Category Archives: Adventures in Domesticity

The Story of Our House

Once upon a time, husband  and I sat down and said to each other,

By gum, husband is in a stable, comfortable job in a family friendly town with a low cost of living…why not  make things interesting and move across the country to a place we’ve never been, go back to grad school to qualify for a less comfortable job, buy a fixer-upper house, and have another baby?

OK, that’s not entirely how the conversation went, but that’s the summary of how things happened.

We’d been praying about and planning on graduate school for several years. about 9 years, in fact; the whole of our marriage. And until this time, the divine answer was always “not yet.”

There are many reasons why, but the biggest I can think of is we had some friendships that needed to happen in our last hometown in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. To leave a place feeling tranformed by it, and feeling you’ve also transformed it, is a good feeling. We’re meant to learn and grow from each other, and that is precisely what happened in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest.

Anyhow.

We moved to the wilds of urban Connecticut where the taxes and therefore rent are formidably high, and found ourselves searching  for the unfindable: a house close to Fancypants University with a reasonable (!) rent or mortgage, and a neighborhood wherein we were unlikely to be shot.

We had a friend write to us about this house. He had tried to buy it in the past, and was unsuccessful (we found out why the hard way). He said he thought of us when he walked through the house (reasonable enough, as the dining room ceiling was falling off, the kitchen was full of grimy liquor bottles, and the basement was full of suspiciously stolen-looking tires, the attic had a septegenarian squatter living in it). Friend thought it might be a good house for us. It’s  a fixer upper, but we’re handy, right?

So we found a realtor and embarked on a four month headache. In the end, we got the home, for a very good price. We bought it with a squatter in it, and between the friend’s genius diplomacy, our feeding the squatter homemade cookies, gently pointing out the fact that I was 38 weeks pregnant with our fifth child, and a little baldfaced shameless bribery, we were able to help him move on to other accommodations on amicable terms. Yes, he did promise three times to come back and burn down the house if the check bounced, but he was quite amicable about it.

He had a lady friend who got drunk on Everclear on our front porch the night we moved in.

We got the anonymous gift of lit fireworks thrown in through our open window the day we were moving in.

And we couldn’t be happier with the place. Our neighbors (all those we know so far) are pleasant, friendly, and have excellent senses of humor (whoever lit the fireworks notwithstanding).

Life, especially life on the border between a posh community and a starkly impoverished community, requires an excellent sense of humor. We have enjoyed the community, and, so far, have not been shot.

The house is slowly transforming, as time and money allow. Lucy the Maude was born 12 days after we moved in. It is good to be home.

 

Sprained

I am typing this from my bed, which I have hardly left all day, because I’m uncoordinated on crutches and my foot is in massive pain.* It feels abominably lazy, so I have to list off all the things I’ve done to comfort myself. I have nursed the baby, provided cooking advice to the children, prayed, and read a number of books to accommodating audiences. I am willing the cells in my foot to quickly mend all damaged tissue. By sheer force of will, this must be better quickly…we’ve got a Seder to go to at Fancypants University next week. Unfortunately, I sprained my foot.

The story is embarrassing. Husband volunteered to take all the children to buy groceries (and pick up a really sweet Craigslist deal to replace the rapidly deteriorating flooring in our kitchen) and I, in my giddiness at having an empty house all to myself, went into CLEANING BEAST MODE, with a plan to clean and write and clean and write until my house was immaculate at my novel was perfect.

So I was sprinting through the house, and with all the grace that nature has gifted me, I smacked my foot into a lovely pillar between the dining room and living room.

It only hurt slightly, but enough that I sat down and wrote for a while. Then went back to CLEANING BEAST MODE,  ignoring the pain. Until the pain became not-ignorable, about 8 o’clock that night. By 9, I couldn’t move my toes.

By 9:30, I feel like this:

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By 10, a nurse was telling me to go get it x rayed, and no, it couldn’t wait until tomorrow.

So I go to the ER at 11 pm, where my fellow hospital patients are an unconscious man bleeding from a bandaged head wound, and a barefooted, t-shirted, handcuffed man railing about police violence and hollering colorful epithets at the five security guards accompanying him on his hospital bed travels.

I’m feeling silly being here. There are so many more people who need so much more attention than I do.

But here I am, and when they look at my foot, they tell me I should be here. I still feel silly. Shoulda stayed home with ice.

Jane the Austen’s violin teacher also happens to be in the ER, accompanying a sick relative. She sees me (though I do not see her; did she catch me spying on the crazy people?) and sends me a text. We have a lovely text conversation in between paperwork and wheeling to and from X-Rays. (I don’t feel polite texting while people are doing stuff for me, even if they’re not talking to me). She offers me a ride home, which is lovely because husband is at home with our five sleeping babies.

Jane the Austen’s violin a lovely, lovely woman, one of those people that radiates goodness and puts one in a perpetual state of awe by the breadth and depth of her pedagogical  and humanitarian and artistic talents. She helps me up the steps to my house, and dear husband makes me eggs, because it is past midnight and I am hungry and he is compassionate.

In the morning, Jane the Austen and Jack the Stewart make crepes and bring them to my room, so we can have breakfast as a family:

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They sit on my bed and I read them stories. When Clive the Staples discovers my crutches, all bets for a tranquil morning are off:

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But that’s OK. I’ve always known that he had a destiny in the circus arts.

Somehow or other, the seven of us ended up having a lunch of peanut butter and apples in my room while Husband the Man read Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians to us all.

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Jane the Austen half-listened, half-penned the next great American Novel. Also, note Lucy the Maude’s fist photobombing. All my favorite people are right here.

Later, the children brought me a leaning tower of banana bread with cream cheese frosting. Because when the children are in charge of the food, they will make whatever they darn well please! (It was delicious.)

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We lay in my bed like a bunch of lazy fools, eating banana bread and watching enthusiastic homesteaders tell us about how to keep chickens. Why are we researching chickens? We’re homeschooling millennials. Chickens are our destiny.

It was a glorious afternoon. Husband the Man took Lucy the Maude and Mr. the Rogers home teaching, and Katherine the great fell asleep on me while we did our Chicken Youtube research.

When the rest of the family came home, husband piggybacked my sprained-foot self down the stairs and we curled up around the fireplace as we burned up the dried out Christmas tree.

Yes, the Christmas Tree. Yes, it’s March.

Our family seems so small when we’re all cuddled up together.

Conclusion: Having a sprained foot is not that bad when you have a family like mine.

Second conclusion: Seven in the family is not too large. Not by a long shot.

The End.

*Due to the fact that I write and schedule these things ahead of time, I’m hoping that by the time this posts, this injury will be a thing of the past.

 

The Sunday We Conquered the World and Survived the Apocalypse

Here’s what we did a few Sundays ago:

Made cinnamon rolls:

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Attended Stake Conference :

(No picture. Just a lot of wonderful learning from a lot of wonderful people. It’s possible that I spent part of it in the mother’s room chatting it up with a Sister in Zion-cum-beauty pageant winner about the plight of young refugee mothers and how she can help them as part of her platform. Yes, it’s wonderful and exciting stuff).

Made a carnal mess in the kitchen with beets and boiled bones:

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Conquered the world:

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Built shelters in the backyard, proving the offspring are ready for the apocalypse:

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Yep. We do love our sabbath.

The End.

 

Portrait of our Morning

Taken at approximately 9:25 am:

Jane the Austen:

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She practice for 30-45 minutes each morning, often in her bathrobe because it’s cold in the wilds of Connecticut.

Clive the Staples:

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While J the A practices violin, Clive the Staples and Mr. the Rogers cuddle me on the couch. We alternate who is getting in their reading with me, and who is practicing math and writing. At the moment, it’s Clive the Staple’s turn to read. He’s a major fan of Frog and Toad. Note Lucy the Maude’s hair in the corner.

Mr. the Rogers:

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Mr. the Rogers found new passion for writing today, due to the content.

Katherine the Great:

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K the G sleeps in. Being a toddler, we let her. So on this morning, as on many mornings besides, she breakfasts while the rest of the children are already at their lessons.

Lucy the Maude:

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L the M spends her mornings on my lap. But I didn’t photograph her this morning, so here we are on the Fancypants University Shuttle, doing what we always do: imitating kangaroo and joey.

In conclusion:

I love my children.  9:25 am is usually our most glorious time of day.

A Few of My Favorite Things:Family Home Evening Chart

On Sunday afternoons, I try to sit down with each of my children for at least 30 minutes each, doing something with only that one child, hopefully inducing meaningful conversation.

Because, you know, relationships and whatnot.

The child gets to pick the activity.

Jane the Austen likes to write or read, discuss her favorite books, and geek out over musicals and 19th century history together.

Clive the Staples likes back rubs and feet rubs, cuddles, and drawing.

Mister the Rogers likes to make treats with me, particularly cookies or caramels.

Katherine the Great likes dramatic nonsensical conversations, singing, and dancing.

Lucy the Maude generally likes to nurse, and doesn’t really get formal one on one time. She gets her loving in by default. Thank the stars for breastfeeding, snuggles, and infantile unwavering delightful sociability.

 

One Sunday afternoon, Clive the Staples decided we needed to make a family home evening chart together. So we toddled on down to the basement, found an old 2X4, and set to work with a skilsaw, sander, woodburning pen, and drill.

And my oh my, did we ever make a family home evening chart!

Towards the end, Husband the Man busted out the router, because he’s the only one who really knows how to work that baby, and gave it a fancy beveled edge.

The tags are flipped backwards, because, you know, privacy, but you get the idea.

Now, every week as we rotate everyone’s tag to a new job, I am reminded of my sweet secondborn, and how terribly fast he’s growing up.

 

The End.

Not NieNie Dialogues

Jane the Austen (upon seeing me start a blog): A blog? That’s so cool, Mom! You should make it like NieNie Dialogues.

Me: Her blog is lovely, my dear, but we don’t have enough* Anthropologie in our house to make a NieNie Dialogues sort of blog. Also, I am taking all my photos with my phone, not a nice camera.

Jane the Austen: Well, you can make your version of NieNie Dialogues.

Me: Good Idea.

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So here’s my version. It includes my kitchen window, complete with overflowing compost receptacles. Behind them there’s a lovely view of the corner liquor store.

 

I wouldn’t have it any other way. Except for maybe emptying the compost, because my kitchen is starting to smell like old cabbage.

You’re welcome.

 

*read: any

Women’s Conference: A Memory

Once upon a time, my church extended the Women’s Session of General Conference to all female members of our faith, 8 years and up.

At the time, my daughter was not-yet-eight, but my foster daughter was, and desired and insisted on attending with me. There is something about exercising one’s age privilege that makes kids really, really excited.

So I took foster daughter to the Stake Super Saturday/ Women’s Conference. The female leadership in our stake had put together a grand day for us, where we worked together on a bunch of group humanitarian projects, then had a potluck luncheon, and then watched the Churchwide broadcast.

I followed foster daughter’s lead, and we meandered from one service project to another, before settling on tying baby quilts to donate. Foster daughter, always fiercely independent, wanted to do everything herself, but was soon struggling to thread a needle.

The matron of the project leaned over to her and encouragingly whispered, “I bet your Mom could help you with that.”

This, of course, is a terrible thing to say to a foster daughter struggling with all sorts of feelings of love and attachment and separation anxiety and abandonment and loyalty. Poor quilt matron, with no ill intent whatsoever, had opened a deep and painful wound.

Foster Daughter, with the same look one gives someone blowing an airhorn in a library, hissed, “she’s not my mom!”

Quilt tying matron glanced at me, then back at foster daughter, then down to the quilt, all the many unspoken questions evident on her face.

Her tact didn’t spare foster daughter the weight of the silence. Irritatedly, she elaborated, “I crawled through a fence in her backyard, and now I  live with her!”

While it was all technically true, it did nothing to lighten the load of unasked questions. They bloomed around us like pond algae. But the emotional wherewithal for question answering had been exhausted.

During the broadcast, foster daughter curled up against me on the pew and doodled darkly hilarious comic strips.* They were all very original, but the premise of each was the same: stick figure man goes to do something perfectly ordinary, like pet a dog or smell a flower, and something utterly, extraordinarily terrifying happens, and stick figure man is decimated as a result.

It didn’t take a psychiatrist to understand what these represented.

Without the hope that was beautifully taught and articulated in this meeting, and countless others besides, the story of foster daughter, from past to present, would be irredeemably sad. But because of them I know, I know, I KNOW that 1) her story isn’t over yet, and 2) it has a happy ending.

The End.

*Foster Daughter was a highly creative little artist.

Why I Don’t Care if My Children Go to College

I grew up in a generation that was told college was the answer. College was the key to personal and financial success.

It was even used by my high school teachers as a carrot and stick:

Take this class so you can get into college!

If you don’t learn to do this, you’ll never get into college!

So I took the right classes. I passed the AP tests. I went to college. It was great. I have no regrets.

HOWEVER.

When I really think about what success actually means, and what I want most for my children, college doesn’t make the list.

Here’s what I want for the progeny:

  1. Strong personal integrity
  2. An ability to repent and change when necessary*
  3. An ability to forgive and heal when necessary*
  4. A happy family and home life
  5. Employment that enables them to provide for self and family, keeps them perpetually learning and growing, and affords them freedom to maintain integrity to what they believe is right.
  6. A desire and ability to be constantly learning and growing intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

That’s pretty much it. And all of that is just as attainable for an electrician or plumber as it is for a physicist or biochemist. In fact, I would submit that these goals are more tenable in technical vocations than they are in certain advanced fields of study-where “being intelligent” is often equated with having the *correct* opinion. Academic consensus does not always equal objective truth, and when one’s life is steeped in academia, this can be a slippery concept to hold on to.

But I digress.

The goals of homeschooling are the above mentioned goals with one more:

Prepare the children academically so that they are capable of rising to the challenge of whatever they wish to do.

If they become physicists or doctors or firefighters or stay at home parents, I will be equally pleased.

My only goal is to hand them the tools and habits necessary to build whatever they want. And if that whatever includes no formal schooling beyond a technical certificate, that’s fine with me.

True achievement has very little to do with degrees, and everything to do with what we build personally.

I would sooner see my sons become uncelebrated blue collar worker- faithful husbands with happy marriages than Stephen Hawkings with broken ones.

I would sooner see my daughters be barefoot, stay at home mothers with their daughters trusting them than Alice Walkers with estranged and abandoned progeny.

And if my children become great, both in the eyes of the world, and in the arms of their families, wonderful. If they are only great by the work they do in their families, equally wonderful.

There is one real goal here.

There you have it. There are those who think that my hopes for the progeny set the bar too low, but they are mistaken.

These hopes sit on top of the highest bar there is.

 

*Quite Possibly the Most Important Thing Ever.

A Few of My Favorite Things: Temple Quilt

Shortly after Husband and I got engaged, Mother in Law called me up to ask what color I wanted our temple quilt to be.

“What’s a temple quilt?” I so eloquently replied.

Come to find out, a temple quilt is an incredibly gorgeous, thick quilt featuring the Portland temple, where we were married, surrounded by flowers, our names, and anniversary.

A temple quilt hand quilted by family and friends.

My mother was awed when she saw it, and proudly told me she got to work on the temple in the middle. Sometimes I look at the temple in the middle and imagine her hands embroidering it.

At one point, I sat on the floor of my future in-law’s house and learned to bind the edges of the quilt while watching Teahouse of the August Moon with my beloved future sister-in-law.

Our temple quilt covers our bed and every morning, as we spread it out, it reminds me of one of the best decisions I ever made.

To the remarkable hands that made it, most especially our beloved mothers’, thank you.

Happy Sabbath

A few Sabbaths back*, Jane the Austen and Mr. the Rogers were sick, so I stayed home from Church with them and Lucy the Maude. Husband the Man took  Clive the Staples and Katherine the Great to Church, where they were (reportedly, miraculously) well behaved in the pew while he gave a talk.

Lucy the Maude, the invalids, and I curled up on my bed and watched Sound of Music, whilst I had a theological texting conversation with a friend. Because Sunday!

Later, Mr. the Rogers wanted to build an elevated block city with me while Jane the Austen took an epsom salt bath. Lucy the Maude and I joined him on the floor for urban development (a city for dinosaurs and the occasional horse) and Jane the Austen eventually also joined us, snuggled in a blanket,. Pajamas, and bathrobe, reading Harry Potter.

When the three churchgoers got home, I left to go visiting teaching. I should know better than to leave husband alone with the kitchen, because when I came back, I found he’d been playing with the food (and the children):

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Reason 443 of Why I am Married to Husband the Man

He took the adorable deviled eggs home teaching to feed those he serves.

Ladies and gentlemen, home teaching is hot.

So is husband the man.

I love the sabbath.

Happy, happy sabbath.

 

* I binge write this blog on weekends, so you never actually get our family’s adventures in real time.