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Moments as Molecules

Moments as Molecules

I love the face of the guy when his son spills the bowl of spaghetti on the floor. I have so been there. Actually a lot of the points in this video really resonated with me today. After a long night with Cooper last night, I was feeling dejected about parenthood. (I really thought he was past the phase of waking up and crying for 2 hours straight.) You know what, though, whether it’s jumping in puddles after a summer thunderstorm, seeing Cooper’s wonder at bubbles, or how he “helps” me play the piano in priesthood meeting, I’m glad to have those molecules of eternity with my family, even though the happy buoyant moments are like minuscule helium atoms that somehow manage to sneak through latex balloons and the middle-of-the-night ordeals feel more like complex polymers that stretch on forever.

Closing Time

Closing Time

I remember feeling so trustworthy when my parents gave me my first house key. No more ringing the doorbell or waiting on the porch if no one was home. Then there was the sense of maturity when I got my very own set of keys to the family cars on my 16th birthday. I still have the key to the little blue Toyota Tercel I drove, even though we hauled it to a junkyard years ago after I totaled it. I keep that key in a box under my bed – a memento of good memories and a reminder to keep my eye on the road ball. When I was handed the key to my first apartment there was a surge of independence, but there was a sad feeling of loss and demotion when I surrendered my office key at the end of what felt like a very important summer job. As a substitute teacher the lack of keys symbolized a level of authority I didn’t have, and the bestowal of keys (the literal metal ones) in conjunction with church callings has always seemed like a responsibility to be endured.

Of all the keys I’ve been entrusted with in my life, I think the keys to our new house are my current favorite. They surely cost a pretty penny, so I pray we are unlocking the door to many good memories.

Opening our new front door.
Us standing in front of our new (to us) house.
Other Half

Other Half

Single Me

Back in my single days I was a cold-hearted-man-hater. Now, I know that when you’re single (and sometimes even when you’re not) it’s pretty natural to express frustration with the opposite sex, but I assure you that cold-hearted-man-hater is not exactly an exaggeration. My favorite t-shirts surmised both my objective: “Professional Heartbreaker” and motto: “Celebrating my independence from boys!”  All attempts to conform to the traditional rules of the dating game were non-existent. When other girls flirtingly laughed at male stabs at macho-ism I rolled my eyes and instead of coyly teasing I pounced on every opportunity to stir up an argument.   My roommates refused to watch chick flicks with me because  of my snide comments and I had an editorial titled “Heartbreaking All the Boys Away” published in the school paper on Valentine’s Day. I called males  jerks in private and public, denied all attempts at displaying affection, dished out bruises in low-key neighborhood sports games, and even threw a couple of shoes.  Amazingly, I still spent most of my time with boys in spite of the nagging lectures on proper date etiquette and my growing reputation as the “worst date ever” (a result of a doorstep goodbye where he went in for a hug and I intercepted with a handshake, said, “Pleasure doing business with you,” and shut the door in his face). I was feisty and spunky; I wouldn’t take crap from anyone. I was also alone, but I would have told you that’s the way I liked it.

Present Day Me

Fast forward five years. Noel is coming home today from a business trip in Washington DC. For three days I’ve felt listless and incomplete. Every night after I’ve cuddled Cooper and sang him to sleep, I video chat with Noel. We talk about everything and nothing just to postpone saying goodnight. After I snap the computer shut with a sigh, I watch a sappy Disney movie while drinking steamed milk or working on some craft I’ve devised. I might even cry.

Although it’s somewhat traceable, I am sometimes still mystified at how I’ve ended up where I am today. Looking back, I’m a little shocked at my over-confidence and ashamed at how insensitive I was. Still, sometimes I miss my fire. Ultimately, I think I’ve become a better person since meeting Noel. I’ve mellowed a bit and even though I detest the crying, I think it’s more healthy than the anger. I’ve come to see dependency on someone not as a weakness, but as an unfailing source of strength.

The good news is I haven’t turned into my single self’s nightmare of a thoughtless, domestic pushover. The other day I was pushing Cooper in his stroller and someone made a cat call. I felt my old fierceness snap into place. My eyes took on a look they haven’t experienced since one of my students asked me if I was “feeling kinky” and instantly a stream of brilliant retorts flowed into my head. The vehicle disappeared before I could do anything, but  I walked taller in its dust. I may be softer and more in tune with my feelings, but I’ve still got it in me. Heaven help us if we ever have a little girl.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Happy Groundhog Day!

Groundhog Day 2003

When I was a junior in high school I found myself in a haphazardly thrown together group for a girl’s choice dance. Other than Emily, my best girlfriend, and her date, I barely knew any of the other group members — including my date. It was just one of those weird circumstances that was destined to be an awkwardly long evening that would be followed by weeks of avoiding one another. Such is high school. The only saving grace was that the dance was happening on Groundhog Day.

Emily and I were able to veto the other girls’ suggestions of bowling and scavenger hunts and convinced them that the only appropriate thing to do was to celebrate this quirky, under-appreciated holiday. It was a crazy idea, and had a large potential to backfire on us producing not only an awkward date, but a lame one. Still, we knew where a conventional date’s path would lead us, so we gambled that a little insanity might make a positive difference.

The date started with a short lesson on the history of Groundhog Day and was followed with each couple making a flag out of old sheets and painting Groundhog Day memorial rocks. We went on a memorial march at the local gravel pit where we climbed to the top of a hill, shared our most sacred thoughts about this special day, and piled up our rocks. Following dinner we enjoyed a screening of Groundhog Day and finally went to the dance. It was a carefree, silly evening. There wasn’t much talking, but there was plenty of laughter. No one hooked up after the date and honestly no new friendships were even formed, but every time we saw each other in the hall we were able to make eye contact, share a genuine smile, and chuckle quietly to ourselves.

The 1st Groundhog day at the end of our memorial march.

I’ve celebrated Groundhog day every year since; this year marks the 8th annual celebration. The holiday has livened hard weeks of studying, put a smile on my face during anti-Valentine’s Day Februarys, and warmed my heart during the dead of winter. Every time I pull my Groundhog Day flag out of storage I’m reminded that it’s the little things in life that are worth living for, that sometimes being a little crazy is the only way to keep your sanity, and that attitude makes all the difference.

I hope you all have a wonderful Groundhog Day!

Snow Day and Sleeping

Snow Day and Sleeping

Cooper's first snow angel.

Growing up in Northern Utah, snow wasn’t that big of a deal. I only remember school being canceled once and it had more to do with the structural integrity of our school than the hazards of travel. Our school had hard plastic awnings that were cracking in the winter conditions and the school board decided it was better to fix them and miss a few days of school than have a lawsuit on their hands when a broken awning injured someone’s child. Snow or ghetto buildings aside, I was an ecstatic first grader. That is my only recollection of a true snow day. Otherwise, no matter how much snow there was everything was business as usual.

Noel instructing Cooper in the ways of the Super Nerds.

Today, Noel’s work had a delayed start because of all the snow we’ve accumulated. They also will periodically have full out snow days when the weather gets bad. We haven’t had one yet, but we think this is the most fantastic thing in the world. It was nice to have Noel around for a few extra hours this morning.

Cooper and Mcgrath the moose all ready for bed.

Thanks to everyone for their sleep advice. I went  to the library and checked out all the decent sleep books that were on the shelf. (Some of your wonderful suggestions were of course being utilized and I needed something ASAP.) I’ve read parts of  Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child as a sort of informational resource and then have been putting some techniques from  The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight: Gentle Proven Solutions to Help Your Child Sleep Well and Wake Up Happy into practice.  The title is long and I was sure that anyone that called themselves the “Sleep Lady” was probably a little nuts; however, I’ve really enjoyed it. I would say that the method falls somewhere in-between crying it out and doing everything you can possibly think of to soothe your baby (which is pretty much what I was doing before). It’s a good fit with my parenting style. While we did have one really awful night where Cooper fussed for almost two and a half hours straight, he has gone four nights without eating till at least 5am and three of those nights he slept for at least 8 hours straight. I should also mention that we decided to increase our night temperature after Noel and I almost froze to death during the two and a half hour vigil. Since it was in the middle of our four day trial we’re pretty sure that the cold wasn’t the only factor in Cooper’s inability to sleep, but we definitely think it was a factor. Getting more sleep has been wonderful and I kind of wish I’d tried something like this months ago. I just wanted to make sure I was listening to my baby’s needs, but I think in the process I may have overlooked some of mine. Anyway, that was kind of a long report, but thanks for all your empathy and encouragement. Hopefully things keep going this well because I think it might help me finally shake this retched cold I’ve had for several weeks.

Quarter of a Century

Quarter of a Century

The other day we were invited to play “Would You Rather” with a family we go to church with. One of the questions in the game was, “Would you rather have each monumental birthday (16, 18, 21, etc) be so awful that you never forgot it or so average you don’t remember what you did?” I answered that I would prefer the awful birthdays since they would make good stories for later and half jokingly added, “Wait, I think that already happened to me.”  I’ve definitely had several birthdays that were pretty normal and non-memorable, but there’s been a handful of bad ones that have proved excellent conversations pieces. I’ll spare you the full series, but I think the all-time low was my 16th. I broke out in shingles all over my face. Not only did it hurt, but it looked like I had awful road rash and people kept asking me if I got in a bike accident. Though I waited patiently for the phone to ring, I didn’t get asked out on a date, my parents gave me an antique church bench instead of a car, and I was unable to get my driver’s license because my birth certificate was MIA. At the time I couldn’t imagine anything worse happening.

This year my birthday was definitely nontraditional. Cooper decided to sleep in until 7:45 and Noel made me hashbrowns for breakfast while I opened my stack of kindly mailed packages. Then Noel put up Christmas lights while I used pruning shears to hack away at a hideous weed tree in our front yard. I sorted through every Christmas decoration I’d collected in 25 years and Noel tried to fix our car, broke it more, and then managed to get it back to it’s original state. After a short walk we cleaned up and went to dinner at Red Robin. Cooper was mesmerized by the restaurant’s many ceiling fans and the din from other noisy families made it impossible for his shrieking to distract other people. We returned to our house where Noel made me a cheesecake and we watched The Importance of Being Earnest. When the movie ended I promptly fell asleep, so we didn’t eat any cheesecake until the next day.

Growing up I think I always wanted my birthday to be some sort of extravagant celebration. A whole day where no one thought about anything except me and made my every wish come true. I’m realizing that not only is that sort of occurrence pretty unrealistic, but I don’t actually like that kind of attention. Maybe it’s just part of growing up, but my “boring” birthday was wonderful and I would venture to add, memorable.

Stickers

Stickers

When I was in 7th grade I had a science teacher that decided grades were stupid, irrelevant, and unnecessary. Instead of grading our assignments, she would give us stickers for satisfactorily completing them. As students, we were concerned. We had already spent seven years investing ourselves in the letter grade system and we weren’t sure how stickers would translate to our report card. Despite how juvenile her mockery of good education seemed, we were still barely in the stage of life where we aimed to please and were generally obedient. When we were offered an extra sticker for cleaning out cubbies, we fought over who would be granted the honor, we took copious notes on the movie Space Camp, and instead of reading the required three “Magic School Bus” books we read five. For years we talked about how that class was such a waste of time, cooly acting as if we had never really bought into her system. What was that woman thinking anyway, I mean come on, stickers?

I feel I’ve matured some since 7th grade, but when I was at the polling station today I couldn’t help but eye the roll of “I voted” stickers with a well restrained, giddy sense of anticipation. I wouldn’t say the reason I vote is to get the sticker, and it’s hard for me to pinpoint why I find it so exciting. I don’t consider myself to be overly patriotic or politically minded, just performing my civic duty. I also never wear stickers any other time of the year. Honestly they aren’t even that attractive or unique, but there’s no way I’m leaving the polling station without one.

Pomegranates

Pomegranates

Yesterday, I submerged a pomegranate under water and carefully peeled away the thick skin. As I detached the ruby gems, I thought about one of my great grandmothers.

I always loved visiting the McConkie residence in St. George, UT.  Situated on a fairly large lot, the backyard was bordered by bushes and populated by pecan trees. We’d often visit during the nut harvest. The adults would shake the trees with tall poles and I would collect the fallen nuts into a plastic ice cream bucket. When I got bored I would loaf in the tire swing or play hot lava on the toys at the Elementary school across the street. Great grandma would let me help her in the garden and she always complimented me for the ear splitting tunes my inexperienced fingers plucked out on her piano. She made quilts, worked at the temple, and let her Depression years rule the amount of toilet paper she hoarded in the bathroom. Unfailingly, the thing that will always remind me of her though is pomegranate jelly.

Before the pomegranate super food craze, my great grandmother grew pomegranates in her yard. The delicious juice laden beads appeared in Dixie salads at family gatherings and were turned into canned jelly for everyday use. I didn’t eat grape jelly as a child, didn’t even like it. When my great grandma passed away in 2003, her house was sold and that great big backyard was sadly bulldozed to make room for some duplexes. Although my grandmother made sure we had Dixie salads on special occasions, the jelly making dwindled when our pomegranate supply was cut off.

When I met Noel’s parents for the first time during the summer of 2006, I was nervous, stressed, and unsure of how I could fit into their family. When the weekend ended and I went to say my goodbyes, Noel’s mom gave me a gift. She told me that it was just silly, but it was a Cooper family tradition. She gave me a jar of pomegranate jelly made from her mother‘s recipe. I cradled the jar in my hands and as cheesy as it sounds, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking, “It’s a sign.”

Other than just being delicious, pomegranate jelly is a loving reminder of the wonderful people that both Noel and I come from. At my family bridal shower, one of my great aunt’s gave me a stockpot, a case of Kerr jars, and the family jelly recipe. I haven’t made any yet, but I know I need to.

Cemeteries and Census Records

Cemeteries and Census Records

My parents’ house is a little over a block away from the city cemetery. As a child, the cemetery was  pretty much the best park ever. We raced pine cone boats down the canal, road our bikes up and down the roads, and collected ribbons and petals that had escaped from carefully laid bouquets and become stuck in the bushes. It’s kind of strange, but I still enjoy going to cemeteries. I find them peaceful.*

We live half a mile away from a giant Catholic cemetery. The cemetery has several striking mausoleums and is stocked with a large population of geese. It’s quiet and shady, so I’ll occasionally take Cooper there in the heat of the day. We walk around looking at headstones, wondering about the people they represent. It’s fascinating what people and their families choose to represent a life no longer part of this world. If it were possible and I had the time, I would love to hear the story behind every engraving.

Lately I’ve also been doing some indexing of census records for the LDS church‘s online database.  As I try to decipher the scrawled names (it kind of makes me feel like a teacher again), I find myself again becoming fascinated by people I haven’t met. Even though I am only exposed to brief facts about these individuals (age, marital status, place of birth, number of children, etc), I can’t help but wonder how it felt to be a widow at the age of 24, how could a woman survive having 9 children in a 10 year span, and what was the reasoning behind a couple naming their only sons Juan and Juan B.

I find myself becoming more and more interested in the past lately, but I think it’s a good thing. As I was moving towards what seemed to be the arduous task of being a mom, I reflected on the generations of women that had made it possible for me to be here. Beautiful, strong women who sacrificed for their religion and their families. At first I felt inadequate. How could I ever be as self-sacrificing, patient, or wise? The more I thought about it though, the more I realized this wasn’t a standard by which I would always be shamed, but a source of strength. I came from these women; they are a part of me. Often we talk about learning from history, but usually in the context of not making the same mistakes twice. True, that’s a valuable lesson, but if we studied the less monumental things that individuals have done right maybe we wouldn’t have to worry so much about mistakes.

*This is all sort of ironic since I keep telling Noel I want to be cremated and have my ashes spread somewhere that the family would actually like to go and visit. Preferably somewhere that is only accessible on foot.
Writer’s Block

Writer’s Block

Some family members expressed concern about our welfare since we haven’t blogged in over a week. Don’t worry. We weren’t consumed in the fire (not even close) and our plane from our Labor Day trip landed safely. My creative muse took a vacation, but hopefully will be back soon. It kills me when I can’t think of anything to write, or worse when life is too poetic to be captured by my limited abilities. I wish I had the makings of T.S. Eliot, Steinbeck, or Terry Tempest Williams, but I don’t. Still, I think there’s something to be said for living life fully as opposed to capturing it fully. Here are some things I’ve been living for lately: