Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is always one of my favorite days of the whole year, but this one was especially good. First of all, there was this fiery sky, and lots of wind, which we knew was bringing in a snowstorm. Very anticipatory.
The remnants of the roll party. Unfortunately, I never get pictures of it when it's in full swing. But it's such a happy, busy, crazy morning. I love having the house full of people and the smell of things baking and wassail on the stove. I made 21 dozen butterscotch rolls and this is what was left: 18 lonely little bundles. Well, don't feel bad for them; they weren't lonely for long.
I love our snowflakes hanging from the ceiling. And please note the carved Santa spoons on your right. I love them too: they are treasured possessions I have gotten from the ornament party. Now that there is a big one and a tiny one, Daisy's life is complete. As for what is happening on the couch over there…I just don't know.



For the last few years Sam and I have had been going to an ornament exchange party. I have to say, though I don't wish to boast, that it's a coveted invitation to get, and the guest list is made up of all sorts of cool people—artists and musicians and various other luminaries—so we always feel lucky that we get to go. And we always feel like we want to make something really good to bring. Last year I made the tiny Star Wars people, and this year I decided to crochet these tiny Wizard of Oz characters. I got the (adorable, right?) pattern here.
I think Dorothy and Toto (in his basket) are the cutest. But it wasn't all fun and games:
Gaaaaaaa!! Scary Dorothy! I don't know why my first try always turns out so horrifying. I guess it just takes me awhile to figure out what I'm doing? Daisy has adopted all these poor little orphaned misfits. She loves them, and they deserve someone to love them, but still…one hates to come suddenly upon them in the night…

Letter to Malachi, Age 7

Dear Malachi,

We were snuggling in my bed the other morning, as we do so many mornings, and I was telling you about when you were born. We first discussed your chubby cheeks, as we always do. You were the chubbiest, cheekiest baby! After the breathtaking suddenness of your arrival, and after the nurses at the hospital finally finished WHAPPING you on the back (I still don't really know what they were doing, but you cried and cried), they handed you to me and I really wondered if they'd brought me the wrong child. You (your cheeks, mostly!) looked like some fat Polynesian baby, not like one of my own little wisps! But as soon as I kissed those round cheeks, I realized they were all I'd ever wanted in a baby. So soft! So squishable! I couldn't stop kissing you.
You were so full of light, right from the start. I suppose lots of people think their babies are little angels, and Daddy and I chose your name's meaning, My messenger, deliberately, but I never really saw you as the gauzy-robes-and-stardust type. If you were an angel, you'd be more along the lines of a clear-as-the-sun-fair-as-the-moon-and-terrible-as-an-army-with-banners sort of vision; more like John the Revelator's fierce and powerful angels than something from Precious Moments: "And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire." I've always loved our Restoration hymn "I saw a mighty angel fly," and the message your baby-self brought was more like that angel's: "Truth is the message which he bears…To calm our doubts, to chase our fears/And make our joys abound." 

I don't know exactly how you've managed to bear that message, young as you are. I guess you've just always seemed wise beyond your years. I don't mean that quite how it might sound—I've heard people say their kids are "precocious," or "six-going-on-twenty-five," and it doesn't feel quite like a compliment—but I don't mean you're manipulative, or over-serious, or jaded. There's just something about you. A depth, a calmness. It can be startling when it comes out in full force. Like when I was nearly due with Marigold. You came up to me out of the blue, laid your hand on my belly, and said with complete confidence, "Soon you'll be having some of those 'compressions,' Mommy. Just be brave and remember that at the end of it all, you'll be holding a sweet new baby." The strangest thing about it wasn't even your grown-up tone, but the way you looked at me so clear-sightedly, like some oracle of ancient wisdom. Not to make too much of it—remember, you also told me with complete confidence that you KNEW I was having a boy, and were so positive about it that I thought for sure you had some insight from beyond the veil. Well, we all know how that turned out!—but really, there is sometimes something otherworldly about you. Like you haven't quite shaken off the last silvery strands from those clouds of glory you were trailing when you came. Daddy and I used to remark on it even when you were just a baby. "Too good for this world," we'd say, shaking our heads at each other darkly as you cooed and gurgled and beamed your beatific, chubby smiles toward us like rays of sunlight. We were mostly joking, but I think it was a bit of a relief for both of us when you started whining and fighting with your brothers occasionally, making yourself safe from immediate translation.
Abe was quite pleased with you from the beginning.
And then there's the way you are with babies. You've told me several times that you would like to be a midwife, and while it's not the most standard profession for a boy, after feeling for myself the force of your quiet presence, I don't doubt you could manage it admirably. You've always loved babies, and I can't help thinking you have some sort of link with the infinite. Our dear midwife Cathy always lets you help out with applying gel, strapping on blood pressure cuffs, and all the other little tasks of a prenatal appointment, and as I lie there and watch your serious face listening to baby's heartbeat, I can almost imagine you communing spirit-to-spirit, some other life still fresh in your mind. 
If that sounds too metaphysical, I suppose I should also remind you of what you said recently while we were discussing the vastness of the universe and the mysteriousness of it all: "Mommy, I literally hate infinity." (You had to add that "literally" in there, as "hate" isn't a word you use lightly—"That's a strong word, Daisy!" I hear you saying reprovingly to your sister every time she says it—but this time you felt it was justified.) Of course you aren't some gauzy, fluttery spirit, gazing off into the ether through your crystals as Enya plays in the background. You're solid, grounded, and you love the solid facts of earth: rocks and volcanos and ice storms. You stumble around moaning "I die! I die!" like a character from Shakespeare when you get 'killed' in a duel. You make faces at yourself in the mirror. You're funny and silly and BOYish.
You tease your sisters; you wail like a police siren when you fall down the stairs; you love digging holes and hammering things with your rock hammer (not always with authorization). Still—every once in a while there's a clarity, a perceptiveness, that sort of beams out from you, and it envelops everyone around you. Even when we're not consciously thinking about it, we feel it, and are unexplainably reassured.

Like I do with all my kids, I love to write down the funny, surprising little things you say, but half of what makes them so cute is your particular tone, which is sort of indescribable. Still, to give it a shot, I'd say: sober, adult-like, matter-of-fact, and with a little twinkle of self-awareness that makes me think you must know how impressed everyone's going to be with your precociousness, but you're not taking yourself too seriously all the same. You recounted a conversation with your little friend Natalie the other day that was the perfect example. You'd made her a tiny, stapled-together book, full of facts and little sayings and pictures of things in her favorite colors. You gave it to her at church, and when you told us about it later, Sebastian asked you, "Did you tell her what it said? Because she probably couldn't read all your writing." (That was true, you know—your current vocabulary far exceeds your ability to spell it, and you're still working on things like making your 6's and 9's face the right way—not that there's anything wrong with that!)

Now, in the retelling, you said to us, "Yes, I read it to her so she'd know what the words said. And then Natalie told me, 'It's okay, I'm still kind of learning to write too.' And then I said to her,"
—(here you inserted the most effortlessly casual of shrugs)—"'Yeah, six-year-olds aren't professional writers!'"

Of course you aren't, and we love you for saying so, little Ky-guy. You're not some mini-adult, you're a sweet little just-turned-seven-year-old boy, and that's quite enough! You've never been the slightest bit conceited or smug, with all your "wise-beyond-your-years"-ness. If you don't understand something, you say so without self-consciousness, and if you suspect obfuscation in someone else, you ferret that out too, with your usual forthrightness. 
"How's being seven?" I asked you the other day.
"Exactly the same as being six—since I don't seem to have received any more privileges," you replied, twinkling your eyes a bit, but with some severity in your tone. 
"What privileges were you thinking you'd get?" I said, laughing back. 
"Oh—I don't know—probably a later bedtime, at least," you said. 
"What about that mango lassi you ordered when you went out to dinner with Daddy?" I asked (getting a drink with a meal is kind of an unheard-of privilege, and you'd been telling me about it with a mixture of delight and awe earlier in the conversation). 
"Well—" you shot back, with some eyebrow action—"I DID like that mango lassi quite a lot—but—you know, Mommy, that had nothing to do with my being seven." 
Here you are with a branch poking right into your head. "Just take the picture; I've grown to quite like it here by now," you told me, when I told you to lean away.
I had to admit you were right. But in spite of not having new "privileges," you know, we have been treating you as one of the big kids for a long time now, probably longer than you really deserved. It's that emanating wisdom again. For a long time, when you did something more little-kid-ish, like pouting or hiding the truth or crying over something small, Daddy and I would realize suddenly and wonderingly as we discussed it, "Well…he IS only five!" We mostly expected you to act like your older brothers because you so often DID act like your older brothers, being responsible and competent and interested in things far beyond what someone would expect of a boy your age. So it's good when you truly "act your age" a bit—it reminds us to be patient and appreciate all the funny little things about your little-kid self. 

Still, on the whole, your maturity is pretty impressive. In your baby blessing, Daddy blessed you with—I can't remember the exact words—but something like, that you would be "comfortable with complexity." And I've never seen someone for whom that's been more true. When we talk about scriptural symbols, you have absolutely no hesitation in putting forth your own interpretations of what they mean. You understand metaphor. And you ask the most perceptive questions! When we read Macbeth, you asked about Lady Macbeth: "Do you think she still saw blood on her hands after she killed herself?" Whether you approach it through the sciences or through the arts, I can't help but think you're going to navigate the world, in all its complexity, remarkably well.

So, I wonder who you'll be when you grow up, Ky-guy? I'm always telling myself not to read too much into my kids' "profession choices" at such young ages. There are so many things ahead of you, so many experiences and potentially life-altering realizations, so many twists and turns and new interests to find. I love how wide-open your future still is, and I hope you have many adventures and surprises as you explore the friendly road ahead. Having once wanted to be an astronaut myself (and having read statistics about how many boys think they might be NBA players someday, for example), I know that for most of us, our vague views of our vague futures are often fuzzy or unfounded or easily-swayed. "You can do anything you dream of!" isn't a phrase you'd often find me saying, practical-minded person that I am.
But—but—I just can't help looking at what you love now, and seeing something true in it—something about you that MEANS something, whether or not it has anything to do with the nuts and bolts and practicality of your future life.

Here's what you love as a seven-year-old, Ky. (It's not ALL you love—heavens no! You are a boy of many and varied interests, drawn to all kinds of people and all kinds of things!—but these things are your enduring loves, the ones that seem to go on year after year.) You love birds. Have loved them, ever since you were a tiny little bird yourself. I sometimes wonder if we ought to have given you "Robin" as a middle name, but your namesake Leslie Norris loved birds himself, and saw the natural world more keenly and lovingly than most, so I think that connection is still apt. Ah, but there was that stuffed bird we gave you when you were just a baby, so perhaps it's not anything intrinsic to you, but simply a quirk of fate. 
You love space and the universe and you say you want to be an astronaut, but again, it's a common-enough wish, of little boys who love the thought of exploring new worlds and who know nothing, yet, of the study required and the unlikelihood of this chance, among so many. And then there's the midwife thing: perfectly understandable that you should be drawn to the idea, with so many babies around, and with Cathy so friendly and competent and willing to let you help her. Love babies? Of course you do—sensitive, kind little guy that you are. You see, I have to cover my bases a bit, Malachi, so that when you read this as a (probably very rational-minded) adult, you don't dismiss me as an entirely sentimental being, blinded by my fond, motherly emotions. And, okay, I admit that when it comes to my children, I can be as fond and unreasonably emotional as the next person, so perhaps your caution will be warranted. But I believe in a mother's insight, too, so I'm going to say this anyway, despite the horrifyingly wind-beneath-my-wings-ish sound of it, and if need be we can laugh about it together when I'm old and grey.

So this is what I think, sentiment and all: you are drawn perpetually upward, Ky, because that's where you belong. You want to fly, you want to touch other worlds. Your spirit is reaching beyonduptoward—and maybe you don't even know what you're reaching for, but I feel that whatever it is, it's closer for you than for some people. I feel like, unlike some of us, when you reach heavenward, you're reaching up to touch something you never fully lost, and when you connect with it, you'll be tapping into something that you've always deeply known. And I just can't wait to see where that upward reach takes you, and how it will transform the rest of us—looking up, and watching you, and marveling.
So glad we have you, little messenger-Malachi. So proud of who you are, and who you're growing to be!

I love you,

Little Lucia

Daisy just loves Santa Lucia Day. Next year maybe she won't fit the dress anymore and Junie will have to do the honors, but for now, Daisy gets the privilege of taking the saffron buns to her Daddy on a tray. (Here she is last year and the year before.)
You can tell she's a bit nervous about dropping them. :)

If you haven't made Lussekatter, you should get yourself some saffron and try them! They're the perfect holiday bread. You can find the recipe here. The saffron is expensive, but we only make these once a year!

Sam and I always comment on how very European their taste is---not extremely sweet, but so tender and delicate and surprising. They just get better and better the more of them you eat! We served them with Parisian Hot Chocolate this year and it was a perfect combination.
Such a beautiful, cheerful, golden yellow color! 
I am also very partial to foods that are cute. I just love these little spirals!

Red and Gold

To our great surprise, the girls (well, two of them anyway) still fit their Christmas dresses from last year! Perhaps there is a little more knee showing, but we can overlook that. Goldie's dress isn't making its first appearance either. She does, however, have a tiny ponytail!
Junie has a very difficult time NOT feeling that her foremost duty during a picture is to supervise Goldie, with the result that it's Junie who is never facing the right way.

Random Thoughts, Thanksgiving Edition

There are so many things that happen around here that I don't understand. I accept them, but I don't understand them. Like this baby in this bucket, for example. Or when someone says something like, "Malachi is making holes in the finger!" I usually just say, "Oh, hmm." Occasionally something becomes clear: I'll find a foam finger with a neat three-hole-punch out of it, perhaps—but really, most comprehension simply passes me by altogether. I'm just getting used to it.

I hate that you're not supposed to capitalize the seasons. In fact, I hereby reject that rule. Fall, especially, benefits from the capital letter which I will unflinchingly continue to give it.

I had the pastry blender out tonight, cutting shortening into flour, and I thought, "How many women are there across the country, doing this exact same thing at this exact same moment?" Then I thought, "How many women have done it over the years?" It made me feel like I was One with the Ages. Just one of the many benefits of making pie!

Due to illness one week and Sam being out of town the next, we didn't hold our traditional Pre-Thanksgiving Run-Through this year. Next year in Jerusalem, friends! Without that run-through for fortification, I'm only making things I've made lots of times before: my rolls, this pie, and this carrot soufflé. I'm also remembering this pie and this pie with fondness. If we were having a bigger crowd tomorrow I'd make them too!

The other day Malachi told me, "Mommy, I literally hate infinity." He also said, darkly, after we somehow got sidetracked into talking about Schrödinger's cat and the two-slit experiment during school, "You never should have told us ANY of that!" Poor little lamb.
Nutmeg went to be a model in Sam's Gesture Drawing class at BYU one day. Daisy went too, to take care of Nutmeg. She was SO excited I thought she would explode. Afterwards she told me, "We went to the Creamery for lunch, and guess what I got there? ICE CREAM!"
There was some snow in the yard. Daisy used all of it to make this snowman, little Snowy. How she loved him!
Poor Snowy. His life was short, but it affected all of us. Out, out, brief candle!


Someone was telling me how stressful Halloween always is for them, and I was wondering why it hasn't been so for me. Then I realized it's probably because I've never made any of my kids' costumes. My mom is an amazing seamstress, and she's made us so many costumes over the years that now we pretty much just get them out of the box and see who fits what. It's great! It's also great that the costumes she makes are sturdy and washable, so the kids wear them all year long for dress-up, and I never worry about them getting ruined.

This year, as in 2012, we had two monkeys. Junie went up to the middle-sized monkey, and Goldie fit the smaller one. Man, these monkeys have been around forever!
This monkey looks just a little scary. She appears to be rubbing her hands with glee.

Nine bears in the bed

While Sam was teaching a workshop in California a few years ago, the three boys and Daisy and I went to the Getty Museum together. We were riding the tram up the hill to the museum, and Abe and Seb were flitting around from strap to strap, and Ky was jabbering to me, as he does, and Daisy was falling off the bench and making her lip bleed, and so forth, when a lady sitting nearby (stylishly dressed, impeccable fingernails) said, "My goodness! Are they all yours? You're not planning to have any more, are you?"

Now, let me interrupt myself to say that although I hear of people saying things like this, and I know that many people feel this way, I haven't actually encountered it that often. People are usually so nice to us! And I have heard people with few or no kids say they have felt "judged" for that as well, so I know we all feel insecure or defensive about our situations sometimes. And I understand that kids can be chaotic and especially when they're other people's, they can seem extra annoying, so I don't really blame anyone for being overwhelmed when we're around. I get it. I can usually laugh about it and joke with Sam about how our family's presence is reminding those around us to have a serious discussion about family planning. So this isn't a story to talk about how bad that lady was.

But anyway, her tone was awful. She was disdainful. Kind of disgusted by us, I would say. And I felt so embarrassed. So I said, apologetically, "Oh, no . . . I don't think we'll have any more."

And meanwhile, I was AT THAT MOMENT pregnant with Baby Junie.

And then I felt so, so ashamed of myself.

As soon as we got off the tram I think I started crying. I wondered why I cared what that lady thought of us. What did she know, anyway? Intellectually, I knew she didn't matter to us. But emotionally, I wanted to be approved of. I spent that whole night lying awake, alternating between thinking about what I should have said, and feeling cowardly, and apologizing to the baby inside me…I was afraid the baby would know, and feel rejected. I felt like I had denied something important, like when Peter denied Christ, and it made me miserable.

But I think that experience was kind of a turning point for me. I thought about our life, and how much I love it; how much I love being a mother and how much I enjoy our kids. And I decided I wasn't ever going to be apologetic or embarrassed about it again. We're crowded, we're noisy, we're crazy sometimes. When we all snuggle together in our queen-size bed, it's true, someone inevitably falls out! But I feel just like Nancy in this post: my husband is my favorite person, we make absolutely charming and delightful babies together, and if someone thinks I should apologize for that—well, I'm not going to! They should thank ME, for bringing such splendid specimens of humanity into the world! :)

So two babies on, and here I am expecting again. Number seven this time. And I find myself thinking about that lady sometimes, kind of laughing at how horrified she'd be if she could see us now! (Like the birth control lady in Cheaper By the Dozen.) I think I'm braver than I used to be, and maybe if I could go back in time and let her ask me that same question, I'd straighten up and look her in the eye and say, "Why yes, I'm glad you asked! We ARE planning to have more. Thousands of them, if possible!" Ha! That would show her. :)  I was talking about this incident with the kids earlier this week, reminding them (by my negative example) how we don't ever need to let others make us ashamed of our beliefs. And I realized that I just feel sorry for that lady now. Maybe she had a happy family; I hope she did. But by narrowing her conception of what was "the right way" to have (or not have) a family, she is missing out on so much potential happiness! I think that's what drove me to write this poem; not at all the sense that "big families are best for everyone," but just—how narrow, how joyless, if we were all the same. How arrogant to think we should be! How much abundance of joy can be ours, if we will let it come pouring in. And how the mindset of "there is enough, and to spare" can overflow from our own families of any size, and we will want to—indeed, be driven to—share our love in ever-widening circles with those around us.

Because really! How to imagine our lives without this little puss-in-boots?
Or this funny Goldie-clapper?
What if we hadn't had these two monkeys? I shudder to think of it!
And aren't we lucky, to have enough of us to play with a parachute in the backyard?

I feel like we are the luckiest ones alive.
And I'd tell that lady so, if she asked me.

Bunnies and Young Children

Although I do seem to have acquired the nicest, most friendly bunny on the planet; still, I have never thought one should press one's thoughts about one's bunny on others, or boast about him in everyday conversation…just as one should not do with one's children…but it is quite difficult not to just mention what a good bunny he is every now and then. Except I am now going to do more than that. Feel free to make a graceful exit now. It's just that I feel a solemn duty to counter some of the information you might find online about bunnies. I do not claim to be the world's leading expert on bunnies (that would be boastful) (and I was not, till recently, a bunny owner), but I have loved them for many years, you know, and I have studied them quite a lot since getting one.

This is the trouble with what some people say about bunnies: it's wrong. Because I read many, many sources that said: "You should NOT have a bunny as a pet if you have young children." This is written by bunny-lovers who, presumably, imagine a harrowing life of fear and suffering for a bunny at the hands of these hypothetical young monsters. "Perhaps you might consider getting a bunny for one calm, responsible, older child (10 and up), with constant adult supervision. But NOT if there are young children around. Certainly not if there is MORE than one child! If you have more than one child, consider getting a fish. A bunny is not for you!" they say. (I'm not entirely sure they approve of even HAVING multiple young children at all, these people. The very idea seems to hold a kind of horror for them. If they had known we were getting a bunny to come live with us and our six children, they probably would have gone down in sorrow to their graves. And then turned over in them.)

I understand. They want to protect bunnies (as do I). They want bunnies to have happy, stable lives (as do I). But in their well-meaning-ness, I'm afraid they give the wrong idea. They make it sound like the very existence of bunnies and small children in the same room is asking for total disaster. When in reality, kindness and love and gentleness can be taught to young children with bunnies—just as it can to young children with babies. Of course it takes effort and time. And of course I wouldn't turn the entire care of a bunny over to a four-year-old. But a loved, well-cared-for bunny is not only good for children—but they are also good for him! Our Nutmeg loves the children. He plays with them and hops around them and snuggles in happily when they pet him, and he misses them when they're gone. He likes his big family! 
How do I know he's happy with us? Well, he does all the things a happy bunny does. He comes running to greet us after we've been gone. He hops around and around our feet in circles and follows us around until we trip over him. He leaps straight up in the air and turns sideways while he's leaping. He bounds around the room and then boings up next to us onto the couch and bops under our hands with his nose until we pet him. I honestly can't imagine a happier bunny.
And now that we have had him all these months, I sort of feel like I need to evangelize for pet bunnies. They are such delightful, good pets. I feel bad that in years past they were mostly just thought of as the boring kind of animal you put outside in a hutch and forget about, because they can be so curious, and loving, and playful. I know I've only had one of them, but one is enough for me to see these things.

And in saying this, I understand that some people get tired of their pets and don't treat them with love and just give them away when they're tired of them, and maybe for crabs and lizards that's okay, I don't know. I feel instinctively that that would be wrong for a bunny, but I know pets don't always fit their owners. I'm not an expert on the morality of animal ownership, and I never really wanted other pets anyway, because it would be one more thing to do. And I don't want anyone to have a bunny who won't take good care of him, of course, but I'm afraid that maybe people are being scared off by these "NO-BUNNIES-AROUND-CHILDREN" sources when they could be enjoying and loving a sweet bunny of their own. So let me tell you some things that are good about bunnies. And why you (and your young children!) could love one.

First of all, they are clean. They are SO easy to litterbox train and they LOVE to be clean. It's my favorite thing to see Nutmeg washing his little face and paws and ears.

Storm Mountain

That title sounds dark and foreboding, but it's really just the name of the campground. We love this place! Some of the trees are bare by now, but many are still holding on to their vibrant leaves. Such pretty colors and such surprising contrasts!
Tiny Abe, across a meadow


I've been thinking a lot about my dad lately. I'm not sure why. Actually, I do know why: it's because our friends from down the street just had their sweet little three-month-old baby pass away, so I suppose all of us in the neighborhood have been thinking about death and resurrection more than usual. (As if I need any more encouragement to be pensive and thoughtful in the Fall!) It's been five and a half years now since Dad died. But grief is such a strange, incomprehensible thing, isn't it? With my dad, I've always felt like I should restrain my sadness for his sake, because he was so ready to be free of his body, moving on. With baby Tommy, I feel restrained because he's not mine to grieve.

Leslie Norris has it right, of course:
If I were young I could
     Make eager grief of this grave
And let the warm sorrow come
     And cover me like a wave,
The cathartic tears ease out
That soothe the constricted heart. 
It would be over and done –
     A romantic memory made
Out of this drift of rain
     And the passive part I played
But spontaneous youth is gone;
The moved heart is a stone… 
So I'll not denounce this death
     Nor embitter the ordinary air
With blown words that my breath
     Is now too small to wear.
Sufficient that he is gone;
The great man dies alone…
And yet I've also been thinking about memorials; about remembering and making real those things, and people, who are sliding ever more to the past. Wondering how to do it. How much to do it. I've always had such a horror of being overly sentimental, or of coming across as shallow or trite in the things that matter to me so deeply. But this article has made me think a lot about the power of simplicity in grief. Speaking of the little roadside memorials you sometimes see at the site of traffic accidents, it says:
…They testify to a deep human need for memorials. It is a new form of folk art, and it is extremely conventionalized in its expression. For one thing, its repertoire of forms and materials is very narrow: crosses, flowers, handwritten signs, and heartbreakingly, in the case of a child, stuffed animals. There is very little else, and no striving for originality. Their creators look for widely-understood symbols, and they yearn for resolution and closure…In a way, these anonymous roadside sculptors understand what many contemporary artists do not: that monuments, because they are public art forms, must be legible. And this requires a great degree of convention…Not long ago it was fashionable to sneer at such things…But true momumentality has everything to do with simplicity…
And I think it's true. You learn it in poetry: how the simple details say so much more than the sweeping pronouncements. True, they have to be honestly put forth, not manipulative (unlike stuff like this, which is almost a whole photo-genre in itself), but transparent allegory serves such a useful purpose: as that article says, it "uses interlocking symbols to comment on the things we care about"– and those symbols don't have to be less meaningful for being common: The fallen leaf. The soaring bird. The rain.

So I guess I'm allowing myself, these days, to think about those simple things, and let them form part of Dad's "memorial" in my head, whether or not they are powerful enough or all-encompassing enough to truly, adequately, "memorialize" him. I'm trying to let myself explore what space he left here, whether or not it was "too soon" for him to leave it. Thinking about things I have almost forgotten, things I wish he could be here for, things I wish I knew about him. Why did he love that e.e. cummings poem he had printed and posted above his desk? When and why did he start the book of photographs he took of Timpanogos from his office window, spanning years and years, in every light, in every season? I wish when he had asked me what I meant in my poems, I had tried talking about it instead of insisting that it couldn't be quantified. I wish I could hear what he thought of Sebby making speakers and Malachi playing astronaut. I wish I could see him eskimo-kiss with little Goldie. I wish I could ask him to tell me more about his parents, or about his job. It is strange to think how little I really know about what he thought and who he was.

And for little Tommy, too, I'm allowing myself some sentimentality, for all I didn't earn it by truly knowing or loving him while he was here. I'm watching the light on the mountains, the abbreviated flare and fade of the gold sunsets, and letting them remind me of hardship, and separation, and the hollow spaces that sometimes take years to soften and fill in.

I'll end with Leslie Norris, again; this from his poem "Autumn Elegy":
September. The small summer hangs its suns
On the chestnuts, and the world bends slowly
Out of the year. On tiles of the low barns
The lingering swallows rest in this timely 
Warmth, collecting it. Standing in the garden,
I too feel its generosity; but would not leave.
Time, time to lock the heart. Nothing is sudden
In Autumn, yet the long, ceremonial passion of 
The year's death comes quickly enough
As form veins shut on the sluggish blood
And the numberless protestations of the leaf
Are mapped on the air… 
                               Yet, if I stare
Unmoved at the flaunting, silent 
Agony in the country before a resonant
Wind anneals it, I am not diminished, it is not
That I do not see well, do not exult,
But that I remember again what 
Young men of my own time died
In the Spring of their living and could not turn
To this…
                             Now as the trees burn 
In the beginning glory of Autumn
I sing for all green deaths as I remember
In their broken Mays, and turn
The years back for them, every red September.

Canyon leaves

What with one thing and another, I was afraid we'd basically missed Fall in the mountains this year. There were some cool, rainy days where all the trees looked dull and I thought maybe the leaves would all turn brown and fall early. But then the sun came out again, it got warm, and to our great delight, there was still plenty of Fall beauty to be found. If we can manage it, we'll be out playing in the leaves again this week and hopefully next, because we know how fast all this will be gone!
It was the most perfect Fall weather!


If you've been anywhere near Sebastian for the last six months, you know he's been saving up his money to buy a digital camera. I got my first digital camera from my parents when I graduated from college. Several years later some of the functions on it broke, whereupon we gave the camera to Abe to use. Several years after that, it stopped working altogether, and Abe gave it to Seb to play with and take apart. Which Seb did---repeatedly. After taking it apart and putting it back together and disassembling the lens and unraveling the electrical wire millions of times, Seb decided he also wanted his own WORKING camera. We impressed upon him repeatedly that he should NOT take his new one apart, once he got it, and he insisted that he wouldn't. (We'll see!) He found a used camera on Amazon for $20, so he's been working and working to save up for it.

It was a long wait for him, and while he waited, he was constantly pretending to take pictures with his old camera, and making dozens of model cameras out of paper. Every day there would be a bunch of new ones lying around (each iteration slightly modified, as Seb added a telescopic lens here or a battery compartment there).
And now he finally got his actual camera! He loves it and keeps it with him constantly. I am going to miss those paper cameras, though!

More paper construction: Seb made this paper "California Screamin'" roller coaster model after we got back from Disneyland. It is meticulously constructed to mirror the curves and loops of the actual roller coaster (he looked up pictures and satellite views until he got it right). Seb gave this to Abe for his birthday.

And, Seb has spent HOURS and hours making these paper speakers. He read somewhere that you could make a working speaker out of a paper plate, so he's been trying to do that for months. I was amazed at how persistent he was—adjusting the length and gauge of his coils of wire (he was raiding everything in the house for wire: flashlights, his radio, his CRT!), trying out different shapes and strengths of magnets, experimenting with paper shape and thickness. I would have given up on it after the first few tries, but he must have made twenty of them, until finally, he got one to work! Then he was even more obsessed trying to make adjustments so it would be louder and work better. This speaker pictured above is one of his best attempts. It played the music loud enough for us to hear it several feet away. He was so proud of it! And rightly so.
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