Sunday
Jul162017

Plexus

Once upon a time there was a girl who hated taking risks and therefore cried when her husband put down a non-refundable $3500 deposit on a starter home. She and her husband were still students. Life was up in the air, yet they moved into the little house on 680 West with only two GMC Sierra truckloads. They had no furniture other than a queen bed, a borrowed dresser, and some free blue calico couches with ruffles on the bottom. They had no trials, no kids, no pets, no cell phones, one landline, and one modemless computer available for word processing. They referred to their exit as “The Harts Exit” because not a lot of people knew where American Fork was. Across the street from their new home was a huge field of horses. You could see the stars well. Their street was brand new and everyone was in the same new boat. It was dusty; there was not one tree, patch of grass, or foot of curbing organizing bulbs and bushes. It was a spartan and brown beginning.

The girl graduated and worked for her husband at his vacuum store. He graduated. They had a baby girl and the girl turned into a mom. She stayed home from the workplace evermore and began to till the ground around her instead of earning paychecks. She began seeing where she lived. Spider webs stretched between houses; sticky little strands of book clubs, dance classes, and playgroups. There were people that would walk around the loop together with strollers. Once she saw a neighbor deliver a homemade cherry-fabric dress to another neighbor.

Fences went up but the street only got friendlier. Every week or two there was a sod-laying party that ended with dirty, sweaty faces lingering behind and getting to know the other dirty, sweaty faces. Spindle trees were staked, miniature shrubs were spaced. Cars started changing from Honda Civics to minivans.

Landscaping ended; everything planted just needed time to grow. MBAs, new jobs, paint swatch picking. Roots deepened. Park days, backyard picnics in the new shade puddles, inflatable waterslides, Reading Rewards, running groups. Workout partners, toll painting, wood crafts, decorating. Part of the horse field yielded to a Target.

Then the lush Zion years, when an after-dinner stroll around the block took 2 ½ hours because you had to stop at every driveway to visit. Adults unwound while numberless kids morphed like an amoeba in the background, kicking balls and doing handstands while hooting and hollering the way barefoot kids past bedtime do. Basketball hoops. Neighbor coaches for itty bitty sports like tee ball and soccer. There was always a friend to walk to the cemetery and back in the dark with.

Community. Sharing ladders, wheelbarrows, fertilizer spreaders, and expertise. Annual cookie exchanges, Pioneer Day parties, dunk tanks. Things were getting so lush that pruning happened. Giants transplanted to places they needed to go. They left big holes but the holes were filled with variety and beauty and kindness. Cars overflowed to the street because babies were now dating or getting their own degrees. Once the moms taught the kids, now the kids were teaching the moms. Rises and falls, births and deaths, thicks and thins. Her cycles swirled and swished with others. She was changing.

The golden era of Flour Girls and Dough Boys’ peanut butter ganache brownies. DIY projects, bug catching, swim lessons, and birthday parties glittered. Her sewing machine hummed, her wheat grinder buzzed. She was herself with no facade, past the polite beginnings and unafraid to be a morning hater with an imperfect life. The tradition of monthly card making began, where she rounded life’s corners, cropped and matted relationships worth keeping, and saved her scraps. Tupperware cups with straws, hallowed ground, her sisterhood of the traveling pants.

There were the years the little house ached for a baby shower and a diaper cake, but the neighbors compensated by putting on their capes and landing when necessary. They leaned over fences, ate at tables, peeled and canned tomatoes, and pitted plums. They extracted every ounce of good that could be salvaged, lined her cellar with jars, and stood by for the coming winters.

One winter hammered and howled. She hid inside the darkness of the blankest calendar she’d ever owned. The street covered her porch with love before bubble wrapping the house. Then it held hands, formed a circle, and Care Bear stared her house until the ice melted. Seasons passed, and when an ultrasound showed a flickering heartbeat there was such unified rejoicing and leaping that the earth tilted off its axis. The following baby shower was visible from outer space.

Crucibles for all were survived over the years. The network of survivors fused into one great heart and a greater body capable of sharing pain and multiplying joy until one day she turned onto the street in her car full of car seats and saw a wide welcome, with room for anyone, lined with waving trees that had reached out touched each other. She passed blossoms and bumblebees and hissing sprinklers. She knew the floor plans and the souls behind all those closed doors; there is little mystery when you’ve spent a generation somewhere. As she parked in the driveway, because her old spot is full of boxes, she realized 18 years ago her husband put a down payment on a third of an acre smack dab in the middle of Eden.

Here is the spot where she saw the face and hands of God, here is where she was beautified and replenished, here is where she will progress from.

p.s. While my neighbors began on 680 West, I am blessed to have many neighbors that don’t live *exactly* on my street. If you’re my neighbor, you know it and you know I love you. And to the neighbors who contributed to my Book of Life a.k.a. the best gift I’ve ever been given, THANK YOU. I was up until 3 in the morning after reading it because my cup (and eyes) were running over.

 

Photo quote originally heard from Charles Funke, whose yard is Temple Square 2.0 and whose life proves he’s likely one of the Three Nephites. The best way to make things grow is to be there, to try. Oh, the footprints that have stepped on my lawn, my carpet, and my heart. This is why it hurts to leave; I’m tangled in a very intense plexus that has grown over the years. This is also why I have to start stepping at the new place; I can’t leave my happiness and growth up to chance.

Photo of a 2014 installation by Gabriel Dawe at BYU Museum of Art called "Plexus no. 29", my favorite thing I've ever seen at BYU MOA, including the Bloch exhibit! Eighty miles of thread hand sewn with a 15-foot needle to portray the physical presence of light and the need to "bring hidden things to light". Dawe said, "Just because one cannot physically see the organic functions of nature, does not necessarily mean they do not exist. Light wave lengths, for instance, are very real, even though the human eye cannot see the full spectrum of them." I would add that while you can't see the full spectrum of love between neighbors, it is very real and just as spellbinding.

[definition] PLEXUS: a complex structure containing an intricate network of intertwining parts; an interwoven combination of parts and elements in a system

Sunday
Jul092017

Raw

 

 Blessed are ye that weep now, for ye shall laugh. -Luke 6:21 

How many squares are in the image above? Go ahead, count. Do it before you read on, because once you hear the answer it won’t be fair to go back and count when you know what you’re looking for.

I nursed RE until she was 11 months old; she never drank a single bottle. I was a young mother back then, before the internet and social media wrecked real life with endless inquisition and comparison. Henceforth, I didn’t know I was Nursing Queen nor did I feel inadequate. I just fed my baby hedgehog and watched her black hair grow in blonde.

I tried to nurse Archer and Everett similarly but that didn’t pan out how I hoped. Let’s just say OLD COW NO MILK. Let’s also say STRESSED COW NO MILK. I got Archer to six weeks and Everett to six months but thankfully formula kept them alive and kicking. When my friend Keli was struggling with her milk supply for her last baby, her mother found a pioneer journal that detailed an ancestor who literally watched her baby die on the plains because she had no milk (and no one else did, either). This story made Keli not complain about the option of formula. She shared the story with me when I was transitioning Everett to Enfamil and it solidified my NO GUILT, FORMULA ROCKS mentality. We live in times of plenty. Formula is expensive but it costs less than a life.

I noticed this Book of Mormon verse about Nephi’s traveling family when I was coming up short for Everett:

And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings. -1 Nephi 17:2

My first thought was, “Wow, those women were nomadic, eating raw meat, and likely missing their walled homes in Jerusalem, yet they successfully breastfed. Amazing. I’m stressed out just thinking about their feelings; my milk just dried up in their behalf.”

I'd skimmed over this hidden gem dozens of times but never seen for its true worth. Nursing in any shape or form is a miracle.

It’s been six months since Everett’s bottles began and Greg and I have continued chasing the mirage of a Certificate of Occupancy, started packing a.k.a. realizing how much meaningless junk we own, eaten a lot of canned peaches (Operation Only Move Empty Jars), minimized our sleep, and squeezed in unrelated life-sucking tangents like root canals, cabin maintenance, and teaching RE to drive. Add on all the finals, the lasts, and the goodbyes I require for closure and they equate to one emotionally raw Melissa. Raw like I’ve never felt. Deep down I know it’s a blessing to hurt this much because it means I loved this much, but the raw aches all day and throbs as I’m falling asleep (like the Tell Tale Heart!). Ow.

It’s been six months since Everett’s bottles began and I’m still looking back to that verse. There’s more than a milky miracle nestled under all that nursing, there’s a metaphoric truth:

IN TIMES OF RAWNESS THERE IS STILL PLENTY.

Plenty of milk, plenty of muscle, and plenty of happy trails accompany the raw meat diet.

I’ve heard it termed LIVING IN THE BLESSING. LIVING IN THE BLESSING means not wasting where you’re at, no matter the scene, and is personified perfectly in my verse. It is finding milk and honey when everything around you is unfinished or depleted. It is drawing strength from your caravan, not your address. It is refusing to let stress, packing tape, or uncertainty turn you into a whiner. (Still working on that one.) It is seeing the miracles instead of the mayhem. (I'm good at this one.)

Elder Ronald T. Halverson said, “Many of us get so involved in our day-to-day tasks and worldly pursuits that we do not notice the many small miracles that constantly occur around us. This is one reason we may lose contact with the Holy Spirit and lose awareness of His promptings.” That’s a bold statement I’ve never forgotten, especially when my eyes are tired.

There are 40 squares in the picture. The first time I did the exercise I found 37. It is easy to miss a square. It’s just as easy to overlook a miracle.

I’VE MISSED MIRACLES BECAUSE I LACKED EXPERIENCE. I only noticed the miracle of ancient milk supply after my body forced me to wean two babies ahead of schedule. Sometimes your eyes aren’t ready to behold all that is out there.

I’VE MISSED MIRACLES BECAUSE I WASN’T LOOKING FOR THEM. Just like the squares, some miracles are big and obvious, like Archer’s IVF conception, or being forgiven, or scoring the antique church pew of my dreams in the classifieds for a steal and having it fit our new entryway to the inch. Some squares are less obvious; more chorus line than headliners. Oddly placed miracles wait patiently to be noticed, like Lucy not running away even though our front door was accidentally left open for three hours, or Everett still fitting diagonally (and therefore sleeping soundly) in his borrowed mini pack-n-play bed in our closet, or Greg’s truck not wrecking even though it had 0/32nds of brake pads, or shelves full of convenience at the store, or finishing a sewing project with five centimeters of thread left on my bobbin. Some might say these aren’t miracles, they are consequences of science or planning or luck. I say they are miracles. I say they are squares. I am forever finding squares.

Often we learn in progression, like milk before meat. But sometimes we learn in reverse, like milk because of raw meat. 

 

Photo quote is a lyric from "Truth Reflects Upon Our Senses" by Eliza R. Snow

"Obeying the Whisperings of the Holy Ghost" by Ronald T. Halverson, Ensign, August 2007

Archer has been watching the blue garbage truck dump our blue trash can since his eyes could focus, sometime around 12 weeks old. I planned our lives around making sure he got to watch the “trash truck” dump our can, usually from the front steps while I was in my robe with bed head. What started with a wave or an extra honk slowly turned into familiarity and a fist bump. Archer recently turned three, which means he’s watched roughly 140 garbage trucks drive by. We have had the same driver these three years. Archer now zooms out to jump up and down and talk at length to his to his friend, Josh. Archer gave Josh a picture and a treat in December. Josh reciprocated by wrapping some cookies and applesauce pouches for him the following week. Josh knows our days are numbered, so last week he dumped our can, jumped out of his truck, popped the seat forward, and surprised Archer with a Tonka garbage truck and miniature blue garbage can. I tried my hardest not to cry because I knew it would embarrass RE. We’re going to miss seeing Josh at 11:07 every Thursday. He’s going to miss Archer in the sweetest way there is. I’ve seen a transformation over the years; somehow a little boy counting on his garbage truck driving hero mattered on both sides. It has been a spot of "plenty" in my "time of raw." It also got me dressed and presentable before noon on Thursdays, which I’ll count as an extra miracle.

Friday
Jun092017

High Five

Building a house won't make you happy.

You will start out all giddy because the graphic designer in you is screaming THIS IS MY GREATEST PROJECT EVER! You'll dance about your big pantry and the prospect of soft-close cabinetry that assures you will never, ever hear another slam in your lifetime,  

but building a house won't make you happy.

You will agonize over the slightest curves of hardware and the profiles of routed wood, neither of which anyone but you will ever notice. You will ask your aunt with magic eyes to fly out from California just to pick your paint colors. You will Google, Houzz, and Pinterest until your brain blows up.

Building a house won't make you happy.

You will spend $1K (not really, but maybe) eating out over the course of a year because you squandered your dinner prep time after time, be it driving to Spanish Fork to look at stucco samples in the sunlight, meeting Rulon the Stain Guru at Sherwin-Williams in Provo because he's the Dalai Lama of undertones, or unloading your 17' faux wood beams from a semi. Oh, and have a baby during the experience just for funsies, because the only thing better than weighing fireplace insert options by yourself in a showroom is weighing your options while you nurse under a blanket as your toddler runs around with a stanky, ripe diaper.

Building a house won't make you happy.

Snow might warp all your doors as your house sits half-built and totally exposed month after month during the worst winter in years. Your primer might be bad so all the paint peels off over the course of three months. Your carpet manufacturer might go out of business the week before you order your carpet.

Building a house won't make you happy.

You'll spend all your energies focused on a THING, and seldom does a thing make one happy. Plus, you'll spend money like a drunk sailor on that thing and then get so cheap you return a $3 Cover Girl lip balm to Walmart because you didn't need it and force your family to eat soggy celery because the budget demands it.

Building a house won't make you happy.

You'll hate your new house at times and curse the dumb diggers for ever carving the mountain open. You'll cry so much, partly from being tired and partly because you're scared you're leaving everything/everyone that ever mattered to you. Because you're so tired, you'll forget to groom your dog for six months and then PetSmart will shave her until she looks like an inside out cat because you initialed the "shave authorization for matting" clause without reading the fine print.

Building a house won't make you happy.

But holding your little boy's gumball-shaped head in your hands while your cut his hair will. And crying behind the organ while your friend assures you life goes on will. So will Utah summer nights, when the temps drop and the grasses cool and neighbors who love each other flock together and chirp till dark. Making a new friend will; new friends are like Pandora's boxes of unlimited interesting goodness. Late night phone calls with old friends will, too. Helping Archer spell words with IKEA alphabet cookies will. Hearing RE tell Archer that he is her greatest treasure will. Kissing your baby two thousand times a day will, as will his baby's breath. A unified family chorus of hoorahs for Everett as he conquers the top stair with a 6-toothed smile will. Stress-eating treats with Greg, giggling siblings in the double hammock, and circus scripture reading on Archer's mattress will. Finishing strong in this sphere will make me happy later, when I'm double checking for regrets.

However...

Waiting 4 1/2 hours outside with no chairs, no snacks, no water bottles, no sunscreen, and no toys (other than gutter remnants, road base, and sharp objects) for cement to be poured and cured enough for handprints made me happy. No one lost their cool and during the wait we met two of our future friendly neighbors. Making our mark as a family, pressing twenty five fingers into a cold slab, promising THIS IS WHERE WE WILL CONTINUE BEING HAPPY...that made me happy.

Building a house can make you happy.

 

 

Seriously, my hand is fading like Michael J. Fox's when he's playing the guitar at the Fish Under the Sea dance. But could Everett's hand be any cuter? The sweet concrete workers let us do his five times because he kept fisting it up. After the 5th impression he clearly communicated to us there would be no more tries. I think I'm obsessed with "making our mark" because of Archer's current favorite movie: The Good Dinosaur. Such a good movie, and I hate kids' movies! Arlo, the knobby-kneed baby dinosaur, wants to make his mark on the family's silo but his dad tells him, "You gotta earn your mark by doing something BIG for something bigger than yourself." Five handprints are my mark.

Saturday
May272017

Special Delivery

Dedicated to All Who Were Ever in the Pacific Drive First Ward

I was in an Apple store in San Francisco when spontaneous applause broke out. A woman walked out the doors, it quieted. I asked the nearest employee what just happened. He said that at Apple you get clapped in on your first day and clapped out on your last. He said they like to welcome newcomers and celebrate those moving on to new opportunities. I was so moved I bought a charger.

Today I was clapped out of my ward, my church congregation, after being clapped in almost 18 years ago. It was hard, like being hit by a tsunami. I've seen it coming for months but had no idea what it would really feel like. I have reflected on what it is that makes this ward so special. This is what I came up with:

This ward isn't cliquey and it won't judge your kids.

It doesn't care how much money you have or what you drive.

It doesn't care if or where you graduated from.

It doesn't care where you work or what you look like.

It doesn't care if you rent or own.

It doesn't care about your square feet or your crow's feet.

It doesn't care how many times you cut bangs (even though you shouldn't have).

This ward could use your best, but will happily accept whatever you are willing to give.

This ward needs your gifts. It will repay you with new ones.

It will be patient with you while you grow, while you get a clue.

If you want to grow faster, accept your callings.

This ward has a Bishop who loves you.

This ward is full of women who need naps. Like the widows of Zarapheth, they sacrifice their last bits of oil and meal by donating dinner time, family time, and sometimes all their free time to the cause.

This ward is full of people who don't feel good. People who show up with migraines, broken knees, broken hearts, cramps, cancer, and confusion. People who are infertile, abused, addicted, depressed, betrayed, unemployed, lonely, and overlooked. People who are worried about their loved ones. People who feel ugly. People who feel forgotten.

This ward won't let you be forgotten.

This ward will hold your baby. If you don't have a baby, it will hold you. It will fast for you and write your name on the temple prayer roll for a decade until you have a baby.

This ward will cry with you. It will stand as close to you as you will let it.

This ward will answer your prayers and carry your burdens.

This ward will be the backdrop to great miracles in your life.

There is power in attending church in a ward. If the family is the fundamental unit of society it is no wonder the Lord organized His church into ward families. One of my favorite stories about family (Greg even read it at RE's baby blessing luncheon) is this:

A few years ago, twin girls Brielle and Kyrie were born prematurely to the Jackson family. They were placed in separate incubators to reduce the risk of infection. Kyrie, the larger sister at two pounds three ounces, quickly began gaining weight and calmly slept. But Brielle, who weighed only two pounds at birth, could not keep up with her. Suddenly one day Brielle's condition became critical. The nurse tried everything she could think of to stabilize Brielle. Still Brielle squirmed and fussed as her oxygen intake plummeted and her heart rate soared. Then the nurse remembered a procedure she had heard about. She said to the worried parents, "Let me just try putting Brielle in with her sister to see if that helps." The parents consented, and the nursed slipped the squirming baby into the incubator with the bigger sister. No sooner had the door of the incubator closed than Brielle snuggled up to Kyrie and calmed right down. Within minutes Brielle's blood-oxygen readings were the best they had been since she was born. As she dozed, Kyrie wrapped her tiny arm around her smaller sibling (see Nancy Sheehan, "A Sister's Helping Hand," Reader's Digest, May 1996, 155-56).

This is what my ward family does for me. When I'm feeling out of the box I just go to church, get an arm around me, and come back to life. When I'm stable and on top of the world I let people snuggle up to me until they feel stronger. In this ward, everyone is strong sometime at something. Together we have it all.

Friday
May192017

Buried Treasure

I have Post-it notes lining my bookcases, desk surface, and fridge. Scribbles on the back of receipts, in the margins of church programs, and on junk mail envelopes. Digital reminders and lists on my iPhone. Three book journals (mine, Everett's, Archer's) I simultaneously enlarge each night. The wall calendar and the purse-sized ATA Glance. Two Trapper Keepers in my desk drawer. (Yes, they still make them, but magnetic closure replaced noisy irritant Velcro.) Dated index cards on the fridge for each child's funny sayings and milestones. Dog-eared magazine pages. Screenshots of written passages that moved me. An assortment of mini journals and bound pads, because who doesn't want to get organized with an InkJoy or a Le Pen or a Pilot Precise V5 on page one of a virgin notebook?

Every day I think through the same cycle of

1. I need to remember this, so

2. Where should I put it?

Any slip of paper is in danger these days. We're moving; the contents of my entire house are either getting taped within cardboard or dumped in the trash. I shudder saying it, but I think the only thing I can trust is The Cloud.

I'm on emotional overload right now; there is an imminent changing of the guards coming to my little house and it has my brain spinning, mostly when I should be sleeping. Scraps of beauty, words, and feelings are flying around my hurricane's eye and I'm worried sick I'll lose one. Where do I put these things?

My blog has become my ultimate record; the proven winner in a race between office supplies, lined pages (college rule, never normal), florescent sticky backs, and memory. It's the only place I can quickly find what I once vowed to never forget. It is my safest safe place. It is the hallowed ground I bury my paper clippings, sentiments, skeletons, and petals in so they will fossilize. How can I know what will go extinct? There will be layers of life after this, but for now I am pressing and preserving everything I have left into the stratum of 680 West.

 

Drawing detailing the best sample I've ever eaten at a grocery store, and that is saying a lot since 1) Meiers regularly samples their red velvet cookies and lemon bars, and 2) I once went to Costco the day before the Super Bowl and ate 38 different appetizers. Thank you, lady at Smith's, for pushing the $10 jar of garlic pickles. Loving the layers and strata on this toothpick! And the pita wasn't a pita chip...you couldn't poke a toothpick through Stacy's Pita Chips if you tried. It was a lightly toasted fresh pita. Details matter.

One other thing I don't want to forget but don't know where to put it: The "Y" on Y Mountain in Provo is 380 feet tall, so since 1 inch = 72 points the Y is a 328,320-point letter. (BYU Magazine)