Hey, Give Me a Break, I Wasn’t a Boy Scout

My brother got re-baptized last night.   I’m told it went great.  I don’t know, I wasn’t there.

I did intend to be there but , well, part of it was my fault.  I got the email from my brother and I read far enough to see that there was an address and at that point I stopped reading so I didn’t realize that the address included a street name rather than a number and that the stake center would probably require actual directions (which were offered for the low low price of a return email) rather than the ability to navigate the streets of Lehi (which I learned last night is not easy as the streets which should run north-south don’t).  So I didn’t know where we were going.

And then we left a little late.  Not very late, not even late enough to really be late just past the time I like to have for a cushion.

And the traffic was unbelievable.  I don’t usually have a lot of sympathy for people who don’t take traffic into account.  I mean come on, there’s always traffic right?  But I didn’t really expect it at 6:30 on a Friday night.  (I think I failed to take the fact that it’s conference weekend so all those crazy mormons are getting out of town into account.)

So we left late(ish) and we didn’t know where we were going.  That still wouldn’t have been too big of a deal for most of you.  But Sean and I are not most of you and even with two of us there was not a phone to be found.  Not that a phone would have done us a lot of good considering the fact that neither of us have any more minutes on our prepaid phone plans (yes, I realize that the only people who have prepaid phone plans are 6th graders, shut up).

So we made it to Lehi (finally) about 15 minutes after the baptism was supposed to start and it was just about at that point that the Baby woke up and proceeded to do a surprisingly accurate impression of a Nazgul screaming (You know that scream your baby can do where you think the your skull may actually crack open and your brain, which has been converted to a liquid form by the sound waves, will come pouring out your eye sockets?  That’s the one.)  So we drove around, not lost exactly but unable to find where we were going, with the nazgul screaming for about 25 minutes at which point I was ready to give up (we had surely missed the baptism anyway) but I was not going to drive all the way home with the Baby screaming like that.

So we decided to go to my other brother, Chris’s.  He was surely not home (he was the one performing the baptism afterall) but knowing him as I do, I knew that the house would not be locked and he would be delighted to be of assistance (especially when it required nothing on his part).

So we went to Chris’s house and as expected  the front door was not locked.  Open entering the house I noticed that someone had burnt dinner and that there were mattresses in the entryway (I never did get an explanation for that one, but he does have 8 kids so I guess I can come up with one on my own).  Proceeding into the house the smell of burning increased and I was thinking that whoever burnt dinner had done a really through job of it.  And then I got to the kitchen where I found my self crunching on a lot or debris.  Now, as I mentioned, Chris has 8 kids so debris on the kitchen floor is not unexpected (especially when I , as a guest am unexpected) but this took “I need to sweep the floor” to a whole other level.  And then I realized that it was glass on the floor oh and that there was the remnants of a pan of chocolate chip cookie bars smoking on the stove.

Apparently, the chocolate chip cookies that had been made for the reception after the baptism, and then left at home, had been left on a burner on the stove that had been left on.  The pyrex pan that had held the cookie bars had exploded at some point before my entrance on the scene and the remaining cookie on the stove was making an attempt at  going up in flames.

So I’m not saying that the Lord made me do it (you know, be late and unprepared) but well, it may not have been the devil either.

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Ok Fine, I’ll Write a Thanksgiving Post. Happy?

I’m not going to list all the things for which I am thankful, they are far too numerous.  Actually, if I’m completely honest, (which I try not to be very often) the list of things for which I should be thankful is far longer than the list of things for which I am actually thankful (I’m working on it).  Instead I’m going to tell you about the thing, person really, that I am most thankful for right now.

If you’ve spent much time here at the Wonderland you know about my all consuming huge gigantic project we’ve been working on for the last 4 or 5 months.  We’ve been putting an addition on our kitchen.  (And when I say we’ve been putting an addition on our kitchen I mean we’ve been putting an addition on our kitchen.)  This has been a huge project involving things like hanging floor joists and framing and insulating and knocking out existing walls and wiring and hanging sheetrock and…

So anyway, here we are, we’ve done all this work and we’re more or less (more really) using our new kitchen but we’re still walking around on plywood sub-floor and we only just have the sheetrock hung but we’re looking at the black screw heads every 16 inches or so and well, we’ve run out of money.

Enter aunt Kay.

My mother’s sister sells home decoration type stuff. (Wow, that’s really badly phrased but I’m not sure what her title actually is.)  She’s not a decorator per se but she’s the gal you call when you want to replace your flooring or your counter tops or your window treatments or your closets or your whatever.

So I knew we were mostly out of money but my children are spilling their juice on the sub-floor and we’ve got to get it covered so I called aunt Kay.  And she came over and looked and she had some great ideas but she couldn’t give me a price right off the top of her head so she’d have to call me.  In the mean time I checked the checking account and I found out just how out of money we are.  It isn’t pretty folks.  So when aunt Kay calls and gives me a number I have to tell her that we can’t do it.

“Well, sure you can, we’ll just put it in and you can pay me whenever.”

“No, I don’t want you to have to pay for my floor.”

“It’s fine,” she says.

“No, I don’t think so.”

We went back and forth like this for a while but eventually she mentioned that she has a few other options that she’s looking at and she’ll get back to me.

Well, this could be a very long story but I don’t want to bore you so I’ll cut to the chase.  She’s found us a much less expensive option that we really quite like and she’s insisting on putting it in for us for Christmas.  (We’re still going to pay her back, eventually, for the floor but the install is a gift.)  And while she’s at it she’s sending her handyman over to mud and tape my walls, the prospect of which scared me far more than hanging the floor, because he owes her “so really it’s free” (her calculation not mine).  Oh and he’s going to wire the other interior wall that we want to build.  (Apparently he owes her a lot of money.)

Here’s the thing, I’m not good at accepting help (remember how I hung the rim joists myself?) and I’m remarkably bad at asking for help.  But I have been faced with an amazing family member (who reminds me of my mother) who says things like “I have been very blessed and I need you to let me help you out so that the Lord will continue to bless me.”  I mean really, how do you fight that?!

But honestly I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the woman who’s providing me with, almost literally, a roof over my and my children’s heads.  And for the opportunity to learn how to receive.

I’m thankful for my aunt Kay.

__________________________________________

PS If I can swing it I’m going to have some kind of button on my sidebar linking to her website so that all of you on the Wasatch front can have aunt Kay come out to your house too.  (I can’t promise you the family discount though.)

PPS In reading through this I’m afraid that this comes off as a really uncomplimentary backhanded compliment.  I really don’t mean it that way.  The woman is wonderful, and amazing, and did you read that quote about the Lord blessing her?  I did not make that up.  She saw a niece who needed her help and she’s insisting on giving it and I could not be more grateful.

My favorite Holiday

Now given what day tomorrow is you may think that this is going to be another Thanksgiving post.

Nope.

Well, considering the time of year maybe it’s a Christmas post.

Wrong again.

New years?

Negative.

I’m talking about today baby.  Don’t you know what day today is?   Well, let me enlighten you.

About 5 years ago, my father (the man’s a genius by the way) realized that when people think of Thanksgiving they think of turkey.  Astonishing, I know.  But at that time he realized that between the greedy turkey that was eating up all the limelight, and football and parades and all of those other, really inconsequential things that people associate with Thanksgiving, people weren’t getting a chance to focus on what was, on what is, really important.

No, not giving thanks.

The PIE!!!!!!

Think about it, by the time you’ve gorged yourself on mashed potatoes and stuffing and yams and green been casserole (revolting, by the way) and cranberry sauce and, of course, the turkey you just don’t have the capacity to really enjoy your Pie.

And so my father, the genius, thought up Pie night, a night devoted not to being thankful, not to stuffing yourself with stuffing but to Pie, A night when the whole family gathers with all nine kinds of Pie that we like best (the person who gets that reference wins not only a billion virtual points but my undying love and devotion and maybe something real as well) and cookies, because I have an aunt who for some unknown reason brings cookies (sure they’re good, they’re really good but… hello, look at all the Pie!) and we eat Pie.

We’re bringing Sean’s grandmother’s apple because my mom’s making her pumpkin.

How about you?  What’s your favorite kind of Pie?

Delusions of Grandeur

I’m gonna start out by saying that I love my husband’s family.  It’s an inauspicious start, I know, sort of along the same lines as “no offense” preceding a highly offensive statement, of “with all due respect” followed by something rude and disrespectful.  But I DO love Sean’s family.  I think they’re all wonderful, amazing people.  And I spend an inordinate amount of time being excited for their yearly (or so) gatherings.

It’s just that I’m never entirely comfortable with them.

Here’s an example.  The Cleanfires*, Sean’s mother’s family, are big huggers and kissers.  I’ve mostly acclimated to that. (It’s not that my family doesn’t hug, we do, but not as a rule.  And we don’t kiss. Each other.)  The Cleanfires greet one another with a hug and a kiss always, without exception.  So I left work a little early yesterday and went over to Sean’s uncle’s house where the family was gathered.  I let myself in and back to the backyard where they were sitting around in a circle chatting.  I was immediately greeted by Irish1 (say what you want about 2 yr olds, they’re great to come home to), I greeted the Pea, who was jumping on the trampoline and wouldn’t come anywhere near me.  And Sean (with a hug and kiss, naturally) and Irish2 was thrust into my arms which I was happy about.  And I even gave my Mother-in-law a hug and  kiss.  And then I didn’t know what to do.  Do I proceed around the circle hugging and kissing everyone?  I kind of know that I should have, that’s kind of how they are (how they roll, if you will) but it’s just so foreign to me that I couldn’t.  I waved hello I smiled.

I had been there for all of one minute and already I felt wrong footed.

I would like to emphasize that they do not do this on purpose.  These are extremely nice people, shirt off their back kind of people.  If they knew that they made me feel this way (and some of them do now, I know of at least one who reads this blog) they would be really sad.  I don’t blame them, it just is what it is.

I don’t know how to talk to them.  One on one I’m fine (I think) I can chat about my life, the kids, what’s going on with me.  And I really like hearing about what’s new with them, although I’m exceedingly bad at asking them questions.  (I have questions there’s just a disconnect in my head.  The questions form but are unable to travel to my mouth, in fact they seem unaware that they ought to do so. They just pile up milling around in my cerebral cortex not especially interested in going anywhere… but that will have to be a post for another day) But I don’t know how to join in their conversations.  I’m interested but I have nothing to say.  Or maybe I do have something to say but for some reason I don’t know how to join in.  It’s almost like they’re speaking a foreign language, one that I understand but don’t know how to speak. So I sit and listen but eventually I just start to feel like I’m eavesdropping.

So I move on.  There are plenty of places to move on to.  It’s a good size family.  The preponderance of them are older than I.  (Sean’s mother’s generation are like my generation in mine.  There are a lot of them and they’re really close.)  But Sean has three or four cousins that are within a year or so of my age and even some siblings who aren’t too far off. And it’s not that they’re not my “kind” of people, if you want to look at it from a class, or socio-economic (for you PCers out there), point of view.   I’ve never seen a family that runs that gamut so completely.  They’ve got every kind of person you could think to meet, ex-convicts to CEOs. Literally. I feel neither out-classed by, nor better than, any of them. (Well, OK I’ll admit I do feel a bit out-classed by a few of them but only in the abstract.  When we’re actually together I’m mostly OK, I did grow up with the children of Congressmen and Senators after all.)

I am naturally shy and I know I have a serious inability to put myself forward.  (It’s not lack of confidence, I think I’m afraid of being too much of a showoff.  No doubt it stems back to some abuse heaped on me by my siblings in my childhood.) And I think that has a lot to do with it but I don’t think that’s all of it.

All I know is after an evening with the Cleanfires I feel like a child who’s been trying to fit in with, and pretend to be one of, the adults.  I don’t know why that is.

Aren’t in-laws fun?!

PS.  I called this post Delusions of Grandeur not because I think anyone has them, quite the opposite, hanging out with the Cleanfires seriously exposes my inferiority complex.  It’s ironic.

* Not the real family name in an effort to thwart all those cyber stalkers who are after me.  And also because I like the psudonym thing, It’s like I’m in the witness protection program.

Sure Is Hot Under These Lights

My baby sister is coming out to visit the family in about a month and in honor of her presence another of my sisters (I have four) is planning a talent show. Details are sketchy at this point but I believe, a la Dan in Real Life, participation will not be optional.

This is a problem.

Now because all my readers are very nice people I expect that you’re thinking right now something along the lines of come on Alison, I’m sure you have lots of talent, look at your blog, it’s FANTASTIC!!!! (Ok, you might not be quite that enthusiastic but I get the picture.) And You’re right I do have talents, I have several of them, but you don’t understand.

I come from a family of inordinately talented people. It’s unfair in some sort of cosmic way. Honestly, I feel sorry for those not in my family. (Except you, you’re very talented. Really, I mean it.) I have six brothers and sisters and there’s not a one of us that can’t sing.  So sure, I could sing.  But I have a younger sister (the one who’s planning this shindig for those of you keeping score) who has a BA in vocal performance, honestly she’s amazing.

So singing’s out.

We can pretty much all dance some, but none of us have really received any noticeable formal training and there are enough grandkids (29 at last count) to do the cute made up dances. Never mind that those aren’t really that cute once you pass the age of 10 or so.

There goes dancing.

As mentioned before there are certainly things that I’m good at. (I’m really not posting this fishing for compliments.) But aside from the afore mentioned singing, not much of it is really something that stands up well on a stage. I am excellent at my job. I once had an attending surgeon tell his resident “Alison knows this case better than I do so if she hands you an instrument, you figure out how to use it.” (For those of you who don’t know, surgeons are not known for their free flowing compliments. ) That was HUGE. But it doesn’t really translate well for an audience.

My father is pretty much a full time actor these days. He does teach the occasional government class for the local community college but anyone who’s spent any time with him in the last 4 or 5 years will tell you that he’s a heck of a lot more interested in whatever play he’s got going on than in what he’s teaching the next day. So I think I’ll skip the “to be or not to be” monologue. (50. Cheap I know but c’mon, it’s a total gimme.)

Oh, and did I mention that he also plays in a band or two? Yeah, he plays big band music on two or three different instruments (no, not at the same time). I have no eye-hand coordination. I play nothing.

I write well. (At least I think I write well, if you disagree feel free to keep that to yourself.) But again, not so much a performance kind of art.

I have a brother who did stand-up for a while. So I’m not doing anything with watermelons and sledgehammers. (Not that I’d really consider it but it’s just another option that’s closed to me.)

In the stupid human tricks category, I have a brother-in-law who can wiggle his ears and his eyebrows. He does this weird thing where he lifts one ear and then the eyebrow on that side, then the other brow and then the other ear. It’s like he’s doing the wave with his face. I think that trumps my toe that bends off at a right angle.

I’m pretty good with attention to detail. I, personally, am drawing up plans for an addition to our kitchen and I’ll probably do a lot of the work myself, I am very handy after all. But… I believe a theme is beginning to emerge here and I’ll leave it at that.

I have sisters who are beautiful (seriously anyone who can wield a mascara wand like Catherine… well, that’s talent baby) and sisters who are crafty (they may get away with just displaying) and sisters who can do gymnastics. And I’m the sarcastic, snide one who doesn’t bother wearing makeup, still hasn’t put together any kind of cushion for the bench she built months ago (because that involves sewing and I can’t really do that) and my lack of coordination? It’s the stuff of legend.

My grandmother was known throughout her life as a fantastic orator. She recited stories and poems and what have you from the time she was 5-or-so until not long before she died.

So she won’t be there to compete with… I may have to think more about that. (But unlike Anne, I think I prefer to make people laugh.)

I know it’s not a competition and they’re my family, they love me. And I love them too. But more than that I respect them, their opinions matter to me. And I’m not afraid to say that I want to impress.

Admit it, you would too.

Do the Children Come First?

I’m going to call this a guest post because that lets me pretend that I’m cool enough to have guest posts. In reality it is a repost of my brothers. He blogs here and most of his blogging focuses on mortgage rates and the bond market (whatever the heck that is) and is therefore more boring than dirt not always my favorite thing to read. But when he posts about family he just gets it so right that I feel compelled to share it.
Oh, and don’t skip his blog just because you are also unaware of what the bond market is or does, just browse the archives you’ll find some really really good stuff.  I should also mention that his wife, Jeanette, is currently pregnant with their 8th child so he does actually have some experience with this parenting stuff.

Last week the best woman in the world, my wife, spoke at the Utah County Women in Business Conference as part of a panel of experts on family/business balance. She talked about traditions and how to handle things when your plans get disrupted by sick children, and things like that. She is, indeed, an expert on these things. The panel was well received, as was the presentation by Miss Utah, Jill Stevens, about her experiences in Afghanistan as an Army medic. It was great stuff. Estrogenous, but great.

After the presentations, as Jeanette and I were headed out to the lunch, we were stopped by a lady who said she’d been hoping to catch my wife, because she wanted to ask her a question. “How,” she said, “do you keep your marriage fresh with so many children? I’m just a newlywed myself, but I worry about that. How can you do it?”

We smiled at each other, because hey, part of the answer was right there in front of her. I go to my wife’s presentations, even on workdays, even when things are so hectic we can’t see straight. She’s more important to me than anyone, and there’s only one way to show that.

But there are other things, too.

A couple days ago I read an article about out-of-control birthday parties for children. Some of this stuff you cannot believe. There are the parties where the 1-year-old sleeps through the proceedings while 60 – that’s SIXTY – guests open their gifts to him. Parties where the kids are registered at Amazon.com, where the invitations specify that the gifts be worth at least $35, where the mothers complain that the gifts aren’t even worth the cost of the event. Well, imagine that.

There are hundreds of sites devoted to filling every moment of children’s time with activities from Tae-quan-do to cello lessons. With spending thousands of dollars a term on prep schools to get them prepared to go to Harvard or Yale. The modern generation of parents is obsessed with pouring half the national GDP into spoiling their children. If I were a psychologist, I’d suggest that this is a manifestation of repressed guilt over neglecting the things parents know are truly important. But I’m not, so I’ll just point out that if you don’t buy a kid’s clothes at Nordstrom, it’s much easier to not have to have both parents working.

Anyway, one of the things we told the lady was that we protect each other by being very explicit with our children that they are just not that important. Let me repeat that: our children have been told, in so many words, that Jeanette is the most important thing to me and that they aren’t. You’re welcome to call us and get the whole speech – I’m sure my kids can quote it to you – but the gist of it is that the kids are rentals. We get them for a while, then they’re gone. Only Jeanette is forever.

Now, the lady wasn’t shocked to hear this, but she was a bit taken aback. There’s a lot of crap out there about how kids have to know that they are the most important thing in the world, because otherwise it impacts their fragile self-esteem. This is a wet load of steaming horse manure. What kids need is stability, not lies or a false impression of their importance in the world. Our kids don’t feel less loved because they come second. Quite the contrary. They feel much more at peace because they know that the foundation of their world – which is the relationship of their parents – is solid and doesn’t crack.

We do not have perfect kids. They have inherited many of the worst characteristics of their father, and the only flaw in their mother (not much ability to sing). But our kids do not do drugs, and they don’t sass their teachers or Heaven forbid their mother, and they can work hard. They get good grades, and they love each other. They fight rarely and never yell. They sleep three, even four or five to a room and don’t complain. They wear old shoes and old hand me down clothes without whining. They play hard and they pray hard and they know their parents aren’t perfect, so if they want perfection they better look to Christ. And they do.

What do children need today? The same things they’ve always needed. Love and attention, and a stable place in the world. Some sticks and a ball to play with. Important work to do and adults to do it with. A roof and four walls, food and water. Interesting things to learn and interested people to learn from.

And that’s it. Everything else is gravy, and probably gets in the way of one of the things above. How do we keep our marriage fresh? We remember that the marriage is the entree, and children are the salad on the side. And we make sure our children understand this.

Of course, we love salad. 🙂

A Funny Story

This story is actually my sister’s but I thought it was cute enough that I wanted to repeat it.

In the presence of her 3-yr-old son my sister happened to mention something about her 5-yr-old daughter peeing her pants.

“Susie* can’t pee her pants mom, she doesn’t have a penis,” her son says.

“Actually sweetie, girls pee too, just like boys, even though they don’t have penises,” she tells him.

In typical 3-yrs-old fashion he tells her that she’s wrong (3-yr-olds know everything after all) “No she can’t, mom. But I can because I have a penis and Billy* (his 7-yr-old brother) can because he has a penis and dad can because he has a big, big, big, big….”

So congratulations to my sister Melanie.

-Al

*Some names have been changed, because I felt like changing them.