Book Tour Wrap-Up

IMG_5942So I spent part of January in Utah on a book tour. A few times I mentioned there was a book coming out, but I didn’t make a big deal out of it- but it turns out it’s something I’m actually really proud to have been a part of. The finished book is a lovely compilation of essays compiled and edited by myself and Emily Jensen, and is the culmination of more than a year of work.

Emily and I spent the better part of a week visiting bookstores along the Wasatch Front, visiting with our local contributing writers, and sharing the stage with interesting and compelling people. It was exhilarating and exciting and so much fun- and I learned a lot.

This is the seventh book in the “I Speak for Myself” series, focusing on delivering narrative collections of inspiring, thoughtful essays with focus and rich diversity. Emily and I are so proud to have been asked to edit the volume on Mormons.

The book is A Book of Mormons: Latter-day Saints on a Modern Day Zion. Janan Graham-Russell wrote a beautiful forward for us, and among the many contributors are Neylan McBaine, Courtney Kendrick, Patrick Mason, Kailani Tonga, Josh Weed, Kate Kelly, Michael Austin, Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye, Adam Miller, Julie Smith… It was truly an honor to work with so many amazing writers.

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We owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who came out to see us, to talk with us, to join us in the conversations about the books, and about the changing landscape of Zion and what it means to each of us. Special thanks are due to The King’s English Book Shop, Writ & Vision Rare Books & Fine Art, and Benchmark Books, for holding such lovely events and welcoming us so warmly.

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This picture makes me ridiculously happy- This was taken at Writ & Vision, after a packed house came to hear us speak with Patrick Mason, about his stellar new book, Planted, and every one of these beautiful faces is like family to me.

Jana Reiss interviewed Emily and I one afternoon at the delicious cafe Gourmandise in Salt Lake City, and was beautifully generous in her write up:

These essays were like a balm to my soul, in which some of our religion’s best thinkers muse on the capacious notion of “Zion” and decide that it’s bigger than we give it credit for when we are so quickly judging one another.

This book is like the most thoughtful testimony meeting you’ve ever attended. Essays by Adam Miller, Kathyn LynardPatrick MasonJoanna BrooksMelissa Inouye . . . a fantastic cartoon from Scott Hales . . . There are feminists of several different stripes (including moderate Neylan McBaine and radical Kate Kelly, and an interesting piece from biblical scholar Julie Smith who uses three archetypes from the Book of Mormon to describe the tensions among different kinds of LDS women today) . . . There are BYU professors like Camille Fronk OlsonIgnacio Garcia, and George Handley. (See the book’s website for a complete list of contributors.)

In short, it’s a feast of Mormon testimonies from very different people who have one thing in common: a commitment to Zion.

You can read the entire review here.

I wrapped up the week by slipping on some ice and tearing a tendon in my knee, which I absolutely do not recommend.

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I think next time I’m involved in either editing or writing another book, I will be a little less shameless about promoting. It sure was a lot of fun, and the end of a long road and a lot of hard work. Once again, I am so pleased to have been a part of it!

Perspective

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I spent the day in silence.

Today was the first day my kids had school since January 20th. That’s twelve days, for anyone counting. Twelve snow days, only about half of which had actual snow, but during which my house was inundated with the constantly shedding clothing that come with three-to-five children, their coats, mittens, boots and the muddy paws of a giant dog who discovered he loves snow.

It’s been melting for days, and while there are piles of gritty grey road snow on the edges of the road, the yard and walkways are soggy, sodden messes. There is mud everywhere.

Children deposited at their respective schools, I put the dog in the pokey and started the process of digging out. There is something soothing about a silent house with only the ticking of the cuckoo clock and the churning washing machine keeping me company.

No music, no tv, no video games in the background, and not even the dog underfoot, I carefully went about the task of sorting the coats, boots, and scarves. The warm laundry slowly piled up on my bed, and I didn’t hurry as I vacuumed the corners of the stairs and under the entry way table. While I like a clean house as much as the next person, I long ago gave up any notion of perfection. Good enough is good enough for me. It keeps me sane.

I love the way the cherry floors gleam when they’re clean— but I also love the way the pile of backpacks and books, lunch boxes and dog toys and stray bits of melting, muddy snow, show people really live here. This isn’t a showplace. It’s a home.

My clean floors and quiet lasted about an hour, before the first kid arrived home. It was a nice hour. But so are the ones that follow…

Into the Breach

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Someone told me once that the more you read, the better a writer you become. Maybe someone was right about someone, but they’re not right about me. When I read too much, I lose my voice; I fall in love with their stories and cannot find the beginning of the spool of my own. That’s all well and good, until I realize one day I am holding my breath and my chest stings with sinewy tension from holding my unrealized words at bay, which I never even decided to do.

Kathryn asked me what I was going to write. We have been friends for lifetimes. Our skins bear remnants of the ashes of each other’s fires and the salted circles of each others’ tears. “I don’t know. I have no idea. That’s why I write.” We laughed- a shared reality, both funny and slightly bitter at the backend. She is a writer, too.

Never in my life has anything  looked like I thought it would. Never. Not a single thing. No painting, no essay, no book, no child, no marriage. They’ve all been better, greater, deeper, more painful, richer, breathtaking, harder…when juxtaposed agains my feeble imagination and the impetus leading me to pick up brush or pen. Always.

Silhouetted against the inky night glass, Kathryn asked me what I am afraid of. “Sharks.” She snickers. Our conversations are years old. I am knitting quietly, outside the circle of amber light cast by the low lamp, but my fingers and the roving know this rhythm and their tightly woven patterns seem to free my mind to wander and find the real answer.

I try and find the thread, that tiny place where there is a real answer to her question. She will laugh with me, but really she is gently coaxing me to look where I am afraid to look. She says nothing while I run the soft yarn between my fingers. She is holding space, protecting my margins, while I reacquaint myself with the dark.

I am afraid of the thousands of tiny moments of light and brilliance that make up the life of a person being lost, and forgotten, and swallowed by the breach. I am not afraid of dying; I am afraid of our stories— our precious sparks of madness and glory— being forgotten.

My hands are still knitting. My heart hurts, and I swallow hard. This is my truth. This is why I am a writer, a steward of some, a protector of others, a champion of myself and those I love. I am a writer. I must write to figure this out.

Kathryn nods quietly.

Another day, it will be my turn to hold her space, to use my light for her.

(p.s. I’m not very certain of many things, but I am very certain the Icelandic alterna-rock band she had playing in the background had their album picture taken in snowy woods.)

Of Resolutions…

Well then. Happy New Year wishes are in order…ten days into the new year? Yeah. Clearly my New Years resolutions are out the window already. Alas. Actually, my resolution was to be a “meek, soft-spoke and genteel lady” so speaking of out-the-window…

I’m getting ready to fly to Utah to promote a book I co-edited. It was one of my major projects last year- and it came out right before Christmas. We opted to push promotions to January, when everyone is looking for things to do- et voila! It’s a collection of essays from some brilliant friends and scholars about what it means to build Zion for Mormons now that we don’t drag handcarts across the prairies. If that sounds like good bedtime reading to you, give it a try!

It’s been a while since I did any public speaking, and my kids still laugh that people actually (at least in the past, we’ll see what happens this time) would come to listen to me talk on purpose. I feel a little rusty, but I’m hoping it’s like riding a bike. We’ll be at several bookstores around the Wasatch Front. Jeffrey keeps giggling and mumbling to himself that he has to listen to me all the time. Teenagers are awesome for keeping you humble.

Speaking of…

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There is only one kid left who is not a tween/teen yet in this house! We had a great vacation. We spent days in our pajamas, a Lego bomb went off in the basement, we watched movies and ate popcorn, we went the theater, watched the dog grow before our very eyes, and basically just had a relaxing holiday where we didn’t do much of anything important, which is the best holiday, I believe.

I learned how to make donuts! Yes, really. LOOK!

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The kids devoured two batches, and asked for more. Reason dictated not.

My knitting needles have been busy this year, and unlike most years, I am still knitting deep into January- and pretty happy about it. I switched to a new brand of wooden needles, and I love how they slide through the yarn.

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For New Year’s Eve, we made tamales (don’t you? you should. really. can’t you almost smell the masa?)

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We celebrated in Old Town with hot chocolate, love, a rousing game of tag, a ton of laughter, the second-best photo-bomb ever, and some kisses.

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All joking aside, I’ve never been big on resolutions, with a capital R, but as I get older, I realize goal-setting, realistic, reachable, forward-thinking, planned, and exciting *goals* are good. I haven’t fully figured out what my goals are for this year- or at least not to the point I am ready to share them. But they are bouncing around in my head, and I am mulling over where and what I hope for for the future of this amazing circus. What I do know is the more I remember to just breathe, to protect the margins for those I love, and then just let go and let them be, the more I can do that… the happier life is.

Happy New Year, everyone! What do you hope for this year? Do you set goals? Resolutions? How good are you at follow-through? And what does that even mean? I’m interested.

 

Merry Christmas Eve

 

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Our 2015 Christmas Card photo. Life as it is.

It’s raining hard in the mid-Atlantic; el niño is making itself felt with temperatures in the mid 70s on Christmas eve. I have to admit, it feels more like a California Christmas than it has in the 13 years since I left my home state. It’s disconcerting- but I am so happy to see the west getting desperately needed snow pack and the pictures from my mom of the creek on their property running for the first time in ages.

The humidity and warmth has completely jacked my holiday baking, and after my first batch of baklava wasn’t as pretty as I like, and Jon’s batches of fudge didn’t set up right, we kind of threw our hands up and gave up. “Not this year, then.” was the peaceful resignation. We let the kids decorate the sugar cookies, as is tradition, but then called the game. Not worth the aggravation or frustration.

I love having the kids home from school. We’ve had a lazy few days of doing not much of anything- aided by the endless rain. Abby and I took in a professional performance of the Nutcracker- her first, and mine in many years. Her takeaway was that it would be easier to pay attention if the theater had reclining seats like the movies, and that she felt wiggly and thirsty. Hard to argue.  I admit to finding theater and modern dance more compelling than classical ballet- and this was a very classical production.

Jeffrey has now taught Bean and Abby how to cross stitch, and they are all deeply invested in their respective needleworks. It’s pretty great to look around our house and see them all bowed low over their hoops and Aida cloth, busily stitching away. Jeffrey has an opinion on needle-threaders and particular brands of cloth, and Bean made it all the way through church by working on his embroidery.

My knitting yields this year were less than in previous, high-stress years— only seven pairs of socks. Photos forthcoming, as they are all wrapped under the tree.

We celebrated Star Wars Day (with most of the nerds on the planet) last Friday, and had our tickets in hand for opening night. But first, Star Wars Day dinner… Fresh Tauntaun Stew over Hoth Snow and Degobah Swamp Punch:Screen Shot 2015-12-24 at 7.32.24 AM

Now to enjoy my most favorite day of the year… everything is done, the lists are all crossed off, there is nowhere to rush, and nothing left to wrap. There is a broad and gentle day of calm before the chaos and joy of tomorrow. I will enjoy the pregnant peace and love of Christmas Eve, and wish you and yours the same.

In Praise of the Good Teacher

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This morning, as he was getting his trumpet and backpack ready for the walk to school, Bean flopped down on the sofa next to me. Tiberius immediately tried to squeeze in, and upon being ignored, settled for sliding down my leg and napping on Bean’s feet. Bean was fidgeting with the crêche on the coffee table, and smiling.

“What’s up?” I tried to be nonchalant. It’s so hard to get him in the right moment when he feels like talking- I hold my breath and hope.

He smiles again, to himself, as he adjusts the little sheep who follow the shepherd. “I love my school so much, mom. I love my teachers, I love Mr. W, I love playing the trumpet, I love my friends, I love PE.”

Suddenly my heart is in my throat, and as always, I have to fight the urge to hold and hug him- it would break the spell. I hold super still, waiting for him to continue. “It’s pretty different than last year, isn’t it?”

He laughs, and rolls his eyes. I love that he’s starting to pick up on teenage behavior and smarty-pants replies. His laughter comes easy these days, and he often comes home from school happy and with stories of his adventures. It’s a whole new world.

“It’s so great, mom.” He lets that just stand, and sit there, a statement of truth and happiness. If there ever was a testament of the power of a good teacher, it is this. And if there ever was any doubt that some people should not be teaching, that real, long-lasting damage can be done in a classroom, it is what happened to this child last year. The differences between then and now are profound.

So tomorrow night he has his first brass concert- his first since switching from the cello- and he is so happy. He’s confident and excited about performing. He loves his band teacher, and he is able to attend every day.

He’s got friends, he’s looking forward to the holiday party at the end of the week, he’s making honor roll, the school hasn’t called me to come in even one time, and he’s not received any disciplinary action– and he’s been praised for being a leader. This is what happens when a child is getting built up at school, and not torn down.

So yeah, teachers matter. Teachers matter so very, very much.

The Season’s Upon Us…

IMG_5425It’s that time of year again. My hands have been tangled up in yarn, as sock after sock spills from my needles. I have switched from my old steel double-points to beautiful Brittany wooden needles. Everything about them is lyrical and soothing, and frankly, I want more of that as the holidays barrel towards us.

We had a home-Thanksgiving. With Jon’s brother and his family in from out of state, there were nine kids, four parents and one giant puppy under one roof for the better part of a week. It was pretty great, actually. I love having family around for holidays. We had the traditional Fast Food Feast the night before Thanksgiving, because seriously, who wants to cook?IMG_5471The remains of the day… Like just about every other American house, we had too much, and I found myself wishing for a longer table and more faces I could welcome and feed.IMG_5477Tiberius is getting huge. He’s five months old this week, and is running at about 80 pounds now. It’s time for puppy school. He’s completely housebroken and never has accidents in the house, but he simply cannot control himself when left to his own devices, as evidenced by how he helped me with the Christmas presents last week:
IMG_5513He ate three books, a wreath, and the door bells. I was, apparently, gone too long. We came up with a solution, though…
IMG_5529There is no way he’s outgrowing that beast of a crate. Thanks to a local friend who was downsizing from her Great Dane, we inherited this joy. Now Ty again has his own space, and I can keep him (and the Christmas tree) safe while I am out. Over/Under on Bean locking himself in the crate was 30 seconds. Actual time: 12 seconds.IMG_5502He’s not always in trouble- Sometimes he’s just cute. The kids had fun dumping the ornaments on the tree, and I tried to just let them do it. I have a fancy tree named “Mr. Fabulous” in the front room- this is the family tree, and it’s way more fun for them to decorate it themselves. Ty has only eaten one ornament, and one branch. So far, so good.IMG_5427Bean has found an author that resonates with him, and he’s become a specifically voracious reader, after years of struggling. OT and PT do work, folks- it takes a while sometimes, but keep it up.  I love this snap of him, lost in his book.IMG_5478And this is why we love him, even when he eats Christmas presents, messes with my yarn, and slobbers on the pillows. How could you not just love that face? He waits like this for Bean to come home everyday, and then bounds down the stairs to the front door. Bean lays on the floor and they wrestle for a bit before they head outside together. Every once in a while he’s too much of a dog for Bean, but they’re growing up together and he loves him so much they find ways around the drool and the loving of digging holes in mud puddles.

In Abby news, we have our 5th 4.0 honor roll award in a row. It’s all her.IMG_5404And Jeffrey has taken up cross-stitch. He found a photo of a mastiff and turned it into a pattern for his first one. He takes it to church now, stitches through the meetings.IMG_5456I’ll just leave you with this gem: