Five steps to surviving a termite infestation and the 2016 Presidential Election

First, termites. Because they’re more pleasant.

Some years ago our family was staying temporarily in an older townhouse in South Carolina. On a sweltering July afternoon, my husband Dave and I were evaluating the paneling on the screened back porch.

“It’s rotting,” Dave noticed, and he tugged on a brittle board. “I think we should pull out this panel to see how far the damage goes.”

While it wasn’t the best time to start a home improvement project—I was within two weeks of delivering baby #8—we just couldn’t resist those loose boards. I didn’t feel like working, but watching my husband flex his muscles in manual labor is always a pleasant way to pass the afternoon.

He went in the townhouse and came out again with a screwdriver and a hammer.

“Maybe you should put on some shoes,” I suggested, worried about nails dropping to the ground that he’d step on.

He waved that off, always preferring to be barefoot. He pried the screwdriver in a crack, whacked it with a hammer, and the crumbling panel came loose. With one quick tug, it came off—

And so did thousands—literally thousands—of termites!

You should have heard me screaming as they poured out in a frenzy, swarming the ground like a white, flowing carpet. Frantically, I scrambled into a nearby hammock, heaving my huge belly and my puffy feet to safety as the termites spread out rapidly from the panel.

But points for bravery for my husband: Dave didn’t move. Somehow, despite the horrifying scene, he kept enough of his wits about him to realize that if he did the frantic stomping dance I did to get to the hammock, he’d be crushing termites under his bare feet. Hundreds flowed over his feet, and he shouted and exclaimed, but within ten seconds they were past him, streaming out to the abandoned golf course behind us.

Our kids, hearing our shouts and screams, tried to come outside to see why, and we yelled at them to “CLOSE THE DOORS! CLOSE THE DOORS!” Fortunately, the termites weren’t flowing into the house, and about a minute later all evidence of the awful insects were gone.

I was barely catching my breath when Dave was already tapping at the next panel. “Don’t do it!” I cried. “At least get some shoes on first!”

“Not a bad idea,” he agreed. He ran into the house, telling the kids to stay put, and came out a moment later. “We have to get them all out,” he explained, and whacked off the next panel, ready to run.

There were only a few hundred behind that panel, and again I squealed and squirmed as they rushed under my hammock, and Dave, with more warning this time, sprinted out of the way. Two more panels and a few hundred insects later, the horror film was over.

“You can get out of the hammock now,” Dave said. But I wasn’t about to move. Filled with the heebie-jeebies—a sensation that stayed with me for many weeks—I was terrified to leave the safety of the hammock.

“Well,” I said as he examined the damage our curiosity had revealed, “what do we do now?” I grew up in the dry west, where we never had termites.

“We go to the home improvement store, buy a case of termite killer, spray every inch of the house, and get some new panels,” Dave said simply.

And so we did, once he was able to coax me out of the hammock. We told our kids what happened—none one of them wanted to crack open the door for days afterward—and we headed out to buy bug killer and new panels.

So how is this like the upcoming presidential election? Because it’s an invasion of termites: ugly, nasty bugs set out to terrify us all. However, there are five steps we can take in the next few days to deal with it, the same way to deal with termites.

Step One: accept that it’s happening, and that there’s nothing we can do to stop it. The termites are here, and they’re going to flow all over us with the press and social media, especially on and around November 8th. We have a couple ways to respond:

  1. My method, of screaming and running for higher ground. That worked, actually. I’m going into hiding soon: I will suspend my regular Facebook page for the days surrounding the election, and stay away from all news outlets in order to avoid the pestilence. I’m already “hiding” contacts and pages I normally follow, because I can’t deal with the bluster anymore. I’ll probably still do some screaming, because I can see in a distance what’s happening, but I don’t have to be a part of it.
  2. My husband’s braver method of wading through it. He let the nasty little buggers crawl right over him, without panicking, without stomping, without covering his bare soles in bug guts. Sure he yelled variations of, “Oh—gross! Get away! Shoo! Go!” And you know what? It worked. He wasn’t bitten or devoured.

Step Two: keep your cool. It’s going to get ugly out there (more than it has been), but that’s no reason to lose control over your language and behavior. I’m proud of my husband for not swearing; that’s simply not his style, and he wasn’t about to lower his integrity because of a few insects. So in a moment of infestation, don’t do or write or say anything that, once you’re clear-headed again, you’ll be ashamed of.

Step Three: realize it is going to stop. Eventually, the ground will clear, we’ll all catch our breaths, and once we’re calm and collected again, it’s time for the next step;

Step Four: clean up. There’s going to be a huge mess after this, and likely more messes later. No, we didn’t cause this, but still a mess remains. And even though it’s not our responsibility (“I hate this place! I don’t even want to live here!”) it does no good to complain or point fingers. All we can do is start picking up the pieces and begin rebuilding.

Step Five: don’t expect the termites to come back and help. They won’t even apologize. It’s not in their nature. They’re already moving on, searching for a new target to destroy. We’ll probably need to go help with that clean up later as well. Just be prepared, and don’t expect anything from them.

Good luck out there in the next few weeks. I’ll see you again on the other side.

If Gadiman were an animal, his appearance would cause people to instinctively yelp, then proceed to stomp on him with their boots. ~Book 1, The Forest at the Edge of the World

How a Pepperidge Farms cake revealed that everyone is obedient to something, if they realize it or not

My friend “Sally” has a brother who openly belittles her for being “blindly obedient” to her religion. Privately, Sally struggles to think more charitably of “John” who she thinks is a jerk.

One summer their parents invited Sally’s family and John’s family to share their condo at the beach. They agreed until they found out—too late—that each other’s family would be there. So Sally, her husband, and three kids decided to try to be cordial to Jon, his wife and two kids.

But things started off rocky, because while John and his family arrived at the condo on Saturday, Sally and her husband has responsibilities at their church and didn’t want to miss it. Normally they avoided travel on Sundays, but to keep the family peace, they left after church and arrived at the condo that evening.

It wasn’t good enough. John greeted them with, “You and that stupid church of yours. I swear, you’re so blindly obedient to it that you fear to miss even one day? Check-in to the condo was yesterday, you know. You were supposed to be here then.”

Sally was determined to be kind, even though it was silently eating her gut. She had called the condo earlier and they told her check-in started on Saturday, but they could check in at any time that week.

However, Sally gritted her teeth and said, “Thank you for getting the place for us.” She decided not to further ruin her Sabbath by getting in an argument about her “blind obedience.” Jon had quit religion when he was a teenager, and thought Sally was ridiculous for giving up her Sundays.

The next morning, Sally got up to make her kids their favorite muffins. She dumped the mixes in the bowl and proceeded to whip the contents into a froth.

“Whoa!” John exclaimed as he came in the kitchen. “That’s not how you make muffins!” He snatched the bowl out of her hands, picked up the box with instructions, and said, “Look—it clearly says, ‘Mix gently until just moistened.’ Can’t you follow directions?”

She grabbed the bowl back, trying not to feel like a twelve-year-old again. “I know what the box says, but some months ago one of my kids made muffins, overmixed the batter, and we discovered that we much prefer that texture. Whipping improves the recipe, and this is how we like it!” She purposely whipped the batter even more, just to shock her brother who stormed out of the kitchen mumbling, “She can’t ever get things right . . .”

The muffins turned out exactly how Sally and her family liked them.

That day the weather was rough, so instead of spending it at the beach, the families hit the shops. Sally and John took their kids in different directions. One store on the boardwalk was particularly aggressive in trying to get parents to buy their children an overpriced stuffed animal they “made” themselves, then paying an extra $10 for that animal to wear a t-shirt from the beach. They advertised loudly that the bears were the item to have that year, and the employees went so far as to herd families into the store.

Sally and her husband purposely steered their kids away. They had a budget for the trip, and told each of the kids how much they could spend on them. “That bear, all by itself,” Sally’s husband told their kids, “would take all of your souvenir money. One toy for all of you? But instead of a bear that wears a t-shirt, how about each of you get a t-shirt for school? The shop over there has a deal, and you could each get three shirts and still have money left over for churros.”

The decision was easily made, because churros are the best, and when they went back to the condo at dinner time they had a dozen t-shirts for the whole family. They’d stopped at the grocery store to buy supplies for dinner—grilled cheese sandwiches, carrots with dip, and a favorite cake for dessert.

Sally wasn’t surprised when they entered the condo and found John and his family already there, each of his kids with one of those bears, each with the extra $10 t-shirt.

One of Sally’s kids said to her cousins, “My parents said those were too expensive. We bought us t-shirts instead.”

As the cousins examined each other’s purchases, John smirked at Sally. “Too cheap to buy them stuffed animals?”

“Not at $50 each,” Sally scoffed. “Our kids would stick them on a shelf then never play with them. I thought it was a useless purchase for us.”

John scoffed back. “But it’s what you do at the beach! You buy them expensive souvenirs. That’s what credit cards are for.” Sally and her husband didn’t believe in using credit cards.

John also predictably made fun of their grilled cheese sandwich dinner, (“But it’s our favorite!” Sally defended) and when someone knocked at the door, John announced, “There’s our dinner from the ‘Happy Harbor’.”

John’s kids frowned as his wife paid the delivery boy. “But we hate seafood,” they complained.

“Seafood is what you eat at the beach,” John told them, and set out their elaborate dinner of shellfish on the table on the back porch, so that any passers-by at the condo could see the bags advertising the most expensive restaurant in the area.

Sally quietly made two more grilled cheese sandwiches and slipped them to John’s kids who wolfed them down before their parents announced that their seafood feast was laid out and ready.

Sally’s family sat at the table indoors, not needing to show off their sandwiches, and perfectly satisfied to not have to dig their dinner out of shells like their cousins, whose complaints could be heard from outside.

When it was time for dessert, Sally pulled out of the freezer their favorite: two frozen Pepperidge Farms cakes. John came in from the porch and frowned at the cakes she was removing from the boxes. “You’re not cutting those up frozen, are you?”

“Of course I am,” Sally said. “They taste like ice-cream cake like this.”

He grabbed the box and pointed at the words. “Look, right here. You’re supposed to defrost it in the fridge, first. Man, you can’t get anything right, can you? I’m taking my family out to the Ice Cream Shack for a proper dessert.”

“But that place is pricey!” Sally exclaimed. “One scoop of ice-cream costs more than an entire cake.”

“It’s supposed to be pricey. It’s the beach and it’s supposed to be the best! And don’t cut that cake while it’s frozen!” Enraged, he took his family—and his credit card—out for the evening.

That’s when it hit Sally, and she told me later, “I realized at that moment that John belittled me not for my ‘blind obedience’ but because I wasn’t obedient to what he thought was important. His fury at my cutting a frozen cake was only a hint at a much bigger problem:

He, too, was exceptionally obedient—to what the world expects of him.
His insistence that I follow the directions on the boxes?
Obey the boxes.
His buying those expensive bears because everyone else was?
Obey the crowds.
The ice-cream?
Obey the marketing.

“The trip became easier after that, because I finally understood my brother; he was scared of what people would think of him if it found out his sister wasn’t obedient to the world he worshiped, and he was terrified to not be seen what he thought it demanded he be doing.

“I realized that all of us are obedient—wholly devoted—to something: maybe it’s a team, or a political party, or a religious organization, or a movement, or even ourselves that we set on a pedestal and worship.


That’s not necessarily wrong or bad. But it is if we don’t realize it, or if we didn’t make that choice consciously.

“John didn’t recognize how blindly he followed the trends of the world, and worried that everyone was watching to make sure he did everything he was ‘supposed’ to do at the beach. But I doubt anyone even noticed him and his family’s ‘obedience.’

“Yes, I’m obedient to my church, because I’ve researched and lived by its teachings, and have discovered for myself that it’s the best way for me to live my life. That’s how we’ve done everything, from muffin mixes to how we spend our Sundays.  There’s nothing blind about my obedience. Nothing blind at all. I’ve chosen what I’m obedient to, and it’s brought meaning and peace to my life.

“Unfortunately, I’m not sure my brother can say the same thing.”

But Jaytsy knew what she did love, and it was glorious to no longer worry about the world’s opinions. ~Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn

Why God won’t always let the door open when you pound on it, and why that’s a good thing

I have a distinct memory of being five years old and walking home at lunch time from kindergarten. (Walking two blocks to home was still acceptable in the 1970s.) My teacher, Mrs. Madrin, was a bitter woman who never smiled and yelled at us for the full three hours we had to endure her. After a morning of kindergarten, I deserved a break! Waiting at home for me would be my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and some serious downtime with “Sesame Street.”

I trudged up the front steps of my house and went to the door, sure I’d find my mother waiting anxiously for me; her life had no meaning until I was in it again, after all.

But, shockingly, the door was locked!

Dismayed, I kicked it, banged on it, jiggled the handle—how could this be?! It’s supposed to be open, and I should get my lunch and TV time NOW!

And where was my derelict mother?

Quietly, softly into my mind came the words, She’s in the backyard.  Go there.

Was I relieved by that news? Comforted?
Heck, no—I was furious! She was supposed to be in the house, with the door unlocked!

This was NOT how I imagined things should be!

She’s in the backyard. Go there.

I kicked again, sobbed loudly for being so insulted, and finally sulked and slumped against the door. Things were supposed to go exactly as I thought they should, because the world revolved around me.
How dare it turn another direction without my permission?

Amazingly, none of my tantrums changed my situation. If my mother really was in the backyard, she wouldn’t hear me. No one was on the street to notice my despair. And still I heard the promptings to go to the backyard.

Oh, I was a prideful, vain child. I wouldn’t relent, I wouldn’t go out of my way to do what was suggested. I sat there, probably for only a minute, but I was sure it was a full hour of protesting.

Eventually, furious and hungry, I got up and trudged to the backyard—an entire forty feet—to find my mom weeding in the garden. Oblivious to the anguish and heartache she’d caused me, she said, “Oh, there you are. Ready for lunch?”

Affronted, I said, “Where were you?! Why was the door locked?”

She stood up and brushed off her clothes. “I told you this morning that I’d be in the garden when you came home, so you should come back here.”

I have no idea if she said that or not. She may have, and I likely ignored her in my dread to go to school. Startled by the news that I may have been wrong in my tantrum, I followed her inside to find my waiting sandwich and the opening credits of “Sesame Street.”

I’ve often wondered why this incident from my early childhood has remained so vivid in my head, and I know it’s because I need this reminder:

The world will not go the way I think it should.

Not every door I pound on will open. Not every tantrum I throw will give me my way. Not every fist shaking to the sky will change my predicament.

Because I’m just not that special.

It does, however, take a special kind of arrogance to believe that every whim and desire should be granted, simply because of who I am.

I possessed that kind of arrogance, I’m ashamed to say. When I was six, my friends happily announced their mom was going to have another baby, and I was stunned. Wait—people still have babies? But I thought I was the last and the best baby in the world! My mom probably told me something like that, and since I was her last, I assumed I was the last for the entire world.

It was an earth-shattering day for me to realize that other people were still inhabiting this planet, and that maybe I wasn’t the end-all of creation.

I like to think I’ve improved over the years, although my arrogance still rears its childish head at times and wails, “Gimme what I want!” I’ve learned in the forty-two years since my door-pounding episode that rarely will the world drop everything to tend to me, because there are seven billion other people, and you know what? All of them are important, too.

There have been only a handful of times when strangers have dropped everything to wait on me hand and foot, and each of those times involved me at the hospital battling for my life because a baby’s delivery developed complications, or we discovered the hard way that I have a deadly allergic reaction to morphine. (They revived me, kindly.)

Otherwise, I don’t get special treatment. Doors don’t always open when I’ve worked so hard to get to them; houses I’ve searched for and wanted go to others; jobs owed to us are given to someone else; and I have to acknowledge this important fact: there are others in the world who also needed those doors opened, those houses, those jobs. More than I do.

I’ve learned over the years to try to the door once, and if it doesn’t open, find another way. We’ve moved more than a dozen times (cross country twice), rented dingy and moldy houses, bought and sold homes we loved, got jobs, lost jobs, got and lost jobs again, have said good-byes to friends and family, and have experienced “stability” for maybe a total of fourteen out of twenty-eight years of marriage. Facing yet another cross-country move in a few months, I find myself pulling out what’s become my mantra: We can make this work.

If that door won’t open when we pound on it, then don’t pout and don’t throw a fit. Find another door. And another. And another.
And if those don’t open, how about a window?
Got a rock?


Maybe—maybe it’s the wrong house entirely. So let’s find another set of doors!

I’ve imagined myself going back to that old house on Edith Avenue in Salt Lake City, finding that petulant five-year-old, taking her hand, and saying cheerfully, “Let’s go on an adventure and find a way in!”

I know I would have given my older self nasty glares, but I would only laugh it off, because there’s something else I’ve remembered over the years:

The lunch is waiting.

It always was, as I pounded uselessly on that door. Mom had made my sandwich and set it on the table; I simply had to be more resourceful about getting to it. Eventually, we do get a job, a house, an opportunity, and that’s best one for us at the time. Not the most luxurious or fantastic, but the best, meaning the situation to provide us the learning and growth we needed  . . . and wanted, but didn’t realize that at the time.

The life I hoped for still happens, but in different places, in different ways, and—I have to admit—with better plot twists than I initially planned. That PB&J tastes a whole lot better once I get to it again, having “labored” so hard to reach it.

And one more thing I’ve always remembered: That quiet, calm voice will never lead me astray. It knows how to get in the right doors, it knows where my lunch is, and it’ll make my life a whole lot easier if I skip my useless, prideful tantrums and just follow its promptings.

Because He cares for me–deeply, sincerely, earnestly. So much so that He told a five-year-old how to get her lunch, and always let her remember how that came to be.

And here’s the best part: He cares for  you that deeply, sincerely, and earnestly too. Because to Him, we are all that special.

“Expectations? I didn’t expect this!” Shin shouted. ~Book One: The Forest at the Edge of the World

(In another example of “We’ll make it work,” I used my almost-five-year-old as a model for this picture below. But too delighted he was by my request that he pound with his fists on the door, that he laughed and giggled endlessly as I snapped pictures. Out of the dozen shots, I captured only one where he wasn’t demonstrating having a great time. See? We can make anything work . . .)


Why General Conference fell flat for me–I’m not in “sucking in” mode

Twice a year my church (LDS–Mormons) holds what’s called General Conference. No one goes to church, but watches on TV or the internet the broadcast from Salt Lake City. For Saturday and Sunday we get to listen to five sessions of prophets, apostles, and auxiliary presidencies teaching us how to live more spiritually in the secular world around us. Normally it’s uplifting, and even a fun time at our house to sit in the living room eating snacks and making crafts while “going to church” on TV.

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Except for this year. General Conference occurred this last weekend, and it totally fell flat. The speakers weren’t engaging, the music was predictable, and I couldn’t focus on anything for long. In fact, I slept through most of the talks, only to wake up to hear something else bland and uninspiring, so I’d drift off again.

Why did I not find church interesting last weekend? What did they do wrong?


Church wasn’t the problem; the problem was me. I was sick. I’m on day five of fighting what I’m sure is strep throat (but I’m too cheap to go to the doctor’s to find out, so I’m trying to tough it out, which means whimpering every few minutes, “I can’t swallow.”).

(I hope this also explains why this week’s post is even more disjointed than usual.)

In my achy, miserable condition, I couldn’t pay attention, couldn’t feel the spirit, couldn’t become engaged in what I normally enjoy.

The problem wasn’t the source; it was me. This happens a lot, I’m afraid to admit.

For example, I remember reading The Scarlet Letter as a high school junior. I found it dull and strange—why was this minister carving into his own chest? Why couldn’t these people just be nice to this poor, unmarried mother? Like, whatever, dudes . . .

Then, some years later as a senior in college, I read it again for a class. This time I was married and expecting my first child, and the book made me weep. I ached for Hester Prynne, for Arthur Dimmesdale, even for Roger Chillingworth. I could scarcely write my essay about it because the story panged me so deeply.

Why the difference in responses? The book hadn’t changed, I had. My thoughts, my experiences, my heart were all much more prepared to take in what Nathaniel Hawthorne was trying to convey. (Pregnancy hormones likely played a part in amplifying the narrative in my head.)

I’ve seen people come away from movies, books, and speeches with a wide range of responses. “That was wonderful!” “That was stupid.” “That was dull.” “That was inspiring!” They all experienced the same thing, so why the different reactions?

More and more I’m convinced that people’s reactions say far more about themselves than about the activity they just completed.

This is one of the many reasons why I don’t rely too much on reviews about anything, or I read about a dozen reviews before I decide to take a chance on something. Objectivity is pretty much impossible for us biased, human creatures. And the more we insist that we are objective, it seems the more we demonstrate that we aren’t. We should just admit it: we react emotionally to everything around us because we aren’t robots.

During the past few days I’ve seen my friends put up posts of what they enjoyed most about General Conference, and I’m a bit jealous that I missed it all. The talks are available online, and once I’m finally over this gunk, I’ll rewatch or read them.

But this experience has made me understand something painful: if I’m not open-minded and open-hearted, I will miss things. Not just activities or fun stuff, but important emotional things.

Victor Weisskopf, a professor of physics, said this: “People cannot learn by having information pressed into their brains. Knowledge must be sucked into the brain, not pushed in.”

If I want to be uplifted, I need to prepare my mind for that “sucking in” experience. Conversely, if I’m not in the correct mindset, nothing—no matter how marvelous and majestic the experience—will let me see anything more than I’m willing to.

I’m reminded of the city-dweller who was used to vacationing at the beach. One year his wife dragged him instead to Yellowstone. When asked about the magnificent landscapes, the volcanic wonders, the plethora of wild animals, he said, still resentful about missing out on eating seafood and playing mini golf, “There were too many bison and I couldn’t get any wi-fi.”

His mind and heart weren’t in the correct “sucking in” mode.

This weekend has made me wonder how often I’m not in proper “sucking in” mode.

How often do I come to a situation with the “ailing” mindset of cynicism, resentment, unrealistic expectations, or just plain callousness?

How often has my head been acting as if it’s on too much DayQuil—too fogged to pay attention to the important details?

How often am I too light-headed to sink into deep thoughts?

How often do I sleep through moments that would astonish me?

Maybe the most important thing I learned from General Conference this year is to make sure my head’s always in “sucking in” mode. That doesn’t make for a great meme, I know. I tried:


I can’t wait to get better, to escape this oppressive fog, and to once again “suck in” the world more clearly.

(My apologies–no matter how many times I write it, “suck in” just doesn’t sound right, so I’m going to go lay down now . . .)

“She thinks she’s got something relevant from her books for her blog this week?” Mahrree asked Perrin in surprise. “What are we supposed to say?”

He just looked at her with furrowed brows. “What’s DayQuil?”

~Book #nothing, The Writer Needs to Take a Nap