Our First Week in Oxford

When you only have a little bit of time and you have to decide whether you are going to write a blog post or write to your mother, always write to your mother.
But I will let you eavesdrop.
Hi Mom–
Please excuse the spelling and grammar of my letter. I wanted to send you some photos of our trip so far and tell you what we’ve been up do but I don’t have much time (Scott is down stairs streaming Indiana Jones with the kids). But now that we’ve been here for almost a week I wanted to write and let you know we are alive and things are going better than I expected.
We have a great house. It is super old (200 years?) but sturdy. The stairs slant and the floorboards have cracks and creak REALLY LOUDLY (good thing, too, because there is no lock on the master bedroom door). I also think a ghost lives in my closet because no matter how often I close the door it opens when I am not looking . . . but it is perfect for us because there are enough dents in the floors and walls that the ones we add will not be so noticeable. It is furnished, so we have everything we need, pots and pans and spoons and a washer-dryer contraption that I’m not sure I understand yet. We have enough beds for everyone, and most of the rooms are light and airy. I love the skylights! The rooms that are in the basement are not light and airy but at least they are cozy. There is a big sticker down stairs that says “IF YOU SMELL GAS CALL THIS NUMBER.”
That sticker keeps me up at night.
We live in a great part of the city–everything is walkable–the post office, the health center, all of the grocery stores, lots of restaurants, it is wonderful! Scott and I had a very romantic date at a nearby pub that claimed they made “proper hamburgers” which were absolutely delicious. I think we have walked about 15 miles this week. I am glad because this means I can eat more proper hamburgers.
. . . and Cadbury chocolate. YUM!
Church is a little out there–2.5 miles–but we did it anyway. I’m not sure that is sustainable, though. We might have to figure out another way to get to church. Or go to another church . . .the Scientology church is much closer. And the Quakers.
But going to church really was wonderful. I told the kids before church how you always told me that every time you go to church in a different country you feel like you are coming home. It felt like that here, too, only this church has an ELEVATOR. Danny was excited about that. Too excited.
It is so funny how small the world is. I met someone at church whom I knew in the BYU married ward when I was RS pres. That was a great surprise!
I am trying and praying really hard for the kids to get in school. Sophie and Syrena will be fine if they don’t get into school because they can do BYU Independent Study. But I MUST GET DANNY IN SCHOOL. Not for my sake, but for his. He needs a break from his nagging mom. But I am not trying to be naggy…I am only trying to save his life. (That is the only stressful thing about walking everywhere, is that 7 year old boys think they can walk across streets and not look both ways and that cars will just magically halt. Kind of the same way Dad thought, only Danny doesn’t old up his hand and grin at people. PLEEEEZZZ pray for Danny EVERY NIGHT.)
It has been so fun to have Scott around. Usually he is at work or doing church stuff, but he has been with us 24/7 and we’ve done so much–punting on the river, walking around parks and ran a community scavenger hunt (“orienteering course”) and it has been so great to have him around. He really is an amazing man. He is positive and optimistic no matter what. I know that this trip has gone so smoothly because of him. That will end tomorrow, though, when he goes to Oxford to work and I am on my own.
*trying to hold in the sobs*
I wish I could write more, but I have to get my home schooling stuff organized just in case I have to teach my kids. I can’t remember how to do fractions. Or division. Or spelling.
Did I mention you need to pray for Danny?
Love,
Chelsea
PS Mom, every time I see lace in the windows I remember how much you loved that. I wish you were here. It would be fun to go on a walk with you. Adelaide street is where we live. The street sign is much prettier than our front door. ūüôā
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The Year We Changed Our Lives

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After months of deliberating, strategizing, decision-making and then fine-tuning those decisions, Scott and I are finally on the brink of a dream we’ve wanted to achieve for many years: we are taking our family to England.

We gave away our cat, loaned out our dog, put our house in beautiful North Carolina on the market and just finished driving across the country. All of our things are going into storage, and now the only obstacle between us and the biggest adventure my family has ever had is 8 days.

Scott will be working at Oxford for only a semester, so we will be back to the States in December, but it will be enough time for us to have a wide range of experiences in the United Kingdom and surrounding areas that we would not have if we were simply tourists. To make things even more interesting, we won’t have a car and we will be living in the middle of a city.

If you are wondering how we are feeling about all of this, imagine you are about to jump off of a bridge, step into the gladiator’s ring, or are standing on a street in Pamplona, Spain just before the bulls are released and you will have a good idea.

Wish us luck. Updates to follow.

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Book of the Month: Charles and Emma, The Darwins’ Leap of Faith

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Recently I found this gem in my library. It is a YA biography about Charles Darwin and the relationship he had with his wife Emma. Theirs was a marriage perfectly matched in every way but one: Emma believed firmly in God and Charles believed in science. Yet together they had ten kids and they were completely devoted, even through¬†illnesses, deaths of children, and Charles‚Äô growing ambivalence toward religion. Despite their theological differences, his wife read and edited every one of his papers, and never stopped gently trying to persuade him that some truths were found through “feeling, not reasoning.” By using¬†many quotes from letters, diaries, and from Darwin‚Äôs own papers (which he let his kids draw pictures on the backs of), the author portrays¬†Charles Darwin as a devoted family man who preferred to be with his Emma above all others. Although I felt the author was a little presumptive at times, and I have no idea why it is categorized as a YA, it was a fascinating read for me and gives the reader a human side of¬†Charles Darwin beyond¬†the¬†image of the walking fish that gobbles the Christian symbol on cars. Most of all, I was very moved by the depth of appreciation and respect Charles and Emma had for each other. Truly they showed that two people who don‚Äôt share profound beliefs can still share a profound love. A great read.

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Love Notes, Fried in Butter

Last night, after all the kids had gone to bed, my husband made me the most exquisite fried egg.

He made one for me¬†and one for him, and each was fried in butter in its own little single-egg pan.¬†We sat down together to eat them, and when I put it in my mouth it melted on my tongue . . .so salty and velvety and warm … It was like eating a bit of a sunbeam, and it tasted so luxuriously superior¬†to the fried eggs I make for myself (which require¬†a lot¬†more chewing).

When Scott makes an egg like this I know that he loves me.

Next story.

Scott and I go out every week. Every. Week. ¬†Why? Because dating is cheaper than therapy. And a few weeks ago we invited my friend and her husband to come with us. ¬†We all sat in a booth, and my friend’s husband sat on the inside of the booth, while my friend sat at the edge.¬†Halfway through dinner my friend stopped the waitress and asked, “Excuse me, can you fill up my husband’s Coke? It is over there in the corner of the table, and I don’t think you saw it last time you came around.”

Wow, I thought. If my husband’s Coke went dry I wouldn’t have even noticed (or cared), but¬†this observant¬†wife¬†was making sure her husband was getting his refills.

I bet he adores her.

One more story . . .

Another friend of mine was¬†cutting her husband’s hair. He was preparing for¬†a series of important interviews that will change the course of their lives, and they both wanted him¬†to look his best. As she was snipping away she was telling him about a book that she was reading for book club (The Night Circus, if you must know). She became so engrossed in telling him that suddenly she sheared off a section of hair that was meant to be preserved. I can imagine that the¬†expression on her husband’s face, when he saw himself in the mirror, was that of a volcano on the verge of an eruption (well, a partially deforested¬†volcano). She braced herself¬†for his censure . . . but it never came. Later she told him that she will¬†always remember his restraint in not saying a sharp word, for the words he might have said would have lasted much longer than his unfortunate¬†hair cut.

Is there a greater love than this? Well, yes.

And no.

I have found, in close to twenty years of marriage, that “I love you” doesn’t always come in three words. “I love you” can be¬†manifested¬†through¬†every action of our¬†mundane lives. By caring for the ones we love with generous attention and loving awareness, we¬†are dropping “love notes” all the time. It doesn’t have to be big or showy or expensive. It is as simple¬†as an¬†exquisitely cooked egg, a Coke refill, or a word of deserved criticism that is¬†never uttered. And when love is spoken in this context¬†it becomes living poetry¬†that marks¬†the difference between roommates and soulmates.

What’s the earth

With all its art, verse, music, worth –

Compared with love, found, gained, and kept?

–Robert Browning

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The Loudest Minds

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Yesterday, as I was bringing my kids home from piano, I entered into a line of cars that were stopped at a stoplight.

While we waited for the light to turn, I started¬†thinking. I was thinking about the canyon in Utah between Heber City and Provo. I was wondering if there were very many deer that crossed that highway and if it was dangerous for drivers. But, I reasoned, there are a lot of deer here in North Carolina, so it wouldn’t be any more dangerous than driving to my own home. What would really be dangerous would be a moose. We don’t have those in North Carolina. Or an elk! After all, elk are big and have pointed antlers. But I have heard that moose are meaner. I’ve always taken comfort in the fact that bears hibernate in the winter, so if I were to go snowshoeing (which I love to do) I would not have to worry about a bear. But a moose! Yes, I would definitely have to worry about a moose. And if I were out by myself, in snowshoes, and a moose charged me, what would I do? Ring a moose-bell? ¬†I guess I would try to hide behind the nearest tree. But what if the tree was too small and the moose was able to to reach around it with his antlers? I guess I would have to climb the tree. But I would first have to take off my snowshoes. I wonder how long that would take? Would it take longer to remove the shoes and climb the tree, or try to climb the tree with my shoes on? I would probably have time to get one snowshoe off and then start climbing. But seriously, I am almost forty years old…would I even be able to climb the tree? I might pull a lot of muscles. But what are a few pulled muscles compared internal bleeding wounds from the blunt moose antlers? ¬†What would most likely¬†happen would be that my one foot with the snowshoe would get wedged as I was halfway up the tree, and as the moose started ramming the tree I would lose my grip and then be swinging¬†there, my hair brushing the snow, looking at the moose from a unadventagious perspective, watching it as it pawed the ground, getting ready for what every moose knows as The Final Death Ram.

By now my heart is racing. But then I blink and I realize that I am not on a snowy hillside hanging upside down about to be killed by a moose. I am in my car. My kids are in the back seat. I am still waiting at a stoplight that is now green and all of the other cars in front of me have left. And I am holding on really, really tight to the steering wheel.

Later that day¬†my mother-in-law called me to tell me she read my book, The Last Messenger. “How do you come up with stuff like this?”she asked. I thought of telling her the moose story, but I didn’t want to confuse her.

There is a quote that I love. It is:

Quiet people have the loudest minds.

I originally thought this was said by Stephen King. When I looked it up I found it was said by Stephen Hawkins, which¬†makes me wonder who stole it from whom? ¬†It doesn’t matter because with¬†either Stephen the noise level must be deafening.

While I’m not exactly shy, I do have¬†far too much going on in my brain. It is why I can’t go to sleep the moment my head hits the pillow like my husband (not that he isn’t a thinker. He is. But his thoughts are in numbers which I believe are more obediently put to bed. I haven’t¬†had a number in my head for years.) It is also the reason I worry about things that will never happen and why I had many inner anxieties as a child.

I read once that when you have a child with a lot of anxiety issues, and you have to take them to see a doctor, you should reassure them that they are not going because they are crazy but because they have an incredible imagination, and that the doctor is going to help them organize all the monsters and scary stuff (and moose) so they all stay in the proper places.

I wish someone would have told me that, because I thought I was crazy for a very long time. But it doesn’t matter, because I have learned what to do with all of my thoughts. I have found a way to tame them, organize them, and make them mind me.

I do it by writing.

I make grand, wonderful stories out of them…stories that are too fantastic to ever be true.

It is quite freeing. It also makes me grateful for challenges, because when we understand them, and learn how to turn them into strengths, they can do wonderful things for us.

But I am not sure what a police officer would think if I’m ever stuck at a North Carolina traffic light for too long and I tell him it was because of the moose.

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Teaching Kids about Trump, Canada, and the End of the World

So we just finished with an election which proved to be very historic but not for the reason everyone had originally supposed. You know the details.

My husband¬†and I (dyed-in-the-wool Republicans but not Trump fans) were stunned when we started to see what was happening on the screen as Donald Trump’s numbers went up. As our reactions became more and more flabbergasted, so did the panic level in my kids. And why were they panicking? Because we had been telling them all along that if Donald Trump won it would basically mean the End of the World. But that had been¬†just a joke, because someone as brash as Donald Trump would never¬†win!

But now he was winning, and each time a new red state popped up on the screen my son went to his knees saying, “Hurry, Jesus!”

When we discovered in the morning that it was really, truly so–that Trump really was going to be the new president–we had to regroup. Instead of making jokes about bunkers and moving to Canada¬†we told our kids what we should have¬†been teaching them all along. Specifically, that

  1. There are three branches of the government. The president is only one branch.
  2. There are checks and balances.
  3. A¬†president can’t even be the president for more than 8 years…and if he does a really lousy¬†job he’ll only be president for half of that time, and if he breaks the law than he will be president for even less time than that. It is called impeachment.
  4. America has survived many presidents. Some of them were not so great. Some of them turned out better than expected.
  5. The president should be treated with respect, no matter who he or she is.
  6. The president does not have as much power to make a difference in your world as you do.

When a very young child falls and scrapes their knee they will first look for the reaction in their parent’s face. What they want to know is “Should I cry?” If the parent is fearful the¬†child will react with tears. If the parent is encouraging, the child¬†will stand up, give a shaky laugh, and move on.

After school my kids came home and one of my daughters said, “I’m glad Hillary Clinton didn’t win. Because now I can become the first female president!”

I was proud of her. But there are a zillion other ways she can make an impact on the world that are more powerful than being the President of the United States.

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She That Hath Nose To Smell

Authors Note: I wrote this post a year ago but I never posted it.  With all the wonderful smells of autumn coming back to me I remembered the great deficit I had last fall. This is about how, for a few months, I completely lost my sense of smell. Or, if you are familiar with my writing, it could be about something else. cropped-vitamin-c-nicole2.jpg

I didn’t notice anything was amiss until I made the teriyaki chicken.

I got my recipe from a native Hawaiian who¬†introduced¬†me to The World’s Most Wonderful Ingredient: fresh ginger.¬†Fresh ginger is amazing. It is like a lemon dressed in a kimono. Fresh and exotic and mysterious.¬†Whenever I cut up ginger I like to take a chunk and find the nearest child and give them a whiff. ¬†I can tell by the way they close their eyes that for a brief moment they’ve been transported to the East Indies.

But on this particular day, when I held the ginger up to my nose, I smelled nothing. Weird. Must be a bad ginger.

My teriyaki chicken recipe also¬†calls for fresh garlic. I’m pretty sure you all know what that smells like. . . like a lemon wrapped in three or four decaying animal hides. I took several¬†cloves, smashed them¬†under the broad side of my knife and chopped it up. (I don’t take chunks of garlic around to my children and hold it under their noses because I want them to trust me.) But, out of curiosity I smelled my fingers. Nothing.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is garlic.

I smelled it again. Nothing.

Maybe . . . bad garlic?

Mystified, I tossed it into the teriyaki sauce anyway–along with the odorless ginger–and poured the mixture¬†on the chicken, put it in the oven, and set the time. Forty-five¬†minutes later my daughter comes into the house from cross-country practice and exclaims, “What is that wonderful smell?!”

“I don’t know,” I said. “What is it?”

“It smells like . . . teriyaki chicken!”

It was then that I first realized something was wrong with my nose. It is¬†true that for part of September and October¬†I had¬†been sick, but I didn’t think I was¬†that stuffed up. ¬†Now it dawned on me that¬†I couldn’t smell anything, and I hadn’t for a very long time. I couldn’t¬†smell if the rag at the sink¬†is too old or not. I couldn’t¬†smell the pizza my friend brought into the house. I ¬†couldn’t smell the candle at the party I went to. And worst of all, I couldn’t¬†smell any of the fall, Octobery smells I love, including pumpkin bread or apple pie.

As the days went by and my sense of smell did not return I realized I had lost one of my most trusted tools. How would I tell if the meat in the fridge had gone bad? How would I know if my bread was done? Or burning?

When¬†we carved out pumpkins I made special efforts to clean and dry the pumpkins seeds, and¬†then put them in the oven. After a while I checked on them and they were burnt to a crisp. I hadn’t even noticed.

In the past I prided myself in my sense of smell. I could be upstairs and know what kind of cereal my child was pouring down in the kitchen. I could smell honeysuckle from 50 yards away. When I was pregnant I had an even more powerful sniffer. I could walk into the house and tell wether or not my husband was wearing his retainer. I was that good.

And now that tool was gone. I could smell absolutely nothing. You would be surprised how often a mother needs her nose. Ninety percent of the tasks I do during the day involve the eradication of bad smells of one kind or another. Now what was I to do?

After weeks of not being able to smell anything it starts to wear on your mind. You start to think things like, Perhaps all those smells I had once smelled were just figments of my imagination and I’ve never really smelled anything at all? Or perhaps odors don’t exist? Or perhaps everyone else who can smell things is crazy and I am the only one who really understands that there were no smells, there has never been smells and there will never be smells!

Think deeply about that for a moment.

This is definitely a sense which I took for granted. And the biggest loser was my youngest son.

One Sunday I sat with my two-year-old on my lap all during church. Afterwards I dropped him off in nursery and then skipped (inwardly, at least) to class, only to have the door open and long arms hand me my son with the message that he needed a diaper change. Immediately. When I went to change him I discovered that he had LONG been in need of a diaper change.

This happened two more times over the next few days, simply because I could not smell that he needed a change until the damage was done and a rash had appeared.

I realized that, at least for the present time,¬†I would have¬†to rely on the noses of others¬†to help me smell. I had¬†my daughters smell the dish rag to see if it needed¬†to be washed. I had¬†to have my kids and husband let me know when my¬†two-year-old needed to be changed (because he¬†wasn’t going to tell me.) Other things I had¬†to be more vigilant about like making sure my 5-year-old son got¬†a bath every three¬†days. At least.

There might be some of you out there that may have lost a “sense” that you relied on in the past. ¬†If so, don’t fret. Just because you can’t smell it anymore, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Just because you are surrounded by people who can smell and you can’t, doesn’t mean you are crazy . . . or that they are. It is just temporary. No need to do anything drastic. Sooner or later your sense will come back to you and you will smell it all again: the good smells, the iffy¬†smells and the smells¬†who¬†need to be sent to the tub.

Two days ago I smelled pumpkin cookies . . . and¬†the chili at our ward party . . . and my son’s dirty diaper. And it made me grateful that most lapses in judgement, peace of mind, or faith¬†don’t always last for very long if we are willing to hold out. One must¬†recognize¬†when one is in an abnormal state and be patient for things to settle back in place. And when it does you will be wiser, more grateful, and more aware than ever of whatever it was that you¬†lost.

For what it is worth.

 

But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.  Matthew 13:16-17

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