Year-End Ramble: 2017

This year: Pick your best cussword.

2017 has challenged us in so many ways. It has strained our rights as human beings, divided us from friends and family, tested faith, broken individuals seemingly past repair. It has taken my family down stressful paths. Although we have been blessed with quality time and other graces, others have suffered deeply, and often silently.

Some time during the summer someone from church asked me to help out with organizing potato dishes for funerals. Cheesy potatoes are important to any post-funeral luncheon. People gather after saying goodbye to their loved ones and find comfort in sharing food with those who also love the dearly and recently departed. Their emotional needs are met through one of their most primal needs, by eating something delicious, something made with love.

Cheesy potatoes are only one aspect of the meal, but it’s a favorite among mourners. Lots of starch, and lots of cheese. Those elements in that combination are meant to fire off certain neurons that translate to comfort, which tries to coexist with the burden of grief.

After receiving this assignment, a few months passed, and no funerals had been planned. The first half of the year had been replete with passings-away, but I was not yet part of the funeral meal committee. Then the last Sunday of October the lady who extended the assignment remarked how quiet it had been, and I thought to myself that this was a good thing. I wasn’t opposed to doing the work, but I was glad that people hadn’t experienced that kind of heartache in our ward, at least for a few months.

Go figure the moment someone mentions how a thing hasn’t happened, the thing happens shortly after that. Later that week our ward received an email about the passing of someone from our ward. I researched the person and found out that he had suffered from depression. His beautiful obituary profoundly saddened me. Usually during these times I feel the most helpless, but this time I could actually do something. Never had potatoes seemed more vital. If the other parts of the luncheon failed, cheesy potatoes had to prevail.

I had a list of sisters in the ward who were willing to make the cheesy potatoes. It was my job to call these ladies to see who would be available to provide the potatoes that weekend. I came up with a spreadsheet and kept track of responses and commitments, which would also help with future funerals. Here, I deleted names for privacy:

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GF=gluten-free; LM=left message; nr=no response

The sisters who were able to help that weekend were very kind. I had never really been an active part of this kind of effort, and their love and solemn treatment of this responsibility humbled me.

The ladies made their dishes and dropped them off at the church the morning of the funeral. It wasn’t until the following Sunday morning at church that I found out the funeral had gone well, that the food was delicious, that the family was grateful for all the help and support. I had imagined everyone eating and sharing stories and feeling a degree of unity that only comes with grief over a mutual friend and family member. Potatoes were all I could do—and I didn’t even cook them but just called people on a list—but for this moment, they mattered.

I have several close friends whose lives are entangled with depression and anxiety. They navigate their brain chemistry and the changing seasons and pollution and other circumstances with medication and therapy and exercise and hanging out with loved ones. It’s not easy for them, fighting the grey. But they are brilliant and creative and so passionate about the earth and humankind. They are the best readers and writers and experiencers of life; they are musical and endlessly curious and know all the best cusswords (and usages). I am so honored to know them.

Reilly’s mom has had every excuse to spiral into depression, yet she pushes through with such determination. And a smile. And enduring positivity. She’s coming up on her first full year of bi-weekly cycles of chemotherapy for stage IV metastatic colon cancer. It’s hard to imagine her daily hardship of increasing weakness and regular wooziness, but she has kept busy with work and doing as much as she can. She’s had excellent care with amazing doctors, and she knows she is surrounded by so many people who love her. Everyone faithing her well seems to be making a difference. Her strength amazes me.

She and her family have seen a pet cross the Rainbow Bridge this past month. A Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Maya was a boisterous and carefree and previously big dog, until diabetes caused drastic weight loss, blindness, then finally loss of use of her hind legs. No one likes to hear the vet say what the best course of action is to minimize suffering, even though it makes the most sense and really is the most humane for the dog. It’s painful saying goodbye to a pet, especially after almost ten years of companionship.

This year Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, and other ailments have ambushed or harrowed loved ones’ journeys.

My mom broke four toes when she slipped from an elliptical machine. But she hasn’t slowed down. This is both annoying and endearing at the same time. I love her for that.

Friends in Florida and in/near Texas or with family in Puerto Rico endured hurricanes and are trying to repair their lives.

Friends who married their high school sweethearts nearly 20 years ago have gotten divorced.

Other friends are enduring similar trials and heartache.

Earthquakes. Fires. Volcanoes. Shootings. Tax cuts. Health insurance. Church. #metoo.

How do people find comfort? What helps them in their agony and despair?

Z’s diagnosis was not as much of a bombshell as the anticipation of her diagnosis. This expectancy involved asking myself (after wondering what I did wrong) how I would handle this situation, what our “new normal” would be, how we would teach our innocent, nonreader of emotions to defend herself against monsters and assholes, among a plethora of other questions. But once we obtained a diagnosis, a wealth of resources became available, I found out several families are in our ward who have children with autism, and Z’s ABA therapy has helped her little personality emerge in ways that that weren’t obvious even six months ago. We have received an outpouring of support and love from so many caring people. You know who you are, and we are infinitely grateful. Thank you for your acceptance, kindness, and generosity.

This past year I have looked forward to Sunday dinners in Payson and Saturday donuts with my family. Family visiting from Florida. It has been nice to go on occasional movie dates with my perfect husband. To travel, to take long breaks and relax in our home. It has been rejuvenating to hang out and eat pizza with friends and discuss actions for lessening the hate in this world. Like a good nap or fresh air.

I have enjoyed picking apples and peaches and trying to make pies and making toffee and brownies and other little goodies to share. But I have also found calmness in literally tearing down walls (maybe figuratively, too?) and building shelves and painting and caulking. I have nurtured new friendships. I have explored more good music, movies, books, and television. I have discovered Twin Peaks while rediscovering the treadmill. My heart pumping, blood flowing, and sweat dripping are sometimes all I want out of life. It feels so good.

I have marched.

Voted.

Contacted my senators and representatives.

We have also relished hosting a quarterly lecture series in our home, where we listened to speakers/friends talk about a variety of subjects: Satire (Reilly), the Poison Control Center (Reilly’s sister, Amber), Horror and the Family (Jon Smith), and Fan Studies (Melissa Beattie). What an exciting reason to gather with friends!

Yes, there’s a shload of darkness and nonsense in the world right now, and we make it through one day at a time. Probably more like an hour—or even a minute—at a time. Sometimes at the end of the day things don’t look brighter. We’re still sad or confused or hurt. It is ok to feel this way. And sometimes all we want to do is pull the covers over our heads and cry. It is ok to do this.

It is ok to bring this version of ourselves into 2018, because 2017 was ruthless. Pick your best cussword. You know: it’s complicated. I may spend the first part (or majority) of the New Year swimming in my covers, trying to find/push away sunlight and coming up for air/holding my breath.

This supply of oxygen, though, the most significant mercy that came out of 2017, was that many of us took the time to listen to each other. Even though we have disagreed on many fronts, a greater striving for understanding has risen from our immediate social circles, communities, and the world. This has sustained a hope I will always cling to.

I want to keep listening to you. I want to bolster the comfort and love of real friendship between us. I want to be there, to be the equivalent of cheesy potatoes for you. Something full of love.

Or I could just make cheesy potatoes. And hug you with them. In 2018, and in years to come.

You matter to me.

New and Improved 2017

Four days into 2017, and I’m lying in bed, sick with a cold. I wanted to start this year with bright eyes and a bushy tail, but instead I have watery eyes and a droopy tail. My nose is congested, but my mind is clear, and I might as well be doing something productive and reflective.

It’s been a while since I’ve set formal resolutions for the new year. It’s not that I don’t believe in them; it’s just that I see every day as an opportunity to improve. And that can sound like a copout, so here are my thoughts.

Two main categories stick out most for improvement: My interactions with others, and self-care. I want to be friendlier and kinder. I want to be an exceptional listener and strive to understand all sides of a story. A Christmas card I received said that I work with my team in a service-oriented way. Which I wasn’t aware that I did. But I guess it’s a thing that I do that’s become more or less second nature. I’m pleased about this, and I want to keep doing it.

I want to treat myself better, with higher esteem. This may amount to more concrete actions, such as regular hair appointments, massages; decent bedtimes; more honeytime with my husband; more playtime with my amazing daughter. But I also want to read more books and nourish my brain and body as best I can.

Blog/Write/Brainstorm more!

Stay away from Facebook: I’m on a break. I check in once in a while to see what friends are up to. If they’re up to anything mean-spirited, then I check out right away. I’m finding that I don’t really miss it.

Oh, yeah. Exercise. Do more of that. I’ll say at least twice a week.

But I got to get rid of this darn cold first.

Rest more.

Hindsight is 2015

Whenever I think about resolutions, there are the standard goals of exercising more and eating better, reading more books and eating out less, waking up earlier and writing more, but my greatest desires for improvement always lie in relationships.

Back in August, Reilly and I gave talks at church about the complementarity of gender roles. We had moved to a new area of town at the beginning of June, and this was a way for us to bear our testimonies and for our fellow ward members to get to know us better.

(This reminds me that we forgot to tell people we’d moved, so we’ve received a lot of Christmas cards this week with yellow stickers reminding us to tell people our new address. Sorry, guys. If you still need our address, let me know.)

When the day came to give our talks, we’d already been in the ward two months, and that gave me a chance to observe the members and relate my thoughts on gender roles to our ward, which consists of a large number of nontraditional family situations. We were specifically instructed only to use the scriptures and General Conference talks in our remarks. This makes sense because I’ve heard people say some truly outrageous things from the pulpit. I referred to this talk by Sister Chieko N. Okazaki and emphasized this quote:

Here are two quilts. Both are handmade, beautiful, and delightful to snuggle down in or wrap around a grandchild. Now look at this quilt. It’s a Hawaiian quilt with a strong, predictable pattern. We can look at half of the quilt and predict what the other half looks like. Sometimes our lives seem patterned, predictable in happy ways, in order.

Now look at this second quilt. This style is called a crazy quilt. Some pieces are the same color, but no two pieces are the same size. They’re odd shapes. They come together at odd angles. This is an unpredictable quilt. Sometimes our lives are unpredictable, unpatterned, not neat or well-ordered.

Well, there’s not one right way to be a quilt as long as the pieces are stitched together firmly. Both of these quilts will keep us warm and cozy. Both are beautiful and made with love. There’s not just one right way to be a Mormon woman, either, as long as we are firmly grounded in faith in the Savior, make and keep covenants, live the commandments, and work together in charity.

The ideas in this analogy include and not exclude, and I want to apply them not only to my family but to every interaction I will face.

I described ways in which Reilly and I are compatible. We love books, music, good television and movies. We’re both short. But is compatibility the same as complementarity? Being a complement takes effort, it requires work to observe and a desire to understand; deep and meaningful relationships go beyond what we have in common. Commonalities are a good place to start, though.

At the beginning of November, we attended a friend’s wedding reception. We didn’t stay long because Z was struggling with the big unfamiliar crowd. It was wonderful seeing the beautiful couple so happy, so fresh. I’d seen pictures that hinted at a fun courtship; I’d seen participation in a well-meaning but poorly executed web reality show. The culmination of their experiences together ended perfectly in a new beginning.

Reilly and I reminisce about our courtship and wedding all the time. This discussion has expanded to reflections on our continued dating and pregnancy and major milestones with Z. The past makes me hopeful for the future and grateful for the now. This process of thinking and remembering makes time seem not as relentless and life much more enjoyable.

The end of November presented me with attending a friend’s father’s funeral. He taught at the same middle school Reilly attended, though Reilly was not in any of his classes. I made it to the last hour of the funeral, where family members told stories that demonstrated the remarkable life of a good man. The chapel was packed, and it was obvious that he was loved and that he left the world a better place, at least for those who knew him.

As tears streamed down my face as I listened to these stories, I realized again just how beautiful and uplifting funerals can be. Mount Timpanogos backdropped the quiet and sprawling cemetery where I had a chance to see my friend and give her a big hug. She lives in New York, and it had been a few years since I’d seen her. While I’m grateful to connect to friends through social media, I’m especially grateful a huge part of the legacy a man left for this earth manifests itself in his phenomenal children.

There is still so much to learn in this life, and I only took a few experiences out of the past year to discuss. I look at my husband and daughter and wonder how my attitude and philosophy and convictions will influence them. I wonder about my friends and other family. I wonder how I will become better in areas where I am inadequate. I want to be more thoughtful, a better listener, to solve more problems. My imprint on this world needs to mean something.

The last song in Patty Griffin’s most recent album, Servant of Love, is called “Shine a Different Way.” Some of my favorite lines read:

In more ways than one
Shine a different way tomorrow

Tomorrow is a new year–2016: Olympics, election, other significant stuff. But more importantly, it’s tomorrow, a new beginning, a fresh start, a way to contemplate and become a better person. There’s no one right way.

Let’s be better together, bask in inevitable cognitive dissonance, lift each other up. Let’s solve and re-solve and resolve with civility and love and kindness and find all the different ways we can shine.

Happy New Year.

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New Year’s Reduction

86,400 seconds starts over at midnight. That’s the way it worked 366 times last year, and on the 367th time, another year began.

We’ve had a recurring — or maybe chronic — problem that’s carried over from last year. Yesterday came and went uneventfully enough, but it’s taken all the energy I have to not tell today to suck it. Truth is, though, it could be worse. It could always be worse.

It’s symbolic for a lot of people: A new year, a new leaf, a new resolve. I’m not guiltless; I start thinking about resolutions months ahead, probably around the 25 billionth second of each year.

I don’t start a lot of new things, though. I carry over a lot of things from the previous year, much like the way the seconds tick forward.

1. There’s this concept called Clearing to Neutral that I find very useful, because it helps me enjoy waking up, cooking, going to work, and keeping my friends. It helps me avoid the stress of procrastination. I’ve applied this concept to most of my life, but I consciously want to implement it in other areas, such as laundry, vacation planning, and my non-introvert social skills. Let’s hope I can use it to ease some of my social anxiety.

2. I wake up every morning with the intention to read my scriptures, and I go through phases where I’m really diligent, but other times I just go to friends’ websites where they contemplate the scriptures. They do the thinking for me. It’s time to stop piggybacking. The youth Sunday School curriculum is new this year. It aligns more with the way I prefer to study the scriptures. I think I’ll use it, because this change seems a cute little tender mercy.

3. So, maybe 37 books last year is the most I’ve read in a year since 3rd grade, when I read 40 50-page books in a month to get a free personal pan pizza at Pizza Hut. I’d like to continue the trend (not the 3rd grade one). I don’t know how many books I’ll read this year, but a goal of at least 30 pages a day seems reasonable. Some days I’ll read more, but 30 is the hard minimum, even if it takes up to 3600 seconds.

4. They say more reading makes better writing, so I’m going to push writing as well. This does not include writing that is related to work. No, thank you (except that I really enjoy writing for work (see #1 above)). Well, do I write at least 30 minutes or 300 words a day? Sometimes I write as slowly as I read (or vice versa), so I’ll just give myself the flexibility of going between those parameters.

5. Sometimes if I’ve been sitting for a long time, my lower back gets stiff and it hurts to stand up. That makes me feel old. I do not like that feeling. I like feeling limber and spry, so I’ll be stretching my body 5-10 minutes every day. Not only will that help loosen my joints, it will help me feel younger in other ways, other married-activity, hubba-hubba ways.

Other things, like being kinder, smiling at old people, removing clutter, being an awesome wife, only cussing 3 times a day — those go without saying more than the five things I’ve mentioned. But they also help me to keep from telling days like today to suck it, as much as days like today deserve it. The seconds — 86,400 of them — will tick into tomorrow, and we all get to start again. Who needs new years? We have brand new days.

A Few Favorite Photos from 2012

On New Year’s Day, 2013, Reilly is on the floor grading papers and lesson planning. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade plays in the background. It’s one of those cold yet sunny days. I’ve decided to sort through this year’s photos and see which ones I like the most, strike the fondest memories, make me smile a lot. These are in no particular order and only represent a tiny fraction of the photos we have.

When the light is right and when the walls aren’t purple, I still like admiring the engagement/wedding ring.

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Really, one of the funnest days I’ve had.

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Along with this.

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And this.

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I love weddings. I always cry. If not for the actual photographer’s flash in my way, this would be one of my all-time favorites. What a jerk. Still a super cute picture though.

Big screens showed shots of the massive audience. I just say I had a backstage pass.

I never listened to a lot of Iron Maiden, but this concert was a lot of fun.

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I came out of this concert walking on air.

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Free Frontrunner day with one of my favorite families.

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The Alpine Loop in the fall is always pretty. Reilly is always pretty.

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At Rockefeller Center in August. We got some sun, and my hair isn’t horrible here.

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The past, present, and future all here.

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He wears these all the time now.

 

Awesome, right?

The picture’s blurry, but this hike was amazing.

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Labor Day weekend in Moab. Saw good friends for the first time in around five years.

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Simple. I really like it.

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Something magical about the hint of mountains here.

Reilly’s done grading and planning now. So we’re watching Last Crusade with more attention. It’s at the part with the dirigible.

Here’s to another year, more pictures, more memories, ever more happiness.

Top 10 List for May’s 2012

I cannot believe this year. So much has happened, and I have only 56 entries to show for it. At least there are fewer blog posts to choose from for the annual countdown.

10. May: No one told me I’d eventually get to play against the BYU quarterback. I joined an intramural kickball team, and tonight was our first game.

9. July: Smartphone apps have a tiny dear place in my heart.  I looked around to see that I wasn’t the only one crying. I loved it.

8. July: This is the year I really got into hiking. And most of it during the season of a broken camera. Thank the Lord for making geology pretty.

7. August: Reilly’s birthday, and first time in New York City. We wondered about Glenn Close.

6. January: Careful to put ego-puffing somewhere in the middle. Being published in an academic, peer-reviewed journal would be a nice touch to my last semester.

5. September: The Oklahoma visit went along with going to NYC. Dad still finds happiness in little things. In simple things.

4. November: What an election year. I’m sorry to the friends I may have pissed off. But,  I spent maybe at least 5 minutes voting/playing with the fancy machine.

3. October: Recap of April’s commencement ceremony. I only slept because my friends who sat by me made me so very comfortable.

2.5. April: Full of transitions and excitement and bending rules for lists of 10.  The past four days have knocked me squarely on my rear. Three flights, up and down, up and down. My things, my books. His things, his books.

2. December: Can we distinguish the source of our tears in December? We talk about future names, but what is the name of our future?

1. June: Well, duh. Mindblowing. Incredible. Fantastic. Amazing. This.

This list doesn’t even include events like Christmas and wedding showers and getting jobs. It’s true that I am often vague in my blog posts, but know that these top 10 entries include the top people in my life. You’re always in my thoughts and prayers. You’ve done so much for my happiness and helped me to become a decent person. Thank you for your support. Thank you especially for your friendship and kindness and generosity, which I know will carry over into the new year and our upcoming and continued lives together.

I wish you all the blessings and happiness you deserve. Nothing less.

Early New Year’s Morning

silver rind hangs from a sparkle
suspended in dark blue gloaming
that bleeds onto imposing indigo shadows
casting upon glowing pinkish silence
that will progress to a crunchy white
and reflect clarity
amidst brown bright noise
drowning frosted sighs
that wait
and dissipate
to answer to
the pallid pendulum
of that eternal
chromatic clock