Monday, July 30, 2012

Chim Chim Cheroo, Tuacahn, The Finale

Note: I had to split this one! So in order to understand it, please read "WHO AM I?" first.

"Gather the most talented kids in the state and produce a summer stock program for kids. We hope that by bringing those kinds of kids here, they will stay. Make it happen."

Another biggie! Woot!

In my interviews, Hyrum mentioned that they wanted to create a summer youth program that would combine the most talented kids from the state into a "high school summer stock" show produced by Tuacahn and Tuacahn High. But I never heard of it again until my principal laid the script on my desk one day and said "I was going to do this myself, but I think I'd rather take the summer off." I nearly choked on my tongue. But I remained calm. "Do you know the show?" he said. Yes. I knew it well. I had just directed it at Lehi the year before.

So because I had so little to do, I had the time to create a summer arts program that worked right out of the gate. Thanks to Tuacahn's executive team, my sister Penny and all the families that hosted cast members for the summer, we were able to create a magical production that people still talk about to this day. Matt Clegg, who played my perfect ValJean, and 30 other beautiful kids that I borrowed from all over the state made it possible for Tuacahn to see what Hyrum had seen. In one fell swoop I had put down roots. I'm so grateful.

Tuacahn's Summer Theatre Institute started changing the perception of the school from a place to drop off the drop-outs, to something very seriously academic and artistic. Those 30 kids returned to their schools and started talking about "awesome Tuacahn." Step one. Get the word out.

Step two? Be awesome. Teach superior skills. It's not about the bells and whistles. It's about teaching kids to bring those characters, dances, music up from their soul and to communicate with the audience. Nobody knows that six months ago a kid could not hit pitch, that a canvas has been used six times or that the dance floor is 25% gaff tape. Because the arts are so teacher-driven, make sure you have teachers that are committed to rigor and have pride in what they do and what the public will S.E.E. THEN you will have a superior arts school. As teachers left, we made sure to hire those kinds of teachers and they are still there.

I had an idea to give the school more focus and thanks to another teacher named Mr. Webb, we redesigned the school's graduation requirements to include 6 arts-based academies. Anyone could come to school at Tuacahn, but we were best able to serve young artists. We were no longer the school trying to get kids, any kids, to fill seats. We were the teenage school trying to get the RIGHT kids.

Forget about your humble theatre space. It was called Tuacahn High School for the Performing Arts, which to me, meant that we had to give the public a product that was superior to anything a student could get anywhere else. But in the beginning, the theatre didn't even have a working light to speak of. Everything was borrowed from The Center after their season was over. Once you plugged a light in that had been outside for six months, all you could think about was the permeating smell of smoking bugs. Thanks to The Institute, we now needed to light three shows at once and both entities gave money to make this happen. Eventually, we could do just about anything in that space.

So after seven and a half years, what did I get out of it?

Andy. I got Andy out of it. I was a 40 year-old spinster when I found myself sitting on my thumbs with nothing to do after school. I finally had time to feel human again. We got married almost exactly 1 year after I started working at Tuacahn. That NEVER would have happened if I hadn't listened to The Spirit and uprooted my life when I did. How many times do I have to say it people? GOD. He knows all. Trust Him.

Why did we leave?

I couldn't make everyone happy. It's lame I know, but after seven years of putting in a 14-hour day (and getting paid for 8 of it) when you are criticized for not doing enough, it hurts so much.

Some will argue that I wasn't great at being an administrator. I don't have formal education in that area, that's for sure. I have a couple of letters in my file that prove I went about change in the wrong way, but at least I was trying to make change. Hyrum always says, if you aren't making someone mad, you aren't doing enough. I know what he means now. I made people mad sometimes because I was standing up for kids, and that's the truth.

Especially after the economy crashed. The school was exploding with kids. We were fighting over our only performance space. We needed more teachers too, just like EVERY school does. In the theatre academies we had doubled the number of performances we offered, and were casting twice as many kids to get them all in at least one show. But that meant we were living at the school. I hadn't had a raise in seven years, Andy in six, but our work load had doubled with no end in sight.

Back in 2005, when classes were small, the pay cut was worth it. To my understanding, Charter school teachers do not make as much money as regular school district teachers, by and large it's because their classes are smaller. Then we started getting a name for ourselves and people were moving to St. George just to get their kids into the school. When their kids didn't get cast in shows, we were dealing with that disappointment more and more. I was watching Andy implode. Then there was a faculty meeting where he asked if anyone was concerned that we were no longer true to our mission statement of having smaller class sizes and someone said, someone that we love and respect, "would you rather have a job or meet the mission statement?"

I know he was under so much pressure but that little wedge set itself in the back of my neck and eventually split me in half. If the Lord is going to insist that I still raise other people's kids, I need to feel like part of a thriving team. Goals, vision and growth are as important to me as air and water. Surely there are other ways to survive without adding more students? I wish I had time to study the answer and give an answer. I just can't add that to my plate. But I've said it before...whoever can solve that problem will win my vote.

I know I told everyone that we were returning to our aging parents who, it turns our are not 39 years- old as we have always thought they were. We need to be closer to them. It's our responsibility but that's only part of the truth.

Here is the very crux of the problem. I have been saving this information for my blog. Please understand:

I was responsible to provide a product that would entice people to bring their kids into our awesome school seeking that awesomeness! Marketing was my responsibility. But once they got into the school I would then have to find them a place in a play or a concert to make them awesome too and that was eating me alive and making teachers and parents mad at me. That conflict of interest made me no longer useful at Tuacahn. There it is.

We leave behind some of the best people on the earth. I'm not kidding. That faculty and staff is filled with enough gems to re-crown the queen. I need to tell Mel, Jana and Heather, specifically, how much I will miss them. I can not think about going back to school without any of them. It nearly kills me.

I wanted it to be the place I would retire. But my particular bucket was empty. They have hired a new guy with a full bucket and he is awesome. I know him well and he'll be a great asset to the school.

What do we want?
When do we want it?
How do we get it?

Strong, positive, urgent...Tuacahn High!

I love you all! Break many legs!

Chim Chim Cheroo: Tuacahn Part II, Who Am I?

2005 - the good faculty at Tuacahn didn't know why I had been hired. They felt blind-sided. Maybe I had been hired under some veil of secrecy that felt a little more like mafioso, than public school admin. Consequently...There was no red carpet if you know what I mean.

I can't really blame them. There was a rumor that I had been given permission to fire everyone. I'd be scared of me too. But I had no such power, nor did I want it.

In the past 16 years, I had gone from Davis High, with it's thousand+ seats, fly system and orchestra pit, to Mountain Ridge with it's brand new theatre, tech deck to die for and endless storage space. Then on to Lehi with it's 800 seats and separate set building shop to Tuacahn's tiny 300 seat auditorium that was originally built to be a music concert hall and not a theatre at all. As I walked through, I said in my mind "God, what are you teaching me?"

I was informed, however, that the high school gets to use the Tuacahn Amphitheatre once a year and I felt better after that. It is 1920 seats big with a backdrop only God could design. I immediately thought about the musical Children of Eden...perfect in this space... but to date, no one had given me any assignments to direct. As far as I could tell, the current principal was the designated play director and I was...who was I?

It had been three months since I was hired but I didn't have a classroom or an office when I arrived. They talked about putting me in an office upstairs, but it was still full of someone else's stuff. I didn't have any assignments, nothing to do at all. For the first time in my career I was twiddling my thumbs at a desk next to a secretary who didn't need me either. It was a feeling akin to sitting on a bed of nails while watching paint dry. I'm a red personality and in order to feel useful, I have to be producing something. Non-stop. I was miserable in about three minutes.

Principal says, "I'm not sure what they want me to do with you," chuckle, eyebrows raised...Who is "they?" I wondered. "Who is THEY?" I said out loud. "The board of directors. We already have a vice-principal and none of us are quite sure, what we are supposed to do with you." T.h.e.y. a.l.r.e.a.d.y. h.a.d. a. v.i.c.e.-p.r.i.n.c.i.p.a.l? And of course he was the nicest guy. Turns out he was doing an internship, hopeful to have a full-time job eventually, and I waltz on in him waving a full-time contract out of nowhere. My very presence meant that he was going to be done at the end of the semester. I was a job robber. I had already done something unforgivable and I didn't even know it.

So...why?...I had been given one directive: "Turn this school into the Julliard of the West." I just figured it was broken and they needed me to direct a big show and send a message to the public that it was all better now. I knew how to do that. I call it the "Big Fat Musical Medicine." I went into schools with new or dysfunctional arts programs and beat the halls until I had 75 or more kids in a musical. 75 kids singing harmonies to "Ya Gotta Have Heart" equals instant superhero status. All better!

But Tuacahn was not broken, it was just young, only six years old. A mere baby. They were the pioneers of Utah's first charter school, and they were still making it up as they went along and rightfully so! Julliard was a 100 year-old school with powerful alumni. This school's alumni was still in college and on missions. What was I doing here?

So I started spending time with Andy Hunsaker and Chad Taylor, who were just 50 miles north at Southern Utah University. I had directed both of them in plays at home, and we were very good friends.

When you're a drama teacher, you don't have much free time for friends. I'm positive that one of the reasons I wasn't married was because I just didn't have the time it takes to surrender to one more thing...a social life. I just didn't think about it. My social life consisted of doing theatre outside of my day job. That's why I insist that young drama teachers keep one foot on stage. Otherwise, twenty years down the road, you'll end up like I did, covered in dust holding a warm Diet Coke and barking out stage directions to 16 year olds and that's the FUN part of the day. That's not fun. That's how you pay your bills.

We are lucky in a way! We theatre types are able to turn our hobby into a career. But then the line gets blurred and without a social life to lean on, you forget that you love it. And all some dumb kid has to do is complain about their costume and you end up on the front page of the paper "Teacher Goes on Killing Spree" and you're on death row with the rest of the world's weirdos.

I digress.

Where was I? Oh yeah...sitting on my butt doing nothing. Which is not a feeling I enjoy.

One of my first official jobs was to go into the halls when the bell rang and "facilitate movement." Each and every time the bell rang, the administration would move into the halls. Fun and friendly conversation happened while they hustled kids to class. The administrators would say things like "Hey Rob, how'd ya do on your math test?" It was awesome. They were right in the middle of the kids six times a day. It created a predominate feeling of family...more parents and children than Principal and students. Except for that bastard child, Jan. Anybody know anything about her?

I decided to wander around and observe. I saw a student with her leg out-stretched up against a wall like a circus performer. She was warming up for dance class. Then a kid that had helped me bring in some boxes, passed me and sang "Oh what a beautiful morning!" and smiled at me. There was music going, everywhere, and I saw a poster of Einstein that said "Imagination is more important than knowledge," and I said to myself..."I have found my people."

I listened to kids. I watched plays, concerts and assemblies. I talked to teachers, tried to get opinions, tried to make sense of it. I was not familiar with charter schools in general and I didn't want to look like an idiot, but there were things that were genius and things that looked ridiculous to me too. Everywhere I went, I created silence or anxiety. It was painfully obvious that my presence meant the school had no power. I tried to keep my chin up, I was going to win them over somehow. Between the crying bouts. And the silent, lone hikes up the canyon screaming at God about what just happened. How could he deceive me so? I sold my puppies!

It was an utterly horrible time in my life. I can say that now. One of lowest points in my career for sure. Its taken me a long time to say that out loud. And I get to say that. Thanks blogger gods!

So I kept waiting for the faculty meeting that would explain who I was, and what my role would be, but it never happened. Instead there was a "parent meeting," a pre-cursor to the lynching, and it was an open forum in which I listened to the parents that had never exchanged two words with me, say things like "I heard she wants to be the new principal," and "I read her resume online and it's nothing special." They didn't even know I was in the room until I said out loud "NOBODY ASKED ME TO BE PRINCIPAL and I wouldn't take the job if it was offered to me. Those are not my skills." Silence. Heads turn simultaneously. Blank stares. "That girls has balls." They didn't say it, but I'm sure that's what they were thinking.

Then a strange thing happened. My dad had a heart attack out of the blue. I became human to everyone at Tuacahn. A real person with parents. My principal actually hugged me. ! And within about 10 minutes of the phone call, I was on my way home praying that my dad would live until I got there. I was able to think and pray about someone else for a minute. By the time I got there, he was out of surgery and was doing really well. My emotions were already riding the surface of my skin and all my mom had to say after we left the hospital was..."how is Tuacahn?" And I let out a "mighty yawp" that scrubbed my soul for 24 hours.

I told her I was on the verge of resigning. I thought she would think I was an idiot. I told her about the tiny little stage, the fear, the miscommunication, and I mourned the passing judgement, I guess. I was pretty good at following The Spirit and it was soooo obvious that I was W.R.O.N.G. I wanted her to forgive me for putting them through all that. Sort of like a $100,000 wedding for a marriage that only lasted two weeks. And I had sold my puppies. WAHHHHHHHHHH!

She said all the right things of course. I don't remember the exact conversation but I stopped crying eventually, turned around and got back on I-15 headed South. Of course I fully planned on stopping in Cedar to talk to Andy, and laid out the entire situation to him too. The whole ugly thing including the fact that I thought God had abandoned me.

Andy talked me into staying. He said things like, who do you think you are? Your legendary status up north isn't going to do you any good down here. You'll have to start over. Stop blaming, stop being the victim. Pray for things to do. Stuff like that. Practical man advice. But he was so right.

I had prayed for them to get to know me, for them to see me as an asset, but they were running a charter school for crying out loud. They all wore ten hats and I was just a little blip in their daily path. "That lump sitting there? That's just Jan, never mind her. We don't know why she's here."

So....I started praying for tasks. And it was hard at first. My first big task was to do accreditation. I had been on an accreditation committee once. I was not afraid to read the books and learn how to do it. The blessing was...time. I had time to teach myself how to do it. I read those books with a dictionary nearby, and a box of Kleenex. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was teaching myself what makes a good school. It took me two years to complete that task. 18 months to learn how to do it and 6 months to write the book. It was a biggie.

Instead of waiting for them to offer me an office, I set out to see if I could paint an upstairs storage room myself. They said I could. I even Spackled the holes in the drywall and cleaned the carpet myself. The message was pretty clear. I wasn't going anywhere...that week. And if I did, I made a mighty fine maintenance lady.

Other things happened that were out of my control, and should not be resurrected here. But I had not even reached the peak of "horrible" until a MySpace page appeared called "The Natural Haters of Jan Shelton." It involved passionate kids making death threats and court injunctions to create a bubble for my safety. I know kids...and I never feared for my life. I feared for my tires, but never for my life.

I just kept praying that someone would see my real potential. And that someone was Mel Scott. The art teacher. She never listened to the rumors I guess. She was somehow, gratefully, above it. She said to me one day, "I'd like to work full-time. That's why you're here, right?" And I said... "I think so." And she told me about her ideas. I felt I had made my first friend at the school. Someone that wasn't scared of me because she cared enough to find out that she didn't have to be. Mel's not scared of anyone. I love that about her. That might be my favorite attribute for a person to have and she had buckets of it.

My other savior was a boy named Trent and his friend Josh. Trent was from Lehi. I had taught his sister at Lehi High and he knew what I was capable of doing. His mom had moved his great talent to Tuacahn and after they got there, they realized it wasn't all they thought it was going to be. Then I showed up, and he decided to stay. Trent started an underground fan club of sorts among the serious artists. Because of Trent, the Principal assigned me to put together a Region Drama team and I was coaching again. I was even directing a little one-act for competition and the cast was incredible. Trent was pulling kids in off the halls and eventually the team had 61 kids. He's playing a superhero right now, but he's always been one to me.

Prayer...more prayer....then a golden ticket was laid on my desk. A script called "Les Miserable."

I knew it well.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Chim Chim Cheroo: Magic to Do, Part 1

A note: TOO-uh-con. That's how you say it. Not Tuna-can, or Toocon. TOO-uh-con. With an "uh" in the middle. Like "Uh...yes...I'd love to work at Tuacahn. When can I start?"

I really need to finish this little series. But I needed some time to pass before I wrote about my most recent high school experience. I intended on making this short, sweet and to the point. But there were a few more rocks in there than I anticipated.

This was an unexpected fork in my road with the fingerprints of God all over it. That was hard to see from the front and eye level, however. Isn't that how it always is?

A Strange but Magical Chain of Events

I was working on Fiddler on the Roof at Lehi High when Hyrum Smith wandered down the auditorium aisle after rehearsal one day and shook my hand. Not Hyrum Smith, as in the brother of Joseph, the first prophet of the LDS church, that would have been very magical indeed....but one of his progenitors - the man that invented the Franklin Day Planner, and co-founded Tuacahn Center for the Arts. I was very confused at how he ended up in the Lehi High auditorium. He was, also, the father of two friends of mine from college, and I had eaten Hawaiian food in his home once, but I was just one of thousands probably. He didn't say he knew me.

Instead he told me how coincidental it was that his wife's sister lived in Lehi, kitty-corner from my mother and she was bragging about my plays one day. He thought he'd check it out. I saw him sitting at the back of the auditorium. Thought he was someone's dad waiting for a kid. But he let all the kids leave and then he approached me in all my painted-overalls-and-no-makeup-for-weeks glory.

Brother Smith invited me apply for a job at Tuacahn Center for the Arts in Ivins, Utah. He told me that they were looking for a new artistic director and when he ask Fred Adams and Scott Phillips (Utah Shakespeare Festival) who they would suggest, my name was the "common denominator." I felt shocked to be considered for an Artist Director position. Fred Adams is my personal hero after all and Scott Phillips that I adore and respect. Hm... I thought. I had been asked to teach at Tuacahn before, in fact, nearly every year since it had opened. This time it wasn't about teaching and after seven years at Lehi, building the twelve-headed monster that was eating my heart and soul, I said..."Yes...I would like to considered." W.H.A.T. D.I.D. I. S.A.Y?

I'm the person that takes 47 minutes stewing over which toilet paper to buy, something I've been using for 47 years. Yet, in 4.7 seconds, I had essentially quit my job in the middle of the school year. W.A.I.T. Why did I feel so good about it? HOW on earth did those words come out of my mouth so quickly? Without thinking! Why did I feel so warm and fuzzy, and that I might be having a heart attack at the same time? Did he inject me with something? Wow. Nice job, I thought...Tricky.

He said "think about it, and I'll be back." Poof. What else would I think about? Hyrum Smith was just in my auditorium!

I walked into my house that night, to the yelping of two anxious 12 week-old dachshund puppies. Ever seen dachshund puppies without wanting to take them home with you? Yeah...I would be selling them.

Walked around my adorable two year-old house, built perfectly for me. Yeah...I would be leaving it.

Walked a block over to my sisters house, the light of my life! YEP. Leaving her.

Walked to the Chevron by my house that had Fresca ON TAP. Leaving it.

Looked at my beloved Timpanogos Mountain. And I thought...I'll be flying over that next week when I fly to Tuacahn to interview for a job.

Which I didn't get.

Dumm, dum, daaaah. Yep. Didn't get it.

And after seeing the job description, I didn't want it either. It would take me completely out of the class room and into the board room, raising money for Tuacahn. But I didn't have rich friends. Oh, there was an astrophysicist I dated a few times, and I did go out with President Hinckley's chiropractor once, but I did not have Larry Miller in my back pocket if you know what I mean. I was a high school teacher. Bad fit.

I was confused. Why had I been so quick to assume that I would be uprooting my life the minute I shook the man's hand? Was my compass off-kilter? I try to live in the Spirit! Must of been the extra jalapenos I had eaten at lunch that day. Hm...whatever. I went back to work at LHS as if nothing had happened. No one knew I was interviewing, and no one needed to.

But about two months later, Hyrum was back at another rehearsal. Only this time, he said, "We are not through, you and I, I can feel it. (Weird! So could I!) I need you to come and be an Assistant Principal at the high school." Jolt of confusion. I was a teacher, not an administrator and I NEVER wanted to be an administrator. MAJOR conflict of interest to discipline a kid during the day, and then love and trust them at rehearsal. "I'm not certified for that," I said. "I don't have those skills." "You don't have to be certified in a Charter School," he countered. "When can we talk about how much you're going to cost me?" So direct. Swift. Intimidating. Sticky like fly paper.

At that point, I would have worked for $3 a day but something, much more logical than myself, took over. "I really can't take a pay cut, especially if my house doesn't sell." Where did that come from? Known to throw my power out the window, I silently congratulated myself! Good job, Jan! I'd been teaching for 15 years and I had a masters degree in my field. I threw out a number and he said he would make it work.

Funny thing...I was so confused at my power right then, I thought to myself "WOW - that school must really be broken if they are so desperate to get little 'ole me. What do I know? Who the heck am I?" This is a theme in my life. Even when I was dating someone a.w.e.s.o.m.e. I would say "There must be something wrong with this guy if he's attracted to ME." And I would dig for his issues...look for the quirks...leave him to wonder what he said or did. All the was serious lack of self, self....knowledge? I know stuff! But why did people always have to tell me. Why didn't I believe that myself? I didn't know that I knew how to do what I did.

Shucks - I can't even read that last sentence back to myself. But I'll pick that apart in the Ladies in Waiting series.

I digress.

I met Hyrum at The Grand America later that week to sign a contract. I had turned 40 sometime that week. I had never married. It was shortly after an eye surgery and I wasn't allowed to drive my parents drove me. Hahaha...yes, I felt 12. And I had a giant black eye like I'd been in a playground fight. But this is key to the story because when he arrived, I was able to introduce him to my mother. Turns out she had lived in Hawaii when he was growing up, in the same ward. They were distant turned out. She knew him as "Wayne," it turned out, which I guess is what everybody called him back then. Another sign from the universe? How weird! Everything was...t.u.r.n.i.n.g. o.u.t.

He had a plan. A hope. And he was laying it in my lap. My self-doubt raged. My intuition, however, sharp as a tack as usual. "Thank you Heavenly Father," I prayed, "for giving me this opportunity. I know this is You. Who else could do this kind of magic? Whatever you have in my path, I will take it on."

The puppies sold in 24 hours to a family with property and a love for dogs. The house sold four days after they dropped the sign in the lawn. Boom. Done. Magic.

It was meant to be. How else would you look at it?

Contract signed and sealed. Packing. Excited! I love change! I love progress! And, I assumed that everyone at Tuacahn was as excited for the change as I was. I'll bet they'll make a welcome sign, flowers, maybe a "Glad you join us!" note taped to my office window.


Nope. Nada. Not. Excited.

More like "WHAT THE HELL?"

Like a rubber mallet to a chicken piccata. I would be struck dumb for months. I would vomit from the anxiety of making a very big choice in a very fast way. I would add four prescriptions to my daily regiment. I would feel lost in the wilderness. I would not see: THE BIGGER PICTURE for years to come, if it weren't for the fact that the only friend I had access to in the world was Andy Hunsaker, who was just 50 miles north.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Octo Mom: The Interview

When I first started the Octo Mom series it was only for me. It took a while to decide if I was going to let those posts be read by the general public. They were very personal to me, and it wasn’t anyone’s business but ours - mine and Andy’s. But I had a nagging feeling that others could use the information, other women, especially older women that felt they were “aging out” of the pregnancy option could find solace in my story too. But would they really? Or would the world say “for crying out loud Jan, just stop getting pregnant already. How long does it take for you to learn a lesson? How hard do you have to be hit over the head?” I was going to be opening myself up for a lot of criticism from the world if I allowed the story to be told on that level.

But I felt compelled to do it anyway, for reasons I'll give later.

And then a reporter, a writer from New York ran across my blog while doing research for an article. She read this blog  5, 6, 7, Lies I've Told and then she called me to ask if I would talk about OCTO MOM in her magazine. I was both flattered and worried. Flattered that she liked the blog and all at once TERRIFIED to open it to people outside of my Facebook friends. It brought it into perspective. If some random writer was doing research for an article and could find my blog, anyone could. It really is…P.U.B.L.I.C.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted that kind of attention. I’m pretty happy with my readership. I see that they are from all over the world, but they are silent for the most part. They rarely comment. If I post anything even slightly controversial, well…I don’t ever post anything very controversial. Just my own stories mostly. And my readers don’t often comment unless it really applied to them, or helped them in a way. And then they usually send it to me privately. It’s not meant to make a ruckus. Come on in, read if you want, or don’t.

But with this new interview, they might comment negatively on my insufferable need to have a child. I have admitted and written about my deepest desire and I don’t want public scrutiny. But I may be inviting it. Big time.

And that’s okay. Because of my blog, I’m okay. I understand now how strange it might look to outsiders. It even looks strange to me now.

So far, no one has mocked me for bringing this kind of emotional beating upon myself. In fact, people were emailing me privately about how mad they were that I didn’t tell them sooner, saying that if I’d have surrounded myself with support, maybe I would have had an easier time emotionally. I brought the solitude of it, the lone mourning upon myself for lying about my miscarriages. My own mother never really knew the count until I posted the blog about it. It’s not like she was ticking off a chart. I just didn’t tell her all the time.

I lied. Or…I didn’t always tell her the whole truth.

Today's interview, nearly two hours in length, got me thinking. Why did I feel like I had to lie about being pregnant? Even to my own mother?

I rationalized that I was trying to protect her from the worry. I wanted to save her from the sadness of it. No one would choose to add more sadness to their life. I didn’t need to share the wealth of it that was percolating in me. I could handle it on my own. Andy seemed to be handling it without telling his mom either. We also told ourselves that we didn’t want to get their hopes up. Burying Noah was so hard on them that I vowed to keep it a secret until I knew, without a doubt, that the baby I was carrying was healthy and ready to come out. So we decided we wouldn’t tell people until it was beyond obvious. Until the only result of the pregnancy was concrete H.A.P.P.I.N.E.S.S. Woot! I would be sacrificing the first three of four months of joy, keeping the secret to myself, for the real deal. I could do that.

But sometimes I couldn’t. The lies got too tricky to keep track of, as lies do. If I had doctor’s orders to lay down, I was telling my boss at school “I have a migraine,” and telling my boss at the college “I have something I have to do at the high school,” hoping the two worlds wouldn’t collide. If I’d used the migraine excuse too much, I would race toward the garbage can to vomit at rehearsal and say to the kids “which one of you little buggers gave me the flu?,” and call the Primary president (church leader) with some excuse about a “family emergency.” (Which, let’s be honest, hahaha, it was.)

And sometimes I needed my mom and sister’s help, their secret support, their love and ultimately, because they had all had children successfully, I needed their wisdom and education. But eventually I was learning more about miscarriages than any of them cared to know. Or were lucky enough to escape. So I kept it to myself sometimes. Each time I got pregnant I so wanted to tell the world like normal people do. I felt cheated out of the joy of that. But it was for the greater good. I thought.  

But because we could not afford expensive, “last chance,” surgical fertility treatments, I was also banking on God to kick in His part. A miracle would have been nice. But what if He didn’t? I mean there are only so many rules of the universe He can manipulate. But what about that scripture I so loved “…with God all things are possible.”  Note that it doesn’t say “…all things WILL happen.” I knew, deep in my soul, that the equipment was also part of that equation. And, again, because I am a type-A personality, I hide my insecurities like Meip hid Anne Frank. If there were plumbing problems, WHY did I continue to get pregnant? Because no doctor could tell me what the problems were exactly without surgeries, tests, and TIME to study it all. The thing I didn’t have. The nemesis.

I think “time” must have been on the bargaining block in the pre-earth life when Satan was desperately trying to salvage his pride after losing the war in heaven… (don’t worry…if you aren’t Mormon, skip the next part…it’s an inside joke of sorts).

God:      Your plan has been voted down. These kids are pretty adamant about getting to choose freely.
Satan:    Dang, I’m not going to have anything to do for eternity.
God:      Not necessarily. Agency requires opposition in all things. I’ll give them flowers…
Satan:    And I’ll give them weeds…Yeah…I kinda like it.
God:      But remember, you will only have the power to bruise them, but they will have power to crush                                       you. Weeds can be pulled.
Satan:    Flowers have to be planted in their season. So….let’s put a timer on them.
God:      Urgency can be good. I’ll give them enough time to try a lot of different things…
Satan:    And I’ll shut it down with age and sickness…
God:      Time, huh?...I don’t like it, I won’t abide by it myself, but I don’t want them wandering around out there forever. They have to come back home eventually. Alright…you can have time.

I’m pretty sure that’s not how it happened, but you get my drift. I’ve never been a friend of time. I’ve always consider it “a tool of the devil.” I’ve tried to rush it, I’ve tried to stop it and I’ve always needed more of it.

By lying about, or being silent about my pregnancies, I felt I was giving myself more time. As if the molecules and cells would eventually align themselves and surely they needed time to experiment with different combinations too. Until they got it right, and they would. I hoped, sooner than later.

But I was really just kidding myself….protecting my pride.

I’ve only come to know that today, because I was able to talk about it, come clean about it, to a girl I don’t even know. I’ve never seen her face, she just let me talk about why I lied about my pregnancies. Why I didn’t seek help when there were people all around me willing to suffer with me...and I found out that talking to someone about it revealed so much! Who'da thunk? A revelation. Need therapy much, Jan?

But why didn’t she just use the blog, quote from the blog, I asked myself. I’ve never been good on my feet. In a blog you are able to go back, correct yourself, make it sound better. You can take time. Hahaha. I imagine it wouldn’t be as authentic, as it needed to be.

In an interview, you say what’s in your heart, you improv in a way. Improvisation is fundamental training for actors but I never liked it. Not that the blog isn’t honest – it’s surely that, but I like control. Writing allows me a certain control. The Truth is total control if you are committed to it. So I committed to give the details including things like the blood, the colander, the pain, the emotional toll. And that’s what appealed to the readers. The truth.

The interview also opened up a sealed box of doubt…I wonder still…was I trying to protect people from the worry and sadness…or protect myself from feeling stupid? For looking weak? For wanting a child so badly, that I would allow myself to get pregnant time after time, only to lose those babies one by one to the green colander…or to a tiny casket the size of a man’s shoebox? I allowed that! I made that happen! For crying out loud I created that situation! And Andy, in his grand sympathy for my desire cooperated willingly in the pain…even though he didn’t want to sometimes. He knew better. But I needed him, L.I.T.E.R.A.L.L.Y. He wanted me to be happy. That’s all. He would suffer too, for me. The truth is, I felt irresponsible because I knew the equipment wasn’t working, and I felt that I was putting my own desire before anyone else’s feelings. But part of me was furious that I couldn’t have a baby like normal people do, or rich people do. So I did everything I could to de-emphasize my pain. I’m okay! We’re okay! What can we do for you?

Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
'Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward
If we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we'll have this tale to tell-
All is well! All is well!

          (Mormon Hymn, Come, Come Ye Saints)

So some new things came to the surface today because of the interview. New lessons.

This lesson is sure: It’s okay to keep your secrets if that makes you feel better in the short term. You know what finally made me feel better about it? Blogging. Unleashing the monster that was growing inside of me and encapsulating it on the computer for all to read makes me feel awesome! Getting it out hasn’t gotten rid of it. But it turned it from a negative to a positive. I’m so grateful to those of you that have sent emails or private messages about your own pain. It makes me feel part of a bigger group! I hear you! I need to hear you! It took me years and years to decide it okay to bring it to the surface, and two sisters with blogs to show me the way. Thank you Paula and Penny (and welcome JoEllen to the group!)

Lesson Two: There’s nothing wrong with you if you crave having children. That is your God-given instinct to fulfill the measure of your creation. I believe I may have gotten an overdose of that in the pre-earth life. Should have read the bottle. Anyway, the authentic truth is that a miscarriage is evidence of things that aren’t working. Things that are dysfunctional. Things that shouldn’t be. And for me, that truth helped me understand that a miscarriage was best. It didn’t take the pain away, but it helped me emerge a little from the rabbit hole as I just tried to survive. It also helped me have the courage to stop getting pregnant just because I could. I was finally able, after 7 miscarriages and the death of a baby with birth defects, to say “enough is enough” for me. I’m no one’s counselor on how many miscarriages a person ought to go through. But I know for me, if I had another one, I might end up “in the loony bin” as my grandma used to say. I can be of better service raising other people’s kids. I know that for sure. That needs to be enough.

Lesson Three: A miscarriage creates an emotional wound. It’s okay to admit that you are hurting. You aren’t weak because you tell people. You need support. I’ve learned since I started this blog, that a physical wound is far easier to get over than an emotional one but that doesn’t make it superior. It just makes it easier to see. It’s sometimes easier to help a person with a meal, a card, or a phone call, if you KNOW what has happened and can see it. But sometimes you won’t know. And we cannot fault others for not helping us if we insist on keeping those secrets.

Lesson Four: If you help other people get over their wounds, your wounds go with it. I went back to work and looked for kids that needed me. I wanted to feel good at something. I can tell you the though, from the sufferers perspective, sometimes people don’t want you to feel sorry for them. So I do the drop and run method. Drop the meal, card, flowers or treat on the doorstep and then run. You don’t have to see their face, or know how much they appreciate it. They just do. Even if they don’t want to admit there’s something wrong…yet. You don’t even have to put your name on it, because there were times when I didn’t have the emotional strength to write a thank you card for a meal and I was glad I didn’t know who sent it – I just sent prayers back in return. I didn’t want to admit I was in a weakened state. Most of all, I wanted to avoid your empathetic pain too because…choices I made caused your pain and I feel bad about that too. It’s tricky and compounded….best just drop and run.

I have learned now to pray for occasions to help people that may be suffering from depression or long-term disabilities that might not be visible. God has presented me with amazing opportunities to forget about my wounds.

So lesson four creates lesson five: Time isn’t all bad…time also heals all wounds. Or at least, time diminishes the clarity of the hurt. I put my big girl panties on and decided it was time to come clean and help others. It took time to come to that. And my blog takes time. But I prayed for an opportunity to help who I could and I got interviewed by a national magazine. I hope somebody needs that too. But even if they don’t, I do. I can admit that now.

David Lindsay-Abaire wrote the most beautiful play for me called “Rabbit Hole” about a couple dealing with the loss of their 4 year-old son. (Okay, he didn’t write it for me, but I like to think he did.) Nicole Kidman and the ever-incredible Dianne Weist gave the mother/daughter relationship life a few years ago in film form. I’ve included the film scene here, and the text from the play which is just slightly different.

Becca:  Does it ever go away?

Nat:     No. I mean, not for me anyway, it hasn’t. It's goin' on eleven years. It changes though.

Becca: How?

Nat:    At some point, it becomes bearable. It turns into something that you can crawl out from under, and carry around like… a brick in your pocket. And you even forget it for a while. Then you reach in for whatever reason, and there it is. Oh, right . . . that, which could be awful, but not all the time. It’s kind of . . . not that you like it exactly, but it’s what you’ve got instead of your son. So you carry it around. And uh, it doesn’t go away.

Here's the YouTube-d scene:

CLICK ME for the amazing scene

I don't think anyone could have described it better. But I believe sharing my story will eventually dissipate it into a large enough group that my portion of it might feel...smaller. Like a small rock instead of a brick. And blogging is helping me take those rocks out of my pocket. I promise I won't always tell you everything, (I'm such a work-in-progress) but what gets told will be honest.  So thanks for reading. And thanks, Libby, for noticing.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ladies in Waiting: A Tiddly Bit Nipply

Note: My early journey as a long-term single person was eclipsed by one, okay two, predominating physical maladies that ruled my life. I wasn't missing a limb, or scarred from an accident, though I felt my situation was just as tragic in a different way. Some people would laugh and say I was blessed. But you can only know the shame of it, if you are the one with those horrific "blessings."

Since I'm a red personality I hide my insecurities with an electric fence, three dobermans and a guy from Samoa named Junior. I had a secret that was no secret. A lie that was no lie. A cover-up that was tough to cover-up, though I tried a hundred ways to hide it. It was the negative precursor to every positive thought I had about myself and filled me with shame. Though some girls would have traded me straight across, I wouldn't be caught dead hanging around those girls. I thought if I didn't talk about it, no one would notice. Wahhhhh!! Hilarious. Time to pull this rock out of my pocket.

All the girls were to wear the same thing. When you looked at the example pictures it appeared to be a glamorous, off-the-shoulder gown trimmed in a blue, ethereal feather boa. I was excited. I had never posed for a professional picture in a studio. I painstakingly applied makeup to cover the acne and it had taken me all morning to put every hair on my head in place and remove every "unwanted" hair on my body. I was 17 and that was a LOT of hairs. I probably got up at 5am for a noon appointment. Those were the days.

Me, 1982
Corey Adams Studios had a contract with Alpine School District to take the annual school pictures of all 25,000 or so school kids that they taught. Great gig for Mr. Adams, eh? I was just one of those kids and it was my Senior year at Lehi High. We didn't have a choice back then, it was Corey Adams or you got a gray stripe across a white box that said "Picture Unavailable" in the yearbook.

I was excited to be a Senior at last because that meant that you moved to the first section of the yearbook, it was in color, and you got to wear the fancy dress that made you look about 40. I arrived at the studio (which was actually their home I think) and was ushered back into a dressing room (somebodies half bath with a flower border around the top) where I would be "fitted" (also exciting!) for the dress. I passed several rooms full of camera equipment, stools, backdrops and lighting. I would be sitting in one of those rooms glam-ming it up in no time. A very busy lady came flying into the room to measure me. She took one measurement. The bust. Then she sighed "ohhhhhkay..." she said, "...take your shirt and bra off, I'll be right back."

No one had ever said that to me.


So there I was in the back half-bath of some old house full of camera equipment, sitting on a kitchen chair holding my shirt up to my chest, a hollow-core door separating my nakedness from the people walking loudly up and down the hall explaining picture packages. Felt like I had signed up to model for porn. In Utah County. Wahoo!

As the bra came off I realized that I had dark red "ditches" on my shoulders, evidence of my overworked bra straps. I grabbed my makeup and tried to cover the color at least. I started to sweat from the top of my head, which is my typical physical reaction to anxiety. Has been my whole life. Then add "flat hair" to the list of things I was already freaking out about. Flat hair, captured forever in the '82-'83 yearbook when Farrah Faucett had set a new trend: "the bigger the better." The anxiety was piling up.

40 days and 40 nights passed. The lady returned with something that looked like a stretchy scarf with a feather boa attached to the top edge of it. "Try these on and when you find one that fits, come out and sit in the chair in the hall so we know you're ready."

Now keep in mind that I am conjuring this memory up after 30 years. In fact, exactly 30 years this summer. Time fades the actual vernacular used, but not the emotional terrorism. I remember it like it was an hour ago. The smell, the panic, fighting off the tears so as not to smear my Big Lash. The memory still gives me hives.

The glamorous gown turned out to be a tube top. Just eight inches of blue elastic wide, and velcro on the ends to hold it together. After thousands of wearings, the "feather" trim looked more like "Blue Persian cat" that had died from a fight with the neighborhood dog.

We weren't allowed to wear tube tops at our house. We weren't even allowed to wear anything sleeveless. Don't get me wrong, we weren't crazy, skirt-wearing fundamentalists or anything...but tube tops were out of the question. I carefully held the strip of elastic up to my chest, wrapped it around my enormous boobs (did I mention that I had worn a DDD bra since the seventh grade? Thanks Grandma Leona, for the gifts) and tried to hook up the velcro. No go. None of the tops fit around my endowment. My hair was getting flatter. So, being the daughter of Kay "McGiver" Shelton, I used the velcro to hook the smallest size to the largest size and that seemed to work.
My beloved Grandma Leona

But eight inches wide is eight inches (visualize it) and from the cat to the bottom was not enough length to cover the triple D's. Imagine a 3-inch Ace bandage trying to cover a 12-inch wound. Something would be sticking out on either side. In this case, I could choose 6 inches of cleavage up top, or free hanging nipples pointing to the floor below. It really was pornographic at that point. I stretched it every which way, but no go. It was already at its snapping point. I wished I'd brought some safety pins.

I took several deep breaths and waited for the expert lady to come back. There was no way I was going to go out into the hall and look for her. I think she wondered what was taking me so long because she finally knocked on the door just short of my full-on tears. "Hello?" she said. "Come in." I squeaked. She knew I was stressed out the minute she saw me. But there were other kids waiting behind me. "On no," she said, "the district has strict rules about cleavage," as if I really wanted to give the Lehi High yearbook a PG13 rating all by myself. She went right to work, attempting to push, pull and stuff the girls into that tiny piece of fabric. Cleavage taken care of, I wondered if the district had any rules about exposing your nipples in the yearbook? "Oh dear!" she realized, looking down. "That won't do." (Ya think?) "But Corey will only shoot you from the armpits up. No worries." (Yes. Please. Shoot me.) Was I the only plus-sized Senior they had ever taken a picture of? I felt awfully unique right then when unique was not what any high school girl wanted to feel.

Betsy, great eyes!
She pointed out that my first mistake was putting the tube top around my torso under my arms, but, as you can see here in the pictures of two of my B.F.F.'s, the tube was to be wrapped around the outside of your arms if you were emerging from the the feathers cat. So my arms had to be down to my sides. Hair getting flatter and flatter. What about the very obvious headlights hanging below? I was instructed to hold onto my elbows and she taped the bottom of the tube to my arms. "Ready!" she exclaimed. O.H.M.Y.H.E.L.L. I said in my seminary presidency head. 
Kelly, great hair!

She flung the door open and XXX-corted me to the room with the Lehi High backdrop in one end. Corey Adams appeared. He had me sit on the stool. I was too tall, had to stand up while he turned the stool down. Stand up, sit down, stand up, I could feel the tape leaving my arms and the hair in my eyes with no way to fix it but to expose myself completely. I was choking on my own tears, thick panic had settled in, but better to swallow them than ruin my mascara.

I asked the lady to fix my hair and wipe the sweat off my upper lip. I had no shame at that point. I needed to salvage the situation because my parents were paying a lot of money for this sitting and I didn't want to ruin the yearbook. I was already the girl with the big boobs, I didn't need to be the girl that exposed her big boobs in the yearbook. I took a deep breath, threw my shoulders back, cleared my head in a split second and put myself in another world, a world with plus-sized tube tops, B-cups and fluffy hair. It was at that moment I knew I was going to be a great actress one day. I got in the fourth wall zone and simply smiled. That's been a handy tool over the course of my life.

So behind the smile, was a girl with big...hope...that somehow I would look better than I felt in the end. I never loved my yearbook pictures because I knew exactly what was going on from the bottom of the frame down. But my friend Lisa, who was alphabetically placed to my left in every yearbook since seventh grade, said "You look incredible! Hey, we look good!" And because she wouldn't say it if it didn't have some truth, I felt better. Thanks Lisa, I've always appreciated (and remembered) that.

What brought me back to the Corey Adams fiasco 30 years ago was my niece Katie who had her Senior pictures taken yesterday and stopped here on her way home, all smiles. Hard to believe she will graduate this year, I witnessed her birth just last week, wasn't it? She showed me her cute changes of clothes and letter sweaters for Drama and Student Government. No dead cat for girls in 2012. Her makeup was perfect, she managed to escape the circus boobs from her Shelton side, and her hair was trendy and flawless. This was, by the way, AFTER she had the pictures taken. I just said "thanks for the blog." I've had four nieces graduate from high school and not one of them endured the tube top.

Seems like we are never satisfied with the gifts we are given. We always wish we had more money, whiter teeth, a nicer car, less junk in the trunk, a bigger house... but this was more than that to me. I felt shame. Shame feels like ice, and permanent bronchitis and half a dozen wrecking balls to the heart every other day. Shame eeks into the crevices of courage. It oozes out your pores and creates acne born of stares and pointing. As if you could change your genetic predisposition! Shame blocks positive thoughts like, "I'm a great actress," or "I have a pretty face"...if only someone would look at that first. If only they would consider me for Juliet and not the Nurse, the grandma, the drunk...or the madame.

Good Mormon girls smile and accept themselves for who they are. They take their roles, their lumps and their gifts. We strive to endure to the end of our trials and smile through the pain. There's always going to be some pain. Well, if we had everything we wanted and were completely satisfied with the way we looked, we'd have nothing to work toward, now would we?

And there would be no plastic surgeons in the world. That would be the real tragedy. ;-) Lucky me.

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky you'll get by
If you smile though your pain and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through
For you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness although a tear may be ever so near
That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying
You'll find that life is still worthwhile -
If you just smile.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ladies in Waiting; A Modern Sensibility

I've promised [a very important person] to write about what happens to a Mormon girl that waits over 20 years to be married in a culture that puts marriage on the pedestal just short of "endure to the end." In a modern gospel, with a membership of women growing twice as fast as men...not all the kernels of corn will be popped, if you know what I'm saying. (I just can't bring myself to use the cliche "old maids.") But the stigma is still there. I felt/feel it. I cried, alone in my bed for years while I watched my siblings and students marry, get pregnant and start their families right in front of me. Though I appreciated their love, I hated anyone feeling sorry for me...I tired of their encouragement and attempts to protect my feelings.
The speed of this blog testifies that we are a society of "NOW." And as the modern, single, Mormon population is tested with patience, we are seeing more and more of them give up and succumb to the loneliness. And who can blame them? Life is hard. Loneliness sucks. I can only write about my experience and say, "adjust your grip. Let God have your life. The blessings will be beyond your ability to comprehend." I know, because it happened to me.
This series will be called "Ladies in Waiting."

Back in the day, people didn't think twice about getting married straight out of high school. The girls took Home Ec and the boys took Auto Shop and when they were done with school, he found a job and she raised kids on his salary alone with her coupon smarts. Mormons were sequestered in a way, able to say things like "women should do everything they can to appear attractive to their husbands," and "it is the sole responsibility of the patriarch in each family to provide for the needs of their wife and children." What seems antique was once modern and here we are in 2012 where they say Mormon is the new black. My gay friends say "Mormon is the new Gay." Times, they are a changin'.
Mormons change too.... it just takes them a little longer. We're on God's time. We have mastered the art of patience. Of waiting. If every prayer we uttered was answered the instant we asked, there would be no need for hope. And I've needed hope in my life. Hope has gotten me out of bed sometimes. I've needed to learn humility and to trust in God. Trust has built a sure bridge from me to Him. If my trials and disappointments are not teaching me something, what's their use? Why live through it? Why go on? Trust creates endurance.

Today, we are more careful about what we expect from the membership. We are moving toward a modern sensibility, albeit slowly, and FAR too slowly for some. The human clock moves at the speed of light today and God will not be pushed from behind. I speak for myself, I guess. But I would NEVER suggest that an 18 year-old girl knows enough to raise a family today by taking all the Home Economics classes in high school. I've seen the tide of advise, of Mormon child-rearing, counseling the youth, take on modern sensibility.

Young Mormon women in the church today are taught, brought up to believe that when they get out of high school, they have one noble option. 1) College. At least that was the option at my house. We went to high school, specifically to prepare us for college. Because my parents are keenly aware of the modern world, they believed that 18 was way too young to get married and girls that went to work after high school were wasting the precious time they had (before they got married) to get a college degree, or at least part of one.

That's the ideal, anyway.

I hesitate to say "Mormons" in general because that certainly isn't every one's truth and that drives me nuts when people group us together like we're mindless bleating sheep. N.U.T.S. I tell you. I am that dark brown sheep that created her own path by dancing to the beat of a snappy Broadway pit band. I'm the Mormon that didn't go to BYU because I was a local kid..."Go the Y? We'd rather die!" So I went to Southern Utah University, saying (out loud) "I'm going to have a career and travel the world!" But my inner monologue fully expected that I would only be there a couple of semesters before I was picking out wedding colors. (Which, by the way, were going to be dark green and maroon at the time FER SHUR.) D'Oh! That only happens at BYU? Daaaaaaaang. I only had enough money to stay for three semesters. What then?

Three years and thousands of dollars of student loans into the theatre degree at SUU, I was sick of school. I was also confused. I thought I'd be married. I was raised to be married...NOT to be a college graduate....what would I do with that? So I put school on hold and served a mission. I also felt that I owed my Heavenly Father my service because I had been...let's be nice and say...exploratory...and naturally, when you come to some darkness, you search for light eventually. I had seen missionaries come back with their feet firmly planted in gospel sod and covered in spiritual armor. I wanted what they had. I also wanted an experience that would turn me inside out every day! And Heavenly Father, did not disappoint! He sent me to the Buddhists, who spoke a language that sounded like popcorn 90% daily humidity. I was called to serve in Hell.

Sister missionaries had terrible reputations in the 80's. You were, er..., you felt like...the leftovers. The girls that failed at their first mission: "find a husband at college." You were what they termed "a special spirit." You wore sensible shoes, prayed entirely too much, cried WAY too much, always got put in charge of the food at Zone Conference, and would ask the Elders for a priesthood blessing (a laying on of hands to heal the sick) over a stubbed toe. It's legendary. Andy should write a blog about this alone. His stories are hilarious!

I have this thing about appearances. I hate being caught taking a nap. It's true. It's also sad. Naps are lost on me. I hate being caught ordering desert and I hate being stereotyped. I set the pace in my world and you better keep up with the chubby chick because she is a language learnin', bike ridin', cockroach killin' fool. That's right. I had one blessing on my mission and that was when I was in the hospital dying (which I found out later was just a kidney stone.) I admit, I did create some kick-ass banana bread out of rice flour and Thai bananas and it was legendary in the mission. I was the MacGiver of translating Thai ingredients into American yummy-ness. I will not apologize for learning how to make beef gravy...without beef. Gravy was a beverage at our house when I was growing up.

I digress.

I had a "National Geographic" kind of mission. I learned a nutsy language. I taught English in a refugee camp. I saw an elephant give birth. I ate things that still had a heartbeat. The Lord protected me and taught me things that I could mever learn sitting in a college classroom. I served to pay a debt...I only ended up in more debt.

Secretly, I also looked at a mission as an opportunity to find my future mate in one of the Elders that I served with. I think most sisters do. They were super smart (they had to be) and had great survival skills, including a powerful sense of humor (it was required in Hell.) I thought it would be fun to be married to someone that spoke my language so that we could talk about our children in front of them in Thai. How romantic. ?!?! What?!?! Whatever. The important thing was by the end of my mission my wedding colors had changed to hot pink and light green. Fer shur.

I got back. I didn't marry anyone from my mission. I served a year as student body president of the university just for kicks and giggles, I finished a degree. I taught in Japan for a year, because I could. I started earning a living because I had to, etc... I was (embarrassingly) O.N. M.Y. O.W.N. I had failed my real mission. Because despite our modern sensibility, Mormons believe that the grand ordinance that will express your full commitment to God is to be sealed (married) to a companion...forever. And that little task alluded me for another 18 years. In fact, when I was on my mission, my future husband was in Third Grade. Need modern? Wrap your mind around that!

And that is what God gave me to work with... a complete education, a mind-blowing mission experience, love for mankind, leadership opportunities, world travel, confidence in independence, and total TRUST in Him, imagine that! Because down the path....W.A.Y. down the path....he knew what was being prepared and that I would need ultimate trust in Him when it was put in front of me. In addition to blessings that I can not comprehend, He gave me someone that was also sugar-popping to a Broadway pit band and you know the rest. Turns out God was just buying me some time!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

For Sale: 11 Months of Sunshine

Everybody who's anybody owns a vacation home in St. George, Utah. Or they want to.

You want to know why? Three words: Vitamin D, baby!

There are 11 months of sunshine in St. George. You might want to stay inside in January (and July), but by February, the little daffodils are popping their heads up all over town and everyone in the state, that is still sitting in snow, is watching the news saying...damn that St. George!

It is said that when Brigham Young settled the state, he sent some faithful Pioneers south, and told them to leave a group of Saints every 50 miles or so until.... I don't know why they stopped, actually, but I would have stopped in St. George too. In fact, Brigham Young built a vacation home for his family here and you can still take a tour of it.

I'm sure, when the pioneers first laid eyes on the place they didn't think, 100+ years later, it would be covered in golf courses, swimming pools and 165,000 retirees. Just kidding...there are only about 125,000 retirees. ;-) The rest work in the hospital, schools and real estate.

Anyway, when I got the opportunity to work in St. George, I envisioned the town I knew when I was a kid. My dad would take us camping in Zion or Snow Canyon. We would visit the bookstore at Dixie State College to get a t-shirt proving that we had been to "Utah's Dixie." We would drive down the town's main strip "The Boulevard," because we were cool like that. And we would go over to the visitors center at the St. George Temple, because we were Mormons like that.

This isn't what it still looks like.... but what it might have looked like in 1877 when the temple was dedicated.

St. George is so much bigger now but if you hate snow and love a $400 city bill, This Is Your Place.

I have the perfect vacation home for you too...I'll sell it to you CHEAP. In fact, thanks in part to Congress, or Fannie Mae or can have it for HALF of what I paid. Now that's a deal. (choke..hairball)

The town homes at Bristol Park. #14, the one on the end with the
two-car garage, is where we lived and it is up for sale!

The best part of this house is not the house at all. It's a great house, don't get me wrong. The best part of living here is the neighborhood. The people in #12, #9, #1...and so many more...are the reason to live there. It is so safe and they make you feel like family. They really look after each other. And if you're Mormon, you have hit the congregation jackpot.

For Sale - great town home in an amazing
neighborhood. Going cheap at half the price.

In fact, the best part of any house is the memories you build together while you are living there. I never thought we'd be in that house forever, I always wanted my own

house with a fenced in yard for the dogs. But in 2007 that kind of property was way out of our price range. So we found Bristol Park in Washington City, about 3 minutes North of St. George and 28 minutes from work while we waited for the prices to come down. Hahaha..and they sure did. And that explains the short make an offer and it's yours!

The back door and micro-patio

Let me tell you about it first. The backyard in Bristol Park is only about 16 feet from the door to the fence but one summer we bought a one foot deep, orange blow up pool (the kind you get when you have little kids) and we filled it up with about 10 inches of water. Then we threw the dogs in just to see what would happen. We're mean like that (and we thought they should learn to the desert). Since neither of them could touch bottom, they both just let nature kick in and started moving their mini legs back and forth and swam to the other side. It was awesome!!! This is another testimony of the loving nature of God. He made these little creatures, these friends to mankind, but they can't speak. They can't tell you how hungry they are, or if their back aches (Lily) or when are sad, however, they are filled with the most incredible instincts. As if they come pre-programmed with survival skills like swimming, barking at strangers and eating the placenta after they give birth to puppies (I just threw that in) for energy. Mind blowing.

Back to the pool...I digress.

Since the pool was round and slippery, Gus got this look on his face like, "what do I do now?" and kept swimming in a circle around the outer edge and the whining started. Gus is such a whiner. They got tired really fast since keeping 15 pounds afloat with four inch legs is quite a task apparently. But because I'm a bad parent, and because it was so hilarious in a viral-YouTube-kind of way, I had to get some video of it. They just looked like a two little (panicking) Vienna sausages floating around in a giant pot of water.

Because St. George boasts three-digit temperatures for six months of the year, instead of fishing them out, we just got into the pool with them. That was a great day! It's also a great way to empty one of those pools of its water, instantly. I wish I had a picture of Andy, me, Gus and Lily in the $10 kiddie pool. I'll pull that off my eternal hard-drive in the next life and scrapbook it. (Yeah, right) We actually filled the pool up a couple of times that summer and just laid in it. Though the dogs always thought it was weird....

Pretty railing, ceiling fans, vaulted ceiling

When you walk into #14 Bristol Park, you have the stairs on the left and the living room straight ahead. I like that, because people don't immediately see your sink full of dirty dishes if they are standing in your entry way trying to convince you to buy the Dish Network, or delivering your pizza. ;-) The coat closet (white door) was full of memories and housed two important pieces of clothing. No, not coats. We rarely used a coat in St. George. But my wedding dress, and Andy's Santa Suit. It also housed the Monopoly game. I won't say a lot about that *!@* game except that Andy has loved it since childhood and I hate it. The one and only time we played, I was so far in debt to him that by the end of the game, one of us was naked. Ah, good times.

Living room has three super tall windows, two-toned paint.

The living room reminds me of Gus and Lily chasing each other in a perfect circle for hours around the coffee table. It also reminds me of the "Lost" parties, getting hooked on "24," "Modern Family," and The Food Network, which Andy calls "porn for fat people." I love T.V. Because I produce plays for a living, it's nice to have someone else entertain ME.

Kitchen, Party Potty

Pantry of the Gods

The kitchen holds so many memories, most of which involve wedding cakes, cookie parties, Halloween parties, Thai food and crepes. Food is our drug of choice, so we spent a lot of time in the kitchen. Mormons are encouraged to keep a years supply of food and that pantry would definitely hold that much if it weren't for the weird appliances, gadgets, cake pans and cookie cutter collection that dominated the space.

Since we don't have kids, we simply borrow our nieces and nephews for holiday parties. Hence the titles "FAVORITE" Aunt and Uncle. See how that works?

The kitchen has sliding glass doors to the backyard, or as we have lovingly called it, the "back yardage." The window over the sink looks out to a beautiful pomegranate tree that blooms bright red in the spring and is ready for picking in November. I identify with the pomegranate. They aren't the prettiest of God's fruits but they are complex, lumpy, both sweet and bitter and can withstand a lot of bird pecking. Although the ones that grew near the fence got cracked apart by a mother Quail and her babies. She had new babies every year. I don't mind sharing in trade for those breathtaking memories.

Kitchen desk

The picture to the left is the bank of cabinets that held things like scriptures, candlesticks, checkbooks, receipts, place mats and the universal "junk drawer," doesn't everybody have one? The sacred drawer with expired coupons, random rubberbands that were pulled off the celery and became hair ties later on, nail files that say "Bank of American Fork," and a 6-pack of 9 volt batteries for the anti-barking device and 5 AA batteries floating around for the remote controls. Why not 6? Who knows. The hallmark of the junk drawer is the collection of pens and pencils that either don't work, or need to be sharpened. You can never find a working writing utensil in that drawer to save your life.

This is also where the family computer was. Andy received his teaching certificate at this desk two summers back. The bills were paid here. Primary manuals lived in those cabinets alongside a healthy collection of Justin Timberlake, Mo Tab and Andy Shelton CD's.

The memory of this little side desk is vivid for me. It's where I wrote my blog. I bought a tall chair from the thrift store I just sat down one day and started taking all the rocks out of my pockets and leaving them there. Just looking at the picture makes me a little emotional. As you can tell, I found a corner at my mom's to continue dumping rocks.

Guest bedrooms, office

If you are standing at the top of the stairs and you turn right, you are a guest and those are your bedrooms and bathroom. We've had many guests at the Hunsaker Hotel. Enough, that I wrote a blog about it many moons ago (CLICK HERE) Normal people would have kids in those rooms. I absolutely LOVED having the space to take visitors.

If you are standing at the top of the stairs and you are Jan, you go straight forward and check to see the current state of the laundry because...drum roll please....the exact thing that clinched the sale of the house for me, was that the laundry room was upstairs next to the master bedroom. WOOT! Those laundry room closets hid a lot of Christmas presents over the years. There were thousands of costumes washed in that room. It worked harder than all the other rooms combined and all we ever fed it was socks.

Laundry room

I don't have a picture of the master bedroom for some reason, but it had a vaulted ceiling with a fan that also worked it's butt off for six years. I once let it rest so I could dust it...once. So many things happened in that room. Good and bad. The walls are full of conversations about students, the city bill, and mundane things like whose turn is it to go downstairs and get new batteries for the television remote. I won't tell you about my "other" memories of the master bedroom, but take my word for it...they are S.W.E.E.T. (brown chicken brown cow!)

If you are Andy you only climb the stairs once, you look at the laundry room straight ahead and say "Eff-you laundry room," turn left while dropping your pants, taking off your shirt, turning on the fan, and dying dramatically on the bed. See you tomorrow. need to poop. Then you go to the special room: "Andy's room." Don't forget to take your I-pad. Too honest?

Andy's Room

Walk in closet

Master Bath

In addition to "Andy's room," the master suite contains a walk-in shower, walk-in closet and a big jacuzzi tub that was only ever used a few times post miscarriage. Who has time for a bath? Looking back, we should have used it more. A good bath can dissolve a crummy work day...then can a good Ambien with a lot less water usage in the desert.


We lived in a nice town home and we were very grateful for it. It is full of sweet and bitter memories as every house is. But we put it up on the market and walked out of it forever on Tuesday to start again in Salt Lake City. It was hard to shut that door. The spirit was so strong in that house. But I did it, and I didn't turn back because I know it doesn't really matter where you live, it's WHO you live with. And that, my friends, is the conundrum of the week.

There are two important families that I also moved away from this week and it's killing me. My sisters Penny and JoEllen each married "Southern Utah Boys" which is sort of unforgivable except that both of my brothers-in-law are outstanding humans and generally perfect in my eyes. Not sure how we bossy Shelton girls all married so well...but not going to question that either. Between the two families, they are raising nine God-and-Country loving kids. They are making a huge difference in their neighborhoods and at their jobs. They are educators like us and it was a strengthening common bond between us (and the fact that we all loved Thai food). I love them so much and will miss having access to them whenever I want.

I will miss having the kids in my plays when I needed them, the cookie/karaoke parties, having Joel for a bus driver, commiserating with Kyle about the state of college students, having the blessed company of my sisters as we all went through a pregnancy, a birth, a death and some miscarriages together, all on my behalf! Oh and don't let me forget to know your sisters love you when you have carpel tunnel surgery on both hands (at the same time because it's cheaper) and they have to come and make a wedding cake for you and....wipe your bum for you while your husband is at work. it's out there forever. That's love right there. That's love.

My mom used to break up our fights by saying "love each other!" I think that's genius now, looking back. She didn't say "Stop that," or "Don't make me kill you," but she encouraged a positive Maybe we took it a little too seriously, because my heart is simply breaking. I feel like I'm walking around in a fog of hurt even though my Yankee siblings are already getting me up and involved in this end of my world and I have missed them so much while I was in Dixie. Why can't we all just live on the same block?!

I have moved from my pretty town home in St. George this week to live in the basement of my parent's home for now. We are up to our armpits in boxes, Gus tried to bite the neighbor, I can't find my work notes, and I miss everybody in St. George terribly. But I am with my gorgeous husband and our parents and that's all that counts. My Facebook followed me, carefully packed in a box marked "Eternal - Handle With Care." So, technically, I brought those 1000+ people with me too. Thanks Facebook.

I believe that you will only take two things with you into the next life, your knowledge and your relationships. Love is eternal. I will always have my Southern family too...they are mine forever! So no matter where you are, if you love the people around you and don't forget to repair the tough relationships, you are building an eternal neighborhood with endless sunshine and mansions for everybody. Think of that!

P.S. Mansion requests: Andy - adult-sized swimming pool, Jan - eternal laundry service, Gus - endless beef jerky, Lily - an eternal population of small badgers. Thank you!

From this.......

To this. Not a bad trade eh?