was going to say that?!"
"Because you say dat all duh time.  And you say I'm duh k-YOU-tist."
"Well, you are the cutest!"
"Yeah.  I know dat cause you say dat all duh time."

Ego. fed.

2 - Miles is a competitor.  Also, his hair is amazing.

Sometimes my mind flashes back to one experience when Miles was in the transition phase between baby and toddler. My parents know the day because they were there, too, watching with amazement as little Miles, completely wrapped up in his own thoughts and determination, worked to master stepping up and down an inch-deep step where the porch turned to gravel.  He fell and fell and fell, and turned around to hit it again, again, again.  I remember my dad leaning slightly over to my mom and pointing his finger to pull her attention to the sheer grit that was coming from Miles.  We watched him work in that one spot with an attention span much longer than was appropriate for his age, and we knew that we were seeing one of his core personality traits.

Miles is amazing.  His mind is quick, his coordination is good, and we've stopped giving him any sort of handicap advantage when playing games with his older siblings.  Card games, basketball games, board games, soccer games... he has an innate ability to grasp the rules, strategize, and compete.

This is his game face.  Notice the kids in the background?  How relaxed and non-competitive they look?  It was a purely non-competitive field day... no points, no races, just fun.  But Miles was there to compete anyway.  It was fascinating to see him switch his game face on and off, on and off, on and off, when he was about to run, and when he was laughing and playing with his friends.

3 - Carson goes through shoes like band-aids.

Which is a small problem when you're trying to do the water limbo in a ditch.  During the school year, he wore through four pairs of tennis shoes (and we even bought expensive ones once to see if that helped... it didn't).  And so far this summer he's gone through three pairs of flip flops.  That's an average of 10 summer days a pair, people.

So, if you see him walking around with the soles literally falling off the bottoms of his feet, don't worry.  He is loved and fed and well cared for and will have new shoes eventually.  In the meantime, good thing it doesn't rain much here.

And if you see me coming out of the store with a cart filled with 48 pairs of flip flops all the same size, you'll know why.

4 - What would I say to someone who says they've met the Energizer Bunny?

Me too!  Seriously.  Carson's teacher has more energy than the kids in her classroom every. single. day.  She jumps and runs and plays their games.  She dances and cheers and pumps her fists in the air... you could make a movie about her, she's that unique and wonderful. She wasted no time during field day and jumped right into the games while all the parents and other teachers stood around and smiled.

5 - Carson has good friends and a good heart

Carson became responsible this year. Weird to say, maybe, because how do you really pinpoint the moment that you become something like responsible?  But he did.  He started taking responsibility for his school work, he started wearing matching clothes to school, he started remembering to brush his teeth every night, he started doing his morning chores without seventy six reminders... It's fantastic.  He's fantastic.

Plus, his caring heart spent a week in agony trying to decide which of the people in his class he should invite to the pizza party he earned.  The kids were rewarded for things like good behavior with Honey Bucks, and one of the thing they could buy with their accumulated Bucks was a pizza party with two friends during lunch time.  Several of the kids had earned this prize throughout the year, and Carson was one of them.  He had been invited to others pizza parties in the past, and had already bought one for himself several months before, and now that he had enough money to buy another one he was charged with the responsibility of picking two friends to eat with him.  It was near the end of the school year, and he told me one night that there were several kids in his class that had never been invited to a pizza party, or who never earned enough money to buy one for themselves, and he wanted to invite all of them (five-ish, I believe).  So I sent a text to his teacher, and she made it happen.  He has such a beautiful heart.

6 - Middle school band concerts can actually be amazing

Maybe it's because my expectations were so low at the beginning of the year, but I was blown away by the sound that came from our middle school band.  They were awesome!  And if it hadn't been for the fact that we were sitting on hard, backless bleachers, I could have sat and listened to them for quite a bit longer than they actually played.

Kenz worked hard at mastering her instruments this year.  She wanted to play the oboe, so her band instructor started her with a clarinet for the first half of the year (because, apparently, they are quite similar to the oboe and much easier to play), and then switched her when she was ready.  McKenzie brought the oboe home and practiced frequently, and I was so proud of her hard work.

It feels good to accomplish something.

7 - TK looks cute in pigtails

Also, how awesome is it that the K-2nd grade school has little paintings like this up all over their hallways? This school is amazing, and I just loved being there every week.  They encourage the children to be good students, of course, but way more than that, they encourage the children to be good people.  I felt like everyone was on the same page over there... the office staff, the teaching staff, the principle - I just loved being there every week, and I was happy to have Miles there every single day.

8 - It's a delicate balance trying to find music for the car that pleases both TK and me.

TK's music class CD was not one.  I put him in a little music class this year and, let me tell you, it was the highlight of his life.  Every single morning he would wake up and ask, "Is it my moozik cass today?!"  And every single morning except for Mondays I would have to say, "Not today, bud.  Your music class is on Monday." He loved it, of course, and I loved most of it, too.  The teacher was spunky, the songs were fun, but the CD of all the songs made me want to rip my ears off.

Seeing him up on that (tiny) stage was so fun - he loved it and felt so proud to be there.

9 - This girl is stealing my heart lately

She is turning into such an incredible young woman.

Of course, I suppose that she's been turning into an incredible young woman from the day she was born, and perhaps it would be more accurate to say that she's continuing to turn into an incredible adult.

She has landed in a great group of girls.  Drama and fun.  Kenz doesn't do the drama very much.  She mostly stays out of it, but the challenge has been to help her feel sympathetic towards those that do feel the drama.  I get it, because I was quite anti-drama when I was her age, too. I ended up settling with one best girl friend, and tons of boys because, less drama.

But, drama or not, she sure has fun with her wonderful friends.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Remembering Jess

I put the flowers in the center of the table and stood back to admire the way the sun was shining through their colors.  My headphones were in my ears and connected to the phone in my pocket, but all was silent. The podcast had been paused in response to the text I had received a few minutes earlier from my friend, Brandy.

"Hey" it said, "I put a surprise for u by your front door."

I had been cleaning all morning while the kids and Brian were playing at the water park - a Move Fast And Scrub Hard cleaning that felt both refreshing and rejuvenating - but I had put the scrubber down to open the front door, and there the flowers had greeted me.

And now here they were, casting their beauty as a finishing touch to my freshly scrubbed kitchen. And it was quiet.  So quiet.  Even unnaturally quiet because of the silent headphones that plugged out the sounds of a living world.  Quiet enough for me to hear my own thoughts and feel my own heart as I stood and admired.  I re-read the handwritten note tied to the vase and when I reached the last phrase, something inside of me broke.

I thought you might need some cheer today.

Standing there alone in my kitchen the tears started to flow, and I wondered how she knew.  How did she know that I would need a little extra cheer this day?  This day of all days on the anniversary of Jess's birth. My heart stirred with gratitude for the gesture of a friend who cared. This one perfectly timed vase of flowers made me feel loved, and after all these moves and all the little friendships that were promising but simply never had enough time to grow, it meant something beautiful to my heart. I did need some cheer.

And I felt grateful that someone knew.

Eventually the house was clean and Brian and the kids came home from their day at the water park, so we piled into the van and made our way to the grounds of the temple.  An annual tradition that has become a happy part of my life.

"Do you know why we come to the temple on Jess's birthday?" I asked my children.
"To celebrate that he is sealed to us forever," Carson and McKenzie understood.  Miles was confused, however, and it provided a beautiful chance to talk to him and explain exactly what that means.

Teek was uninterested in having any sort of a quiet, spiritual conversation, so he made things a little difficult, but he was so darn cute that we forgave him pretty darn quick.

Halfway through our Taco Bell picnic on the temple lawn, a security officer hiked down the rocks behind us to inform us that, while we were welcome to sit on the lawn and enjoy the spirit of the temple grounds, we were actually not allowed to picnic. He was sorry, he said, about that.  And so sorry, he said, to interrupt our family time. So we packed up the food and set it by a tree next to us.

Fifteen minutes later, the same security guard hiked back down the same hill and, after asking if he could take a family picture for us, told us the exact same thing: we were not allowed to picnic on the lawns.  We explained that we had packed up our food and were not eating anymore, but we could tell that something about us being there with a bag of food and a picnic blanket made him uncomfortable.  So we thanked him for the picture and then packed ourselves up to walk around and enjoy the beauty of the temple from other vantage points.

Notice McKenzie's smile above?  She's rather excited about it. After these pictures, she exclaimed, "Hey mom! I learned a new way to smile that is so easy I don't even have to think about it!  All I have to do is curl my top lip underneath itself... like this... and prop it up on my braces.  So easy!"  I looked back through the pictures on my phone and gently remarked that, while it certainly did look easy, it wasn't a very becoming look and maybe she could muster the strength every once in a while to smile normally?

This next picture is one of my new favorites.  They are getting so big, and I can't even believe how much I love them.  They are wise beyond their years and we have Jess to thank for much of that.  They have learned from a young age what it feels like to have a tie into the heavens - and how lucky they are for that.

I do wonder, occasionally, about how our family would be different if Jess had survived, but I have no doubts that this is the way God intended for him to be in our family. And just like the flowers from Brandy brightened my kitchen with love and color, Jess colors our family with a bright and beautiful love. He is a final touch in my life that brings loose ends together, that whispers to me that I am not alone, that reminds me that I am loved.  And though sometimes I ache to hold him and to know him the way I know my other kids, I see and know that the way I love him now is so extraordinarily beautiful just the way it is.

And someday when I am able to hold him and know him the way I know my other kids, I'm sure I'll not be surprised to find that he is extraordinarily beautiful.  So beautiful that he changed my life - in many beautiful ways - without even taking a breath.

Just by simply existing.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Man

Me, my handsome man, and my giant bug glasses heading into Lowe's for a bit of a birthday shopping spree.  Which, really, was not a spree at all since we didn't actually buy anything (except a refill of floor cleaner) but felt like a spree because we were looking at carpet and glancing at kitchen cupboards and thinking about paint colors and shelving and molding and fireplace tile and power tools and patio furniture and all the other things a magical place like Lowe's makes one think about.

Once upon a month or two ago it was my birthday, and also March Madness.

So we got all dressed up (Alder style of course) and headed out for a night out on the town.  Brian and his phone took me to the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, which I had been eyeing for a year and a half.

It did not disappoint.  Currently, it's featuring an artist by the name of Yousuf Karsh who, if you're like me and not super familiar with things of this nature, is an incredibly accomplished and famous portrait photographer.  He has taken hundreds of portraits of the most famous men and women in the last century.  I wasn't sure how I was going to like the exhibit, to be honest, but it was absolutely incredible.  I don't know how he did it, but his pictures show life and passion.  60 of them are hanging in the Bellagio right this minute.  Pictures of people including Martin Luther King, Jr., Muhammad Ali, Albert Einstein, Audrey Hepburn, Fidel Castro, Helen Keller... it was inspiring.

Then we hung around downtown and ate the "Best Burger in Vegas" which was, I'll admit, a pretty dang good burger.  The best though?  Arguable.

I got lucky, you know.  Of course, at 20 years old I thought I was making a good choice.  I loved him and the future looked bright.  But how could I have known just how well this man would stay by my side and help actively lead our family to Today?  I love you, Bri.  You are a great man.  A great father, an incredible husband, a hard worker, a forgiving partner, and handsome all the way from the inside out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Because: Friendship

A girl needs friends, you know.
Real friends.
The kind that laugh at your Totally Not Funny jokes,
And cry with your hurting heart.

The kind that can stand with you in comfortable silence as you watch the sea lions on the pier.
Or lie awake with you in the dark of the night to tell you her stories and listen to yours, engaging easily in conversation that finds minutes ticking into hours and more hours until the clock shows a time on its face that you haven't seen in a while.  Those conversations can be life-changing, you know.
Especially if your friend is inspirational.
Or understanding.
Or both.

A girl needs a friend who will get out of the car into the freezing rain with you just to see the ocean.

Or who patiently waits while you stop to capture the beauty of that rain, because she understands deeply enough to know that your desert eyes crave this water.

I miss these ladies with a deep part of my soul.  These are the ladies I met in North Carolina, and many of us built our habits of mothering together.  They were my examples during those crucial, early years when everything about motherhood and running my own family was new and nothing was set.  These are the women who came with suggestions and advice. Strong women who love God and respect people and speak lovingly of their husbands and children even when they admit that times are tough.

Between the countless informal gatherings throughout my nine years in North Carolina, we always met formally, once a month, in what we called Book Club. It was a book club, to be sure... but it was so much more.  It was a night that was so fun and enlightening and therapeutic and deep and rich that we would look forward to it all month, and then stay well after midnight once we were there.

We knew even then that it couldn't last forever... eventually, Time came along and started breaking us apart.  Husbands finished their schooling and relocated all across the country, taking the pieces of our book club with them.

We missed it.  We missed each other and we missed the strength that came when we were together and we couldn't bear the thought of our book club disbanding even though we were scattering across the country.  So, we started a new tradition.

A biennial, destination book club.

Santa Rosa, California was the destination this year. The date was chosen, flights were booked, and dear friends from all around the country began their journeys to a single home.  The green, garden home of Martha.

Five of us (me, along with Melissa, Amy, Cami, and Kim) met in San Francisco a day early and toured the city together.  It was wet.

But we didn't mind. We held our umbrellas and rung our socks at the end of the day.

The five of us booked a small apartment on a steep hill and somehow managed to cram two queen sized blow up mattresses into the cozy living area. They took the entire floor so that there was no path to the bathroom, but pregnant Amy promised that she would try her best not to step on any heads in the middle of the night. We talked and talked and talked that night. The kind that changes you.

The following morning we awoke and got ready for our day while blasting Adele songs from Melissa's phone. It felt like college, but better.  Better because we are better and stronger and wiser than we were then.

It was wet still, but after our morning brunch we walked anyway.  The Golden Gate Bridge still stands in the rain, you know.  Eventually, the four women I was with were ready to travel north up to Santa Rosa, so I stayed behind by myself for an hour to wait for two different friends who were on their own way to Santa Rosa and would soon pass through San Francisco.  I loved the time alone as I often do.

But was thrilled to jump (quickly) into the car when Katie and Cindy arrived (pulled over on the side of a busy road in an area that was obviously not meant for passenger pick up).  We had much catching up to do ourselves, and wasted no time diving into a heart bearing conversation.  The kind that changes you.

We made it to Martha's and spent a delightful day on the rainy, wet beach.

But, as you know, any day on the beach is a great one for me.  Even rainy ones.

And days on rocky beaches?  Even better.

There was one scare when, just after I took the following picture, a wave came barreling in and completely covered the rock I was standing on.  Rocky beaches are beautiful, but they can be a bit scary if you're worried about being carried away into those rocks.  The picture ended up being worth soggy shoes, though.

Part of me wished I had brought my big camera along, but the other part of me was so darn thrilled at the easiness of carrying my camera phone right in my pocket and not worrying about the lenses hitting the jagged rocks, or getting sprayed with ocean water.

Plus, I do love the wide angle my camera phone has. 

I don't have a wide-angle lens, and couldn't really get a shot like this one anyway with my big camera.

I think my favorite scenic part of this vacation was watching the wind spray the water off the crests of the waves.  Apparently that's called spindrift.  

It was a vacation full of beauty.  Beautiful people, beautiful conversations, beautiful scenery, beautiful love.  We spent two nights at Martha's discussing the books we had chosen (Okay, for Now and Boys in the Boat and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up) and all other things that came to our minds.  And towards the end of the second evening, Melissa pipped up: "I'm not going to bed until someone cries."  We laughed, but it shined a beautiful light into the friendships that we have with each other.  We want to know the good, we want to know the fun and the excitement and the daily events of each others lives... but we also want to know the sad.  The real.  The messy.  We want to know because we care.  "Tell us the last thing you cried about," Melissa continued.

The night did end with some tears.  Some real.

I didn't sleep much for those three days. There was too much to listen to.  Too much to learn, too much to talk about.  Consequently, I came home exhausted. 

But so, so happy.

Until next time Durham Diaspora!

Diaspora: (n) a group of people who live outside the area in which they had lived for a long time.