The chapter may be ending, but the book keeps going

Since last summer, I’ve felt I’ve been dying a slow death. We’re in the long process of moving cross country in June, but not until some major events in our family occur: a granddaughter born, a daughter off to college and back again, a son marrying, another son returning home.

I find myself looking at every day, every activity, and morbidly thinking, “This may be the last time that we ever . . .”

Miserable.

However, God isn’t pleased when I mope, and I’ve discovered Him slipping ideas into my head, such as, “Yes, but you’ve done that so many times, don’t you want to do something new?”

As I get book 6 ready to send out to my beta readers this week (yes, that means it’ll be revised and released in late spring!) I’m realizing that life is a number of chapters, but still all one book. I’ve had many chapters which could be called Childhood, High School, College, Husband and College, Small Children and More College, The Riverton House, The Maryland Year, The Virginia Years, The South Carolina Months, The Idaho Falls Months, The Hyrum House.

I rather expected that The Hyrum House chapter would take another 20 years. The house isn’t my favorite that we’ve owned, but the neighborhood, the views, and the rural location with access to big cities certainly is.

Everything was nearly perfect. Which, naturally, meant that God said, “Time to shake things up a bit.”

That shaking is making everything fall apart. Our family will be scattered, and we’ll be too far away from our adult kids and grandchildren to see them on a regular basis. Since we actually enjoy each other’s company, that’s a bit of a heartache.

That’s when I scowl at this chapter ending and think, “I’m starting to hate this book.”

Because surely the next chapter can’t fix anything, right? We’ve had a few chapters that I really didn’t like, and the photo albums from those years are never touched. I was grateful to slam the book on those pages when they were over.

(By the way, fair warning to my beta readers: there’s a chapter in Book 6 that you will hate. Maybe two. Ok, likely three. Three chapters you will want to slam the book on. But remember–the story’s not over yet.)

But other chapters, I let my mind revisit and enjoy them, but also find something odd happening: I don’t want to necessarily relive them. I was happy for that time, but there’s no going back, thank goodness.

I’ve never understood people who miss high school, even into their older years, wishing vainly they could go back to those glory days. Sure, there were good times, but aren’t there good ones coming, too?

It’s those little thoughts, that prodding from Above, that remind me it’s ok to bring this chapter of my life to a close. God knows that I get restless with stagnancy. That once I’ve worked on a project for a few months or years, I begin to look around for something new. When a job no longer is a challenge, I need a new one. (This book series has been the longest I’ve ever spent on a project, because it continues to challenge me every day.)

While I crave stability, I have to confess to myself, and my husband, that I don’t exactly mind that he changes jobs every few years, that my mind begins to feel claustrophobic in the same place, and while my anxiety disorder causes me to clench in fear at change, that trapped part of my head is screaming, “Lemme out!”

(Brains are messy places.)

It’s when I’ve memorized the street signs, the aisles at the grocery store, how long it takes to get to the pizza place, that I find myself simultaneously thinking, “How nice that I know that so well. That makes me feel secure. Now I’m bored. What’s new?”

So it’s with equal parts of excitement and dread that I watch the last few months of our Hyrum Chapter play out, that I remind myself that it’s still part of my book, that it’s shaped our characters in unforgettable ways, and that we take it with us wherever we go.

And I try to remind myself that the next chapter will also be interesting in unexpected ways, and that I very well may look back years from now upon our new Maine Years chapter, think, “Oh, but that was the best one yet!”

(I just barely looked at the date–which I haven’t done in days–and realized that yesterday was the anniversary of my mom’s death, three years ago. And yet, even her story still continues . . .)

Perrin quietly shut the door behind him and ran his hand along it. As soon as he let go of it, that would be the end—

He felt Mahrree squeeze his other hand, and she reached back and touched the door as well. “I’m sure they have oak where we’re going,” she whispered, and let her hand slide down the door.

And Perrin removed his, clasping it into a fist. He gripped her hand tightly as he whispered in her ear, “Come Mrs. Terryp. Let’s find our new world.”

And neither of them looked back.

~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

Disconnectedness was marvelous! Now, how do I keep it up?

The past few weeks of holidays and visiting family and minor emergencies of illness and injuries and broken-down cars and blizzards has meant that I’ve been much less connected from the world than usual. Without time to edit Book 6 (which I’m actively doing again right now, never fear) I wasn’t on my laptop nearly as much, which meant that when I needed to take a break, or look up a reference, I wasn’t trolling the internet seeing what nonsense has been going on.

And it was . . . marvelous.

Think about it—to not know what irked thousands of people that hour? To miss the tantrums over nothing? To skip seeing who all was offended or marginalized or thought everyone else in the country is too pampered and here’s a thousand reasons why?

Delightful!

For those few weeks of less-connectedness, I was at peace, even though I was fending off massive whirlwinds of worry.

But not worrying about the world and its opinions was . . . heaven.

not-worry-about-the-world-heaven

Now those weeks are over, and now I’m back to hard-core laptopping, and I find myself pulled stupidly back into the discussions, the comments, the articles, the self-righteousness in every corner, and I wonder . . . How do I regain that lovely peace I had so recently?

I know part of my problem: FOMO—Fear Of Missing Out. I’m a recovering news hound, desperate to know everything that’s happening everywhere, because if I don’t know what’s happening, how can I be prepared for what may (and likely may not) happen to my family in the future?

I also have an obsession with reading everything that crosses my way. In the car, I glance at every billboard, every street sign, even graffiti. My eyes have to take it all in. It’s even worse when I’m on social media. Every blasted headline, word, image, comment, etc. I feel compelled to read. I’ve been like this since kindergarten: someone took the time to write it, I need to honor their efforts to read it.

It sounds noble, but it’s utterly absurd.

So I’m sincerely asking: how do you train your mind to hold back the avalanche of too much information, especially when you work on a computer every day? How do you discipline yourself to look to see only if your daughter responded to your message, and not get caught up in a circular debate elsewhere about what constitutes religious persecution?

I don’t have a smart phone, blessedly, otherwise I’d be on overload all the time. We also don’t have cable/dish/TV, but watch only Netflix and Amazon Prime, which gives us a great deal of control over what never gets into our house.

But that blasted laptop, which is my best friend and confidante, is also like a gossipy fishwife, tempting me with news about some frivolous or important issue (don’t know until I’ve read it), or some images of an awesome volcanic eruption (which I need to show my volcano-obsessed son) or something stupid some celebrity said (I don’t know what actress said at whatever award ceremony, nor do I want to; the only celebrity news I ever pay attention to has to deal with Star Wars or Harry Potter alum).

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Lappy, I both love you and resent you because you enable my worst habits. Fie you. Never leave me!

I’ve narrowed down my problems to Facebook (I don’t understand Twitter, I’m too old to “get” the other social media pages, I limit myself to visiting only 10 posts on Pinterest and go there ONLY if I have a legitimate need, and I have a Google Plus account that I visit maybe once a year, which seems that’s as often as anyone else visits Google Plus) and a couple of news forums (or those pretending to be, like Yahoo).

Oh, but they call to me. And I feel guilty if I don’t know what they’re crying about, or what’s happening with them, as if I’m doing something wrong by not being connected, as if I owe it to the world to join in the melee.

But then I’m annoyed with myself for falling for their inane click-bait titles, or wasting precious time on someone’s ill-thought-out tirade.

So tell me—how do you decrease your involvement in nonsense so that you can be more connected to the real sense of world of home and family and neighborhood instead?

How have you pulled heaven a bit more to earth?

I desperately want that. (And yes, I’m realizing that my posts for 2017 so far have consisted of asking for advice; this may be a new trend since I’m not clever enough to come up with something earth-shattering each week.)

“There’s nothing in this world I want anymore,” Perrin said. “Nothing except to take my family and leave it.”

~Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn

How do you teach your kids—and yourself—responsibility? My successes and failures, resulting in house-elfness.

Parents, I have a question: when do you show mercy and rescue a child, or when do you let them suffer with an unforgettable lesson?

How do you teach responsibility without potentially damaging your child?

That’s a quandary that plagues me nearly every day. I give you Exhibit A, my youngest daughter, age 9. Yesterday she asked blithely, “Where’s my coat?” as she was getting ready to walk to school in 17-degree weather.

That’s not what a mom wants to hear, that a coat’s missing. “Did you hang it up like you’re supposed to?” I asked, with an appropriate amount of nagging inflection.

“No,” she said, a bit indignant. “I brought it home, all wet, from playing in the snow at my friend’s house yesterday. It’s in that . . . bag . . . right . . . there.” Her voice became very quiet as she realized that house elves don’t work here, and that she hadn’t told me that her soaked coat had spent the night growing colder nowhere near the laundry room.

i-am-not-a-house-elf

Because I was on my way out the door to take my college-aged daughter to catch her bus back to school, I hastily threw the coat into the dryer, set the timer for 25 minutes for when my youngest had to leave, and hoped for the best.

I was torn between hoping her coat would be snuggly warm for her brisk walk to school three blocks away (I usually drive her on mornings like this), and hoping it’d still be a bit wet and cold to teach that girl a lesson in responsibility.

And then I spent the next few hours wondering, What would be the best outcome?

How do you know when to rescue a child from their irresponsibility, and when to let them flounder?

Somewhere along the lines I must have done something right with my oldest daughter, Exhibit B. She is so over-the-top responsible that she’s prepared for every contingency. As a freshman in college, she had an emergency food supply while other students were trying to scavenge pizzas from dumpsters at night, and under her bed she stored dozens of bottles of water, “just in case.” And the girl never ran out of toilet paper.

Growing older has only firmed that. On New Year’s Eve last week, she came up with her two little ones so we could go shopping while grandpa babysat. As she brought in a huge overnight bag, she began to apologize. “I know—we’re staying only a few hours, and the drive is only two hours, but what if the snowstorm comes in early? What if we’re stranded here, or in the car?” She had changes of clothes for all of them, extra bottles and formula for her baby, additional cuppies for her toddler, and snacks.

But I said, “This is what moms do: anticipate disasters. Prepare for the worst. Coming to the rescue for your babies is what you’re supposed to do.”

I was pondering this rescuing attitude as I drove with my middle daughter to her bus stop. At what age should the rescuing stop? Or at least be curtailed to allow the child to find solutions themselves?

My daughter mentioned that two of her roommates had gone back to school the night before and each had texted her with the same message: “I forgot my key. When are you coming back?”

I began to scoff sadly, thinking about those poor, freezing college girls assuming that naturally someone else would be responsible enough to unlock their apartment. Someone else would save them from the predicament they chose not to prepare for . . .

Until I spun around in my seat in the van and asked my daughter, “You have your key, right?”

She smiled smugly. “Of course I do.”

Whew. Thank you, Exhibit C. (By the way, her roommates were rescued by an aunt who lived in the area and brought them to her house for the night, since the apartment mangers were out of town.)

Before I could become too prideful that I’d taught this daughter right as well–at least to remember apartment keys–I remembered that she was the one I accidently left at a Target in Roanoke, Virginia when she was six, and has never let me forget it.

(All of her siblings said she was in the van! I swear it! I went right back again to get her! And I found her with a security guard eating popcorn as she sobbed! How often do I have to apologize for being irresponsible and trusting her four older siblings who swore she was in the vehicle?!)

(She’s also the child who nearly drowned in a high mountain lake when she was 7 without me noticing, and also walked into the deep end of a neighbor’s pool when she was 6, also without me noticing. It’s a miracle she’s made it to 18.)

I realized that this child has been conditioned to expect the worst outcome, to know her mother will be too distracted to realize when she’s in trouble, and that she best take care of herself because mom’s too big of a flake to do so.

So maybe that’s a good thing, letting them flounder in deep, cold water, literally and metaphorically? Look how responsible my middle daughter became because I wasn’t.

(Ok, yeah, that’s a pretty lame argument.)

Now I have to admit that my oldest is so responsible likely not because of anything I taught her, but because we moved around so much when she was growing up, and because I leaned upon her and her sister, only two years younger, so much for assistance. My oldest daughters have become responsible out of necessity.

Survival of the most self-reliant.

So back to my youngest; when I picked up her from school in the afternoon (worried that maybe her coat had been wet, was still wet, and it was only 22 degrees outside and walking home would make her deathly ill, even though I “know” cold weather doesn’t cause a cold because my second daughter who’s a very responsible nursing student will remind me of that fact, every mother knows deep down that yes, cold weather causes colds!), she cheerfully said, “Oh, my coat was toasty warm all the way to school. You should put it in the dryer every morning.”

I didn’t know what to do with that.

Instead of being seen as the kind and thoughtful mother who came up with a solution to make sure she wasn’t cold (rescuing), or my daughter thinking that she should be more accountable and at least tell me when something needs drying and hanging up (teaching responsibility), somehow I’ve been assigned a new task in the mornings of making sure Her Highness’s coat has been adequately warmed in the dryer for half an hour (house-elving).

After being a mom for 26 years, I realize I still don’t know what I’m doing.

How irresponsible of me.

I’m open to your suggestions.

What you really need at Christmas

This Christmas, I’m posting my best gift, early:

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Yes, it’s merely a picture of my husband shoveling the snow this morning. Two days ago he came home from working on the other side of the country. We haven’t seen him since he drove away last summer. (No, I didn’t chase him away. He willingly came back for the holidays, see?)

Over the past six months I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for single parents and the stresses they deal with all by themselves. It seems that each month I had a new little crisis I had to deal with, without another parent to pick up my slack.

But not this week. My sweet hubby got out of bed, looked out the window, and willingly headed out. That means I don’t have to guilt and nag my sons into doing it—Merry Christmas to me!

As he shoveled, I read online about a family whose healthy, college-aged daughter just died unexpectedly in her sleep. About a young husband whose wife and unborn baby recently died in a car accident. About a military family which is facing Christmas without their husband and dad at home, again.

And here I was, taking pictures of my hubby shoveling.

At Christmas we don’t need as much as we think we do. If you’ve got most of, or even all, of your family around you, that’s huge. This year we’ll see everyone except one, but we’ll be able to skype him Christmas afternoon.

But if you don’t have all of your family with you this year, and may never have them again in this lifetime, you most especially need Christmas.

Or, more specifically, He who’s birth we’re trying to celebrate in the middle of the over-scheduled chaos: the Savior.

Bring to Him your heartache. Bring to Him your longing. Bring to Him your anger, and He will give to you the greatest gift that you truly need: Peace of Mind.

Image result for lds jesus

Thank you all for a wonderful year, and may you find and feel that peace that the Savior brings–that lasting peace which tells you that while your life may make no sense right now, it will in the end. Just hold on, believe in Him, and no matter your circumstances, every Christmas will somehow be merry.

In a way, Mahrree felt almost cheated, almost dismayed, for feeling such dejection in the world, and had she only known how swiftly all that loneliness and longing would be swept away—

No, she did know. A small part of her had always known that whatever misery she was enduring would be seem but a small moment in retrospect. The Writings had said so, but it was as if her physical brain couldn’t fathom what her spiritual mind already knew. No wonder her feelings were often in so much conflict.

But now, with the limitations of her mortal mind lifted, suddenly everything was easier. She could remember the sadness, but marvelously she no longer felt it. She held the memories, but none of the pain.

No wonder they called it Paradise.

(Teaser from future book 8; don’t worry, book 6 is coming, very soon. And so will be books 7 and 8!)

5 packing and wrapping tips to add cheer/irritation to your holidays

If you’re like me, you’re up to your shoulders in packages needing to be wrapped and sent. Here are five sure-fire tactics we use every year to add festive cheer (or flagrant irritation) to our Christmas. (Some of these are actually useful.)

  1. Cheetos make a great package filler, the puffed bags a much better (and more tasty) treat than packing peanuts in a package. img_2019But, unlike packing peanuts, I wouldn’t recommend taking them OUT of the bag and pouring them in your package, or you’ll have a very unhappy postal worker at your front door, caked in orange dust, demanding an explanation. (Not that I have any experience with that.)
  2. Disguise obvious gifts like DVDs, video games, and books by slipping them into cracker and cereal boxes. Then revel in the expression on your child’s face as they excitedly open their . . . box of Ritz? img_2032 (But the kids are on to us, knowing that the Chick’n-in-a-Biscuit box always carries DVDs. But not this year; I’m actually giving them boxes of crackers FILLED WITH CRACKERS for Christmas. This will also serve as a test to see if any of my kids actually read my blog.)
  3. Clothing doesn’t need to be put into cereal boxes or purchased gift boxes which then get thrown away. Roll up your items before wrapping, either long-ways or fat-ways to keep the recipients guessing. img_2023(A son living out of state will be most perplexed by the bulky sweaters his brother lovingly ranger-rolled, army style, before wrapping. He’s hoping for something to keep him warm as he rides a bike for miles each day in the cold rain; he’ll instead think he’s getting useless, soft footballs. Ah, the joy of the holiday season. [cue evil laughter])
  4. This one’s more of a warning: If you tormented a child in the past by making a highly-anticipated gift very difficult to unwrap, he WILL remember and exact revenge in the future. img_2027(Yes, hubby—this is a gift for you, every edge taped down securely by your 13-year-old son who has a very long memory. And I’ve had to hide the duct tape from him.)
  5. How do you start traditions like that above? Use packing tape to wrap those gifts you want to take a verrry long time to unwrap, AND (this is the crucial part) hide all the scissors. (But if your house is like mine, the eleven pairs of scissors we own are already all missing, and to cut ribbon we’re searching for box cutters, all of which have also disappeared. We’re now chewing on the curling ribbon for that shabby/chic frayed look.)

Packing tape ensures that we can make Christmas morning last until late afternoon, and brings us one step closer to keeping Christmas going all year round which is what all of us are after anyway.

Now get back to wrapping. Here’s some sounds to give you inspiration (or to make your skin crawl):

Perrin snarled. “Why is this here?”
Peto looked at Jaytsy, who was cringing.
“It’s a gift,” she murmured.
“Who gives gifts like THIS?” Perrin bellowed.
~Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn

(Get your official Forest at the Edge clock here! In the comments type, “Book reader” and I’ll refund you $5.)

The Forest at the Edge official clock! Idumea clock, Administrator clock, Forest Edge clock

Have you ever considered skipping Santa and getting straight to the Savior?

A recent online debate has prompted me to repost this blog I wrote three years ago. As a child I dearly loved Santa, and was deeply pained to learn he was only a story. As a parent, I wondered if there wasn’t another way to avoid that sticky problem. Well, there is, quite a simple one, in fact:

We don’t do Santa at our house.

anti santa

Now, before you label me a killjoy, call social services because I’m a terrible mother, or weep for my children because I’ve lost the Christmas spirit and am destroying the holidays, allow me to explain myself. Then you can start sending the critical responses.

I promise this won’t be a rant such as I once experienced delivered by a woman who was fond of pointing out that the letters in Santa can be rearranged into Satan. (She was also fond of roasting the opossums that wandered into her yard; I never accepted her offer to sample her stew.) This is an explanation of how we’ve chosen to do something more.

We used to do Santa for our three oldest children (who are now in their twenties) when they were younger, but over the years we’ve distanced ourselves from the magic, tricks, and well . . . deceit. Our six younger children never hear us mention Santa, unless we happen to be talking about a town in California.

As a child I dearly wanted to believe in Santa, despite the incongruities of his origin and abilities. I went to the point of analyzing, as thoroughly as my eight-year-old brain would let me, how he did everything in one night (magic dust, with some sort of cool physics involved), who all the other guys in Santa suits were (secret agents, bugged with mikes and recording devices to send the messages to Santa), and where he lived (under the ice cap—and this was many years before “The Santa Clause” movie; they stole my idea). I also concluded that the version of his origins, as told by the claymation TV show “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” was likely the most accurate, primarily because I thought the name Burgermeister Meisterburger was genius.

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(And I also suspected my ancestors looked like Burgermeister Meisterburger.)

I still struggled with aspects of Santa, such as why reindeer seemed a viable mode of transportation, and the fact that Santa’s handwriting looked exactly like my dad’s calligraphy. But I eventually decided that my dad simply changed the tags once the presents arrived because elf writing was illegible.

So it was with utter shock and dismay that I received this news at age nine, casually delivered by my mom: “You know Santa’s not real, right?”

No, I did not!

In fact, I’d wrestled with this so-called truth for years—since I was five, at least—to make sense of a man of magic when I knew—knew—there was no magic.
So the whole Santa-thing was really a trick?
And the entire world was in on it?
What was the point of that?!
Why did all the TV shows and movies and stores and schools and even church, of all places, perpetuate the mythology as truth only to eventually say, “Ha! Fooled you!”

I was devastated. Then I was furious.

What other cherished beliefs from my infancy would be revealed as also hoaxes? For many months I worried that something else, something far more important and vital to my happiness, would also be revealed as a scam.

Fast forward fifteen years, to when my husband and I have a child old enough to know about Santa. Suddenly all those feelings of betrayal rushed me when my husband asked, “So how should we do Santa?”

I didn’t want to! I didn’t want to expose my children to the same beloved stories only to find out later they were merely stories.

But, family and societal pressures told us our children had to have Santa, and who were we to buck tradition? So, for our first three children, we did Santa. Visited him, sent him letters, wrapped the presents “from” him in special Santa paper, and all was fine until those kids started asking legitimate questions about his veracity.

Now I had a problem. I had always vowed I would never lie to my children (that’s not the same as teasing, which is a completely different form of torture). When they asked a sincere question, I would always give an honest answer about everything, from the Tooth Fairy to what Daddy means when he waggles his eyebrows at me.
(“Um, that means we need to talk. In the bedroom. Choose a movie—any movie you want.” Ok, so my honesty is relative.)

But the Santa Really Exists (SRE) movement meant I had to lie to my children, if only to protect their innocent friends from the reality. And I hated that.

So, after a few years of this moral quandary, I told my husband I simply wanted to quit Santa at our house—who were we to buck tradition? Whoever we wanted to be!—and happily he agreed. Since then, we’ve never regretted the decision to focus on our family and friends, and not even bring up the old fat man in red with an odd laugh like garden tools.

What are the benefits of not participating in SRE?

First, Santa doesn’t come off as a jerk. Trying to explain to my children the disparagement of Santa in delivering toys made me feel like a fraud.
“Why did the neighbor kids get a lot more from Santa than you did? Uh, you see, Santa doesn’t actually make the toys; he’s like a Secret Shopper. He buys the presents, wraps and delivers them, then sends us the bill. Yeah, that’s right.”
That was the only way to explain why our budget for each child was $45, while the neighbors had a budget of $300 for each kid.

My children accepted that answer until the year we were in a position to do a Secret Santa for another family. They eagerly helped us choose and wrap presents, but then the unavoidable question arose: “Why isn’t Santa shopping for them and just donating the presents?”

“Well,” I invented wildly, “he’s asked us to help him because, um, he’s too busy—”

“What, buying presents for the rich kids?” my eight-year-old daughter asked cynically.

I didn’t have an immediate answer for that. No matter what kinds of stories and explanations I created, Santa came across as a self-serving jerk whose services were available to the highest bidder. That’s not the spirit of Santa.

Second, we don’t have to lie to our children. By not playing into the SRE game we don’t have to keep up the façade that, something that I’ve always taught my children isn’t real, suddenly is for the month of December. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoy fantasy and magic—Harry Potter, Narnia, dragons and Merlin—we’ve got all the books, movies, costumes and games, and it’s fun and serves a purpose, but just not in the real world.

In our early parenting years we frequently struggled with juggling the mythology of Santa with the story of Jesus Christ, who we hold as reality. Once one of our children even said, “My friend at school said Santa is just your parents. So what is Jesus?” The notion of magic and miracles was so confused in her first grade mind she wasn’t sure what to believe.

And that bothered me, to my core. That was precisely what worried me as a nine-year-old. I had even decided, when I still believed in Santa, that on some level Jesus and Santa were related, and shared priesthood power and magic to accomplish Christmas.

Then Santa was revealed to be pretend, and so what about Jesus Christ?

For more than a year I paid very close attention in church each Sunday (well, it’s one way to get a kid interested about religion), waiting to hear something that would suggest that Jesus Christ and priesthood power were also just convenient and “fun” little lies. In fact, an acquaintance of mine who became disenchanted with all organized religion and the notion of God, told me the seed of that was planted when he learned Santa wasn’t real. It was society’s aggressive tactics to preserve this imaginary man, and the lengths to which everyone bought into the lie, that shocked him and led him to believe that everything is, at its heart, a hoax.

But I knew, in my heart, that Jesus Christ was not a hoax. After that year of deep ten-year-old introspection I developed a testimony of my Savior. I still believe in Him, and in my Heavenly Father, and in the Holy Ghost. I have felt them too many times influencing my thoughts and decisions to pretend my conscience is that clear and forward-planning. I have experienced miracles and even seen the laws of physics altered on two occasions to prevent potentially fatal car accidents. I have heard whispers, felt nudgings, and even once encountered a gentle cosmic slap upside my head trying to knock me into awareness when I was particularly hard-hearted.
God is real and involved and intensely worried about our welfare. Santa, however, is not.

I didn’t want my children facing those same troubling questions about what is real and isn’t, especially at such tender ages, so we quietly abandoned Santa a dozen years ago. When my children ask me the hard questions, such as if the Tooth Fairy is real, I answer with, “Is the Tooth Fairy magic? Remember what I’ve told you: magic is only pretend and for fun, but the power of the priesthood in Jesus Christ is very real and very powerful.” They don’t worry about magic anymore, because they have something better.

But, you may fret, what about the Spirit of Christmas? The Spirit of Santa?

Someone once remarked that Santa is the Savior in costume. That got me thinking: why not cut out the middle man and get straight to the Savior? We don’t need to be “Secret Santas”: we can be something grander, realer.

In other words, why not let Christmas be the time that we try even harder to be . . . like Christ? It’s His birthday we’re celebrating, after all. Why not celebrate it by doing what He did?

When you think about it, much of what we do in the name of Santa is what the Savior did and taught. Want to help that single mom down the street? Do so, and in the right spirit. Think about what the Apostle James wrote in describing pure religion: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction. (James 1:27)

Want to bring clothing and gifts to those in need? Visit those who are ill or lonely? Go ahead, and remember who suggested it first (hint: wasn’t Santa). Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. . . . Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matthew 25:36; 40)

Let’s donate, share, encourage, serve, and love in the name of Christ, not Santa.
Yeah, Santa’s a good guy and all, but not nearly as great as the Savior of the world. 

So don’t feel sorry for my children because they don’t have Santa. Oh, they’ll get plenty of presents on Christmas Day from their parents and siblings, along with stockings full of candy and Pringles, and there will be a few surprises snuck in after they’ve gone to bed on Christmas Eve, but if they happen to leave out a plate of cookies, they’ll know they were eaten by Mom and Dad while we put the candy canes on the tree.

Our kids don’t have Santa, but what they have instead are parents that don’t lie to them (well, not about anything important) and a truer sense about the meaning of Christmas.

After all, it’s Merry Christmas, not Happy Santa Day.

“I don’t hold with traditions just for tradition’s sake. I’m rather progressive that way.”
~Perrin Shin, “The Forest at the Edge of the World”

Your Christmas probably won’t be “traditional” this year . . .

I predict that this Christmas will be different for you in some way. Either it’ll mark a “last time” of some sort, or a “first time” of another. Perhaps this year someone significant is missing—either gone for a time or have passed away—or maybe someone new has joined your circle of family and friends. New baby, new marriage, departed grandparents or children . . .

But one thing’s for sure: this Christmas won’t be like ones in the past.

How do I know this? Because over the years I’ve discovered that it’s rare to have a “typical” or “traditional” Christmas. While each holiday tends to be happy, there are moments of sadness: sudden, unexpected, poignant sadness when you realize nothing will ever be quite the same.

And here’s how I recommend you deal with happy-sad Christmas moments: let them happen. Let the tears trickle as you remember how things can never happen again. Mourn the difference, remember how you wished it could be again, think about what a “proper” Christmas is supposed to look like (we all have those unrealistic images in our heads, don’t we?).

AND THEN move on and embrace what’s new and good, and realize that maybe these should be considered sad-happy moments.

I was filled with these mournful/joyful thoughts as two of my sons attempted to put lights on the house the other evening. My oldest son, who’s 22, eagerly rooted through the Christmas bins and discovered several light strands I wasn’t going to use.

“Then I’m taking these outside!” he declared. I’d forgotten that he loved to put lights on the house, because the last time he did was five long years ago, before the army, before his LDS mission and his stint working the oil fields of North Dakota.

But this year—THIS year—he was home to make my house glow.

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And I was overwhelmed with happy sadness by that, because I know that next year—NEXT year—he won’t be putting lights on my house. He’ll be married in a few months, and then we’ll be moving 2700 miles away from him.

But today, I held on to the happy part. He dragged his reluctant 16-year-old brother to help him as the sun set and the cold grew to get lights on top of the snowy house. “Come on. Outside with you,” he ordered his brother away from his computer game.

Age 16, grumbling as he put on his snow pants, said, “Why am I doing this?”

“Because,” age 22 told him, “it’ll teach you to be a man!”  (Since he’s been in the army, age 22 has decided that everything unpleasant teaches you to be a man.)

“But this isn’t necessary,” age 16 countered.

“Yes, it is,” insisted age 22. “We have to prove our house is better than the neighbors! Up the ladder, now.”

I grabbed my camera, knowing that this would likely never happen again, my two sons squabbling as they put up lights for the first time together, for the last time together.

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(Another reason he didn’t enjoy being up there was because I was taking pictures.)

Nearly every Christmas has been something different. I realized some time ago that we don’t know how to have a “proper” Christmas. A cursory count has revealed that we have:

  • Celebrated Christmas in 12 different houses over the past 28 years;
  • Once had Christmas at the beach (that felt so wrong);
  • Twice celebrated Christmas a full week AFTER the 25th, because some family was working in other states (yes, the presents just stayed under the tree until the 31st, and I got all the Christmas candy on sale);
  • Once celebrated Christmas a full week BEFORE the 25th, because we’d be out of town during the holiday (yes, we opened everything very early);
  • Three times have had newborns at Christmas (ok, one came four days later; and yes, fully 1/3 of our nine children have been born in December. I have no sense of planning whatsoever.)
  • Three times had our lives in boxes during Christmas, and had to search a storage unit for a bin of decorations to make the temporary home feel like ours again;
  • Three times had in-laws staying with us;
  • And this year, we will have a teenage Chinese national staying with us to experience a crowded, noisy Christian Christmas (not intending to traumatize the boy, but it’ll likely happen anyway).

“Traditional” and “proper” don’t really show up to our Christmases. One of the years when we had postponed Christmas, I was hospitalized with hemorrhaging on the 28th of December. The nurse treating me said it was a good thing the emergency happened after Christmas, and I told her that we still hadn’t celebrated yet; we would open all our presents in two days. Then she gave me morphine for the pain, and I died right after that because no one knew I had a deadly reaction to morphine, and the ER staff kindly revived me again, and I spent our postponed Christmas laying on the couch at home eating steak to try to rebuild my depleted iron stores.

Not all Christmas activities are worth making into annual traditions.

We start new traditions and forget old ones, bring in new family, and say farewell to others. Bid goodbye to beloved houses, set up the tree in new places. And that’s all ok.

I took these photos eight years ago at an extended family Christmas gathering, and knew then that it’d be the last one. My sister, mother, and father in these photos have all since passed away.

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Even as I reviewed the photos that night, I began to weep, knowing that was one of the last times our family would all be together, and that Christmas would look different in the future.

Occasionally I envy some friends and neighbors whose Christmases are the same every year. They always visit grandparents, or have a cousins gathering, or spend the day with extended family doing the same things. Solid, reliable traditions . . .

But not us. One year, we skyped with my husband who was in three states away as we opened half our presents. It was like having Christmas with an Artificial Intelligence unit in the house.

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This year we’ll hurry through opening presents in the morning, then drive two hours down to our daughter’s church to attend the service with them, and have a chili dinner at their apartment afterward. We’ll never do all of that again, either, because we’re all parting ways next year, I have no idea when I’ll celebrate Christmas with my two grandchildren again. We haven’t been grandparents long enough to establish any traditions that our moves can destroy. Happy-sad.

The other night as my sons called me to come outside for inspection, I looked up and smiled at this new tradition that would happen only once: brothers lighting the roof together. They plugged in the lights, and there was a minor Clark Griswold moment when age 22’s section over the porch didn’t come on. But age 16 smugly announced, “Yet all of my lights are working, thank you very much.”

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As he descended the ladder, loudly muttering that none of this was necessary, and age 22 went back to inspecting his dark half strand, I thought to myself, “Yes, all of this was necessary . . . for me.” Only moms know how vital it is to see our kids working together, creating a brief yet deeply felt memory that maybe only mom will remember.

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After only a minute of working on his disobedient strand, age 22 got the rest of his lights on, and I cheered.

Some traditions happen only once.

This year, remember that there’s no such thing as a “traditional” or “typical” Christmas. When you find your celebration taking an unexpected or sad turn, embrace it and feel through it. The entire reason we celebrate Christmas is to remember that Christ came as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” He understands our joys and our sorrows, and he came to wipe away all our tears.

John 4:5–29, Christ accepts water from a Samaritan woman

Let him. That’s really the only proper way to celebrate Christmas.

“In the meantime, enjoy the tradition.” ~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

Flood the earth–or my basement and bedrooms–with service: #LIGHTtheWORLD

The most horrible sounds to wake up to are someone vomiting, something shattering, some cat hacking, or some water running. Early yesterday morning, I was awakened by the last item. I was planning to publish a piece here about my sons putting up Christmas lights, but I didn’t get to finishing it because at 4 a.m. I woke up to hear that doomsday sound of water trickling. As I put my feet on the floor, I immediately felt the squelch, and realized my carpet was soaked through. Frantically, I jumped to the bathroom to find the toilet was overflowing, and likely had been for about five hours.

As I was desperately trying to mop up the mess on the floor with all of the towels, my 16-year-old son came upstairs. “It’s happening in my room, too.”

Not sure what that cryptic, drowsy message was, but knowing it wasn’t good, I rushed downstairs to hear the nauseating sound of pouring water. Apparently the heat duct in the bathroom had served as overflow and channeled the water into the ceiling, closet, and carpeting of my son’s bedroom.

By 5 a.m. every towel we owned was wet and in the dryer, and I sent my son back to bed (or rather, the couch) because there was nothing more we could do.

By 7 a.m. I was slightly despondent as I tried again to start drying the mess, realizing that everything would have to come out of my bedroom/office in order to pull up enough carpet to dry it.

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(My thirteen-year-old thinks my flooded bedroom is worth dancing about. He’s not my favorite child today.)

At 9 a.m. I borrowed a wet vac from my neighbor and started sucking up the water, knowing already that it was far more than I could handle. Still, I was determined to try to solve this problem on my own.

But by 10 a.m. I sat down, exhausted, on the floor in my son’s room only to realize my bottom was wet (like my feet, my knees, and my arms) because the water had leaked much further than I’d expected.

That’s when my eyes started leaking. I hate crying. But having had only five hours of sleep, and realizing that not only would my bedroom have to be evacuated, but so too would this bedroom and its heavy loft beds, all I could do was weep.

My husband called then to check on the situation (I had Facebook messaged him at 5 a.m. with the news because I had nothing else I could do) and I said, sniffling, “I think I’m a little overwhelmed.”

He knows I rarely cry, and I think that’s why he took to the computer. Because he’s nearly three thousand miles away, he did all that he could: he messaged one of our neighbors, who called his wife, who called another neighbor, who called our ward’s bishop (similar to a pastor or rector), who came by at noon on his lunch break and said, “I heard you have a little water problem?”

I wasn’t going to cry in front of him, but I knew it wasn’t just the water; it was all the furniture I had to move, and all the work that faced me repairing the damage. While insurance will help, we have a very high deductible. By then I was feeling more than a little overwhelmed. Bishop Stevenson took a look at my mushy bedroom, went downstairs to evaluate my sons’ room, and poked around in the rafters looking for more problems, then said, “Well, the hard part is over.”

I scoffed at him. “It’s just started!”

“No, it’s ended. Now you have help. I’ll be back at three when I get off of work, with some movers.”

“No, Bishop, I think we can handle it . . .”

Fortunately he didn’t believe my lies.

At 3 p.m. two young husbands and a teenage boy arrived with him to help my sons and me move everything to dry ground. Another neighbor brought more fans, another retrieved my youngest from preschool, and while I talked on the phone with the insurance company, everything got moved and placed, Tetris-like, in the family room, my daughter’s bedroom, and living room.

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(Our family room-now-storage room. Yes, the poster in the background is of a psychiatrist saying to a unicorn, “You need to believe in yourself.”)

Another neighbor brought over two bars of very dark chocolate (like alcohol for middle-aged Mormon women), and someone else brought us pizza for dinner. And while my living room will be my bedroom’s storage for a week . . .img_1979

. . . I realize Bishop Stevenson was right: the hard part is over. I’ve got help on every side.

I freely admit it’s tough for me to accept help. I think it’s that way for a lot of us. A part of me feels guilty for the mess, thinking that if I’d just looked at the toilet before I went to bed (my four-year-old has a knack for plugging it), or hadn’t slept so deeply, that I would have noticed and even prevented the mess that a dozen people have now had to help me with.

I also wouldn’t have had to swallow my pride and let strange men see what’s under my bed as they moved it to the living room. (Go ahead—look under your bed right now, and imagine your neighbors seeing that. Horrifying, isn’t it? Oh, come on—please tell me I’m not the only one with a disaster under her bed!)

Interestingly, today, Dec. 1 is “Worldwide Day of Service,” and it marks the beginning of the “Light the World” initiative—an idea to get everyone giving service throughout the month of December. Here’s a guide of daily suggestions, too. (Tomorrow, Dec. 2, for example, is “Honor your parents” day. Call [not text] your parents, write a note to your parents or in-laws, or learn about an ancestor.)

Dec. 1st is “Jesus Lifted Others’ Burdens and So Can You.” But my kind neighbors didn’t need any initiative or any prodding. Service is what they do all the time, anyway. They merely started a day early, on Nov. 30, which will always be for me, “Relieve the Flooded Day.”

When the water extraction crew arrived in the evening  (I finally admitted I needed professional carpet drying help), they were astonished at how much work had been accomplished. They praised me for getting everything moved out and putting fans where I could, but I told them, “It wasn’t me; it was my neighbors.”

“You have some awesome neighbors, then,” they said. Yep.

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(I feel like our bedrooms are having surgery.)

So to all of you who may serve this month, who will be that “awesome neighbor” who will lift other’s burdens, who will notice the blinking back of tears when someone’s too prideful to whimper, “Help?” I say, “THANK YOU!” You may not hear those words from those you serve, but they’re being sent your way.

Your service is needed, every day and everywhere. Something small to you may be something huge to those in need. So go out there and light the world.

And thank you in advance.

“I don’t know of another family—there or perhaps even here—that would give up as much as you have for those you see in need . . . You and Mahrree don’t care for possessions or status, but for people. Already you understand.”
~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

Get your clock for Christmas, and $5 off!

Get your Forest at the Edge official clock ordered soon to ensure delivery by Christmas. Remember to put “Book Reader” in the message section, and I can refund you back $5. That way, the clock will be only $10, and with shipping (about $3.70 in the US) that’s less than $15 for a gift. 

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Also comes in white and red:

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I can customize it, too! Tell me what you want it to say, and I can modify up to three entries, so yours is absolutely unique. (Just get one for yourself; you know you want one.) Order here!

Barn pantry doors, in 85 mistakes (or more!)

I’ve written before why I don’t do a diy blog. Below is more evidence why:

#1 mistake—going on to Pinterest and typing, “Remodel bifold doors,” because for eight years I’ve hated my pantry doors which never closed properly. Pinterest is almost always a mistake, one that I usually try to avoid, but I fell in a moment of weakness.

Fie you, Pinterest! 

This is what inspired me: Builder basic bifold door makeover, into stylish French doors - tutorial from Sawdust2Stitches on Remodelaholic.com

This is not what I ended up with.

#2 mistake—assuming this was going to be different from the rest of my remodeling attempts, that I would need only one trip to the store (it was four), that I’d measure everything correctly for once (nope) and that the project would turn out exactly as I expected (wrong again).

#3–not telling my husband, who lives and works in another state, what I was about to do. (Actually, that was probably a good thing; always easier to get sympathy than a lecture on how it’ll be harder than I expect. And he would have been right, fie him!)

I’ll give you only the highlights of the rest of my mistakes, ones I remembered to document.

#23—losing control of the drill while trying to use mending plates to turn the 20-year-old bifold doors into unfolding doors.

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I’ll give you one guess as to what kind of drill bit I was using.

(Wound’s healing nicely, thank you for asking.)

#35—Transposing the wrong measurement numbers, so that the guy at Home Depot cut my luan boards seven inches shorter than he should have. (Fie him, not knowing I wrote the wrong numbers!) Which meant I had to put in a middle 1×3” (#36) because I had to cut the luan board in half to compensate for the mistake so that it’d cover enough door (#37) . . .

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. . .which also meant I didn’t have enough 1×3’s (#38) so I had to go back to the store for another one because I had to change my original design (#39). (Come to think of it, yes–I DO want barn doors!)

#40—not living closer than ten miles to the nearest good home improvement store.

img_1904#41—Yes, I ALWAYS measure twice and cut once! I don’t know WHY everything ends up shorter than I measured! And yes, I do KNOW the blade eats away at measurements! That’s why I plug in bits of wood to compensate (#42) then have to get wood filler at the store (another trip to the store–#43) to “smooth” it all in.

#56—staining the doors on the kitchen floor. But this isn’t entirely a mistake. I’m hoping that if I destroy this old linoleum sufficiently enough that I can magically afford to replace it. img_1906

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(#57—believing in magical “Laminate Flooring Fairies” who leave gifts during a full moon. The Supermoon came and went, and not one box of flooring was left on my front doorstep. I must admit, I’m beginning to fear that the “Laminate Flooring Installation Fairies” may also be a figment of my very particular imagination. Fie, you fairies!)

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#58 I always hated that towel.

#60—not using gloves on my hands.

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#61—not having any paint remover in the house for my hands. (On the bright side, that Minwax stain is quite wash resistant!)

#63—bracing the doors against the side door that leads to the garbage cans to dry overnight.

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(#64—believing there’s nothing wrong with letting the trash overflow for the night, forgetting there was raw chicken fat in there, creating a lovely smell by morning, especially combined with the scent of oil-based stain.)

#65—buying too small a can of stain and running out during the second coat.

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#78—getting the wrong door handles, and #80—assuming four hinges would be enough because those doors got HEAVY. (Another trip to the hardware store.)

And many more . . .

But the project wasn’t all disaster—nothing really ever is, when you get honest with yourself. While I did run out of stain, I remembered an old quart in the basement. To my relief, it was the same color (I guess I really love Minwax’s Espresso Gloss) that I’d used on computer desks, and there was just enough to touch up the doors.

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Eventually, after two days of work, I finished. The design of the doors wasn’t what I at first intended (it wasn’t going to be this “busy”), but once I got up the doors, I was astonished.

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(Boys, get out of the picture!)

 . . . Because while it was nothing like I had intended, it was still beautiful.

There are still errors I won’t bother to point out, sections to fix and finish, walls to repaint (you can see color tests on the left side), moulding to resolve . . . but all in all, it worked.

In the middle of this project I realized life is pretty much the same way. (Here’s my Forrest Gump moment.) We see something we want, make our plans, then muck it all up in our pursuit—despite our best efforts—and hope to fix it all before anyone sees just how wrong it all went. (But here I am, confessing some of those parts that did go wrong . . .)

We fix, we revise, we rethink, we adjust, and we keep going. 

It’s never going to turn out exactly as we planned, but in the end I hope we will all look back on our lives and think, “Wow–that all turned out better than I expected!”

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Just don’t give up when your hands are filthy, your wounds throb, and everything stinks. It’ll get better, eventually, as long as you don’t give up.

(By the way, that stain is REALLY good—going on day five, and it’s still coating my hands.)

“Well?” Perrin asked as he beamed in pride at his creation.

“I have to admit, it’s not too bad.” Mahrree eyed the massive timbers turned into simple furniture. Apparently the blood of the High Generals had never been tainted by craftsmen with artistic leanings. She wondered if, left to their own devices, the Shin men would have opted for clubs torn off of trees instead of elegant swords with ornate hilts. ~Book 1, The Forest at the Edge of the World