The Watchman

The Watchman

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tradition!!!!!!! Tradtition!!!!!!

In the Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye sings about tradition. Work, taking care of the home, going to school - these were all traditions in their family that he sang about. I am thinking about that as I sit here with my family watching Survivor, one of our family traditions. Wil is determined that he will one day be the one to outwit, outplay, outlast; so we look on this as preparation and support of him in his goals.
This is also the time of year full of traditions. For the last week we have been partaking of some of our family traditions. Thanksgiving dinner is full of tradition at our house. The menu never really changes: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato casserole, pistachio/marshmellow salad, corn, green beans, rolls, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. When I have tried to alter the menu or even provide appetizers, there is rebellion, whining and the appetizers go uneaten.

Since the kids were little, we have had traditions that made the wait till Christmas measurable. I can't say which is my favorite.

I have always collected Christmas books. Each year I select and wrap up 30 books and put them in a basket. Then at night, a child unwraps a book and we read it as a family. We have always believed in the youngest to oldest or oldest to youngest method of determining who goes first.

Another tradition is the advent calendar. Since our boys were little, we have used the same advent calendar. It is not the traditional chocolate behind the window calendar, but it a multi-level, multi-faceted-activity wall hanging. Rick's mom made it for us when Jon was just two and it has been part of our Christmas ever since. For each day leading up till Christmas, there is a scripture to read relating to the birth of Christ. Then figures of Joseph and Mary are moved along the path to Bethlehem. Finally, during key scriptures, there are additional figures that are placed on the path. On Christmas Eve, Joseph and Mary reach the stable, then on Christmas morning, before we open presents, Rick rereads the nativity story and the baby Jesus is placed in the manger. Thank you Lorraine for replacing this for us.

On Christmas Eve, the kids open a single present. It is always the same, but they look forward to it each year - pajamas.

I have always thought that as they have grown older, my boys have taken my obsession with these rituals with a grain of salt, rolled their eyes, and humored their mother. What I learned this year was that they still enjoy participating. This year has been a renewal and reaffirmation that our traditions are what make our family who we are. They become the threads that tie our family together.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Christmas Letter


December 8, 2010

Dear Family and Friends,

A Christmas letter is often used to highlight the achievements of family members throughout the year or to provide a travel log of excursions taken. During any other year, I would be content to tell you how Rick and I continue in our respective jobs, that Hunter is still serving a mission in Montana, that Wil is a senior and started lifeguarding this year, that Jon continues to excel in his academic pursuits, that Lela took up swimming competitively this year and truly rocked the pool, and that Emily remains my sunshine and brings joy and love to our family.

But this year was so much more. On June 26, 2010, our neighbor, based on advice that he had been given, decided in 115 degree heat to burn weeds and yard clippings. Within a very few minutes, our home was totally engulfed by flames. So instead of the normal Christmastime chatter, I want to spend some time letting you know how truly blessed we are and how a kind and loving Heavenly Father does know and care for his children.

Right after the fire, we often heard people tell us how sorry they were for our tragedy. This was not a tragedy in our minds. Yes, we had lost everything but a few photos and other memories that were able to be pulled literally from the rubble, but we were all alive. At the time of the fire, all of us were home except for Hunter and Wil. From the time the girls saw the flames in the carport till the home was completely surrounded was not even five minutes. It only took ten minutes for the first fire truck to arrive on the scene, yet by then our home was gone. The tragedy would have been if instead of just things, one of our children had been lost. And from this experience we have been truly blessed.

We have learned that the Comforter spoken of by Christ to his disciples is a true being. Rick and I felt Him with us that first night as we lay on a borrowed air mattress trying to sleep and He has been with as a constant companion throughout the last six months. Once we were recognized His presence, we could also see where He had been with us during the proceeding year. Some of His gentle promptings we heeded, such as the monthly fire drills Lela had suggested, others we disregarded or delayed, such as getting a storage shed for Hunter’s belongings. Yet we know we were protected and He continues to guide us as we work to rebuild.

We have also had our faith in mankind restored. Everyday at my job, I am faced with the worst that one human being can do to another. I see the results of those who have chosen to give in to selfishness and greed. It has become too easy for me to not trust and to look for the negative before the good. Yet this experience has taught me that in the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.” The flames on our home had not been extinguished and I had not returned from the doctor before we were inundated with offers of places to live, furniture, clothing, groceries, toys, etc. After taking me to the doctor to be treated for smoke inhalation, my friend took me to the local WalMart to buy the basics. On every aisle, I was greeted by someone who had heard what had happened and put their arms around me. Rick, who remained at the fire was surrounded by friends who kept him company.
Wil wrote the following in a paper for school, “Facebook, my one way to get away from what was going on, was also a way for everyone who were my friends and were online, that knew what was going on, to tell me how sorry they were and asking if they could do anything to help. That’s what everyone was saying. People would come over with a bag of clothes and ask if they could do anything else to help. People came over with food they had in their fridges and asked if they could do anything else to help. People would come over, people I didn’t even know, some I still don’t know and give us their condolences and hugs and ask us if there was anything else they could do. None of these people, none of them will ever know how much they helped. For weeks after the fire my family was asked everywhere we went how we were doing. And we would always say we were fine and thank them for their concern, but in truth we were far better than fine, because we had so many people there for us that we were just overwhelmed with love.”
So now we are in the process of rebuilding. I wish I could say it has always been smooth, but it hasn’t. Insurance companies are businesses and are not there to readily give money away. But we have started our new home, have enough money in the bank to complete it, and expect to be back there in February/March. Every day we make progress in rebuilding the emotional foundation of our children as well. Eight-year-olds should not need to know about firewalls, but we have told our contractor, that when it comes to that point in construction, he will be tasked with explaining how our firewall is constructed to reassure Lela that her new home will be as safe as possible.

What we know after this year that Heavenly Father does love us. He does hear and answer prayers, sometimes in very unexpected ways. Our testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been strengthened. Christ taught us to love one another, to love your neighbor as yourself. He did not say to only love your neighbor if you belong to the same political party or attend the same church or go to the same social club. We still continue to see the love of Christ expressed by those around use. As Wil said we are doing far better than fine.

And so as a family, we wish you a Merry Christmas and that the love of Christ may shine for you, just not in as dramatic a fashion as it has for us this year.

Love,
Rick, Ann and family


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Shining Stars: The Girls

When I started writing these blog entries about my children, I wanted to put in print my feelings for each of them. When the boys were young we had purchased multiple copies of the book I'll Love You Forever. If you have never read this children's story, make sure you have a box of tissue handy. In fact even if you have read it and choose to reread it, you better have a box of tissue handy. The focus of the book is the love between a mother and her son. I had used the books to write messages to my boys as they grew with the intent to give them to them when they married. Of course these were lost in the fire, so I felt a need to put in writing the love I have for my five beautiful children so that they will be able to read it often.


By the time we moved from Colorado back to Utah in 1997, we were sure our family was complete. Jon was only three, but we were focused on building a solid life for our family after years of travelling with school and the military. Before we knew it, Jon was in school and so was Rick and the time to have more children was gone we felt. Then something happened that set our lives on a new path. Rick started a new job in Ogden and the first thing he brought home was a severe case of strep throat. He was able to recover after a series of antibiotics, but it took a year of round after round of antibiotics and having my tonsils removed for me to regain my health.


At that time we also realized I was pregnant. Filled with confusion and concern regarding my ability to complete a pregnancy, we turned to our Heavenly Father in prayer. What we received was one of the most profound and definitive answer to prayer that I have ever received. We were wrapped in the arms of the Holy Ghost, He whose mission is to provide Comfort to all of His Father's children. We were also provided with the knowledge that we would have two more children who had been patiently waiting - one with dark hair and one that was blonde, but that the baby I was pregnant with was not one of them. Shortly after that prayer and answer, I did miscarry, but the knowledge that we were to have two more children remained.


Now you may wonder why I am sharing such a personal experience. First many people assume that because of the age difference between Jon and Lela that she must have been an oops and so we had Emily as well. I want them to always know that they were wanted and planned. Second on this day of Thanksgiving, I feel compelled to express my gratitude for a Heavenly Father who I know does hear and answer prayers. He loves each and every one of his children and knows us just as I know the children I have been blessed with and is willing to care and aid us if we ask.


LelaJane and Emily


Yin/Yang is the concept that comes to mind when I think of these two firecrackers. Not only in looks are they two sides of a coin, they have always relied on each others strengths as they have made their way through their lives. Emily has always been Lela's baby and Lela has always been Emily's hero. Yet I see Lela draw courage and confidence from Emily's presence, just as Emily can be calmed and focused by Lela. One of their favorite tricks is to tell people that they are twins. Then they both will just giggle leaving the questioner confused. When one is sick, the other is there to take care of her sister. When one has a game or performance the other has to be there to cheer her on.


As they have gotten older, their interests have diverged. Lela is more athletic. She loves tumbling, swimming, volleyball, etc.; anything that keeps her moving. Lela is determined. When she was five, she decided she wanted to learn to ride a bike. She spent one day at the park practicing on the grass and then everyday she would practice on her own in our driveway. One day she told her dad to take off her training wheels. He was cautious about doing that, but he did at her persistence. Off she went. She had done it. She approaches everything this way.


Emily is more artistic. She loves to craft. She can take paper, scissors, tape and glue and create amazing things. One day when she was only three or four, Rick stayed home from work ill and decided to keep Emily home with him. I came home to find that at some point during the day, Emily had crafted herself a doll from paper, aluminum foil, tape and a glue bottle. Rick was totally unaware that this had happened. Needless to say Emily went to daycare from then on when Rick was home. But it also shows how self-sufficient Emily has become. As a youngest child, you would normally think she would be used to being taken care of, yet she is the one who takes care of everyone else. She loves to cook and is always helping in the kitchen. She is the one who will make sandwiches or snacks for her siblings or get a bowl of cereal with milk. She will tell you how everyone likes their cereal if you ask.


Lela and Emily are just starting to discover themselves. Soon they will be separated during the day as they attend different schools. Last week I was discussing with them that once Lela starts Intermediate School, they will not be in the same school again till high school. At first they both giggled and thought it was funny, then they both looked at me and asked if I was sure. I could see them trying to imagine a day without the reassuring hug at recess or the high five in the lunch room.


I can't imagine these two going through life without each other. Their arrival caused a fundemental change in our family, but it was a change for the better. Our home is filled with song and with dancing. They bring sunshine and selflessness. As complete as our family seemed before, it truly wasn't complete until they arrived. As a further testimony to Heavenly Father's awareness, Lela was born one year to the day of my miscarriage and Emily was born at the estimated due date of that same baby.

Perspective

A friend asked me why I hadn't posted anything lately. My recent post about the boys actually took two months to write. I have to admit that I have been suffering from a bout of depression. I keep thinking that there is no reason that I should be depressed. Our house is finally under construction, we have a roof over our heads, my job is stabilizing so I can somewhat catch up and not spend all my time putting out fires, Rick's job continues to engage him and our children are all doing well. Yet this feeling of being overwhelmed and not able to cope continues. I break into tears with the least provocation and not even a round of retail therapy works. In fact a trip to the grocery store can be exhausting. The reality is that we have not been taking care of ourselves physically, mentally or spiritually. It is too easy to focus on the negative aspects of our situation and let the stress overwhelm us and impact our health. We have had a wake up call and are working on putting things back into perspective.

Here are some thoughts I have had recently on perspective. As we worked to finalize our house plans, alot of time and effort was put in to insuring that we were building a home comparable in size and features to our former home. In order to reduce the size of the footprint on the lot, we have added a basement. We have also been in a couple of homes that have been built using the same basic floor plan, so it is interesting to see how the perception of the lot and our house changes as the construction begins. We have gone from our lot is huge to will the house be able to fit; from "Mom, this really can't be our house and garage, because it is no bigger than the playhouse" to "Oh my heck, do we really need all this room?" (The bank says yes to that question.) Just as our property space is being redefined, the perspective we use to look at life defines and redefines us.

Here are some stories of inspiration that I have witnessed the last couple of months that have truly inspired - Friends who were in the process of moving from their home worked to insure that my children would not have to move again until our new house was built; a dear friend who while coping with a life-changing crisis with her son had the courage to make a fundamental change in her own life and yet still had the awareness and compassion to share her love and home with others; a young couple facing both the challenges of new baby and life-threatening illness continued to put others ahead of themselves and were amazed and humbled at the response of others to them; dear friends who face their challenges with a sense of humor and gratitude for their blessings; business owners who go above and beyond the normal course of business time and again with no expectation of compensation even when it impacts their personal life; the men I work with on a daily basis who go out of their way to serve the community with integrity, professionalism and compassion knowing that their efforts will probably never be recognized; and an amazing community that steps up time and time again to help each other truly exempliflying the Savior's admonition to love thy neighbor as thyself.

As always, I am inspired by my family - parents who continue to give and serve their children while setting an example of unconditional love and faith; my children: Hunter who continues to faithfully serve the Lord and people of Montana even when faced with opposition, his list of gratitude was truly humbling (family, friends, my mission, beautiful sunrises, scriptures, prayer, my testimony, church leaders, the prophet, Montana, cars, heaters, trench coats, house, the fire that burned our house, snow, trials, people who tell us no, people who tell us yes, other missionaries, President and Sister Gardner, food, this country, the soldiers that laid down their lives defending freedom, the soldiers that are still fighting, technology, science, school, education, mail, money, clothes, rain, sunshine, moonlight, stars, this Earth we have to live on, Mormon Tabernacle choir, other music, movies, chess, board games, card games, my health, my life, my eyes, my fingers, my mouth, my hair, my legs, my brain, my heart, chemistry, history, math, English, talents, gifts, the love of our Heavenly Father, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and especially the atoning sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ), and for Wil, Jon, Lela and Emy who have faced this year with courage, humor, resiliency, compassion, faith and love. I am in awe at how even the youngest has stepped up to take care of themselves and each other so that Rick and I can focus on work, insurance companies and contractors.

I am so blessed.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Shooting Stars - The Boys

Wil

As I stated before I know that my doctor was truly guided while tending me through my pregnancies. When I was in labor with Wil, each contraction would bring a reduction in his heartrate. The nurses told me that it was just that the contractions were confusing the monitor. When it came time to push though, they realized that it was more than that. My attending nurse explained that she thought we were going to need a C-section since Wil's heartrate would go dangerously low. Just as she went to leave the room to call the doc, he opened the door. He said he felt impressed to come check on me. No time was wasted and Wil was delivered without a C-section.

It was also during this pregnancy that I first heard Dr. Hartman utter the phrase "You're not in labor. You're in misery." This was in reference to contractions that did nothing to progress delivery. There are times when I still wonder if Wil will ever stop giving me "misery" pains.

Wil has always been the most daring of my boys. When the kids were little, I would store the cookies/candy on top of the refridgerator so that they were not easily accessible to small hands. This changed when I walked into the kitchen one day to find Wil on the fridge. He had used a system of chairs, counter top and small appliances to reach the cookies. By the way, he was only two at the time. Yes, he is very ingenious.

Something else that has always amazed me about Wil is how self-contained he has always been. He very rarely loses his temper. In fact when he is angry or upset, he will go off by himself, not to sulk but to regain his composure. He has been this way since he was very little. At the time we lived in Virginia he was about two years old. One day I had put the kids down for a nap and then went to rest myself. When I went to check on the kids, Wil was gone, blankie, Barney and all. The doors were all still shut with the security chains safely in place, the windows were still shut, yet Wil was no where to be found.

At the time we were living in a 14' x 70' trailer in a park just off a busy highway. We had only taken one car with us when we moved across the country and Rick had it at work. I went outside to look for him, just in case he had found some way out of the house that I could not imagine - no sign of him. I called and left a message for Rick to call me. I was just about to call the police when the door to one of the kitchen cabinets opened and out came Wil. He told me that Hunter had been bugging him so he couldn't sleep, so he went to sleep in his "cave" to get away from him.

Wil is the most compassionate of all my children. He is the first to notice when someone needs help and seems to have an ability to offer the right help at the right time. He has always been very observant and notices things that most people would not even recognize. He is the one who made the first finds at our home as we went through the rubble.

He is also my child most willing to test limits. He once asked me how I always knew what he was going to do before he did it. I replied that there is nothing he could do that either his dad or I didn't try at one point in our lives. I have often joked that when my mom uttered that phrase, "I hope you have a child just like you one day!", she was talking about Wil. I know that what she meant to be a curse has also been a blessing to me, because in Wil I see the best parts of me as well.

All children dream of what they want to be when they grow up. Wil has wanted to be an engineer designing rollercoasters, an artist, a comedian and right now he is planning on majoring in music to become a music teacher. He also plans to fund his future endeavors by competing on and winning Survivor as the youngest contestant ever.
I know that whatever the future holds for this son, he will approach it with a positive outlook and a sense of humor.

Jon

Content is the word that first comes to mind when I think of Jon. When he was little he would love to just sit and let Hunter and Wil entertain him. It became a game with his older brothers to see who could get him to laugh the most. I contribute this to the fact that he got most of his crying out in the first two months of life. From the moment the sun went down, till it rose the next morning, Jon would scream. During the day he was fine, but at night the only way we could keep him calm was to keep him rocking in his swing. This was before battery operated swings, so Rick and I would take turns winding the swing and drowsing before it stopped. Luckily this ended right when he turned two months old, and he hasn't done much crying since.

Jon is steady and dependable. He holds the course on what he knows is right. At times we have had to explain the whys, but once he understands, there is never a deviation. Jon has an inner calm that is contagious. I have heard more than one person say that whenever they are upset, they just need to be with Jon and he will calm them down. With Jon, what you see is what you get and this is reassuring.

When Jon was little, he needed glasses in order to see. He was about 18 months old when he got his first pair. The doctor told us that in his experience, we would probably have a problem keeping them on Jon, since small children did not like the extra weight on their face. The reality is we had just the opposite problem. Every night when we would put Jon to bed, he would cry when we took his glasses off. This continued until we found a special place for them to be set at night that he could easily reach in the morning. When he could finally explain to me why he was so protective of his glasses, he told me that without them, he would see two of everything. Wearing glasses literally brought the world into alignment for him and he was afraid of losing that .

On the day of the fire that destroyed our home, I was overcome by the strength and courage of this son. When his dad yelled for everyone to get out of the house, this son had the presence of mind to grab the dogs' leashes, then got a garden hose and held the water from the back of the house till we could get out. He was so determined to help us get out, that by the time we realized he had not followed us around the house and Rick called for him, he could not get through the fence in the same place we had and had to jump the fence farther down. Yet having been through that, he was the one who took care of his sisters and kept them entertained while I made phone calls and his dad stayed at the fire.
And that is Jon - steady, calm, easy-going, dependable and did I mention smart. Jon has always loved to learn. When his brothers would come home, he would sit with them while they did homework. By the time he started preschool, he knew every song and poem that his brothers had learned. He continues to greet every new year and new experience with excitement.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Scandal

I have been raised on stories of my ancestors. Every Memorial Day when I was a child, our family would gather together and assemble bouquets of flowers cut from our gardens. It seemed like we would do hundreds, but I am sure it wasn't that many. After the production, we would then travel from cemetary to cemetary to place these flowers on the graves of our deceased. At each stop, we would be regaled with stories of the various individuals and the role they played in our history.

This is still a tradition my family continues, only with mums purchased at the store. But the important thing is that my children have been able to hear the stories that I enjoyed as a child. They have a great heritage.

I remember as a young girl being told of my cousin Geral. She was the only daughter of my grandma's sister and her husband, but had died as a young girl and brought back to Utah to be buried with her family. My grandma always made a point of making a special arrangement for this niece and it was an honor to be selected to place the bouquet by her headstone.

I also remember stories of my grandfather Levi Roberts who served in the Mormon Battallion and then went on to Sutter's Mill during the gold rush. Then there is my grandfather Henderikus Dijkema who sold everything in his native Holland, brought his whole family to America and upon reaching Ellis Island had his name changed to Henry Dickamore in order to enter this country. This is the name my own father also bears. I have ancestors who came to America in its infancy, while on my father's side, I am the third generation to be born here.

The stories of how lives become intertwined is also fascinating to me. When Rick was in the military, we were always able to find a connection with someone. One such experience was when we living in El Paso, Texas. At that time our LDS Bishop was a man named John Smith. He was an incredible man who showed a great love not only for the Lord, but also for every member of his ward. We looked forward to the monthly ward pot-lucks and other activities. Rick's next duty station took us to Colorado Springs, Colorado. One night we were at dinner with another couple from the neighborhood. They were asking us the normal questions you ask when getting to know someone. As the conversation progressed it was discovered that they knew our friends the Smiths. This connection was not made in Texas though, or even in the United States. It was made in Switzerland where they had lived for a brief time. How small the world can be.

As I grew up, I learned that the stories shared with us at graveside were at times a censored or highly edited version of the whole story. There were many stories told then, that as I have studied my ancestors in my adulthood, I hear the voice say "And now for the rest of the story...." I understand that it is in our nature to romanticize or idolize an individual and in doing that we only look to the good or the positive as we perceive it. But to me, the struggles of these ancestors and how they persevered make them real. The examples of how they fell, but got back up again are the truly inspiring stories to me.

When I met Rick, I was amazed to learn that he had a very limited knowledge of his ancestors. Something that had been such and integral part of my life was relegated to the periphery of his. One of our first dates was to the annual Memorial Day Family Reunion with the descendents of my great-grandparents, Walton Anthony and Olive Corbridge Roberts, my maternal grandmother's family. Rick has said that he knew then that he wanted to be a part of this family.
I think the interaction with my family inspired Rick to learn more about his family. At subsequent family gatherings of his relatives, he would listen and ask questions. One of the first stories I remember hearing involved his great-great-great grandfather, Solomon Wixom. Solomon was a peer of the early Mormon leaders and was involved in the early history of the Mormon Church. As such, he had at times multiple wives. When the Mormon pioneers left their beloved City of Nauvoo was one of these times. During this period in history, Solomon had two wives, Sarah and Harriet. When the Saints headed West, Sarah was too ill to travel. Solomon needed to stay behind and care for his wife and their children. Harriet made the decision to take their son and travel with her parents and the main body of pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley. Following Sarah's death, Solomon travelled West with his and Sarah's sons with the idea of reuniting with Harriet and his son.

Upon arrival in Salt Lake City, Solomon was dismayed to learn that not only had Harriet obtained a divorce, but she had remarried and changed their son's name to that of her new husband. This boy was in his 70s before he was reunited with his Wixom relatives. For a family that traces its lineage to the Mayflower and on to England, the willful discarding of the name and accompanying heritage was a true scandal.

Recently, I started reading the journal of my great-great-....grandmother, Patty Bartlett Sessions. Prior to reading this book, the most that I knew about her was that she had been a midwife in the early days of the Mormon church who delivered over 400 babies during her career. She was also an independent woman who left a sizeable fortune to her family upon her death. I have since learned that she started a school to educate her grandchildren and children whose parents could not afford to send them to school. This school was funded solely by her. I also learned that she was the midwife who delivered many of my ancestors and Rick's ancestors. How intertwined our lives can be!

But there was one name in the journals that jumped out at me - Harriet Teeples Wixom. Yes, the same Harriet that had divorced Rick's grandfather. Why was she mentioned in my grandmother's journal? Yes, my grandmother had delivered Solomon and Harriet's son. But the connection was found to be even greater - the man Harriet married, who adopted her son and changed his name, was none other than Patty's husband, David Sessions, my great-great-...grandfather.

At the next Wixom family get-together, I am going to have my own "Rest of the Story" moment. I hope the part that my ancestors played in the scandal doesn't get me disowned.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Worst Day

This is an essay Wil wrote for his English class. I thought I would share it.

The day had been just like any other Saturday. The sun was hot, the pool was refreshing, and the day was long. The day had been like any other Saturday. The lifeguards were talking about what they were going to do after work, and discussing the whereabouts of the source of the big pillar of black smoke. The day had been just like any other Saturday. After swimming a few laps, I had to get out of the cool water and go on stand. And that’s when I saw him. The police officer that was walking towards the guard shack. While I was wondering what he was doing here, (probably something dealing with the snack shack again), he asked me if I was Wil. Confirming that I was, I started to walk towards him thinking about what I possibly could have done. The actual reason he was there was far different and far worse than I could have imagined. And that’s when he gave me the bad news that knocked the wind out of me like a ton of bricks. “Wil, your house just burned down.”

A few days later I was told that I must have gone into shock after I was told this horrible news. Whether I did go into shock or not, my thoughts were the same. At first I thought that he was joking. I thought that my mom had set up this clever, sick ruse and it was all just a joke. Even though that’s what I was thinking, rather hoping, I knew it wasn’t true. The police officer told me that all my family was okay and that he was there to take me to my grandmother’s house. After a few moments of gathering up my things, my mind racing with so many thoughts that I couldn’t even understand, I left the pool with the police officer and headed to my grandmother’s house. During the car ride the police officer and I asked questions back and forth to one another trying to kill the stunned silence that had enveloped the police truck. As we got closer and closer to La Verkin, I tried to keep denying what he had said in my mind, but I just wasn’t able to. As we got closer and closer to the grocery store, the smoke was getting bigger and more ominous. As we got closer and closer to my grandma’s house, I was able to clearly see the burning wreck of my home and that’s when I knew that my life was going to seriously be altered by this.

When we arrived at my grandmother’s house, my family and one of our dogs were all there, except for my dad who was up at the house still. I realized then that all of our other pets were gone. Looking at my family members, I realized that I had more possessions than the rest of my family put together. They didn’t have things with them that they normally wouldn’t leave the house with. Namely, a pair of shoes and their cell phones. After a short time of hugging and talking with my family I went upstairs and tried to hide myself from the world. From where I was sitting there was a window that looked directly at my house. I’m glad the blinds were down, because I don’t think I would have been able to tear my eyes away from the fire. As I was sitting alone upstairs my mom came up to talk to me. I don’t even recall what exactly we talked about but I remember that it was a short conversation that didn’t involve much talking, and it took a lot of my strength not to start bawling like my mom. She left after a while of silence telling me she was going up to the house to see if there was anything she could do to help.

I stayed upstairs for some time thinking many thoughts about why this happened. What did my family do to deserve this? Were we being punished for something or were we just unlucky? When I finally decided that these questions could not yet be answered in my mind, I went downstairs to be a part of the chaos which had become of my grandmother’s quiet home. There were so many people bringing my family things like clothes, food, and bedding materials. When I got downstairs the first thing I did was get on Facebook. I wanted to talk to someone and get my mind off of what was happening. Fortunately, the person I wanted to talk to most was online and we talked for a few hours about nothing involving the fire. When she found out about it, we talked about that, but we tried to avoid that subject mostly. I had made plans earlier that week to go to the movie theater and that’s all I wanted to do right then. I wanted to get out of La Verkin, away from all these crying people bringing my family things. Away from the house on the hill that was still smoldering. Away from all the emotions that were filling me up about ready to make me explode. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go to the movies so I was stuck at my grandma’s house right in the center of all this commotion.

Facebook, my one way to get away from what was going on, was also a way for everyone who were my friends and were online, that knew what was going on, to tell me how sorry they were and asking if they could do anything to help. That’s what everyone was saying. People would come over with a bag of clothes and ask if they could do anything else to help. People came over with food they had in their fridges and asked if they could do anything else to help. People would come over, people I didn’t even know, some I still don’t know and give us their condolences and hugs and ask us if there was anything else they could do. None of these people, none of them will ever know how much they helped. For weeks after the fire my family was asked everywhere we went how we were doing. And we would always say we were fine and thank them for their concern, but in truth we were far better than fine, because we had so many people there for us that we were just overwhelmed with love.

For the longest time, I have had a certain opinion about people. That opinion was that people were selfish and greedy. That they may say that they’ll do something for someone they may not even know,but when it came down to it, they really wouldn’t. I thought that everyone was like that, including me, and that no one was an exception. I’m not the kind of person who likes to admit when I’m wrong, but that night I was proved wrong. I was proved so wrong in fact that in the future, if this kind of thing happens to someone near me I will do everything and anything I can do to help them because I know what it’s like. Although I would consider this to be the worst thing that has happened to me so far in my life, my perception about people has changed and I have changed myself. The night of the fire I slept better than I thought I would and I know it was because I had been surrounded by the love of my family and friends, strangers and God.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Still Moving Forward

So the last few weeks have been a rollercoaster ride of emotions. When the boys were little, we took them to The North Pole, an amusement park outside of Colorado Springs. The great thing about this park was that if your child was not enjoying the ride, you could raise your hand and the operator would stop the ride and let you off, then the ride would continue. There have been many times these last weeks that I wished I could raise my hand and get off this ride.

Some of the lowpoints of the last few weeks:
  • Work continues to be a game of politics, all while the workload piles up with additional duties and fewer people to do the job. Not a day has gone by without at least one phone call asking me where something is and when will it be done. Never in my career have I ever been so far behind or so disorganized. I have piles everywhere in my office and I'm not even sure what is in them anymore. I know things are being missed and this is not something I am known for.
  • The gentleman who started the fire reached a plea deal with the county attorney. We had previously asked the county attorney's office that we be consulted regarding sentencing since we really felt that his circumstances were so much more extreme than ours that we did not want any restitution or exhorbitant fines. We were hoping that he could receive community service and terms that would not destroy his family. Unfortunately, what happened was that I received a phone call from the Chief of Police letting me know that he had been to court for the sentencing and that the judge had recommended restitution. The county attorney had asked him to contact us and have us call them. Once again, I was required to relive everything first on the phone with the county attorney's office and then as I drafted the required letter that they needed for the judge.
  • The insurance company is still dragging its feet. They have claimed for three weeks now that they are just about ready to issue us checks for our personal property, appurtenant structures (shed, fence, shade cover, etc) and for the next month's rent. None of these checks have so far arrived. We have also received nothing on the liability portion of our claim.
  • We are also concerned with the replacement value they will give us to replace on our home. We found out that the local adjustor had not submitted his reports to the Salt Lake office in over two months. Salt Lake wrote us to let us know that they could not proceed with establishing a value without the required information and wanted to know why it hadn't been sent. I referred the matter to our agent who reported to me that there had been words with the adjustor. Whether or not it was out of spite, when we received our copy of the report from the adjustor, he had reduced his valuation of our former home from $290,000 to $240,000. The determined replacement value of the home is all the insurance company will pay us to rebuild, so this number is important. It does not matter that we paid for $300,000 worth of coverage for the structure, we will receive what the insurance company determines based on their best guess what it would cost to rebuild the house we had.
  • The Friday before Labor Day, I was greeted on my return home from work by my daughters crying and my sons angry. There taped to the garage was a "Notice of Trustee's Sale". We have since been officially served by the Trustee and have spoken to the company. It appears that according to their records, our landlords have not made their payments and now the mortgage company has opted to sell the house to recoup some of their loss. Our landlords left a message stating that they were suprised by this and had been making payments according to their modified home loan and would work to get this resolved. Two weeks later, the mortgage company still claims that there are no payments and the sale will proceed on October 7th. After that date, we will be contacted on how to proceed with making our rent payment and we will have 90 days to vacate the home unless we can work out arrangements with the new owner.
  • Yesterday, Rick and I went "shopping". Actually it was more getting an idea of costs and what our choices would be for construction. I have looked at the reports from the adjustor and his contractor. Rick has only looked at the specs from the architect, who of course has designed a dream home. By the end of the exercise in reality, I realized that the process of rebuilding is changing my husband. He has never been an angry person, is usually the voice of reason. I have seen him become progressively angrier every time the insurance company is mentioned. I have to admit it is scaring me.
  • Rick is not the only one whose personality has changed since the fire. Lela stills suffers from anxiety attacks where she becomes so sick she cannot leave the house, Emily spends hours listing everything that she no longer owns whether through writing lists or drawing pictures and Wil has become less expressive and more sullen. He spends alot of time in his room and/or texting his friends, but not talking to us. Only Jon appears unaffected, but there is a part of me that is waiting for that shoe to fall since he was the one who was almost trapped by the fire when we escaped from our house. I don't know how Hunter is doing. We try to keep things positive from our end and I know he is doing the same. Occasionally there are comments about how when he comes home it will not be in any way to the life he left. I have heard more from the families he is serving in Montana. In his case, I have to have faith that the Lord will take care of him since I cannot be there.
I find myself becoming more and more exhausted both physically and emotionally. I am more prone to break into tears at the least provocation. My resiliency is gone. I know we have been truly blessed and continue to be so. That is what keeps me going through the day-to-day struggles. I have amazing friends who are going through struggles of their own with amazing grace and courage. I look to them as an example and for inspiration.

One such friend posted today on Facebook that her weeked was one of joy and sorrow. That got me thinking of the some of my favorite scriptures. Ecclesiates tells that to everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. This has always been one of my favorites and I had versions of it throughout my house. The scriptures also teach that there must be opposition in all things. If we do not experience sorrow, we cannot fully appreciate joy. Another of my dear friends posted "Although fate determines the circumstances, how you react depends on your character."

So here are the ups:
Homecoming - Hurricane defeated Dixie in an awesome game and Wil did a great job conducting the band as they pepped. Then both Wil and Jon went to the dance with incredible girls. It was Jon's first date and Laura's first date. She is the youngest and only daughter with many older brothers. Jon was met in the front yard by some of the men in her family dressed as hicks holding guns. He thought it was hysterical, since we have a family joke regarding the poor young men who try to date Lela and Emily.
  • Lela started playing the violin and I can actually stand to be in the house with her when she practices. Maybe the noise will get worse, but she is enjoying it and is excited to go to class.
  • Emily and I sat on the couch and took turns reading stories. She loves books and has started to carrying a couple with her wherever she goes.
  • Jon found his bass clarinet. We thought it had been lost in the fire, but while cleaning the band room, it was discovered on a shelf. He had completely forgotten that he had taken it to school and left it there. The poor band teacher had joked with Wil that he could not use "I left my instrument at school in case my house burned down" as an excuse for not practicing. Now we have Jon's clarinet saved because it too was left at school.
  • Hunter wrote to say that he and his companion would be having a baptism yesterday. I am amazed at his growth and the service he is able to provide to the people in Montana. He sent us pictures and then later in the week I received an email from a family in Montana with accompanying picture. It is good to know that there are wonderful people taking care of him.
  • We received plans from the architect and the should have the permit set this week so we can obtain a building permit. We also received our first draw from the mortgage company to cover these expenses so I can breath a little easier when it comes to finances.
  • We had a Christmas preview at our house this week. I came home to find half a dozen boxes on my bed. They all contained Christmas ornaments and nativity sets. I have become an expert at surfing the internet in order to find those items no longer available in stores that my children have placed on their "wish" lists. We had a blast opening everything and reminiscing. I was even able to find and purchase the "birthday plate". This is a plate that we use whenever there is birthday or someone's special day to celebrate. To see it again brought smiles.
  • Wil built a Heroscape field on his bedroom floor and he and Jon played for hours. They also spent time teaching the girls how to play Pokemon and competing with each other.
  • While in Salt Lake for a conference, Rick learned of a store with a stash of Chevron cars. He was able to make a huge dent in reestablishing our collection.
In the song The Dance, Garth Brooks sings "I'm glad I didn't know the way it all would end...I could have missed the pain, but I'd of had to miss the dance." I don't know how all this is going to end. I have to believe that when it is over our family will be fine and better and stronger for the experience.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night.....

In 1995, Rick finished his Officer Basic Course in Virginia and Airborne school in Georgia and we moved from Petersburg, Virginia to El Paso, Texas where he would be stationed with the 3rd Armored Calvary. The move was made via Ogden, Utah where the majority of our belongings had been stored while we were in Virginia for the six months it took for Rick to complete his training. Because we knew that the moving truck towing one car would travel at a slower speed than those driving in our other car, the plan was for my sister and I to drive with the boys to El Paso and start looking for a house, while Rick and my dad took a longer, flatter route and followed behind with the moving van. It was anticipated that Gwen and I should arrive at least half a day before the truck.

Well, what we hadn't figured on was road construction and detours. As is often the case in Utah in the spring/summer, orange barrels and detour signs sprout everywhere as road crews rush to take advantage of the good weather and repair the damage caused by winter or make the many perceived improvements to the State highways. Not only did the numerous detours on our route put us behind, but since this was in the days before Garmins or GPS devices, we ended up on a whole different route than planned.

We ended up driving through the mountains of southwest Colorado. Now on any other occasion, this could have been quite beautiful, but this was not our experience. By this time it was night and quite dark. The road was full of switchbacks as it wound up and then back down. As we neared the summit it started to snow which caused the headlights to reflect back blinding us even more. To top it off, the boys were tired and hungry, needed diapers changed and started crying. I can remember my white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel as I focused on keeping the car on the road and not start screaming.

Needless to say, we all survived that night and made it to the hotel in El Paso. Rick and my dad arrived a few hours after us, instead of the anticipated half-day, fully rested from their night in a hotel in New Mexico. We were able to find a house to rent for our time in Texas that perfectly met our needs. Everything worked out just fine. We have driven that route numerous times since and it is quite lovely and has been very enjoyable.

Later we were stationed in Colorado Springs, Colorado. We were driving back to Colorado from a holiday weekend in Utah. At that time in life, with small boys and limited time to spend with family, we chose to do our driving at night. On this trip, we stopped in Laramie to fill the car with gas and change drivers. The boys and the dog were asleep and the sun was just starting to rise. As we were on a hill, Rick went to the inside lane to pass a semi that was slowing down. All of a sudden there was a loud thump and the windshield shattered. A young elk had jumped the cement wall to the left and landed right in front of our van. Rick was able to manuever to van to the shoulder and get it stopped. We were soon joined by an officer of the Wyoming Highway Patrol. As he was exiting his vehicle, looking at what remained of our van, he was on his radio calling for an ambulance. He was amazed to see us all standing safely and well on the side of the road.

This patrolman shuttled us back to Laramie. In Laramie, we rented a car to take us to Cheyenne. We then drove the rental car back to Laramie per the rental agreement. From Laramie we drove to Colorado Springs where Rick reported for his month assignment to Fort Irwin. My mom flew out and helped me transport the second rental car back to Cheyenne, again per the rental agreement, and back to Laramie to finish cleaning out our totalled van. By the time Rick returned from California, I had settled with the insurance company, purchased one new car and had found a second car for Rick. Rick continues to drive the truck we bought upon his return and the station wagon I purchased lasted until a couple of years ago.

Life is not always smooth and there are times when even the rough times get rougher. This week was one of the rougher times in our house adventure. We received a letter from the insurance company that has again raised more questions than it answered. We also learned that the adjustor assigned to our claim has not been forwarding the information to the claims office. We also received another valuation of our former home that put the cost to rebuild again at $240,000, but it still isn't "final". We were also requested by the claims office to no longer involve our local agent in our claims process. We will not listen to this last request, since the only results/progress we have received in the claim process is when our agent has gone over the heads of the people involved.

Then on Friday we came home to a "Notice of Trustee Sale" posted on the house we are renting. It appears that the house has been under foreclosure, but our landlords didn't tell us. I came home from work at 5:00 to crying girls who were worried that the sale of the house meant everything in it as well. Even though their brother had tried to calm them, he did not understand it either. The last few days have been spent trying to reassure our children that we will have a place to live, deal with the anger that has finally been expressed regarding our situation, and try to figure out what our next step is. Since we received the notice on a Friday of a holiday weekend, we have not been able to find out too much information. All we know now is that we should be able to stay here between 60 and 120 days more. If we can make it 120 days, we are confident that we will be able to have a home built. That is the goal and Tuesday will bring finding a way to get the 120 days and putting pressure where necessary to moving the rebuild process forward.

We have been following the progress of Hurricane Earl on the news. Our kids have asked lots of questions about hurricanes and were fascinated to learn that we had even been on the edge of one when we lived in Virginia. Part of the discussion included talking about the eye of the storm and how when you are in the eye, everything seems calm. Then the storm will move and you will be buffeted and tossed again. The last couple of months have been like the eye of the storm. We have had a chance to emotionally regroup and get our feet under us again. We are better prepared to deal with the turmoil that we will face as we are under a deadline to build a home. Our past has shown us that sunshine and clear weather follow the dark and stormy nights of life.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I'm an Addict

So I have to confess - I've become an ebay addict. I'm not sure which has me more hooked - the rush of adrenaline as the last seconds count down on an item I'm bidding for and winning or the smiles on my kids faces when the boxes show up on the doorstep to reveal some item they thought they would never see again.

My obsession started as I worked on completing the required inventory for the insurance company. So many of the things we had owned are no longer available in stores. As part of the inventory, we were required to provide a replacement cost for each item listed. Since I could no longer walk down to my local WalMart and create a price list, I turned to the internet. For so many of the items, Google provided suggestions through ebay. I quickly realized that ebay would be my most affordable choice if I wished to replace many of the items on our wishlist.

The wishlist was something we sat down after the fire and created. We asked the kids to come up with the items that they felt they would most miss from our home. We knew we would never be able to replace everything, but we hoped to be able to replace the most important things.

One thing all my boys mentioned was their Heroscape game. This game is a cross between Risk, Dungeons and Dragons, and Legos. The game comes in sets. A couple of times a year, especially around Christmas, a new wave of the game is released. There are large, medium and small expansion sets, as well as Master sets that contain many of the pieces used to build the playing fields.

My kids have been collecting the game since it was first introduced more years ago than I can count. They owned every set that had been released prior to the fire. Every Christmas, hours would be spent on building the playing field and then a week long game would ensue. Originally the playing field would fit on a table, but in recent years it had migrated to the family room floor. When I figured a replacement cost for the inventory, the dollar amount for the game was over $1,300. Unfortunately, the original sets are no longer available in the stores and Amazon showed the price for the first Master set as $200. This would be way beyond our budget.

Then along came ebay. In the course of one evening, I was able to make a dent in replacing the collection and only spent a little more than the Amazon asking price for one master set. I was able to acquire three master sets and over ten of the various expansion sets. Today the first boxes arrived. My two boys that are home were so excited that I even got hugs. They then retreated to their room to plan their next game.

My first ebay purchase was a set of whales for Hunter. It included a killer whale and baby, bottle-nosed dolphin and baby, sperm whale and narwhal. When I opened the boxes, I was hooked and could hardly wait to email Hunter and let him know what I had found.

Hunter has always been interested in whales and his favorite place to visit is Monterey, CA to attend the aquarium. The aquarium has a series of scale model whales suspended from the ceiling. It is truly an amazing sight. The year Hunter turned eleven we took the family to Monterey and went on a whale watching tour. The family was able to see many dolphins and a few whales. Even though the weather was not perfect, the kids all had a wonderful time.

During that trip, we purchased for Hunter a scale set of whales and babies from the Monterey Bay Aquarium similar to those that hang from the ceiling. This set has been displayed ever since in his room, along with a corresponding poster. Since these are also items that are no longer available in the store, I was very excited to find that they could be found on ebay.

For me personally, my most important purchase has been a replacement for my Jim Shore Heartwood Creek nativity. This nativity had been a part of my collection for more years than I can remember and I was saddened to learn that it was discontinued. It was not even available on sites like Amazon. Even though I had owned many different nativity sets, this one was my particular favorite. So hurray for ebay. I have to admit the bidding was very intense since this appears to be a very popular item and there are not many offered for auction. I had already lost one auction for this item, so I was very focused. I even postponed eating dinner as the final minutes counted down, but this time I was victorious.
I don't know how long this addiction will last. Hopefully it will be like Diet Coke and come and go. I now find myself spending less time surfing the listings as I make a dent in the wishlists. I am currently bidding on a collection of Disney movies. Movies such as The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and Aladdin are no longer available in stores or on the Disney Movie Site. Since my girls love their princesses (Emily had been planning on being Jasmine for Halloween), I am hoping to win this one as well. Wish me luck.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

De-Scrapbooking

If there is one thing that I have learned about fire through this experience, it is that the destruction it wreaks cannot be predicted. I have sat through many classes for my job where fire safety has been discussed. These are usually put on by a member of the State Fire Marshall's office or by a community fire chief. The presentation would always include a video showing how quickly fire can spread once it is unleashed. These videos would then be followed by a discussion on the basic characteristics or patterns of fire and why fire code is established to help prevent loss.
But to say that all fires are alike would be like saying all people are alike. Yes for the most part we all have two arms, two legs, two hands, two feet, eyes, nose and mouth, but even those are not the same from one person to another. From my experience, fire is the same - no two fires are alike.
A day or two after the fire at our home, the fire chief was asking me to explain it from my perspective. I told him what had happened, how quickly it had moved and how close it had been to us not making it out of our home. After I had finished talking, or at least paused for a breath, he responded with a statement to the extent that the neighbors really hadn't been exaggerating. I guess he had talked to various individuals who had witnessed the fire being started and they had expressed how this fire had not even paused when it reached our house, as you would have expected from a fire, but literally exploded. I know that is what it was like from our perspective as well.
As I have stated before, I have experienced fires before and so has my husband. But nothing we experienced in the past could prepare us for what we experienced on June 26, 2010. This is why I can be nothing but grateful that we all made it out that day and know that we are truly blessed.
But even the fire that destroyed our home had its own personality. As we poked through the rubble trying to find anything to salvage, the first find was my son's blanket. I truly believe that this was a blessing from a loving Heavenly Father and a sign that He is watching out for us. That this one item could survive unscathed in a room that was unrecognizable as a bedroom continues to be a miracle. This is the only item we removed from the house that did not receive any damage from the fire.
There have been other items that we were able to find. Most important to me were the scrapbooks. I think by the time we finished clearing the lot, we had found parts of most of the scrapbook I had ever done. The most amazing save was on the day we were clearing the lot. I looked up to see a scrapbook hanging from the bucket of the tractor. Rick signalled the driver to stop and lower the bucket. It was the section of Hunter's scouting scrapbook that contained his Eagle certificate, letters of recognition and his Eagle paperwork.
But this is one example why in my mind fire is so selective. From the family room, there was nothing recognizable but a portion of the treadmill frame. Yet we found a portion of our wedding album. Unfortunately, the damage was so extreme that it was only identified by a partial picture of us cutting the cake, a picture of our best man, and the chopsticks from the restaurant where we ate when Rick proposed. An album that was once 11X14 was now the size of a luncheon plate. It amazes me that not even the frame from our sofa was found, yet this portion of an album was recovered.
The same thing happened in the living room where the upstairs bedroom collapsed. This was where the majority of the albums were recovered, much to my amazement. These albums were so burned that the page protectors had melted together. The albums that were in the office faired a little better. Yet even here there were inconsistencies with one album appearing to have received more damage than another and some hardly damaged at all, yet they had sat side-by-side on the same shelf.
The thought of going through all these partial albums to see what could be saved was overwhelming. Everytime I tried, I would burst into tears. This was a task that was so emotionally daunting that I didn't fell I could do it, yet I knew it had to be done soon or nothing would be usable. This is when I remembered the lesson that I had learned that very first day - people want to help, I just needed to ask. So I came up with the idea of a De-Scrapbooking Party.
I contacted my friend Michelle and asked if I could use her studio for the event. She quickly agreed. As she started throwing out ideas for what we could do, I had to slow her down. I know she was picturing slightly charred scrapbooks with pictures easy to remove. She admitted to me that she had no idea what we would be facing until I showed up to set up for the party. Who would have ever guessed we would be using hammers to separate pages of a scrapbook, yet that is what we had to do.
Let me say again, I have amazing friends. I was awed at how many people came to help with this project. We were able to accomplish in four hours what would have taken me months or even longer to accomplish. We were also able to recover some special things as well - irreplacable pictures, blessing certificates, Hunter's mission call and other memorabilia. While none of it is in pristine condition, I have great faith in scanning and Photoshop. The moral support of these amazing women was the greatest gift. I can't say that I didn't cry, since part of this was an exercise in letting go as I realized that there were things that were just gone. But at those times, there was someone to put their arm around me, tell a goofy story or a joke. My friends treated these books as if they were their own and were as committed as saving as much as possible just as I was, maybe even more as I became overwhelmed by the emotion of it all. Thank you everyone for keeping me sane.
By the end of the night, we were making plans for a scanning party. I promise that the food will be just as good.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

How do you measure a life?

In the Broadway show Rent, the cast asks the questions "How do you measure a year?" and "How do you measure the life of a woman or man?" The song then goes on to talk about the different ways we measure life... in minutes, events, accomplishments, etc.

I've been doing alot of "measuring" of my life the last two weeks as I have worked on completing the inventory of our once upon a time home. What I have learned is that in 22 years of life together, with a little bit of childhood thrown in, Rick and I had a lot of things. In fact the current replacement dollar amount is over $250,000 and there is still more to be accounted for. When the insurance adjustor stated that he thought we would easily reach $300,000, I was doubtful. I am not so doubtful anymore.

Last year, when we renewed our insurance, we valued our personal property at just over $200,000. This will be the maximum amount that the insurance will pay us. If I measured my life in dollars, right now I would feel that I had literally lost 1/3 of my life, since we will never be compensated for the other $100,000 not covered by the insurance.

Instead I think of the rest of the song. It suggests that instead life should be measured in love. This is how I want to measure my life.

Over the weekend we attended the wedding reception of a very remarkable young woman. Over the last four years, she has been an important part of our family. We had harbored a secret hope that when Hunter returned from his mission that they might be married. Our girls would often refer to her as their big sister because of the involvement she had in their lives. Her influence was especially strong on Lela. It was this young woman's influence that encouraged Lela to join the Hurricane Tigersharks swim team and to start playing the violin. She will always have a special place in our hearts and we wish her the best for the future.

Attending a wedding reception always brings back memories of my own reception. How young Rick and I were all those years ago, yet how mature and ready for marriage we felt. I often wonder what those two kids would have thought of their future selves. Since I have very few, if any, regrets; I like to think that they would have run with great excitement to the altar.

What I can see looking back from this viewpoint is that our marriage began with the solid foundation of friendship. Rick has been my best friend since I was 19 years old. By the time we were married we had no secrets between us. This practice has remained a constant throughout our marriage. I know that if Rick tells me something, it is the truth. I trust him completely.

Through the years we have built on that foundation as we worked together as a team. I have always known that he had my back and is my greatest supporter. Whenever I have doubted myself, Rick has been there to shore up my faith in my abilities. Whether moving across the country with three small children, completing college, or our current situation; we will be fine because we work together.

This same sentiment has been expressed by many who know us as they watch our family go through this experience. One friend commented that she has always been amazed at how close our family is and if anything, this has brought us closer together. Another friend commented that he did not know many people who could survive losing everything and still remain happy. I know this is because we know that the most important things made it out of the house. We will not dwell on the loss, but on how we are continually blessed.

I am so grateful that we learned at a young age that we are each other's best friend. It took a couple we know 30 years of marriage to learn this truth - a marriage is not about the things you acquire, it is about the relationship you develop and grow with your partner. That relationship is more valuable than any treasure on earth and more delicate than the tiniest seedling. I hope our young friend and her new husband can learn this now so that their life will be measured in seasons of love.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Where's the Instruction Manual?

I have had one of those weeks when I wish I could just open the instruction book and turn to page number..... and read exactly what I am supposed to do.

We once again received a new version of what needs to take place to resolve our claim with the insurance company on our home. Our agent has now stepped in to help resolve the issue and will work as a mediator between ourselves and the claims office. Unfortunately when we met with him on Monday, his explanation of how this process is going to work was different than we had been told even one week before. At this point, Rick and I have determined that what Jason has told us will become our instruction book. That way if we follow what he tells us to do and then we have problems in the future we have someone who knows the industry advocating for us.

A rough time this week was Tuesday. Monday Rick noticed an inflammation on our dog's backend. Dancer has been fighting cancer/tumors for the last couple of years. He had required surgery in February to remove a tumor from his rectum that was causing problems. By Tuesday morning the inflammation had progressed to what appeared to be his rectum hanging outside his body. This was confirmed that morning by our vet. Rick and I now faced the task of first deciding if we have another surgery performed or to have Dancer put to sleep. After we made our decision to end Dancer's suffering, we then had to tell the kids. How do you make the decision? How do you tell your children that the last pet they have from their life "prior" will no longer be there? How we wished we could open a book to page ..... and read the appropriate discussion.

What we did was to schedule a time for the procedure with the vet for later in the day, then Rick and I took off work and brought Dancer home. We gathered the kids together in the living room with Dancer and explained to them what was wrong. We talked about the options, that while surgery could extend Dancer's life for a month or two, the ultimate end would be the tumors rupturing his colon and he would bleed to death. We talked about some of the other biological functions that were happening in Dancer's body that were making life very uncomfortable for him. Then we talked about heaven and our faith that we have a loving Heavenly Father. We discussed the plan of salvation and that all living beings were first spirits that have taken on physical bodies and that one day, our spirits and our bodies will be reunited during the resurrection and that until that day, when we die we are greeted by those that love us and have died before us.

This helped the kids as they remembered Miley and Tigger and especially Patch, our first dog. We talked about how Dancer had laid with Patch's body after she died until the kids found her. To know that Patch and Dancer would be able to be together again brought a smile to their faces as they thought of all the fun they will have in heaven freed from bodies that are old and diseased. The kids said their goodbyes and shed many tears, then Rick and I took him back to the vet. Dancer passed with Rick and I beside him, with his head resting on Rick's lap.

Wednesday brought signs that life is returning to normal. It was the first day of school and Wil had his first fight of the school year with his parents over curfew before he even walked out the door. This day also brought a discussion of what the children should say when asked about the fire and if we should talk to the administration about specifically asking teachers to not ask. The kids joked that they wanted to have shirts that said "We're fine. Thanks for asking." We did not go this far, but did tell them that this answer was very appropriate when asked the inevitable "How are you?"

I don't want to sound ungrateful for the concern of others, because we are so appreciative. It is just difficult to relive it over and over again, especially for the kids. Let me say how wise people are. The expressions of concern and sympathy that my children did receive were very lowkey and heartfelt for our older children and were directed towards us for our younger children. After I spoke with Lela's teacher about the anxiety she is still feeling after the fire and the problems that she has been experiencing, she told me that there will be no "surprise" fire drills during the school year. She is going to talk to the administration to insure that she will be able to let the class know when one will happen and that we will have the option to keep Lela home if necessary. She is also arranging to have Lela meet with the school counselor.

After the stress of the week, both at home and at work, we decided that we needed to get away. We spent the day at Bryce National Park hiking and picnicking and playing tourist. On the way home last night, as we were in the car singing songs together from Schoolhouse Rock and various artists, laughing at all our family's inside jokes, and making plans for the future, I realized that maybe we don't need an Instruction Manual. I thought of the saying - When all else fails, read the instruction manual. I don't think we have failed. In fact for just winging it and doing what feels right, I think we are doing pretty darn good.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Shooting Stars; part one - The Beginning

This week I read exerpts of an interview Julia Roberts did for Elle magazine. As part of the interview, she spoke of her children and her husband. She referred to her children as shooting stars and how lucky she felt she was that the love she had for husband could burst into three pieces. This idea has stuck with me. There is nothing that brings me greater joy in life than my children. I have been so very blessed with five amazing individuals.

When we were preparing to get married, I made my first visit to the ob/gyn. What an experience that was!!

Even though my parents had seven children, there was never much discussion of the facts of life in our home. Most of what I learned about the birds and bees came from the maturation programs at school, after school specials or reading the encyclopedia. I remember when I was about 12 or 13, I watched an after school special about birth. It briefly touched on that a man's sperm and a woman's egg combined to fertilize the egg that would go on to become the baby. I was unclear on how the sperm got from the man to the woman, so I asked my mom. I remember her calling for my dad and demanding he listen to what I had just asked her. I figured that whatever I said must have ranked right up there with swearing and I was in trouble. It took some persuading to get me to repeat my question to my father. His reaction further confused me. As calm as could be, he walked to the bookcase, retrieved an encyclopedia, flipped through the pages, brought it back to me and told me to go ahead and read. After I had finished, he asked me if I understood what it said - I was in shock - then told me that now that I knew all about sex, it was my job to tell my sisters.

Needless to say, there was not my discussion with my mother prior to my visit to the ob/gyn. I did have a few questions for him based on my observations of my friends. My biggest concern was that even at 21 years of age, I had yet to have a regular menstrual cycle and those that I did have were so incredibly painful and heavy that I couldn't leave the house at times. I was concerned that this might impact my ability to have children. The doctor that I went to was my mom's doctor, the man who had delivered me all those years ago. I remember walking out frustrated because instead of answering my questions, he basically patted me on the head and told me not to worry. Even then I was not one who took being dismissed well. In his defense, I know he was just trying to be reassuring and the answer he gave me I'm sure would have been fine for some, it just wasn't right for me.

When I finally became pregnant with Hunter, I did not know what I was going to do for a doctor. My dad took charge this time and called one of his former scouts who was now an ob/gyn. Al Hartman was exactly the doctor I needed. He would answer all my questions honestly and completely. If there was a decision to be made, he would provide me with all the options available, offer his opinion on what he would do, but let me make the choice. I know there were some of my friends that found him too blunt, but that was one of the things I appreciated most about him. I did not need things sugar-coated. I am a child raised on Dragnet and fully appreciated the concept of "Just the facts". I also credit Al Hartman with the fact that I even have any of my children. None of them came easily and I know that his training and instincts allowed them to be born alive and healthy.

HUNTER


I learned I was pregnant with Hunter when I couldn't stop being sick. After a week of my throwing up, my dad called me to tell me that he had made an appointment for me with Dr. Hartman. To this day there are smells that will make my stomach try to turn inside out. I soon found out that there was a limited selection of items that I could eat and know that they would remain with me. These items included Cheetos (most disgusting "food" ever, I only tried them because I was desparate one day), 7-Up and anything spicy. In fact the spicier the food was, the greater chance it had of staying down. It needs to be noted at this point, that of all my children, Hunter is the one who enjoys spicy foods the most. The hotter something is the better for him.

In November of 1989, we went to have an ultrasound. Dr. Hartman was one of the few doctors in the area who had an ultrasound machine right in his office. He could operate the equipment himself, but for this he brought in a technician. Rick and I had debated on finding out the sex of the baby, but since I'm the one who given a choice will peak in the packages at Christmas, it really wasn't much of a discussion. All along, Rick had said that he wanted us to have a little girl. He had dreams of daddy-daughter dates, dancing with his little girl at her wedding and sitting on the couch cleaning his guns when boys showed up to take her out. When we heard we were having a boy for a split second I was worried on how Rick would react. That is all the time it took though for his face to light up and for him to exclaim, "A son! I'm going to have a son!" He had to show the video of the ultrasound to everyone, pausing the tape everytime to point out the important parts.

Also about the same time, I took what is called an AFP test. This was the one and only time I ever took this test. We had just come back from visiting Rick's dad in California when Dr. Hartman called me at work to tell me he had the results of the test. The results were not good. The tests indicated that our child would have serious birth defects. Options were discussed, including abortion. Yes we were young, yes we would be able to have more children, but we had seen this baby. We had watched his heart beat and seen him suck his thumb. He was no longer a theoretical idea to us. He was a living, breathing person. Because of the length of my pregnancy, a decision would have to be made soon. Only there really was no decision. If this was the hand God had dealt us, so be it. We were young, we were a team and we could handle this. We kept the secret of the tests results through the holidays. We did not want to upset anyone since they were all so excited. It was right after the New Year, that Dr. Hartman called me again to let me know that the lab had run the test incorrectly - the wrong due date had been input. As a result the test did not indicate anything wrong with our son. Even though this was the new result, it wasn't till he was born that all doubt was removed from our minds.

During the last months of my pregnancy, I developed pre-eclampsia. This entailed my making regular trips to the doctor to have my blood pressure monitored and fetal stress tests done. On one visit, about three weeks before my due date, everything appeared to be going along as usual. Dr. Hartman told me that I should go home, relax and enjoy the weekend, then we would induce labor on the following Monday. I was just about ready to leave when he came back into the room and said he wanted to do an ultrasound before I left. The results were that there was no amniotic fluid left, the placenta had shut down, but Hunter had not yet gone into distress. If we had waited till Monday, the chances are good that Hunter would not have survived. Richard Hunter Wixom was born on March 17th, 1990, after 27 1/2 hours of labor and 1/2 hour before they would have done a C-section to deliver him. This tendency of putting things off till the last possible moment has continued to be a theme with him throughout his life.
Here are some other things to know about Hunter -

1. He does not adjust well to change. Serving a mission for the LDS church is helping him overcome this. Change is not bad he has learned. It is just different. With change we are given the opportunity to experience new things and to grow. 2. He is goal oriented and very talented. Whether it is playing sports, achievements in school or performing musically, Hunter will set a goal and then work to achieve it. I can remember when he was in dance, he would spend hours on our deck going over the steps of a routine again and again. I could always tell when he became frustrated, because he would shake his hands and pace. He also shakes his hands whenever he is excited about something.
3. He appears to be a social butterfly, but he is really a very private person. In this he is a lot like his dad. Hunter is a great listener and attracts people to him because of it. When someone he cares about it, he often seems to have a sixth sense about what needs to be done to find a resolution. Unfortunately, he holds his feelings to himself. It is very difficult for him to open up. It has always been a very select group to whom he will share his feelings. Unfortunately, as he has gotten older, his parents have not always been part of the group.

4. He loves Winnie the Pooh. He received his first stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh when he was a year old and had collected every single one. He often fancies himself as Eeyore - always sad and looking at the negative. Yet when it comes right down to it, he is more like Pooh - optimistic, friendly, caring, and when he does get in over his head, he has good friends to help him out. He is also very loyal to his family and friends.

5. He has a strong testimony of Heavenly Father's love for His children and of the mission of Jesus Christ as the Savior of mankind. It is this testimony that has guided him throughout his life. It has always been a part of him. When he was three years old, he learned the Primary song "On a Golden Springtime". This remains his favorite Primary song. He has never been afraid to share his testimony or stand up for what he believes is right. This testimony is what has led him to put his "life on hold" to serve a mission for the LDS Church in Montana. While there, he has strived to teach people that we are all brothers and sisters and that the true love of Christ is shown when we serve one another.