Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Settlers as Settlers

Mark and I wanted to have some fun.

We used to go on all kinds of dates. Even here in small-town Iowa we found date-like activities to do. One of my favorites:

Mark planned a sunrise date at a park where we could watch the sun come over the horizon while eating homemade bagels and drinking coffee from a thermos. Fun? Romantic? Reminiscent of the 'honeymoon stage?' Yes to all of the above.

But we haven't done much like that recently. We've been too busy thinking about grown-up problems like infertility and our earwig infestation. If you've ever heard of earwigs, you will understand why they might take one's attention away from romance:

In any case, we decided that we needed something fun, date-like. So we planned our Settlers as Settlers night, in which we ate food that early European settlers of the United States might have eaten and played the game of Settlers:

We even dressed up:

 Please don't comment on how I look more like a gypsy or vagabond than I do a settler. I was working with what I had.

We ate homemade pork and beans (but went easy on the pork, as I don't care much for meat) and skillet bread, which tasted basically like biscuits. We also had coffee because we read in the book pictured above that western cowboys drank strong black coffee with just about every meal. We Americans have a rich heritage of healthy eating.

All in all, a fun night! I enjoyed just being able to cherish being a couple again. Sometimes in the midst of wanting a baby I forget that I have a lot to be thankful for (example: see the one wearing the blue bandana).

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sibling Brag-fest

My two younger siblings have a history of flourishing on stage. When my brother Zack was in high school he participated in a couple of different plays that his school put on. I don't have a picture of him in I Remember Mama, but if you're at all familiar with the play (which I was not), he was Uncle Chris, the eccentric uncle who saved the family.

A picture of Zack and his proud older sister his senior year when he participated in A Midsummer Night's Dream:

He was Puck, the mischievous imp who casts spells to cause confusion and consternation among the fairies and love-struck humans wandering around the forest at night.

My little sister Abby has followed closely in Zack's footsteps, but I think it safe to say her interest in theater has surpassed Zack's.

This is me with Abby last year, when she played Cosette in her school's production of Les Miserables:

We drove up to Minnesota this weekend to see Abby play Babe, a strong-willed, independent woman, in The Pajama Game. She's a sophomore in high school, 15 years old, and I will repeat: she loves being on stage. 

Notice how, in these pictures, I'm always the proud sibling watching performances. I was not talented in that way when I was in high school (nor am I that way now)!

Abby also has a beautiful singing voice (which is partly why she's ended up with one of the lead female roles in school musicals for the past two years). Since I'm bragging her up already, here's a video snippet of her singing "Remember Me" in her high school's Fine Arts night this past school year (so, she's 15):

 I don't think the gene pool was fair, and I'm always jealous when I hear her sing. I feel vicariously blessed by the talent God has given my sister. And brother. 

Brag, brag, brag!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Homemade Toothpaste or I Don’t Think We’re Crazy

Mark and I have continued to try homemade cleaning and hygiene products over the last five months.

We tried to make our own dish detergent, which was a disaster. Mark handled the greasy discolored ring that detergent left around the sink every time we did dishes a lot better than I did, but in the end, even he didn’t put up much of a fuss when I sent him on an emergency errand one evening to pick up dish soap.

Then we tried a recipe that Mark’s cousin had put on her blog for a homemade nontoxic drain cleaner. Our bathtub drain perpetually clogged to the point that we were sloshing in water 30 seconds into our showers (embarrassing, I know). Mark followed the soda-and-vinegar recipe dutifully, but it just didn’t do the trick. Still sloshing in our showers.

All that time spent down by the bathtub drain siphoning baking soda down the hole did get Mark to wondering, though, whether the drain itself had a problem. He took the drain apart and found that it did have a problem (technical enough that I won’t try to describe it here). Now the drain works fine, and I guess we have the homemade drain cleaner to thank.

I had had a homemade toothpaste recipe sitting in my binder for a while that I wanted to try. It looked incredibly easy, cheap, and free of all the strange additives found in commercial toothpaste.

We finally got around to making it two or three weeks ago (you can find the recipe in Tsh Oxenreider's book Organized Simplicity).

Sweet minty freshness it was not. I didn’t have peppermint oil on hand, so my first batch just included the coconut oil, baking soda, and stevia powder. The sweet stevia didn’t begin to mask the saltiness of the baking soda.

But when Mark said he didn’t mind it all that much, we continued to use it. When we finished our first tiny batch, we made more, but this time made sure to have peppermint oil on hand. The peppermint flavor definitely helps, but I still maneuver my toothbrush to keep the stuff away from my tongue, and I still shudder as I spit. Ick.

I don’t think we’re crazy, but we’re going to keep using our homemade nasty-tasting toothpaste. As Mark bravely said the first time we made it, it’s really not all that bad, and it’s really only an unwelcome guest in my mouth for about two minutes a day.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Ugly: On Not Handling Infertility Well

The Ugly: On Not Handling Infertility Well

I realized earlier this week that when I blog about my experiences with infertility, I don’t blog about the ugly stuff. I don’t think I’m intentionally trying to hide the poor way I often handle the pain of infertility… I think – and I’ve been pondering this for the last few days – that I write what I want to be. I write what I want to believe about God, how I want Him to use this pain in me.

Unfortunately, those ideals rarely match the reality.

When I’m really feeling the pain of infertility, this is what my husband (who sees me with all masks off) can expect:

1. I will cry. A lot.

2. When I cry, I will probably expect him to stop everything else and console me.

3. I will talk about how my body isn’t following normal cycles like it should. In fact, I’ll talk about that a lot. I will still expect him to drop everything and console me. And I will expect him to ask questions, even if he’s heard this a thousand times already.

4. I will cry more when a friend or relative announces that she is expecting. In fact, the closer the person is to me, the more I will cry. I will expect my husband, who is sad for me but happy for whoever is pregnant, to know exactly the words to say to comfort me through this complex emotional contradiction.

5. In fact, I will expect all the people closest to me to know exactly what to say and when to say something to comfort me. And I will also expect them to know when not to say anything. If they don’t gauge these subtle signs correctly, I’ll feel like an infertility martyr. If they do say something that is helpful, I may or may not acknowledge it.

6. I’ll expect back rubs, letters, or other signs of affection from my husband. Just because I’m in so much pain and he should show that he knows it.

7. I will probably replay inconsiderate words from innocent, ignorant strangers, both to myself and to my husband. And I will expect him to console me. (Do you see a pattern?)

8. I won’t notice other people’s pain. Because my pain is greater. How could anyone else be in as much pain as me? Easy: they couldn’t. Therefore, I will think only of my own pain. This will be especially true on special days like Mother’s Day. Other people may have lost their moms recently or may have had a miscarriage, but I probably won’t care.

9. I will be angry at God. Very angry. I might not want to talk to Him. I think He doesn’t love me, maybe even isn’t there.

I don’t always handle infertility this poorly, but this (and more) is definitely what I’m capable of and have displayed at some point over the last year and a half. I’m not trying to verbally bash myself or make anyone reading this disgusted with me, though you may very well be…

I just want to be honest. I think infertility has been and continues to be a growing experience for me, but if my personal and spiritual growth were a line graph, it wouldn’t look the gentle upward sloping progression that I want or expect to see. It would look more like this: 

I think, at least for today, I’ll end my post on a fairly negative but realistic note: I just don’t always handle infertility well.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Psalm 16: A Meditation for Mother's Day

All emphases in the following psalm are my addition, as are, of course, the comments that follow each line of the psalm:

Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge. Lord, you equip me for the work you have for me to do in the world. But you are also my shelter. You are my comfort when even a place as safe as church is a painful place to be on Mother’s Day.

I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing. You have placed me at the center of your will, Father. You have chosen not to give me children now. I can conclude that, despite my desires, I lack nothing. 

As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight. I love to see you at work in your people around me. To see parents raising their children to love and be like Jesus is beautiful. In addition, Father, I am so thankful for the ways in which you use your people to bring me comfort and encouragement.

The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods. I will not pour out their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips. My life is full of joys clamoring to be made gods in my heart. Motherhood is no exception. I can know for sure that to make motherhood a god will bring me sorrow. Lord, please give me strength to not allow motherhood to take a place that it should not.

Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. Lord, you have carefully allocated joys and sorrows in my life to draw me to you and make me like you. In this, you comfort me.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I know that the sacrifice that Jesus made should be enough for me, Lord, but sometimes it’s obvious that my perspective just isn’t big enough yet, and I feel discontented. But aside from this gift of your son, you have given me a delightful inheritance. On this Mother’s Day I am reminded of my own mother and my mother-in-law, both godly women who love me dearly. And there’s so much more. You have given me so much.

I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. You help me, bit by bit, to see that you have a plan for the world and that I fit in it. In your wisdom, you are carrying out your beautiful plans for the world, and yet you don’t neglect my own tiny insignificant heart. Even in my darkest moments, you whisper words of comfort and encouragement to me.

I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. I may have to do this a million times a day. My head always wants to turn to look elsewhere. But when I do set you before me, I am strong.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, When I look at you, Lord, I am glad, joyful even. I see your love. I see a bigger picture. I see you at work. Even as my body remains empty—frustratingly, painfully barren—I lay myself down and rest secure at your feet.

because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Jesus was raised to life after three days in a tomb, and through Jesus you have revealed the path to eternal life! You have promised to fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures. I can’t imagine it now, but I know that it’s true: if I were to never be able to give birth to or adopt a child, you will that void when I see you face to face. Your love, Lord, is breath-taking.

Monday, May 7, 2012


*Warning! This is a long post. Sorry.*

Friday morning my brother graduated from college. I had mixed emotions (and still do) because of that: after Friday we no longer have a close family member living in the same town as us. And in a town like this, where generations reside together and families intermix until everyone (or seemingly everyone) is enmeshed in a complicated web of relations, not having a family member in town is kind of a big deal.

And maybe it’s just me. I like having family close by.

Friday was memorable for another reason too.

After all of the festivities were over and my parents went to help my brother pack up his stuff in his dorm room, Husband went to the park to help split up our food co-op order and I went to work at the library.

A word about the food co-op is in order. In our small town, excess is accepted and encouraged when it comes in the form of a nice car, but frugality reigns supreme in the food budget. Therefore, those of us who want to buy food in bulk that is fair trade or organic must band together and order our organic fair trade food. The food then comes on a truck once every two months and it’s our job, as members of the food co-op, to get together and divide up the food to take home. The truck comes to an enclosed shelter in the park in the south-central part of town.

As I was shelving books in the library, around 3:00 in the afternoon, I noticed the sky in the north and the west was getting dark. It grew increasingly dark very quickly. Rain began to fall, and we librarians began to discuss whether we would need to evacuate to the basement. The sky was almost black. Our library director texted her husband, who works in town south of the library.

Just as he texted her back to tell her we were in a tornado warning, the sirens around town sounded.

I looked out the window, and north of the library, by the grain elevators, I saw what looked like a funnel cloud coming down out of the sky, dust and rain swirling madly.

Because everyone in small-town Iowa knows that sirens sounding during a tornado warning means that a tornado has been spotted, the activity and noise level in the library increased dramatically in a short period of time.

Through the wail of the sirens, we ushered every patron down the hall to the door to the basement. As we moved and I tried professionally comfort patrons and keep them moving, my mind was screaming, Mark’s at the park! There’s no basement in the shelter and no radio!

Quickly everyone clambered down into the basement. We found a chair for an older lady who was just about hyperventilating. A teenager carried her computer, “I’m in the middle of an online test! I can’t just stop!” One librarian started crying, wanting to be with her four little kids and husband during a tornado. I clutched the paper bag I had found in case the older lady did start hyperventilating in trembling hands.

My fellow children’s librarian, Judy, offered to let me try to call Mark on her cell phone. I dialed as quickly as I could with quavering fingers.

The phone rang a few times and then I heard, “Hello, this is Mark.”

“Mark! It’s me. You… you have to get out of the park! There’s a tornado!” I babbled.

“A tornado? Where is it?”

“I think it’s by the grain elevators! By the mall! Hold on.” Someone was pounding frantically at the door at the top of the stairs. Gwen, another librarian, rushed up the stairs to open the door. A bald-headed and sopping wet man was followed down the stairs by a Latino man, carrying his baby girl, and two Latino ladies. All were drenched.

“I saw it!” gasped the bald man.

“Where is it?” we all asked, talking over and through one another.

“On the south side of town by the KSOU tower! I was driving that way but as soon as I saw it, I turned my car around and came back here.”

“Where? Hill! Where is it?” Mark asked, impatiently.

“South part of town. By the KSOU tower.”

“I thought you said it was by the mall. Where’s the KSOU tower?”

“I don’t know. Mark, you have to go home or find a basement somewhere. You can’t stay at the park.”

“Should I invite everyone here to go to our house?”

“Yes! I don’t know! You just need to find shelter!”

“OK. I’m going to go talk to people. Call me back if you hear of any more about the tornado.”

“OK. Bye.” As I hung up, I wished that I’d said, “I love you.”

Now, as you’re reading this, you may think I was being overly dramatic, and maybe I was. But we couldn’t see outside. We didn’t know what was going on, where the tornado was. We thought we had seen it in the north part of town. We couldn’t get our weather radio to work, and a bald patron has just told us that the tornado was in the south part of town. For all we knew, our little town was filled with rampaging tornados.

The few parents who were weathering the storm in the library basement were extremely anxious about their kids. School would have been let out just as the sirens went off. Thankfully, we heard from one of the few who came pounding on the basement door after the sirens started that the schools had pulled the kids back in off of the buses. Those students who had been released before the storm to walk or bike home were picked up by firefighters in trucks, who were roaming the streets specifically to pick up kids.

The sirens in our town will sound continuously if a tornado has been spotted and will continue until the tornado is gone (‘Gone’ can refer to a tornado that has blown away to ravage some other town or a tornado that has disappeared, been pulled up into the clouds). At 3:15 the sirens had begun to sound, and at about 3:35 they stopped suddenly.

All we could hear was the rain pounding, and the comparative quiet was eerie. A few people compared Weather Alert cell phone texts. We finally got our radio to work. The radio announcer, who I was impressed to note did not sound at all flustered, reported that the tornado warning was scheduled to be over by 3:45.

At 3:45 we ventured up the stairs. I was surprised to see that the world outside the library looked mostly the same as it had two hours ago except that it was much wetter. A little wind was still blowing and the rain was still falling, but gently now.

The woman who had been standing at the circulation desk went back by her stack of movies to wait for a librarian. I tried to shake off the feeling of impending doom and remember how to operate our barcode scanner. When the lady with the movies went happily on her way, I called Mark one more time.

“Mark! Are you OK? Where are you?”

“I’m still at the park. A couple of us just stayed here. We figured it was safer to stay in a cement building than to try to drive somewhere when we didn’t know where the tornado was.”

“Ugh,” I groaned. I was glad I hadn’t known that earlier. “OK. I’m glad you’re safe. I’m going to try to call my parents and see if they’re still in Sioux Center or if they made it out before all this came through.”

“OK. I love you.”

“I love you too, Mark.”

I called my parents, who, it turns out, were hunkered down in our basement. They had been getting gas at the gas station on the north part of town when the storm sprang up, seemingly out of nowhere. They had finished pumping their gas, not waiting for the machine to print a receipt, and had hightailed it back to our house.

Everyone was OK. The tornado (which we found out later had touched down on the south side of town, not by the mall) didn’t do much damage.

Even now I have a hard time reflecting on the tornado and the events around it. Everything happened so quickly. And really, very little damage was done (except to the psyches of a lot of kids, I’m sure). If nothing else, the experience gave me a taste of the reality that things can change very quickly. Very. Whether those are changes that feel good, like an adoptive couple finally being referred to a baby to adopt, or changes that feel bad, like a tornado sweeping away your house and items you hold dear.

Maybe that sounds like a really depressing way to end a post. Maybe it is. But it doesn’t feel entirely depressing to me. It’s just something to think about, something I need to hang on to. Nothing in my life is as sure as it feels.

Except for my God.