Aloha Oe

Sam and I were discussing the song "Aloha Oe" (as sung with ukelele). It was on Sam's mind, as he had spent the entire afternoon captive in his office while a beginning ukelele ensemble strummed away in the immediate hallway. He came home understandably rattled, and I, upon hearing the reason why, immediately favored him with my own interpretation—which, as I've never actually learned the song or seen it written, consists solely of the words "Alo, ha, Oe!" sung over and over in successively more sloping vibrato. Accompanied by vaguely hulatic hip movements.

I consider myself something of an expert on the hellishness of "Aloha Oe." My friend Rachael and I, when we were housemates in college, had a practice of surprising each other with renditions of the Hawaiian favorite, slinking out from around dark corners in the dead of night and crooning it in low and throbbing tones.

Having exhausted my singing voice, I expressed the opinion to Sam that the song "Aloha Oe," while sufficiently horrifying en ukelele, became so much the BETTER when sung very slowly, with a sort of scooping voice-dip between the syllables: "A-loe, hhhha, hhooooi." (I demonstrated.) Sam returned his own opinion that singing it that way was one of the worst things I'd ever done. I said that, on the contrary, it was SO bad that it went all the way back around the circle to "good"—whereupon Sam said it was so excessively bad that it went PAST good, all the way back to BAD again. I had to concede he might have a point.

I then asked if anything ever was so VERY extremely bad that it went all the way past bad, to good, back to bad, and then BACK to good? Sam said he didn't know, and I speculated that at that point it probably disappeared beyond the event horizon and that's what made it so hard to know.

These are the kinds of conversations we have, people.

She's a helper

Hardly a meal goes by around here that Goldie doesn't run in to the kitchen chirping, "Can I be your helper, Mommy?" Mostly she likes the prospect of licking out the bowl, I think, but then again, she likes everything: stirring (or rather, "ftooing") and dumping things in and tapping the measuring cup off on the side of the bowl. And it's totally delightful to have her help. Too often, I'm in a hurry and the last thing I think I want is Miss Goldie slowing me down—but I try to remind myself how much she loves it and how much I love it, having her with me. Sometimes I compromise by saying, "I have to work fast, so I can't have a helper, but I can have a watcher!" And she's pretty happy being my Watcher too.

Maybe the most adorable part of it all is the way she has to stand up on tiptoe, even on the stool. Or maybe it's how she says, the moment something splashes out of the bowl, "Can I eat that little drip?" Or maybe it's just her sweet little serious face as she executes her important responsibilities. But I just love her so much!

B is for Birds, C is for Custard

I was hoping "B" could be for "Bald Eagle" because February is often a good time to see Bald Eagles at Farmington Bay—at least that's what I'd heard. But for whatever reason (too warm? too late/early in the day? too late in the season?) there weren't any. So—B was for Birds instead, and there were plenty of those! Farmington Bay is a great area to birdwatch. We ate Breakfast at a nearby restaurant just for good measure. :)

"C" was for Custard—frozen custard, to be precise. We looked up all the places serving frozen custard on Yelp, and went to the ones that were close enough. I think we tried four different places (am I forgetting one, Sam?). We just ordered a couple items at each place and everyone had small tastes.

It was a bit hard to do a VALID comparison with so many variables coming into play. Really we ought to have had them all side by side, but that seemed logistically impossible without some of them melting. But, we gave it a valiant effort. We tried Freddy's, Rita's, Nielsen's, and Culver's. Culver's was our clear winner and I think Freddy's was second.

(Other alphabet weekends: here).

I can keep going

I had a thought while I was running the other morning.

(Let's pause for a second. Forgive me, but I'm going to talk about running again. And I hate to start a post with an apology, but I know that talking about running is one of those things sort of universally acknowledged by non-runners to be truly annoying, and that most people [probably justifiably] read the phrase "While I was running the other day…" to be, not an ordinary introductory clause, but a thinly disguised statement better translated as "HEY LOOK AT ME! I RUN! I'M A RUNNER! PRAISE ME!"

I accept and acknowledge your pain, but the fact remains that much of my semi-coherent thought occurs while I'm running. I realize don't need to SAY "while I was running," to comment on the thoughts themselves. However, this thought has, itself, to DO with running, so I'm forced to include the context.)

Ahem! Here is the thought. But wait, no, I will back up even more. When I was younger, I used to be so MAD about the effort it took to stay in physical shape. The…entropy of it all, I guess, for lack of a better word. I could spend weeks and months, miles and miles, hill and stair repeats, tears and sweat, making myself stronger and faster. And then I could take a couple weeks off and it would all be gone.

Not totally gone, I guess, but noticeably and appreciably diminished. It used to frustrate me no end. It just exhausted me to think of the effort it would take throughout my life to even maintain my fitness level, let alone increase it—and, of course, this was even before I had children. It seemed so unfair! No matter HOW much work I did as an 18-year-old, if I ever stopped running for a period of time later on in life, all that work would be for NOTHING. (This was my thinking, at the time.)

Well, I got older and had a couple thousand children and it was all just as I feared. I tried to keep running. But my efforts were sporadic and interrupted and paltry. Inside I still feel like a runner. But for fourteen years now, if I'm honest, I haven't had any real justification for calling myself one.

Just as I was afraid of: all those long runs, all those races, what feels like that other life when I was "a runner"—a real runner—they are gone now, and they do me no good. Every time I manage to start running again—as I recover from having a baby, or stop nursing, or feel like maybe I can drag myself out of bed, or whatever it is—I start anew. Just like a beginner. Just like someone who is doing this all for the first time.

And yet here is what I realized the other day, plodding along on my morning run. I DID keep something from all those years, all those miles. Not muscle mass or lung capacity. Something that maybe seems like no big deal, but actually IS a big deal:

I know I can keep going.

That's it! That's what 20+ years of running (or, if you prefer, "running") has bought me. Every time I start again, I know I don't have to stop just because it's hard. I know I can keep going. It's true on a micro level: in a few blocks, my breathing will regularize itself and I'll settle into a pace and it will get easier. It's true on a macro level too: in a few months, I'll be able to increase my distance and it will get easier. It's my only advantage over a true beginner, but it's a big one! I don't give up easily, because I've done it all before. I've pushed through the pain before. I've improved before. Why not now? Why not again?

And I've been thinking just how valuable that knowledge has been to me. In some strange way, the fact that I've had to start over from nothing so many times—that quick fall-off in ability that so infuriated me when I was younger—is the very thing that gives me strength. Every time I start again, I recognize that hopeless feeling of "oh man, I'm NEVER going to make it through this!" and I can almost…laugh at it! Because I always do just keep going (and here I define "keep going" as "eventually, even if it's a year later, I try again"). And I always DO make it through, and it always DOES get easier.

The larger parallels to this discovery are, I'm sure, obvious. But let me explicate some of them all the same: it's been immensely valuable during, for example, labor and childbirth, for me to think, "I know I can keep going." It always gets to a point where it feels impossible and you just…hang on. And you do it. Or during times when a child seems particularly impossible to parent. "I can keep going. I have before. It will get better." And it always seems to, eventually.

Then there are the emotional applications. Even with just the regular ups and downs of life going on, sometimes I feel like I'm sinking beneath deep water. I know I can swim up. I even know how. But it takes a certain amount of effort and sometimes I just lack the energy. I'm not talking about any kind of major depression—I don't pretend to have any insight into that. But just the day-to-day stuff: feeling grumpy and exhausted and unappreciated and unappreciative. Knowing you should be grateful but feeling sorry for yourself instead. That sort of thing. There are times, good times, when I feel like I'm floating on top of that condition of grumpiness. It's there and I might succumb to it occasionally, but a deep breath and a kick or two will bring me out of it again. And then there are times I'm extra heavy and it pulls me under the water and I have to struggle and kick to the surface over and over again. I repeat my little phrases: "I CHOOSE to do this." "Hard things make me stronger." "Think of the things I DO have." And they do bring me up to the surface, and I breathe, and I feel better. But only temporarily, and then I'm pulled back down into disgruntled-ness again.

I guess these times also remind me of the entropy of things, of the constant struggle required to stave off chaos. And it can seem unfair. Can't we ever just rest? Can't we take a break from effort without losing everything? And having to start over?

But I just keep going back to that hard-won truth I learned through running.
I can keep going.
And how would I know that if I hadn't kept going?
So, I keep going.

A is for Application

Seb's application. The bottom spiral section says "If you have a dog and/or cat, you can't be a Nielson. If your name starts with D or J, you can't be a Nielson. [ummm, super subtle dig at your little sisters, Seb!] **WE DO NOT ALLOW 50 or older." I was sorry to hear that. Guess the kids'll be out a couple parents in a decade or so. Also, good thing he asked "Do you have a dog or a cat" in two different ways, just to make sure. Don't want any dog- or cat-owners slipping through the screening!!
Remember when we used to do Alphabet Weekends? It was fun and we liked it, and then for several years everything seemed too busy and we felt that we just couldn't muster up the energy anymore. And then suddenly, we felt that we could. So we're back at it. I don't know if I will post them all here (or how timely such posts will be), but on the other hand, where else would I record these things? I feel that they ought to be preserved for posterity (that is, if any posterity manage to make it through the stringent application process).

For letter "A," Sam had us all prepare applications for someone who wants to become a member of the Nielson family. We're pretty selective, frankly (some more than others). Abe's application ran to about 15 single-spaced pages, and heaven help you if you have any blood conditions! And several of the children turn out to be rather mercenary little wretches, you'll notice. But by all means, consider applying! We do at least eat well, most of the time, if I do say so myself!
Do you like bunnies?
Do you like School?
Do you like flight?
Have you been on a plane?
What is your favorite interest?
Rules: No jumping on couch. Clean home on Friday. Naps if 1-5. No video games. Piano lesson if 8-20.
Pay per month $100. Pay each kid $20 per month.
 Malachi's application told everyone the rules right up front. Probably a good idea. I wasn't aware of all of these rules, but, you know. Ky also had an official-looking sticker prepared which could be placed in the "Becom a Nielson" box upon successful completion of the application.
Abe's application was very official—lots of legal disclaimers and waivers to sign and so forth. It's good he specified that people have to agree with the family's "main views." We wouldn't want any messy political disagreements at the dinner table! Also, there is NO ROOM for blood problems here. Sorry, hemophiliacs! Maybe we might make an exception for mild anemia? BUT DON'T COUNT ON IT!

I also really appreciate the emphasis on having sufficient savings and income. We don't want any free-loaders, darn it! And prior toilet training! Yes! Why didn't I think of making that a requirement years ago? I tell you, if Abe hadn't already been in the family, he would have gotten in on the strength of this application alone.
Phone number.
You have to know what we learn in school.
You can't play with my penguins.
You can't wear my dresses.
Daisy's application is really more of a "take the pledge" sort of document. She covered all her major concerns clearly and succinctly, I think.
My application. You really have to know your "Scarlet Pimpernel," apparently. I know some of you that meet that requirement. You're well on your way to joining us! Better start thinking of your favorite toe to stub.
Sam's application was, of course, a masterpiece from start to finish. I especially liked that he required applicants to list their previous families and reasons for leaving. Can't be too careful. Also, were you raised by wolves?

My goodness, I hate the phrase "Lordy Lordy look who's forty!"

Well, that does it for the applications. Hope to have some great team members joining us soon!

In which I aggregate a bunch of pictures

Not so much to say today about these cuties, except that they ARE cuties---every last one of them. Here are the girls on a day they talked me into doing buns in their hair. I'm not great at it and I need more bobby pins! They are both wearing my favorite color, though.
Goldie dressed up in a bunting to match her baby Fern, by wearing a fur-collared velvet dress under Junie's pajamas. It worked quite well, actually.
Speaking of matching…these girls do it.

Portraits of Theodore

I saved the teeniest, the squealiest, and the dimpliest one for last. You just can't get a bad picture of this guy (unless you count a dirty face as a bad picture; in which case, they're all bad). His eyes are so trusting (or accusing, depending on the circumstance). And he has such a funny smile, and he bounces whenever there's the slightest hint of music, even something annoying like the tail end of a radio commercial. Doesn't matter to him. He bounces like his life depends on it. He laughs when everyone else laughs and he has the softest, tuftiest fluff of "hair" sticking out from the sides of his head. Whenever possible, I kiss him and nibble his cheeks, and he puts up with it for a few moments, but he really has better things to do. Teddy Bear! Please stop growing up!

Portraits of Goldie

Goldie's going through the "terrified of dogs" stage that all of my children have entered at some point. It's strange. For their first year or two they are perfectly content and happy to pat doggies' furry heads, and giggle at their wet tongues, and so forth, and then suddenly it's like a switch flips to UTTER TERROR. So for the past few weeks, Goldie runs inside SOBBING whenever she hears barking. (I could understand a little kid being nervous if a dog is right there sniffing her, but just when one barks from three houses away? Hmmph.) We ate a little picnic lunch outside in our backyard the other day and she would NOT leave the safety of my lap. Not even an inch! I'd set her next to me on the grass and she'd gasp and leap up onto me again and repeat in a nervous, querulous tone, "That doggie can't come over here! That doggie is saying hi to me!" (all the things I've been telling her when she runs in crying). And even inside the house, she heard a dog start barking and she raced in with her Legos in from the playroom and sat next to my chair and wouldn't be budged.

Well, it's her only flaw. Goldie's the funniest, brightest, happiest little sunshine in the world, when no dogs are barking! :) She loves to sing and dance and do anything her siblings are doing, and she's getting closer and closer to reaching the realm of "real person" (though she still says lots of funny and inexplicable things, made funnier by the fact that she is so person-like when she says them). She scoots her chair right up next to me at dinner and says, confidingly, "I'm bein' by-you, Mommy!", accompanied by an inevitably sticky kiss. (Children are always irresistibly drawn to hug and kiss and pat one when they are sticky, aren't they?) And she has hair! Wispy, but definitely hair. We love her to bits!

Portraits of Junie

Junie is always dancing these days. She sings to herself and dances along. When we go to choir practice at church, she twirls and leaps across the stand like the ward choir is her own personal accompanist. (Luckily this is usually before too many people arrive for church…) I get her and Daisy mixed up all the time, especially when they wear each others' clothes! Those two are the best of little friends, but Junie spends lots of time heading up mischief with Marigold while the rest of us are having school, too.

Oh, these silly little girls of mine. They have so many funny and characteristic expressions that cross their faces as they talk! Sometimes when I look at the pictures I can tell exactly the sort of thing they were saying at the time, just by their facial expressions! 
She's telling me how the heart pumps the blood. Lub-dub, lub-dub!
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