Book 7 Teaser: Tell God what you want!

“Your problem is that you haven’t told God that you need a miracle. Tell him! Demand a miracle!” That was the advice my friend gave me when, seventeen years ago, we were drowning.

I was pregnant with my 6th, my husband had lost his job and the part-time job he had in the meantime wasn’t paying, and my adjunct contract wasn’t going to be renewed because of budget cuts. We were falling behind in our mortgage payments and our savings were gone. Very soon we’d be in very dire circumstances.

“Tell God exactly what you need and get that miracle!” my friend insisted.

So I prayed—earnestly and daily—telling God what I wanted: a good-paying job for my husband so that we could meet our financial obligations, and the ability to keep the house we’d built so our family could be raised in a great neighborhood.

Not much—just what all of our other friends and family had. Not a fancy car, not a dream vacation, not a huge house—just the bare necessities.

Others also prayed in our behalf—intently and constantly—until finally the miracle came: my husband got a job.

But the not-so-miraculous part was that it was 2,000 miles away from that great neighborhood and my family.

And it wasn’t going to pay enough.

And we’d have to leave our house.

But maybe, just maybe—it’d be ok?

With enormous reluctance and huge tears, we moved our family cross county, put our house up for sale, and waited for the next miracles.

But they didn’t come as I demanded. Where we’d moved was outrageously expensive, and my husband’s education-based income would never cover rent, so he found yet another job, this one a couple hundred miles away, leaving me and our six children to mooch off of his family for several months.

The sale of our house fell through—four times—and because we couldn’t get caught up on the payments during those eight months, it was going into foreclosure with letters sent to us almost daily from lawyers and banks.

I was so humiliated and depressed, alone and still drowning. Did we not have enough faith to make those miracles happen? What more was I supposed to do to get my prayers answered? What did I still lack? Why wouldn’t God give me what I needed and what our family deserved?

I began to realize something: demanding miracles from God wasn’t how it was supposed to work. God is not, as Harry Emerson Fosdick once quipped, “a cosmic bellboy for whom we can press a button and get things done.”

Maybe I wasn’t praying for the right things. Maybe I didn’t even know what those “right things” were?

So I stopped telling God what I wanted and needed, and started asking Him to help me understand. I asked Him to change my heart to be submissive, to meekly take whatever was thrown at us. I was so low anyway, I didn’t have anything else to lose. I was hopeless, in heart and spirit.

I was broken. That’s what God was waiting for.

That’s when miracles began.

Miracle #1–We found a house to rent across the street from my husband’s new job. It was condemned and would be torn down in six months, had mice and skunks (in the cellar) and roaches, but we could live there for $350/month and be a family again for a while. The fact that I was grateful for such accommodations after living apart for eight months? Miraculous. (I’ve written about this house before here.)

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And when it rained, water poured in on all the edges where the walls met the ceiling. But that was ok, because the vines growing in the house needed to be watered.

Miracle #2–We finally found a buyer for our old house, and the day before it was to be sold at auction we closed on it and were able to negotiate payments for the second mortgage, which wasn’t covered, down to a reasonable rate. We paid it off five years later.

Miracle #3–Astonishingly, the mortgage company hadn’t reported our delinquency properly, and on our credit report was only that we’d missed one monthly payment. Our credit rating fell a bit, but three months later we were in a position to buy a brand new house at $600/month.

A full year after I TOLD God what I wanted, I realized I was in a completely different situation than I’d ever imagined but . . . I liked it!

Our new life was giving us experiences that we never could have had any other way. Our kids were flourishing, our new house was adorable, my husband loved his job, and I had work as well.

And I was very glad that God did NOT listen to my demands.

A couple years ago we drove through our old neighborhood to see the dream house we had left and lost in 2000. I was so grateful that we did NOT raise our kids there. Not that there was anything wrong with the neighborhood, but I realized how limited and narrow our lives would have been had we never left, instead of the wealth of experiences God gave us instead by forcing us away.

He knew what we really wanted, rather than what we thought we should have.

The real problem, it turned out, wasn’t that I needed to demand a miracle and insist on my ways, but that I needed to ask God what His ways were for us. And His ways have always been far, far better.

     With growing despair, he sat back on his heels. It was time to send the general a message.

    “It’s the right thing to do, right, Puggah?” he whispered.

     It’s an intriguing idea, Young Pere. But is it the right idea?

     “Well, you did it! At least, you were trying to do it, then did it in another way—”

      Young Pere, think about that—I tried to do it but failed. It wasn’t meant to be. It isn’t meant to be with you, either. 

     He scoffed. “But you just said it was intriguing!”

     Yes it is. But just because it’s an intriguing idea doesn’t mean it’s the right idea. Especially when the Creator has something much better in mind. 

~Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World, coming October 2017

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Book 7 Teaser–Force them to see reason

We’ve learned absolutely nothing. And we’re growing stupider.

Forgetting our history, we’re making the same mistakes we’ve been making for decades–no, for thousands of years.

We repackage every old injustice and sell it as something new.  Every rising generation decides it’ll be the one to end it, but they use the same flawed techniques of arrogance and force, creating even a bigger problem that the next rising generation is sure they can resolve by using the same flawed techniques themselves.

We’re only recycling old hostilities, the same old selfishness, the same “us-versus-them” mentality that caused Cain to kill Abel, that made the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Nazis, ISIS and even us rage war against those we think are “wrong.”

We try to force them to believe our point of view, but when EVER in the history of the entire world has that EVER WORKED?

That’s what I thought.

Here’s the secret to real peace: We each give up our own selfishness first. Until we are right with ourselves and right before God, nothing else will ever work. You’ll notice the most aggressive people are also the most personally bitter.

Once we fix ourselves, the rest of the world will follow suit.

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“I’ll force it! I can force the world to see reason like you forced me—”

We forced you to see reason?

“Yes!”

Obviously it didn’t work, did it?  It seems that forcing someone to accept your position only forces them to find new ways around it.

~Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World, coming October 2017

Book 7 is coming! And here’s the title . . .

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Young Pere is in a world of trouble. Of course, being General Lemuel Thorne’s son has a tendency to cause that. It’s a tough place to be, not sure whose name to take or whose legacy to follow, especially when playing things just right might mean the world could be yours.

Like Young Pere, Book 7 is anxious to get out in the world, which is why I think final edits are going so rapidly. I’ve been tinkering with Books 7 and 8 (yes, there’s a book 8!) for the past five years, and it’s like they’re itching to be alive. I was hoping for a release before Christmas, but now I think it’ll be here before Halloween! 

Each week I’ll post another teaser from “The Soldier in the Middle of the World,” and soon I’ll have the official book cover as well. So hold on, the world’s coming at you pretty quick and fierce in just a few weeks!

 

 

In praise of regular days

My 10-year-old said, “I’m bored. What are we doing today?”

“NOTHING!” I shouted in delight. “Isn’t that amazing!”

“So,” she said, “we’re going nowhere and have nothing to do?”

“Isn’t that WONDERFUL?!”

She frowned but I was grinning. It’s been months–maybe even a year–since we’ve encountered so many quiet days. The frenzy of fixing things up, of taking things down, of moving cross country, of readjusting to new normals . . . all of it’s over, and for the past few weeks we’ve had boring days. Lovely!

I probably don’t appreciate regular routines as much as I should, but I am today. In fact, I feel guilty for not realizing that a couple of weeks ago we “settled in” because I’ve been glued to my laptop, deep in final edits of Book 7 (and Book 7 will likely be ready much faster than I expected–WONDERFUL!).

There’s immense comfort in knowing we’re facing another dull day, another routine with no pressing matters looming. School won’t start for us for a few weeks yet, and while we’ll have to move from this rental house again it won’t be for a couple months, so for right now we have blissful, sweet boredom!

It’s like God presses the pause button on occasion and says, “Let’s give you a few days, see if you notice that the biggest problems are that all the purple popsicles are gone and that the kitten mistook the bathroom rug for the kitty litter box again. For a few days, you can just be. Look outside, take a walk, notice the groceries aren’t running out too quickly, and breathe deeply.”

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When I’m done writing, I’m going to sit outside in this chair (apparently it’s not just decorative but useful), maybe get a few splinters in my behind, but enjoy it and a dull day.

Not everything is a crisis, not every day with children is chaos, despite what so many blogs and memes want you to believe. There’s no need to look for or create drama. We don’t even have to check the news or social media to find a reason to rage and roar at the world.

We are allowed, believe it or not, to simply sit back and enjoy the pause button days.

Real troubles will come again on their own, so let’s revel in the days that are dull.

“And what are you planning to do to Peto? Another dishonest distraction? I think Rector Shin is dealing with enough real problems without you creating a new one for him to chase!” ~Book 7, title to be announced VERY soon!

 

The best birthday present: realizing I didn’t WANT anything!

For my recent birthday, a dear friend sent me an Amazon gift card. My teenage daughter saw it and said, “Ooh, lucky you! What do you want?”

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No, seriously, it’s not.

For the first time in my life I could honestly say, “I can’t think of anything that I want.”

Victory!

Ok, I know that’s a weird response, but for a large part of my life I was a “buyer.” Frugal—yes, but also very covetous. As a teenager, I saved up for months for a name-brand denim jacket because I was sure “looking right” would bring me status and approval. It didn’t.

As a young married, I scoured decorating magazines and watched HGTV for hours (back when it was still interesting) plotting how to decorate my own humble abode. Having a house that “looked right” would bring me happiness and contentment. Nope, didn’t happen.

Even now I still struggle with covetousness. Last week I passed by a gorgeous house for sale and thought, “I want that!” But I don’t need something that large, I can’t afford it, and I already know it won’t bring me additional happiness.

Because buying and owning things don’t make life better. Things just smother life.

About ten years ago, after some financial setbacks, our family of ten was renting a small place in a town I don’t care to remember. It was there that I realized something: I wasn’t any more, or less, happy there than I’d been when I had a nicer house and better stuff.

Duh.

My happiness came from being focused on the people around me, not the stuff around me. I was very worried about my kids, having moved them from one place to another, and yet another in a short amount of time. We didn’t discuss what we’d lost but what we still had, and fortunately for us our kids’ wants were few and easily meet with a trip to the dollar store. (Since we’d quit watching TV a long time ago, our growing kids didn’t know what was trendy and what they “should” want.)

More recently I’ve learned about minimalist movements and have written here and here and here about my own attempts at eliminating junk. Before our move from Utah to Maine, I took countless trips to the dump and donation center, worried that all we owned wouldn’t fit in the largest rental truck. I’m happy to report that I’ve missed NONE of the stuff we threw/gave away, and that our 26-foot moving truck even had some room to spare. Not bad for a family of nine and all their possessions.

I’ve still got a long way to go in minimalism, though. Because this rental house has no closets, my bedroom has four large boxes of comforters, sheets, and pillows–more than we really need. Half of the boxes we packed for the move we haven’t touched yet, but are sitting in the garage waiting for the next move to a more permanent house. Some of those boxes may never be unpacked but tossed instead, and I’d be fine with that. I have dreams of moving into a tiny home when we retire in twenty years, but right now I’m needing the space of about eight tiny homes for what I still own.

But in my old age (sliding to 50, so I’m growing reflective in my maturity and sniffing haughtily as I do so) I’m realizing that my happiness is linked to only a few things:

  • my family, healthy and progressing;
  • my ability to write;
  • places to walk;
  • a peaceful place to live;
  • time to study and worship; and
  • enough clothes for a week.
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I recently read that “women of a certain age” should avoid denim. I’m now avoiding things that tell me how I should dress.

(About those clothes: I’ve culled my wardrobe to have changes of clothes for one week, two batches for summer and winter. My uber-minimalist teenage son, who can fit all his possessions into two large bins, has taught me that I don’t need more than eight t-shirts and five pairs of jeans. But my sweaters . . . that’s still a work in progress. And I do still have a denim jacket, one that I inherited from a friend some years ago—it’s the one I’m wearing in my author photos.) ==>

My list above is short and peaceful. Quite the contrast to the lists of what I wanted when I was younger; those spanned 30 or 40 items. Seasonal duvet covers, dining room hutches, wall-hangings, couches, kitchen canisters, a bench for the front porch, skirts, jackets, sweaters, collectibles. (Oh, the dreaded collectibles! They’re all gone, now.)

But this year for my birthday, I couldn’t think of a single thing I wanted, because I already have all I want!

(My husband and kids did buy me a boxed book set—the second Percy Jackson series—which I’m sharing with my 10-year-old because she shared with me her boxed set of the first Percy Jackson series. Yes, I’m very mature for sliding toward 50 and I’m still sniffing haughtily about it.)

I have to admit there was something I wanted this year: a family portrait. For one weekend, the first time in over four years, our entire family was together, and I paid money (and I hate spending money) for a photographer to prove that. Here’s the wonderful result:

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This is all I need: my family, healthy and happy. (With adequate clothes–note the prevalence of t-shirts and jeans.) But since I can’t live with all of them anymore, this reminder that they are still around, and still mine, has to be enough.

All I need for this portrait a frame. And maybe if I had a gift card to buy one . . .

Hey, Paula–guess what you bought me for my birthday!

     “The world is all about getting more, building higher, and looking better. The world believes ‘enough’ is defined by what they have, plus a little more. So they’re never satisfied. Their hearts are small and weak.” Gleace sat back and looked at his guests sadly. “And that’s why the world is dying.”  

     Perrin sighed. “I once told Shem I thought the most dangerous sentences began with the words, ‘I deserve . . .’”

    “Precisely right. The world will always believe it deserves more.”

~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti, Forest at the Edge series

To all my high school teachers 30 years ago–I’m so very, very sorry

While I was getting fingerprinted yesterday, I realized I had a lot of apologies to make.

No, I hadn’t committed any crime, except for becoming a substitute teacher for a local high school.

Which means I remembered my high school years and the way I behaved.

No, I wasn’t smoking in the east parking lot, being a vandal, or getting into an other 1980s-teen-movie troubles.

My greatest problem: I was obnoxious, with a capital O-B.

I was sweet and charming (or so I thought) and I would never, EVER shut up.

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Gee, which one might I be?

So to all my high school teachers who I interrupted with some clever quip which derailed their excellent explanations or lectures, I am very, very sorry.

I wasn’t clever–I was annoying.

We all know it, don’t bother trying to save my feelings at this point. I’m a grownup now.

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Yeah, that girl–the “charming” one.

I did get to apologize directly to my AP Biology teacher about a year and a half ago. I found him online and thanked Doyle Norton for his wonderful lessons (I still remember the ATP Choo-Choo train). Then I wrote, “I also want to thank you for your incredible patience, especially with students like me who never shut up, trying so hard to be funny when you were trying so hard to teach us about the circulatory system.”

Generously, he responded with, “Oh, I don’t remember you being obnoxious.” I’m sure he didn’t remember me at all out of thousands of students, but I’m sure he remembered the mouthy ones, putting them all in a category which, at the end of the day, made him rub his face in exasperation.

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Dear Doyle Norton even took a busload of his biology students to southern California each Easter. Patience of a saint. Or the madness of a scientist–I’m still not sure which.

I rub MY face in exasperation just remembering what I was like 30 years ago.

So to all my teachers at Viewmont High School–I am so, so sorry. I don’t remember any of you losing patience, becoming angry, or doing anything more than smile with GREAT forbearance at me, and now that I’m your age (and older, I’m sure), I’m even more impressed with the examples you set.

I also need to apologize to my friends, particularly Heather McClure, wherever you are: you not only sat next to me in AP Biology but also AP English, the two classes where my mouth was the mouthiest. I kept up a quiet running dialogue during both classes all year long, and you so very generously, very kindly, would only smile and keep your eyes on our teachers instead of turning around and screeching at me, “SHUT UP ALREADY!”

I would have deserved it if you had.
Did you pass the AP tests?
I’ve worried about that, for 30 years now.
More apologies if you didn’t. It was completely my fault.

I’m remembering all of this as I mentally try to anticipate what substitute teaching will be like, and I’m reminded that we never fully escape our past but usually end up paying for it in some way.

I think I’m about to pay for it this fall, and now I’m praying earnestly for the same great forbearance my teachers showed to me. Because the one thing–the main thing–I remember about my teachers was their enormous kindness.

Even when there were kids mouthier than me (shock!) I remember my teachers’ patience and  . . . I guess it was love. Their concern for us was greater than their need to protect their egos. They put us first instead of themselves or their lessons.

I realize teenagers and times have changed dramatically over the past 30 years, but what hasn’t changed is that children of all ages need to feel loved, need to be treated with kindness, need to have great forbearance shown to them.

I’m praying daily now to develop those essential skills myself, and hope I’ll never have to apologize to my future students for never being kind enough. (But I probably will–I’m sorry. Again. Already.)

    Go bold, Mahrree wrote on the scrap paper late that night.
    She frowned at it.
    It should have been Go boldly, right? She got it wrong all those years ago. But that indicated going somewhere, and what she’d meant was, Be bold.
    But then it would have been, Be bold, or don’t be at all, which was far more fatalistic than she intended.
    She scowled at the paper. Things are so much simpler when one approaches them with the over-confident superiority of a teenage mind.
    Now, as an adult, she finally realized just how simplistic and incorrect her old motto had been.

~Book 1, The Forest at the Edge of the World

They may do that, but we do NOT

It’s getting harder to teach my children civility when they see mature adults deliberately flouting the law.

Like right here:

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We were at the grocery store waiting for my daughter when a seemingly healthy man around 60 and wearing nice vacation clothes pulled his Subaru up to this sign. I watched as he eyed it, pondered it, then shut off his car and got out. Astonished and knowing he saw the sign, I watched as he took a bag of trash to a can at the front of the store. But he wasn’t just tossing garbage; he took a cart then went in. This wasn’t a quick trip; he was shopping.

As I blinked in confusion, I heard, “Why’d he do that?”

Yessirree Bob, you who broke the law: a 13-year-old saw you ignore legal parking spaces ALL AROUND us, and saw you instead choose to do whatever you wanted.

“That’s against the law, isn’t it? Parking where you shouldn’t?”

Think about this: how are kids supposed to become civilized adults respecting the law when they see seemingly-respectable adults deliberately ignore it?

And people wonder how seeds of anarchy are planted, how civilizations crumble. It’s this way, folks. Seriously–THIS WAY. It starts with our youth witnessing selfish arrogance, and their own begins to grow.

Except when kids have moms like me who don’t put up with that behavior.

Fuming quietly, I said, “That IS against the law, and even though he may choose to do that, we do NOT.”

Now I try very hard to always think the best story about people, to assume goodness or innocence when something seemingly bad is happening. So perhaps this man has early signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s and the sign confused him (a worrying thought since he’s driving); or maybe, because marijuana is legal in this state, he was buzzed (another worrying thought since he’s driving); or maybe he can’t read English and didn’t understand the sign (which is doubtful because he could have seen where the other dozen cars were parked and easily deduced where he should leave his Subaru).

Still, no matter what the reason, what an impressionable youth saw was an adult showing no regard for the law, or anyone else for that matter.

This is a huge problem.

I still believe in respecting the law, in treating others with kindness, and in doing what’s right even if–

No, ESPECIALLY when no one else seems to care.

So to my son I said, “Look how his car is blocking traffic, how he’s created a dangerous situation. People can’t see around him at that intersection. The sign is there to protect everyone, and he’s causing problems by his behavior.”

Don’t misbehave around me, because my duty as a mother demands that I draw attention to the behavior and teach my children what is acceptable and what is NOT.

Disrespect is exploding everywhere. I’ve written before how I’ve told my kids why I’ve “hidden” a number of adults they know on my Facebook feed because they won’t post anything civil. Name-calling, ridicule, snarkiness–none of that is ever acceptable behavior, but now it’s become a pastime.

Two days ago I came across a house listing posted on Facebook by someone with a large following. It wasn’t her house, but because she found its decor gaudy and over-the-top, she went out of her way to hold it up in a public place to mock the owner of the house. She went so far as to insinuate that certain religious groups “helped” the seller create such an “outrageous” house.

More than 80 people joined in the public derision of this innocent home owner’s pride and joy. All she was trying to do was sell her house. She didn’t deserve to be bullied, and that’s what it was: bullying.

Even more disgraceful was that many who commented were those I knew who claimed to be Christians.

It was if they forgot that Christians don’t bully one another. They don’t post snide comments about anyone–public figures, politicians, neighbors, random people they’ve never even met–no one.

And Christians certainly aren’t supposed to deliver hell to someone. My heart ached for this home owner who would undoubtedly discover how she’d become the object of ridicule simply because her decorating tastes were different than others.

This is not how grownups are supposed to behave. We should have outgrown this childishness back in 8th grade. Immaturity, selfishness, and disrespect is what causes civilizations to collapse. These seemingly-little moments of, “The rest of the world can go to hell; I’m going to do and say and write what I want” will be the downfall of us all.

Because the younger generation is watching. My kids, your kids, someone else’s kids are learning from adults, and what they’re learning is, Anything goes.

Why do adults treat others so horribly? The best I can guess is that they are arrogant yet also insecure. They can feel superior only by trying to show others to be inferior. They’re not interested in building up the world, but in tearing it down so they might have a chance to stand on top of the rubble in some position of authority.

But it won’t work. You can never increase your confidence while putting down someone else’s. Just because more people are engaging in selfishness, arrogance, and bullying doesn’t make any of it right; all of that just makes the world nastier.

There are, however, adults who do behave properly, and being a mother demands that I also point out their civility to my children.

For example, a gentleman I know–and he is a true gentleman whom I’ve award the Internet Civility Award to–is plagued almost daily by a childish adult who posts on his Facebook page why this gentleman should no longer be friends with those of a certain religion. And every day this gentleman kindly says, “Thank you for your input, but your statements don’t change my mind.”

Then his attacker–and he does attack–goes off on a furious rant against this kind man, throwing at him all kinds of vitriol as if the gentleman deserves such rancor for his willingness to befriend others from different walks of life.

The gentleman never rises to the fight, but always walks nobly away.

I watch closely other truly mature adults, men and women who encourage, instruct, and gently, kindly admonish others to live a little better, to be a little kinder, to be more Christlike. Their posts are loving, heartfelt, earnest.

And never, ever mean.

They are my heroes, the ones I also point out to my children and say, “They do this, and so should we.”

Dungeons, spiders, and kittens–what terrifies you?

My five-year-old is currently in the dungeon. Well, others might call it a “basement” but with the damp floor and that smell which permeates every inch of the concrete and rock down there, we’re calling it a dungeon.

He’s chosen to be there, because that’s where his dad’s and brothers’ Warhammer 40k figurines are set up. (I call them “hideous plastic things.”) 

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He’s playing with things that look like this^. I guess nothing else down there is as terrifying.

Here’s the weird part–he’s not afraid to be down there, alone, with the spider webs and damp and creepy windows . . . but he’s terrified to pick up his new 6-week-old kitten.

It’s the cutest little thing in the world, cuddly and purring, but it has those needle-like claws and THOSE freak him out. He’ll pet it, he’ll croon at it, build her shrines out of blankets and pillows when she sleeps, but the moment it comes after him and his bare feet, you’d think a mountain lion had been released because he goes RUNNING FOR THE HILLS!

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Blanket shrine to worship the cat. And we’re not even in Egypt.

On the other hand, his 13-year-old brother will love and play with the kitten endlessly, but he’s so terrified of the dungeon/basement that he LOCKS the doors going down there.

This poses a problem for the 5-year-old trying to come back upstairs, and freaks out older brother when he hears the door rattling because SOMETHING HAS COME UP FROM THE BASEMENT!

 

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The stairwell to the basement/dungeon/Hades.

Fear is a weird and random thing.

Sometimes it makes us run and slam the door. Other times we charge it, like my 18-year-old daughter armed with the shop vac sucking up every spider web with the extension tube. (The dungeon/basement is next, but only once she stops shivering from her last extraction triumph upstairs.)

Other times we call for help, as with my 5-year-old (the dungeon tolerator) who came from the bathroom to announce he couldn’t brush his teeth because of the “critter” in there. Turned out to be a moth in the sink. Another reason why we got a kitten, who I wanted to name “Moth Killer” as a reminder as to how she’s supposed to earn her keep.

Sometimes we’re quiet about our fears, such me pretending to know how to talk to people–especially strangers–all the while my heart rate is at 120 bpm and I’m praying I don’t pass out before the conversation is over, to my own father who I didn’t know was deathly afraid of snakes until I, as a kid, came up to him with our neighbor’s boa constrictor draped around my neck. I’ve never seen a man go gray faster than my father did, and still live.

It’s strange that what makes some people afraid has no effect on others. Birds, for example, send some people into a panic while others keep them as pets. Same with rats. And chihuahuas.

Everyone hates needles, however. I’ve asked phlebotomists about that every time I’d had blood drawn. One nurse told me, “If I met someone who LIKED having a needle jabbed into a vein, THAT would terrify me.”

What’s the point to this rambling? I’m afraid I don’t know.

“There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.” Be honest. You, like me, hear that phrase that think, “Oh yeah? What about [fill in the blank]?” There are DOZENS of things to fear, and here’s the good part: all of us fear something. All of us are cowards about something.

Openly or quietly, there’s something that worries each of us, which is good to remember. That’s not meant as a challenge to figure out someone’s fear and exploit it, but to comfort us all that we really are all the same.

Once I dropped by the house a 13-year-old when her mom wasn’t home. In a small and terrified voice, she asked me to do her a favor. Worried that I was walking into a home invasion scenario based on her solemnity, I nevertheless agreed. Moments later I felt like Wonder Woman as I went downstairs (a nice downstairs, with carpeting and lights) with tissue in hand to extract a spider that had kept this sweet girl from entering her bedroom for the past hour.

I realized then that maybe different fears exist to let all of us be heroes at one time or another. My husband is my hero whenever a live mouse or a dead animal is involved. (Bonus points to him if it’s a dead mouse he bravely disposes of.) Perhaps that’s why he moved us here, so that after a year of living apart I’d have plenty of reasons to rush into his arms and ask him to be my hero because there may have been another mouse . . .

Which now has may thinking that maybe romance is also a weird and random thing.

     When Perrin came home for dinner the tiny cat was still there. It hobbled up to him and began to climb his trousers.
     “Get it off!” he yelled, shaking his leg.
     Mahrree extracted the kitten from his knee. “Honestly. How can a grown man be so afraid of a tiny kitten?”
     “Afraid? That’s what you think I am? Afraid!”
     “Yes! Give me another reason why you run in terror from it.”
      “I don’t run.”
      “Well, you shout!”
      “That’s ridiculous!”
      “You’re shouting now!”
      “So are you! Give it to me.”
       Mahrree clutched the kitten to her chest. “What will you do?”
      “Prove you wrong,” he beckoned. “Hand it over.”
      “Don’t hurt it!”
      “I won’t hurt it. Just hand it over.”
      Reluctantly, Mahrree gave him the kitten. Perrin held it up to his face. It mewed in a manner that sounded like a whimper of fear.
      Perrin stared into its tiny eyes.
      It stared back, then looked down at the height at which it was dangling. It flailed in fright, so Perrin cradled it in his other hand, and the thing began to purr.
      “Why does it do that?” he asked, bewildered.
       Mahrree’s mouth twitched. “Because it likes you. I can’t imagine why, but it does.”
       He evaluated the creature.
       It didn’t resemble a Thorne—captain or general—in any way. It was just a tiny, helpless animal. With needle-like claws. And it made annoying sounds, although quietly.
       Still, those claws were unreasonably sharp, snagging the wool on his uniform.
       Still yet again, it was just a baby.
       “Hm,” he said eventually. “Fine. It can stay.”

~Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn, Forest at the Edge series

Boiling brownies and other hazards of life at sea level.

I’ve been living on the coast of Maine for 10 days now, and I’m utterly useless at functioning at sea level.

First, I can’t bake at 20 feet altitude. In the ten years that I’ve lived in the mountain west, I’ve redone all my recipes for altitudes of about 4700 feet.

Here’s my fantastic, greatest brownies at sea level:

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Yes, the butter is boiling. And they are “done.”

My daughter’s 8-year-old friend, born and bred in Maine, peered at the pan as I pulled it out of the oven and said innocently, “Why don’t you just make regular brownies?”

Thought I did, sweety.

My brain doesn’t know how to function this close to the ocean. Like a dull blanket tossed over my head, I’m heavy-brained and slow. It’s not the scenery, which is beautiful. In fact, it looks a great deal like my favorite place on earth: Yellowstone.

The photos above are from West Quoddy, Maine. (Which is actually east?)

But Yellowstone is about 8,000 feet above sea level. I’m a genius in Yellowstone! If I could live there for three months, I could solve every major world problem AND write the greatest American novel. I can THINK there!

But in Maine, I stare at the fridge trying to understand where the milk went until a child (a child under 10, mind you) points out that the gallons are in the door.

Heaven help me.

There have been studies that show people who move to high elevations, like Denver or Salt Lake City, often struggle. Lab rats demonstrate hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, which leads to depression.

I think a reverse happens for me, that my mind can’t handle this thick oxygen so it slogs aimlessly, trying to understand Maine.

For example, they make hot dogs this bright red . . . on purpose.Image result for maine red hot dog

I checked the label, and there’s not one but two red food dyes, so this is intentional. I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation, but I can’t grasp it.

Another example: there are no screens in the windows in this house (or in most houses—yes, I’ve been peering at other people’s windows; I’m already getting a reputation around here). Insects here are very determined. Three evenings ago, I cracked opened a window in bathroom to vent it (no exhaust fan, which may have gone the route of the screens) and found in the morning a massive gathering of moths and bugs hovering around the bathroom light, plotting their new government.

In the mornings, I come at them with paper towels to reduce the invasion force before my kids see them massing and panic.

Tonight I’m sure they’ll have a caucus about how to combat the Evil Hand of Wiping that reduces their forces every morning.

Wait—maybe tonight I’ll remember to close that crack in the window before I go to bed.

Took me three days to realize that may be a viable solution.

I can’t function at sea level.

We’ve been blessed to have friends who tell us each day how life is like in Maine (see, Kim Smith? I mentioned you and Mike) and have kindly said, “Um, but this is how it is in Maine. You have to adjust.”

It’s not like it’s bad; it’s just not what I expect. For example, these flowers, lupines, grow everywhere wild in fantastic displays. I can’t fathom that. There are also very few dandelions. The lupines have eaten them. Brilliant.

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There are wild Labradors in the waters of Maine. Or maybe this was someone’s pet, I’m not sure.

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I’m not sure of anything here.

The town doesn’t pick up trash, but Tony will, once a week, if you call him. He pulls up on Thursdays with his truck and tosses our bags in the back for what destination, I don’t know. I’m just grateful. The stove runs on a propane tank, but the water heater is electric, and the toilet flushes upward to a septic tank and leach field about 20 feet up the hill above our house.

I can’t fathom physics here.

Depending upon the time of day, the water in the tidal river either flows up or down in front of my windows. My head spins trying to keep track of the tides. Sometimes the water is dead flat, reflecting everything perfectly like a lake.

I can’t figure out why.

People are very friendly, even though they drop their “r”s and remind me of Mr. Quint and his siblings on “Curious George,” which is comforting.

Image result for mr quint curious george

Thank you for being patient, Mainers, and for letting me call all of you Mr. Quint.

This meme will also work here. Replace Boston with Maine:

Image result for boston khakis meme

The small town parade on the Fourth of July, however, was just like our small town parades back in the west, with balloons and streamers on ATVs, and fire engines honking, and random pieces of candy tossed out of vehicles to friends along the roadside. A few hit us. Chocolate. Because it’s not 98 degrees outside, but only 73, they can throw chocolate. Brilliant. Some things have felt like home, I just need to keep finding those.

This, below, didn’t feel like home, but it was exciting: Eastport, Maine, on the Fourth of July with a navy destroyer behind us.

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I told my kids that while standing on that pier, we were further east than anyone else in the United States. That’s when my 17-year-old son, who didn’t even want to leave the van and stood in protest behind my husband taking the picture, said, “But Mom, there are about a dozen more people further east than us on this pier. They win.”

That’s my ray-of-sunshine child, my builder of confidence. He was absolutely right. And since it was overcast, I’m not even sure if we were east or not. I’m just making things up as I go along, as I’ve been doing ever since I got to Maine.

I didn’t get lost getting to the post office or the recycling center yesterday, so I take those as small victories.

And seeing as how I didn’t even realize it was Wednesday, the day I usually write my blog, until the day was nearly over (and why this posting is coming on Thursday), I’m gonna take every victory I can get until I figure out how to function at sea level.

It’s still June, right?

Move: Day 6+ From Utahns to Maine-iacs

“I don’t know where it is.”

“Since I don’t have a linen closet–or any closets for that matter–just stick that in my bedroom.”

“Did I say garage? I meant the cellar. No! BATHROOM!”

“Since I don’t have a laundry room, just stick that in the bathroom. Yes, the bathroom!”

“Don’t panic yet–it’ll turn up eventually.”

And that sums up all the sentences that have come out of my mouth since Saturday at 5:30 p.m. when we finally cruised into Machiasport, Maine.

I didn’t feel I could sit down and update this blog until the house was in somewhat sort of livable condition, and since it’s about 150 years old, and my kids are used to clean, updated, new-paint-and-flooring houses, they’re dying in this rental which they claim will NEVER be livable because the wood floors are older than any structure west of Nebraska and the smell of “old damp” permeates everything, and their idea of “charming” is not the same as the local definition (but Mainers say it’s a FANTASTIC house so my kids are getting nervous) . . . where did I begin this sentence? Yeah, it’s been nonstop for the past two days.

(And yes, my washer and dryer are in the very big bathroom because it was originally a bedroom because this house was built LONG before indoor plumbing, so a claw-foot tub is smack-dab in the middle of the room, a shower is in one corner, the washer and dryer are in another corner, and the toilet stands at the head of it all like a throne in a plumbing castle. The door opens to smack it so you need to brace yourself in case someone barges in since the lock is also over a hundred years old and we’re all terrified to lock it because we might not ever get out again.)

So we left Concord, NH Saturday morning (I was about to take pictures of all the New Hampshire license plates, since it’s rare that you see those, until my 20-year-old reminded me that we’re not in the west anymore but were, in actuality, in New Hampshire) and we made decent progress until we realized it was a sunny weekend in summer and everyone was going to the beach.

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And then, finally,  we saw THE SIGN!

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And I thought, “The snacks lasted! We didn’t run out of drinks! There are still toys to play with! We made it!”

And then about an hour later my 18-year-old reported that the inside of the minivan was dripping water on her foot, and we decided the AC didn’t know how to respond to humidity and we were NOT about stop anymore, so we kept on for three more hours until we saw . . .

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“Hey kids–do you know they grow blueberries here? The small ones and the big ones?”

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Over the radio I heard, “Mom and Dad, where have you brought us? Is that seriously an all-blue tourist trap?” Yes, so was the Ford dealership (and also the cake someone delivered for us: blueberry and cinnamon, which didn’t last long at all).

 

And then, finally:

That’s when I started speaking only in the five lines listed above. Our branch of the church sent out the call and for the next hour and a half I was in the truck handing out boxes and bins and saying all the wrong words because sea-level makes me dizzy (seriously–happens every time I descend from my mountains, but it wears off in about three or four swirling days). Then suddenly the truck was empty, generous families filled our fridge with pulled pork and baked ziti and noodle-meatball-bbq sauce casserole, and I stared out at the fields of wild lupines everywhere (photos to come) and I wondered just what had happened.

Well, first, there was an explosion of boxes in our house which still hasn’t been cleared but should be gone in another day or two.

Second, I discovered that morning comes VERY early here in the Sunrise County, meaning that the sun was pouring into my east-facing windows, reflecting off the water so that I was facing the brightness of TWO suns and I thought, “Well the sun’s pretty high already, time to get up to keep unpacking some more,” until I looked at the time and realized that the sun rises on the coast at FOUR-FREAKING-THIRTY A.M.!!! Yes, that 4:30 A.M! What is this, Alaska?

My husband brought home two dark gray flannel blankets that we’ve safety-pinned up as curtains for our bedroom.

Third, I discovered that the sun sets a bit earlier than I am used to, but that I have a pretty cool view out of my bedroom window. Here’s how it looked tonight at 8:30 p.m.:

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That’s my laptop on the bottom left, and that’s the sun setting on the tidal inlet, right in front of me.

Fourth, I’m slowly discovered what Maine life means–a little slower, more laid-back, less concerned about appearances, more honest and sincere (all of those are lovely, lovely things, as is the very British accent of my new neighbor) and the local McDonald’s has a different menu:

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We also learned that the very first naval battle in the Revolutionary War launched just a couple hundred feet from our rental house. It’s not quite as impressive as it sounds (a couple ships, a few shots fired), but there’s a whole building two down dedicated to its memory, and we’ll take that distinction.

This evening we took a break from two days of unpacking and trying to construct IKEA furniture, and headed down to Roque Bluffs to see the water, find a few shells, freak out our youngest son who we realized is terrified of the ocean (but went to it after bribes from his brothers for popcorn and Plants vs. Zombies), and to begin to take in where we now live.

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This morning I looked outside as the tide was coming in, noticed some critters leaving a wake, and knowing that seals frequently go up and back with the tide, took my bowl of cereal outside to eat and watch the water when the sun was where it normally would be at noon but it was barely 9 a.m. My life is very, very different now than I’d ever thought it would be, and while I’m utterly exhausted and thoroughly grateful our trip has ended without major incident and that all of us are here and slowly, slowly settling in, I think it’s going to be just fine.

 

Then I discovered that the old wooden Adirondack chair I was sitting in was giving me a splinter in my behind, and my up-far-too-early brain concluded that this moment–gazing out on an unusual and beautiful scenery with soggy cereal and a sliver in my butt–pretty much summed up life.

And that I really, desperately, need to catch up on sleep. Good night.

(Addendum–I was about to hit publish when my 5-year-old came in for his good-night kiss. I took him to his room, showed him that while he was playing I put together his bed, set up his toy bins under it, and put his four favorite pillows around the top. He squealed in delight and said, “Thanks, Mom! That’s all I wanted! You’re the best!” I’ll take that.)