Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Other Sweet Things

Since I'm off candy (with the exception of a few handfuls of cold cereal now and then, which, as you well know by now, IS candy), I have to look for other sweet things to fill my life.

One is listening to my kids play the piano. When I was growing up I always suspected my practicing was a grating irritation to all listeners, as I'm certain it probably was. When I signed my oldest up for piano lessons, I heard that old favorite "Here we go, up a row, to a birthday party," about a kabillion times--almost as many as I heard "From a Wigwam."
Strawberry Shortcake Flavored Mezzo Piano Candy, totally Japanese

Then my mother in law told me something in passing. She came by and asked the Wigwammer to please practice and she'd like to listen. She said to me, "Piano practice by children is one of the sweetest sounds I can ever hear."

That struck me. While I couldn't necessarily agree initially, it seemed I could probably change my attitude. So I did. And now, with three kids in lessons and one more ready and begging to start, I have to say I absolutely LOVE to hear them play. It's hard the first days after a lesson to hear them struggle, and to sense their frustration, to see them draped over the bench and hear the moaning of despair at a new song. (This week's despair was induced by "The Streets of Laredo.") But it improves! And it's great! And the oldest did his first solo in sacrament meeting at church on Sunday and I realized it was all worth it.
Mozart Piano Candy Bar. Who KNEW?

I think writing must be like that, too. At first the product is a mess. It's frustrating. It doesn't seem like it will ever come together. Some projects make me moan and drape myself over my desk and wish I didn't have to do it. But when I power through and keep working at it, sometimes the result gives me a twinge of joy and it's all worth it.

And there's another application, that whole "change your mind to change your situation" thing. I guess that could apply to many areas of life beyond piano noise, including editing. So, hey! I LOVE editing. It makes the whole project shine! It's fun because you get to dig right in and make things better, things that just need a little polish. Or a lot. Doesn't matter. Editing is worth it. It's a great time!

There. Now I should get back to editing. Sweeeet.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Seeds Grow in Dirt (My Mother's Day essay, oft told)

It was a rotten year and a half for housework.

My New Year’s resolution was to keep my house utterly clean. I washed walls, I organized closets, I dreamed of shininess.

Then, my oldest son had a problem with school. And pregnancy happened—never my finest hours. Within a short time I was a pregnant, home-schooling mom of four kids under ten with a perpetual headache. A major accomplishment for the day was setting out the cold cereal at mealtime.

The year went on. Home-school continued, and the baby arrived, and everyone knows how productive those first few months aren’t with a newborn. If her little white nightgowns were clean, I felt like queen of all housework.

Meanwhile, grime pockets formed behind doors, dust bunnies grew and had bunny families—several generations of them. The top of our old piano started to collect so many items it could open an antique store of its own. At a low point, there was a two-week period where someone broke a different item made of glass every single day. For some reason I got called to the Relief Society presidency, just to add to the chaos.

Months passed. Baby learned to crawl. My year teaching a bright, much happier, 4th grader wound down. The two preschoolers started to be a little less prone to break glass. But the house languished, nay, wallowed in its filth, especially the formerly light blue carpet. In fact, one spring afternoon after Little League, I had an argument with Zane, who insisted our carpet is grey. “Light blue,” I claimed half-heartedly, barely remembering the true color myself.

Summer came. All five kids tracked in roughly 75 pounds of dirt from their treasure pit in the sand pile and about a million squished leaves from their fort under the nectarine tree. My girls had birthday parties for their teddy bears that for some reason involved crumbling blueberry muffins into oblivion on the grey carpet, possibly in an attempt to turn it blue again. I got drafted to be the interim Webelos leader and actually sanctioned large messes in the house. Cousins came over and incited a game as destructive as it sounds: Toy War. We went through our twelfth 100-count box of Otter Pops and our second vacuum cleaner motor (due to renegade thread while the oldest three kids learned embroidery.)

When mid-August rolled around, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Stephen went back to fifth grade, and he found a niche in learning there. Zane opted out of soccer, so we now only had one uniform to find on Saturday mornings. Rachel started kindergarten, and Catherine dropped out of preschool after a month to stay home to paint and do coloring books with mom. Baby Zuzu could now walk around by herself, looking for stray popcorn kernels to gnaw on with her two teeth.

Things got quieter around home.

With a sense of newfound power, I conducted a yard sale, which made it so we could park inside our garage again. Miracle. Next I looked to tackle the house.

That first morning, however, I caught a glimpse of our kitchen sink, the drainer side. Whoa. How long had it been? A while, for sure. Gingerly I lifted the drainer.

Oh. My. Goodness. What was that green thing?

I pulled out the clean, drying measuring cups and lifted the rack from the sink. Yep, something was definitely growing there: a two-pronged leaf sprout, about four inches tall.

With a squeal of horror I plucked out the sink stopper and found the little white root ball and what looked like the yellow-brown transparent hull of a popcorn kernel around its base. Or maybe it was one of Gary’s gardening projects. Or an escaped food-storage black eyed pea?

No! How could I have let the sink cleaning lapse long enough for a seed to germinate and sprout—plus grow four inches? I wanted to cry. What a terrible housekeeper. My kids could probably get some kind of disease from filth this rampant! My word! A seed grew in my sink!

Then a thought stopped my self-berating rant.

Hey. Seeds grow in dirt.

In the past couple of years my most precious seeds, all five of them, had grown an awful lot in this dirt.

Now, I certainly hadn’t been a perfect mother by anyone’s definition. I hadn’t kept a cheery temperament every single day. I hadn’t nurtured my children in every way possible. Without question, I had not created an “antiseptic environment” for my little ones to play and learn in.

But they grew.

I know they say cleanliness is next to godliness. Whoever “they” are, they’re mean. That’s too much pressure. Seriously. Instead I find myself thinking maybe other things wedge their way into the lineup beside godliness. Maybe doing-the-best-you-can-motherhood is one of them. After all, God helps all things to grow. Maybe that’s what motherhood is all about.

Now, it’s not that I will henceforth refuse to scrub my tub or decide never to replace that ailing vacuum. But God formed Man out of the dust of the Earth. Perhaps I ought to be aiming to do that, too—to form men and women out of these sweet little seeds they are now, and remember that most seeds require all kinds of light, and water (that’d be Saturday night baths), and at least a little dirt. Because seeds grow in dirt.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Creative Happiness (without sugar)

I know, it's absolutely unrealistic to be doing this, but I stopped eating sugar.


After years of refined sugar as a staple food in my diet, I've spent two weeks without it. Including Easter candy. Really.

Today I could really use one of the leftover Bit O' Honeys or Milk Maid caramels, though. The best would be Brach's Royals. Those caramels with the little flavor-fillings? I *love* them. LOVE them. Raspberry or butter rum or vanilla. If it weren't for this ridiculous resolve, I'd probably eat a whole pound of them as I type this. Brach's Royals can be ingested almost like breathing.

Instead, I'm getting started on a new writing project. Editing of the old ball and chain (that's how I always feel about the novel that's finished and still needs polishing, polishing I rarely complete) remains, but I'm ready to get that fun energy of writing something brand new.

There's a certain buzz that comes from creative pursuit. A verve that gets added to my life. I get it when I cook something delicious, or if I figure out how to arrange flowers, or paint something (furniture, I mean. I'm not ready for actual painting yet. My kids are too small for me to have a painting hobby just yet.) Anything that brightens or brings something into being that wasn't there before gives me that lift, that rush.

Here's an excerpt from a talk given in 2008 by Dieter F. Uchtdorf along those lines. It fits how I feel about writing, even if I'm not writing something that will change the world. It changes and brightens my own, and hopefully brings a sweetness (if only brief to someone else.) I find this talk so inspiring.

The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before.

Everyone can create. You don’t need money, position, or influence in order to create something of substance or beauty.

Creation brings deep satisfaction and fulfillment. We develop ourselves and others when we take unorganized matter into our hands and mold it into something of beauty—and I am not talking about the process of cleaning the rooms of your teenage children.

You might say, “I’m not the creative type. When I sing, I’m always half a tone above or below the note. I cannot draw a line without a ruler. And the only practical use for my homemade bread is as a paperweight or as a doorstop.”

If that is how you feel, think again, and remember that you are spirit daughters of the most creative Being in the universe. Isn’t it remarkable to think that your very spirits are fashioned by an endlessly creative and eternally compassionate God? Think about it—your spirit body is a masterpiece, created with a beauty, function, and capacity beyond imagination.

But to what end were we created? We were created with the express purpose and potential of experiencing a fulness of joy.4 Our birthright—and the purpose of our great voyage on this earth—is to seek and experience eternal happiness. One of the ways we find this is by creating things.

If you are a mother, you participate with God in His work of creation—not only by providing physical bodies for your children but also by teaching and nurturing them. If you are not a mother now, the creative talents you develop will prepare you for that day, in this life or the next.

You may think you don’t have talents, but that is a false assumption, for we all have talents and gifts, every one of us.5 The bounds of creativity extend far beyond the limits of a canvas or a sheet of paper and do not require a brush, a pen, or the keys of a piano. Creation means bringing into existence something that did not exist before—colorful gardens, harmonious homes, family memories, flowing laughter.

What you create doesn’t have to be perfect. So what if the eggs are greasy or the toast is burned? Don’t let fear of failure discourage you. Don’t let the voice of critics paralyze you—whether that voice comes from the outside or the inside.

If you still feel incapable of creating, start small. Try to see how many smiles you can create, write a letter of appreciation, learn a new skill, identify a space and beautify it.

Nearly a century and a half ago, President Brigham Young spoke to the Saints of his day. “There is a great work for the Saints to do,” he said. “Progress, and improve upon and make beautiful everything around you. Cultivate the earth, and cultivate your minds. Build cities, adorn your habitations, make gardens, orchards, and vineyards, and render the earth so pleasant that when you look upon your labors you may do so with pleasure, and that angels may delight to come and visit your beautiful locations. In the mean time continually seek to adorn your minds with all the graces of the Spirit of Christ.”

The more you trust and rely upon the Spirit, the greater your capacity to create. That is your opportunity in this life and your destiny in the life to come. Sisters, trust and rely on the Spirit. As you take the normal opportunities of your daily life and create something of beauty and helpfulness, you improve not only the world around you but also the world within you.