The Sweetness of Grace

In my last post I mentioned that right now, a sloth with ADD has more reliable attention than I do. But I still want to try to cultivate my habit of spiritual reading, so an audio book can really help. Here’s a review of the book I enjoyed most recently: “The Sweetness of Grace,” by Constantina R. Palmer.

“The Scent of Holiness” is one of those books that just can’t be long enough: because I couldn’t bear for it to end, I’ve now read and listened to it six times. Yes, it’s that good. So when Constantina Palmer released her second book, “The Sweetness of Grace,” I couldn’t wait to pick it up. Except as a mom of four (soon to be five) I can really only “read” audiobooks, so wait I did, an intolerably long period until the audio version came out.

Some books can probably be read by anyone, but I’m glad Palmer reads her own works. The warmth of her telling brings the personalities she describes to life. More than this, however, her work shines because of the sense of spiritual wonder it reflects, and that is most easily seen through her eyes and in her own voice. It’s this sense of spiritual wonder and close observation coupled with keen reflection that makes both her works so unique and valuable. Readers will learn and be challenged spiritually, while also being comforted. I listened to this book during a time of spiritual dryness and fatigue, and while some kinds of spiritual reading can feel like an irritant or burdensome during such a time, this book managed to both uplift and give me some much needed rest and encouragement.
“The Sweetness of Grace” stands well on its own, but many characteristics of “The Scent of Holiness” are repeated to good effect as well. As she previously ordered anecdotes around the prayer rope, Palmer now orders the stories around the Beatitudes, giving the collection a purposeful and beautiful structure. I doubt the reader exists who will not take away some strengthening insight from this book.

The Faith that Moves Mountains of Laundry

Nine years ago I didn’t know if there was a husband out there for me. Eight years ago he showed up, seven years ago we got married, slightly more than six years ago Firstborn arrived. And we are now waiting on number five to do her appropriate developmental thing and jump out in July. And I am overjoyed.

Except when I’m not. This has been the worst pregnancy yet for morning sickness – medication and IV fluids required. With four children underfoot and the fifth literally draining away my life force every minute of the day I’m exhausted. I’m holding onto gratitude by a nail.

I’m wondering what happened to my spiritual life, which for about five minutes back in September felt like it was going kind of ok. Nothing to brag about, but not bad for me. Then we found out about #5. No energy or focus to pray, I send up Jesus prayers like emergency flares in the split second before I fall asleep at night. I’m trying for spiritual reading via audio books but I feel like a sloth with ADD. Also, spiritual exhortation kind of annoys me at the moment. Whatever energy I have is taken up by virtues like remembering to brush my teeth. Kneeling on a rock for 1000 days is a little out of reach.

Or sitting on a pillar, whatever is your thing. I guarantee, the minute I get comfortable on my pillar someone will need a diaper change or snack. I haven’t fasted “properly” since getting pregnant with #1, between pregnancy and nursing. Church services have been hit or miss, though with the pandemic we’ve been blessed with streaming services so I can pray while flat on the floor (is it a whole prostration or only half if you can’t get up again after going down?).

The Lives of the Saints aren’t currently my thing either. My husband likes the story of a saint farmer who was so bent on giving away everything, he even gave away the family cow. And I wonder why it wasn’t his wife who got canonized.

My favorite saint at the moment is St Maria Skobtsova, who turned a somewhat checkered life into a font of practical mercy. It’s said she smoked and drank beer (both off limits to me right now but I can try to emulate her other virtues). She’s quoted as saying “piety, piety, but where is the faith that moves mountains?” And I’m wondering if she might have agreed it takes a lot of faith to move mountains of laundry or to part seas of dirty dishes. That perhaps for a particular saint and place a pillar is just right, and from some of us is demanded the changing of dirty diapers and the feeding of hungry children.

I don’t want to be self-satisfied or complacent, and I don’t want to be searching through my days for proof I’ve “done enough.” But voices encouraging the asceticism of family life seem to be few, and I do think that should change. So, here’s my tired little voice from my obscure little blog. Domestic asceticism does have the advantage of being 99% unrecognized, so humility and secret virtue are almost a given. Carry on, exhausted ascetics.

The Dennee Five

I hate how long I’ve hesitated to announce we are expecting our fifth baby, but I didn’t feel like just throwing it out there like we did with the other four. Not because I’m embarrassed, but because I just don’t feel like finding out who among my acquaintances is ignorant, judgmental, and vocal (a distressing and depressing trifecta). Because even when we announced our fourth we got flak (and sorry guys, four kids just isn’t a big family, whatever Americans seem to think – our Amish neighbors have 15: that’s a big family).  As another mom put it, people treat that baby like it’s a choice, not like a person. And they don’t hesitate to tell you whether your choice was good or bad.

They don’t treat him or her like an immortal soul who God honored you with a role in creating. Not a member of the human race, the crown of creation who God made in His own image. Rather, as your family grows, Americans tend to treat each child like a number. “How on earth will you take care of five children?!” Well, they don’t think of themselves as five children. They know they are individuals and yes, so do we. Though according to the above graph we probably just shouldn’t even bother naming #5.

There are practical considerations. I was sort of grateful to find out this child is a girl because boy appetites are positively a trauma to parents and maybe having just two of those is a mercy. And with girls there’s such thing as hand me downs. My boys wear their clothes so hard they are single use only.

I felt like announcing this child warranted a whole blog post because during our fourth pregnancy I got so many questions, I fully expect to field the same inquisition again, and to save time I’ll just answer them ahead.

  1. Do you know what causes that? I have a working theory but four is a super small sample size, so the hypothesis warranted further testing.
  2. Do you own a tv?
    Incidentally, no, but I have had one in the past and if it’s a substitute for your marital intimacy can I help you find a therapist?
  3. How can you afford five children?
    We totally can’t. Email for my address – feel free to send checks. Also, thank God you thought of that. The first four didn’t financially destroy us but the fifth surely will.
  4. Aren’t you worried about population overgrowth? Paul Ehrlich has been widely debunked, Boomer (sorry, it’s your era that was so enamored with him and seems unable to get over it).
  5. How can you pay attention to that many children?
    Well, that many children pretty much keep each other super busy 80% of the time, and otherwise I’m a stay at home mom, so what am I doing besides eating bon bons and watching my stories?
  6. But seriously, don’t you guys know about birth control?
    About what now? Did you know the German word for birth control means “anti-baby pill?” Which, points for truth in advertising, but…are you anti-baby? What kind of person are you? OMG. What a monster.
  7. You’re a modern woman with a master’s degree – don’t you feel bad staying home and not using it?
    With a houseful of children there are few degrees more useful (perhaps a nursing degree?) than a degree in rhetoric.  Also, I’m hoping that my rhetoric will rub off on them, and they’ll one day be five rich lawyers. And I’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

(Book Review) Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Fr Nicola Yanney

Three years ago my family and I moved from my native Oregon to NW Wisconsin. It’s not much of a move compared to Fr Nicola Yanney’s immigration from Syria to Nebraska, but in a small way I left everything I’d ever known, and when I heard about this book I really needed to read it. It told the story of another soul who not only left home and church and family, but who settled here in the American midwest.

I’m sure it’s a different place than when the Yanneys originally made their homestead, but in some ways we face similar obstacles. Out among the farms, Orthodox parishes are few and far between and usually small. A regular pastor might or might not be attached to a parish. The elements and the climate can be harsh and unforgiving. In rural America, people are still often monetarily poor.

“Apostle to the Plains” is the story of a man who, in the midst of all this rocky soil, not only sprouted, but in Christ bloomed and flourished. In a worldly sense he endured tremendous sorrow. As I listened, I found myself in tears approximately every forty pages, because of all the bereavement that was so common at the turn of the 20th century (which is a compliment I must pay the authors of this book – I don’t recall the last time a historical biography engaged me on such an emotional level).  Fr Nicola bore every cross. He sacrificed everything most of us consider most valuable: family, honest prosperity, a home. But in the words of the Apostle Paul, “whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (Phil 3:8). Fr Nicola Yanney truly exchanged everything he had for the pearl of great price, and he continued to do so until he died.

On a wider historic level the book gives readers a glimpse into the foundations of Orthodoxy in America, and through Fr Nicola’s eyes, a very personal experience of the struggles the church suffered in becoming established here.  I am a convert to Orthodoxy, and without people like Fr Nicola to shepherd Orthodox immigrants through those years, I wonder if an American Orthodoxy would’ve survived for me to be baptized into. On behalf of myself, my husband and my four children  (who were all baptized just after their birth) I feel deep gratitude to Fr Nicola and those like him who sacrificed so much temporal treasure for the sake of eternal gain. IMG_20200507_100211_075

Educating at Home

How’s everyone doing out there with this weirdness going on? Every day it’s something new. Sort of. Us introverts are more or less carrying on as usual. Homeschool parents are feeling kind of validated. Which led to this post, because a few friends have asked my input recently. More explicitly, “you do this all the time – how do you do it?!”

My first thought is “I don’t!” Not “I don’t home school,” but “I am not doing what you are doing.” I had the privilege of homeschooling from the start, which means I’ve set up my life, to some extent, around schooling my kids. It’s part of every day and has been from the beginning, so we have a lot of advantages: routines, expectations, lots of time to think (since before my kids were born, in my case – that’s when I decided to homeschool), lots of time to study and learn how to teach my own kids, connections in a homeschool community. This is not to discourage you or say that without these advantages you can’t homeschool your children well. It’s a suggestion that we compare apples to apples. We are playing entirely different games.

To my mind, in this quarantine situation, parents who are temporarily schooling at home are more accurately substitute teachers. Well, guess what? I did that too. It was my first job after grad school, and it was harder than any job I did before or since. You are not only tasked with teaching, but with somehow picking up where a different teacher (with a different approach and style, because she is a different person) left off. You probably need to help your students keep up with a syllabus so that they aren’t behind and don’t forget what they’ve learned when regular schooling resumes. You might even be doing it while keeping up with your regular job. Friend, that’s a tall order.

So, while acknowledging that our situations are so different and possibly I don’t have much idea of the hurdles you face, I can offer the following suggestions. They are submitted in a spirit of solidarity, as parents who want our children to grow up with the best resources we can give them, whatever that might look like under normal circumstances.

1. Pray. Begin each day with prayer and begin each lesson with prayer. Not religious? I believe God honors whatever grasp of truth we possess, so do what your conscience prompts. Just take a minute to remember what our ultimate goal is: these children are gifts, and our efforts honor the gift.

2. Pace yourself. When you’re home with kids all day, giving the kind of attention required by formal education, it’s exhausting for all involved – if you don’t pace properly. Every moment does not need to be filled. You do not need to be together at every moment (constant togetherness is a recipe for disaster in any relationship). Here’s our schedule to give you an idea of what I mean. Bear in mind that we are in no way religious about this schedule. In fact, yesterday was sunny and warm, so we played outside and called it a field day.

5am: Wake.

5-6:30am: Chores, free play.

6:30am: Morning prayers.

7am: Breakfast.

8am: Outdoor play, weather permitting (inclement weather is any temperature below 0 – our time outside is sometimes short but it helps get the “ya-yas” out.

9am: “Morning basket.” This includes a prayer for God to help us with our mental efforts, a Bible reading, the life of a saint, discussion of a prayer by a saint (we choose one for the week to talk about), and a poem. Often they are sipping hot cocoa while this happens.

10am. Free play, often Legos or play doh or coloring. Sometimes we listen to an audiobook or music.

11am: Nap or rest, depending on the kid.

11am: Academic time with oldest kid – reading, writing, math.

12pm: Lunch.

1pm: Outdoor play.

2pm: Afternoon academics, including history, geography, literature, nature study, natural history, art appreciation, music appreciation, or hand crafts.

3pm: Free play. Sometimes a project with mom.

4pm: Dinner, usually while listening to the “Readings from Under the Grapevine” podcast.

4:45pm: Pyjamas, prayers, brush teeth, bedtime stories.

5-5:30pm: Bedtime.

Does it look like minimal academic time? My oldest is just about to turn 6 and we follow a Charlotte Mason philosophy, which means the academics are somewhat intense but the periods are very short. Quality over quantity, which I think is a good lesson for any educator – it just works with where kids are at developmentally. Lots of time left for movement and exercising other parts of the brain.

3. Don’t underestimate the learning value of all things that are not “school.” We waited until almost age 6 to begin formally educating our oldest, because of Charlotte Mason’s persuasive argument that until age 6, kids have more important work to do. They spend 6 years learning all about the world around them, developing a relationship with it, and developing personally. Only after that important “first-hand” work is complete, is it time to approach abstractions like letters and numbers.

Remember it’s a season, and education is a long process. Few things we do on a given day will make or break the long term results of our kids’ education. Our relationships with them, however, are slightly more sensitive. Emphasize relationship over school and both relationship and learning seem to benefit.

Get outside in nature, cook or bake together, get reacquainted with your pets or your hobbies. Tell stories you didn’t have time to tell before. Reconnect. This weird chapter in our lives could be made into a gift.

What I’d Have Said Had I Been There

Yesterday was my dad’s funeral. After a series of disappointments I won’t list, I wasn’t able to be there. If I had been, I’d have read the following. This is the Paschal homily of St John Chrysostom, and I can’t think of a more meaningful text for the circumstances (well, other than the text of an Orthodox funeral, but dad wasn’t Orthodox, so he missed out on that). St John tells us everything about why we should not fear death. At all. And if there’s any place I want to hear that, it’s at a funeral.

“If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; He gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And He shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one He gives, and upon the other He bestows gifts. And He both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.”

Memory Eternal, Thomas Dawson. ☦

Just Eat Your Spinach

A couple of times this year I’ve written that I feel like I’m dying, so now that I believe you’ll be stuck with me a while longer, I feel obliged to offer an explanation, if not an apology. If the last one to the grave writes the epitaphs, I’m still in the race. Looking at you, Christina.

I saw a neurologist, who told me that whatever is wrong, it’s not in my head. I really appreciated that because the first three doctors I saw seemed to think that it was – one even suggested I was just depressed. I said, “but I feel happy…” She said, “well, you can be depressed without having a low mood.” I was first diagnosed with depression at age 9, and in 30 years of contending with mood disorders that’s a new one on me. I was sleeping 18 hours a day, had chronic joint pain, and brain fog that made me feel drunk, but to be honest, I have rarely felt happier. I was too dumb with fatigue to worry or feel sad about anything.

Most importantly, he said, it’s not anything scary like multiple sclerosis or early onset Alzheimer’s. Overnight oxymetry even ruled out sleep apnea. So the good news is, I have none of those things. So, so, so much gratitude. The bad news is we still don’t know what I do have.

If anything (other than celiac, which is quite possibly VERY MUCH enough). 30 days ago I started an autoimmune diet and started trying to work out again. 30 days ago “trying to” were the key words in that sentence, because I could barely peel myself off the floor, I was so tired. Tonight I completed a 30 minute HIIT workout without thinking about it.

So, the other obligation I feel here is to do a little evangelizing. The good news is this: like your mama told you, eat your veggies, your fish, and your pastured meats, and you’ll be strong like Popeye. Or something. That’s basically the only change I made. Having a celiac diagnosis, I also dropped all grains, and to find out if I have other issues I temporarily eliminated dairy, eggs, legumes, and nightshade vegetables. I’m adding those back one at a time starting this week. Not grains, of course. Grains and I have finalized an acrimonious – apocalyptic, even – divorce. But the takeaway is this: I got kind of responsible about my nutrition (compared to my previous diet, which included days of living on coffee alone, at times – I have four kids under 6 – don’t judge), and I now feel better than I felt before I felt terminal.

Your mama knew what she was talking about. Eat your spinach.

Why I Write…Really

Back to our regularly scheduled programming: attend!

My degree is in teaching writing. I’m slow to admit that as I feel it holds me to a standard I’m usually too lazy to meet. In part I pursued English as a career because I enjoy watching the torture inflicted by my very presence at parties when people begin to think I must know grammar and proper usage and they tie themselves in mental knots trying to avoid split infinitives or dangling modifiers.

For the record, the last actual grammar class I took was during my undergraduate studies in 2002. These days I mostly know grammar by feel just like all native English speakers. In fact, if anything, my attunement to grammar is a curse, because it’s genuine torture to hear words like “gift” being used as a verb – “I gifted her a Strunk and White first edition” – and feel that such use is completely barbaric and also know that it’s a historically and factually correct use that has been observed since the 16th century. OMG, SO wrong and yet so painfully right…

No. The real reason I wanted to teach writing had nothing to do with my grammar Nazi streak. It was the discovery that I see life differently when I’m writing it than when I’m living it, and that was an epiphany to me. One tends to want to share epiphanies with others: therefore, teaching.

Day to day, I am extremely practical and tend to bury my nose in the next thing on my extensive to-do list. I miss the forest for the trees because I seem to be a reincarnated border collie. I am wired for the doing, constantly doing, always moving, preferably running.

But as better people than me have observed (Ferris Buehler), you can let a whole life slip through your fingers like that. My kids are growing up, my relationship with my husband is developing, my farm is evolving, the seasons are changing, I am aging.

Unless I write it I’m unlikely to laugh at my ridiculous goats, who are a total menace as well as a riot. The other day one of the does got stuck in the chicken pen. She was losing her mind. Her friends were losing their minds. The chickens were losing their minds. The barn cats were sitting back and munching popcorn. I was annoyed at the addition of another problem to solve in an already-overloaded day. But dang, man. The farm beasts are the best entertainment money can buy, if you pause and attend.

Unless I write it, it will pass me by that even in my third winter here the cold continues to surprise me. My husband and I both spent almost the first 40 years of our lives in temperate climates, and as we drove from Oregon to Wisconsin in the November of 2017 we watched the temperature drop with some awe. We drove through Dickinson, ND, and noted that 9 degrees there was the coldest temperature either of us had ever experienced. Two years later, I’ve survived a wind chill of -53, but I still seem not to understand cold well. Monday night the temperature fell to -7, and as I walked from the house to the barn to do chores I was somehow surprised at how cold it felt. Having experienced weather so much colder, why did -7 feel so cold? Well, genius, temperature past a certain point is no longer relative. It’s a good thing I’m writing that down, since it seems not to be sinking in otherwise.

Unless I write it I miss the fleeting moments in which my children are themselves at this particular point in their lives. My Marta will only be this two and a half year old girl for a short while. She will soon outgrow her ridiculous toddler quirks. Right now she plays little games – she asks “what did you say?” over and over until you realize she heard you just fine the first time and is trying to see how long she can keep you engaged (or how long she can keep a straight face, since manipulating adults is the top amusement in her life).

So there we have it. I love writing because it forces me to attend. I apologize if it doesn’t always generate the most fascinating blog content. I strive for interesting writing but sometimes I’m also clacking on the keyboard just to record and notice. The only people I teach now are my four homeschool kiddos and occasionally my friends who remember I have the skills to polish a resume for them. But let me tell you one thing: even if you never love your writing enough to let other eyes see it, keep writing. It helps your own eyes see much more clearly.

A Drunken Narcoleptic

What a wild ride this has been. I hesitate to write so soon just in case it’s not over, but I am starving for normalcy, so I’ll take the risk. Please accept my advance apology for any awkward or clumsy language use in the following, because the events of the last three weeks significantly affected my language understanding and use.

A drunken narcoleptic.

That’s how I told my husband to treat me for the past three weeks. I was so tired I couldn’t remember my own name. After he went to work, the lunatics were in charge of the asylum. As far as I can tell there’s some other adult here besides me who puts the milk in the cupboard rather than the fridge and who is constantly beginning chores and walking away in the middle. I called the feed store and made the poor guy tell me goat mineral prices three times because it took me too long to write them down: I forgot in the middle.

I was so tired that when someone suggested that coffee could be affecting me paradoxically somehow, causing me to be sleepier, I dropped it the same day. That’s right: I broke up with coffee. My love and the only friend that has been constantly holding my hand through days of barely being able to keep my eyes open.

Now, I know how to deal with being tired, how to carry on. I’m a former Alaskan fish processor, a three-time marathoner, pregnant four times, and mom of four resulting newborns. I think I have earned a PhD in fatigue studies. Still, last week my husband had to stay home from work two days because I could not get out of bed, and once up I couldn’t stay awake.

I’ve seen four doctors in search of a reason behind this. Starting last August, at which time my baby started sleeping through the night regularly and there was no reason for me to feel deliriously sleepy, fatigued, and in head to toe pain.

“Your labs are all normal!” the nurses said cheerfully after the first two visits, and I never heard from them again. After the third visit I got referred to a neurologist to test for narcolepsy, because “your labs were all normal in October – no reason to check them again.” Well. I guess I’ll go home and try to feel as well as my labs indicate that I am.

Last week we bit the bullet and visited a Mayo clinic hospital, 45 minutes away, that bastion of medical competence and leading edge of research. They agreed that there were more labs to be run. My doctor called me on Friday: “celiac.”

Now, I suspected wheat was a possible offender and dropped it in October when doctor #2 threw up her hands and said “there’s nothing wrong with you.” At least three members of my immediate family are significantly allergic. And after I stopped eating it I did, indeed, feel better. Until early January.

“It’s possible you accidentally ate some gluten through cross contamination,” my doctor said. “And folks with celiac can have allergies to things other than wheat. And having celiac increases your odds of developing other autoimmune disorders…” The ongoing severe brain fog, he said, was concerning. It wasn’t uncommon with getting “glutened” and could be expected to last up to a month. But he wondered, especially, about the part where I had become quiet because it was too hard for my brain to construct sentences, and I couldn’t read because text was too complex, and couldn’t listen to audiobooks because sentences were too long for me to follow. I never realized how confusing English syntax could be if you couldn’t remember the subject long enough to apply a verb to it, or remember who did what to the object. I have a referral to a neurologist.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to adult in a 24 hour drunken stupor, much less tried to parent or run a small farm in one, but I havent felt this dazed and confused since college. I promised lifelong loyalty to my orneriest dairy goat because I milked her one day, walked out of the barn with her still in the stanchion, and forgot about her till I came out to collect eggs two hours later. Poor beast.

Fortunately my children are pretty vocal and if I left them in a stanchion they’d say something. Loudly. And probably offer me some choice words about putting them in a goat stanchion (though what farming parent of a three year old hasn’t considered it?).

So I dropped every possible allergic offender from my diet: coffee, dairy, wheat, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, sugar. I subsist on meat, fish, vegetables and fruit. I started exercising again daily because I read that could clear the brain fog. I consume enough omega 3s (in whole food form) to rebuild 20 brains. I do think things are improving: friends were over yesterday and I think I managed to hold a reasonable adult conversation with them, though I accidentally left that morning’s milk in the freezer and forgot it, and almost nuked an empty bowl, leaving the broccoli on the counter next to the microwave. Look at me – I’m even taking a stab at writing.

And here’s my favorite funny about the whole thing: what if I’m not suddenly mentally incompetent, but in reality have received sudden enlightenment in regard to my true, lifelong mental condition? Maybe I was always this much of a train wreck and I only just noticed…

I’ll keep you posted!

Let Us Attend

“Attend!” barked my 10th grade French teacher.

“Wisdom! Let us attend!” cries the deacon.

And I got F’s in attendance throughout all my schooling. Including grad school.

The whole world is red flagging my lack of attendance.

I feel like there’s a theme here. The new year is approaching and everyone seems to be choosing a “word of the year,” and while I usually rebel against such trends, sometimes they actually do represent a good idea. A word to focus my attention on for the year, one to center my efforts around. A theme to…attend to.

In English I hear “be attentive.” In French it means “wait.” In Latin it actually means “to stretch toward.” Sort of like you do when you’re waiting and being super attentive, listening so hard you’re about to fall out of your chair? Ah. That’s the word I’m looking for then. Because I’ve noticed a glaring lack of this in my life.

I am a doer, an early riser, a marker of benches, a measurer of accomplishments, a writer and checker-offer of “to do” lists. When I feel bad about myself I remember a handful of my proudest accomplishments and they genuinely make me feel better. For a minute. But then I remember that in reality those accomplishments represented me only for approximately the moment in which they were happening. I want to think that as a person who finished several marathons with reasonable times that this means “I am a person who completes marathons!” And I did probably take away something valuable from the experience. But is that the most important quality in me now? Do I really have to throw myself back 13 years to find my most redeeming quality? Isn’t there anything more to me, now?

Only if I stop and look at now. Only if I…attend. But I’m usually way too busy for that. I’m changing diapers, feeding children, cleaning a house, milking goats, worrying about the budget, cooking the food, pursuing a side gig for some extra money, writing a blog. Right now I do not have time.

And yet it’s a truism that right now is the only time I have. Right now is when I can watch my little people unfold, like little presents daily unwrapping themselves, into the people they are. Right now is when I can be thankful for the food, the home, the sufficient income, the useful work.

I thought about choosing the word “present,” like be present, but the fact that “attend” is an imperative verb is helpful to me. When I hear it, usually it’s somewhat shouted. Deacons don’t whisper and neither do high school French teachers. And I probably need it shouted at me. I am not good at hearing it.

Step 1. We are losing our TV. If you’ve known us for any length of time, we’ve been TV free three separate times. Each time, after a year or two, someone has kindly corrected our lack of electronics. We are about to uncorrect.

Step 2. Limit phone time. I love my phone to death, no joke. I love sharing pictures of my kids with family we left in Oregon two years ago. I love texting with friends, since as a rural stay at home mom in a one car family I don’t socialize a lot. I run an Etsy business that I publicize through social media. But I shudder at my habit of turning to my phone in times of stress or boredom. Once upon a time stress and boredom were a source of creativity. Time to return them to their rightful throne.

Step 3. Attend! Be present. Anchor to reality through five senses, radically accept this current moment, be here, now.

Those are the goals and that is the word for 2020. Attend. I imagine it will greatly improve everything it touches.