Uncertainty gives way to certainty

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Afternoon Session of the October 1997 Conference.  
I'm still thinking about trust in God and how to develop it. It seems relationship-based—something you feel, a peace and calm that comes because you have a relationship with Heavenly Father. (I don't know if that's an official definition. It's just what trust seems like to ME.) But yet, there must be something you can do to get closer to it…when you don't just "feel" it automatically! Elder Maxwell, bless him, added some pieces to the puzzle.
We can also further develop our submissiveness to God’s will, so that amid our lesser but genuinely vexing moments we too can say, “Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” When heartfelt, this expression of obedience constitutes real petition followed by real submission. It is much more than polite deference. Rather, it is a deep yielding in which one’s momentary uncertainty gives way to the certainty of Father’s rescuing love and mercy, attributes which drench His plan of salvation.
I liked this description of trust, because it shows that even when we feel worried and unsure of ourselves, we can hold onto certainty in our Father. 

Elder Maxwell also says:
The Holy Ghost will often preach sermons to us from the pulpit of memory. He will comfort us and reassure us. The burdens not lifted from us, He will help us to bear, thus enabling, even after we err, to continue with joy the soul-stretching journey of discipleship.
This fits well with the first quote because of what I said above—about how trust seems like it should be a feeling. I can exercise faith through action; I have to DO something. But trust—I don't know, it just seems like it is a deep, pervasive calm underlying whatever else is going on. I might not know what's going to happen next, or HOW something will work out, or IF it will happen the way I want it to—but the ungirding TRUST I feel (that God loves me, that He has my best interests in mind, that He is even now working and arranging things for my good and the good of those I love)—calms me and allows me to face my challenges and attempt those faith-filled actions without just altogether panicking or giving up! "Uncertainty gives way to certainty" for those brief windows of time during which I feel trust.

This quote also makes me realize that remembering God's past goodness is one of the best ways to revive my trust when it falters. I love the idea that the spirit can speak from "the pulpit of memory" and say, "Hey! Why are you so worried? Don't you remember this? and This? and This? All those times when things seemed so dire but then Heavenly Father helped you? He did miracles then. So why wouldn't he help you now?" When I'm thinking along those lines, I can actually feel peace entering into my racing heart—a tangible sense of calm. I feel capable, and hopeful. Maybe that is trust in action?

I also like how Elder Maxwell brings up that such peace and trust can even come after our own errors—the Spirit allowing us to largely forget ourselves and just keep moving steadily forward along the path toward God.

So, what can I do to get myself to feel trust? It sounds like submissiveness and humility are key ingredients. And then focusing on remembering what great things the Lord has done for me, and asking the Holy Ghost to help me remember even better. Those seem like good steps I can take toward developing an instinctive, visceral, lasting trust in God!

Borne of Fire

A while ago, around the time I wrote this post, I wrote an essay for the BYU Studies Essay Contest centered around some of the same thoughts and themes. Now that I know my essay isn't going to be published there, I'm putting it here just so I have it preserved somewhere! It felt so good to get a few of my swirling and frantic thoughts on paper during that time when Abe was preparing to leave on his mission, and even though I now seem to have moved into a place of less immediate…frantitude…I still feel like I could elaborate on this theme even more. There is just so much new ground in raising children, and the new ground grows and grows and grows! I sometimes feel like I have to learn to be a new mother every year. Every month, even!

At any rate, here is the essay:

Borne of fire

“It’s too soon to put words to it.” 

That’s what I keep telling myself as we hike away down the dark road through web-fine mist, unearthly pink light still warming the sky behind us. The stars are bright as glass.

I can’t help myself, though. I’m narrating fragments in my head already, trying to hold onto what we’ve seen. “A slick of fire spilled like oil across the ground.” “Orange threads, reaching like thin fingers into the smoke…” But it isn’t enough. The words can’t bring it back. I raise the camera instead, trying another photo I know will only catch the blur of violet sky.

We’d stood there far too long at the viewing area—long enough for me to grow tired of the wind whipping hair into my eyes and the camera strap pulling at my neck. But I couldn’t turn away. Baby Clementine, sleeping bundled against my husband Sam, had started to stir, and so at last he’d begun the return hike to the car alone, calling back to us “Take your time!”

We’d taken it. Beside me, just a shape in the darkness, my son Abraham had kept his eyes, like mine, locked on the glow radiating eerily up from below. It had seemed so flimsy, so inadequate, to break the silence for inanities—“Look, it’s so cool,” “Whoa,” “Did you see that?”—and yet we hadn’t been able stop whispering them, each of us too overwhelmed to bear the awe alone.

I’d always dreamed of seeing real lava—dreamed of it even longer than had this boy-turned-man beside me, he who’d played “Erupting Volcano” in leaf-piles and conversed about sulfuric acid and pyroclastic flows with half-terrified delight. Now, just minutes ago, we’d finally stood together on the slopes of real-life Kilauea, watching a lake of lava as it bubbled below us. In its center, intermittent surges of what looked like embers sprayed up from the mouth of a jagged ridge, boulder-size sparks that lagged impossibly at the top of their arcs before plunging back down into the boiling mass below.

We’d watched, hypnotized by the surging lava lake. It was elemental, literally: a soup of gas and mineral that could melt down stone and send it out recast in crystal. The black surface of the lake lifted and fell slowly under our eyes, like the rise and fall of breath, continually webbing and cracking to reveal pillows of flame-colored liquid only just-restrained beneath.

We’d hiked to the caldera in the light of morning first, and the volcano had awed us then with its surging smoke and occasional showy displays of sparks. But it was here in the midnight darkness that the lava found its true expression. What had seemed in daylight a more-or-less placid black reservoir, broken by a red flare or two, was now revealed to be the mouth of a restless, formless being, kept in check by nothing but its own cooled skin. This was the lava Abe and I had secretly hoped for—alive and breathing, mesmerizing in its power and its unrest, a glowing ocean that ebbed and flowed behind my eyelids long after we turned away to make the hike back in rocky darkness, picking our way under a truncated moon.

When we get back to Sam and the car, Clementine is crying, sleepy cries that sound like the squawks of agitated gulls. I nurse her, holding her tiny hand to stop it clutching at my hair, before we finally drive away.

It’s almost Christmas, but we’re a world away from winter. Instead of swirls of snowflakes and the scrape of evening snowplows, the air hums with tree frogs and warm rain. Only slightly less foreign than the mild, humid air is the sense that something’s missing. And something is—eight somethings, to be precise. How rarely have we traveled free like this, three adults now, plus a baby who barely slows us down? A rather unremarkable group we make this way—wife, husband, oldest child and youngest child—giving no hint of the eight other children in the middle, left at home under the care of that God who watches over fools, drunkards, and unaccompanied minors. I bless the large-family routine that makes its cessation feel so effortless by comparison.

This trip came about almost on a whim several weeks ago, when a sudden cluster of possibilities—cheap flights, changed plans, avoidable responsibilities—had urged us into snatching up the chance for some unbroken time with Abe before he left on his mission. Now it feels like we’ve snatched up a dreamworld with it. In the tropical air, everything feels new, leaving me looking at Abe as if through turned glass—one side showing the baby he was only a heartbeat ago, the other the grown young adult I usually forget to be surprised at. 

Clementine reminds me of him. “I remember carrying you around with us  everywhere just like this, kissing your cheeks just like this,” I keep saying, involuntarily, knowing he’s weary of the telling of it. “I remember when you started really talking, filling the day so full of words and questions, I’d startle awake to ghosts of them at night.” 

It was around that time he’d started liking volcanoes, reading about them thirstily in science books too heavy to hold in his small hands. His interest flickered between curiosity and fearful trepidation for a while, until he grew brave and conquered the lava through hours of play. There was another baby by then, useful mostly as a prop to lie unsuspectingly on the slopes of dormant Mount Whatever-it-was and get swallowed gleefully by sound and blankets when the inevitable eruption began.

An eye-blink—a drawn-in breath—and now he’s grown, poised on the brink of leaving us, at once more knowledgeable and less willing to prattle about what he knows, but still composed of pieces of that boy, the one who burst through the front door shouting “I…love…everything!”

His mission call came two weeks ago. “And how are you doing?” other mothers ask me, their raised eyebrows ushering me into a silent society of which I’ve only in the last few years become aware. We don’t name it, the mothers’ silence tells me, but if we did, it might be The League of Watching, The Alliance of Waiting and Wondering, The Society of Staying Behind. The Institute of Closing Your Eyes and Opening Your Arms, Not Sure If Something Will Fly Out or Fly Back In.

You can write volumes about young children, passing stories around like sparkling punch at Book Group, filling notebooks with their funniest words. It becomes instinctive after a while: catching them, specimen-like, in nets of anecdote, a scientist sharing notes on a new species. But as they grow into themselves, children become perversely harder to pin down. I have had to learn to watch my young adults covertly, drawing fewer conclusions, but still keeping all these things and pondering them in my heart. Mothering young adults feels terrifyingly like beginning again.

I miss the days of catering to Abe’s latest enthusiasm, the ability to supply him with both the satisfying answers he wants and the initiating questions he needs. It was for him we learned first about volcanoes for Family School, but we kept coming back to them—three times, maybe four, as different children grew into curiosity and that delicious thrill at the thought of earth’s raw power. We read about the melting and refashioning of element and mineral, ancient rock swallowed and blended by the earth, stirred by convection, only to recombine and come forth new. We searched out lava rock and wonderstone in the Black Rock Desert, obsidian at Topaz Mountain, the older children always boldly climbing to the top of the next rise, and me continually scrambling behind with a baby on my back and a toddler’s hand yanking my restraining one, calling “Don’t go too far ahead!” During each adventure I’d watch the children’s faces lit with wonder and think, “This is why I do it. This is what it all means.”

Now, as we drive away from the glowing caldera, I stretch my ankles, sore from hiking uneven ground. Abe’s face glows by the pale light of his phone as I turn to look at him in the backseat next to his sleeping baby sister. He smiles to himself at a text message coming in, the contents of which he would no doubt rather cast into the volcano than reveal to me. I can’t help but realize that his experiences now, whether we share them physically or not, are mostly his alone. 

The next day we visit the cooled lava flows. I’m prepared for it to feel anticlimactic after the visceral energy of the living, breathing lava lake, but to my surprise, the cooled stone holds captured life nearly as strongly as its molten counterpart. Walking the flows is like traversing a river stopped midstream, the current balanced precariously between one ripple and the next. At any moment, you feel, the earth might soften again, carrying you forward with it in a vast black wave. 

The three of us (with the fourth strapped snugly across the front of Sam’s “Look, a  rock!” shirt) wind our way downhill, over huge swaths of black lava which turn out to be surprisingly varied in texture, up close. I recognize the types from countless readings of books with names like “Nature’s Deadliest!” and “Kids Explore Disasters!” The rough, jagged sections are ‘a‘ā. “I knew it was sharp,” Sam says, shaking his head. “But this…it’s like shards of feathered glass.” Already, his shoes are ragged from it. ‘A‘ā lava looks almost spongy, but it feels dangerous and brittle, tossed up in blocks and tumbled carelessly over itself. But my favorite parts are pāhoehoe lava, especially where the rock swirls and drapes like cloth, the softest of visual senses meeting the hardest of tactile ones. Pāhoehoe is smoother and more reflective, tracing a silvery trail to the ocean. It seems strange that something so jet-black can still shine bright enough to hurt my eyes.

We stop at last on huge bluffs above the ocean, looking back at the layers upon layers of black rock that pour over each other like sheets of honey, folds and ripples surging ever downward only to plunge and break off in improbable whorls of foam at cliff’s edge. “This land didn’t exist three years ago,” Sam says, looking at the black curve of coast against sea. We can see the incursions where the new land has extended itself, drip by drip, into the unknown.

It’s all new, this ground we’re walking on—the newest place I’ve ever been. Back home, I have pictures of 8-year-old Abe on Antelope Island, gap-toothed and triumphant atop smooth boulders of 4-billion-year-old gneiss. And yet it’s this place that feels ancient. Primeval, almost—that stark conjunction of rock and fire. Creation belongs in the beginning, doesn’t it? Here on the Hawaiian lava fields, I feel transported in time rather than space, to an earlier age full of lava lakes and jagged rocks, the earth churning and restless under skies that burn with falling stars. Continents forming, mountains rising out of the endless sea…it doesn’t feel like something that could happen now. And yet, today, here we are, walking this infant earth on fragile human feet. 

Abe has made his way to the precarious fringe of the cliff, leaning forward for a better view, then turning back and waving us closer, his face alight with interest. I can see all the reflections of his past selves in that face. He’ll be fine away from home, I think. He’s ready, poised at the edge of an unknown world. He still can’t conceive of his mission being about anyone but himself—his choice, his adventure, his sacrifice. He’s right, in a way. I won’t be there with him as he runs from rise to rise, turning back at the top to see if I’m still watching from behind.

We joke about it sometimes: “I made you,” I’ll say, taking exaggerated credit for his accomplishments, but I can tell he doesn’t really understand. In his mind, he wasn’t formed, he just is, ex nihilo. I felt the same when I was his age. My inner world was hard-won, close-held, and mine alone. But I can see further now. It’s not really the credit I want—Abe astonishes me as often as he reflects me, surely. His inner world is real. It’s just that this time, I was there in the beginning. I saw Abe grow into himself, inch by inch. He can’t see the elements he’s made of—me, Sam, grandfathers, great-grandmothers, the base minerals melted and combined and folding now before our eyes. Look away for a moment, and they’ll flow forward again into something new. Someone new.

I don’t know why it so often takes a change of routine to bring truths close to home. Amid the obscurity of habit, it’s hard for me to see the ground I’m standing on. But here on distant shores and at the land’s end, I keep finding unexpected convergences. Oldest child and youngest child. Beginnings and ends. Clementine won’t remember she ever saw lava, any more than she’ll remember Abe when he comes home after his mission. How long will our home be home, in his mind? He’s already just humoring me when I want to take a picture or steal a hug, knowing the time grows short now. And afterwards—well. It’s not the end of everything, but it’s the end of something. How many times did we get to sit together, all of us, at the dinner table these last nineteen years? The meaning of “all of us” kept growing to encompass more and more people, but as the years went on our intersections became rarer and more precious. We weren’t “all” there at the first, nor will we be when he goes.…will we ever be complete? The fabric that once seemed static has taken motion, folding itself over as it goes.

The sun is low as we drive away from the lava fields. We see smoke rising from the caldera, beginning to glow pink in the dusk. The landscape changes impossibly fast, from barren rock-covered desert to forest that looms up to either side of the road. It has started to rain. “Take a picture!” says Abe from the back seat. “I love the way the trees rise out of the mist.” I am already taking one, having loved trees and mist since before he was born. Which of his loves were first mine? Which words my echoes? Or are we responding to some current running beneath us both, turned slowly over as it flows through time?

My eyes are blurry with fatigue, or maybe it’s this mist that materializes out of the air to coat the windows and my camera lens. Five more weeks till he goes. It’s too soon to put it into words. This new ground grows beneath us, borne of fire.

This has to spring from the heart

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Morning Session of the October 1997 Conference. 
Some time ago, maybe around the time the church changed "visiting teaching" to "ministering," I started thinking about ministering and assignments. It has never bothered me that we have ministering assignments in our wards—in fact, I love it because it means (theoretically) that no one gets forgotten. It makes sense to me that even though heartfelt, spontaneous actions are good, planned and dutiful actions can also be good. But, something about the change in focus with ministering made me think about other ministering stewardships I might have in my life—the unassigned ones. I thought about various people I interact with and feel a certain pull toward—and I recognized that "pull" as the spirit telling me, "These people are your personal ministering responsibility as well."

I'm not perfect at it, but as I've worked on "official" ministering in my ward, I think I have improved at remembering these other people in my life too, and I try to reflect on them and widen that circle from time to time as well. I try to remember them in my prayers and think of small thoughtful ways I can reach out to them. Even though I do honestly love most of these people, thinking about them isn't automatic; it takes effort and intent. It's easy to get caught up in my own life and forget. Even a smile and a friendly word across the back fence takes a certain amount of outgoing-ness and commitment that isn't effortless for me. So I have to work at it, and I am working at it.

I thought about all of that as I read this talk, "Care for New Converts" by Elder Carl B. Pratt. I really liked this quote:
Brothers and sisters, we have the richest blessings that God can give to His children. We have the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We ought to be the most open, friendly, happy, kind, considerate, thoughtful, loving people in the whole world. Now, we do pretty well at fulfilling callings, at going to meetings, at paying our tithing; but have we learned to truly live the second great commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”? This is not something that can be assigned to the elders quorum or to the visiting teachers; this has to spring from the heart of every true disciple of Christ, a person who will look automatically and without being asked for opportunities to serve, to uplift, and to strengthen his fellowman.

We are reminded of the Savior’s words, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). Will nonmembers, new converts, and visitors to our chapels recognize us as His disciples by the warmth of our greeting, by the ease of our smiles, by the kindness and genuine concern that shine in our eyes?
I don't think I can claim to "look automatically" for these "extra" service opportunities, the ones outside of my official callings and assignments. But I'm trying to look for them…un-automatically; that is, I'm trying to THINK to look for them. I definitely have the desire to do so. I have seen so clearly the difference it makes in a ward, and in my own life, when there are loving friends who take their unassigned moments and use them to "serve, uplight, and strengthen" others! I have been the recipient of this kind of love many times, and it makes me want to be that kind of friend myself for those in my own personal "ministering" circle.

Elder Pratt concludes:
In building the kingdom of God, every positive act, every friendly greeting, every warm smile, every thoughtful, kind note contributes to the strength of the whole. It is my prayer that we may be open and outgoing, friendly, and helpful to all who come among us.… Let us conscientiously look for occasions to show that love which the Savior admonished us to have when He said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another.”

Other posts in this series:

Wisdom—by Rozy

Celebrate and delight in the ordinariness of life

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Young Women's Session of the April 1997 Conference. 

I knew as soon as I read this part in Sister Pearce's talk that hers was going to be my favorite this week. This is what she said:
When I think of pioneers, tragic scenes come to mind: handcarts in blizzards, sickness, frozen feet, empty stomachs, and shallow graves.

However, as I learn more about that monumental trek I am convinced that along with those very real and dramatic scenes, most of the journey for most of the people was pretty routine. Mostly they walked and walked and walked.

When the pioneers broke camp each morning, the cattle had to be fed and watered, fires built, breakfasts cooked, a cold meal for noon prepared and packed, repairs made, teams hitched, and wagons reloaded. Every single morning. Then they walked about six miles before halting to feed and water cattle, eat lunch, regroup, and walk again until about 6:00 p.m. Then the routine of unhitching and watering teams, making repairs, gathering tinder, building fires, cooking supper, a line or two in a journal before dark, sometimes a little music, prayers, and bed at 9:00 p.m.
I think about this a lot: how the mundane parts of life are so much of what we do here. If you don't find God in those places, you're hardly going to feel Him at all! And then I loved this next part where she shows the parallels with our lives now:
So what does all this have to do with us in our current world? I believe it has everything to do with us. Most of our lives are not a string of dramatic moments that call for immediate heroism and courage. Most of our lives, rather, consist of daily routines, even monotonous tasks, that wear us down and leave us vulnerable to discouragement. Sure, we know where we’re going, and if it were possible we would choose to jump out of bed, work like crazy, and be there by nightfall. But our goal, our journey’s end, our Zion is life in the presence of our Heavenly Father. And to get there we are expected to walk and walk and walk.

This week-after-week walking forward is no small accomplishment. The pioneer steadiness, the plain, old, hard work of it all, their willingness to move inch by inch, step by step toward the promised land inspire me as much as their more obvious acts of courage. It is so difficult to keep believing that we are making progress when we are moving at such a pace—to keep believing in the future when the mileage of the day is so minuscule.
Yes! "The mileage of the day is so miniscule." I feel that every single day! And it is SO MUCH easier to do one big push of effort than to take slow, barely-moving steps. Sometimes I lie in bed and imagine perfect conversations with my children where I just explain to them what they are doing wrong and why it matters, and I make it so clear and so reasonable that they can't disagree! They will have to see the wisdom of what I'm saying! But unfortunately in real life those conversations never go as I imagine—I get frustrated, they get annoyed, and we all end up repeating our same mistakes over and over again. It is really hard to see any progress looking toward the future! And I think I see it least of all in myself! 

So it's very comforting to read how Sister Pearce continues:
Do you see yourself as a heroic pioneer because you get out of bed every morning, comb your hair, and get to school on time? Do you see the significance of doing your homework every day and recognize the courage displayed in asking for help when you don’t understand an assignment? Do you see the heroism in going to church every single Sunday, participating in class, and being friendly to others? Do you see the greatness in doing the dishes over and over and over? Or practicing the piano? Or tending children? Do you recognize the fortitude and belief in the journey’s end that are required in order to keep saying your prayers every day and keep reading the scriptures? Do you see the magnificence in giving time a chance to whittle your problems down to a manageable size?

President Howard W. Hunter said, “True greatness … always requires regular, consistent, small, and sometimes ordinary and mundane steps over a long period of time.”

How easy it is to want quick and dramatic results in exchange for a day’s labor! And yet how happy people are who have learned to bend to the rhythm of paced and steady progress—even to celebrate and delight in the ordinariness of life.…

When you get into bed at night, rehearse the things you have accomplished during the day. Allow yourself to feel the satisfaction that comes of work completed or even partially completed.
I just love all of this. Seeing the significance of the everyday things, celebrating the small details that make a happy home, being patient with yourself and others…it's such a good perspective, and it's one I need to remind myself of constantly! (My friend Montserrat writes about this subject beautifully too!) I'm going to try harder this week to "feel the satisfaction that comes of work completed or even partially completed"—and I'm going to try to delight in the knowledge that even when I don't see it, I am making progress on my journey to Zion!

Small stones and gardens

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Afternoon Session of the April 1997 Conference. 

In this session, I especially liked Sister Elaine Jack's last talk (she had just been released as General Relief Society President). She talked about her grandfather and how he was a stonemason for the Salt Lake Temple. He got to lay the very last stone before the temple was dedicated, and he wrote, “It was not the capstone, but a small stone at the front gate entrance.”

Then she compared her grandfather's "small stone" to the offerings we all make toward the building of God's kingdom. Her "small stone" in this analogy was her calling as General Relief Society President, but she described how any of our time, talents, or willingness to serve can serve as our own small stone. I loved the image of adding to God's great work my small humble stone, nothing remarkable, but representing my efforts and desires to follow Him.

I also liked this part of Sister Jack's talk:
I find many parallels with building a temple and fulfilling a calling. We begin with bare ground, and we start to work. We survey the situation, pray for inspiration, thoughtfully formulate plans, send them for review, adjust, and plan again. We firm up a foundation and then add walls, a roof, and even gardens.
In my current church calling, I'm still in the "surveying" stage, but I remember with other callings eventually getting to the "gardens." It's so nice when you get past the feeling of just hanging on for dear life, hoping you don't forget anything, to being able to actually plan ahead and make conscious choices about how you want to arrange thing. And I was thinking about how motherhood goes through those stages too. It's more of a cycle, maybe, but it seems important to reassure young mothers that those drowning, floundering feelings do go away! You can improve at motherhood—at being patient, at making a home you love to be in, at cooking and managing your time. I think sometimes working mothers who have to turn the bulk of their home management over to other people don't realize the satisfaction that comes from figuring it out themselves, bit by bit. 

Don't get me wrong, every mother works hard, and I still do plenty of floundering as I survey the "bare ground" of each new stage and each new child. But I'm not completely at a loss the way I was at the beginning, and in a few areas, I can even start thinking about "gardens." And motherhood has become so much more of a joy for me as I've found those areas!

Now is the month of Maying

When the children were all young and we first started homeschooling, it was wonderful, because our schedule was whatever we chose. Or perhaps I should say "whatever I chose." It was a big responsibility to make so many decisions about how we spent our time, but also so glorious to go to school and take breaks whenever we wanted! We enjoyed year-round-ish school and saved field trips and vacations for beautiful spring or fall days when everyone else was cooped up inside. We rode the momentum of the family's interest, with no regard for what anyone else was doing, and rested and re-calibrated when we were tired or burnt out or just needed a little rejuvenation. I loved it.

Unfortunately, as everyone has gotten older and the family path has branched a bit into separate directions, we seem to now have…the worst of both worlds. We're fairly tied to a traditional schedule because of students in traditional classes and extracurricular activities that follow the same calendar. And I still feel like I have all the responsibility to decide how we spend our time, but none of the freedom anymore! Ha!

It's not really that bad, though. I'm still so glad to be able to arrange our schedule to the extent I do! I don't want to complain about the way we get to spend our school time, because even if it's not the idyllic days of yore, it's pretty darn good. 

However, all that was mostly just a roundabout way of getting to what everyone already knows; namely, that MAY IS SO BUSY! So many concerts, rehearsals, recitals, performances, track meets, programs! I don't know how anyone with ALL their kids in school manages it! Here are a few pictures of what we've been up to.
We went to the Children's Museum for Junie's birthday. She is maybe a little older than the target audience there, but, sweet girl that she is, just spent her time helping and enjoying how much fun the little boys were having. And she and Daisy and Goldie still enjoy playing in the cute tiny house and mini grocery store!

Ziggy was in heaven playing in the construction zone. I remember Sebastian loved that place as well, but he never wanted to bother dressing up in the hard hats and vests, and only did so to humor me. Mostly he wanted to examine the workings of the pulleys, rather than anything as silly as pretend play! Zig the Hat-Lover, on the other hand, was thrilled about the costumes, and took all his responsibilities as Worker very seriously. I loved watching him haul foam blocks up and down, back and forth from the platform as if his very livelihood depended on it. He also loved the helicopter—his slightly angry expression in one of the pictures above is not anger, but utter absorption in his role as "Man." No one on this earth likes being a "man" as much as Ziggy!
Gus was just the right age for playing in the play kitchen. He walked back and forth between the refrigerator and the kitchen table a hundred times, bringing out every piece of play food, cooking it on the stove, and soberly holding each one in turn out for me to "eat." He, too, was often so absorbed that he didn't look like he was having "fun"—but it was better than fun—it was his own world and he was the king of it!
Speaking of being king of the world. Sweet little Clementine has been becoming…slightly less little. And slightly less sweet! Well, no, actually, that would be impossible. She is SO sweet, but I'm sorry to say she is also a bit monkey-ish, crawling into cupboards and squeezing into tight places and getting herself stuck in all sorts of trouble! You would certainly not think it to look at her. But if she's not climbing into a box herself, she is being pushed around in one by some sibling or another! 
No wonder she wears herself quite out sometimes, dear little darling.
I'm also very sorry to say that she does NOT like to wear hats or headbands of any sort, and rejects them most emphatically when we make the attempt. None of my other girls would tolerate them either, which is why all of them went through their first years looking most pitifully bald and wispy. Serves them right, I suppose. (On a side note, I would like to point out the lower left corner of this picture, where Gussie is attempting to put Clementine's foot in a cup.)
Daisy and Junie got to do something fun called a Soapbox Derby. Have you heard of that? It's like a Pinewood Derby but with big cars you can sit in! (Actually much more fun than the pinewood derby concept, I must say.) Our neighborhood held one, and making a car would have been way outside our expertise, but a friend of ours was sponsoring a car with his business and asked if one of our girls would want to drive! Of course they did want to, so we went down to his office and the three girls each sat in the car like Cinderella trying on her glass slipper. Daisy was the lucky one who fit inside best, so she got the nod, but when we went to the weigh-in the day before the race, someone else was looking for a car driver and invited Junie to do it! It was really fun for both girls to have a chance to drive (well, I say "drive" but all you really have to do is steer and brake) in the Derby. They even got pitted against each other in the bracket once! (Junie won that race, but Daisy won a few of her other match-ups.)
The race was held on a very chilly day, but we had fun watching and cheering! (At least…most of us did.)

Junie turned 11 in April, and got a beautiful new dress (orange, her favorite, and LONG, as per her request) and a beautiful new umbrella. She also got an ice cream gift card as a thank-you from the owners of the car she drove in the Soapbox Derby. It had enough money for her to get her own banana split at Baskin Robbins…PLUS enough to take both her sisters and herself there for ice cream on another day. So fun!
Our last school unit of the year was Ancient Civilizations, and we had so much fun learning about the Babylonians and Assyrians and Sumerians and Egyptians and so on. It was cool to finally understand a little more about all those Bible people…the Hittites and Amorites and Canaanites…and to know why "the Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold". We learned about the Jewish people and some of their traditions too. Very fun all around.
When we learned about Ancient Greece we had our own little Olympics with events decided by the kids (handstands, rolling balls down the hill, tossing pigs in the air…the usual). It was fun to be outside after some very unpredictable weather!
We also made Sugar Glass when we learned about the Phoenicians. It's just basically melted sugar, like making caramels except you don't let it cook so long. The girls had the idea of trying to blow it like real glass, and to our great surprise it kind of worked! It was too thin to really harden in the shape of the bubbles and balls we blew (it crumpled and collapsed as it cooled instead), but it still was very fun to do, and we were able to sort of mold it into handle and vase shapes while it was warm.
Our May birthday is Marigold, turning nine this year! She chose volcano cakes for her birthday dessert, and it was sad to eat them without Abe (not that that stopped us)—those were always his choice for birthdays too. She also got a birthday dress (covered with marigolds), and this rather alarming costume:
A floppy guy! You remember about Goldie and Floppy Guysdon't you? (Oh! She is so tiny in those pictures!)
Goldie's other present was to go to a Cake Decorating class, which we did together the next week. It was really fun—Goldie did all the work, but I had fun just watching and seeing it all come together. Goldie is in LOVE with decorating and making beautiful food, and this was an ideal way to do cake decorating, not having to make the cake or do any of the setup or cleanup! She just showed up and spent the whole time doing the fun part—decorating. 

Unfortunately, even though all the components seemed like they should be good, it did not taste very good. Not even the kids would finish it off when we brought it home. But—such is the price you pay for beauty, I suppose. It was a most beautiful cake!
Daisy has had a busy 7th-grade year doing all kinds of good things. She is a very in-demand babysitter for several mothers around here when they need to go to doctor's appointments or other things mid-day and all the other babysitters are in school! But, to be honest, she is in demand in the evenings too because she really is the BEST babysitter anyone could ask for. She's running cross-country and track, doing ballet, and playing the piano too. But she still manages to find time to crochet Darth Vadar dolls for her little brother. Everyone should have a Daisy in their family!

That picture on the right is of when we found one of our bike helmets on top of a street sign. Ziggy had left it outside as he always does, and someone (teenagers, no doubt) had thrown it up on top of the sign like a head on a pike! But never fear; Sam managed to get it down with a broom.
And Ziggy. Ohhh, Ziggy. He is just one of a kind. The top row shows some of his cute drawings lately: a UPS truck full of boxes (and a scanner to scan them with—he watches the real UPS man do this), a family of dogs, and "a guy in a house that is SO DARK, no one can see anything!"

We really never know what is going on in Ziggy's head or if he lives in our reality at all. He is always going on and on about the people he's talked to, what they say, what they gave him—and I always say, "Really? Did that really happen?" and he says earnestly "Yes!" even when the people in question are "Bunny" and "Jonas" (two of his many, many imaginary friends). However, he is outside in the yard or the park across the street just often enough, and is just talkative and friendly enough, that SOME of these interactions may be real. Perhaps I will never know. All I know is, when anyone says the name "Ziggy" at church, all of our neighbors pipe up and start telling stories…"Once he came up to me wearing a bucket on his head and asked me if I was an astronaut too." "Once I found him outside my house mowing my lawn with a stroller." "Once I waved to him on the porch and he yelled 'I'M THE AMAZON MAN!' back at me." 
Here are some pictures of a cute family of ducklings that we saw walking by. There are ducklings everywhere at the lake, in all stages of growth, and it's just the best. I was particularly fond of this little mother because she was caring for her TEN babies! Certain children could take a lesson from how obediently they walked in a line behind her.
Sebastian got a new bike! I won't go into it all here, but we'd all been praying for miracles since his old bike got stolen, and miracles there were! He is very happy, and we are all happy to see him happy. :)
Here are some moments with dear little Gus; Gus the Good as I have taken to calling him (partly in hopes it will…you know…inspire him). He really is such a delightful guy. He loves to talk and talk and talk. Here he is, from left to right and top to bottom: listening intently at Seb's jazz concert, watching in delight as Daisy pours REAL COCOA out of his toy blender, falling asleep while reading, eating cake, going to church, and looking guiltily up from some game that involved throwing many many things into my bathtub.
Sam drew this picture of Gus holding a bunny. You have to admit it looks a lot like him.
And here he is happily floating away at swimming lessons.
Whew, this post is getting long! I told you it was a busy month. Here is the aforementioned jazz concert (that's Seb there on the drums in the back—you can only see his hat)
Some of the beauties of Spring
Three little people
Malachi at various Debate Tournaments and Speech Contests (he took 4th place in the Freedom Festival Speech Contest and gave an amazing speech. Can you believe he can memorize a 10-minute oratory? It's incredible. After we went to hear him, Sebastian said to me, "It's kind of weird to look at your little brother and realize he's really good at something." Yes. True about one's children too. :))
Lunar Eclipse from the Hill
Mother's Day drawings (I love Goldie's "Gest of Honor" label at my place at dinner), and half of my children.
Walking to church
Seb was injured for most of Track season, but came back strong at the end. Hopefully he'll be able to stay healthy this summer!
My middle brother found out he has Stage 4 Lymphoma, so my other brothers went to Minnesota to visit him and give him a blessing. I wished so much I could have been there too, but I loved this picture they sent of the three of them. 
And lastly, a few pictures of the glories of nature this month…like this hailstorm that covered everything in the cutest tiny hail-balls!
 These beautiful tulips at Thanksgiving Point!
And this dramatic storm system that moved in across the valley while we were at the temple and was beautiful all the way till sunset! 
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