Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Volume X, issue xi. November 2014

The Great Debate

This month Holden smoothly transitioned from one extracurricular activity to the next and said, "I went from Cross Country to cross examination."

(A kid who can play with words like that really should be in debate or at our dinner table!)

The whole debating thing is in Holden's blood. My grandfather Orval, for whom Holden was given his middle name, was a star debater in college at UC Berkeley as well as a gifted attorney and orator. I was beyond tickled as my big brother Jon (who is also named after Orval and who is also a gifted attorney and former Madison High debater) and Holden hunkered down before our Thanksgiving feast to energetically discuss resolutions and value premises like most people discuss celebrity sightings.

Holden tried his first pair of contacts and even the optometrist was impressed at how good he looked with only two eyes rather than four. (Does the eye doctor usually say, "Wow! That makes a big difference!") Holden leaned close to the mirror and carefully studied his eyes in their new lenses and said with a slight edge of awe in his voice, "What color ARE my eyes? I see green. . . and blue. . . and a little brown. They're. . . cool." 

I wanted to say, "I know! That's why I've been so carefully hiding them from the girls at school!" 

What I actually said was, "It's called hazel. You got that color from me."

His smoldering look with the eyebrow arch is one he calls "Skeptical Eyebrow."

Peter the Great is Eight
Peter was the "Top Toucan" in his second grade class for a whole week in November. Do you think they give out failing grades to kids who can't pronounce their middle name? (My apologies to Eric's saintly great grandfather who definitely deserved a namesake, but couldn't be furnished with one who possessed a francophonian tongue.) We even practiced pronouncing the hyphenated tongue twister before he left for school with his poster and it only got cuter and cuter as his eyebrows struggled to compensate for what his mouth couldn't handle. 

After he turned eight, he wanted to try fasting for Fast Sunday the first Sunday of the month. We normally fast for two meals, but I suggested that maybe Peter should start with one. Peter ate a small breakfast and then skipped lunch before going to church with a determined look in his elfish blue eyes. During the sacrament, Eric tried to pass the tray of bread to Peter, but Peter said, "No! Mom said no snacks!" Eric explained that it was okay to take the sacrament when you're fasting, but Peter was still skeptical. 

Turning eight meant that Peter could be baptized. He had to use every drop of his small reservoir of patience to wait until November when his cute cousin, Lydia, was going to be returning from her mission in Peru so he could be baptized the same day as Lydia's brother, Brigham.
Peter and Brigham shared the special day of their baptisms like two cute little peas in a pod. 
My freshly baptized fifth child came up to me after the meeting, hugged me tight and said,"Hey Mom, being baptized wasn't so bad!"
The 8x10 glossy of Peter that bedecked the table with the programs for his baptism mysteriously disappeared after the meeting. I discovered it carefully placed next to Peter's plate at Thanksgiving dinner, looking like a monstrous place-card. He carted his small monument to self-approval around with him the whole weekend, even hiding it in his coat so he could sneak it into Sacrament Meeting on Sunday. Narcissus would be proud! 

Since we're on the Peter train of thought, I need to add one more perfectly Peter paragraph. I was wrapping up a large plate of cookies to take to some friends in our neighborhood and Peter asked sadly, "Are all of the cookies going to their family?" I explained to Peter that our friends had had a really bad day and that we wanted to try and cheer them up with the cookies. 

Peter started to trudge out of the kitchen, but then he paused and turned around and said slowly, "Mom. . . I've had a really bad day."

Our little Chuckie Wonder is like a tiny atom, constantly bouncing and whizzing around with completely unfocused glee. I find myself squeezing him every time I catch him in a still moment. The other morning as I was attempting to get him dressed, I put my hands on his chubby cheeks and asked, "Why are you so cute?" He looked at me seriously and said, "I'm not cute. I'm a pirate."
We ate Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday with my family, which meant we got to concoct a private feast in Rexburg on Thursday. We decided to make some jell-o with pomegranates and pecans and whipped cream in honor of my Grandma Hafen. As we cracked open the boxes to read the instructions I realized that in all of the years we've lived in Rexburg we've never made jell-o for our kids.  

Scrunching up his button nose at his jell-o debut, Charlie pointed at his plate cautiously, leaned close to me and whispered,"Mom...It's moving!"

When it was time for dessert, Charlie enthusiastically took a bite of his pumpkin cheesecake, then, with a grimace laced with betrayal, dramatically pushed the plate away and said angrily,"This is not tasty!"

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Volume X, issue x, October 2014 (Halloween)

The idea for this year's Halloween Over-do-it-fest was born in a cemetery (where all good Halloween ideas are born). On our visit to Connecticut this summer, Eric tried to lighten the rather somber mood while we were all visiting his Mom's grave. It was pretty overwhelming for our kids to be at the cemetery, so as we left, Eric asked if he should leave a piece of cheese on her headstone. When I asked him why, he responded seriously, "So she'll have something to eat during the Zombie Apocalypse." 

I laughed nervously as we crammed ourselves into the car, and realized that I had the perfect song to play as we drove away. . . and the rest is Halloween History. 
Our mini-Michael's jacket was the most complicated sewing project I have ever sunk my craft-Zombie teeth into. Since there wasn't a pattern, I fought my way through each design choice and a whole lot of trial and error.

I discovered that I am a little bit of a Dance Mom Diva during our rehearsals for the dance. I made all of us go over each move several times a day until we learned the whole thing. When Eric was describing our rehearsals, he said, "Let me just say there was sweating involved. "

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Volume X, issue ix, September 2014

Love's Labor's Found

The heat wave on Labor Day this year had the kids begging to fill up the two hundred water balloons their Aunt Noelle and Uncle Marvin had left behind for them this summer. It took them more than an hour, but eventually they had large buckets filled with balloons just waiting to be thrown into the faces of the people they love the most. Luckily, I was one of the elect few, so they waited for me to come outside in my fancy swim trunks so they could pelt me with their finest water balloon specimens.
The shrieks that were such a mixture of delight and terror had me dashing inside to grab my camera, and I snapped several shots of the kids and Eric mid-fight. Then, in an uncharacteristic moment of selfie-confidence, I asked Ethan to take a photo of Eric and me. Before we could muster up our best pose, Ethan starting snapping photos as fast as my camera could manage on the "sports' setting, which meant he caught about a dozen or so completely candid photos of me and my sweetheart. 

I've never liked photos of myself. In the scrapbook I made when I was in high school, I even wrote the caption "A face only a mother could love" next to one of my chubby and cheerful baby pictures. Eric has to pester and prod me to place myself on the other end of my beloved camera because I would rather be capturing photos than posing for them. I was sandwiched between two gorgeous sisters, which didn't help my shyness or my ability to love who I was. For years I was convinced that I was just a bad version of my beautiful older sister. 

But when I look at these photos, I don't see the face that received so much derision from me during my adolescence. I don't see the body parts that have been individually categorized and catalogued and critiqued until they are no longer body parts, but parts of self-loathing. What I see is absolute joy. I see freedom. 

In these photos I see the way Eric looks at me and how he makes me feel about myself. I've felt it for years--the complete happiness and the ease of just being who I am when I'm with him. But I never knew what it looked like. 

Here I am with no make-up, no shower, and no posing. I'm au natural. And this is how he makes me feel. It's written all over my face. And for better or for worse that face is mine. The smile and the happiness and the absolute carefree grin I see are mine, all mine. 

Charlie didn't enjoy getting pelted in the face the way the rest of us did. 

Charlie Gets Schooled

Charlie's world is like a famous speech from Shakespeare's As You Like It--"All the world's a stage" and he is constantly in the center of it. The rest of us "have our exits and our entrances," but Charlie is always in the spotlight. 

Despite his permanent protagonist status, Charlie has a way of making the rest of us minor characters feel pretty satisfied with our supporting roles in his play. When I return from teaching my classes or running errands, Charlie runs up to me and yells, "You're ba-ack!" 

On Charlie's first day of preschool, it was his first turn to return to us after having been somewhere on his own. He marched in the house, stood center stage and yelled out to the house and to the world, "I'm ba-ack!"

While the rest of the kids are at school, we occasionally try and perform some parenting "catch-up" to make sure that Sir Charles' constant state of spoiling doesn't ruin him permanently. The other day, he was eating lunch with Eric and me and was throwing a Charlie-sized fit about the unacceptable lunch we had provided. It was a perfect time to parent.

Eric walked over to Charlie's side of the table, leaned down so he was face to face with our tantruming toddler and started the classic disciplinary countdown: "One! (insert dramatic pause). . . . Two! (insert another dramatic pause)." Eric stopped counting and looked at Charlie with a serious fatherly expression and said with increased volume and intensity, "Do you want me to get to 3?" 

Apparently Charlie had never heard of the magical method of counting to three. With all of the enthusiasm he could muster, he nodded excitedly and looked up at Eric with anticipatory glee. He couldn't wait to see what wonder and delight might come next. 

Eight is Enough

At Peter's eighth birthday party, we all took our turns telling him what we love best about him. Peter beneficently nodded in agreement to each each statement.

When it was Marie's turn, she said, "Peter sits by me at lunch in the cafeteria and helps me open stuff."

We all sighed at the sweetness of that fraternal image.

Peter nodded solemnly and said slowly,"Yes. I do."

As we inhale dinner together each night, we ask the kids questions so that each of them has the chance to pitch in to the familial conversation. After a couple of days of school had passed, we asked each child to share their "best" and "worse" from their day. 

Peter moaned with all of the pain a second grader can manage and said, "I have so much homework!" 

Eve just shook her head unsympathetically and said with her middle-school wisdom, "Oh buddy! Just you wait!"

Cry the Beloved Cross Country

I woke up in a panic the day before school started because I suddenly realized that Holden needs to start worrying about college applications in a few years. It was the last day of summer, my last day to sleep in, and I just stared at the ceiling in my room as the sun came up outside. Poor Holden was kind enough to meet my maternal anxiety and natural tendency to overdo everything with a sort of mediated acceptance.

I waved my arms frantically as I talked to folks in town about what sports might be fitting for my oldest born, and Holden's characteristic calm helped to balance me out. We finally settled on Cross Country for his sport of choice and the next day he was out running the streets of Rexburg with the rest of his clean-cut, squeaky-clean and health-conscious gang.

One of his best friends is on the team and has been for years. As I dropped Holden off for practice, I saw his more experienced friend ask if Holden wanted to run with him. Rather than looking back at me and searching for pity as I would have done at that age, he just started running.

Holden's first official meet was a couple of weeks ago. He told us the meet was "far away, like Pocatello," so we didn't try to watch him run. We waited for him to get back from the meet, and I even checked my phone several times to see if he had called for a ride home,  but he didn't walk in the door until nearly ten o'clock that night. He walked in the house and I asked him where he had been.

Without a trace of accusation in his voice, he told me how most of the kids had gone to the Homecoming Dance after the meet. He had borrowed someone's phone to call us to come and pick him up, but the message had never come through. He had walked the 4.7 miles (!!! I just googled it to see the exact measurement. Eeek.) home from the high school. . . in the dark. . . after running his very first competitive 5k!

I was more than a little freaked out. I gave him a big hug and told him how sorry I was. He just looked at me and said calmly, "It wasn't that bad. I'm just a little tired."

We were all there to cheer him on for his second meet, of course. Our gang yelled and cheered and danced as soon as we saw our boy emerge through the sage-brush laden field (we decided they should call in "Cross Sage-Brush" instead of Cross Country in Idaho). When Ethan reached out to slap Holden "five," our intense competitor barely looked up at his brother and said, "Talk to me later!" and just kept on running.

Idaho Spud Stud

He walked into that potato cellar a boy. . . and he will walk out a man. . . a stinky, dirt-covered, Idaho man! Here's to Holden's first real job and to the nostalgia that blasted through my nostrils as I smelled those deeply earthy, tangy scents that linger so vividly of my own first job in those same fields.

His first day on the job, we navigated our way through a sea of potato fields, trying to find which of the large cellars emerging from the waves of brown and green belonged to his employer, who is a good friend from our ward. Holden gulped nervously and asked me what he should call his boss. "Should I call him Brother Jeppesen or should I just call him Sir?"

Eve's prayer on Holden's first day working in the spuds: "Please bless Holden that he will be strengthened to do his work in the potato fields."

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Volume X, issue viii. August 2014

Chapter One: The Purpose or 

The Face that Launched Us 2,293,71 Miles

Only the face of Edna Devine and her surprise 90th birthday party could launch us and our rickety Suburban 2,293.71 miles across the country. 

Rexburg to Connecticut. I've been telling folks for years that we couldn't embark on such an emotionally perilous journey. Not wouldn't. Couldn't. The thought of nine sets of squirming arms and legs being car-locked for at least six full days made me dizzy. I didn't want my offspring to experience torture on wheels and I didn't exactly want to experience it myself. 

When the invitation to Grandma Devine's party came in July, I felt guilty that we would be conspicuously absent. I couldn't foresee a way that we could make the trip, financially or otherwise. 

But then what can only be described as the Spirit of God told me that we needed to go. It took me several days to bring it up to Eric and he felt the same initial hesitation that I had felt. But that tugging feeling wouldn't go away. I knew that we had a mission to go on, and that mission would include at least six days feeling like mobile sardines, which would be roughly half of our vacation. 

Only a few days before we had to leave in order to get to Connecticut for the party, I had a conversation with Eric in which we talked about the life of Edna Devine. We spoke of her saintly sacrifices for her eight children, the tragic loss of Eric's mother, and the way her love envelopes, nurtures, and anchors her entire family. How could we not make the trip for her? We both cried as we spoke in reverent tones about this woman whose life is the very essence of the term godlike. If the One she emulates with her every smile wanted us to go to her birthday party, then surely He would help us get to her. 

And He did.

We prayed our way across the country to get to Edna Devine. Each morning as we tangled ourselves into a familial heap in our car, we started with a prayer and then had a devotional. As we sailed serenely along I-80 hour after hour our car felt more like Home than a necessary evil. I remember thinking, "If my friends knew how easy this is, they would want to slap me a little."

We ate piles of peanut-butter sandwiches and winced a little with every refill of our Suburban's greedy tank, but we felt that "mission feeling" that comes when you have a purpose that extends beyond your wants and reaches into the heart of why we're all here. 

Frankly, I worry that the experience might have ruined any future "vacations."

Seeing the face of Edna Devine seeing our faces was like coming Home. It was what I imagine it will be like when we get to the other side of the veil--smiles and reaching and hugging and crying and comfort and family and relief. 

She held Eric close and whispered, "I thought I'd never see your face again." 

Every inch of that cross-country trek became almost holy when I looked into her face at that moment.  

Photo courtesy of David Benthal Photography (Eric's talented cousin)

Photo courtesy of David Benthal Photography

At the party, our kids rubbed shoulders with the people who are the roots and the branches of Eric's  happy childhood memories. Some of Eric's uncles and aunt's miraculously memorized the names of all of our children and called them by name the whole evening. I think the name of Eric's Mom was floating around lovingly over every laugh and every hug that night.

Our kids played wiffle ball on the same grassy field where Eric played at the family gatherings of his childhood with the same wonderfully wise-cracking pitcher who is the quintessential big brother in every way. That night filled with so many bright birthday candles and the glow of a life filled with pure maternal love, they ate and drank and breathed in the laughter and love that wrapped up Eric's Connecticut boyhood. For our kids, their own family roots are now more focused because of these Connecticut moments. 
Chapter Two: Danbury, Connecticut
I snapped this shot from inside our car, which is apparent from the freshly squashed army of insects spattered across the windshield turned graveyard. In the photo, they look corpse-y snowflakes trying to welcome us back to Eric's homeland. 

We waited to eat dinner until we got to Danbury so we could feast on one of Eric's favorite foods: JK's Hot Dogs. I'm salivating just thinking about their spicy, roasted, slightly-acidic. . . . sorry. I lost consciousness for a second there. Eric's Grandpa, John Devine, was the one that introduced Eric to this life-changing meal when Eric was only about three or four, so we figured we owed it to his memory to go there. Eric's face in the picture below says the thousand carnivorous, satisfied, indulgent words I might use here. 
 Here is where we learned that we had gone above and beyond the "Are they ALL yours?" question. The waitress asked us if we would be needing separate checks. She wasn't the only waitress to ask this question on our trip either. They must have assumed that a crowd like ours must be a day-camp. Camp d'Evegnee on the road. That has a nice ring to it (especially if we can start giving our kids their own checks for food).

At the top of Eve's list of sights to see in Danbury was the statue in front of the city library. Our young advocate of women's rights was captivated several months ago when Eric told the kids the story of Sybil Ludington, who was only 16-years-old when she rode all night (apparently side-saddle based on the statue) to warn American colonials about an imminent British invasion. Eric had told the kids how there was a statue of Sybil in Danbury and Eve's inquisitive brown eyes lit up when she realized that she'd be able to see Sybil's statue on this trip. It was one of the first things she talked about when we got into town. Sybil's story and Eve's reaction to it reminds me that we need more stories about the Founding Mothers and Founding Daughters to accompany the traditional tales of the Founding Fathers. 

Another "big ticket item" on our schedule was attending church with Eric's Dad on Sunday in Connecticut. To see him in the chapel surrounded by a stack of grandkids who love him with all of their souls was enough to make the whole congregation get a little lump in their throats.
Eric and I snuck off together on our first afternoon in Danbury to eat lunch at Sesame Seed, which is the restaurant where we had our first "official" date 17 years ago, only five months before we got married. 
One of the kids' favorite meals on the trip was a picnic we had outside of Stew Leonard's grocery store in Danbury. Our tight vacation budget dictated that sandwiches were on almost every lunch menu, but on our last day in Danbury we branched out from our PB&J and ate baguettes stuffed with fresh french cheese and meat from Stew's impressive deli. Eric and I sighed with heavy gustatory happiness and nostalgia and told the kids about lunches just like this one on our missions in France.
Of course we had to try a Cronut

We pushed each and every one of Stew Leonard's buttons so we could listen to chickens and other farmyard animals sing and dance. You can't visit Danbury without taking the grand tour of this grocery store and trying each sample!

Our last day in Danbury wouldn't have been complete without a visit to Eric's Mom's grave. I look forward to the day when we can all meet her and understand who she was. So much of this trip had her in it.

As Eric took us on a driving tour of places from the past, including his elementary school, high school, his childhood home, and the homes of some of his best friends, we stopped near the hospital where he was born that was also the hospital where he recuperated after the tragic accident that almost killed him and that killed his Mom.

We realized that perhaps the subject matter had gotten a little heavy when Eric pointed out the hospital and one of the kids pointed at the grass and yelled, "Look! A woodchuck!" We couldn't wait for them to get back to Idaho and tell all of their friends that they had traveled over two-thousand miles and had gotten to see a really cool woodchuck.

Chapter Three: Boston

We snuck up to Boston "on our way" to my brother's house in New Jersey for a little day trip. We slurped up heavenly Boston Chowder and lobster bisque for lunch in Quincy Market.

With their fanatical Celtics fan father, our kids couldn't wait to see the TD Garden, and we found a street vendor selling some pretty sweet and thankfully cheap hats for Holden and Eric. As we toured Faneuil Hall, I decided Holden might be destined for the Madison High debate team since it's in his blood. His great-grandfather Orval (from whom Holden got his middle name) was a master debater and Utah State Senator and his Uncle Jon left a Madison High debate team legacy behind him that Holden wants to follow.

We split a fresh lobster nine ways for dinner in Boston. The whispering diners surrounding us "are they ALL yours-ed" us with sea-food-filled mouths agape and then started applauding my maternal efforts. It was as super awkward as it was flattering and hilarious and I'm still blushing lobster red and laughing.

Chapter Four: New Jersey
My poor brother, Tom, and his family must feel like we're following them from one end of the country to the other. Last year we descended upon them in Seattle, and then we rolled into New Jersey this summer just in time to help celebrate Tom's birthday. My Tommy is probably the most creative person I know, and he did not disappoint. He set up his pool area as a massive outdoor movie theater and we watched "Sharknado" as we swam. As we've relived different parts of our trip, this moment resurfaces again and again as one of everyone's favorites.

I couldn't resist creating a Sharknado-themed cheesecake to go along with all of the other finny festivities.

Chapter Five: New York
My niece, Elia, babysat Charlie for the day so that we could galavant around New York City with a few less worries.  Eric started calling this our "Char-cation."

Before we left for the city, I told Peter that he'd get to see the Statue of Liberty, and his blue eyes widened to maximum capacity as he whispered with disbelief, "The REAL Statue of Liberty?"

I nodded and he said, "Will all my friends be jealous?"

The Twin Towers Memorial

The American Girl store with my American girls

Rodin and I both created beautiful Eves
Chapter Six: The Sacred Grove
One of the quietest, yet most striking highlights of our trip was walking through the unremarkable grove of trees where Joseph Smith found out that God is real. There are no stores here, no clanging cash registers or souvenir t-shirts. Only the trees and the wind and the presence of God. The leaves seem to echo the message that Joseph heard when he prayed in 1820: God's influence and authority needed to be restored to the earth, including the full power of the priesthood and eternal families. I love how the volume of this place is a mere whisper, rather than a piercing scream. I loved standing in that very spot and telling my children that I know for myself that the grove is sacred and that all of the decisions in my life lean on that foundation. I loved inviting them to discover this sacredness for themselves while watching them hang on my every word with sober, reverent expressions.The day before our trip to Palmyra we had been wincing up at the glittering flare and deafening glare of Times Square, almost unable to process the sense-flattening boom. As we almost tip-toed through the grove in Palmyra only 24 hours later, the contrast was a stark lesson. At the edge of the grove, after our hand-in-hand tour, we whispered to the kids that God's language is more of a gentle nudge than it is a Times Square roar. 

As soon as Eric and I both bore our personal witness about Joseph Smith and the Restoration of Christ's Gospel, the sky opened wide and poured out a drenching rain that helped to punctuate our feelings. With no shelter other than the trees, we were all soaked and we didn't mind too much. The downpour only served to memorialize our tender experience.

A few days later when I wanted to bear my testimony for Family Night, Caleb warned me, "Don't bear too strong of a testimony, Mom! You might make it rain again!"

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