Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Winter Heather vs. Summer Heather

As I am in a break between company and trips, I've gotten a big manic. It's all "Winter Heather's" fault. When school is in session and I am racing from activity to activity for kids during the day and then church and school and everything else at night, that Winter me starts making lists of all the things "Summer Heather" is going to do. Winter Heather thinks it will be so easy to repaint the kitchen cabinets, fix the treehouse roof, grow a flower garden, catch up on babybooks while watching Pride & Prejudice. But now that I am Summer Heather, I know how deluded WH is. WH is like certain of my friends' husbands who wonder "what do you DO all day and why isn't the house spotless and dinner already made?" Questions, if I'm honest, I ask myself from time to time...

As soon as school lets out I know exactly why so few projects get done during the break. Kids go to bed too late, sucking up any productive night work; we are either washing/packing/prepping to go out of town, out of town, or washing/unpacking/de-messing from being out of town. Now substitute "company" for out of town (we are addicted to company--it's such a great excuse to have fun).

This last week, right after my sister left, I felt the full judgment of Winter Heather and decided I'd take on the kitchen which Summer Heather flaked on last year. Well, to be honest, WH and my sister-in-law Stephanie ganged up on Summer me. This spring they ordered all the replacement knobs & pulls, bought the paint, and changed the walls from a tired terra cotta to a lovely "Dried Sage," knowing that the cabinets, by contrast, would look so hideous that something would have to be done. Thanks guys. So I stayed up til 2 or 3 for four nights to get my cabinets out of the '80s. One friend said, as nicely as she could, "Hello, Millie Vanillie called and want their kitchen back."

One day I made the mistake of working on stuff before the kids went to bed. Millie sobbed, not because she got "Edwardian Linen" all over her new shirt but because I went all Crazed Mama on her. How hard is it to not lean against the door frame when you have just been told, "Don't lean against the door frame"?

I also repainted our deck chairs, scrubbed clean the basement door, weeded and fertilized the roses I'm trying to grow, got Dave and some boys from the ward to chop down some giant oak limbs that were bugging our sad Italian widow neighbor, sanded the deck railing, prepared a Relief Lesson for Sunday, and reread New Moon.

SH is so elated by the altered kitchen, she made Jen come over to see my cabinet progress. She walks in and there I am covered in paint and baking cookies. The simultaneous aromas of new paint and chocolate chips made her shake her head at me. "You are the Good Mom," she said. "Not only do you transform your kitchen, you still find time to make treats for the kids." And I hate the look on her face because I AM NOT THAT PERSON. If not for Hotpockets & Mac & Cheese, my kids would starve. And I'm not transforming a kitchen. That would involve actual money, granite, cabinets not made of particle board, and a floor that didn't look like dirty mop water. Luckily Georgia walked in the room to grab a cookie.

"Georgie," I said, "what did you have for dinner?"

She stops. It's 9:30pm. "Um, I guess this cookie is dinner."

I stared at Jen, daring her to pursue this as I KNOW she had made some healthy & spectacular meal that probably involved veggies from her garden. Jen later told me that she had made dinner that night but that in kids' eyes healthy meals still pale in comparison to Tollhouse cookies. "Nothing says 'I Love You' like a zucchini fertata," she added with a shrug.

I mowed the lawn & worked on the treehouse today but my energy is spent. I still have the entryway to paint and the upstairs hall is beyond dingy but there's no way I can tackle them now. Instead, I plan to go to Home Depot, buy all the paint and stuff and let it be Fall Heather's problem. I mean, once the kids are back in school, there will be TONS of time to get all sorts of projects done...

"Mamas, Don't let your babies dress up like cowboys..."

Mine & Dave's secret plan to train the kids to do all the work so that we can sit around and eat bon bons may just work after all.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Family Reunion & Book Prison

I just returned from one of the most pain-free family reunions ever. No big drama. No bad fights. No nasty sunburns. No lice. Just lots of swimming and eating and hanging out and lots and lots of reading. Margaret's house really is magical. I swear we only left the place to periodically restock the freezer with icecream.

The best barometer for me of a vacation is how many books I got to read. In four days I read two good sized books. In my daily life, I have to work hard to read. It means staying up late and paying for it the next day, or trying to get the kids occupied enough for me to sneak away and devour a chapter or two before the next diaper change. This is tough when you're reading a novel that puts you in "Book Prison." You know what I mean. There are some books that suck you in and try as you may, you can't extract yourself until you're done. Several years ago Dave & I went to Hawaii and I brought along The DeVinci Code. At one point when we were going to dinner, Dave just sent us along without him as he sat in a parked car reading.

Harry Potter books do that to me. Last summer when the final book came out, my fellow Potterheads Jen and Coco decided we would kill our families if we tried to read the book with our kids bugging us ("Mom, it's noon. Shouldn't we have breakfast?" "Mom, I think my arm is broken. Mom? MOM!") so we rented a hotel room and quarentined ourselves. This also protected us from those irritating people who feel compelled to spoil things for others. Some dumb teenagers blurted out about Dumbelore's fate at church when I was only half way thru number 6.

Last summer I was also incarcerated while reading those fun Stephenie Meyer Vampire books. I sent the first to my 15 year old niece Kate for Christmas. Apparently, the day before the reunion when she knew she'd be seeing me, she felt guilty for not having read it so she started it...and read until 3am when my brother made her go to bed. So until she finished it, she barely showed her face. Meanwhile, my sister & I reread our copies of Twilight since the fourth and final one comes out next month. And my sister-in-law Lisa was tied to her copy of New Moon*.

The second night of the reunion, once the kids were in bed, we all found our way to the living room and instead of playing a game, watching a movie or talking, all of us still awake were reading. It made me so happy to be part of such a bookish family. And it's a variety of books. Lee usually has something on African phonology, Dave had a Marine memoir, my mom a British mystery. We aren't book snobs. If books were cheese, we devour Monterey and Muenster, Velveta and Valencay. This freaks some people out.

Last summer I was talking to a very smart acquaintance about books. She mentioned certain French feminist stuff and I chimed in as I read a lot of that in grad school and found Kristeva very compelling. I had my "smart Heather" cap on. So I could see her debating something in her head, sizing up my intellectual cojones. She leaned in and in sotto voice she told me about her "very exclusive" book group and would I like to join. She mentioned several texts they'd be reading and I nodded, familiar with most of them. Worthwhile books all. And I had a split second internal debate. While I have the grey matter necessary to discuss erudite crap, I just don't have the energy for it at this point. And if I do want to change my fancy pants for smarty pants, I don't want to have to expend all that mental energy reading something someone else chose so that I can feel "intellectual." In many ways I view my masters degree in English as my permission slip to subscribe to TV Guide. I'm smart enough, and I don't have to prove it to anybody anymore. That's a good thing. But I like this woman and if I didn't spend my days wiping counters, mouths, and butts we'd probably have lots in common. I do not want to offend her by declining her generous invitation, so I realize I need to just let it all hang out and make her run from me. Screaming. I know just what to do. "Oh, I love book groups. What do you think the chances are of us reading those Mormon Vampire books? They are so awesome! Edward, the vegetarian vampire, is so HOT! I'm leading the discussion in my ward bookgroup on Twilight this month." She backs away in horror, as if I have fangs and am about to bite her neck. "Sounds like you have a lot on your plate, so if you can't make it, I'll understand." She smiles politely, hand to her throat and flees. I felt bad, but right at this point in my life, I need my books lite. In March I read The Ministry of Special Cases and almost had to medicate myself afterwards. I'm still haunted.

Tonite Dave let me know that he secured a hotel for me and Coco & Sande (we'll be thinking of you Becca...). It's a Courtyard with an outdoor pool that he got using frequent sleeper miles or whatever. This way we can get tan AND get our Vampire on. We'll be there on August 2 when Breaking Dawn comes out. Will Bella stay with Edward or go with werewolf Jacob? Will she become a vampire? Don't bother calling. They don't allow phones in Book Prison.
*(go to http://youtube.com/watch?v=aevFv5-v55w for the best new moon parody--I'm a dork but that doesn't mean I can't laugh at myself. Or go this one which rocks http://youtube.com/watch?v=WTMnZzofxtA because he's such a better Edward than that dork Cedric Diggory guy)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

"We're Still Cooler Than You"

Starting tomorrow, me, my 3 siblings, their spouses & kids, and my mom will meet in the Berkshires for a family reunion. Our last reunion was 3 years ago at a beach house in Oxnard and my mom had these very cute beachy T-shirts made for us all. Of course we had to reimburse her, even if your shirt didn't fit or made you look fat because of the boxy cut. I'm just saying.

My sister Angela & clan arrived earlier this week and I told her I wanted to do a wacky T-shirt. I showed her the above image and she said it was fine, except for that part about our family being "fun." And our Mom would DIE if I publicly said we were dysfunctional. Everybody thinks our family is perfect and we need to work very very hard to make sure they keep thinking that. It was very thoughtless of me to imply otherwise even if it was a joke. So I scrapped that design and moved on to the one below:

I liked this one because it was so white trash and groovy. Angela pointed out that this pic is both atypical and typical of our family. First it's atypical because we are on vacation, something our family rarely did. Vacations cost money. Why not just pile all the kids into the stationwagon and drive 12 hours to Provo and stay in Aunt Donna's basment? Every few years we'd go to a non-Utah relative destination. 1971 was one of those years. Now, the typical part is that if we go on vacation, you have to find someone to freeload off of. Why pay for a condo when you can borrow a friend's trailer? The Scotch thriftiness is in our blood and the few reunions we've had as adults we've managed to sponge off our friends. Ange's buddy Karen loaned us the beach house, and my friend Mags is lending us her Berkshire place. So when we plan stuff, it's a real challenge. It's not "Where do we want to go for the reunion" but "Who has a place we can free-load in a cool location..." And just so you know, if I DID have a great cabin/beach house/condo, I would oh so happily lend it out to all of my friends.
Anyhow, we decided that the above picture was ultimately misleading our kids into thinking that their kin were the vacationing kind, and that falsehood is not exactly "keeping it real." Angela liked the picture below best and so we added some Star Wars font to enhance the 70s vibe. This was a very Bickmore thing, taking pictures on the doorstep the first day of school. Vacations were low on the priority list, but school along with Church & Family were the top 3, and usually in that order. Please note that I am 3 in the picture and not headed off to any school but had to be part of things and grabbed the "Flipper" lunch box for authenticity. We all look so goofy and are each in our own way trying to be "cool:" Lee & Danny in their Hang Ten shirts, Ange in the Heidi-esque dress w/ knee highs, and me just desperately trying to be one of the big kids.
So I'm eager to go enjoy someone else's vacation home with my mom who is wonderful (even if she makes me crazy), and my 3 wonderful siblings. Thankfully, we are all very comfortable in our own skin, which to me, is the very definition of cool.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Service With a Smile

This week we had some dear friends relocate to California and I got the chance to help with the move a bit. When you really love people, it is so easy to serve them. You can stay up til midnite wrapping framed paintings in blankets or watch their kids or bring in a meal, all with a smile and a happy heart. There's nothing I wouldn't do for a friend. But the true test of my Christianity comes when I am asked to serve people I don’t love, people, who, if I am really honest with myself, actually make me crazy. That's a different story.

Every ward has their wackos, their needies, their hoarders, their chronic movers, their easily offendeds, and our ward is no exception. Many years and 3 children ago, there was a woman who was all of the above. I have come to put her in that unique category of "F-BOHN," or Freakin' Black Hole Of Needs. Some people just suck the life out of everyone around them. This sister, let's call her Bhonnie Leech, preyed on new ward members who didn't know to run from her. One set of friends mistakenly let her stay in their apartment for a week until their sister who was to sub-let it arrived. In that short week Bhonnie had filled the entire apartment with her thousands of boxes and would not leave. These same kind souls let her use their car while they were away. When D got in the car he started to gag and choke. There were vapors and toxic smells of the rat juice variety emanating from the trunk. When D opened it up, there were dark red stain all over, like she'd been carting body parts around. When questioned, Bhonnie said, "Oh that smell. Well, it MIGHT be from the time this summer when I bought 10 lbs of ground beef--it was 60% lean and such a bargain!-and forgot about it in the trunk for a week." 90% of the ward had similar stories. Some even worse. She's bounced around the area for years and when she lands in your ward, the Relief Society president feels like the doomed character in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" who is "chosen" to get stoned to death.

I had miraculously eluded her until the following summer. She calls on Dave's birthday as I am preparing for about 25 guests to arrive any minute. After 10 minutes of chit chat and hemming and hawing she confesses that she has "a tiny favor." She has signed up with a program to host foreign exchange students. She has to house and feed them dinner, but she is in California and forget to arrange food for them and could I just whip a little something up and take it to her house and feed the foreigners? I said I was in the middle of throwing a party and unfortunately could not help her. I got off the phone, so relieved to have dodged a bullet but also feeling a tiny uneasy. I knew she'd go down the list of ward members until she found a sucker to help her, someone much nicer than me. I felt guilty, like the survivor of a car accident where every passenger dies but one guy walks away without a scratch.

So when Bhonnie calls a week later, obviously needing "a small favor," I knew my number was up. "Hi, Heather, how was the party? California is beautiful. I'm having such a nice time." She gasps a little, like she's out of breath; I'm holding mine. "Well things were nice but you see I got a call today from the foreign exchange people and I guess my tenants aren't happy. Well, the FRENCH ones aren't." Two Parisian students were staying in her room and said it was not fit to live in. If the situation wasn't fixed at once, they'd leave and Bhonnie would not get paid. This takes her 20 minutes to explain. I finally say, "Bhonnie, do you need me to go over to your house and clean?" "Um, yes. That would be lovely." At this point I think cleaning can't be worse than her rambling conversation.

Getting the logistics taken care of made me want to pull out my hair.

Me: "So how do I get in?"

Bhonnie: "Oh, Masuko is always home. But she's deaf. So knock loud."

Me: "Where are the cleaning supplies?"

Bhonnie: "Cleaning supplies...cleaning supplies...hmmm..." I'm already siding with Pierre.

Me: "I'll bring my own. "

Bhonnie: "Now you may need to find a lamp for the bathroom, the light wasn't working."

Me: "Where would I find a lamp?"

Bhonnie: "Um, well there's this one part of this one room with this closet..."

Me: "I'll leave right now and go to your house and you call me in a half hour and can walk me thru anything I need then."

Bhonnie: "Okay," and then she blabs about how picky "those Frenchies" are and how lovely California is in August and how she'll just die if they take her money away and on and on. For 15 minutes she holds my ear hostage as I scramble for cleaning supplies.

By the time I pawn my kid off on my upstairs neighbor, fearing Jonah might get scabies if he so much as touches the floor of her obviously dilapidated house, and head to Chez Leech where I bang on the door until a shadowy figure unlatches the bolt and disappears before I enter.

I find Bhonnie's room and am sicked out by the mustiness and thick layers of dust on everything and the piles and piles and piles of boxes and junk. I am paralyzed in there and so I move on to the bathroom. There are 3 non-working lamps in the bathroom. I hunt around the house for one that isn't broken and though there are several in the living room, only one works. I steal it and put it in the bathroom so I can see what I need to do.

I turn it on and immediately wish I hadn't. The bathroom belongs at a truck stop, or a really bad Taco Bell. The sink had a grime ring and a hair clog. After trying to clean the soap holder with a sponge, I resorted to my key ring attached Swiss Army knife and proceeded to scrape soap scum an inch and a half deep that must have started collecting in the Carter Administration. I won't talk about the shower. Some things are better left unsaid.

It's at this point that I start to get really resentful of Sister Leech. This is not a friend in need, this is a nut job slob using me just like she uses everybody in her path. "Why on earth am I doing this?" I asked myself. Honestly, I know that if I hadn't volunteered, some other, most likely kinder person would have been roped in. I imagined her visiting teacher who is so good to her, having to leave her 4 kids to come over and do this. I thought of all the woman in all the wards who had served this woman and thought, "I'm taking one for the Relief Society." Okay. I can live with that.

The toilet was my undoing though. I was so frustrated and the phone is ringing again. Bhonnie keeps calling asking how things are going and to tell me how much she appreciates me doing it and that she will make me dinner when she gets back, but not that first week because she has a lot of stuff to do and did she mention how much she appreciates it? Ring. Ring. I am racing to finish, to be done, to run back to my little apartment that didn't make my skin crawl. I pre-flush and start scrubbing the bowl with Bon Ami, my cleanser of choice. The Frenchmen have terrible aim and there is dried urine all over the rim that requires me to really use force to loosen the stains and before you can say "sacre bleu," I lose my leverage and the brush bristles ricochet off the rim and yellow toilet water sprays me full in the face.

I am dripping in eau de toilette. I try to come up with a single good reason to stay and finish cleaning. Let them banish Bhonnie as a host family. No one deserved to pay for her inhospitality. I want to be a good person. I do. But I need a way to justify this. And then it hits me. I'm cleaning for Jesus. "I'm...cleaning for...Jesus," I say it out loud, trying on this bizarre worldview that allows me to be covered in a stranger's piss, cleaning for a woman I don't like, and somehow still be okay with it. I'm feeling rather pentecostal but oddly at peace as I pick up the toilet brush and say again, "I'm cleaning for Jesus" and get the last of the ring off the bowl. I spray the mirror with Windex and chant, "I'm cleaning for Jesus" with each wipe. "I'M CLEANIN' FOR JESUS!" I shout this mantra as I dust and and tidy, thankful that the only person within earshot is deaf. My voice is hoarse by the time I leave.

This epiphany has stuck with me over the years and made me a better sport when called to serve people I'm not lovin'. When I send Dave off to help move families whose income is triple ours, I think, "Well, he's movin' for Jesus." Or when I want to kill a visiting kid who hollers at me from the bathroom that they need "help" even though they are 5 years old, I remind myself that I am wiping for Jesus. Over the years I've cooked for Jesus, cleaned up cat poo for Jesus, babysat for Jesus. Once I even waxed arms for Jesus.

I ran into Bhonnie about a month after that incident. She was tan, the Frenchmen were satisfied, but she might have to move out of that house soon so it would be a while before she could cook me that dinner. I tell her it's all good, no repayment necessary. Honestly, I'm happy to clean for a Friend.