Sunday, January 25, 2009

State of the Union at 916 Laurel Lane

State of the Union Address, from Grandma Kathy
(Written Saturday night, 1-24-09)

Dear Family,

I thought I’d write a little and let you know how I am doing. My life has been full and busy these last couple of weeks, but what else is new? This morning I woke up with the Serenity Prayer running through my head. “God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It was a good theme for the day.

I worked with Julia, Michael, and Mark on getting the Koponicks almost all moved into our house. Today we consolidated the kitchens. To my amazement, we are fitting things in, and it is working out fine. I was afraid the house would be horribly crowded, but it doesn’t feel so. This has always been kind of an elastic house—it has so many nooks and crannies that we have been able to fit extra foreign-exchange students and family members in at various times, and we always seem to be able to work it out.

Speaking of nooks, the kitchen nook looks quite different. We gave the large-and-in-charge desk to DI (sorry, Kendra, we’ll get you another one when you move into a larger home), and moved our refrigerator back into the spot where it used to be, before we remodeled the house. Michael & Julia’s fridge is in the main fridge spot in the kitchen, to the left of the stove. We have a couple of filing cabinets in the nook, and then Julia and Mike have moved in two tall pantry cupboards. It all looks quite nice, actually, and it gives us enough space to fit the food in where we need to.

Michael and Mark went to Home Depot this morning to buy the second pantry cupboard (they already had one at the other house). They found exactly the right one, but it cost $250—yikes! So then they went looking in the “damaged” section at the back of the store, and they found the right kind of pantry, but the back was all broken up and the shelves were missing. They negotiated with the manager, and ended up bringing it home for only $50! It took a couple of hours of gluing and adding some structural support, but it works fine. Michael says he things they were able to get it so cheaply as a tithing blessing.

We didn’t need a computer desk any more because we are giving the Macintosh computer to the schools. It’s getting older, and Mark and I both have laptops from school, so we didn’t need it taking up so much space in the house. The Koponicks have brought over a desktop PC computer for the kids—it’s on a small desk to the left of the china cabinet—and their main PC, which is in their bedroom. We’ll all share one printer, so we’re getting rid of our three old printers, too.

It’s amazing how much stuff (translate: junk) we have accumulated in the house, especially since we just “moved” back into the house three years ago, after the remodel was completed. Every time we purge like this, I vow I will NOT bring so much stuff into the house, but obviously, it finds its way in anyway.

It seems to me that everyone is getting along well, give the adjustments we are all making. I think I can safely say that every room in the house is in pretty good shape this evening, something I could not have said this morning! We have made some good progress in restoring some order out of the chaos here at home. Julia took a good long nap this afternoon, something she should be doing a good deal more. I think she will be able to rest more now that the move is nearly wrapped up. She and Maleena are still a little wary of each other, but they are interacting politely, and the atmosphere in the house seems more comfortable for everyone, for which I am VERY grateful.

Maleena went to the funeral of her great-grandmother today. She was not sure how it was going to go with her birth family there, so she took another cousin with her to be her “buddy.” Everything at the funeral worked out fine, and I am glad she was able to go and pay her respects to her great-grandmother, who was very dear to her.

Josh, Sarah, and Kathleen are doing great. They are sharing the attic bedroom, which is working out well so far. They have had a couple of nights with noise in the night. The first night they slept here, they woke up at 4:00 a.m. and got dressed and ready for school! Grandpa got up and told them to go back to bed and turn off the lights, which they did. A couple of nights ago, Josh was sleep-walking and woke up Kathleen, who got into bed crying with Sarah; Maleena got up with them that time and got things sorted out. I guess next time it’s my turn!

Sometimes people tell me that I’m a “saint” for having Julia and Michael and the kids move in with us. They act like it’s some kind of horrible imposition to have family members move in with us. I just want to make it very clear that I don’t feel that way. Maybe this would be some kind of big deal in other families, but for us, this is how we do things. How I feel about all this is GRATEFUL that we have a large enough home that we can make space for loved ones who need some help in a tough time. I’d feel horrible if we lived in such a small home that we had to turn family members away, and they were homeless. This morning I took a few minutes for myself to go work out at the Curves gym, and on the way home I got all teary, thinking about how much I love my family, and how wonderful each of my family members—children, step-children, adopted daughter, in-laws, grandchildren, extra extended family like the Hollands, Jorgensens, Maughans, and Kelleys—is.

That doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to have everyone together, because it isn’t. But that’s ok. A couple of weeks ago, as the move was looming on the near horizon, I was feeling pretty stressed about the whole thing, and feeling sad to lose the privacy of my home. At that point I thought we would be doing more to change things like the living room furniture—which is not anything expensive or extraordinary, but I like it—and as I was lying awake one night, stressed, with my mind going in every direction, I began to pray, and I asked Heavenly Father how this was going to work. Immediately, I received a very strong impression, which went something like this: “Don’t worry about it. I already took care of this through the Atonement.” I was astonished at that answer to my prayer. I always think of the Atonement as being there to help people with bad sins, or grief such as losing a loved one, and my thought was, “You atoned for me being sad about losing my living room??” Then I had a sweet feeling of peace, and so I learned that yes, the Atonement is for ALL our sorrows, even silly ones like caring too much about how my living room looks, and being sad to think it was going to have to change.

Through this whole family experience, I am learning so many things. I am grateful for our Heavenly Father’s love of our family, and grateful to be doing some of his work. I love you all, dear family.

Monday, January 12, 2009

It's All About Katie

Here are two wonderful photos to go with Katie's blog contest:

Me with brownies, fresh out of the oven, just 10 minutes ago!!  (6:55 pm PST, Jan 12).

Me with a photo of Katie, right in my living room.

I win!!  I win!!  I win!!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sacred Things

In the New Testament, Jesus tells the story of Mary and Martha, two sisters who loved him. In the story, Jesus has come to visit their household. Martha is busy with making their home comfortable for their guest, while Mary sits at his feet and drinks in his word. When Martha appeals for help from her sister, Jesus chides her gently, saying that Mary has “chosen the better part.” So, to take in the Word is sacred; it should not be relegated to second place. But the work of attending to the needs of others is both necessary and sacred, as well. Both are needed in the world, and in our hearts.

If I speak sharply to my husband, who is kind and worthy, he is genuinely hurt, and a cloud descends upon our household. He will get over it after a while, but how much better it is to be accountable for my error and apologize. He wraps his arms around me, for he is tall generous, and that is a sacred moment.

Many places along the Eagle Creek Trail are holy, but there is one place in particular, about a half mile past High Bridge, where the trail climbs gently along the west side of the creek, and there, across the creek on the east side, the basalt buttresses mount up layer after layer, thrusting into pale sky. It is good to sing a hymn there, in that place of frozen lava flows and great interior distance; it is cathedral, temple, sanctuary.

The work on ants on the forest floor, that is a sacred thing.

As is the slender stem of trillium in spring, rising from the duff to offer three white petals to the world.

A home is a sacred place. Not enough people have them.

A paycheck, honestly earned with diligent work to benefit the lives of others—the waitress who serves and smiles, the grocery clerk with aching back, the receptionist kindly ordering the world within an office, the plumber who helps water go where it should and keeps it from going where it shouldn’t, the teachers and nurses and librarians and doctors and even the lawyers—that paycheck, which represents time spent in doing, may not be exactly sacred, but it is nearly so.

I have read that Native Americans granted holy status to their members who behaved in ways that western culture considers deviant, behaviors associated with mental illness, for example. Twelve years ago, I lived with my daughter through a year of debilitating mental illness. I concur with the Indians; her work that year was awful, but it brought he—and me—closer to God.

A baby falling asleep at my breast is a sacred thing.

Oliver has been one of my students for the past four years; he is a high school senior now. He is autistic, but on the high-functioning end of autistic; he can handle most assignments and most interactions with his peers. During the week I serve him by teaching him about interpreting something we’ve read, or adding more detail to his writing and punctuating it correctly. Oliver is also a member of my ward, or congregation, of the Mormon Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, where worthy boys are ordained to the priesthood at age 16. On Sundays Oliver serves me by officiating at the sacrament ordinance. He and another priest tear the bread into little pieces while we sing a hymn, and then he kneels and blesses the torn bread, the little cups of water, with the sacred prayer, the one that heals my weekly hurts and sends me into the new week with greater courage. This is a tender thing, our mutual service, and very sacred.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Unnamable Things

The color of a sunset—the kind with flaming clouds thrusting up and up and up, and then that underlayment, perhaps of gold, perhaps of bronze; it is unnamable because the instant the eye identifies color, there it goes, it changes again, and the edges are a deep blue that wants to be purple, but there are peach and a soft silver color mixed in as well, roaring, raging colors that flare and holler hallelujah in great banners across the sky— No, the true color of such a sunset cannot be named.

Canadian geese fly overhead. I cannot name the tune they gabble to one another as they fly, but their song awakens an ache within me. I cannot name the distant marsh that beckons them for rest. I cannot name their tracks across the sky.

The tenderness held deeply within the naval.
The crescent of softest skin beneath a woman’s breast.
The story her baby tells himself as he gulps her milk.

At a waterfall, the water thunders from above, exerting pressures that cannot be named, but which can crush and carve solid rock, and all the while delicate tufts of maidenhair fern, slender as a thread, bow and wave in the breeze and mist, mere inches from the ferocious physics of falling water. I do not know how to name the courage of that fern.

The quiet peace in the night of a woman curled up behind her sleeping husband, absorbing the warmth and the quiet comfort of his sleep to her insomnia, this has no name.

Nor does the tender, nameless fat on a baby’s foot, nor his quiet gurgle of joy.

The dreams of hibernating bears have no names, not even among bears. The path that calls a salmon is as sure and true as spider silk, but neither the spider nor the salmon can name their way.

In a stream flowing to the sea, there is a place where sweet water mingles with salt, and that border, neither salt nor sweet, is unnamable. Waves may not be named, nor sands upon the shore, nor stars above. Though men may say they have named stars, constellations, galaxies, the stars know better; this is the foolishness of men, for stars may not be named. And on clear nights, when the stars lean down to admire their reflection within the dark mirror of quiet mountain lakes, their vanity, too, is unnamable.

Fifty years away, I still hear my grandfather’s voice singing lullabies to the child that was me. Who can name this gentle mystery—his quiet croon, his kindness, ambassadors, even now, across these years and beyond death’s veil?

A rooster’s crow at three a.m.
The ways that prayers are answered.
The ways that prayers remain unanswered.

I knew a woman who lived on the corner. Years ago her husband died; I did not know her then, but she lived on the corner, and the neighbors spoke of it. Over the years she and I became acquaintances, then friends. Then I invited her to dinner every Sunday because she was lonely. She kept cats, and she wouldn’t let anyone in her house. Until the day we read in the newspaper that she had been arrested because she had been an accomplice to the murder of her husband, all those years ago. This really happened, but to this day I do not know how to name this truth: I have entertained a murderer unawares.

The times when fear hangs like a knife in the night, and sleep is gone, and every answer to the question—what if?—screams out its unnamable name.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Nibbles and Sips II

On the other hand, maybe all we get is nibbles and sips.  Could be that's part of faith.  I'm feeling peaceful at the moment.  I'm trying to think how to put this...there are these experiences we have, where our edges get knocked against.  Feels like someone's petting me the wrong way.  But you stay with it, you hang in there, and eventually things get straightened out.  A moment of peace.  

If this were one of my writing students writing this, I would say something teacherly here, like, "Can you give a specific example?"  And yes, I could, but I'm reminded of Forrest Gump...and that's all I 'm going to say about that.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Nibbles and Sips

So, I admit it...I really do enjoy the  sacrament bread and water on Fast Sunday.  I'm trying to be spiritual and all, but it's just nice to have that nibble of bread and sip of water.  Today it tasted as welcome as ever, but then I made this cool connection.

Thinking about what the spirit taught me after the sump pump incident--that the promptings are out there all the time, but we just need to learn to hear them--it dawned on me that most of the time we go through our days subsisting on a nibble and a sip of the spirit, when really there's a feast out there.  Like the difference between how much we eat on normal days and how much we eat on Fast Sundays.

Wouldn't it be cool to feast on the Spirit every day?  Instead of just nibbling and sipping?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

1.  I need to lose 20  pounds (again...sigh...) so that I can be fit and healthy.  Beginning today, I resolve to track my calories and write them in my journal every day of 2009.

2.  Read the Book of Mormon in Spanish.

3.  Climb Mt. St. Helens.

4.  Take Kathleen and Sarah (7-year-old twin granddaughters) backpacking

Friday, January 2, 2009

On Promptings: Extension Cords & Sump Pumps

Setting:  Wednesday, church parking lot, heading to Ashley's father's house for the reception.

Mark and I plus a few other willing recruits had done a 15-minute take-down of the wedding paraphernalia in the relief society room--arch, ribbon, flowers, guest book, etc.  As we were driving away, Mark asked if we had the extension cord.  I wasn't sure.  "I'll go check," he said, and I idled the car while he zipped back into the building.  Came back out a minute later with the extension cord in hand.  It had been tucked under the curtain, behind the lighted arch, so it wouldn't show during the ceremony.

"Good job,"  I congratulated him.  We're middle aged after all, and we don't always remember things.  

"It wasn't me," he countered.  That was a prompting from the Holy Ghost.

"The Holy Ghost cares about our extension cord?"  Something to ponder.

Setting:  last night 10:30 pm, our house, in the midst of an extraordinarily heavy rain storm (3" in 24 hours)

I was sitting in my favorite green rocking chair in the living room, fiddling with this blog on the laptop, and had a clear impression to go check on the basement.  Our house is 99 years old, and the basement leaks during regular rainstorms, so an extraordinarily heavy rainstorm bears watching.  I ignored the prompting for a few minutes, then headed for the basement.  Mark was there ahead of me.

Long story short:  we had a mess on hour hands.  The sump pump was on the verge of overheating, we had water flowing in faster than we'd ever seen it before, and then we discovered that part of the reason we had so much water was that the plumber had neglected to finish plumbing the line from the sump pump when we put in all new plumbing three years ago--a great plumber by the way, except for this one defect, but he was still disinclined to climb out of bed at 10:30 pm and help us with our little crisis.  Like I say, we had a mess on our hands, because the pump was discharging--flushing might be more accurate--five or so gallons of water every 15 seconds! into the crawl space under the kitchen, and from there the water merrily found its way right back into the basement along with the deluge from outdoors.

Mark--my hero--devised a temporary fix consisting of a short pipe, the hose to his shop vac, and lots of duct tape.  Then we adjusted the sump pump to pump the sump every minute instead of every 15 seconds, and then we (finally) went to bed with the alarm set for every hour to see if we were floating away, or if the pump had burned itself out, or...  You know how you lie awake and worry about things like that?  We didn't.  We were exhausted and slept like kittens. Stupid hourly alarm.

Happy ending.  The pump cooled down, the duct tape held, and the waters receded.  Today the rain let up, and Mark went to Home Depot for official-looking plumbing joints, and he is actually--my hero!--fixing the stupid pipe.  

This morning, lying in bed, not wanting to get up, thinking about how both of us were prompted to go to the basement last night at the same time, and how Mark was prompted to check the crawl space, at which point we discovered the magical flushing sump system...

A couple of clear impressions have come to me.  (And let me just insert here that I realize that it's not like our basement issues were the Big News of Portland last night.  While we were dealing with our little drama, several drivers--not injured, thank goodness--were trapped in a huge landslide out on Highway 26 near Mt. Hood, and the road is closed for several days while crews clean up the tons of mess.)  But back to my impressions:

1.  We received these promptings--sump pump/basement last night, extension cord the day before--as blessings because we were faithful enough to show up when we were supposed to clean the church a couple of Saturdays ago.  That was in the middle of a record snowfall for Oregon City, and none of the other helper-types showed up, and then after we cleaned all morning, church got cancelled the next day anyway because there was too much snow.  But God doesn't care.  You show up and do your thing, and then these other little blessings that you didn't even know to ask for get dropped in your lap.

2.  But then again, these promptings are out there all the time.  It's like there's a Holy Ghost Instant Alert plan that anyone can sign up for.  You just have to learn to listen.  And in some weird way, doing things like showing up to clean the church actually help you listen better.  Who knew that God cared about our extension cord and our basement?  Who knew?

Thursday, January 1, 2009


This is me with my newest daughter-in-law, Ashley Haynes (Ashley Haynie, as of yesterday).  I posted this photo for 3 reasons:

1.  Ashley is cool.  I want to be like Ashley when I grow up.  I have never heard her raise her voice, and if she disagrees with someone she doesn't get into an argument, she just steers the conversation in the direction she wants it to go.  She is honest and open; what you see is what you get.
2.  I am still learning how to use this blog site, and I wanted to practice loading a photo. 
3.  I think I look pretty good in this photo.  No point it posting dorky photos of oneself.

Presume Welcome

I remember the day I decided to be outgoing instead of a loner.  It was a couple of weeks before I began junior high, and the thought occurred to me--lots of people here won't know me, I can be different if I want to be.

So I was.  I was outgoing, and I made friends, and I was even elected the seventh grade class treasurer!  Big times.

I was friendly and outgoing for a long time, and over time I figured that I had changed, and that I was no longer the loner who struggled with friendships, with knowing how to act.  I didn't understand that there is a difference in changing how I act (I did) and changing my basic personality (not gonna happen).  

Trying to be someone I am not takes a toll.  However, just because I am an introvert by nature doesn't mean I can't be friendly and gracious; I'm just not a party animal.  Recognizing who I am helps me be kind to myself when I get into overwhelming social situations (unfortunately, these situations seem to happen most often within my own large family!  Help!  I'm related to all these people!).  

Mark reminds me to "presume welcome," a phrase we learned at our Courage to Teach seminar a couple of years ago.  When I go into a situation that is unfamiliar--read stressful--to me, I try to breathe deeply and presume welcome.  Welcome.  Welcome.  Well.  Come.