Thursday, July 26, 2012

Are We There Yet? On the Road to Ruin


Even though everyone went to bed last night either grumpy, injured or just plain mad, we all seemed to have a sunnier outlook this morning.  B’s lip still looked pretty bad, and she had definitely chipped a little piece off the corner of her front tooth.  But she woke up raring to go, only occasionally saying owww while touching her mouth.
We checked out of the dumpy motel, which had actually worked out just fine, and headed out to see more of the Grand Canyon.  Shaggy and I wanted to soak in as much as we could while we were here.  So we dragged our kids, who were now complaining about “having” to see more of the Grand Canyon, to go see more of the Grand Canyon.  We figured that they’ll appreciate it someday . . . or move out.  So either way, it works out for us. 
The visitor center had a great movie that everybody but B wanted to see.  I think she made it through a whole 5 minutes before I had to take her out. 
Apparently, there was some guy that came across the Grand Canyon a long time ago and called it worthless, saying that it would be forever undisturbed and unvisited.  The idea of that is sort of comical now, considering how many millions of visitors from all around the world come to visit this place.  I mean, I understand that might not be the most valuable land when it comes to homesteading or farming.  It might not be the best area when it comes to feeding the body, but it more than makes up for that in the way it feeds the soul.
The last stop we made as we were heading out of the park was the desert view watchtower.  Which was beautifully built and a perfect artistic tribute to the Navajo.  The kids just wanted to blaze in and tromp up the stairs.  I wanted to wander and take in the artwork.  But I could only resist their calls for so long before I tromped up the stairs to meet them and enjoy the breathtaking panoramic views of the Grand Canyon.
There’s something about the stones that come from this part of the country that are captivating in their variety.  I couldn’t get enough.
But our journey was just beginning and the open road was calling to us.  En route to our next stop, we drove through Monument Valley in Arizona.  I tried to persuade my family to take a little detour to go see those silent sandstone monuments, but they unanimously vetoed my proposal.  Sad.  Someday I’ll have to come back and tour the amazing rock formations in this part of the country and imagine the ancient secrets they keep.  It’s rather ironic that all this sightseeing is doing everything but satiating my wanderlust.  Mostly, it’s just whetting my appetite and deepening my desire to explore these places.  
But my reality right now is based on the all-consuming needs of my children.  They need little things like lunch and naps, which always seem to happen at the most inconvenient times.  But it’s good to know that B can hang in there with only a 30 minute nap and two hours less sleep every night.  Our travel schedule hasn’t exactly embraced her daily routine.  But she seems no worse for wear, at least so far.
Except for the fact that she keeps falling down.  Multiple times a day.  And makes her lip start bleeding all over again.  But I’m going to keep telling myself that it’s healing.
Whatever honeymoon period we had on the first two days on the road completely wore off by the time we passed monument valley.  J was pestering R.  S was yelling at B for pulling her hair.  K was moody.  I was feeling rather anti-social.  And all the kids were complaining about not getting to stop and shop at every single souvenir place they saw. 
In the midst of all this lovely road trip drama, we pulled into four corners.  It was so stinking hot.  The older kids immediately ran off to see what trinkets they could go spend their money on in Utah.  B spent all her time carrying dirt from Arizona to New Mexico.  And R was making rock piles way over in Colorado.  With our children scattered across four states, I took pictures of Shaggy.  He was a little put out when he realized that he had to pay to enter this place, but quickly warmed up to how cool it is.  Finally we dragged our kids back to wait in line for a photo op.  And Shaggy had them run in circles from state to state.
We piled back in the van that now looks like a hoarder’s mecca.  There is stuff everywhere, smashed and/or balanced in precarious places, waiting to topple over and cascade out of any open doors.  Every time Shaggy has to let the dogs out of the den for a break, he has to unload two boxes, a suitcase, a water jug, and a box of food.  No easy feat. 
With all children and dogs present and accounted for (we have actually done a roll call a couple of times to make sure we had everyone) and the doors securely closed, we set off for Mesa Verde.
One of our best friends during this trip has been the Garmin gps unit that we broke down and bought a few weeks ago.  She’s programmed with a nice female British accent, and alternates between a beach ball icon and a monster truck to help guide us to our various destinations.  She’s been a wonderfully reliable companion, never leading us astray.  But there are limits to her knowledge, something we discovered as we were driving around in Mesa Verde National Park in the dark, completely clueless as to how to find the lodge.  All she told us was that we were on Ruins road.  Which was funny, but not very helpful.
After finally finding someone to ask, we arrived at the lodge only to find that they had already given out all their dog rooms.  Ah, the joys of traveling with pets.  But Shaggy sweet talked them into giving us some regular rooms and promised that the dogs would cause no trouble.  No, the dogs were fine.  It was a couple of the kids that caused all the trouble.
The keys to one of our rooms didn’t work, so while Shaggy was in the lobby trying to get some that worked, I was left to try to run the bedtime routine.  By now it was very late and everybody was either grumpy or slap  happy.  As I was getting R ready for bed, J told her that 1) a moth flew into her mouth, or 2) a moth flew under her blanket.  There are conflicting accounts as to what he actually said, but the result was the same.  R started screaming.  VERY loudly.  I could not calm her down.  And yelling at her to stop screaming didn’t help.  I tried.  I’m sure this was just what our lodge neighbors wanted to hear at 10:30 pm.
It took about an hour to get her and B settled down enough to sleep.  But the very worst part was that I didn’t get the chance to go outside and take in the amazing view of the stars because I was too afraid to move and wake up my little ones.
Ah, well, we’ll see what tomorrow brings because we’re not there yet.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Are We There Yet? Smashmouth


Last night was the first time baby B had ever slept away from home.  Despite her trepidation about the playpen and new surroundings, she did fairly well.  Actually slept like a baby in the traditional sense of the phrase.  I was not so lucky thanks to that train switching yard.

Nevertheless, we happily sailed out of Barstow and headed for the California border.  The appearance of some little gifts from the travel fairy helped the hours of driving pass uneventfully.  I wish the rest of our day had followed suit.
We were so excited when we finally arrived at the Grand Canyon.   We tried to check into our somewhat fancy hotel, but they informed us that the info online that said they allowed dogs was, in fact, NOT accurate.  So they shuffled us off to a neighboring dumpy little lodge.
We unloaded a few bags, heedless of the fact that it was almost dinnertime, and took off to see one of the 7 wonders of the world.  Which was absolutely breathtaking.  And majestic.  And dizzying in its grand scale.  It was totally worth the effort it took to get here.  I’m just sorry that we didn’t come sooner.  I probably would have enjoyed it even more if I didn’t have to be in a constant state of panic about the possibility of B tumbling down those gorgeously striped canyon walls.
We wandered the rim trail for a little while, trying to ignore B’s demands for her baba which we had left in the van.  Naturally.  Then we headed to the popular Mather Point.  It was a little crowded for our taste, but it had fences! 
This is my shadow family waving.  Easiest way I've ever gotten a whole group shot.
J was standing by one of those fences, looking out on the amazing view while wiggling his top front tooth.  He’s been pushing and pulling and yanking on that thing for several weeks now, trying to get it to come out.  But apparently, it was just holding on for a better location.  He lost a tooth at the Grand Canyon.  Talk about potential future bragging rights.  Seriously cool!  I mean, how many people can really say that?

So he threw his tooth in.  He probably wasn't supposed to do that, but there's not much we're willing to do about it now.
By this time, there was no more putting off the needs of our toddler.  She was vocal enough about wanting her baba that everyone at Mather Point knew what she wanted.  So we headed back to the van, but I got stuck trying to photograph an elk who was not being a good model and then had to wander around for 45 minutes trying to find my people.
We were all feeling pretty hungry and rough around the edges by the time we pulled into the dumpy little lodge.  We were in the process of unloading and somehow our signals got crossed about who was supposed to help B out of the van.  So she fell out, face first, onto the pavement.  She was crying loudly, bleeding profusely, and everybody was pointing the finger of blame at someone else.  It took a while before we could assess the extent of her injuries.  She split her lip open and possibly chipped a tooth.  And even though it was really swollen and looked horrible, it fortunately didn’t appear that she would require any professional medical attention.  That was a giant relief.  Both for her sake and the fact that we really had to stick to our travel schedule if we didn’t want to pay for this whole relocation ourselves.  Per diem reimbursement only works if you mostly play by the rules.

Today wasn’t meant to be a late night, but it was nonetheless.  I’m afraid that this might be turning into a pattern.  But we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Are We There Yet? Pretend People


Our trip had a rather inauspicious beginning.  We didn’t even get one block before we decided we had to double back to the house to make sure that we had actually locked the doors.  Of course we had, we just couldn’t remember that we had.

We’ve been living under a big, grey cloud of perceived forgetfulness for too long now.  We forgot to pack a lot of things for this road trip.  Which makes us constantly wonder what more we have forgotten.  And just as bad, we often forget where we put the things that we remembered to pack and have to spend an extra half hour looking for them.  The van is bulging with stuff, it’s just very hard to find the various things we need in any given moment.  I constantly crave organization, but thus far it has completely eluded me. 
Before we hit the open road, we stopped for one final meal at In N Out.  Once the kids found out there will be none of those little burger joints in our new state, we could not dissuade them from making that our last dinner in California.

The drive was fairly uneventful.  Some crying, some squabbling, some laughing, some huffiness, quite a few I’m boreds, and several Are we there yets.  Shaggy did his best to insert Celtic lyrics into some ranchero music.  And he found a new use for those bumpy lines at the side of the road.  The creation of family jokes is always a memorable occurrence.

 B was fussy since she only had a 20 minute cat nap, but K came to the rescue by consistently distracting her from crying by talking to her about interesting things.  I think that baby will be a whole lot smarter by the end of this trip.  She can’t help it if she continues to sit by K.  And when B woke up in a foul mood after a second nap, K stroked her hair and sang primary songs to her.  It was one of those moments that made my heart melt just a little.  Maybe I didn’t need to pack a nanny, after all.  I have two dynamite caretakers-in-training.  I predict that they’ll easily make up for whatever mood swings they may have with their baby meltdown aversion skills.

Our arrival in Barstow was greeted with some very loud, high-pitched squealing sounds from a train switching yard, which unfortunately happened to be entirely too near the hotel.  This is the sort of thing you wish they would tell you when you try to make reservations.  “One more thing, Ma’am, you will likely be woken up throughout the night by the trains switching, which sound will also rev up your dogs and completely scare your children.  Would you still like to book your rooms, or would you rather find a different hotel?”

R, who was already freaked out by the squealing sound, completely lost it when we tried to make sure she went potty before bed.  She was scared and crying and talking about not wanting to go into the bathroom with the pretend people.  We had no clue what she was talking about. 

But it was something interesting, so all of her older siblings tried to unravel the mystery of what was scaring her.  They all tried to reassure her in various ways that the hotel bathroom was, in fact, completely harmless.  Nothing they were saying or doing was helping, but I was busy getting B ready for bed, so I let them carry on.  When J began telling her that “pretend people” was just another way to say “plastic people” and she liked plastic people, didn’t she, I figured it was time to step in.  To R’s credit, she really did listen to all their explanations about imagination and bravery.  It’s just that none of it helped her because nobody knew exactly what she was scared of.

So I scooped her up, and we went into the bathroom to investigate.  There was a toilet, directly across from a shower with a frosted glass door.  S had mused that she might be afraid of her reflection in the shower door.  When R heard this, she brightened up a bit, “Well, it DID look like me!”  But then lapsed again into fear, “But it was white, and there was more pretend people there, too.”  We then had a little lesson about glass and mirrors and colorful reflections.  Whatever new fears our subsequent hotels bring, hopefully the bathrooms aren’t inhabited by more pretend people that look like R.

All in all, it was a good day.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings.


Here's a little visual tour that explains why I am rather looking forward to the fact that B will be strapped down for much of the next several weeks.  And looking past the fact that she effortlessly got herself into every one of the following predicaments, let's also just ignore the plethora of hazards that surround her.  Moving is such a messy (and hazard-filled) process.  Helping her survive despite herself will be no small feat.  I am grateful that she hasn't figured out how to entirely sqirm out of her carseat.  Buckles are beautiful.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tipping Point

So much to say, so little time.

I am sitting in my living room, surrounded by towers of boxes.  My home has been transformed into a cardboard palace.  The moving crew swept through my house today, packing up the contents of every cupboard, shelf and drawer.  I feel like a fish out of water sitting here and NOT working.  But it is wonderful.  Almost makes up for the chaotic stress of the last several weeks. 

Ok, honestly, it totally makes up for it.  I feel completely pampered right now.  I'm trying to soak it up.  Because tomorrow, we're setting off on a 14 day, 3200 mile road trip.  And I'm pretty sure there won't be much pampering during any of it.  Because I forgot to pack a nanny.  And now it's too late because all of our stuff is sealed away and we won't see it again for nearly a month.

Which is mildly interesting considering the odd assortment of things that we have since remembered that we needed to set aside so they wouldn't get packed.  Rain jackets (summer rainstorms are common in places other than this valley desert, I hear.)  First aid kit (those steri-strips were VERY hard to find this morning when Shaggy stabbed his leg with an exacto knife--he really should go get stitches, but refuses.)  Cake pans (we're having a birthday party for B during our pit stop in Chicago, doesn't everyone include parties in their cross country move/road trips?)  The pepperidge farm pirouettes that we were saving as a special last night in Fresno treat.  Somehow, I don't think they'll fare very well on their trip to the East coast.

I can't decide if we'll be relieved to have our stuff back or if we'll be wondering why it all seemed important enough to box up and send across the country.  Probably a bit of both.  It's crazy how much we take the conveniences of modern life for granted until we have to go without them for a while.  So many times during the last two days, I've turned around to just grab the cheese, or a knife, or a towel; to put something in the fridge or the microwave, and to find that I couldn't because they were packed up, or unplugged.  I will be grateful to have that convenience back at my fingertips next month.  But for now, I'm letting go.  It's time to focus on seeing the country with my kids.

The kids have begun to marvel that "it actually feels like we're moving now."  Even though they have been kicked out of the house the last few days to make way for the moving company.  It's nice having good friends who are willing to drop everything and take them in for a day.  How we will miss them!

All my visions of a controlled and orderly move have long since been tossed out the window.  Which, I have concluded, is unavoidable.  I wanted everything to be nicely put away when the packers showed up.  But it's impossible to keep things put away when simultaneously packing for a road trip.  Packing = mess.  There is no way around it.  And even though it might bother me, it's not really any harder for the packers to put things in boxes from drawers or from a pile on the floor.  The longer the process goes on, the less I seem to care.  And my stress level has steadily gone down as our stuff disappears.  I think I've reached that tipping point where emotion gets set aside, the desire to have control slips away, and I just let the process happen.  Our stuff will get trucked across the country with or without my influence.  Unpacking will be a total disaster no matter what happens on this end.  I hope that most of our stuff will show up intact (especially those irreplaceable photos and albums), but there's absolutely nothing I can do to help that happen.  Besides, there is only so much I can worry about.  And I have enough on my mind that there is simply no more room for worry.

Which is also what made this week's house showings much more manageable.  I simply didn't care that the house was a mess, that stuff was piled everywhere, that we were just sitting down to dinner when some buyers came through.  Buy the house or not, either way, I had bigger fish to fry.

Maybe this whole mess is just a way to force me to develop a more zen-like approach to life.  To let go a little more, and worry a lot less.  To stop overthinking and overplanning and just live my life, mess and all.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

I Am Peter

Somewhere in the midst of this tumultuous relocation process, I realized that my story had already been written. It was written two thousand years ago in a book called Matthew.

But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And
in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.

It is undeniable that our family’s relocation is being guided by the hand of God. I have felt comforted and spiritually guided throughout this process. Not continually, but often enough to recognize that there is so much more at play here than the whims of men.

And I believe that I am not alone in this process. I believe that I can call upon the powers of Heaven to lead me, guide me, walk beside me. Because I am a child of God. And He loves me. Enough to send the model of perfection in all things for me to follow.

I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe He is the way, the truth, and the light. I believe He can do all things, and with Him, I can do all that is required of me.

But even with this knowledge, I still doubt. Like Peter.

I have faith enough to rejoice at this opportunity to move with my family because we have been longing and praying for it for so long. I was quick to respond to the early spiritual guidance I received. We listed the house at the time and with the agent we felt inspired to. And I was not surprised when we got an above asking price offer after our first day of showings. But when the winds arose and the offer fell through, I began to sink. Doubt and despair came crashing in on me. I felt like I would drown with all that was expected of me. I thrashed around in that ocean for a while, struggling to manage everything, second-guessing past decisions, wondering how things would ever fall into place.

But I tried to remember what I knew to be true. I took one day at a time, trying to be sure to address the most important issues each day. And somewhere along the way, I again felt a perfect, strengthening presence walking beside me. He lifted me up, I turned away from my doubts, and things moved forward. We got another offer on our house, right at asking price. So we proceeded to sell our home to the relocation company, which is how our whole relocation package is set up. We signed the deed over to them, an irrevocable transaction in preparation for them to turn around and sell it to the buyer.

But the buyer dropped out. Which again threatened my footing. The house was still technically sold, but we were ushered into several weeks of grey and cloudy unsurity, where no one really knew how to proceed. Except, of course, for the man upstairs who could see the end from the beginning.

Our sale to the relo company stuck. Which was a major hurdle to have cleared. I am trying to focus on the fact that it is an amazing blessing to have sold the house. I am trying even harder not to sink into the waves of doubt as I am being required to show the house while organizing, packing, and otherwise making a complete mess of it.

Deep breath. Steady feet. Faith at the ready. This ocean will not consume me. I will walk where I need to walk, with the Savior’s hand in mine.

I am far from perfect. But fortunately, perfection is not required of me.

Peter wasn’t perfect. But he found strength through his faith. He overcame his doubts, even his ill-timed denials, and became the chief apostle. He did what was required of him.

So shall I.

Within These Walls

One day about a year ago, R handed me a picture she had drawn and announced, "This is for you so you will never forget me."  It prompted me to look around at my walls to see how well she was represented up there.  It turned out that the only wall photos of her were from when she was an infant.  Her three-year-old self didn't even recognize them as images of her.  No wonder she thought she was in danger of being forgotten.  It made me sort of sad.  And determined to do something about it.

The only problem was that I was terribly short on inspiration.  I had oodles of photos, I just wasn't sure what to do with them.  It was also around that time that I stumbled across the decorating with portraits series over at Kristen Duke Photography.  Bingo!  Inspiration galore.

After that, the ideas just kept coming to me.  Even interfered with my ability to sleep, which was somewhat annoying.  But you have to take inspiration when it comes, right? 

I decided that I wanted to be more purposeful in what I put on my walls.  I wanted a daily reinforcement of the principles our family holds dear, the things we try to instill in our children.  Love.  Unity.  Humor.  Faith.  A love of art.  A sense of belonging.  Joy.

Complete is probably not something I will ever be able to use to describe my walls.  I want them to change and evolve along with my family.  But I have come to find so much joy in the process of creating things to hang up there.  Even when it also drives me mad.  Because I have seen the delight in my childrens' eyes when they notice something new, something of themselves that has been put up.  And considering the great importance of what happens within these walls, I believe that what I put on my walls is certainly worth some time and effort.

Before I leave this home forever, before I begin an epic journey that will forever change us, I want to preserve a little snapshot of what our walls look like right now.
This was actually my first creation, to fill a small space with a little silliness and a bit of history.  Shaggy's mom made one of those dolls and my mom made the other.  The smaller pair was purchased on a trip we took shortly after we were married.  The costumed girls are two of my babies during their second Halloween.  We have fun trying to guess which ones are which.  Nobody but me ever gets them all right.
This is a little wall in my entry way that proclaims to all who enter that we hold the family unit sacred.  It is the building block of society.  When it weakens, so goes society.
This is the nursery, where we've had a jungle theme ever since my first baby was born and my mother and I made a jungle quilt that has been passed down from one sibling to the next.  And apparently, I have a thing for Halloween photos.
Below, after trying a few different arrangements in a few different places, I finally settled on one I liked.  My mother-in-law, who is quite the gifted artist, painted those letters for each of my children.  I've always loved them, but they looked so lonely hanging on the wall until I paired them with photos.  They are simply photos mod podged onto painted blocks of wood.

Such blocks of wood and mod podge have become great friends of mine.  They are so much cheaper than frames.  And they are so very easy to do.
This is the master bathroom which had bare walls forever.  The framed photo is one I took on the shores of the Isle of Man, where my husband's ancestors are from.  We took an amazing trip there a few years back and I often find myself stopping to stare at those shells, flooding my mind with the beautiful memories of that visit.  The other two pictures are just stock photos from Costco that fit the color scheme.  I was too lazy to take pictures of shells on my own.  But not too lazy to talk my husband into cutting those blocks of wood to a precise size and then using a router to make the edges fancy.  :)
These blocks of wood didn't get fancy edge treatment, just precise measurement.  This little grouping was a long time in the making, but I love how they turned out.  I had some fun fall photos of my kids and one day when I was wondering what to put up in their bathroom, my eyes fell on their shower curtain.  I figured I could somehow combine the two images to make some whimsical art. 
 I scanned the curtain, isolating the different trees and such. Then in photoshop elements, I added a plain leaf-covered hill and a digital cutout of my kiddos. You just have to know your way around layers and the eraser tool.  Then you can turn this . . .
into this.
Although I will be the first to admit that I could have just slapped up these photos and been happy with the result.  Just not quite as happy.
 Even though I totally adore this photo of R, the tree hugger.
This display will probably be one of the first to expand when we move.  I want to add some sort of canvas artwork with our hand prints on it.  Maybe a Picasso quote.  But I love having the kids' artwork displayed.  Saving and scanning the artwork they produced through the years is one of the best things I have done as a family record keeper.  And they really love seeing their work on the wall.
Getting regular, high quality family photos is not something I have been so good at.  But I have possibly turned over a new leaf in that regard.  We'll see.  I liked the idea of combining photos with artwork, knicknacks (which have yet to be found), and a quote that ties it all together.  "The family is one of nature's masterpieces."
Vintage windows are so full of potential, waiting to be tapped.  For this, all I had to do was print the photos in the right size and put them in the frame, using foam board and masking tape to hold them in place.  It will be pretty easy to swap them out, too, if I ever decide to update them.
This is the backsplash above my stove.  The gray tile was so boring.  Almost as an afterthought when we were getting ready to list the house, I measured the tiles and discovered they were 4 inch square.  So I printed 4x6 photos of some of the prettier cakes I've made over the years, cut one end off, and taped them to the tiles.  That was the easiest display by far.  But the kids love to look at them and remember the details of the birthdays.  Brings all that joy and excitement flooding back into my kitchen without all the powder sugary mess.
I love my walls.  I love that I can use that space to build a better, stronger, more unified, more joyful family.  My walls are my canvas, my chalkboard, my trip down memory lane.  I will never give them back to the realm of the unused and underappreciated.  My drive to decorate is here to stay.