Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ketchup--Hike AZ

Over Christmas break I got on a hike kick. Maybe it was the weather, or maybe it was a touch of stir crazy, but whatever it was, we saw a lot of the AZ desert. I love it here, especially in the winter when the temperature is so enjoyable.

I took my Wolf scouts (and some of their siblings and parents) to the Wind Caves.

I took Lily and some of her friends up Camelback Mountain.
 Teenagers are fun to hike with, because everything to them is an adventure--who can climb higher or farther or faster.

 This may be my favorite hike in the Valley. It's tough but the view is unbelievable.

Karli and Annie joined us when we hiked through Papago Park's Hole in the Rock.
 This "hike" takes less than ten minutes, leaving lots of time to slide around to get down.

 My boys can never resist going higher and higher.

 See the boys in there? Look closely . . .
 There they are!

I dragged my little kids up "A" Mountain on New Year's Eve and found these funny selfies, too.

I hate to admit that I'd never hiked A Mountain. It's short, too, and many sports teams were using the trail as interval training. I saw a girls' track team, a boy's soccer team, a boy's track team, and a college fitness group (maybe Crossfit?) repeatedly ascend and descend.
Once was enough for her, but I think next time I go, I'll try to make a few trips.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Rambling Around

My mind is bouncing today, maybe in part because much of my day yesterday was taking care of this sick little girl. Things are just off around here. What is it?
When did my baby grow up? When did she get too old to watch Daniel Tiger or Sesame Street? She asked me to change the TV from PBS to "Girl Meets World" or "Phineas and Ferb" or even watch a movie instead of the little kid shows.

I've never been out of the PBS stage . . . It's unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

She snuggled her feverish blond head into my chest as we watched Frozen on my iPad--at least she hasn't outgrown Disney princesses yet. I'll hold onto what I can.

Remember last year when I cursed the month of February for its annoying combination of perfect weather and overwhelming allergens? Well, I stayed on the drops for most of the year, and they are doing very little for me. Yesterday was the worst day yet, and I still struggle to breathe without sneezing. I think my body's fight against the pollen is bringing my mood down with it.

Or it could be all of the sick people around here. Lily made it to school half-day yesterday, but Eve is still home today, and now Brad is coughing and aching and fevering. We had to cancel our trip to Idaho this weekend to see baby Thomas get blessed. That was a hard decision, but I can't bear the thought that we could get Heidi's kids sick. This cough is a bad one, and it could hospitalize a baby, so we're keeping our contagion to ourselves, thank you.

And something else swimming around in my head today: Parenting is hard. It's hard to know when to step back and when to intervene. When to let the hammer of justice fall and when a merciful hand is necessary. When to be the parent with advice and consequences or the parent with the shoulder perfect for muffling brokenhearted sobs.
For instance--school projects. I don't do my kids' projects for them. When they are on display at school, their projects look like they did them. Sometimes they feel bad that their projects don't look as finished as some of their friends', but I hope it's teaching my kids to work for themselves. What do you think?

And I hate it when they procrastinate till the last minute. Does that teach them to do a half-baked job just so it's done? Or does it teach them that they are capable of their own work and taking care of themselves? I never know what to do and what is the right choice. What do you think?

What about negative self-talk? "I have no friends." or "I hate myself." or "So-and-so is so perfect." I never know how to respond in these situations. I know I often say the wrong thing. Is that going to affect their self-concept for the rest of their lives? How do I help them work to conquer their weaknesses without giving them a skewed view of their flaws?

One thing I will never know is this: How do parents of "perfect kids" do that? How do these kids get great grades, excel athletically, play every musical instrument, feed the homeless, win student body elections every year, and still manage to sleep nine hours a night?

I don't want perfect kids. Really, I don't. I love my quirky, crazy, loud, imperfect, sometimes lazy but always clever kids. They are the center of my world, and I wouldn't want it any other way. But some days I wish that my kids weren't so hard. Some days I wish for carefully folded sock drawers and clutter-free backpacks. Some days I wish for no fighting over whose fault it is that the floor is sticky and no disagreement over whose job it is to clean the area in front of the bathroom--is it the bathroom person's job or the hall person's job? (Yes. This happens regularly around here.)

And then I get a hug around the middle or overhear a funny conversation or find random junk glued together as "sculpture," and I head to bed with a grateful prayer in my heart.

Thank you for my life. My life full of sickness and heartache and trouble and commotion. My life full of crazy and haphazard and funny and LOUD. My life full of the people I love who make my life . . . mine.

But sometimes . . .

I told Brad yesterday that all I really want is a few days in a row of "regular life." No one sick. No one fighting. No major crisis brewing that drains me emotionally and physically. It's been a really long time since I've had a few days in a row of regular.

I don't want "normal." Just regular.

Maybe sometime soon.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Flu and Flowers

I was going to write something profound and deep about football and life lessons and Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, but I just don't have it in me.

Life. It's exhausting me right now. I've had at least one kid home from school every day recently, and today I have both of my girls home. Flu stuff, cold stuff--and Eve had nightmares all night last night. When she woke up this morning, she said, "Mommy, I just don't feel right today." I'm hoping she will sleep in a little bit this morning and then wake up "feeling right" again.

One positive around here? Look at these beautiful roses.
 Brad cut these off his bushes. Yes, people. Those are homegrown long-stem roses.
 There are a few vases of them around the house today--
 --because yesterday he trimmed his bushes down to this.
I know it's necessary to trim them down to nubs and branches, but it always makes me sad to lose the beautiful blooms in the process. In just a few days, their leaves will reappear, and I know I will enjoy gorgeous roses for the rest of the year.

A little like our lives, right? We have to be cut down to the very barest of existence sometimes, so that God can help us bloom?

I'm ready for my leaves to green up again. It's been too long since I've had roses of my own.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Fog Has Lifted

It didn't go according to plan, that's for sure.

My clothes were laid out and ready for an early departure. And I was two hours behind schedule with kids home before noon today.

My Camelbak was full. And it leaked all over my backpack and leggings.

My gloves, ear band, and sweatshirt were in the car. And it was 35 degrees and I was wet.

When I got out of the Suburban at Usery Pass, I was almost defeated. I mean, why even climb that mountain today? Excuses flooded my mind.

Instead of heading home, I headed up, Adele's 25 and Phantom of the Opera blasting in my ears.
Hardly anyone was on the trail. The air was pleasantly crisp, and once I started walking, I forgot the wet spot on my leg and my time crunch. I sang to myself and let my thoughts wander. I was ready to conquer that mountain.
Things have been hard around here lately. My shoulders are tired from carrying so many worries. Questions with no visible answers swirl constantly in my mind, questions like:

What can I control? and What can I not control?
Is it possible to mourn the loss of something that wasn't really mine to begin with?
How can I let go?
Why is life so hard sometimes?
How can I be happy when things are going so wrong?

The higher I got on the mountain, the less my mind dwelt on these burdensome, unanswerable questions, and the more I began to see the desert that I love. The saguaro and barrel cacti. The spiny ocotillo sporting a "wet winter" coat of leaves. The granite and sandstone. And the blue, blue Arizona sky. There is nowhere on earth with a sky like ours. My worries stayed on the valley floor as my mind felt clear and free for the first time in weeks.
My shuffled playlist of favorites stopped as it searched for the next song. Single notes played on an acoustic guitar--what was this? Tangled? That's not hiking music. I never would have chosen it.
I climbed up on a rock and listened to the words. I have been so trapped inside my mind and heart with no relief in sight for so long, but sitting there above my world, I began at last to see the light.
"and it's like the fog has lifted." I felt my heavy burdens physically lift from me, and for the first time in weeks . . . I felt peace. "It's like the sky is new." Everything was suddenly ok. Suddenly in clearer perspective. "The world has somehow has shifted."

"Everything was different" in that moment.  I don't know how long I sat on that rock, and I don't know how many times I listened to that song. Over and over again until my mind finally found some rest and my heart began to heal.
I knew there was no time to reach the cave now--to see the unusally green moss covering the rocks above me. But for the first time in my entire life--reaching the end and finding the answers weren't what mattered most. What mattered was the journey--where I was at that exact moment in time was enough. Taking time to sit and appreciate the joy, along with all the heartache and struggle, was enough. It was enough. That shift in my driving, achievement-centered, solution-anchored thinking was monumental, and words are inadequate to describe that moment on that rock that day.

As the last notes of the song finished for the seventh or twelfth or twenty-second time, I climbed down from the rock, waved to the passing hikers, and headed down the trail without a second glance back at where I thought I was headed when I began my ascent. No new solutions. No real answers. But I had found joy in the journey.

And it was more than enough.

It was everything.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Arizona "Winter"

I know many of you are digging yourselves out of powdery inches and looking for lost mittens, but I thought I'd share with you one of the difficulties of Arizona "winter."

February came in like a lion, which is uncommon here in the desert--gusting winds and pelting rain that roused us from our sleep. As Brad climbed back into bed, he muttered, "Of course it would rain tonight. The first irrigation of the spring comes down tomorrow." (I know. Using the words winter and spring to reference the same day is slightly confusing, but that's how we Arizonans see it.)

The kids got ready for school that first February morning, and it was cold--40 degrees, drizzly and windy. (I know. That's not that cold, but you must remember where we live and what we face daily in July. It's all perspective, right?) When they got home that afternoon, the back yard was enticingly flooded. My kids normally run for swimsuits when they see the back yard lake, but they hesitated slightly. I mean, it was cold! Tucker looked straight at Hyrum and said, "I'll give you five bucks if you lay down in the deepest water for fifteen seconds."

Without a second thought, Hyrum raced upstairs for his swimsuit, grabbed some goggles, and bravely ventured into the icy depths. (Ok, some artistic license used here.)
Steeling himself for the chill, he sat for a moment . . .

and with the vision of five crisp dollar bills firmly in mind . . .
. . . he took the plunge. (Notice where these pictures were taken--from the safety and warmth of the house. I was shivering in my jacket on the couch. It was COLD, people!)
Tucker counted down the fifteen seconds, squealing like a little kid that he had convinced his brother to do something so crazy.

At 15.1 seconds, Hyrum shed his goggles and bolted for a towel.
Tucker yelled his congratulations, and after Hyrum was kind of dry and still quite cold, Tucker opened his wallet. Instead of five dollar bills, he gave his youngest brother one $1 bill and two $2 bills--which in the mind of an eight-year-old boy is even BETTER than five $1 bills.

After a dash upstairs to a warm bath, and  clean and dry clothes, Hyrum came back downstairs, wrapped in his favorite blanket and sporting a huge grin.

"That was so worth 15 seconds of agony. I can't believe Tucker gave me two $2 bills!"

Together we calculated his rate per hour. $5 for 15 seconds = $20/minute x 60 minutes =

"MOM!! That's 120 dollars per hour!"

I love when they do that--figure out the value of their time.

You couldn't have paid me $120/hour to do that. No way. But when Micah and Lily found out, they searched for Tucker to see if the offer still stood. It didn't.

You snooze, you lose around here.

And that's one way we suffer through our "winter." We can't play in the irrigation. Do you feel bad for us?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Ketchup, Part 2

Still playing catch up around here.

Eve is taking dance this year--for the first time. She's always been so shy that she had no desire, but this year, her infatuation with ballet shoes and leotards conquered her fear of strangers and big groups.
Sometimes she still gets a little teary when it's time to go to class, but she really enjoyed her recital.

Micah is still pursuing his goal of becoming both Jon Schmidt and Steven Sharp Nelson (the pianist and cellist from The Piano Guys). He had a piano recital (which I recorded and have yet to ask Brad's help in getting it transferred) and an orchestra concert for the holidays.
Cello comes really easy to him (because of all of his piano practice), and because he rarely touches his cello outside of school, I didn't think orchestra mattered much to him. I was surprised when he came home a little sad from school just before the semester was over. His orchestra teacher was moving, and the school would no longer offer the advanced orchestra. That made me reevaluate his interest in cello--maybe it's real? I'll have to see if he's ready for private lessons . . .

Eve's class participated in the first grade Christmas program. She was funny as she got ready for the show that morning. They were instructed to wear either a red or green shirt or dressy clothes. She opted for the summer dress and not matching flowery headband. I love that she already has her own sassy sense of style.

She read her part well and didn't act shy at all. I'm so happy she's overcoming her shyness. I was beginning to wonder if she would struggle all her life with it.
The sixth grade put together an Egyptian festival. Each student was responsible for their own costume, and artifact that would be uncovered in a pyramid, and their headpiece reflecting the Egyptian god of their choice. Micah chose Sobek, the crocodile god of the Nile and the military. It was a hard one to make.
But it definitely reads crocodile, doesn't it?
I tried a crazy thing with my hair one day. Yeah. It was a little strange, to be sure. Had to send that selfie to Lily and Brad to get their opinions.

I took the three little kids to see "A Christmas Carol" at Hale Theatre the week before Christmas. I was afraid it might be a little too complex for the two little ones, but Micah had read Dickens in his reading class, so I knew at least he would understand. Much to my surprise, they all enjoyed it and only needed a little explanation throughout. We may need to make this a Christmas tradition.
Speaking of Christmas, this is what our weather was like in December--absolutely spectacular. Eve loves helping her dad in the garden--and often wears a flouncy skirt while she's doing it.
We kept the front door propped open most afternoons so I could watch the kids play "fumble-roosky" with their dad (Don't ask me--I have no idea what it is).
 And of course, there's always a great AZ sunset.
And like most of the world, we saw Star Wars. My boys were so afraid someone would spoil it for them before we saw it on Saturday morning, but luckily, we heard nothing.
Now that it's been more than a month, I feel safe in saying--WOW! Adam Driver looks exactly like Severus Snape! And that's all I could think after he removed his mask.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Remember January 2016

This quote from Spencer W. Kimball has always been one of my favorites.

I can't find the words to write today, but I need to find something to fill this empty space. 

One goal I set for 2016 was to take a picture of the sunset every night of the year. I only missed two nights in January, and instead of quitting then and there, I added sunrise pictures the next morning. 

One requirement for this project: No photo editing software--pictures must be straight out of the camera (I did a few on my big camera at the beginning of the month, but I think iPhone will be default for the rest of the year). As I look through the images, many bring back that exact moment in time: evenings spent at the cabin in the snow, on the airplane to and from Idaho (and not leaving Idaho, I may add), how much time I spend in the car around 6 pm on many of the days, the color of the sunset reflected on the Superstition Mountains . . .  and how much I love sunset in Arizona.

One night--January 16--I caught the exact moment of the best sunset of the month. These photos haven't been enhanced in any way.

  This is what the Arizona sky often gifts us.

After I took those photos, I thought I had nothing left to shoot of the sunsets and nothing left to learn from this goal. I mean, what can top flaming cotton candy? But by the end of the month, I had learned a few things about photographing the sunset--and about myself.

Many nights I would glance outside and gauge by the color of the light if the sunset had reached its peak colors or not. I would take a few images then realize that what I had captures was too early--I was too impatient to watch the colors evolve and deepen. I do this in life all the time. I want to find the answers to every problem--often looking for answers before all of the questions have been asked. Sometimes, if I can hold on just a few moments more, I can see the beauty that is waiting to emerge from the gloom of the day.

Or some nights I found that I had missed the best part entirely by waiting for it to "get better." I would second guess the sky--that can't be all there is tonight, can it? I do this all the time as well. I look past the beautiful parts of difficult days, thinking there has to be more for me today--there has to be an answer or a conclusion or relief from the fight. I go to bed at night and see how much I missed because I couldn't enjoy what was present, the good that was overshadowed by the bad. This may be the bigger mistake, because every day has a sunset. Every day has something good to offer, despite my missteps or failure to see.

This is my photo from last night--the last sunset of January 2016.  A storm was blowing in and dust in the air reflected the waning light. And I missed the best part of it, or so I thought.
Brad and I were talking around the table after all the kids had disappeared to avoid dinner dishes, and I watched the colors behind him flare and then fade before I could get my phone. I found myself antsy to get outside to check my picture off the list for the day, but I refrained. I sat. I listened. I weighed the choices and chose the more important. I learned something in that moment. It's not about the best colors or the peak moment for a photograph. This is a journey, and each photo will mark a place on that path. Each day will hold its personal "sweet spot," and it's my job to recognize it when it arrives.

In the future I think I will separate my sunset posts from my remember posts, but today they will be together. When I look back through the files of my life, I will remember January 2016. It will stand alone. It may haunt me for a while--this roller coaster ride of emotions and experiences. It's been one of the most trying, most difficult, most emotional months of my entire life--probably ranking second of all time.

It's been that hard.

I thought I was saying goodbye to hard when 2015 ended, but I was wrong. What I do find comforting is that the goals I've set for myself to focus 1) upward on God, 2) outward on others, and 3) inward on myself have shaped me for the better. I'm beginning to remember who I am. I'm beginning to remember the joy of serving others. And most important, I'm beginning to remember how much I need God's guiding hand in my life--guiding my choices, guiding my parenting, guiding my prayers--and giving me strength beyond my own.

I am so far from solutions. I am more mindful of my flaws and my imperfections. I struggle to breathe some days because I'm swimming so far below the water line. In the past, I would see this as failure. Instead, through hours of prayer and work, I'm beginning to see that I can mark the difficult journey with colorful sunsets and small ordinary joys. 

And the photo from my favorite sunset of 2016? From the maternity floor of the Madison County Hospital.
The most extraordinary and beautiful of blessings from January 2016.