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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Warming Up

Warmth II
Originally uploaded by Raymenie.
Our furnace is on the fritz. Not a good situation when the outside temperature is –4 degrees F.

I’ve taken to layering these days. In the morning I wear a tank top, turtleneck, and wool sweater on top, and long underwear, jeans, wool socks, and fleece slippers on the bottom. I sip a cup of hot tea to keep my hands warm. Strategically placed fleece blankets strewn around the house come in handy too. So does sitting close to the roaring gas fireplace.

Even so, don’t you think it’s a bit of overkill? I shouldn’t have to go to such extremes to keep warm, should I?

Fortunately, the coldest our house has gotten is about 64 degrees. There are five separately wired heating zones in our house, and only one of them isn’t working. Bruce suspects there is a malfunction in one of the valves controlling the outward flow of scalding water leaving the pump to the nonfunctional zone.

Tomorrow the heating-guy is coming out to take a look. I’m bracing myself for a $3,000 estimate. Hopefully it will be far less than that. But if I keep my expectations low, then I can only be delighted when the final bill is only $1,500. So much for Thanksgiving in Hawaii.

The furnace thing is an inconvenience, but it’s got me to thinking. I’ve been thinking that my life is a bit like our furnace. Eighty percent of my life is chugging along pretty good – doing its job; staying warm. The other 20% maybe isn’t doing as great as it could. It’s a bit chilly in that zone.

I thought that no one, including myself, would much miss the 20% absence of warmth. Surely, it could be compensated for by the other 80%. But the truth is, this just doesn’t work. If one piece is malfunctioning, the whole thing goes to shit.

(It’s getting chilly in here.)

Fortunately, the heating-guy is just a phone call away. He’s been alerted to the situation, and I trust his ability to help work the problem.

Before too long, I look forward to removing some layers.

In the end, it may be a fix requiring substantial resources, but in the long run, well worth it.

It is better to be poor and warm, than rich and cold.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Go Seahawks!

Monday Morning
Originally uploaded by timoth.
Finally, it may have been definitively proven that I am not the sole cause of losses to the professional sports teams I follow.

Congratulations Seattle Seahawks! I am all “ver-klempt” for you! Sunday’s game may be the only football game I’ve ever watched (almost) in entirety! I cried when it was over!

I am the ULTIMATE fair-weather fan, I admit it. But, it just goes to show what an historic, incredible, mesmerizing thing the Super Bowl will be this year.

I worried that my watching the BIG GAME between Seattle and Carolina last Sunday would cause Seattle to lose, and that would have been a great burden to bear. You see, I have a painful history of causing teams to lose. I would guess my viewing-a-loss ratio at 85%. Those kinds of odds can’t be an accident.

Out of concern for the then-maturing Seattle-sports organizations, I withdrew from fan participation in 1995, when the Mariners lost to the Cleveland Indians in the bid to get to the World Series. I was at that last game. I wanted it too much. And Seattle lost.

I was in despair. It was the only time in my life I was actually interested in a professional sports team. That alone jinxed the poor Mariners.


Yesterday, Sunday, I was uncharacteristically interested in the Seahawks game. I carried my book and a couple of beers into the family room so I could read and drink while Bruce watched the game beside me. Things were going great for Seattle! They were unstoppable! Then, at almost the exact moment I finally set my book aside to focus on the game, Carolina got their first touchdown.


Dog-gone it! That’s what my team got for winning my attention! Fortunately, they were so dominant that day, my powers were ineffectual. Thank heaven.

Perhaps, being in Alaska, my ability to jinx is diminished by the many miles of mountains and water between myself and Seattle. Maybe this is the only safe place from which I can safely watch professional sports.

They won! That is the important thing! What an exciting game! I’m so happy for Seattle!


Oh geez. I just realized what happened. I KNOW WHY Providence let the Seahawks win! Something had to give in the cosmos to make it possible. It all makes sense now. A price had to be exacted.

The first concession: Bruce will be in Vicksburg, MISSISSIPPI for a work-related class on Super Bowl Sunday. He, Jack, and I will not be able to share Super Bowl experience together. Sure, he’ll be able to watch the game, but from MISSISSIPPI of all places! The west-coast of the United States of America will be a distant memory! Maybe he’ll forget about the game all together in preference for poling through a gator-infested swamp.


The other tragic thing is that my mother will miss the game entirely, as she is scheduled to be on an airplane on Super Bowl Sunday – AT THE EXACT TIMES OF THE GAME! What are the odds? Really?! She will be returning to Seattle after a last-minute, week-long visit with ME, that she only scheduled because I whined and complained about how Bruce is going to MISSISSIPPI for two weeks (to pole through a gator-infested swamp). And my mother truly loves football!


I am a traitor to my own family. I am ashamed.

This is what I will do….

1) I will HOST a Super Bowl Party even though Bruce won’t be here. 2) I will actually WATCH the Super Bowl this year, even if it means completely ignoring the children to do so. 3) I will ROOT and JUMP and YELL at the appropriate moments (taking my cues, of course, from my Super Bowl Party guests). 4) I will bring the football-fan spirit to my household in the absence of my mother and husband.

Isn’t that a good idea!?

(I just hope I don’t jinx the game.)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Of Snowflakes and Rock Stars

As I lay in bed last night unable to sleep, I thought about two things: whether or not we were really going to get eight inches of snow overnight, and how Sabrina’s 6th birthday party was going to go.

As of Friday afternoon, our weather forecast for the weekend was formidable. It looked like we might have upwards of two feet of snow by Sunday night. Though I ought to know better by now than to trust any predictions by the National Weather Service, the news was so good, and the Doppler so promising, that I believed it.

The thought of waking to eight new inches of fresh snow, and then having it continue to snow steadily for the next two days was a happy prospect. I kept my eyes pointed skyward most of the afternoon and evening. During the late afternoon, I watched the snow begin falling even earlier than the NWS had predicted. Though I ultimately did go, I fantasized about the need to miss work, due to treacherous driving conditions on the 10-mile stretch to downtown Anchorage.

“This is going to be good!” I thought. I delightedly rubbed my hands together.

Really, the only downside to extreme weather was the potential of being snowed-in and having to postpone Sabrina’s party, which was scheduled for 2pm Saturday. Despite reassurances that we would reschedule, she did not take this possibility well.

The snow level at 8pm when I closed the gallery (after absolutely no customers coming in – only one homeless man with his baby begging for money and three homeless teenagers trying to get warm) was a mere dusting. Nevertheless, I was optimistic. The NWS’s official “Winter Storm Advisory” was scheduled to begin at 8pm. I would just be able to get home before it really started to fall.

Bruce and I stayed up until 11 or so watching the movie “The Brothers Grimm,” which was, in fact, grim. We could both understand why it flopped at the box office. Although, I must say, Heath Ledger, even in a flop, is a marvelous actor. Wow. Anyway, we kept the back deck light on and watched the snow fall. I was disappointed to see that the dogs’ footprints were not filling with snow very quickly (a very reliable litmus). So, after the movie was over, we checked the Doppler again and confirmed a big-ass blob of moisture heading our way.

At 3am I was jolted awake. I looked out our bedroom window at the sky. Where, oh where, were the harbinger, purplish-orange clouds of heavy snow? (Ellie calls this phenomenon “sunset.” Admittedly, it is not a dissimilar color.) No “sunset” at 3am. I put on my glasses and went downstairs to check the Doppler. Bruce, equally anxious, followed me down.

Juneau was crying pitifully, so I let her outside for a “constitutional” and found the inside of her dog crate drenched. She has been peeing on herself as she cannot hold it all night. (To me it is preferable to have her do it in the dog crate than all over the carpet. So in the dog crate she will stay. I do put a towel in with her to absorb most of it. It is probably time to go to Petco and buy some doggie-diapers.)

I digress. The Doppler loop showed the 8-inches-of-snow-producing moisture dissipating and utterly vanishing over Anchorage right before our eyes.

“God loves someone who hates snow more than he does us,” I thought bitterly. (And I know who that person is…. ELAINE!)

I still had a little hope. But when I awoke at 8:30am, not only was there not eight inches, there still wasn’t enough snowfall to fill in the dogs’ paw prints on the back deck.

The good news was Sabrina’s party was ON!

Our family tradition is that birthday gifts appear during breakfast. Today, Sabrina asked where hers were, and I had to tell her they weren’t wrapped yet. I warned her that there were only three gifts – two from her dad and I, and one from Grandma Pat.

Jack was aghast. “Only three presents! That’s nothing!”

Gee, thanks Jack.

“There’s only three, but they’re really good!” I reassured my daughter. And I reminded her that her birthday party was also one of her gifts.

She really didn’t mind. She trusted us completely. She is an ANGEL.

She opened her karaoke machine and her Barbie video recorder with excitement. “These will be perfect for my Rock Star Birthday Party!”

Gee, really?! I’d never thought of that.

Bruce brought the tv/vcr combo downstairs and got us wired for some serious music-video production.

The rest of the morning and early afternoon we scrambled to get ready for the party. I hung the purple metallic cellophane curtain in the doorway between the office and living room. Bruce ran to Costco to get cake, ice cream, Bagel Bites®, and Kool-Aid®. He was kind enough to take Jack and Ellie. Meanwhile, I took a shower, swept, and vacuumed. I knew Bruce was back by his loud bellowing at the hysterically screaming Ellie.

”What happenend?” I asked, alarmed.

Bruce described Ellie’s twice-refusal to potty before going to Costco, then her insistence on a dire pottying need while at Costco. He described Ellie kicking and screaming. He grimaced at the cashier who tried to put the birthday cake on the bottom shelf of the shopping cart with the screaming, thrashing Ellie. “Why would he even begin to think that would work?”

Ellie was sent to her room for quiet time. It was 1pm. We did not see or hear from Ellie again until shortly after 3:00. The party was half over by then. I think she was a little startled to see all those people in our house with neon hair and glittery faces. (Needless to say, as I write this sentence, at 8:23pm, she is still awake.)

We had seven guests at the party (a very manageable number). Upon arriving, they ignored the Bagel Bites® and Ruffles®, and started transforming themselves into, well, rock stars. They were accessorized with two-tone neon hair extensions, make up, tattoos, and jewelry.

Most of the girls knew exactly what to do with the make up and body glitter (a scary thought). They were frenetic with excitement. Meanwhile, in the living room, Bruce warmed up both the karaoke machine and the crowd by singing a tear-producing rendition of “Born to Run.” (I have an excerpt of video for any takers.)

I was amazed how brave those girls were, performing in front of each other and the five parents who had stayed for the party. They didn’t know the words to the songs by Raven-Symoné and The Cheetah Girls, by they reveled in holding the microphone and shaking their hips. Man, they were so cute. And a few of them had scary-good moves. (One mom admitted, ”I think I let her watch too much Disney Channel.”)

After everyone who wanted got a turn at the mike, the group joined in for a Band Aid-like finale. I panned the camera around to everyone and managed to catch classic moments like energetic Abigail suddenly stopping and saying, “I’m tired”; demure Rebecca twirling her necklaces and just barely shaking her bootie; dainty Lauren twirling ecstatically about; and painfully shy Caitlynn holding the microphone in the center of the delirious activity.

It was just a hoot.

Bruce told me later that he had to hand it to me - he couldn’t imagine how it would all work out. I was thoughtful for a moment. I realized that it hadn’t been my idea at all, but Sabrina’s: Sabrina, who has her finger on the pulse of all things 6-years-old and female. Even I had my doubts: I worried that parents would freak out about their girls putting on make up and dancing; I worried that all of the girls would get stage-fright and refuse to play along.

When our first guest showed up, I was reassured. She was one of the few guests who had been told ahead of time what we were doing. Catrina was already decked out to “rock.” She had on a sequined beret, blue eyeshadow, and low-slung pink belt around distressed blue jeans. He dad told us she insisted on being fully prepared before leaving the house. Clearly a girl who takes music and partying very seriously.

Well, I have two more kids to tuck into bed. It’s now 8:42. I just checked the NWS forecast. We’re supposed to get 3 to 6 inches tonight, and two to five inches tomorrow. According to the Doppler, the moisture is imminent.

Yeah, right.

Though I can always hope, I think I’ll just take it as it comes.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Military Ensurance

“I will militantly ensure required homework gets done.” - Linda, “To Bee or Not To Bee,” posted to blog 1/19/06

The above quote was written only yesterday morning. I had opportunity to prove my militancy regarding homework last night at 10:45pm. Bruce and I were laying in bed, and I was venting about yet another challenging day in a time when I am “emotionally challenged.”

I started to rant about Jack – how he hadn’t finished his homework because neither Bruce nor I were disposed to stand over him and make him; how he hadn’t taken his weekly at-home spelling test; how he’d lost his math homework; how there were errors on his language homework. I shared that, while I don’t expect all his work to be perfect, he had brought home a math test a whole section of which he got wrong. I expressed frustration over his reluctance, no – refusal, to ask his teacher for her help when he doesn’t understand something.

“There is a definite pattern of behavior here that needs to stop now.”

As if waiting for something, Bruce and I both stared at each other for a moment.

Then me: “That does it!” I jumped out of bed. “I am not going to go through all this stuff tomorrow morning. We do not have time in the mornings for spelling tests. He’s going to do it NOW!”

So, with a great deal of effort, dragged my comatose, 65-pound son downstairs for an 11pm spelling test.

His eyes kept rolling back in his head. He kept making a break to dash back up the stairs, and I kept stopping him. I wasn’t sure he was awake at all – his blank stare seemed more like that of a sleep-walker than a conscious person.

Meanwhile, I was ranting away, explaining heatedly the importance of getting work done, and why he shouldn’t have watched movies rather than doing homework. His eyes were saucers.

After he was somewhat awake, he took the test. He got them all right. We reviewed the language paper and I pointed out his mistakes, which he promptly corrected. I drilled him about where his math paper might be, but we couldn’t find it anywhere.

Finally, he was excused and he went back to bed.

I’m sure he’ll be scarred for life. I just guaranteed the need for therapy later on.

I know he is just a kid. I know kids can be flaky and irresponsible. I know that my job as a parent is to make sure his work get’s done, and to make sure he understands it. Unfortunately, as I explained to Bruce, there are just those days when SO MUCH ELSE is going on, that schoolwork gets overlooked. My oldest dog has been in crisis since Wednesday and I’m very worried about her. Sabrina’s birthday is tomorrow, and last night I had to bake cupcakes for her at-school celebration. The chicken noodle soup I made last night took a long time, because I had to make the stock from scratch. Bruce has had a difficult week at work, so he needed more re-charge time than he usually does. The kids have all been whiny and high-strung and tantruming. It’s just been one of those weeks.

As I told Jack, if he isn’t able to take more responsibility for his work, depending on Bruce and I to make him do it, and we encounter anomolously chaotic weeks like this one, then this is what he can expect: being woken in the middle of the night to get it done.

Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to look the other way. Not where my kids are concerned.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

To Bee or Not To Bee

Two weeks into second-grade, which he started the Monday after Thanksgiving, seven-year-old Jack came home with news.

“I’m going to be in the Spelling Bee!” he announced.

I was still getting used to the idea of Jack being “gifted,” and if not quite feeling remorse over making a mid-year move up to the second grade, was still insecure about it. What with the Spelling Bee, I felt both a sense of confirmation and of curse: clearly if he already knows enough words to qualify for a Bee, he’s ready for second grade; on the other hand, I am so not ready to prep him for a Bee.

But, what’s done is done. Jack brought home a study book with words for the national competition (second graders only compete locally). There were maybe 1,000 words to study at the beginner level. The study book was set down in the office for safe-keeping.

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon. Pick up kids at the elementary school and the first words out of Jack’s mouth were, “The Spelling Bee is tomorrow – I have to study for it tonight!”

Keeping in mind that The Book has been opened only once in the past six-weeks I tentatively ventured, “Isn’t it a little late to start studying?”

Jack disagreed, promptly seeking out his book in the office (where it had fallen behind the computer desk). He studied for about five minutes.

Then it was: chasing Evan in circles, wrestling with Sabrina, forts with Ellie. Fun stuff.

At seven o’clock, just minutes after tucking Ellie and Evan in to bed, I found The Book, once again abandoned in the office.

I sought out Jack. He was in his bedroom playing cars and Army. “Son?” I showed him The Book.

Jumping to his feet: “Hey, come on Mom! Let’s study!”

I laughed aloud. “Jack, we’ve had almost two months to work on this. Now, with one hour of studying time to go before the Bee; on a night when my dog is in shock, vomiting and unable to walk; at a moment when all I want to do is collapse on the couch and read; you want me to drop everything and help you learn 1,000 words?”

He nodded enthusiastically.

“Jack, I don’t think so.”

His face fell.

I made a suggestion. “Why don’t you get all ready for bed, and study by yourself for a while?”

I don’t know how long he actually studied last night, but this morning he seemed confident.

All day long I fretted just a bit, a little remorseful that I wouldn’t be there to watch him. Though I had asked repeatedly, he had never bothered to find out if parents were supposed to come. So neither Bruce nor I went.

This afternoon, Jack bopped into the van, a-twitter and a bit maniacal.

“Mom! I got out on the first word!” he exclaimed.

“Oh, Honey! That’s too bad. What was the word?”

“I have no idea. I got really bad stage fright, and couldn’t even speak!”

He was grinning from ear to ear.

Sabrina was crying. “My class didn’t get to watch!”

I ignored Sabrina. “So, but, was it fun?”

Jack: “Yeah! It was great!”

“So, did you, like, learn anything!”

As if his father and I had paid him to say it: “I sure did! Next time I need to study!”

“Do you think you’d want to do something like that again?”

“Oh yeah!”

So, there you go. If it had been me, I would have been traumatized for life. But Jack just keeps on going. During the remainder of that ride, I listened to him plot and scheme about how we can have a “Family Spelling Bee” and use The Book to prepare. He also made plans for a Family Game Night some time this weekend, for which he would make trophies for the winners.

We only have so much time in a day. As a family of six, we are divided in what we can do. If something is important enough, like making trophies for Family Game Night, or making Yu-Gi-Oh cards from scratch, or writing another installment of the Captain Smartypants comic strip, then it will get done. As a mother, I am responsible to feed, clothe, clean up after, snuggle, encourage. I will militantly ensure required homework gets done. But I will not spend my valuable time making any of them do “free choice” things they are not truly passionate about.

In recognition of the courage it takes to be in a Spelling Bee, or any other public competition, Jack got to choose dinner tonight. I was quite prepared for pizza, grilled cheese, or hamburgers.

His choice? Chicken noodle soup.

At least it wasn’t alphabet soup.

Yesterday: A Summary

Reminded Bruce to take Juneau to the vet.

Yelled at screaming daughters during pre-school prep.

Almost to Ellie’s preschool when she pipes up, “Where are my shoes!? I forgot to put on my shoes!” Followed by hysterical crying.

During homeward detour to get said shoes, road partially blocked by huge flatbed tow truck.

During preschool-ward drive after retrieving said shoes, same intersection fully blocked by same huge flatbed tow truck. Transit delayed.

One mile farther down road: dead moose in road, victim of hit-and-run.

Trip to library – a positive experience. (Books always are.)

On drive home from retrieving Ellie at 11:40am, worried that I’d scheduled that day’s 11:47am Book Club too early. Hoped no one would leave before I got there.

Arrived home to find Kathie and Gin on front door step waiting in 11 degree cold.

Feasted during Book Club.

Got a call, during Book Club, from vet telling me to stop giving Juneau lysodren immediately – the dosage I was giving her was lethal. Wracked with guilt.

After picking up Jack and Sabrina from school, got a phone call from Seattle-friend Jill announcing birth of other Seattle-friend Gillian’s baby. Joy for Gillian, remorse that I missed her entire pregnancy.

Ordered goodies from hospital gift-shop for Baby Joseph.

Bruce came home with Juneau, and he called the hospital to talk to Kent and Gillian. We both got to chat.

While sharing joy with Gillian, Juneau goes into shock and starts vomiting everywhere and shaking.

Bruce called vet on cell phone. Vet ordered prednisone.

Distractedly finish conversation with Gillian. Feel guilty that sick dog is distracting from the joy of new baby.

Juneau, for some mysterious reason, suddenly can’t walk. Later, she can’t even stand. Several times I have to carry her outside to go potty.

Evan’s poopy diaper goes unnoticed until it’s gone into overflow mode.

Jack announces one hour before bed that it's time to study for tomorrow's Spelling Bee. Bruce and I refuse to help him - he's had a month to do it. We are too tired to drop everything at the 11th hour.

Put kids to bed asahp (as soon as humanly possible).

Read and read and read, trying to escape, and also relax (I was very “tense” by this point). Proud of myself I didn’t turn to the bottle of white zin as a coping mechanism.

Did my daily Bible reading.

At bedtime, Bruce winking and hinting. Me declining. More guilt.

It truly wasn't the worst day I've ever had. Not even close. I never even cried. Nevertheless, let's hope today is better.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Home Alone

After maintaining a unnatural amount of serene composure for most of the last month, while we had company for the holidays, I am surprised to so fully crash today. Today is the first full day without company since December 20th. But rather than a euphoric attitude of reclamation and freedom, I am depressed and sluggish.

I spent some time with the kids today – they have the day off from school, in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. With Sabrina, I talked about Dr. King, and my description of his heroism made me cry. I watched Sesame Street with the kids, and all the actors from my own childhood happened to be on today – Luis, Maria, Susan, Gordon, and Bob. That made me cry too.

Household chores were on today’s “To Do” list. While I lay on the guest bed sobbing, Bruce did some vacuuming. Later, after pulling myself together, I worked on the kitchen. Amazing how quickly I remembered how to do dishes again after a four-week respite.

I cleared off some kitchen countertops that were stacked high with all kinds of detritus. From the “wine counter,” I removed flash cards, photo albums, paperclips, a Christmas box, the new Frank McCourt book, baby wipes, and some kid drawings. From the “telephone counter” there were magazines, books, lotion, one toothbrush, more baby wipes, lots of stickers, and various other things.

All Evan’s soiled diapers are now mine to change, as is all the food preparation and cleanup. I alone am responsible for identifying empty food and water dishes for the dogs.

Woe to the friends who have tried to call me today. I have been unable to muster much enthusiasm for them.

I work tonight, so in a few minutes I will go shower and get “human.” It’s probably a good thing, because the idea of curling fetal position in bed all day is very appealing.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


I don’t know why I always do this to myself….. It’s like I actually enjoy angst….

(Well, maybe just a little bit.).

I knew when I picked up Mary Roach’s newest book, “Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife,” that I was in for trouble. This new work sets out to see if there is any physical, scientific evidence to support life after death.

By virtue of my personal religious leanings, it could be assumed that I believe in an afterlife. I guess I do. Afterall, what is the point of religious conviction if not to somehow get to heaven? Suck up the Creator of the Universe and avoid annihilation. Right? Good stuff.

Nevertheless, without expounding too much, suffice it to say that I have always had a difficult time comprehending “eternal life.” So, it’s a bit of a sensitive subject for me.

I read a lot, and don’t much censor myself. If something is well-written, or thought provoking, or simply highly entertaining, I’ll read it. But this exposes me to all sorts of things that challenge my thinking, leading to many sleepless nights. Challenges to faith, politics, parenting, safety, and sexuality, just to name a few, occur on a frequent basis.

As far as “Spook” goes, I was right to worry about my reaction to reading it. Though a thoroughly enjoyable book, a little bit of pain and discomfort is exactly what I felt upon finishing.

“Spook” is Roach’s second book, following her hit, “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.” In my own macabre, gross-out kind of way, I loved “Stiff.” She infused just the right amount of humor to diffuse the “yucky” parts, and enough tenderness to avoid being irreverent towards the dead.

Initially, I was excited about reading “Spook,” but a little nervous too. I gathered from “Stiff” that Roach is not a particularly religious person, and with “Spook” I worried that she would be deliberate in her efforts to debunk the billions of people who believe (or try to believe) in an afterlife.

To my delight, she didn’t do this at all. If anything, she approached the subject with a kind of vulnerable hopefulness that in the end actually inhibited her ability to infuse the sidesplitting humor of “Stiff.”

To research this book, Roach traveled the planet exploring the phenomena of reincarnation, near-death experiences, mediums, ectoplasm, and haunted locales. She talks to myriads of researchers, both the grounded sort and the somewhat ethereal sort, and she even enrolls in medium school. Towards the end of the book, she progressively reveals a certain disappointment at not seeing hard proof of the human soul.

As I neared the end of her unsuccessful attempt to obtain physical evidence for the afterlife, I found myself just a little depressed. As much as I would like to admit otherwise, Roach seems unable to secure concrete evidence.

Despite this, in the “Afterword” she admits to a certain kind of leaning towards a belief in the afterlife that didn’t exist when she first started her project.

After finishing, I spent some time venting to my husband about my own internal turmoil regarding the afterlife. I told him how Roach’s book once got those old questions restless and roiling.

I believe in God, no problem. He’s sort of made Himself known to me enough over the years that it’s finally kind of sunk in. But this whole afterlife thing… Come on.

Aloud, I pondered whether the disciples really ever saw the risen Christ, or whether, like many mediums, sincerely believed in an illusion. I grappled with where we go and what we look like when we die.

When I finally finished my rant, Bruce sleepily asked, “Didn’t we address that last Sunday at Bible study?”

So, while poor Bruce tried to fall asleep, I rustled and shuffled through the nearest Bible searching for hope. Here is what I found:

From 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 in The Message Bible:

12Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? 13If there's no resurrection, there's no living Christ. 14And face it--if there's no resurrection for Christ, everything we've told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you've staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. 15Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ--sheer fabrications, if there's no resurrection.
16If corpses can't be raised, then Christ wasn't, because he was indeed dead. 17And if Christ wasn't raised, then all you're doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever. 18It's even worse for those who died hoping in Christ and resurrection, because they're already in their graves. 19If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we're a pretty sorry lot. 20But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.

“Huh,” I said, turning out the light.

“Find what you were looking for?” Bruce grumbled.

“Uh, well… Yeah… It said that basically if I don’t believe in life after death, then I’m saying Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, and I’m furthermore saying that Christianity is a lie and history as we know it basically collapses into a quivering mass of pointlessness.

“And it’s all my fault.”

“Great. Now go to sleep.”

I added, “The Bible seems to be pretty clear in establishing that there is an afterlife. I guess if God says it, it must be true. I guess I just have to trust Him.”

Go figure.

I’m not sure Bruce even responded at this point. I can tell you I remained awake for at least another hour.

I don’t know why this continues to be such a struggle for me. But it does bring a deeper level of meaning to another verse out of 1 Corinthians:

12We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! (1 Cor. 13:12)

I don’t see anything clearly. Mary Roach, for all her doggedness and talent, doesn’t see things clearly either. Nor do any of the people she interviewed. If this world really does exist in a mist, then by its very nature, it lacks the ability to explain what is outside of it.

Many, many people share the very same doubts that I am finally willing to admit to struggling with. Many of my fellow questioners, because the intellectual issues loom so large, are unable to ever reconcile them - to let go of the need to understand absolutely and concretely. I think if it weren’t for some profound “encounters” I’ve had with God – specifically, the God of Abraham and Moses - I would side with the unbelieving camp too.

In a weird way, I think God takes pleasure in my doubt. I think He has a purpose for it. Obviously my wiring and personality are innate, and I will always be compelled to question things, especially myself.

In the same way He always has, and I do mean ALWAYS, at my moment of greatest crisis, gentle words, in this case 1 Corinthians 15, come to rescue me.

Does This Seem Strange to You?

How I know I’ve been in Alaska awhile….

Yesterday morning began with a phone call from Bruce.

“Did you hear Mt. Augustine erupted this morning?”

I hadn’t heard that. The seismic event occurred at approximately 5am. My response to Bruce, “Well, I didn’t feel an earthquake or anything.”

Bruce: “Oh, it wasn’t very big. Just a burp, really. The ash cloud is heading northwest.”

After getting off the phone, Mom, Evan, and I ate a leisurely breakfast, then we bundled up, grabbed our cameras and headed for Glen Alps, which is in the mountains and has a great overlook of Anchorage and pretty much everything else to the north, west and somewhat to the south.

We were unable to spot the ash cloud – it was quite hazy to the west. Even if it had been clear, we might not have been able to see anything. I later learned Augustine is actually 75 southwest of Homer and, from Anchorage, probably entirely obscured by the Kenai mountains. (Still on the Alaska-geography learning curve, I am.)

We took some pictures of the low morning light on Mt. Susitna (aka Sleeping Lady), then headed back down the mountain.

We didn’t have any specific plans, so we decided to try and find an antique store and do some browsing for “treasures”.

On the way to town we spied a moose and calf munching in a parking lot so we paused for some pictures and video.

Found the antique store within which I was specifically searching for wall décor for my eggplant-colored bathroom, and possibly for some Alaskana art. My heart started palpitating when I found a print by Fred Machetanz (a very famous Alaska artist). It was one I hadn’t seen before (this isn’t saying much), but that made me sure that the $150 price tag was a great bargain. (Supply and demand, baby.) I called Bruce at work, he did some “googling” for me, but we really couldn’t find out much. He recommended I walk away. So I did, but only after putting a hold on the piece so I could some more research.

We picked up Ellie from school and were excited to see yet another moose resting in the drainage ditch on the preschool grounds.

Got home, at leftovers for lunch. Made some phone calls. Researched Machetanz piece – didn’t find out much more. With reservations and regret, decided to walk away.

When Bruce got home from school, he sat the kids down and gave them lessons on how to breathe through their shirt should they encounter an ash cloud. I impatiently tapped my foot – we were going out for dinner; I was hungry. “Why don’t we just get some of those mask-thingys?,” I asked. Meanwhile, the kids rolled their eyes. They’d already heard all of this at school.

So, Mom took us out to The Bear Tooth Grill, a locally owned and extremely popular restaurant. The kids licked their plates clean (literally – I’ve never seen them eat so much food at a restaurant before), and then we hopped across Northern Lights Boulevard to Title Wave Books, the best and biggest bookstore in Alaska. I was feeling a bit queasy (too much dinner?), but after a very margarita-y burp, started to improve.

Bruce wanted to check out new fishing books. He was unsuccessful finding a book, but he did find a second-hand DVD of the movie “Sahara.” I found the new book by Gail Godwin, just hot off the press. I also thumbed through a book with Fred Machetanz’ work, looking for the piece I’d found in the antique store. Still couldn’t find it. Meanwhile, the kids each found a book.

We made our purchases, headed home and tucked kids in to bed. Bruce watched his movie, I finished my library book (“Spook” by Mary Roach), and then we headed to bed.

As I lay in the dark, I reflected back on the quintessentially Alaskan day. Two years ago I would have been deeply impressed by it: moose, a volcano, Fred Machetanz, and The Bear Tooth.

What would have been a strange and unusual day two years ago, now seems normal. That, I realize, is the weirdest thing of all.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

M.I.L.K. Musings

This morning I had M.I.L.K. This group, which stands for Mothers with Infants and Little Kids, has existed for almost a year now. In spite of my best efforts as co-founder and co-leader to sabotage us, we continue to grow.

A year ago last fall, Eleanor approached me and said something about wanting to start a mothers' group, along the lines of MOPS. In an attempt to affirm Eleanor, who is one of the sweetest women I have ever met, I told her I would be happy to help her out.

So we sat down and started brainstorming. We talked about how such a group might be structured and who we would be targeting. It seemed both possible and important. So, we moved ahead with it, and we both found that, being very different kinds of people (she is a soft-spoken, gentle-spirited extrovert; I am a gregarious, outspoken introvert) we brought different skills and vision to the floor. And so we divided the labor, working towards our strengths and experience. And suddenly I went from helper to leader.

I clearly remember our very first meeting. My job responsibilities were, and still are, as follows: devotional leader, craft/activites leader, publicity leader, member database administrator.

I spent HOURS preparing my first "talk." I spent hours designing paperwork and forms and a flyer, and a made a handy notebook to store it all in. I spent hours talking to Eleanor - working out our "vision" and "mission statement." I wrote up a.... compact....? contract....? ( I can't remember the word; it seemed a very important word one year ago; I used it all the time - how could I have forgotten it?). We met with our pastor. We recruited babysitters. At our annual meeting, we appealed to the church congregation to help subsidize the cost. We agonized over the name. I spent hours researching different kinds of crafts we could do....

(CHARTER! That's the word I couldn't remember! I spent hours drafting a CHARTER!)


The name M.I.L.K. is nerdy. I admit it. Jeff still smirks every time he says it. "M.I.L.K." with just a bit of a lilt. But, I've gotten used to it, and no longer cringe when I say it.
We have a motto now, too: "The sisterhood of motherhood." I don't think I perjured it from anywhere.

Anyway, our first meeting consisted of only three people: Eleanor, Anne (who, as someone with adult children, we recruited to be our "mentor," a.k.a. our sage), and myself. I played the previously-recorded snippet of music that I had carefully chosen to portray our collective motherly angst. I spent way too much time reading the four meticulously footnoted pages of my talk, my voice probably wavering the whole time. So as to be clearly seen and heard, while reading, I stood behind Pastor Jeff's podium .

When I was done, both ladies patted my back. Anne suggested I do the talk again for the next meeting, when surely there would be some actual attendees.

I could never bring myself to do that. Instead, I tucked that CD away in the front pocket of my carefully organized M.I.L.K. binder, and filed my notes behind Tab #3 of that same binder, where they can both still be found; reminders of a floundering first attempt.

So, here's how I prepared for the M.I.L.K. meeting we had this morning: I cannabalized a craft idea from my writing group friend, Kathryn; I jotted a few notes for a "talk" last night at work, and it wasn't even linear or organized in any particular way. I planned to speak mostly extemporaneously when the time came. I was not organized. I was not (at least in my own mind) particularly leader-ly. I felt guilty for being so half-assed.

This morning, at 10:15, there were only five of us. We started to wonder whether anyone remembered we had a meeting, or if they had finally wised up to our racket.

Five minutes later, there were twelve women.

Okay, now, I know that those numbers aren't staggering in general. Woodstock this was not. But I am staggered. I'll make an admission that I've only ever made to Eleanor so far: sometimes the preparation and effort feel like too much of a bother. I don't know what I'm doing. I'm fumbling my way through it all. I am inadequate. Sometimes I just kind of wish everyone would quit coming so we could say, "Well, gee, it looks like it's not meant to be."

Well, with twelve women, I can't really say that. Especially when two of them have offered to join the "Leadership Team," as I facetiously call it. Hm.

I'm not sure this group is the best fit for everyone. There have women who have come once and never again. But there are more who come once, then twice, then three times, and each time they come they bring a new friend. There has been conversation, deep conversation, exposing at times the most sacred thoughts and fears that women/mothers/wives feel. More than once, I've left thinking, "Wow, I thought I was the only person who thinks that way." We laugh a lot too. We have differences of opinion. We all want a connection.

So, that's M.I.L.K. I'm a little scared, I confess, because I'm seeing that it's not going to go away. It's not like when I learned to play the drums in high school, or when I was a sales person for The Body Shop at Home, or whenever I start a new novel. It's a lot more like parenthood. You bring a child into the world, and then you are responsible for it. Most of the time, being a parent is hard, agonizing, thankless work. But then, you see your baby smile, and say its first word, and take its first step. It gets easier, better, more fun.

There are women responding to the need to feel connected. I feel like God is giving me a bit of a kick, saying, "Come on, you've got work to do." And now, there are more workers.

Time to get my head out of the sand.

Things I've come to realize through doing M.I.L.K.:
* This is something God wants me to do.
* Sometimes I need to do something simply because it needs to be done.
* Being successful doesn't mean always feeling motivated.
* I am not the only neurotic woman in Anchorage.
* My kids are wonderful.
* I am not an idiot.
* No matter how unexcited I am the night before a M.I.L.K. meeting, I always have a great time and leave with an overflowing heart.
* I love public speaking.
* I am not very good at crafts.
* Babysitting really does "make it" or "break it."
* Being a parent is the best thing in the entire world.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Thirteen Years

Snowshoes were the gift this last Christmas. With the exception of seven-year-old Jack, who got a pair from Uncle Doug a year ago, my mom stocked the rest of us with snowshoes and poles. Even 22-month-old Evan has a pair now.

Though it is actually this next Monday, Bruce and I celebrated our thirteenth wedding anniversary today. For the first time since we moved to Anchorage in October 2003, I actually participated in a real Alaska wintertime activity – snowshoeing.

Late this morning, we drove the fifteen upward-winding minutes east of our home to the Glen Alps trailhead, which is part of Chugach State Park. Along the way, we spotted a moose munching along the side of the road.

At Glen Alps, the parking lot was full. It was a balmy 32 degrees, versus the 23 at our home. The down coat I brought was much too heavy for the conditions, so I just threw a wool sweater over my long-sleeve t-shirt and called it good.

We struggled into our other gear and hit the trail. The trail is suitable for walkers, snowshoers, skiers, skijorers, and horses. We saw no one on the way up the trail. I thought about bears and moose, but saw neither. I thought about the stories I’ve heard about people wandering just off a trail and literally stumbling upon a hibernating grizzly.

We were definitely in bear country, as various human-posted signs again and again pointed out. However, the great beauty of wintertime is that not only are tourists greatly diminished, but so is the bear menace. There are moose to worry about, but other than the one we saw from the safety of our car, the only animals to be seen were bounding, tongue-lolling, hugely-smiling puppy-dogs.

We hit a smaller trail that led off the main trail, down towards a creek, which was cheerfully gurgling down the mountainside. We crossed over the manmade bridge and wound up the opposing hillside, finally departing from the main trail and truly testing the meddle of our new snowshoes.

Anyone who has snowshoed before can attest to the elliptical motion of walking through deep snow. It was a great workout, but we didn’t long stray from the main trail. Being fairly out of shape, I tired easily. I was having a bit of remorse that I hadn’t brought some sort of windbreaking shell of a coat, as there was a breeze. Nevertheless, I never once got chilled. We looked westward down the valley towards the Anchorage bowl where isolated shafts of sunlight hit tiny bits and pieces of the lowlands, lighting them up in brilliant gold.

I looked to the east knowing that there is absolutely NOTHING for hundreds of miles. It was a sobering thought. When the Park Service posts signs warning of the perilous nature of recreation in the Chugach Mountains, they aren’t kidding. It wouldn’t take much to wander too far from the main trail getting oneself lost, and really, there is only one way out. The weather can change with the snap of your fingers. I watched as lavender and butter-colored clouds raced by overhead. A few rogue snow flakes flew past us. But for the most part, though overcast, the weather was clear and warm.

We were only out 90-minutes or so at the most. By the time we headed back up to the main trail, far more people were out and about. As we wound up the hillside from the creek, a woman who was walking her two dogs passed us by. She looked us over, and eyeing our snowshoes, very insensitively said, “You don’t need THOSE.” And she indicated the smooth, compacted trail on which she walked with mere duck-boots.

I muttered and puffed the rest of the way up the hillside. Here I had been feeling cocky and proud of myself – feeling like a true Alaskan outdoorswoman in my snazzy purple snowshoes. The rest of the trudge back to the car, we encountered a great deal more people on the trail. Only one of them wore snowshoes. There were a couple of Nordic skiers. The rest were in boots. Several had small children toddling along by themselves. One couple had a baby in a stroller. (Yes, the trail deep in the heart of the Alaskan wilderness was stroller-friendly.) But the final straw were the joggers. It’s really hard to feel like you’re a pioneer when you’re sharing the trail with JOGGERS.

Oh well. My sub-arctic adventures need to start somewhere.

So, that is how Bruce and I spent our thirteenth anniversary (two days early). It was a wonderful time.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Rest in Peace

I have been in avoidance for the past two days.

Tuesday morning, while the kids rushed around preparing to return to school after the two-week Christmas break, I checked email. One was from my brother. There was an Internet link to an article in the Seattle newspaper. The article was about the first American casualty in Iraq since the beginning of 2006. The soldier who was killed was a 37-year-old man named Chris Van Der Horn. The photo accompanying the article was of the soldier holding his new baby.

It took a moment, but then it hit me. Chris Van Der Horn. I know him. Boy, did I know him.

We were in high school together
We were in youth group together
We went on a two-week “mission trip” to Weed, California in high school
Two of my close high school friends lost their virginity to him
He was the only guy I ever skinny-dipped with
He was one of many present at my 16th birthday bash (my parents were in Canada at the time – say no more)

My most initial, visceral response to this news (other than not wanting it to be true), was that it was typical of Chris to make headlines, even in death. If Chris were in fact "fated" to lose his life in Iraq (not a point I have the remotest interest in arguing, or even forming an opinion of), then it is typical that he would do so with style. By being the first casualty of 2006 he is receiving greater attention (deservedly so). I mean no disrespect by this. Everything Chris did was with style and larger than life. (Though I can't remember the specifics - it's been a long time - I'm fairly sure this isn't the first time he's made news.)

I have spent the last couple of days, in bits and pieces, allowing memories from 20-years-ago to come back. It has been a little bit painful, both to think of him being lost, but also the renewed potential that someone who is killed in Iraq may be someone I know.

Several weeks ago, I got an email from my brother, Doug, and his wife, Kathleen. There was photo attached to the email. It was from my 16th-birthday party. It had me in bed with two boys (fully clothed, OF COURSE). It is a compromising picture, but also a fully staged one. I was hideously embarrassed, but showed it to Bruce anyway. “Okay…..” was his response. I can honestly say this was photographic evidence of an event from my life I would sooner not remember.

Except, one of those two guys is Chris Van Der Horn. Looking back, it’s a little odd that this particular photograph would turn up just a few weeks before Chris’ death. It hasn’t been seen for twenty years. (My mom thinks it’s even weirder that I would have kept it in the first place.)

He was one of those people who radiated confidence and vulnerability, charisma and compassion. You couldn't meet him and not be somehow affected by him. It turns out, even Bruce and his two sisters knew of Chris during their high school years.

My secondary response to the news about Chris was wondering whether he was still walking with God at the time of his death. Silently I said a prayer, asking God if Chris is with Him now.

In high school and college, it seems many of the people who went to youth group did so for social rather than spiritual reasons. Though the Chris I knew could be as carnal as any other high school boy (we had an off-color nickname for him – was it “VanDerPorn”?), he always struck me as someone whose faith was genuine.

I was always a little intimidated by Chris. He always looked ten years older than the rest of us. I remember always being a little incredulous that he was actually the same age as us. He was one of those guys for whom it is impossible to be “clean shaven.” He had jet black hair, and even by the time he arrived at school each morning, he already wore a shadow on his jaw. His typical attire consisted of a white tank undershirt and a pair of fatigues. His body was not the lanky, sunken-chested physique of the rest of our peers. He had the body of a man – muscles and hair in abundance. At age seventeen he looked twenty-five.

As a teen, Chris was both a paradox and a nonconformist; a person passionate about people and ideas. He was a complicated person, even in high school. You couldn't put him in a box. He was virtuous and, at the same time, for lack of a better word, sensual, living a vibrant life both inwardly and outwardly. It comes as no surprise to me that so many people loved him, and that he loved them right back.

At that tender age, I did not know how to reconcile his factious personality. I thought then you were either “good” or “bad”. He seemed very much a “bad” boy in a Harley Davidson, Marlon Brando sort of way.

This morning, Thursday, I got another email from my brother. It was a commentary by Robert L. Jamieson, Jr., a columnist for the Seattle Post Intelligencer. The following is an excerpt:

“The Van Der Horn family plans to hold a local memorial service this month at their home church -- First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue. This house of worship was where Chris forged his faith during his teen years. He worked with a youth pastor, reaching out to junior high kids.
In the 1990s, Chris -- a young soldier at the time -- had his religious foundation shaken. Military duty sent him to Bosnia, the site of mass rapes and genocide. Later, he was in Sierra Leone, where marauding thugs used machetes to chop off arms and legs of innocents.
After seeing brutality of man against man, Chris came home wondering where God was.
His faith, family members say, rebounded with help from his wife, Teresa, a devout Christian.”

I confess I am heartened to hear that after all the things he saw in the military that he maintained his faith in God. I am comforted that his family has their mutual faith to sustain them through this tragedy.

I don't remember anyone who didn't like and respect Chris; he who, at an age where the rest of us just wanted to eat pizza and watch MTV, was unique and true to himself. He both fit in and didn't fit in, everywhere.

Even though it has been almost 20 years since I last saw or talked to Chris, my heart aches for the loss of him. Living in Alaska, where a large proportion of our small population are military folks, it is common to know, or know of, many people who have been stationed in Iraq, and even killed. I worry every day about opening the paper and reading the name of a dear friend. I did not expect the bad news to come from so far a distance, and so far in the past.

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