Why We’ve Been Opening the Door So Fast Lately

A couple nights ago, we came home to find a package on our doorstep. It contained a book, which contained $175 in smaller bills tucked in the pages. We asked the babysitters if they’d heard anything, and they said they’d heard a knock at the door, but didn’t know who’d left it. Then we argued for about 10 minutes about whether or not we were allowed to pay them for watching our kid. (We compromised by giving them a book instead.)

Then they left, and we just kind of stood there looking at each other. “Are we poor?” we asked. “Like, are we poor enough that people think they need to leave anonymous donations on our doorstep?” We knew it was a goodwill gesture (it’s Christmastime in Mormontown, after all,) but we still had a hard time thinking that someone thought we might need help.

Then the next night, we heard a knock at the door and opened it to find—nobody—and an envelope on the ground. With a Wal-Mart gift card in it. And we looked at each other and said, “No, but really—whose list are we on? Do they know we still have money in the bank?” And then a few minutes later, someone else knocked and Ethan whisked the door open in time to see a kid running away and two Hot Wheels cars on the doorstep. Apparently, our upstairs neighbors got the same thing that night. So that made us feel a little better. At least we’re not the only people getting gifted.

It’s not like I don’t appreciate gifts. I mean, free stuff, right? And holiday cheer and giving and all that. It’s just that it hurts my pride a little when it’s anonymous, and when it’s money. It makes me wonder if people think we can’t make it on our own. Like we need charity to survive. The fierce, independent young woman in me roars, “Don’t open that door for me! I’ve got arms!” …and forgets that it’s just a kind gesture, not a condescending one.

So a couple hours ago, when our bishop knocked on our door and said, “Wait right here; I’ve got some stuff to bring in,” Ethan and I looked at each other like, “Uh-oh.” And then a small parade of boxes entered our living room, full of groceries. Like, full full. And while we stood there a little awkwardly, Bishop said, “Look, I want you to know you’re not special. I mean—you’re special. Of course you’re special. Please feel special. But please know that we’re doing this for other families as well. You’re not a project. We just wanted to make sure you have a good Christmas, and that means making sure you stick around.”

“Like, in this neighborhood, or like not dying?” I asked.

“Yeah, some from column A and some from column B,” said the bishop’s son.

And that was it. They left, we unpacked a ridiculous amount of groceries, and then I cried a little bit. From relief,  mostly. And from finally being in a neighborhood where people actually notice if we’re struggling. And, I guess, because it finally clicked that if Christians are supposed to be so dang nice to each other, someone has to be on the receiving end. Right now, we’re on the receiving end.

It’s been a blow to my pride, but probably one I needed. And when I stop to admit it, we really have needed some help. So thanks to all the anonymous donors. And just FYI—if your neighborhood hasn’t noticed you yet, and you’re struggling, hit us up. I’m a pretty good cook, and we’ve got a lot of hot chocolate mix now. Come chill. ♥



Christmas Readings for the L.D.S. Family

christmas readings.jpg

Check out this glorious artwork. This is Christmas Readings for the L.D.S. Family, compiled by George Bickerstaff. In the aftermath of my grandfather’s death (- I like using aftermath; it makes it sound like Grandpa died fighting off a rabid polar bear, instead of peacefully in a hospital bed-), we found this collection in the study, and brought it home with all the American history tomes.

I was hesitant about this one: first of all, look at the cover. I mean, there’s technically nothing wrong with it, but it does seem to say, “I’ve been sitting on this shelf for the last 40 years, and not in a ‘classic’ way.” I can overlook the artwork, however, in favor of the content. I mean, a good Christmas story is still good, even with 60’s art.

But then we come to my second hesitation: “…for the L.D.S. family.” L.D.S. stands for Latter-day Saint, as in Mormon. These are Christmas readings for Mormons. What, exactly, is so different about Mormon Christmas? Less rum in the punch, is all I can come up with. So this probably means the writers were L.D.S., and the guy got published through a local L.D.S. publishing company.

Which is true. Several of the stories were originally written for L.D.S. magazines, and a few of them are just people’s memories (dug up from their family histories) of Christmases long past among the Mormon pioneers. In an anthropological moment, one of the stories casually mentions “Father’s other wife, Hannah.”

So I had my qualms. But it’s less than 100 pages, and it’s easy reading, and most of the stories are less than 4 pages long. No big deal. And really, I got a better deal than I expected. (Easy to do that when the book is free, but still.) There were at least 2 stories that I might consider putting into a collection of my own.

There was, of course, at least one story so sappy it kind of made me gag. But you know, it was written in ’54, and it was written about a teenage boy, and it was written by a grown woman, so there was a whole lot of “Look, I totally know how to use teenage slang!”

All in all, I don’t think I would recommend buying the book. But if you’ve got easy access to it, and you’re looking for a few heartwarming Christmas stories, give it a shot. I think my favorite part was the poetry section at the end, which was (in my humble opinion) higher quality than most of the stories. ♦


We went to Temple Square in Salt Lake to see the Christmas lights this past weekend. It was a lot of fun – I don’t think I’ve really appreciated them as a native of Salt Lake City, but they’re worth going to see.

But this story isn’t about the lights. It’s about the babies.

We went with a couple who also have a baby, just a few weeks older than John. We left for the city just about the same time both of them normally go to bed. So while the menfolk sat in the front of the van, we strapped the babies into their carseats in the middle row, and me and Mom A took the backseat, trying to soothe bedtime woes with snacks. On the way there, they fussed.

And on the way back, they screamed. And wouldn’t you know it, Baby A has John’s lungs. They could both go out for opera one of these days. We tried snacks, singing, talking, just about everything except taking them out of their carseats. To no avail.

Finally, in an act of desperation, Ethan turned on Kenny G’s Christmas album. (Is Kenny G always an act of desperation?) Baby A immediately calmed down. Baby B stopped screaming and started shredding his carseat cover happily. The magic of the saxophone was beginning to work. It was like the Pied Piper of fussy babies. I expected to see hordes of rats (or European children) following behind the car.

Unfortunately, John was not going to allow this kind of calm. As Baby A slowly drifted off to sleep John just kind of looked over at him, curious. Then, just after A had drifted off, John let out a loud, “Ha!”

A woke up screaming. It took a good ten minutes or so to calm him down. While we did so, John continued to shred his carseat cover.

Once A was asleep again, John realized it was all quiet on the driver’s side. He looked over curiously. “Aooo!”

Screaming again. About ten times on the way home, poor Baby A fell fitfully asleep, only to be awakened by my child asking, “HEY, ARE YOU AWAKE?” in babyspeak. I felt sorry for the poor guy. I felt sorry in advance for anyone who might ever have a sleepover with my son. And I felt bad for wanting to box my child’s ears. But at least the dads in the front seat were laughing. ♦

Merry Christmas, From David

Last Saturday, I had a prenatal “Coping With Labor” class. It was basically an extensive “how to keep from freaking out when you’re in pain” workshop, and I was kind of feeling alienated. For one thing, Ethan had his final graduation project due in a few days, and couldn’t come to class with me – so I was the only person there without a partner. I hadn’t slept well, and I was trying really hard not to fall asleep throughout, and my voice was way lower than usual (because I was half asleep), and I didn’t think I was looking too hot (because I was half asleep)… basically, I wasn’t feeling too social or too confident. And when you combine an unsociable mood with 8 months of pregnancy, you seriously just don’t feel like talking to people.

When the nurse mentioned that some people like to listen to more “peppy” music than others during labor, my brain immediately started playing “Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap)”. That was stuck in my head until the class concluded, at which point my brain switched over to “Highway to Hell.” Wow, I thought. I’m ready for motherhood. I was starting to think I was a total freak.

On top of all this, I’m usually a very active person, and I try to go out of my way to help people around me. During pregnancy, however, I apparently Animorph into a gigantic slug. I have zero energy, and not enough brain power to finish a sentence. Over the past few months, I have become a vegetable of sorts. I’m here. I live. I just don’t usually feel like I contribute to society. And when I try, I usually end up hurting myself.

Long story short, Saturday morning I was on autopilot – and by about noon, when the prenatal class ended, I was kind of feeling sorry for myself. I stopped off at Arby’s on the way home (the baby was driving, apparently), went in, and ordered more food than I probably had room for. I tried to smile and be friendly and all that, but I was also avoiding talking to anyone unless I absolutely had to. I got my food and went to a back table, where people would be less likely to see me.

That’s when a guy came in, sauntered over to the corner table across my way, and dropped his backpack on a chair. He sat down for a few minutes, looked around him with a smile, and then stood up and walked around the restaurant. He walked in a circle around the tables, glanced at the menu, ordered nothing, then sat down again. A minute later, he got up and walked another lap around the Arby’s. I began to suspect he had some kind of mental disorder, but he was enthusiastic enough that I started smiling.

After taking another lap, he came up to me, pulled a receipt out of his pocket, and wrote something down on it. I wondered if he were Deaf, and needed me to order his food. (But why wouldn’t he just write it down for the cashier? I thought.) He handed me the receipt, and I saw the words, “Corn Chex” neatly written in the corner.

Dude, I thought. You are in the wrong establishment. I must have looked confused, because he took the receipt back. When he returned it, it said, “Corn Chex, 1.49.” “Cost,” he signed – and said, with a thick accent.

I was still confused. The price wasn’t the problem, I thought. I signed, “You bought it already?”

“No,” he signed.

“You can’t buy that here,” I signed back at him. He laughed at me, took back the receipt, and wrote, “Maceys” on it.

At this point, I figured it out. My brother has Autism, and he sometimes brings us scraps of paper with lists of his favorite things: Swedish Fish, M&Ms, names of girls he likes…. I realized this guy was just really excited that Corn Chex were on sale. I looked up at him, and he signed, “My favorite.”

Suddenly it made sense. This wasn’t a question; it was just awkward small talk. “Oh, I see,” I signed. “That is a good price. My favorite is Peanut Butter Crunch.”

He seemed to think that was a fine choice. He introduced himself: his name was David. I gave him my name. He then told me all about his three brothers, which of them were Hearing and which were Deaf, which were “real” brothers and which were step-brothers, in addition to his place in the family (firstborn). He also told me about his ex-girlfriend in Wisconsin, his opinion on Oreos, and how much he liked talking to pregnant women.

By this point, I was actually out of my self-pity shell and enjoying the conversation. There’s something extremely relaxing and low-risk about talking to someone without having to physically verbalize anything. It’s also refreshing to talk with someone who won’t judge you if you change the subject suddenly and almost violently without warning. We discussed quite a few of our favorite foods, and I advised him not to put Arby’s sauce on his Oreos. (He doesn’t; don’t worry. Just milk.)

This whole time, David hadn’t ordered anything. After about ten minutes, a woman approached me and said, “Hey, since you can talk to him – will you ask if I can buy him lunch?” He ordered a number 9 combo, and thanked the woman, who wished him a merry Christmas. By the time his food was ready, his brother had arrived, and the two of them sat down for a few minutes to eat. I eavesdropped while David told an elaborate pantomime about deer hunting. He was a very funny storyteller.

They left after a few minutes, and I finally started eating. By the time I was almost done, David came running back in, got my attention, and asked, “What’s your name? I forgot.”

“My name’s Rachel,” I signed.

“Merry Christmas!” he signed. Then he turned to the manager and said out loud, “Merry Christmas!” while signing it. His speaking voice wasn’t great, so the manager looked at me for a hint.

“Same to you,” I said (and signed). “Merry Christmas!” The manager figured it out and repeated the sentiment. Then David bounced happily out the door, and I finished my meal. I took a pit stop at the restroom, then came out and asked the manager for a water cup.

“That was really nice of you to talk to him,” said the manager as he handed me the cup.

All of the awkward came back, and I didn’t know what to say. “He started it,” I blurted out like a guilty six-year-old, then realizing that didn’t make any sense, I muttered, “Thanks,” and went to fill my water cup. Then I headed out to the car and just sat there for a while, thinking about what the manager had said. Why wouldn’t I have talked to him, I wondered?

Well, if I didn’t know sign. That would’ve made things difficult. So I guess there was that. I was probably the only person in the store who knew ASL. And then it occurred to me that David came and talked to me because I was noticeably pregnant. I was the only in the store who fit that criteria. And that woman wouldn’t have been able to offer to buy him lunch if she hadn’t seen me signing. And then I realized that most people didn’t have any experience carrying on a conversation that had absolutely no rhyme or reason. I might have been the only person in the whole store who had the skill (?) to start a conversation with the price of Corn Chex.

“God,” I said (to God), “Thanks for that. I mean… I’m awkward. But apparently, there are some other awkward people out there and I can still brighten their day.” It made me feel good to know that even when I’m feeling useless and weird, God still knows I want to help. And He can send somebody to help me, too – maybe someone who fits in about as well as I do.

Merry Christmas! ♥

Happy Tuesday!

Lest I should only use this blog for venting and book reviews, I think I should point out a few things that make me happy.

  • It’s sunny today. Not just like, “Oh, look. The sun.” It’s a genuinely sunshiney kind of day. I went for a walk (to the end of the block, which is about as far as my baby belly will allow at this point), sat on a low stone wall and read a book, soakin’ up some rays. It felt great.
  • I’m nearly finished with a manuscript for a full-fledged book! That means I could actually get this thing published or something!
  • Know what I had for lunch today? Thanksgiving. In a tortilla. Stuffing, potatoes, gravy, turkey lunch-meat, and cranberry sauce, all rolled up into a tortilla. Thanksgiving taco.
  • Jurassic World is coming out on my birthday. I’m so excited for these dinosaurs.
  • This baby will be here in a month!
  • I don’t have to give birth to this baby for another month!
  • We have an apartment with ample room for this baby!
  • This picture has been my computer desktop for the past few months or so:
    hamster in a sweater
    Just look at this little guy. He’s adorable! He’s got that little sweater. I feel like the Hamster in a Sweater is probably my spirit animal.
  • Ethan will be done student teaching this week. Also, he got an extension on some of his homework, so he shouldn’t be keeling over dead anytime soon. I’m quite happy about this.
  • Nobody – I repeat, nobody – in our house is deathly ill right now. I am fine. Ethan is fine. Baby is wiggly.
  • There’s Christmas cookies everywhere!
  • Oh, right – Christmas!! ♦

A Christmas Carol and Other Stories

A Christmas Carol

When you’re sick, you have more time to read Dickens! Hooray!

I recently bought the classiest copy of A Christmas Carol I’ve ever seen from a used bookstore. It’s a Readers Digest collection, with two other short stories (and by “short,” I mean they’re still 100 pages apiece), The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth. They’re all pretty good, but I’ll give a brief review of each.

A Christmas Carol is a timeless classic for a reason. It’s great. The piece is short enough to stay interested, but still well-crafted enough to get attached to the characters. This says more about my upbringing than my literary taste, but I kept thinking, “Wow, the Muppets really stuck to the text!” Conclusion: this story about finding Christmas spirit is a must-read, followed shortly by the necessity to celebrate the yuletide with the Muppet Christmas Carol.

The Chimes was annoying. I mean, it was good and all – but it was hopelessly depressing for about 3/4 of the story. In the true Dickens Christmas spirit, good triumphs against all odds, but come on, man – I just can’t believe how much pain and hopelessness I had to wade through to get to the end of this. And by the time I got there, I just didn’t care anymore.

The Cricket on the Hearth was much better than The Chimes, but still not as good as the Christmas Carol. The Cricket on the Hearth is a story about a husband discovering that his wife has been keeping secrets, and his arduous decision to forgive her. And, of course, everything ends up happy – by this time, I had come to expect this. But at least this one wasn’t so depressing, and I still cared enough to want things to work out alright.

Well, that was short. But hey – they’re short stories. I would highly recommend A Christmas Carol to just about anyone, but maybe you shouldn’t pick up the other two unless you really like Dickens’s style.

I think this is something like my 30th book this year. I’m kind of proud of myself… and at the same time, if I’m going to hit anywhere near my goal of 50, I’m going to have to read about a book a day from here on out. Maybe I’ll just have to settle for less. Or maybe I’ll have to read a lot of children’s books and poetry this month. ♦

It’s a Christmas Miracle!

Yesterday, there was a great and mighty happy dance.


We were totally on budget (or at least close) until about a month ago, when we stopped and thought, “How are we going to pay tuition?” Oh, snap. That’s about $2400 we weren’t counting on.

Fortunately, I have a job. Yay! We did some quick math, and discovered that we could probably afford rent, tuition, and bills for December and January, provided I keep said job and work at least 30 hours a week, and still have just about enough. Of course, that meant eating only food storage for a month. Boo. (But we have a working oven now, so that means homemade pizza! Yay again!)

In the course of all this, we starting considering financial aid again. I haven’t applied for financial aid since my sophomore year, because my taxes didn’t look poor enough for a need-based grant, and my grades didn’t look good enough for a scholarship. But with some help from friends and family and a little elbow grease at some part-time jobs, I managed to graduate without any debt. Ethan had a trust fund that took him up through this last month, and he didn’t apply for aid or scholarships because he figured there were others who needed it more. But now – we needed it.

It didn’t take too long to fill out a FAFSA, and apparently we’re pretty poor. Just got married. Not much in the bank. Independent, but only one of us working part-time. One of us going to school. Yup. We’re actually kind of ideal for financial aid. Woohoo.

So Ethan went into the financial aid office yesterday to follow up on his application. He called me up to tell me that we’ve got over $5000 coming in a Pell grant – which means we won’t have to pay it back. The government will cover the coming semester, reimburse us for last semester, and give us the extra for future schooling.

It’s kind of amazing how much pressure that takes off my brain. I’m not exactly relieved to need the extra help – but, boy, am I relieved it’s here! I did a sort of office-chair version of my Thank-you-Jesus dance (later followed up with a much more reverent prayer), and did a little bouncing around. Taking pressure off my brain apparently takes pressure off my body as well. Merry Christmas! ♦