The realization of a dream.

For one year, in college, I lived in a small, two bedroom apartment with three other girls on a tiny dead end street right off of South Temple in downtown Salt Lake City.

South Temple was a busy street with multiple bus routes that would take me to school, or work, or home to do laundry.  My side of South Temple was filled with small apartment buildings or converted duplexes, but the north side of South Temple was full of glorious houses:  large and old fashioned brick homes, renovated but full of charm, perfectly landscaped under enormous trees that must have been planted by the first settlers to the valley.

My favorite house had a large front porch and gorgeous wood-trimmed windows.  On the second floor, right above the porch, was a big balcony with a small table and set of chairs, red potted flowers, and beautiful French doors that opened up into what must have been the master bedroom.

During September, those French doors would be open in the early morning as I waited for the bus, and I would try to imagine who lived here, what their lives were like.  There would be just a hint of cold in the air and I enviously imagined some wealthy woman who was able to snuggle under the covers and enjoy the crisp weather that floated in from her open balcony, while listening to songbirds.  Perhaps she was canoodling with a man she loved, someone who loved her in return.  This was almost unfathomable to my twenty year old self.  I had been in love a few times and occasionally guys had shown interest in me, but never had the two situations happened simultaneously.  The whole idea of reciprocated love and attraction felt like a difficult math problem with no possible solution.

As the September days passed I was filled with even more jealousy towards this fictitious woman in the magazine cover worthy home.  She wasn’t lonely.  She didn’t have to get up to serve hashbrowns and egg McMuffins at the local McDonald’s.  She didn’t have to carry a heavy backpack up the canyon to make a 7:45 English class.

And I vowed to myself that one chilly September day I, too, would sleep in past eight o’clock in the morning (an unheard of luxury with my academic and work schedule), with my windows wide open to let in the cool autumn air, next to someone who loved me as I loved them.

This morning, I’d like to report, that this dream has been gloriously fulfilled.

The weather was perfect:  slightly overcast with just a bit of chill.  It was the perfect weather that makes you think of your favorite sweaters and long sleeved shirts, while still promising sunshine  later in the day.

While laying under my covers listening to the sounds of my chickens, I was soon joined by my youngest daughter who might grow up one day to compete on the Olympic Snuggling team. (Seriously, that seven year old has got intense snuggling skills.)

There was no where we had to be, nothing pressing that had to be accomplished before nine o’clock so we just laid there, nestled among half a dozen pillows, feeling the whispers of autumn all around us.  Schedules didn’t matter.  Math lessons weren’t important.  Breakfast seemed overrated.

My long held dream, almost twenty years in the making, was finally realized, but in a slightly different manner than I had once fantasized.

While there is no balcony off my bedroom with French doors and red potted plants, I did have two open windows that let in all that early fall deliciousness.  Instead of songbirds singing, I got to listen to my chickens grousing about and complaining that no one had brought them treats.  I was not in the arms of my lover, but I held in my arms his daughter.

It was an absolutely perfect morning.

Now I think back to that mysterious woman I created in my mind, whom I envied so much, and feel sorry for her.  For her chicken-less existence, for her childless bed, for her perfectly decorated and beautiful house that never looked as lived in and loved as my cluttered, suburban home does.

And it strikes me, as I write this, that I have been living the dream.  For fifteen years, this fall, I have lived the dream.  But it is only this morning that I have finally realized that.

Posted in musings | 3 Comments

The Fall fall apart.

It is officially Fall, Gentle Reader.  I know this because I have begun to officially fall apart.  Autumn is my perfect storm.

School is in full force.  My days are filled with reading out loud, grading papers, and teaching math concepts.  On Monday mornings I have started having teacher conferences with each of my kids, lining up their academic schedules for the week, discussing any difficulties they are having, going over what they’ve been reading recreationally.  It is a great idea and has been instrumental in keeping all of us on track, but it does mean that on Mondays I don’t comb my hair or change out of my pajamas until lunchtime.  (So don’t stop by on Mondays, okay?)

This past week the fall swimming season began and each of my children are on a different section of the team.  This means I spend most of my evenings driving one kid to one practice and then dropping off another kid to a different practice, sometimes in a different facility.

It also means that if we want to eat a meal together as a family (which is a high priority for me) I need to have dinner on the table by four thirty.  FOUR THIRTY.  I mean, they’re barely serving the dinner menu at Denny’s at four thirty.  We have officially become weirdos in the name of family togetherness and swim team devotion.

Because the weather has been lovely, all the tomatoes in the entire state of Indiana have chosen this moment in time to ripen.  (I’m pretty sure they had a conference or a caucus of some sort to plan it.)  I have a huge stockpot of homemade tomato soup in my fridge which I need to can at some point, and my counters are still full of lovely red orbs waiting for me to do something with them.

There are still raspberries that we need to pick, in order to have enough frozen fruit to get through the winter.  There are carrots I need to harvest before they become gigantic.  And applesauce season in right around the corner. I completely understand why school didn’t start until winter back in  Little House on the Prairie days.

I know that by the time October gets here, I’ll have my rhythm down, my routine mastered.  I know this.  I have a Fall fall apart every September.  (Check the archives if you don’t believe me.)

So this year, I have tried to just tread water, not sweating the small stuff while keeping my head above the surface.  I mean, who cares if my kids ate chips and salsa twice last week for dinner, at the uncivilized hour of four thirty?  At least we ate chips and salsa together as a family, right?  And if I freeze that tomato soup for a few weeks until I have time to can it, who cares.  It will eventually get done.  Someday.

Deep breath.

Someday I will have my crap together.  Until then?  I shall strive to fall apart gracefully, thank you very much.

(How’s Fall going for you, Gentle Reader?  If you would like to share a similar story of autumnal distress in the comments, feel free.  Solidarity friends.)

Posted in Homeschooling, rantings and ravings | 2 Comments

Flashback Friday: Back to school.

I have three distinct sets of friends on facebook.  There are my Indiana friends who all posted their first day of school pictures at the end of July.  Then there are my Utah/western United States friends who posted their back to school pictures in the middle of August.  Finally, there is everybody else- the traditionally scheduled people- who finally put up their first day of school pictures this week, after Labor Day.

When I was little, school started the day after Labor Day and ended just before Memorial Day.  To suggest otherwise was downright ridiculous and possibly unpatriotic.

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There were no school uniforms when I was young.  The closest thing we had to a dress code was the unspoken rule that girls should wear dresses on the first day of school and on picture day.  Beyond that, we mostly wore blue jeans with Donnie & Marie, Brady Bunch, or Mork & Mindy t-shirts.  Feathered hair was the coifing aspiration of all (this was the late seventies after all) but at the very least, straight hair was expected.  No one had curls- except for me.

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We lived in the country in southern Iowa and so I rode the bus to school with kids of all other grades.  After an hour long bus ride in the morning, we stopped at the high school so the older kids could get off and then continued to the elementary school.

I liked riding the bus with all the older students.  A pack? Caucus? Group? of high schoolers taught me how to tie my shoes when I was in kindergarten.   They also helped me read my Dick and Jane books when I was in first grade.

At recess, my friends and I usually played ponies out on the grass.  I didn’t run with the uber-popular group, so the swings were usually off limits.  If my friends and I were fighting, I played Star Trek with the athletically challenged boys.  (The other boys always played some sort of sport: basketball, baseball, soccer, or tetherball- my personal favorite.)  Sometimes I even hung out with the loners on the monkey bars.  These were the kids destined to hang out under the bleachers and smoke in high school.

The only time I ever remember lobbying fiercely to play sports was in fourth grade. School officials announced that girls weren’t allowed to play soccer with the boys as it was too rough for our “delicate physiques.”  Dozens and dozens of girls who had been content to play ponies and never aspired to anything more athletic than tetherball suddenly began demanding permission to chase a black and white ball up and down a dusty field.

I was one of them and joined in sweaty clandestine soccer matches at recess until the teacher chaperone broke things up once she noticed what was going on.  After the game was busted, all the girls who had been caught had to line up to go inside early.  With dirty faces and clothes we marched as slow as we could back into the school all while singing, “I am woman hear me roar, in numbers too small to ignore!

School administrators eventually caved on their prohibition (our singing was horrible) and all girls were graciously allowed to play soccer as long as they only played with other girls.  Everyone’s soccer mania soon faded after that because we didn’t really want to play soccer, we just didn’t want to be told we couldn’t.

I was spanked once, in the school lunchroom, in front of all of my friends.  The principal (an older, evil looking man with a scrawny mustache, whom I hope is spending at least some amount of time in purgatory right now) was patrolling up and down the aisles.  When he passed our table, he leaned right over and smacked me, hard, on my backside.  No explanation was ever given.

Everyone one whose last name began with A-F (we sat alphabetically) saw what happened and I could see the shocked sympathy on all their faces.  The news soon travelled down the line and within minutes everybody knew.  I refused to cry, but my nose dripped a little and my cheeks felt very hot.  By the end of lunch period, I had received dozens and dozens of red and white cartons with tater-tots in them, smuggled down from friends and fellow “rebels” who had had similar run ins with authority.

To this day, thirty-two years later, tater-tots provide instant comfort on lousy, gloomy days when nothing is going right.  They taste of potatoes, salt, and love.

To all those kids out there who are finally starting up their new academic year at last, this blog post is dedicated to you and to the students who began a few weeks ago.  May you learn more than multiplication facts and grammar this year.  May you also learn to stand up for causes you truly believe in and to be kind to those who could use a little bit of compassion.

These sorts of things never go out of style, unlike feathered bangs and straight hair.

 

Posted in flashback Fridays | 3 Comments

The biggest secret of parenting I’ve learned.

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When I was younger I thought that being a parent meant imposing discipline and order and teaching upon my offspring.  When I grew up and had children of my own, I discovered that I was right.  And wrong.

Parenting, good parenting, is all about discipline and order and education.  Kids need all those things.  (And how.)

But do you know who needed the most discipline?  The most order?  The most education?

Me.  The parent.  I needed all those things far more than my children in order to be the mother I knew I wanted to be.

Parenting is about raising children and teaching them to become adults, I can’t argue with that.  But in my experience parenting has mostly been about myself finally becoming the adult I always knew I could be:  unselfish, hard working, independent.

And it’s still a work in progress.

Hopefully, by the time the grandkids get here, I’ll get it.

Posted in parenting | Leave a comment

Fighting off the common cold (with books.)

I’ve had a cold this week, Gentle Reader.  One of those drippy nose, heavy chest sort of colds.  The kind where your sinuses are so enlarged they make your teeth ache and your head throb.

Being sick while homeschooling is never fun.  These sorts of symptoms are not exactly helpful when one needs to teach adding and subtracting negative numbers, although they do provide excellent fodder from which to draw examples of various literary devices.  My head is a giant mucus filled balloon simply waiting to explode.  See?  A metaphor.  Mucus makes me miserable.  That’s alliteration.  My evil sinuses are killing me!  There’s an example of hyperbole AND personification.

So, I guess it hasn’t been a complete wash this past few days.

What I’ve wanted to do most this week (besides regain the ability to breathe through my nose) is curl up on the couch with a good book.  However, when your head is achy and your children are overly solicitous, one does not always have the brain power for a new book.  This is when it is handy to have a list of old favorites you can reread.  And if those books happen to have a good sickbed scene so much the better.

One of my favorite books to read when I am under the weather (physically or emotionally) is Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman by Elizabeth Buchan.  Here is the classic story of a woman whose husband leaves her for a younger woman.  A younger, hateful woman who also happens to steal her job.  Really, she’s the devil.

I love rereading this book because it instantly makes me feel better about my own life.  I also adore the main character who is just bitter enough to be realistic (the woman can say some deliciously cutting things) but strong enough to overcome her adversity and grow into an even better person.  Plus, it is set in England so I can read it in my head with a British accent.  This is always a bonus.

Another book I love to reread when I’m sick is Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild.  Yes, it’s a children’s book, but that should never stop you from reading it.  It is about three orphaned girls who are living with their guardian under a certain amount of financial distress.  So they all wind up attending a performance school that will turn them into actors and dancers, capable of earning a living.  Some of these girls are made for such a life and some are not, but the entire book is delightful.  Again, this is set in England (are you sensing a trend?) and there is a small sickbed scene as well.

Just to prove to you that I am not a one-trick pony/reader, another book I love to reread when I’m sick is Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery.  Here the author (whom you probably recognize as the writer of the Anne of Green Gables) is clearly Canadian which is completely different from being British.  Sort of.  Whatever.

I love Montgomery’s Emily books even more than I love her Anne books.  Emily is spunky, slightly naughty but never bad, and has a group of friends who are all quite interesting.  (Poor Anne had very dull friends.  I’m sorry Diana, you are good and kind but you are boring.)  There is also a tiny bit of the supernatural in Emily of New Moon, which coincides with the main character becoming quite ill, so the ending is a bit dramatic.

Yes, this is another children’s book, but get over it, Gentle Reader.  Children’s books are some of the best books to reread when you’re feeling under the weather.  All in all, it is a lovely read.

My final selection for you today is Family Album, by Danielle Steele.  I went through an immense Danielle Steele phase in junior high.  (Don’t judge!)  Her books tend to follow the same pattern and be a bit formulaic, but there are a few that I have kept on my shelves throughout the years because they really stood out.  This is one of them.

The book is set in Hollywood and begins when a young actress falls in love with a millionaire playboy and they married (because that happens every day in California, of course.)  They raise a family, have problems, fight, start a new life, rise to the top again, have problems, fight, start a new life.  Rinse, lather, repeat.  Along the way there is betrayal, adultery, drug abuse, neglected children, the Academy Awards, the Vietnam War, children born out of wedlock, the whole nine yards.

It is all terribly melodramatic but immensely entertaining in its simplicity.  One doesn’t become very emotionally attached to the characters, so when horrible things happen to them it’s not at all disturbing or heart-wrenching.  In fact, I find it to be a giant pick-me-up when I’m sick.  Even with twenty pounds of mucus in my middle class head, my life is far better than these rich fools.  So, basically, it’s the perfect book to read when you’re feeling low.

So there you have it.  Here are some of my favorite books to reread when I’m sick.  What are some of yours?

Posted in books | 5 Comments

A comedy of camping errors. Or, how to lose your sanity in twenty-two short hours.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that you must be a wee bit of a masochist if you chose to go camping in Indiana during July or August.  (Unless, of course, you have an air conditioned R.V.  Then you’re just living the dream.)

But this year the weather has been so nice and mild (oh Polar Vortex, I love you so) with very little humidity so I forgot that cardinal rule of midwest get-aways and we made plans to camp this past weekend.

I’m not sure if the jet stream was already in play or if God moved it especially for us once we made our reservations and paid our deposit, but this weekend, the two days we decided to sleep outdoors in a tent, the weather hit over 90 degrees for the first time all year.  When you add in the crazy humidity it felt like four million degrees outside.

Despite seeing the soaring temperatures on the weather forecast, my intrepid family decided to make the trip any way.  Surely the weather wouldn’t be that bad.  Surely everything would work out.

Disillusioned Me is shaking my head at three days ago Naive Me right now.

The first thing I noticed about our camping site was that we were pitching our tent under some of the biggest trees I had ever seen.  I’m pretty sure they may have been a group of Ents that had wandered away from Middle Earth and gotten lost.  All the foliage and tree branches made our site feel incredibly secluded and forgotten.  We were pretty much pitching our tent in the Forbidden Forest.  Eden took one look at the place and backed away saying, “This is not how I imagined it!  I feel like a million eyes are watching me!”

She repeated this refrain several times that night until we all felt  those million eyes watching our every move.

Despite the high temperatures we made a fire because there was dinner to be cooked and marshmallows to be roasted.  While the coals were heating up we decided to explore our surroundings.  The website had mentioned that there was a pit toilet in the tent area.  My husband went off to find it and returned a few minutes later saying, “Well, the good news is that the pit toilet is very close by.”

Knowing my husband I then asked, “So what is the bad news?”  He grimaced and answered “When I opened the door I fully expected to see a serial killer wearing a hockey mask and wielding a chain-shaw inside.  The roof and walls don’t look entirely stable and I’m pretty sure a rodent ran across the floor.”

I made a quick executive decision that we wouldn’t visit the pit toilet ever and we all went off to find the shower house and flush toilets that the website told us were “close by.”

“Close by” ended up being about a quarter of a mile away, which isn’t horrible when camping.  What is horrible is walking into a shower house and seeing mold and dead things on the shower floor.

It may not surprise you to learn that none of us bathed this trip.  Sometimes remaining filthy is the cleanest option you have.

By this time, everyone was starving so we retreated hastily back to our campsite and had dinner.  Between the fire, the humidity, and the heat we were all sweaty by the time we had finished eating.  While taking a bite of his corn on the cob, my husband remarked, “It’s like having bubbles full of boiling water explode in your mouth.”  We unanimously decided to skip the smores because no one wanted to stand in front of the fire long enough to make them.

Darkness had descended and the bugs were out in force.  At this point, we could hear the other campers in the distance.  They were all young college kids, which made me feel instantly better.  Everybody knows that it’s the young, sexually promiscuous college kids who die first in a horror movie.  Not the middle aged, legally wed, forty-one year old herding three children to a minivan.

As the other campers quieted down, we could hear all the nocturnal animals waking up.  Trinity kept saying, “What’s that sound?” every few minutes in a slightly panicky voice.  Then Eden, who had been an unwilling participant in every camping activity thus far, hugged me around the waist and buried her face in my side.  I could feel her chin quiver and she choked out, “If I die before you do…I’m just going to miss you so much!”

As you can see, Gentle Reader, morale was high.

After a group trip to the shower house to visit the marginally sanitary toilets (the family that pees together, stays alive together) we headed back to our sleeping bags.

This is when we heard the coyotes off in the distance.  As we quickened our pace through what had become the tallest grass known to man, I kept muttering, “Darn it, darn it, darn it” under my breath.  (When I was telling this story to my friend, she laughed and said, “You weren’t really saying darn it, were you?” She knows me well.  Honesty compels me to admit it was another d word that I was saying.)

Between the sound of the coyotes, the heat, and the knowledge that I would never make it until daybreak without having to visit the bathroom again (curse you tiny bladder!), it is safe to say that I did not experience the sleep of angels.

In the morning things went smoothly enough.  No one showered but everyone had remembered their deodorant, so things were looking up for the Bunkersdown clan.

We had made reservations to take a ten mile canoe trip down Sugar Creek and all seemed well as we picked out our life jackets and paddles.  My son and I were going to paddle one canoe, while the husband and the girls went in another.

As I prepared to propel myself into the bobbing canoe, my son morphed into his alternate identity as the Tiny Professor and instructed me to have “three areas of reference inside the canoe before attempting to fully step in.”

These were wise words indeed, and I said them to myself each and every time I had to climb back into the blasted boat after being stuck on some freaking sandbar in the middle of the creek.

Apparently water levels were low.  And my butt is big.  Unlike peanut butter and chocolate, these are two things that do not go well together.

After traveling three long miles and having to carry our canoes eight or nine times, we gave up.  This was not canoeing, it was hiking while carrying a boat.  After we checked in our paddles and climbed aboard the bus that would take us back to camp, I realized that my capri pants were completely soaked and that mud fully encompassed all my southern extremities.

It was the filthiest I had ever been and there wasn’t a sanitary shower for miles.

This is when I turned to my husband and whimpered, “I cannot do this anymore, we are going home now.”

And like the wonderful man that he is, my husband packed up the tent and all the camping supplies while I ate low sodium Pringles and attempted to get a grip.

After returning home and showering (twice) I turned on the television and saw on the weather radar that a huge thunderstorm was pummeling the area we had just been camping in.  Heavy rainfall, gusty winds, possible hailstones, the whole nine yards.

This is when I realized three very important things.  First, things can always get worse.  Always.  Second, sometimes you catch a break.  Sometimes.  And third, never go camping in Indiana during July or August.  Never.

Posted in outings and trips | 6 Comments

Consoling words from a seven year old.

As a mom, there are many things I hoped my children would not inherit from my half of the gene pool:  my curly hair, my lousy metabolism, my emotional dependency on salty items.

And there are lots of things I had hoped my children would inherit from me: my curly hair (if you have curly hair you understand why it’s on both lists), my love of reading, and my talent for empathy.

For the longest time, it looked like I would be the only crybaby in the house.  You know, the one who tears up at hallmark cards or cancer center commercials.  The one who uses “mourn with those who mourn” as a personal mandate.  The one who began a lifelong career of crying during movies at age five when I watched Charlie Brown’s Snoopy Come Home.

And then Eden came along.

When Eden sobbed her way through the last ten minutes of Charlotte’s Web last spring (with me sniveling right beside her, might I add), I knew she was my daughter with the tender heart.

And it is true, while Eden rarely cries for herself, she will bawl her eyes out for someone else (fictional or real.)

She cries when her sister is sick (“Oh Mom, I just want her to get better!”), she cries when someone cuts up an old necktie as a visual aid in church (“Oh Mom, that poor, poor tie!”), she cries when Harry Potter sees his family in the mirror of Erised but can’t touch them (“Oh Mom, Harry needs a good family!”)

The girl has deep feelings.  Deeeeeep feelings for a seven year old.

This was displayed once again this past week.

The children had decided to watch the movie Cheaper By the Dozen on t.v. (a genius slapstick comedy with Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt which is nothing like the book.  NOTHING LIKE THE BOOK.)

Towards the end of the movie, one of the 12 children watches his pet frog die and then decides to run away from home.  Eden immediately feels this boy’s pain at watching his beloved amphibian die and silent tears fall down her cheeks.

Meanwhile, I watch this movie mom discover that her son has run away and she doesn’t know where he is and I start sniffling.  Because not being able to find your kids is sad, people.  (At least, usually.)

At this point, the other members of our family can’t decide what is more entertaining, the movie or the sob-fest happening on the couch.  So Eden and I console ourselves with much hugging and back patting.

After the movie, and everyone had had calmed down somewhat, Eden brings me a piece of paper hastily folded into a card, created for the sole purpose of cheering me up.

On the front is a picture of a short girl with blond hair wearing a purple dress who is holding the hand of  bigger girl with curly brown hair and a decidedly square jaw.  Inside the card is the solemn promise:

I love you Mom.  I want nevr run owae.
Eden

In case you aren’t fluent in seven year old-ese, let me translate for you:  “I love you Mom.  I won’t ever run away.  Eden”  This little girl, in the middle of her own sadness, had noticed mine and wanted to make me feel better.

Some days, Gentle Reader, some days I am completely overwhelmed at how blessed I am.

This is one of those days.

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Posted in The Little Girl | 3 Comments