Saturday, October 29, 2011

For the record. . .

I've been having trouble not focusing on all the things I'll miss about California, like:

Monterey (and the fact that I never got to take the kids to the aquarium)
Sacramento (the train museum, Old Town, etc)
the smell of fresh oranges
the giant trees
the beach
In N Out
See's Candies
dual immersion schooling (such mixed feelings there)
all the orchards--almonds, olives, oranges, lemons, pomegranates, walnuts, pistachios, etc.
that first smell and sight of ocean driving over 41 or 168

that I decided to help myself make this adjustment, I have to remember all the things I definitely will NOT miss, like:

black widow
the dairy smell
fall that barely arrives at all, and usually not until November
the blasted heat
the winter fog
over-intrusive bureaucracy everywhere
pathetically failing school
sales tax
personal state income tax
ridiculously expensive vehicle registration fees
listening to people peel out of Fast Strip all hours of the day and night
politics (granted, this may be a short-term relief, since small towns can be like this anywhere, but I'm grateful for the break)

There are a lot of other things that could go on these lists, but its a start.

Friday, October 28, 2011

My sisters are amazing

They really are some of the most generous, thoughtful people I've ever known. When I was a little girl, I looked up to them a lot. I'm glad to say that, in so many ways, I was right. :). Hopefully someday I will be able to repay everything they've done for me, and for my family. It's hard to leave here, but it's a lot easier when I know that these are the kind of people I'm going home to.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Be Still

We were asked to speak this last Sunday, as what the Bishop referred to, somewhat hilariously, as a "parting shot". Following is the text of my talk.

When Brother Cregor asked us to speak, he extended the wonderful blessing and burden of choosing our own topics. We’ve been preparing to move, and I’ve had such conflicting emotions about this decision, and have had so much to get done and been reflecting so often on our time here in Lindsay, its been difficult to get my mind to slow down enough to focus on anything.

We moved here 5 ½ years ago, when Keilana was not quite 2 and Dylan was only 6 weeks old, and nearly all of the time that has passed for us here has been tremendously intense, in every possible way: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. There’s been a lot of good, a lot of bad, a lot of fun and a lot of hard stuff, but just A LOT. So often I have found myself thinking, “When is this going to slow down? What am I supposed to be learning here?” Having my mind race and my spirit agitated so that I can’t focus has been a common challenge for me during the time that we lived here, as we faced many, usually unexpected, challenges.

As I thought about that, two experiences I had with different nephews came to mind. Many years ago, my brother and his very young wife were living in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he was stationed with the army. Both of them were living away from their families for the first time, when they welcomed their oldest son, Jeriah Daij, into the world. He was small, only 5.5 pounds, but healthy and beautiful. A day later, as they were checking out of the hospital to head home, their tiny baby began to seize violently in his mother’s arms. After rushing the baby across town to a private hospital where he could receive specialized care, his frightened young parents were told that he had spinal meningitis and that a baby as young as he was had almost no internal defenses developed to help fight the infection. It was highly unlikely that he would live, but if he did, he would probably be deaf, paralyzed, and mentally challenged, among a whole host of other maladies. This past summer, that baby turned 11. He is smart and healthy and strong—in fact, a few weeks before his 11th birthday, he completed a grueling hike, with his dad, uncle and older cousins, that has been known to sometimes get the better of grown men. There is nothing today to indicate that he was ever sick.

As most of you know, we faced a tragedy in our family a few years ago. Seared into my memory is a warm, sunny Friday afternoon where in five minutes time the whole world seemed to turn sideways as my sister-in-law told me over the phone that Conner, her beautiful, sweet young toddler, has toppled into a small backyard pool and drowned and was in the hospital. Eleven hours after I received her phone call, I received a second one from my mother-in-law at the hospital telling me that Conner had slipped away.

I reflected on these incidents and thought, “I could spend my whole life asking, ‘Why?’ Why is Jeriah a happy, healthy 11-year-old, but we had to say good bye to Conner?” Both boys were given Priesthood blessings, were prayed for by large, loving families. I could spend my whole life asking, “What lesson are we supposed to learn here? What could we have done differently?”

Many individuals and families do torture themselves with such questions: “We had FHE, we said our prayers, we were diligent in our callings, so why have our children gone astray? I have been a good and faithful friend, who has tried hard to be kind and patient, why has my trust been broken? I have been a devoted and caring spouse, why has our family fallen apart? I have been a hard worker, diligent and wise in trying to provide adequately for my family, so why can’t I find work? And so often, the question that follows these is “What am I supposed to be learning?” In many respects, this is a very valid question to ask, but often we ask it as we look for that little treasure of knowledge that will magically release us from this or that trial, because now we’ve learned what we needed to learn and we can move on. While we should always be actively seeking to know what the Lord would have us learn, that simply isn’t how life works.

I’ve come to understand that often the lesson we need to learn is to simply be still and know that He is God—that he is over all, and he has his reasons. This doesn’t mean that we sit around and wait for the Lord to run our lives. Always there is much to be done, and we can and ought to be anxiously engaged, as the Lord has instructed. But our souls should be still. As a wonderful hymn says, “Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side/With patience bear your cross of grief or pain/ Leave to thy God to order and provide/In every change, he faithful will remain/Be still my soul/ Thy best, thy heavenly friend/ Thru thorny ways/leads to a joyful end”. Thru all the trials and troubles and busyness of life, we must learn to discipline our souls to be still, to be at peace, “In every change, he faithful will remain”. Everything in life is temporary. Mortal life itself is temporary, and often wildly unpredictable. He only is constant and unchanging. He never leaves us alone, and ultimately he is over all—we must learn to trust more completely and more readily in that, and so be at peace.

When the apostles were tossed about by the waves of the sea, they were afraid they would drown as the Lord slept. They went to their Master and asked, “Carest thou not that we perish?” The Lord was more mindful of their circumstances than they had realized, as he spoke those quiet, powerful words, “Peace, be still”—perhaps as much a loving rebuke to his apostles as to the powerful sea. Why should they fear when the Lord was with them? Yet, too often we do the same thing, finding ourselves rocked by the storms of life, we forget that we have the Lord as our companion, and don’t think to ask for his help until we turn to him in a panic and practically shout, “Why are you letting my drown?” We forget that if we exercise faith in him, he can calm any storm. He is always aware of the challenges we face and is ready to help us, if only we remember that he’s there and have the humility to seek him.

Yet we must also strive to have the kind of faith displayed by Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego as they faced King Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace. They declared that they were not afraid because they knew that the Lord had the power to deliver them from the flames, “but if not”—if they perished in the furnace--they would remain faithful to the Lord. We too must trust in the Lord, that he has the power to deliver us from any fire, but that if he doesn’t, he has a wise purpose for letting us struggle, and we ultimately will come off conquerors through him that loved us. So much in life is beyond our control. It is not, however, beyond his control.

“In the world ye shall have tribulation,” he said, “but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Our sorrows, our pains and our troubles are temporary. Through the Atonement, he will make everything right in the end. Sometimes we get relief and see a little more of the big picture in this life, but sometimes we don’t. We have to remember that that’s OK, because we know that even the end of this life is not the end. The Atonement is infinite and eternal. The Plan of Salvation shows to us a Father above who is more patient, more merciful, and more loving than most people would ever dare to guess. He wants us to succeed. He wants us to become like Him. Its just that getting there is an awful lot of hard work, and in the mean time we can’t control the agency of others, and the Lord will certainly not usurp the agency of his other children for our convenience. We must trust in the Lord, and trust in the covenants we have made with him. He will honor all that he has promised us if we will but strive to be faithful to him.

Instead of asking “why?” we should more often ask, “what?” “What blessings has the Lord given me to help me weather this storm?” In my case, it has been true over and over again the last few years that one of the most valuable blessings the Lord has provided for me is marvelous friends. CS Lewis once wrote, “God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain.” I believe that God knew the challenges we would face, and knew we would need help and so he armed us with faithful, loving friends. The Lord instructs us to “Let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven.” I am humbled by the extent to which so many in this ward have shone the light of Christ into my life.

Christ-like friends not only help us weather life’s storms, they help us to do so cheerfully and to be a better person for it. The Prophet Joseph Smith, who walked a very stormy path, often spoke of how he valued the love and support of his friends. He once wrote, ” “How good and glorious it has seemed unto me, to find pure and holy friends, who are faithful, just, and true, and whose hearts fail not; and whose knees are confirmed and do not falter, while they wait upon the Lord. . .They shall not want a friend while I live; my heart shall love those, and my hands shall toil for those, who love and toil for me, and shall ever be found faithful to my friends.”

I am so sad to leave, because I won’t have the opportunity to begin to repay so much of the Christ-like charity that has been extended to me and to my family. When we came here, I never imagined that it would be so hard to leave. Though five years is a small measure of time, the things that we have learned during our years here have had a huge influence on my eternal perspective and I am certain we have made more than a few friends who will have had an eternal impact on us.

The Lord commands us to be perfect. When I was a teenager, my father once told me that an alternate translation of the Hebrew word for “perfect” is “complete” or “whole”. I thought about that as I remembered my first night in Lindsay 5 ½ years ago. We stopped at Save Mart on the way home to grab something to eat because we were living in a tiny rental house out in the country and didn’t have a refrigerator yet and all our stuff was still in boxes and I didn’t know anyone and the whole place was new to me and I was sitting in the car in the rain listening to my baby cry and I thought, “What am I doing here? I don’t want to be here!” I was a tumult of emotions inside—at that moment, I lacked so very much, I was so terribly incomplete. But as I put my faith in the Lord, I quickly found that over and over again, usually through the actions of caring friends, I heard the Lord quietly whisper, “Peace, be still.” The Lord helped me move a little closer to being whole by providing friends who are strong where I am weak.

As so many in the world run to and fro in search of peace, blown about by every wind of doctrine and frantically trying to find some even ground on which stand, we can be still, be boldly immovable in the surety that the Lord Jesus Christ is our Savior, brother and friend, and never flees nor fails us. In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord said, “Therefore, fear not little flock; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail. . .Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” The Lord is on our side, then why should we fear?

Monday, October 24, 2011

On the other hand

My almost-three-year-old has been annoying for entirely different reasons. This morning I dozed off while nursing the baby (we had a late night last night) and when I woke up, I found her "making cocoa" with baby formula and the Magic Bullet. I'd probably be more annoyed about the expensive baby formula, except that my baby tends to go on hunger strikes when I'm not around, so we don't use much of it anyway.

This evening, I found Kylie in my bedroom with a spatula, whisk, salad tongs and a wooden spoon, huddled next to a giant smear of toothpaste (oh yeah, and the toothpaste tube) "making soup".

She's been cooking a lot lately, and its getting steadily more messy and destructive. Good thing its almost November: she can put her enthusiasm to good use helping her Yaya make some Thanksgiving pies. (Well, I mean, I could make some, too, but moving back in with my mom means I don't have to cook anymore, right? Right? Hhahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Ha. Just kidding).

No really, just kidding.

I'm going to have my husband kill me some trout and deer, and then I'll make some dry meat and fashion us some killer mountain-wear out of the skins. The trout skins, of course. We'll throw out all those useless deer hides.


All day long
I've been muttering under my breath
about how I don't have time
for my baby to decide
that she's not going to nap today,
or cry any time I'm not holding her
or sometimes even if I am.
I was really quite irritated about it.
So when she started throwing up,
I started feeling like a real schmuck.


So I was standing in the bathroom with Kylie while she did her thing, and the following monologue ensued, while a longish zip tie served as her prop.

"Mommy, my daddy died."

I shook my head with a confused look on my face.

"No, Mom, I'm pretending my dad died.
But he's going to come back to life.
[She holds the zip tie up, fashioned into a rough oval shape.]
I'm going to bring him back to life with this.
But Dylan is my dad.
Yeah, Dylan is the dad
and Keilana is the mom
and I am the son.
I am the good son.
But I am not a boy.
I am Michelle.
I am going to be a turtle.
But I'm not a turtle,
I'm just Michelle,
I'm the daughter.
Keira, you are the boy, you are going to be the son
you can't be a turtle,
you are too big to be a turtle.
Mom, I'm going to walk to my house,
yeah, I'm going to walk to the house because I'm the son.
Ok, Mommy, lets go walk to your house."

Up she jumped and scampered off in her pigeon-toed, drunken sailor run.

She really doesn't need anyone to have a conversation with, she just sort of talks and talks and talks regardless of whether or not anyone actually responds.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


We're making good progress, but packing a whole house is a lot of work. The kids are being pretty good, but they've been mostly locked up inside with orders to "Don't touch that!" "Get out of that room!", etc. I didn't realize that perhaps we'd been a bit too occupied with all these decidedly non-fun tasks until yesterday afternoon. I had busted up an old piece of junk dresser into small pieces to haul to the dumpster, and we let each of the kids carry a small chunk out as we carried the bulk of it, and as we were walking back to the house, Dylan happily exclaimed, "We went together as a family!"

You know life's gotten a bit funky when walking trash to the dumpster together is the extent of your family activities.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Starting Over

We're headed to Montana in about two weeks. I don't know where we'll end up in the long run, but I'm almost positive it won't be California.

I have such terribly conflicting emotions about all this. Obviously, I'm excited. I love western Montana and I'm grateful that we'll be able to be close to all of my family, at least for a time. I'll get to let my kid regularly go wild outside, and we'll go sledding and cut our own Christmas tree and have Sunday dinners with the family. Hopefully this summer we'll go hiking and go to powwow and Good Ol' Days. I am bursting with excitement over that.

And I'm tremendously sad. The other night, just after we put the kids to bed, we heard a strange noise, so Doug walked into their room and asked Keilana what it was. She got very quiet and was sort of turned away from him, so he said, "Keilana, I'm talking to you, so talk to me. What was that?" She turned to face him and said, in a sad, shaky little voice, "I'm excited to go to Montana and see Yaya and my cousins, I'm just going to miss my friends." Doug assured it that it was OK to be sad, because we were really going to miss our friends, too. On Sunday, I kept thinking there must be some way to take our ward with us. The kids are all having a bit of a hard time, as the house gets emptier and moving day gets closer. Their whole lives are about to change completely.

So are mine and Doug's. I'll have to figure out how to fit our family into the already established routines and relationships of the extended family. It will probably affect the dynamics of my kids' relationships with each other, as they are so used to spending so much time with just each other, just the three of them. We have to develop whole new routines and habits. We'll be so very, very far away from Mimi and Papa. We'll probably miss them most of all. The four of us have grown quite close over the course of the last five years, and even with all the wonderful family we'll have up in Montana, it will certainly feel like there's a hole in our hearts at having them so far away. I wish that our families lived a little closer so that my kids (and I) could spend a lot of time with both sets of grandparents.

If I think about it too long, I just get sick. So instead, I'm trying to focus on all the work I have to get done (anyone who wants to help is more than welcome to come pack and paint), and on all the good stuff: best friends who are cousins, a white Christmas, that whole hazy line between backyard and wilderness thing, spending a lot of time with my mom, soaking up time with my grandma.

In the mean time, I'm trying not to think too much about how much I'll miss the Meiks, Ashcrafts, Hunters and Cregors, or how much we'll miss our family here, or about not being able to take a weekend trip to Monterey or Disneyland or Sacramento. Having a lot of people in your life to love is wonderful, but it also makes some decisions a lot harder,

Thursday, October 13, 2011


People don't realize that they sometimes love me for the things I don't say,
until I don't not say them.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Making Plans

Doug is waiting to hear on a job he applied for in Visalia. He should know by the end of the week whether or not he gets an interview, but at this point the statistics aren't in his favor. As of last night, there were 44 applicants for the position, many with way more experience.

So, if it doesn't come through, we're headed to Montana. In many ways, headed home, at least for me. As we've talked about leaving and tried to help the kids understand what that means, it finally really sank in for me that this is very much home for my children. Keilana is the only one who has spent any time anywhere else, and at an age where she was far too young to remember. Lindsay is the only home they've known. And its been a good home for them. Keilana has wonderful friends, including two other little redheads she pals around with, Dylan will miss Grant and Lulu terribly, and I will miss seeing Kylie light up when she knows she's getting a chance to see Ava and Ronnie. My 2-year-old has real friends, for Pete's sake.

Lindsay has been good to Doug and I, too. We stayed up til almost four last night talking about everything we need to get done in the next three weeks (we're leaving November 1st), and everything we're leaving behind. Doug and I both feel like we struggle to make friends, for various reasons, or at least to feel close to people, and we have such a solid, wonderful group of loving, understanding, supportive friends here. People we trust, are at ease with, and enjoy being around. People who we feel will miss us as much as we'll miss them. That makes me terribly sad--there are so many people we hate to leave.

But I'm also tired. Our experience in Lindsay has been fun and exciting and enriching, but its also been exhausting and trying and overwhelming. I'm ready to start fresh. I'm tired of being cumbered, at times, by other people's baggage, or having my reputation tarnished by the foolish decisions of others. I'm tired of living right in the middle of everything, surrounded by people and pavement. I'm tired of all that nonsense, and maybe being broke and turning to my parents for help for a while is the Lord's way of providing that fresh start for us, challenging as it will be. Maybe things here didn't go the way we'd hoped in the end, but I will not regret having come here and been a part of all this--I will certainly never regret knowing and spending time with the people its brought into our lives. I will always be tremendously grateful for the opportunity to be a little piece of some amazing things, and for all the people that have shaped us during our time here. And I still have hope that, though our part in this story is over for now, it will still work out for the best in the long run--that all things we've worked for, invested in, will not be in vain. There is still time for things to go right.

In the mean time, I'm trying not to focus on being completely broke, with no solid job prospects of any kind, living in two bedrooms with four kids and all the packing and cleaning and selling and organizing we have to do in the next few weeks. I'm focusing on family Christmas tree trips to the Stump Ranch and a snowy Christmas and so many cousins to play with and spending a lot of time with my grandma and my sisters and everybody else--all 30 of them:) I'm looking forward to helping my children know a little better a place that was such a magical part of my childhood. Wish us luck.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Silver Lining

Chuck didn't have any work for Doug today, and its still chilly and breezy outside (and we leave the windows open this time of year). It was perfect weather for snuggling cozily under a comforter in a warm, soft bed. And since the other kids were off to school, Kylie got her daddy all to herself.
Even unemployment has its advantages.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Scatter Sunshine

The other day, I was watching Keilana scooter home from school in her Roxy jeans, with Kylie running after her in her cute little Gymboree skirt and bright yellow Doc Martens, I thought to myself, "Their hand-me-downs are so much cooler than mine were." Then, when I was walking the kids to the car today, all of them dressed so cute in nice clothing, I realized that, head-to-toe on all four kids, I had only purchased Keira's pants and Keilana's shoes. That's it. All the rest of the clothing came to us from cousins and friends. What a wonderful blessing.

Today a friend came over to visit and see how we're doing. Thanks to her sneaky thoughtfulness, we often have so much food that its hard fitting it all in our cupboards--not a challenge that a family generally faces while unemployed.

Our life is absolutely full of people like that. You wouldn't believe how often I get a random email, text message or Facebook comment from someone who loves us and is just checking in to see how we're doing and if they can help at all. A few weeks ago, some friends took us out on a double date, their treat, just to enjoy our company and give us a break. For my birthday, a friend declared he was sending us out on a date, and showed up at the house to babysit and gave us some cash to go have some fun.

Yesterday, I was feeling terribly homesick. My dad's birthday was this past weekend, and so all my siblings got together with all their kids at my parents' house to make cider with my grandma's cider press, from all the apples in my parents' orchards. I haven't been home in 15 months (no one but my mom has even met Keira), and fall is my favorite season in Montana. One of the things that I struggle with in my more homesick moments is feeling forgotten. I look at all these pictures of piles of grandkids and aunts and uncles and part of me thinks, "How could it ever possibly feel as though anyone is missing?" I'm the only one not there, and I've been gone my entire adult life, so I've never really been a part of the life they have now, so I feel like it'd be easy to just sort of forget me and my family. I know better, but that's how I feel when I get bummed about being so far away. So, just when I was feeling disconnected and forgotten, a card showed up in my mailbox from my sweet big sister. Just wanted to let me know that we're loved and missed and that they're thinking about us and hope things turn around soon so that we can come home. That would've been enough to make my entire month, but on top of that she included a generous gift.

All at once, I felt ridiculous for feeling so sorry for myself. The only reason I feel so sad is because I have a marvelous family that is worth missing. And I have family here that loves me, too. So this afternoon, we finally ran some errands this afternoon that we've been putting off, and since we were in Visalia, we decided to stop in and visit Grandpa Barnes. It was strange not having Grandma there with him, but it was a nice visit. Kylie told him that she was gonna come pick his oranges for her birthday and have birthday cake, and he seemed to get a kick out of that idea.

Then we decided to stop in and see Mimi and Papa, too, and spent a couple of hours visiting with them. I love seeing my kids enjoy time with their grandparents and aunts and uncles.

I don't know what life has in store for us in the next few months and years, only that changes and adjustments will probably be demanded of us. I am grateful that one thing remains certain: wherever we go, near or far, there will be plenty of people who happily brighten the way for us. We are so well-loved by so many, and I'm grateful to be reminded of that so frequently.