At the end of the day the shed was complete. Though the last bits of painting were done in near dark, so daylight will probably show them to be less neat than we would have preferred. I’ll have to go get a picture of the finished shed when daylight returns. For now this is what I have.
I’m too tired to feel triumphant. Instead my brain is helpfully supplying a list of all the people we need to thank and all the tools we need to return. Fatigue can do that, make even triumphs feel like failures. For now we just need to rest.
I bargain with God. I know I’m not really supposed to. I’m supposed to exercise great faith, put things into his hands, and follow the instructions I’m given through inspiration. I try to do that. Sometimes I succeed and for a while my life is far more peaceful even if the events and emotions are all about turmoil. But sometimes when I get an instruction, an auto-bargaining circuit kicks in. In essence I turn to God and say “Well if you want me to do that, then I need help with this.” Sometimes I get immediate help with this and the pathway is cleared for that. Other times my bargain only gains me a sense that God is amused when I bargain. He certainly doesn’t always join me in bargaining. In fact I suspect our bargains are rather like the bargains I used to make with my toddler kids where I conceded one small point that was no loss to me so that a far more important purpose could move forward. Yes honey you can bring the toy, its time to get in the car now.
A few months ago I got an unexpected, whip-fast response to a bargain. I had an essay book project in mind. I wanted to push it through in a hurry. So I shot a bargaining prayer heaven-ward. “If you want me to do this, you’re going to have to help me.” The response was clear. You know which book I want you to write. Encapsulated with those words were the knowledge that it was House in the Hollow, not an essay book and that if I continued to push on the essay book it would only be with my own strength. No assist. My strength is not strong enough to carry all the things in my life. I certainly don’t have enough force of will to push through and market an essay book by myself. All of my writing projects have felt important as I wrote them. I did the necessary work, knowing that the end result was something with a larger purpose. In some cases that larger purpose was to teach something to me. This is not the purpose I hope for when I write a book. I want it to go out into the world and touch other people. Yet in God’s eyes, me writing a book that changes me is every bit as valuable as me writing a book that changes someone else. It is hard for me to remember that and believe it. But the critical part is that I did not write alone. I was supported and led throughout each project. I can’t imagine trying to write a book without that.
So I know which book I’m supposed to be writing, yet somehow I’ve been dragging my feet on getting it done. I don’t know why. It probably has to do with fear of not being good enough or some other flavor of self doubt. Logically I know I just need to write the words and worry about making them be good words later. Yet I find a hundred other things to do. Many of them are important things which my family needs. Only I know it is not just the press of important tasks, because I’ve been filling spaces with things that are far less important than writing. On the days I do work on HitH, suddenly everything else goes much more smoothly. The contrast is stark. It is not that my other paths are being blocked, but this one path is definitely being made as attractive as possible. Which, of course, led me to using it as a bargaining tool. “Okay God. I’ll write on HitH first, but I need you to help me with the parenting stuff that has been driving me crazy.”
I haven’t gotten a clear answer on that one yet, but it feels like a worthwhile bargain to attempt for a time. Now I just need to stick to my part.
I can’t always tell when I’m stressed. The physical and emotional consequences of being stressed interfere with my self awareness. Usually I figure out the extent of my stress when I come out from under it. Usually this manifests in my house becoming more organized and clean because I’m able to notice small tasks and accomplish them instead of filtering them out of my attention because I’m focused elsewhere. My house is cleaner today than it was this time last week.
It is possible that canning creates a sense of well being, or maybe I only make time to preserve food when I’m feeling calm enough. I suspect the answer is a bit of both. Either way, I’ve been cooking batches of grapes so that I can make Jelly. Pears are picked and sitting on my porch to ripen. Walnuts are beginning to fall from the tree and in a week or two I’ll send kids outside to gather them.
This is not to say that the past few days have been stress free. Quite the contrary. There were several anxiety spikes, particularly on Thursday. I can see all the causes of them. Some of them earned every bit of that anxiety. Others are far less rational and I wish I could explain to my body that they are undeserving of massive adrenaline surges. At least I have practice in recognizing when I’m being irrational and trying to make sure my irrationality does not impose on others.
The best part of today is that Howard has returned from the Writing Excuses Retreat. That makes many things better.
Last night Link and I were enthusiastic about getting back to the build site and finishing the shed. Unfortunately there were several things which made the experience less than ideal. First Link bought himself Super Smash Bros last night. When I went to bed the house was dark and I thought he’d already gone to sleep. Nope. He played that game all night. No sleep at all. He freely admits that this was not wise and it meant that instead of him being focused on the project, he was barely ambulatory. Then I got on a ladder and realized that while applying shingles is not difficult, I’m not able to climb on a roof to do them. I’m too scared and too aware of the terrible costs should I fall. So I could only do the lower half of the roof. Then of course we had the ongoing saga of air compressors which work fine at my house, but refuse to work properly at the work site. Four work days, two air compressors, each time they won’t function because the internal fuse keeps tripping. Next time I’m just bringing hammers.
So it was hot. Link was exhausted. Gleek really wanted to help, and would probably have climbed on the roof for me, but I’m not thrilled about handing her power tools. This meant we had the equivalent of 1.5 workers. I was focused, no one else was. So I sat with Link and we talked about what to do. I was concerned about volunteer fatigue, because some of Link’s friends have come to help five or six different times. I knew I was tired of endlessly organizing work days, surely they had to be tired of helping. Link decided that our fatigue and crankiness meant that we should let it go for the day. We’ll try to have one more work day next week.
Link fell asleep in the car on the way home. He tipped forward against the seat belt in the way that babies and toddlers do when they fall fast asleep in their car seats. At home, he stumbled into the house and has been asleep ever since. I sat for a time, listening to General Conference and pondering all the many things which I’ve sacrificed for building this shed. The hours of physical work haven’t been as much an issue as the stress which prevented me from contemplating other things. I’m not stressed about the shed anymore. I can see exactly how to get it done and it is close. So I was able to walk out to my grape vines and pick a load of grapes. As I plucked them from their vines and into the juicer, I listened to a talk on charity. I thought about the woman who lives next door to the shed we are building. She was out tending her yard this morning and we spoke briefly. In lovely, accented English, she told me that she’s glad for the work that is being done in the community garden. She smiled at me, her teeth brilliant against her dark face. She has loaned us electricity for our tools and been very kind. I thought of her as my hands were wet with grapes and my ears were full of scripture on giving to the poor.
This shed my son has undertaken to build is a gift, an act of charity. We’ve been so focused on the logistics, on the costs in time and money, on getting it done. The impetus of this project was my son’s goal to earn and eagle scout award from the Boy Scouts of America. Yet the value of the project is in the shed which will stand and be useful for people who need a place to store garden tools. This shed enriches a neighborhood that often struggles. I wish it were a better shed. I wish that our inexperience with building were not so very obvious. That is part of the frustration I feel with this project. I know it could be done better and more efficiently by someone else. Yet we are giving what we have, which is all anyone can do. Spiritually, it is all that we are asked to do.
It is a lovely pink grape juice which comes from our super sweet Reliance variety grapes. We got them long ago from the owner of bunchgrapes.com. My next batch will be more grape juice color because I’ll use the Muscat and Swensen Red grapes. This evening I can sit and admire the pretty juice in jars and listen for that little pop which lets me know the lids have sealed. I have to remember that somewhere ahead of us is the day when Link and I will be able to stand and look at a completed shed. I hope in that moment we can be glad, not just to be done, but also for the work itself, for the opportunity we had to do this project.
As is the trend lately, it looks like the last part of the trilogy is going to be split in two. We’ll have Shed Build Day Part 4 tomorrow. It’ll be sandwiched in between conference sessions. The good news is that we only need a very small work crew because the roof is up. All that remains is shingles, trim, and hanging the door.
I’ll take a be-roofed picture tomorrow when we have daylight.
That was quite tricky with only two of us to keep one wall steady while the other four attempted to maneuver the next wall. To add to the fun difficulty, the concrete pad has bolts sticking up, so we had to maneuver the walls with pre-drilled holes onto the bolts. Three hours of work to finish the walls and put them up.
The next thing is putting rafters on the roof, and I’m kind of dreading that part. We need at least six strong guys and four ladders, plus additional people to steady the ladders. We’re trying to put that circus together for Friday afternoon, which will be Shed Build Day part 3. Maybe it will go fast and we can start on the shingles too. That would be nice. Roof, shingles, trim, paint, done. I’m not getting my hopes up for done on Friday. I’ll be happy with a completed roof.
Between now and Friday I will remind myself that this project is not actually endless. It just feels that way. I will also attempt to make my brain stop thinking about all the ways that putting up the rafters could go wrong.
Sibling rivalry is rough. It is tough on the kids who love each other, but who are struggling to differentiate themselves from another person whose life context and skills are roughly equivalent. Or whose skills are wildly different, but whose interest areas are very similar. None of them has yet acquired the life experience necessary to recognize that two people who are engaging in the same activity are not necessarily in competition with each other. Nor have they really internalized their own strengths. So Gleek cries when Patch bests her at a video game which she’s been playing for hours and he only picks up in five minutes. Patch watches Gleek excel at drawing and feels inadequate. Or he watches her excel at any number of things which come easily to Gleek. When they ache inside, they aren’t nice to each other. Then I ache inside because I have to watch them be mean to each other. Thus only increasing the amount of hurting going around.
The best I can do is to separate them and then listen. I don’t argue when they say things that would be hurtful if heard by the other. In a private space they can feel what they feel. After I’ve been listening long enough there comes a moment where I have the chance to place an idea or a morsel of compassion. I don’t get to lecture. I don’t get to fix it and make everyone feel better. I just get one moment to say “have you considered…” or “Did you know…” Usually I end with expressing that life is not fair. Because it isn’t. What comes easily to one person comes hard to another. In the end the one who puts in the practice is the one who will shine in the years to come. But that is hard to believe when you’re eleven and thirteen. It is also hard to believe that one person’s shining achievement does not reduce nor demean any achievements made by another person. I know adults who struggle with that. I still struggle with it some days.
The good news is that they love each other and they laugh together far more often than they argue.
Last May I built an arbor for my grape vines. It was a project I’d intended to do for a long time. You can see what the space looked like before I put up the arbor:
Vines have covered it completely and trail off of it in all directions. You can see that the vines are funneling all their energy into making grapes and preparing for winter. The leaves have lost their new-leaf sheen. In only a few weeks the leaves will turn yellow and fall away. One of my tasks for this week is to collect grapes:
There are lots of them hiding in and among the vines. I’ve also got pears and walnuts that are ready to harvest. I guess I’m like the vines, storing up food for the months to come. But for a moment I can stand back and admire the arbor, which is finally what I pictured when I first planted vines seven years ago. Growing things takes patience. I need to remember that when I’m frustrated by parenting or writing.
Two years ago this week I left my house and went to a writer’s retreat at Woodthrush Woods. That trip was both hard and wonderful as is chronicled by the blog posts I made during that week. I visited Woodthrush Woods again the following summer during the first Writing Excuses retreat. That time the trip was more wonderful than difficult, the hardest part being that my trip was more abbreviated than I would have liked.
I’m thinking about these retreat experiences because today is the beginning of the second Writing Excuses retreat at Woodthrush Woods. I will not be in attendance at all for an assortment of good reasons, none of which have anything to do with fear. Yet I find that a piece of my brain has traveled to Chattanooga with Howard. I’m thinking about the forest there. I’m finding that the feeling of being at a retreat is surrounding me even though I’m still at home. I’m going to roll with that feeling. This coming week looks to be a much calmer week than those which have come before. I’m going to take that calm and make a stay-at-home retreat out of it. I’ll do things that evoke memories of my retreat experiences. I’ll go for walks, light candles, cook food for fun, and take some pictures. Mostly I’ll put writing into the middle of each day rather than focusing on all of the other things first.
I don’t know how successful I’m going to be at this. It is hard to shift patterns and thoughts when I’m surrounded by all the trappings of normal life. Yet I’m helped by the photos and tweets I see from people I know who are there at Woodthrush. Those words and images evoke the retreats for me. I just need to capture that feeling and nurture it, even when my morning is spent prodding groggy kids out of bed and sending them off to school.
In the spirit of a writing retreat, I just went walking in my back garden. I took my camera and paid attention to the beautiful things that I saw. The space is much smaller than the woods around Woodthrush, but my garden does not lack for small beautiful things, or at least small interesting things.
Here is the sun rising over the mountains as viewed through the branches of trees in my back garden.
While walking the woods I took many pictures of the trunks of trees, often with vines or moss. I’ve watched the threes in my garden grow from saplings to adult. It is fascinating to me the way that the skin of a young tree starts to break up and become tree bark.
My world is beautiful. I must walk in it more often.