Virginia Woolf wrote, “Happiness is in the quiet, ordinary things. A table, a chair, a book with a paper-knife stuck between the pages. And the petal falling from the rose, and the light flickering as we sit silent.”
I am a fan of those quiet, ordinary things, having learned from experience that pausing to note them quiets the soul and brings a breath of calm to the worried heart. But this was not a week of quiet, ordinary things. It was a week of noise, chaos (mostly of an organized type) and so much activity that an entire bouquet of roses might have lost its petals in my presence and still not been noticed. It was a week that proves that happiness sometimes comes in loud, boisterous packages which are as fulfilling as an hour of silence.
We spent the last three days at a family reunion, first with my parents, siblings and all our families, and then at a massive reunion which would hold the new record in that famous Guinness book had a representative been invited to take count. With my immediate family we had relay games, watermelon eating contests, team cheers and soccer games. We had 23 children running the halls of hotels with parents in chase to hush them. We had a group of boys that ran like a pack of wolves, unaware that such a species as “adult” was on the planet and girls cementing friendships. We had babies to hold, games to play, conversations to enjoy, swimming to do. A lip sync contest, a memorial service for my recently deceased grandmother, a family meeting and late night talks. It was wonderful, really. Nothing quiet about it, but packed full of happiness.
The larger reunion was for descendants of Henry Grow, early Mormon pioneer, builder and architect of the great Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah as well as dozens of other structures throughout Utah, a few of which are still standing. Two of his descendants are currently serving as General Authorities for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints which opened doors for access to exclusive tours of the tabernacle, various classes taught around Temple Square about Henry and his family, a special family devotional in the tabernacle, and attendance at the largest dinner ever served in the Conference Center. It was the largest family reunion held in the history of the Church, and the breadth of it was more than a little impressive. I feel grateful and humbled to be a part of such a large, great family, and feel that my heart has expanded this week in love, admiration and humility as my appreciation for generations past has deepened. I knew a lot going in, and learned even more.
On Friday night I sat in the tabernacle, surrounded by thousands of people to whom I am related, listening to three superb messages. A choir was put together, jokingly called the “Grow Tabernacle Choir”, which sang some of the great anthems of the church which would have been sung at important moments in the Tabernacle. As the spirit washed over me while listening to all of this, I thought to myself, “I have not been born with gifts to build a physical edifice which will stand for 150 years and be of such significance that my children’s children will remember it, but I can be a strong connection between my ancestors and my children. The Grows were a family of builders, and I can be a builder in my own way. I can do more to introduce my children to these great people whose lives so impacted ours even though they’re no longer here. I can be a strong link and pass the torch well. I can do better.” It was the sort of event that thrills my heart. I am not enlarged by what Henry did; my shoes are my own to fill. I am grateful for the footsteps of giants to follow as I give my best.
I learned some things about their lives, made connections I hadn’t considered. I am hungry for their stories with an ache that has been with me for years. It is satisfied only briefly by a new bit of information and then is back for more. So many tasks I’ve wanted to tackle for years still remain undone and I came home with renewed hope that I can find a way to see them to fruition.
Following the reunion we had an evening together in my home before travel plans began to carry all my brothers and sisters, along with my parents, back to their homes in other states. I looked around last night at the chaos of 40 people eating and talking together. The children formed an almost unbroken line of bodies bounding in and out the back door while adults cleaned up after them, nursed small wounds, held babies, visited and watched Olympic events. It was crazy, it was loud, it was dizzying. And I felt so happy that they were all here, in my home, together. I wasn’t ready to say good-bye. A massive thank-you to my parents for making all of it possible. What memories we made!
Today my sisters and I, just the three of us, worked together in my kitchen for a couple of hours, talking and laughing together (and making a chocolate cake, of course!). It was perfect.
Right now, as I type, my husband and oldest three children are playing a game of Acquire together across the room. Three more children sit at my feet with another board game, and my youngest two have set up a mini-fort using kitchen chairs at my left. My two year old is so excited about this play time that she’s yelling every word, jumping up and down, sticking her face in mine so our noses touch to update me on the progress of their creative play. They’re up too late – AGAIN – and I comfort myself by saying that’s what summer is for. It is loud, it is crazy. And once again, it’s perfect. This is the fabric of my life right now; non-stop action, noise, messes and broken things. One day the weave will even out but for now the kaleidoscope of experience is producing quite a design and I’m doing my best to absorb it and enjoy it.
So there was the travelogue. It’s been a wonderful week, to be sure. I’ve been thinking about these posts and recognize that I’ve fallen off the wagon with my honest accounting of my goals for 2012. In the big picture, I surely met my goal of feeling happy this week. I was tired and overstimulated, to be sure, but happy. Still, there were specific things I set out to accomplish and it’s time to see where I stand.
SO, based on the goals stated in this post, here’s a solid update on my progress:
1. Find Joy.
The children hate the picture, so I haven’t hung it for the family. I plan to take the joy letters with us on vacation to get a better shot. I made a place for a chalkboard, found a frame, had wood cut, painted it all, then discovered that the wood was cut improperly and I haven’t taken the time to fix it and hang it. Ridiculous, but true. So I’m not posting our goals on the chalkboard like I planned. The joy books were largely abandoned as the end of the school year blew up on me. I feel so bad about it but I’ve simply been overwhelmed. I think I’m going to write them each a letter to summarize the summer and pick them back up with the start of the school year. I’m still working on the 8 Habits and feel like that’s something I’ll always be working on. There is one thing I’ve done this summer which I feel good about. We’ve been gathering every day with copies of the Ensign to listen to a Conference talk, then take turns sharing things we liked about it. It’s been a good step in the “first things first” category. I’ve had to work harder than I anticipated to seek joyful moments, but there’s no question that I’m becoming more skilled at it. I’m learning to live more joyfully even if I crashed and burned a little in July.
Personal Health. I haven’t done what I wanted to do here, as much of my attention has gone to the health of others in my home. I’ve continued my general willingness to push mine to the bottom when other things are urgent. I’ve made some progress here and there, but not what I intended.
Good books. I finished Middlemarch and one other book this month. I’m working my way through my reading list and that’s a good thing.
Housekeeping. I’ve never worked so hard for a house that looks so sloppy, but the summer has been a major project in helping the children to do more work. It would be easier to just do it myself, but the children are the real project here, so I’m trying to teach them to do it. We’ll see what kind of schedule I work out when school starts.
Laundry. It still piles up some, but I’m better about folding it and getting it put away.
Three items in the basement: papers, all childrens clothing, food storage. I’m midway through the clothing and will start on one of the others soon.
Three around the house projects: girls bedroom curtain and headboard, guest bedroom headboard, yellow bathroom. Haven’t touched the bathroom, but I finished and installed both headboards in the past two weeks. Yay!
Planning/Margin. I’ll be honest here. Much has been sacrificed as life turned upside down with two significant injuries this year, costing unprecedented time in medical offices and so forth. I’m trying but not succeeding here.
Cut all spending to essentials. This has been a mixed failure and success. Our essentials have been incredibly expensive this year, curtailing most of the things we want to do. The financial goals were blown away by medical expenses so we’re just doing our best right now.
Seek excellence. I’ve interviewed the friends I wanted to talk to and am working on this.
Books: I’ve read two of the books on my list and am taking two more with me to the beach in August for a jump start right before school begins.
Full attention to children in after school hours. I did a good job of clearing my mind and focusing on the kids in those precious hours. I feel successful here.
Slow down in evenings and do more reading. I’ve been moderately successful here. Some weeks we’ve been great and others have been a joke. Got to keep working on this one.
15 minutes of creativity. I haven’t been consistent, but I’ve done this more than before. Of the things I wanted to learn to do, I’ve learned letterpress and have experimented with free motion quilting but haven’t yet attempted a real quilt. My girls remind me constantly that I’m not yet making them skirts. Got to fix that.
Quilting. Well, first up I’ll admit to buying some fabric which blows that goal away. I will say that I’ve purchased much, much less than I’d like to so in general I feel ok here. I finished a quilt this week. I believe that makes five quilts this year, and I’ve finished a couple of quilt tops as well. I also finished my table runner. My goal was twelve, so I’m two quilts down but that’s ok. I haven’t started the quilts I’m dreaming of making for my children yet, but I haven’t crossed them off the list, either. I did finish the quilt along blocks and have started the houndstooth quilt.
I had six goals here. I started vegetables from seed but they’re still small. I’m learning. Adding a large garden area at the back of the yard has been postponed until I have a healthy husband and teenage son. The salsa garden is sparse but it’s a try. I planted Bells of Ireland but they died for some reason. The sand for a lavender garden has been deferred for the same reason as the garden. I blew it on my Cinderella pumpkins and misplaced the seeds until it was too late to try from seed. Next year will be better. I also had a goal to fill all my containers with flowers and I did get that done. I’m loving my flowers in front of the porch.
Working on the photos for this year. Haven’t started photos from years past. Journal writing has been sporadic, and school papers remain untouched.
I did collect birthdates, but have missed a lot of them. This area is probably my area of greatest improvement in spite of that. I’m spending more time with my friends and it feels good. It contributes to my happiness and I’m really pleased with it. I also made a new friendship this year which has become very dear to me.
There you have it. There are far more unaccomplished things than there are accomplished. I had NO CLUE when I made that list what kind of year this would turn out to be, so I don’t feel frustrated at all. I’ve been doing my best. Plus, I still have five months to regroup. Good news, right?
Now that you’re done reading my impromptu book, I’ll wish you a great week.