Sunday, June 23, 2013

Oh dear

So, at Doug's sister's wedding, the sealer quoted one of my very favorite Shakespeare passages.  I joked, with faux bitterness, that at her sealing they quoted Shakespeare, but at ours, President Dredge quoted Hagar the Horrible.

Yes, during our temple sealing, the sealer quoted Hagar the Horrible.  I feign irritation or jealousy, but the truth is, it makes perfect sense, and I totally love it.  More every year.

Let's face it:  we're well suited to each other, and neither of us is really a "Paris at Christmas" type.

Our Story, Part I

So, a few of my friends have been on this "How We Met/How We Dated" blogging bandwagon the last few months, and I've loved reading them, but somehow it makes me a little squeamish to think about telling our story--and I think that its mostly just that, that its "ours".  For my kids' sake, I should probably record it more cohesively than my disjointed 18-year-old girl journal entries.  I thought it might be fun to share some of the story, since our 10th anniversary is rapidly approaching.

We met in the Fall of 2002 when we were both going to school at BYU-Hawaii, on Oahu's north shore.  For the first half of my first semester in the dorms, I had been living with an outspoken, bright, hilarious 20-year-old girl from American Samoa, and--still being painfully shy--I had spent most of my social time with friends of hers on and off campus.  In other words, I was always surrounded by Samoans and it was great fun.  Something I figured out really quickly was that I related pretty well to most of the Samoan girls I knew.  Nearly as quickly, I discovered that, though I enjoyed going out on a date with Samoan guys, for myriad reasons I had no interest in seriously dating a Samoan guy.  Since at the time I had precisely zero interest in serious dating, the arrangement seemed pretty much perfect.  Everyone thought I was a quiet, adorable, tiny blonde that they could (and did) literally throw around.  Hanging out with Polynesians was good for my self-esteem (except for the time they took me bodyboarding at Pipeline and I almost died--but that's a story for another day).

Just before midterms, Inna ended up leaving school and moving out, mostly over financial aid issues, so long story short, I got a new roommate:  April.  She was awesome.  Several years older than me, sweet, outgoing.  She was an education major, her parents were teachers, and we just clicked instantly.  Our biggest challenge living together was ever getting any homework done when we were in the same room because we enjoyed each other's company and conversation so much.  April had a large group of friends she did most things with, who quickly became my friends as well (I had spent a little time with most of them a few times throughout the semester), and the first night after April moved in is a whole other, fantastic story I'll have to write sometime (I like to call it it the Matter of Mitch and the Clicking Tape Recorder).  I'm getting off track.

So one night in mid-October, "the pack" (as I referred to this fun group of friends) was headed down to the beach to play games, and who doesn't love the beach at night? (Especially in Hawaii, where at midnight I was still comfortable in my athletic shorts and light hoodie).  That night, I met "the Dougs".  April and several of our other friends were in a program called "Young Ambassadors", where  they received an academic scholarship and in return they did campus tours and high school college fairs and the like, and Doug Clark and Doug White were in that program with them, and had come along that night to play games.  I don't remember everything we did, but I do remember playing Murder (in the dark on the beach--so fun), and getting the distinct impression that Doug White was a very goofy guy with some serious things in the back of his mind, and that Doug Clark was a fairly serious guy who could be really goofy. They were both several weeks shy of their 26th birthdays, and thus a fair amount older (in relative, college-age terms) than most of the rest of the group. I quickly became close friends with both of them.

That night, on our way back to campus, I started chatting with Doug Clark, Fei, and another young man.  The boy we were talking with was very, very bright (he was in college at 16, after all), but, perhaps because I was raised by my father and so my perception of what "smart" was was a bit skewed, I didn't think his being young and bright was any reason to indulge his arrogance, particularly in areas where his knowledge was not as extensive or accurate as he thought it was.  So I debated him vigorously (and unfortunately made little effort to conceal my impatience with his demeanor).  Doug saw this contrast to the quiet, easy-going girl he'd seen the rest of the night and it intrigued him. He later told me that initially he thought I was cute and was attracted to what he perceived as my mild, kind temperament, but was impressed to see that I could also, quite confidently, hold my own intellectually (he was involved in that conversation, too, and though I wasn't impatient and annoyed with him, I didn't shy away from engaging or even debating him any more than I did the other young man).

A couple of days later, I went to a Sunday afternoon musical fireside in Doug's ward that several of my friends were singing in, and afterward we chatted for quite a while (he later told me that the only reason he'd even gone to the fireside was in hopes of seeing me again).   It became very apparent during our conversation over dinner with our friends that night that we had a lot in common in regards to our interests and sense of humor.  The guys walked us back to our hale, and Doug and I were still in the middle of our conversation (and guys were not allowed in the dorm), so we stayed outside for about 15 minutes longer than everyone else.  When I got to my room, April and Cynthia were sitting on April's bed with impish grins and asked, "So what happened?"  Utterly clueless (I was 18, and by intention had not done a lot of dating) I responded, somewhat confused, "We finished our conversation?"  Cynthia asked excitedly, "Did he ask you out?!"  I said he hadn't, honestly dumbstruck by the thought that he could've, and sort of relieved that he hadn't. I explained that I enjoyed his company, but that he was 26, Mormon and a returned missionary "I'm sure that boy's looking for a wife!" I told her.  Not interested.  He was a friend, and I was happy to leave it that way.

And that's what we did.  For about another 6 weeks.

Friday, June 21, 2013


Last night, I drifted off to sleep and started dreaming about my children.  They were all playing together happily, the way they often do, running around in a spacious, hilly, green field, playing games and giggling and shrieking.  Then suddenly, one of them told the others that she was leaving, and laid down and closed her eyes, and she was gone.  I was probably only asleep for a few seconds, but it seemed like hours that I stood there looking at her beautiful, painfully silent face. The misery of it was so overwhelming, I think it was a need to escape that woke me.  Doug was lying next to me, with his hand affectionately on my side, and I slid over closer to him, deeply relieved to be awake, to find that all was alright, that the misery was an illusion.

Six years.  Today it is six years since Conner slipped away, and it is quite apparent that the pain of those first days and months still haunt some place in my mind;  I remember all too clearly the overwhelming misery, wishing hour by hour and day by day that we could all wake up and realize it was simply a bad dream.  Still wishing it could all be undone.  Some miseries cannot be undone.  Yet.

I am grateful to trust in the Atonement and the Resurrection, to know that someday we will see and hold that beautiful little boy again, and that his loving parents will have the opportunity to raise him to adulthood in a world free from pain, sin and fear.  But that only takes away some of the sting, not all of it. Last week, one of the scriptures in the Sunday School lesson was from the Doctrine and Covenants, where the Lord promises that during the Millennium, children will not die in infancy, but shall live to old age, strong and healthy.  How marvelous that must've sounded to the ears of so many mothers and fathers who had lost little ones to disease, cold, starvation, and accidents.  So many of them, while trying so hard to be faithful and obedient, watched their children slip away from them.

I'm grateful that my babes are all healthy and whole and here with me, and I often pray for peace and comfort for my sister and brother-in-law, and the many parents like them, for whom the misery is not a dream from which they can wake, but a broken heart that can't entirely be healed.  Yet.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Father's Day

This was my favorite shot from yesterday.  Before Sacrament, the couple in front of us turned around to visit, and invited us to come up to their place to spend the afternoon, and we were happy to take them up on it.  They live in the hills outsides of town, and have three beautiful Tennessee Walker mares, chickens running about, a friendly dog and lots of cats, and lots of space to run and explore.  Sort of a perfect way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon.  All the kids got to take turns riding Gypsy and Raven (except for Kylie, who prefers petting and brushing to riding).

Keira was pretty incensed that she didn't get to go first, and, usually a very good turn-taker, got annoyed every time she had to wait for someone else to go for a ride.  We popped her in the saddle, she grabbed the horn, and off she went.  No one holding on to her, no nerves or skittishness with the bouncing around that was unavoidable with her small body and the Walkers' long stride.  She was happy and confident and wanted more, more, more.

This sort of thing is what often comes to mind when I think about the sort of dad Doug is to our kids: confidence.  He is such a great dad to his three little girls, they are all so confident and self-assured.  Each of them has her own unique type of shyness, but they are personally confident, and it has a lot to do with him:  they know well that they are loved, important, protected and cherished.  Its hard to overstate how important that is in a girl's life, to have the security of a father's attention and affection.

And Dylan.  Dylan sometimes laments that he has no brothers, but he also relishes being his dad's only boy.  They go out to boy movies or run errands while jamming to their favorite bands in the car.  Dylan came with a healthy dose of innate confidence, but he is also very sensitive, and his dad's approval (or disapproval) affects him greatly.  He loves to have conversations with his dad about all the things that fascinate him, and he especially loves when his dad teaches him new skills, whether its using his little hand saw or figuring out how to shoot his bow.

They all know that things are expected of them, too.  Work needs to get done, and it needs to get done right, schoolwork is to be taken seriously, and bad behavior will not be tolerated--it always comes with consequences.  But the love is still there.  Quite often, when correcting the kids, Doug will say, "I love you, but you still need to. . ." and address the inappropriate behavior.  I've told him that I think the reason he struggles to be patient and consistent with adults is because he saves all of it for his kids.  He has occasional moments of impatience (and, let's be honest, those usually revolve around hunger or a lack of sleep), but for the most part he's quite good at correcting firmly but with control, and always showing a lot of affection, in both word and deed.

We often receive compliments on how happy and well-behaved our kids are, and both have quite a lot to do with him; I'm grateful that he's my kids' dad.

Monday, June 10, 2013


My grandma, Lettie Kent Pierce Gilbert, would've turned 97 today.  She passed away when Keilana was a small infant.  Most people don't live to see their youngest child's youngest child's baby, so I'm quite grateful that I had a few opportunities to see my grandma hold and coo at my baby before she died, at age 88. To say that she was a big part of my childhood would be a terrible understatement.  In so many ways, Grandma was my childhood.  I have occasionally remarked to people that one of the greatest blessings of my life was that I had a working mother, because it meant that from a very young age, I spent my days with my grandma.  Some of my very earliest memories are of her, and certainly many of my best ones are.

I remember asking her once where she was born, and she laughed and said, "Nowhere!  It was called Naf, but I don't think it exists any more.  It wasn't much more than a logging camp then."  I loved that laugh--a big, open laugh, whatever the joyful version of a cackle would be called.  Cackle.  Heh.  Grandma had a great sense of humor, and a really big nose.  She had the classic "witch" nose, and one year a bunch of cousins did a "Wizard of Oz" themed Halloween, and Grandma delighted in being the Wicked Witch of the West: big, black, pointy hat, green face paint, and all.  She loved Halloween immensely, only slightly less than she loved Christmas.  She loved kids, and she loved giving, those holidays were a nearly perfect combination of the two for her.

Which reminds me of another favorite story, one I always loved hearing her tell because it so clearly delighted her: once when Michael and I were very small and were staying the night at her house, Michael woke up, somewhat disoriented, and, half-asleep, was trying to remember where he was.  He rolled over in the dark and put his hand to her face, found that dignified English nose and happily exclaimed, "Grandma!" and then quickly fell back asleep.

Grandma loved to take us on adventures, and we did all sorts of fun things together, but, in the wise words of Pete Doctor, "Sometimes its the boring stuff I remember most": feeding Wimpy in the morning, and brushing him in the yard on warmer spring days; decorating her Christmas tree and hanging candy canes and little elves all over the living room;  helping her plant her red-and-white-striped double petunias, picking snowballs and sweat pea blossoms; picking up Helen Atkins in Grandma's little red Toyota so they could go do their visiting teaching; cuddling up on her couch watching "Ma and Pa Kettle" videos; digging through boxes full of photos and letters and cards, as she told stories, often about people I never even knew but came to love through her stories; counting the shoes under her bed; digging through her jewelry box and hearing stories about where different treasures came from, or just playing a really fancy version of dress up;  eating lunches of tuna fish sandwiches with way too much mayo and drinking red Kool-Aid out in the yard (because "nobody should be sitting inside when the sun in shining like this"); snuggled up under the warm blankets on her bed, watching Mr. Ed and Get Smart on Nick at Night; unloading food trucks at the food pantry, stocking shelves, and filling bags up with food, usually, I noticed, for young mothers; playing rummy at the coffee table; doing puzzles on TV trays.  These little moments made up the substance of my childhood, and its hard to imagine having been any happier than I was, spending the evenings sitting on the "davenport" in the living room of my grandma's little double-wide, listening to her tell stories, and, always, laughing a lot.

In all the time I knew her, Grandma's life revolved around Little Things;  not petty things, or meaningless ones, but real things.  Good Stuff.  Too many people lose their lives pursuing Big Things, only to realize that such things are all too often hollow and unsatisfying.  Grandma wasn't lost in Big Things, instead she was constantly immersed happily in the Little Things that bring to pass Great Things. She planted flowers every spring, and loved to sit in a bench swing and enjoy the sunshine, the breeze, the sound of the creek and the scent of her lilac trees.  She looked after her twin grand babies, hauling them all over town, and, if it suited her, the western US.  She checked in nearly daily with her kids that lived close enough, and called and visited the farther flung ones about as often as road conditions and her own age allowed.  She spent all year collecting presents--a great deal on a toy here, a stuffed animal for a steal here--so that by Christmastime she'd usually have enough gifts for all the grandkids and great-grandkids that lived close.  She helped to literally put food on the tables of young families in her community, and spent a lot of time visiting friends whose health hadn't held up as well as her own, and often recruited grandkids to do service for them, be it chopping wood and mowing lawns, or just visiting and bringing a bit of the livelihood of youth to homes where it had waned.

She was a proud, stubborn woman:  most of her life, she was quite convinced that she needed no one's help and didn't want it, and it made me quietly giggle as a child that when she spent time with her younger sister, even when they were both in their 70s and 80s, no one would've doubted, based on demeanor alone, who was the older sister.  But that stubbornness that propelled her through a difficult life--a poor and sometimes challenging childhood, then raising children in the midst of a Depression and a war that took her husband out of the home and halfway around the world, running ranches and businesses together, and then, years later, losing that husband, becoming a relatively young 55-year-old widow--never hardened her.  She was tough as nails, with that good ol' British stiff upper lip, with little time for self-pity, or pity of any kind, really, but she was affectionate and generous.  I remember her being firm, but never angry;  thick-skinned, but not hard-hearted. My twin brother's daughter, born a little less than a year after Grandma's passing, was named "Lettie" in her honor, and a few months ago she told my mom, "My dad said that Nana loved him more than she loved herself".  Seldom have truer words been spoken: she had a lot of love to give, especially to her family.  She had devoted nearly all of her almost 90 years to caring for her family: her siblings, her children, her mother, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren.  And she knew that that was not a small thing, even if most of the world never noticed.

I remember, shortly after she died, a couple of family members making a good-natured joke about the aforementioned pride.  I turned to my mom with a smile and said, "You know someone's led a good life when you can remember even their flaws fondly."  In the nearly 9 years since she passed away, I've found that the memories of the flaws have begun to fade, but the other memories--her laugh, her smile, her voice, all those "boring" days we spent together--are as sharp as ever.  As I've thought about her life, I think Grandma understood that: that the flaws, the mistakes, the tough stuff, it all fades;  but not the Good Stuff, that lingers and endures.  The Little Things are the big things, and they outlast everything else.  I'm grateful that she showed me that.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Love First

In the scriptures, the Lord frequently expresses his love for his children.  He also chastises and expresses his disappointment pretty regularly (always with abundant good reason, I might add).  In the 95th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, a revelation that was given specifically because his commandments were not being obeyed and his children were instead quarreling with one another, he begins by saying, "Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you whom I love, and whom I love I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven. . .and I have loved you."

They were hurting each other and frustrating the Lord's work because of their quarreling. If the work--and their individual, personal progress--was going to move forward, they needed to change, and it didn't look like they were going to make those changes without some direct intervention.  A heavenly rebuke was in order to get them back on track.

But its significant that the Lord first expressed that he loved them, and that the chastisement came from a place of love.  Its important to remember that when we're raising our kids:  love first.  Kids need to explore and imagine, and they need space to make decisions--and, yes, mistakes--but they also need someone to set firm limits, to say "no" when necessary, and to point out the follies of behaviors or decisions that they can't see the consequences of.  And sometimes, they break rules and they need the grown up in their life to enforce consequences so that they can learn that they don't get to choose the consequences of those behaviors.  But discipline (let alone punishment) won't be effective very long if our kids don't trust us, if they don't believe that we love them.  In fact, I'd be willing to bet that we all know someone who went terribly off-track in adolescence or adulthood because they had a parent that was overly-strict without adequately expressing love, and so, instead of coming to understand the value of good rules and reasonable limits, they simply came to resent their parent and disregard everything that they said.  Children need parents who will direct them and teach them to master their passions and set reasonable boundaries for themselves, but they learn how to do that best when parents righteously start and end with love.

I think we ought to remember that in all of our relationships.  Sometimes the unenviable task of offering correction to another adult falls to us, be it because of our gospel stewardship or personal relationship.  We first need to be honest about whether or not such an action is warranted and does fall within our stewardship;  too often, we want to correct someone, just because we are annoyed at their behavior or think we know best, when in fact (however annoying or incorrect the behavior may be) it is not our place to offer the correction.  But sometimes, in order for individuals to progress or for relationships to be healthy, confrontation and perhaps correction are necessary.  If you find yourself in that position and you're wondering how to proceed, remember the Lord's way: love first.

Something I've tried to make a habit of in my own life is starting with expressing my love for the other person: telling them why I love them, reminding both myself and the individual in front of me what their good qualities are and why I want them in my life.  And, when appropriate, I'm also a big believer in starting with a hug, and then hugging again when the conversation gets a bit too tense.  Stop talking for a second, step away from the conversation and simply express some affection for each other.  If you're not a hugger, find some other way to do that.  The point is for both individuals to periodically remind themselves that the point of this conversation isn't to win, and the other person is not your enemy.  You are only having this conversation because you want the relationship to be open and healthy, and you may both have to face some uncomfortable truths about yourselves in order for that to happen.

Its never pleasant to realize that we've made a mistake, or been selfish or clueless.  But its nearly impossible to hear when its being spewed at us in angry malice.  When its discussed with patient, understanding love, it will likely still be difficult to hear, but if we are humble, the ultimate result will be greater happiness for both ourselves and for those around us.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Saturday was one of those don't-have-a-lot-of-gas-money-but-want-to-get-out sort of days, so Doug and Dylan got up before everyone else in the house (even me) and ran to the store for some breakfast food and picnic supplies, and packed a lunch and some snacks while I got all the little girls ready, and we headed to Grant-Kohrs ranch in Deer Lodge (only about 25 minutes from home). In the 19th and early 20th century, it was a massive, very profitable cattle ranch, and is now a national park (you can check out the details here).  After touring the ranch house (someday I'm going to recreate that house's dining room in my house), we explored the rest of the ranch.  The kids wandered in and out of bunkhouse row, checking out the cowboys saddles and dining area and little, cramped bedrooms.  All Keira cared about pretty much the whole time we were there was the horses:

 Any time we dared spend time anywhere else, she got rather annoyed and would just continually yell, "horses! horses!!".  The big draft horses were pretty friendly--I'd almost forgotten what massive creatures they are.  Keira and Kylie both climbed up on that gate just after I'd taken this picture so that they could reach up and pet him, and hung out for a while.
 Dylan's Akubra finally mostly fits (he has a giant head), and he was really excited to wear it.  The kids were all insistent that Doug wear his, too, and got really annoyed when he almost wore a ball cap out of the house.  They were checking out the long horns together (there are still quite a few horses and and a handful of cattle on the ranch).

After spending quite a bit of time at the chuck wagon, learning about what life was really like for cowboys out on the trail (always sounded like a rather miserable job to me), and working on the junior ranger packets with the fantastic tour guide that was stationed there, everybody got in some roping practice:

Doug was a little out of practice, and all the ropes were tied for right-handers, but he was doing pretty well by the time we headed back down the trail.

After our picnic lunch, the kids spent some time watching the big long horn steers in the front pasture.
Well, except Keira.  At this point, it was well past nap time, and she was working on finding the perfect  spot in the long grass to exaggerate her pouting.

They run a great summer program that the kids all want to do, so we might give it a shot.  Wagon rides, watershed exploration, wildflower identification, branding and haying.  Sounds like fun.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Precious Gift

This time of year, I always start to think about Conner more.  My last memories of him are sunshine and green grass, sprinklers and popsicles, so when those things start appearing more, my mind wanders back to that spring.

A lot of parents resent it when older parents, whose children are teenagers or are grown, say to them something like, "I miss when mine were little, I loved every minute of it."  And I understand why.  I never really got annoyed by such statements because I knew that childhood is very short: I had my first baby 3 weeks before I turned 20, and my second when I was 21, and by the time he was a few months old, my own childhood seemed a rather distant memory.  It became apparent very quickly that while the days could be long, somehow the years were very short and flew by very quickly.  My oldest will be 9 tomorrow, and I find myself a bit bewildered at how that's happened so fast.  Furthermore, I ascribe to a belief system which teaches that we will live forever, but will do so as fully realized adults: the years from birth to 18, that tiny blip in the eternal round, is the only time in all eternity that we will know these magnificent souls as the beautiful little children that they are now.

Still, I understand the frustration at parents whose days of oft-interrupted sleep, being screamed at, and slobbered, vomited and pooped on are far behind them telling you to love every minute of it.

I understand what those older parents are saying, though.  That's the gift that Conner gave me.  I can't honestly say that I love being with my children all the time;  I certainly want to find a place to hide when they are whining, or fighting with each other, or crying over being told they can't have any Goldfish.  Sometimes I want them to just leave me alone for two minutes, or just go to sleep already.  But when you love a child and that child is abruptly taken, when you suddenly have to say goodbye and that childhood is cut short, it throws into sharp focus the joy of parenting.  It made me more mindful of how fleeting those wonderful, delightful moments are.  So, no, I can't say that I love every moment, but thanks to Conner, I love that I have every moment--even the hard, tired, frustrating ones.