Power-hungry “toddlers” are trying to take over. Be a grown up and don’t let them.

I’ve never understand why people want to be “in charge.” They must think there’s great status, or acclaim, or money.

But it’s responsibility, criticism, and working far more hours than one will ever be compensated for.

That is, if the leader in power is doing things right.

I suspect most who crave power are intent on doing things wrong; they want people to praise (worship) them, they want every convenience and toy available, and they want no one to stand in their way.

Those who are power-hungry are simply toddlers. You can tell by their tantrums, their screaming, their raging, their demands to get whatever they want, and everyone else can just shut up.

The first time one of my toddlers screamed at me in a fit of fury to “shut up!” I was at first astonished, then I burst out laughing. My toddler responded by screaming more and more, until I put her into time out so that I could try to stop laughing.

Worryingly, adults who demand power and influence, and throw tantrums when the don’t get it, are much harder to put in a chair in the corner. Nor are they nearly as funny. I rarely find myself laughing anymore.

I’m deeply concerned that someday they may get exactly what they want, through their manipulative bullying tactics. And the last thing they’re going to be concerned with is their responsibility to others. They want the power to serve themselves.

Such “toddlers” in power would be a terrifying thing. That’s why we all need to act like grown ups and not give in to the tantrums around us.

“If they can’t manipulate me—and they’re discovering quickly that I’m no Stumpy—then they’re going to discredit me and try a new tactic. Call me paranoid, but since I don’t know who’s working for whom—and if anyone is actually on my side besides the enlisted men who I bribe with snacks—I can’t trust anyone,” Pere confided.

“Oh,” Relf said, his voice small. “That’s why you didn’t want me to speak until we got home.”

“Exactly. There are spies everywhere, son. Walking casually past, following a few steps behind, waiting in a shrub. It’s also why I don’t employ servants, or want to move into a larger home where we would need servants. Trust no one, Relf, not even your servants. They’ll bring you your meal with a smile one day then stab you in the heart the next.”

“Pere!” Banu exclaimed. “That’s not fair! My friend is a servant.”

“And maybe we’ll employ her when all of this mess calms down. Until then, I stand by what I say, Relf. If not the servant, then the relative or friend of one. Remember that anyone in power is a target for anyone without power.”

~The Walls in the Middle of Idumea, available now on Amazon and here

Remaining in the background when things aren’t right isn’t right at all (Sneak peek into the prequel)

 

“You’re disappointed in me,” Pere concluded. “Well, it won’t be the last time, I’m sure. Being a commander, or even an adult, doesn’t mean we know always what’s right. We have to trust the nudges to do what we believe is right. And I think as long as you try to do the right thing, it will eventually turn out. It’s when you stop caring or don’t want to get involved and let anything happen—that’s when everything crumbles. General Stumpy was lazy and selfish. He allowed for all kinds of injustices and cruelty to flourish. The only example I have to follow is his; whatever he would do, I try to do the opposite. It’s all I’ve got.” ~The Walls in the Middle of Idumea

Too often I’ve publicly offended others who have come after me online–publicly and privately. And because I’m extremely non-confrontational (oh, how I wish I were like Mahrree!) I retreat, and decide to hide in the corner of my closet where I can never say or do anything stupid ever again.

Obviously I’ve not done well with self-banishment, because I’m still here. (Each self-imposed exile lasts no more than three days, because I can’t keep still.)

Lately, though, I’ve realized that retreat is selfish, feeling sorry for myself when I’m “picked on” is childish, and lurking in the background when things just aren’t right isn’t right at all. 

Someone has to say something; someone has to gently, kindly, firmly even stand up and say, “No. I cannot agree to this and will not submit to that.” Maybe because it’s the stories my parents told me of growing up in Nazi Germany are haunting me again, or it’s the examples of bullying and name-calling in the holocaust novel I teach my 10th graders, but increasingly I’m seeing the need for us to stand firm in our beliefs, to let people know what we think, and, if nothing more, demonstrate for others that we will not be intimidated.

Recently on a group discussion online I saw a woman relay something that happened in her church that alarmed her. She immediately wrote, “Not to say that this is wrong . . .” And honestly, I don’t know what she said after that because I HAD to write: “No, this IS wrong, and we shouldn’t be afraid to stand up and say so!”

Immediately I worried that I might offend, but I thought, No–I shouldn’t be afraid, either! Within minutes the response to my comment was overwhelming–in the affirmative. Comment after comment said the same thing, citing scriptures to back up what incorrect thing had been allowed to happen in the church, and the original woman who posted finally chimed in, after 50 responses with, “Thank you! I thought this was wrong, but I just wasn’t sure and I didn’t dare say anything. But now I will.”

It’s when we stop speaking out, stop standing up, and worry too much about offending the perpetually offended, that’s when it will all fall apart. 

It may still all crumble someday, but not because we didn’t say something about it. 

But I don’t think so. I think there will always remain pockets of strength that will withstand the oncoming anger (and, I beginning to suspect more and more, a future civil war) because we will be standing strong together.

New prequel is now available! Click on the image below to get it on Amazon, or read it here.

Walls BOOK RELEASE1

I know it’s scary; do it anyway.

This is my mantra, because I am a coward, always have been.

Yet I recently found myself sitting in Logan Airport in Boston, MA and realized I’d gotten there all by myself which, just a few years ago, would have been impossible.

I’m scared of traveling because too many things can go wrong.

I hate new things in general, like moving to new cities because I don’t know where the grocery store is, I don’t know how to set up my house, and my kids have no friends. And new states? Oh, even worse!

I dread starting new jobs because I worry my ineptitude will disappoint others.

All I’ve ever wanted is to hide in a corner and live a small, quiet life. I wanted to get married, get a house, and never go anywhere again.

To recall an old metaphor, I’m a ship most comfortable in the harbor.

Which is exactly why God shoves me out, wailing and flailing, because nothing ever happens where it’s safe.

I did get married over thirty years ago, and did get a house, and then another one, and another one, and another one . . . all together we’ve moved 15+ times (three times in eleven months’ time in 2017-2018). With every moved I clenched my muscles for months until I had boxes unpacked and figured out the new grocery stores. Understanding the new city or state could take years and I never feel completely at “home.”

We’ve also traveled all over the country, with up to eight children in tow, often camping and even flying, which means I’m constantly counting heads and bags. I once had a panic attack before taking off in a plane, and only because my husband was petting my back like a cat did I not leap to my feet and cry out, “WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!” (Since that was shortly after 9/11, the incident would have likely banned me from flying.)

But I’m different now.

My anxiety is greatly diminished, my fears held in check, my confidence stronger.

Medication? Nope.
Therapy? Not really.
Living in that secure corner of the basement? Not always.

So what changed?

Just over two years ago, my husband who was working in Maine told me I needed to visit him and realize this was where we were moving to. I hadn’t flown since that panic attack years ago, and had never alone. I was so terrified that I asked some people in my neighborhood to pray with me and for me. I drove in a blizzard to the Salt Lake City airport at 5 am chanting calming ditties like, “I won’t die, I won’t die, please don’t let me die.”

And I didn’t die. I made it.

And I flew again home four days later.

But everything I worried about going wrong did: my flight out of Bangor was cancelled because of mechanical issues so I had to wait 12 hours for another plane.

Then that flight got delayed because of snow, and in Philadelphia my plane was overbooked so I volunteered to wait for another flight taking off hours later. (My itinerary was shot to heck by then anyway.) That flight went to Texas and got in late which meant I was running full tilt in Dallas/Ft. Worth trying to find my connection. My new mantra was, “Crap, I’m lost! Crap, I’m lost! Crap, I’m lost!”

But I got to my plane with a whole three minutes to spare. When I finally landed in Salt Lake City—and in more snow—it was 2 am and I was so exhausted that I stopped halfway home and pulled over in a dark road to sleep in a freezing car for an hour, all by myself.

I reached home about 26 hours later than originally planned. But I survived and netted $500 from the airline for giving up my seat. I felt strangely triumphant.

I had realized that I could face problems and actually work through them. This little ship that I am (ok, rather a tubby tug boat) made it through the storm, rather late and very tired, but successfully.

That’s when I began to notice the change: I don’t need to fear and worry during stressful situations—I need to work through and overcome them.

Running away from scary situations doesn’t work.
Running through them does.

And then we moved to Maine—our third cross-country move. The first two long-distance moves were incredibly difficult, made worse by traveling with newborns, but I learned what worked and didn’t work. In fact, this third move driving for six days was, dare I say it—enjoyable? (The youngest child was six, which made everything much easier.)

I was glad that I hadn’t avoided those earlier scarier moves. I didn’t stubbornly stay in the harbor and declare, “I’m not going!” I confess I shed tears about leaving—in the past and this most recent move—and I needed friends’ and family’s help to get going. But we eventually succeeded.

And then in 2017 I took on a new job—teaching high school.

For the first three months I kept thinking, “It’s too hard, I’m too incompetent, every day is a new surprise. My gut is in constant knots, my tachycardiac heart is at 120 bpm every day, and I’m exhausted by 7 pm, but I still have lesson plans to write. It’s going to break me.”
Then I decided, “I’ll quit over Christmas vacation—they’ll have time to find a replacement.”
Then, “I’ll quit at the semester break in January.”
Then, “I’ll quit at February break.”
Then, “I’ll quit at April break . . . Wait, the school year’s over in less than two months . . . Can I actually finish?”

I did finish. And I didn’t break.

In fact, I didn’t even flinch when they asked if I wanted to come back for the next year. I’d already been planning how to rearrange my classroom and redo lesson plans.

I didn’t run away from the stress; I ran through it.

I didn’t stay safe in the harbor; I headed out into rough seas and am surviving and even occasionally enjoying myself. (And yes, I’ve been out on a lobster boat–twice–so I’m practically an expert on the ocean, thank you very much.)

Earlier this week I headed out alone again: drove two hours, then took a bus for four hours, then flew from Boston to Philadelphia to Roanoke, VA to visit my daughter and her family.

I didn’t even start stressing about the trip until two days earlier, and even then the stress was minimal, as in, “I need to do laundry and get my husband a freezer full of meals . . . nah, he can just take the kids to McDonald’s.”

I’m still a coward, but I do what scares me anyway. I think of the scripture where God declares that He will “give unto men weakness that they may be humble . . . if they humble themselves before me . . . then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

I’ve been very weak, and God’s making me stronger.
But what if I ran away from every challenge? What if I quit too soon?
Then I’d still be a terrified, paralyzed nothing in the corner basement of my first house.

But now it’s been five states, half a dozen houses, thousands of adventures—and none of that would have happened had I stubbornly stayed in that safe harbor.
I’m still scared of the rough oceans but now I’ve also learned to enjoy them.

And I haven’t drowned yet.

And neither will you.

scary do it anyway

She shamed my copper bottom pots, and now I see how everything can be so much better

It took Zelda at my church inadvertently shaming my copper bottom pots to help me realize that often we live lower than we should.

It started when we were cleaning up after a meal at our church. In the corner had sat a copper-bottom pot, unclaimed for months. Zelda picked it up and frowned. “Disgraceful! Look at the bottom of this. I’ve had my Revere Ware for 50 years and it still looks as good as the day I got it.”

I swallowed. It wasn’t my pot, but my bottom was even more tarnished. (My pot, that is.)

“That’s not how it’s supposed to look?” I meekly asked.

Zelda turned on me as if I’d just confessed to eating baby monkeys. “Good gravy, no! A little elbow grease, a little maintenance, and it should stay shiny for a century. This could be much better!”

I didn’t know that.

I went home and looked at my pots—three of them—that I’ve owned for 30 years. Not shiny.

20181027_103742

I didn’t realize this wasn’t normal.

Her words hung above me for days. This could be much better.

So one Saturday morning, I went to work on my bottoms. (The pots, that is.) After half an hour of scrubbing, Comet, vinegar, baking soda, and steel wool I was astonished to realize that, daggum, my pot could be much better.

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In my sink, with baking soda and vinegar and only about 10 minutes of work.

I did the next two pots, and a relatively short time I had wiped out decades of neglect.

In the month since I’ve cleaned my pots, I’ve been much more diligent about keeping them clean. It takes all of 30 seconds each time I wash them.

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So THAT color is copper! I’d forgotten.

That got me thinking of how many other tasks we let get away from us, then decide in quiet despair that there simply isn’t a better way, that life is always this tarnished, or dirty, or hopeless.

It’s not.

What if we spent an hour trying to make something better? Just one hour? Instead of going online to complain how someone shamed us (Zelda didn’t mean to, she’s a lovely lady whom I love dearly), what if we get to work fixing things instead?

Over the years I’ve discovered how much can be done in an hour–a filthy garage swept, a disorganized storage room straightened, an overgrown flowerbed weeded, a moldy shower scrubbed—and always after I think, Why didn’t I do this earlier? Why did I put this off for weeks, months, years? (It was a REALLY awful shower.)

I’ve been applying this idea to bigger things: the books I’ve put off writing, the education I neglected to finish, other issues that I don’t feel like confessing here . . . I spend a little time here and there, step away from the TV or the social media and instead do something productive, and every time—every stinking time!—I think, “Everything is so much better now when I do this! Why don’t I do this every day?”

Brigham Young once said that, “we live far beneath our privileges.” I think this partly means we often forget that we can improve many situations we think are unchangeable, that we frequently forget that we’re Children of God who are destined to far greater things than fiddling with mere trifles and wasting precious time.

The interesting thing is, as we fix something small–like a copper bottom pot–we see what great improvements to our mental and emotional health small measures can make, and we start to look for more ways to begin to live up to our privileges. It’s addicting, a natural high. (My kids can tell when I’m really depressed because I’ll get on my hands and knees and scrub a floor. An hour later, it sparkles and my brain is flooded with natural dopamine. Unfortunately for my floors, I’m not frequently that depressed.)

School’s canceled today because of snow. That means I have time to tackle problems that yesterday I thought were unfixable. At the end of the day–at the end of an hour!– everything will seem a little brighter.

Leave for a better life

Defensiveness arises when we suspect we may be wrong

In my experience, those who become defensive and angry in a discussion are those who aren’t sure their position is correct.

They respond with anger when they’re afraid of being found out, when they’re afraid they might be wrong.

That’s always been a good reminder for me when I find my ire raising: something’s not right with my thinking, and it’s up to me to fix it; it’s not up to me to attack someone else.

When in the history of the world has attacking someone with an opposite point of view brought them around to agreement?

disrespectful to tell the truth

Admit it–you want unpredictability and challenges!

Ever have one of those years when everything changes on you?

And does it seem that it happens every year?

Yeah, me too. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no such thing as “regular” life, that the “good old days” when life was predictable and easy never in fact existed, that when we long for the stability of the past, we’re really longing for a fantasy that never happened.

And why would we want a quiet, dull existence? Isn’t the unpredictability of our lives what makes it worth living? The daily challenges that push us, the nightly flopping into bed with a quiet but triumphant, “Survived another day!” that invigorates us to exhaustion and new determination? Don’t we want that, crave that?

I had two dull days this past year.

I couldn’t wait for them to be over. (And I’ll probably regret writing this . . .)

People aren't as clever as they hope they are

The Forest at the Edge of My Yard (or, whatever you’re asked to sacrifice will eventually be no sacrifice at all)

My past forests have been pathetic. In 2015 when we lived in Utah,  I wanted a real forest  even though we lived in a desert. I was in the middle of writing this series and it seemed wrong that I didn’t have a real Forest at the Edge of my yard.

side view of forest

This was it–our “huge” forest. (And the pine tree died the next year. Typical.)

So we created one that summer in the name of xeriscaping, and I documented it in a blog. I even slashed an aspen to see how the markings the Shins left in the forests might look, and I used that tree as the teaser for Book 6.

book 6 teaser front cover

See the lovely scars of black under the W?

Only two short years later I sold that house and mourned the loss of my little forest.

I didn’t realize that God would compensate my sacrifice, and in a grand manner. Now, this is the Forest at the Edge of My Yard in Maine:

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(Morning from the back porch.)

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(Sunset on aspens slightly larger than what I had in Utah.)

This compared to what I left behind last year? There’s no comparison.

We don’t own this land, but my husband’s job allows us to live here and wander in acres of old forests. I just need a geyser somewhere to make my life complete.

I write this as a witness to you that whatever God asks you to sacrifice, it will be only temporary. We’ve left homes we’ve built, we’ve said good-bye to friends and family, we’ve given up jobs and dreams.

Then we’ve been granted new homes, additional friends, ways to see our family, better jobs, and grander dreams.

In fact, if we hadn’t sacrificed what we thought was good, we never would have been granted what was far better. 

But first we had to be willing to give up what we didn’t want to, without knowing what might come later.

That’s immensely difficult: to have enough faith in a different future to walk away from a good present; to find enough hope to believe that what comes next will be worth the current loss. But as someone who has “given up” a few houses, a couple of careers, a lot of friends (but thanks to Facebook they’re not entirely gone), and some big dreams, I have seen–time and time again–that what I’m eventually given in return was well worth the sacrifice.

No real sacrifice HORIZONTAL

In fact, all of our sacrifices have turned out not to be sacrifices at all, but instead were the means to leading us to far richer lives.

“I won’t do it!” said another man in the crowd. “I won’t leave behind everything we’ve worked so hard to build. And not just for me, but for my congregation, my family, my neighbors—I can’t just abandon all that we have.”

“Why not?” Mahrree said.

A man in the middle shouted, “Why not? Do you have any idea how hard it is to start again?”

“As a matter of fact, I do!” Mahrree told him, and nearly grinned as she realized how perfectly the Creator had prepared her for this moment. “I know exactly what it’s like to leave a home I love, to leave books that I considered my closest friends, to say good-bye to memories, possessions, the graves of all those I loved, and to have nothing more than the clothing on my back to walk to a future that I knew nothing about.”

The crowd was silent as she continued. They’d heard her story before in her class, but not told quite like this. Today, it was more than just history.

“Twenty-seven years ago I came to Salem, nervous and at times terrified as to what I would find. All I knew was that the Creator told us to go, and in faith I went. Not blindly, because every previous time I followed His plan, He was right.

“I ran through the forest in the darkest night I’ve ever seen, with hazards on either side, the army right behind me, and a lightning storm before me. But I came out of it safely and my faith stronger than ever. And then I came to Salem, which was a far greater life than I could’ve ever imagined. Now, none of that would have happened if I had said to the Creator, ‘No thanks—I think I’ll just handle the army on my own.’ I realize you’re worried, but staying here and fighting is far more terrifying than trusting in the Creator!

“Soon I’ll be making that journey again,” Mahrree’s voice threatened to quaver but she held it strong. “But I know that whatever sacrifice the Creator asks of me, He will reward me again a hundred times over.

“So what if you lose your homes? Your flocks and property which you don’t even own? Isn’t the risk of losing your souls worse? There’s a saying in the world: It doesn’t matter how you begin the race but how you end it. How tragic it’d be if you’ve spent your entire lives living as the Creator wanted you to, then now, at the very end of the race, you jump off the path and ignore all that you’ve been taught? Why fail the Plan now?”

Mahrree knew she was saying the right things. Her chest burned and she felt such energy she could have flown right off the small tower. She watched their eyes as she spoke. So many were hardened and impenetrable, but others’ eyes were softening.

“How do you know this isn’t His plan?” one man demanded. “This can’t be it—”

“How can it NOT be it?” Mahrree shouted, throwing her hands in the air. “Have all of you missed the signs? Land tremors! Deceit awakened! Famine in the world! Now the army marching upon the Creator’s chosen? THIS IS IT, PEOPLE!”

~Book 8, The Last Day, available HERE on Amazon, or HERE as a pdf. download, or HERE on Smashwords.

Book 8 FRONT COVER

Is your life going exactly as you expected it would? Same here. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Not what I expected BOOK 8 teaser HORIZONTAL

I hate surprises, procrastination, and not knowing how things will work out. So I plan for every contingency and emergency, and STILL God finds the one (or likely millions) of scenarios I didn’t anticipate and throws that one at me leaving me to think, “Why didn’t I see that coming?!”

And that sums up life, I’ve realized.

How many of you are living exactly as you expected you would? With all your family, financial, and employment goals achieved?

Yeah, same here.

Yet how many of you, if given the opportunity, would go back and reverse all the unexpected twists in your life?

I used to think I would, but now I realize I wouldn’t. Everything good and bad and perplexing has worked to shape me into the person I am right now, and I like who I might finally become.

The unexpected is good, in a long, roundabout way.

Speaking of the unexpected, I’ve heard back from a lot of you about the ending of Book 8. So far no one has said, “That’s exactly what I thought would happen.” (Which is a huge relief because I did NOT want to write a predictable story!)

To be honest, a lot of how the story went caught me off-guard as well. Trying to avoid a spoiler here, but about Lemuel and Perrin? That smacked me upside the head and added an unexpected layer of insight and depth that I didn’t know was coming. I didn’t set out to write the story that way, and that’s why writing this has been so darn fun.

Nor did I expect how eagerly you snatched up the book when it came out. You threw The Last Day to “Bestseller” status–thank you!

Best Selling Book 8 24 hours after release

I’m also happy to report that The Last Day is now available in paperback for $16.65, and for free on Smashwords. In fact, the ENTIRE SERIES is on Smashwords and for free!

I never expected to write this series, never expected to find so many new friends as readers, and never expected to have a little bit of success.

I guess being surprised every now and then is acceptable.

Yes, I know I’m writing these books wrong, but I don’t care. (plus a sneak peek to Book 8)

Over the years I’ve been told by critics that:

  • I wrote my books “wrong” (whatever that means);
  • That that my series wouldn’t be “successful” (by whose standards?) because it wasn’t like other people’s books series;
  • That if I really wanted to be popular (why would I want that much attention?!) I needed to change x, y, z and rewrite the whole thing;
  • And my biggest problem, I’ve been told by a few, is that my books don’t fit neatly into one particular genre. Didn’t I know I was supposed to write to conform to what’s already out there?

Yes, I knew I was doing it “wrong.”
But I didn’t care.

I wanted to write something that I wanted to read (selfish, yes—but it’s my time I’m investing in this project). I wanted to do something different, unpredictable, and not easily shoved into some neat little box.

Deciding not to conform is what made writing this series so much fun.

I took inspiration from J. R. R. Tolkien who wrote a huge fantasy series when no one else was, and he didn’t even know if anyone would read it, but that was ok because he loved what he was doing.

I also took inspiration from Terry Pratchett whose Discworld doesn’t follow any order or even scientific laws, but he didn’t care because he loved what he was doing.

I certainly don’t class myself with those two, but I sit on the sidelines and point, saying, “See? They did what they wanted—so can I!”

And so can you.
Who cares what you’re “supposed” to do? It’s your life—try something different.

I’ve been at this book series for over eight years now: has it been “successful”?

Yes, because I’ve never had so much fun in my entire life! I’ve researched, studied, learned, developed, and accomplished more than I ever thought I could. That, I believe, is success.

Some want to measure success in money and numbers, but those are meaningless to me because I make my books as free as possible, and whatever revenue I do make each month I donate to charity. As for numbers, I don’t know how many books have been downloaded on other venues, but I know that on Amazon a couple of months ago it was around 70,000 downloads. Is that a “successful” number? I have no idea. I’ve never bothered to find out.

You’ve heard it a hundred times before: be yourself, don’t follow everyone else, be your own drummer, don’t copy everyone else . . .
But hear it one more time: noncomformity is too much fun to pass up.

“She always said exactly what she thought, and she didn’t care how others took it. She only wanted to say what she was sure was right, even if she might be wrong.”

~Book 8, The Last Day, coming summer 2018

BOOK 8 teaser HORIZONTAL say what you want

Sneak peek book 8: Anyone else clean a home to say “good-bye” or am I the only weird one who negotiates with houses?

Nothing is quite as melancholy as cleaning out an empty house. Again. Alone.

Last night as I scrubbed another kitchen sink for the last time I thought of how many times I’ve cleaned out a house as I moved from it.
Apartments: 3
Houses I’ve owned: 5
Houses I’ve rented: 6

Last night was the 15th kitchen sink in 30 years. (Three times in the past year alone!)

This farmhouse in Whitneyville, ME is now added to the list of “Places where we once lived.”

It was for a good reason: we were in our cute rental house for only nine months instead of three or more years as we planned because my husband has a new job at his school, and we get to live on campus now. It’s a fantastic opportunity.

Still, it’s a melancholy thing to remove, room-by-room, floor-by-floor all evidence that we once called a place “home.” Slowly, the new place becomes “home,” but it takes a few weeks for me to feel comfortable enough to sleep deeply (why I dislike vacations—I can never sleep in strange places).

The new house and I have to come to some understanding, establish some terms, tell each other our secrets before we fully accept each other.

(Does anyone else feel this way, or am I the only one who feels the house is a slightly sentient being with whom one must negotiate living with?)

This is why leaving is also difficult, even if the move is welcomed. Piece by piece I pull myself from that house, extricate our existence, leave it alone and lonely again. Another family will move in, put their mark upon it, but not entirely: each house I leave, I seem to pull a strand from it and layer it in my psyche. The new family never gets that part. Every home is still in my head, never fully left. The house will forget me, in time, but I haven’t let any of them go entirely.

That’s also why I clean each place as fully and deeply as time allows. (And not just to get back my deposit.) In the past, I’ve needed help: sometimes I had a new baby and/or lots of little children and was overwhelmed, or I was on a deadline and had to get out before the new owners arrived, or our plane/truck needed to leave for the next place.

Once, there was no deadline because the house had been condemned, but we lived in the leaky, infested place anyway until our situation stabilized and we had a new house.

virginia house

The old, condemned house we lived in Virginia in 2001. There’s a parking lot there now.

Even though that house was to be demolished, I still swept the floors as we left. Not out of pride, but out of gratitude. It let us live there, even though it was dying, and it allowed our family of eight to be together again since we’d been apart from my husband for six months.

I didn’t bother vacuuming the molding carpet in the kitchen, though, or wipe down the perpetually slimy bathroom sink, but I swept the floors as a thank you, so it could be clean one last time before the bulldozer came.

Late last night as I wiped down the new white country sink in the 1870s Mainer farmhouse, my phone started to play Dr. Who’s “A Dazzling End.” I nearly laughed, then nearly cried.

This morning I’m fully in another house. Built in the 1970s, it looks like a typical New England house on the outside with cedar shingles, but on the inside it reminds me of an alpine chalet, and a part of me feels like I’m living in a lodge in Yellowstone—my favorite place on earth. (I’m not posting a lot of pictures because we’re still in boxes everywhere. Suffice it to say our cat approves of the open balcony and natural cat walks.)

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For now, this house and I are still making friends with each other, trying to figure out where everything goes. Some year I’ll clean its sink for the last time, too. But for now I can’t bother to think about how long this gets to be “home” and where the next one some year will be. My back’s too achy and my hands are too dry from scrubbing, and I’m done!

“Where’s Mahrree?” Shem asked.

“She’s hiding in the house, cleaning things,” Jaytsy gestured. “She doesn’t want to face the horses, and she also doesn’t want to leave a dirty house this afternoon.”

Noria and Calla nodded in understanding, but Shem waved his arms in disbelief. “I’ll never understand that. Who’s going to see the house?”

Calla patted him. “It has nothing to do with pride, but everything to do with gratitude. The house is being thanked for its service to us. We just want our houses to feel . . . clean. Before the soldiers do whatever they’ll do to them.”

~Book 8, The Last Day, coming this summer . . . after I’ve finished moving again.