25 May 2016

The Story of Izzy

When I moved out of my parents' house, they replaced me with a dog named Schatzie.  I resented this just a little, mainly because they waited until after I moved out to finally get a pet.  I'd grown up around people with pets, both my parents had grown up with pets, why did they have to wait until I moved out to get the blasted dog?!

I remember my mom telling me about how hard it was to potty train Schatzie and thinking that it was a nice karmic justice.  "She'd have been a lot easier to train if you had gotten her before I left," I thought.

Fortunately, Schatzie is a friendly little critter and still loves me when I come to visit, even though I don't see her more than a few times a year.  She comes and sleeps on my bed with me and paws at my door to come in for a belly rub.  She sits by my chair at dinner (when Dad isn't there) and begs for food (because I'm an easy target.)  It's a great thing.  It also meant that I knew I wanted pets of my own as soon as I could get them.

I anticipated getting a dog.  I love dogs.  I love their open affection.  I love teaching them tricks and watching them bark at paper bags.  I love how eager they are to please and how much personality they ooze when you get to know them.  The problem with dogs is how high maintenance they are, though - not ideal for a person who lives alone, works all day, and is often at rehearsal all night.  The poor dog would be miserably lonely.

Cat it is.  I'm already a Utah old maid.  Why not add crazy cat lady into the bargain, right?

Cats are generally introverted, independent little souls.  I'd grown up around them too - mostly my grandparents' cats that hated when we came because it meant being shut up somewhere to save my dad and brothers the allergies.  But I'd had fish (boring) and spent a weekend taking care of a class hamster (smelly) and knew that if I could find the right cat, it would be kismet.

So I went to the local Best Friends Animal Society website and searched for adult shorthaired cats that were under the age of five and over the age of one.  I wrote down the names of all the kitties that looked cute in their pictures and took the list (and an army of help from friends) to the shelter, expecting that I would give them the list and they would present me with the cats for inspection.

Nope.  The shelter is made up of a series of glass-walled cat "hotels" that you can walk into and play with cats at will.  The list I made went out the door and I spent the next hour going from room to room trying to find some kitty that I connected with in some way.

And then:

She was in the first of the rooms by the desk on her back legs, looking right at me and pawing at the door.  And she had those massive eyes and I picked her up and she purred and purred and I HAD TO TAKE HER. 

And re-name her.  She was "Pumpkin" before I got her.  False.  What a horrid name for a cat.  I came armed with a list of Shakespearean inspired name candidates, but she was such a little waif that I couldn't name her "Beatrice" so Izzy it was, named for one of my favorite characters on television and inspired by Isolde of ancient Tristan and Isolde fame.  Funny thing was, she was the first cat on my list, and I didn't even realize it until I had already decided she was supposed to be mine.  And she came home with me.  And she purred and purred and purred. 

Then she pooped. 

And it smelled terrible

And I thought WHAT THE @#$& DID I JUST DO TO MYSELF.  I am now responsible for this creature.  I am sharing a space with her.  I am voluntarily cleaning her poop and she's getting fur everywhere and she could live FOREVER.  I DON'T THINK I'M READY FOR THAT KIND OF COMMITMENT!!

But then she did this

She sleeps with her paws like I sleep with my arms and legs.  We're twins!

And this: 

Yup.  First night she spent with me and she fell asleep on my lap.

And this: 


And my post-pet-partum ebbed away and made room for a furry little critter who gets into mischief now and then, but mostly just keeps me company and makes sure that I'm never alone.  I love the "uh" pout she makes when I pick her up to cuddle when she doesn't want to, but tolerates that I want to.  I love when she comes and curls up next to me to sleep like it's the safest place in the world.  I like when she sits in front of my phone to get attention.  I like playing cat volleyball with her.  I love that when I'm sad or disappointed or depressed I can count on a non-judgmental being to come hop up next to me and make the space a little less empty.  Now I can say with confidence: my children, should they ever exist, will never be replaced by a pet.  They'll just always have one around. 

10 March 2016


It's been a while since I've written.  It's been a while since I've wanted to write.  With funerals (both grandparents, see previous posts) and school and personal drama, motivation has been a bit thin on the ground.  I'd think about what to write and come up short.  (Something about my cat?  No.  I over share pictures of her as it is and no one cares.  Politics?  Too gross to talk about right now.  They're all crazy.  Teaching?  No.  Not enough going on there that's any different from the norm, and if it is different, it's not really a good idea to write about.)

Recent events have had me thinking a bit more than normal about the reality of my life.  I know I write about this a lot as well, but the past several months have changed my perspective significantly in some ways and solidified them in others, and I need to get it off my chest.  Maybe so I can move on to that final stage of grief (past anger and to acceptance).  Maybe because I don't feel like this is a story that I often acknowledge.  Maybe because I'm tired and don't know how better to say what I'm thinking than here.  Having the conversation over and over with myself is exhausting.

I have to accept that to many, I am not the ideal.  Not just my "situation" (as people want to call it), but me, personally.  I am too independent, too "unique", too cowardly, too picky, too something to be married.  (As if abandoning one of those things would magically produce the perfect spouse, lovingly gift-wrapped.  As if the correct formula of goodness or ambition were enough to solve your "problem".)  This is hard, because happy marriages and good family life are a very worthy ideal.  They are also an ideal that becomes a pipe dream for many (even those that are married.)  I've lived enough to see so many of my friends get married, divorced, and re-married.  Whatever love I could have now is not of the naive fairy tale variety.  Regardless of any of that - the fact is, to many, my life is a problem that needs to be "solved".  I am Maria so I must be in search of a Captain. 

I have to accept that many feel I have not yet "arrived" at adulthood.  I am encouraged to attend services with single people of comparable age, where I would then be governed and supervised by married individuals who plan activities largely centered around things the average twelve-year-old enjoys.  Things I hate doing.  In the hierarchy of church thought, there seem to be limits to single adult capability until you are past your expiration date (re: you "age out" of said congregations.)  In fairness, I have been lucky enough to be in a ward for the last year where I am treated with kindness and respect.  It's made a world of difference because it hasn't always been the case.

I feel like I have to validate my happiness to others.  So many assume that to be single is to be desperate when the truth is, I'm not - at least not most of the time.  The truth that I don't know how to tell people is that I am happy not getting married, maybe ever.  To hear them say "when", while I want to say "if", because it is no guarantee.  I find dating utterly exhausting and endlessly frustrating.  It doesn't matter how many times I am told that I am beautiful and smart and how unfathomable it is that I'm not married and that I "will be some day!", the fact of the matter is that I have nearly three decades of evidence to suggest otherwise.  The fact of the matter is that I've never had a boyfriend.  That the closest I ever came was only recently, and said person abandoned me without even the courtesy of a "not interested" text.  Just radio silence and the disappointment of feeling as though I'd let everyone down again.

Even worse - I feel like I have to validate my happiness to myself.  To remember that I have a good life.  That I get the chance to travel, to teach, to inspire, to perform.  That I have a family that regularly affirms and validates me and where I am now.  That I am not sharing stories of children sick with stomach flu or pictures of Sharpie mishaps.  That even though not one little piece of me wants either the flu stories or the marker pictures, there is a very real part of me that sincerely hurts at the thought of not being loved by someone like that and loving them back.  That part of me that wants to break every disk of every movie I own where the guy and girl see each other across the room and give each other that look because, for me, that feels like a dream more elusive than a Hogwarts letter or a wardrobe to Narnia.  That part of me watches friends and relatives meet and marry their intended with what seems to be about the same amount of challenge (and time) as deciding which cereal to buy at Walmart.  That part of me just hurts.  That part of me feels lonely and scared and insecure and lost.  That part of me attends weddings and receptions and smiles and dances but mostly just feels horribly behind.  It's all I can do not to end up in this awful cycle of "what am I doing wrong?!" through to "nothing!  Everyone is stupid" followed by "no, you just haven't met the right one yet" to "I don't even want to meet anyone!  I don't care any more". . . over and over.  It's a perpetual battle against insecurity.

I don't know why I'm sharing this.  I feel like most of the time I think about my dating life I'm putting on a public face of great defiance and not caring.  Truthfully, most of the time I'm fine.  Most of the time I'm happy.  I'd even say that about 90% of the time, I've decided and honestly feel that if I never get married and have a family that is just perfect, and if life goes the other way, then that could be pretty great tooWhatever.  All is just fine in my corner of Zion.  But that other 10%?  That other 10% is much more nuanced.  That other 10% is just exhausted, and feels like screaming at the thought of yet another first date, blind date, set up, whatever.  That other part wants to tell everyone who says I'm beautiful and "it will happen": "YES.  But what if it DOESN'T?!  What if I don't even WANT IT TO?!"  That part of me is, quite frankly, trying really hard not to be angry at the universe for the awful tease of the last few months and wants to go on a permanent hiatus from all things even closely resembling romance.

So that's where I am.  On a hiatus where, for the time being, I'm going to be just a little bit bitter and frustrated and then, hopefully, return back to that 90% happy place.  Theater helps.  The prospect of travel helps.  My cat helps.  Spring is coming and flowers are starting to bloom and soon everything will be a "puddle wonderful" again.

07 December 2015

For Grandpa

When I think of my Grandpa, I think about Captain Von Trapp.

Now, I have to pause for a moment here, because if I know my Grandpa at all, he might take slight umbrage at this.  "Austrians don't like that movie," he would say.

"I know, Grandpa." I would reply.  "But I'm not Austrian.  You aren't Austrian."

I'd have to pause for a second there and acknowledge that if I can consider myself homesick for England, then Grandpa has every right (and probably more) to consider himself an honorary Austrian. But I digress.  (Stay with me, Grandpa.)

The Captain Von Trapp of movie creation also has a great love of Austria.  He loves his country fiercely and determinedly.  My grandpa was an intense patriot.  He spoke often of his love for America.  He studied history with great fervor, particularly the founding fathers and World War II.  He was obsessed with the Golden Age of America - the time when war was unifying and not divisive, when sacrifice was honorable and people truly believed that being an American meant something grand.  My earliest memories of Grandpa revolve almost entirely around history lessons and model airplanes, often smaller versions of planes used in the great wars.  He was always invested in wanting America to be the country envisioned by Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.  (I should also mention here that this was written on December 7th - the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.  Yes, Grandpa - I remembered.)

In addition to his love of America, my grandpa had an intense love of Germans.  I think he felt more companionship with Germans than he did with Americans sometimes - the Germans understood him.  German culture values intense discussion and debate (two things of which my grandpa was very fond.)  They value conviction and boldness in opinion (something Grandpa was never short on.)  Walking through his house is an homage to his kinship with Germany and Austria.  Gifts from beloved friends who were as loyal to him as he was to them fill the walls and shelves.  Every time I visited, I would hear him Skyping with his German and Austrian friends.  Austria was a country that shaped him, molded him, and filled him with love.

Captain Von Trapp was a character of stern exterior but very soft interior.  As a child, my grandpa's deep and booming voice was grand to the point of being almost untouchable.  To hear him speak was to feel as though you were in the presence of a giant.  As I got older, I was let into grandpa's world a bit more, and I realized that underneath his often brazen exterior lay the heart of a poet.  Like the fictional Captain, my grandpa had a deep love of music and romance.  When I think about my grandparents' house, I think of jazz.  My education in Sinatra, Como, Cole, and so many others began in their home in the hills of Ogden.

I also think of Grandpa's great love for his wife.  I asked Grandpa once how he met grandma.  He told me that they met at a dance, and he was impressed by her because she danced so close to him.  He would go on to write numerous poems about her - his beloved "little Margie".  This calls to another connection to the Captain - just as the Captain was heartbroken and fundamentally changed after the death of his first wife, my grandpa was completely broken after the death of his sweet wife.  It was hard to see.  This great, resilient man talked with me in his office just weeks ago about how heartsick he was.  He let me hug him while he cried over his intense loneliness.  He simply did not have the will to live without his companion by his side.

This picture was taken by my sister last June. 
I think the greatest lesson that Grandpa taught me was the value of intense love.  My grandpa was a flawed man in many ways - sometimes his convictions and determination would get in the way of his ability to just care for a person who needed it - but when my grandpa did choose to love something, he loved it completely.  The heartbreak he experienced was terrible, but bespoke of something beautiful too - the love he had for my grandma is the kind of love I want to have for my spouse someday.  They were, like the Captain and Maria, very different in outward personality, but the love they shared for one another was transcendent and holy to me.  To think of them without each other is impossible.  They lived life side by side, usually holding hands.  This deep love was shown to me before grandma died years ago after a back surgery left her immobile.  Grandpa watched her try to eat her peaches with a shaking spoon and tenderly took the spoon from her hands and said, "Margie, you have served me for many years.  It is time for me to serve you."

I will miss the way my grandpa smelled.  I'll miss his slow, deep laugh.  I'll miss his birthday calls and his harmonica.  I'll miss his earnest desire to teach and to share.  I'll miss his great bear hugs.  I will miss hearing him tell me that I am beautiful.  I will miss hearing his praise for and confidence in me.  The last time we spoke, he told me that he thought I was the greatest writer he'd ever read.  I think he was probably biased, but my grandpa did not give out compliments lightly.  It meant the world to me.  Imagining life without our stalwart patriarch in it is strange and empty.  There is a hole that he has left that will never quite be filled.

The last gift grandpa gave me was a music box.  It is a small box that he purchased for Grandma on their mission in Austria.  It plays, what else, but "Edelweiss" - a simple, sweet melody that strikes at the heart of who my grandpa really was - my Captain.

I love you, Grandpa.

17 August 2015

For Grandma

Of my grandparents, my dad’s parents had the less kid-friendly house by far.  They didn’t have cable or toys or Disney movies like my mom’s parents did.  Grandma Newman’s house was the kind of place that was full of discussion and politics and good posture.  It smelled and felt classy.  I remember sneaking into my grandpa’s upstairs office and creeping around it like it was the west wing in the Beast’s mansion.  There was an enormous desk and bookshelves and it felt like (and probably was) forbidden territory.  It was clear to me from a young age that my grandparents' house was a fancy place where you treated things carefully.

My grandma did what she could to make us feel welcome.  While the adults would talk politics, she would sit on the floor with the kids and play cards.  She taught me Old Maid and played endless rounds of Go Fish and Rummy and War and any number of other games I can’t remember the names of anymore.  She was a master of cards, and a master of making sure that everyone, everyone, felt welcome in her house.

She was an intensely spiritual woman, who spoke openly and often of her love of Christ.  Most of the gifts I ever received from her were linked in some way to developing my spirit - music and books and tools to surround myself with and to grow with.  There are two exceptions that I can think of: 

The first was a book.  When I turned nine, she sent me the first beautiful book I ever owned.  It was a large, faux-leather bound book with perforated pages that smelled delicious.  It was a copy of Heidi, along with a card telling me that it had been one of her favorite books as a child and she hoped that I would like it too.  I did.  I devoured that story over and over again until milk from a bowl and a hunk of bread and cheese were my preferred lunch option.  It was the book that got me going to the bookstore.  I wanted more pretty books.  I didn’t want just any copy of Little Women - I wanted the beautiful hardback version with the ribbon and the soft fabric on the cover.  I've often thought that when you share a favorite book with someone else, you're sharing a piece of your soul with them.  I think I took good care of that piece.

The second gift was a quilt.  Last year, she gave each of her seven grandchildren a hand-made quilt.  She’d never quilted before, but she wanted to learn how.  She called each of us and asked what our favorite color was (but wouldn’t tell us why she wanted to know), and spent hundreds of hours sewing and tying these quilts.  She even enlisted the help of my grandpa, to the surprise of everyone, who, so I’m told, was obsessed with making sure the quilts were perfectly square.  She wrote each of us a letter to tell us what she thought about as she made the quilts for us, and shared her love of the gospel, as she always did.  I think it’s one of the most beautiful quilts I’ve ever seen.  It isn’t the most technically intricate, but it was infused with hundreds of hours of love and care.

My grandma had a hiccup that was loud enough that everyone in the house could hear it. 

She had a laugh that lit up her entire face and shook her whole body with mirth.  It wrinkled her nose and her eyes and left her breathless if you really got her.

She had an impeccable sense of fashion.  She took great care of herself.  I never saw her without her toes painted and her hair done. 

She was an incredible cook.  The only thing she didn’t really trust herself to make was pie.  The last time I saw her, I taught her how to make a lattice crust top for an apple pie.  The pie tasted absolutely amazing (thank goodness).  She followed me around for every single step of the pie, studying carefully so that we could make them again this Thanksgiving.  (I promised we’d make more than one for Thanksgiving.  I'm really sorry she's going to miss out.)

I will never forget her courage.  The day of her son’s funeral, she and my grandpa announced that they were going to serve a mission for the church.  They’d been called to go to Austria.  My grandfather spoke German - my grandma didn’t.  Now, only a few short months after the tragic death of her son, she was going off to a foreign land far away from the comforts of home and family to serve the church and the Lord she loved so much.  It was so telling to me that in this time of grief, she looked outward.  She always looked outward. 

The only time she ever got mad at me that I remember was the last time I went to see her.  Grandpa covertly asked me to vacuum the guest rooms before I left because it tired grandma to do the job, so I did.  As soon as she heard me vacuuming, she came hustling in to the room.  

“You stop that!” she said.  

I shrugged.  “Sorry, grandma.  I have my orders.”

“You stop that!” she said again.  

I ignored her.  She wasn’t happy.  So she insisted instead that she make me a hot breakfast before I drove back home.  It was so typical.  She couldn’t let any act of service go un-served. 

I’ve never seen her more beautiful than when I sat down the row from her in the temple the day my brother was endowed.  Dressed all in white, she simply radiated light.  It was all I could do not to spend the service just staring in awe at how lovely she was.  

My grandma made everyone feel loved and wanted.  You can tell just by looking at her picture that she was pleasant and happy.  People who never met her see her face and know right away what kind of person she was. 

She loved her flowers.  Even after she moved to the desert of St. George, she took care to plant whatever she could that would grow.  Her yard always looked lovely.

She loved her Yorkies.  She bemoaned that her dog Lexie would listen to grandpa but not to her, but she loved the little butterfly of a dog anyway. 

I remember the tears of joy on her face when she watched my dad run his first marathon.  I remember her anxiety while he was still running.  She was worried about how he was doing and nervous to see him finish.  She kept talking about how nervous she was and trying to see him through the crowd, which was hard, because she wasn't an extraordinarily tall woman.

I remember watching a Gilmore Girls re-run at her house once.  It was the episode where Richard has retired and Emily is freaking out because she isn’t used to being followed around by her husband all day.  Grandma laughed the entire episode, remembering how hard it had been for her to adjust to grandpa’s retirement when he first retired.

I remember watching her and grandpa hold hands.  I loved seeing the pride and love on her face when she showed me the roses he bought her for their anniversary, or the cutting board he’d given her another time.  She loved my grandpa fiercely and unconditionally.  

She probably wasn't perfect, but if you asked me to name one of her faults, I couldn't do it.

I think it somewhat fitting that she died before she was too old to take care of other people.  It would have been so miserable for her to not be able to help people around her.  She epitomized the words of the hymn “Have I Done Any Good” - she did good in the world every day.  She helped those in need, she cheered them, she lightened burdens, she always approached life with an attitude of doing more.  She saw chances and opportunities to help all around her, and she did something about it.  She lived a difficult life at times, but she filled it with hope and with love and with confidence in the Lord.  I will miss her terribly.  I will miss her cooking this Thanksgiving.  I will miss her laughter.  I will miss her sweet singing and unconditional love and confidence in me. 

I can’t be depressed - she’d think I was being ridiculous if I were.  She is in a place where she is surrounded by like-minded people.  She is working hard doing what she always did in this life and spreading the love of Christ wherever she goes.  She is happy.  Like Paul, she finished her course.  She fought her fight, and now there is peace for me (and for her) in her righteous doing.  I am so proud of her.

I love you, Grandma.  

30 March 2015

Blowing the minds of a group of four-year-olds.

I teach four year olds at church right now. It's a bit exhausting, truth be told. I prefer working with older kids and significantly fewer snot bubbles. (Not no snot bubbles. I can be reasonable. But fewer.)  I've always found babies and toddlers cute in an "I'm really glad I can hand them back to their parents" sort of way. I love working with teenagers. I tolerate working with children. It's been a bit of a challenge this time around, especially since I'm new to the area and got swept into working with kids before I really got the chance to know anyone which stinks, and I really liked the adult meetings the three weeks I was able to go to them. Sigh.

But it does come with the occasional perk, because as happy as I am that those kids aren't my full time responsibility, every so often they are so freakishly delightful or funny that I can't help but want to scoop them up and laugh at them. (Yup.  At them.  Man, it's such a mercy to the world that I'm not a parent right now. . .)

Yesterday was one of those days. The plan was a lesson on the Holy Ghost. I started by talking about comfort objects like blankets or people that take care of you like parents and teachers and then asked what they would do if they didn't have their blankets or teddy bears or parents around and they were feeling sad or scared or sick or needed help as a way of prepping them for the serious magic that is the Holy Ghost. "He helps you to feel happy, he helps you when you forget things, he helps you stay out of danger - He's the best! I love the Holy Ghost!" I said enthusiastically.

"So he's a nice ghost?" they asked.

"Well, he's not really a ghost like in the movies. He's a spirit. Sometimes people call him the Holy Spirit instead."

(Clearly this has not cleared up anything.)

"A spirit is someone that doesn't have a body. Isn't that cool?!  The Holy Ghost doesn't have a body, so he can help everyone all at the same time!"

". . . does he have a belly?"

"No, he's a spirit. He doesn't need to eat."

". . . does he have a nose?!!"

"Nope. He doesn't have a nose, because he doesn't have a body. But remember, He can make us feel so good! - "

"- That's FREAKY!"

Freaky. Exact wording. These poor kids. I can only imagine:

"What did you learn today in Primary, Timmy?"


And that, dear friends, is what they talked about during all of coloring time. "But how can you see if you don't have eyes?! Or walk if you don't have feet?!"

Four year old minds: blown.