The parable of the Ranch dressing

I had a meltdown yesterday.  A put-my-head-down-on-the-desk-and-cry kind of meltdown.  I also cried in the kitchen and again in my bathroom, and up and down some stairs and halls.

I’ll tell you why.  (This may sound a little bit like complaining or self-pity.  That’s because it is, but I’ll get over it by the end of the story.)

I went to bed too late and my children woke up (as usual) too early.   I lay in bed listening to them crack each other up with jokes you have to be in kindergarten to appreciate.  Grant came to my bedside to tattle that Clark was playing the game downstairs that they’d been grounded from yesterday.  I sent him back to deliver a warning, and a few minutes later I could hear them both playing that same game.  I heard (and felt) bumping, laughing, wrestling, fighting.  They finally progressed to breakfast and scavenged around in the kitchen because I was so out of groceries.  The noise, scuffling, and lame jokes continued.  I tried in vain to hush the boys so that they wouldn’t wake up Natalie.  They did.  It was one of those mornings where I dreaded getting out of bed and starting the day.  (This happens occasionally when the day begins out of control before I’m even awake enough to face it.  It usually fades once I get up and start moving. This time it didn’t.)

Dishes in the sink. Cottage cheese on the floor, table, wall, door.  Grant couldn’t find his library book.  Hurry, you’re going to miss the bus and I’m not taking you. It’s so cold outside and I’m in a constant state of chill, even in my house.  No food, no milk, can’t put off grocery shopping any longer.  If I’m going out to the store, I should go to the Post Office too (dread, dread, dreaded task) to mail Christmas cards and a package that I’ve been meaning to send for at least a week.  “Matt, is the printer working yet?  I need to print the address labels for my cards?”  He’s been studying for finals and couldn’t get it to work since our Internet went down last week.  On his way out the door, he handed me a network code on a post-it note and claimed it would be easy for me to punch it in somewhere and make the computer recognize our printer.  I was bathing Natalie and told him to put it on the desk.

As I walked downstairs, I passed the waist-high reminder of laundry that needs to be done.  Sigh.  And, oh great, look what the boys did to the playroom this morning.  Where’s that blasted post-it note?  Not on the desk.  Called Matt.  Finally found it on my bed.  Tried, tried, tried to get printer to work.  No clue.  Frustration.  Called Matt again.  He can’t really help me over the phone.  Frustration again.  I tried a few more things and somehow managed to disconnect the Internet all together.  Huh?  Tried again to fix it.  Nope.  No Internet.  No printer.  No labels.  No Christmas cards.  Too late, will never get mailed on time.  I spent too much money on them.  No internet?  Now I can’t even transfer money to my account to go grocery shopping either.  That’s it.

I hit a wall, dropped my head on the desk and cried.  Pretty  hard.  Clark wanted to ask me some questions and I answered the best I could, but I wanted to get away.

The phone rang, and I composed myself.  It was my neighbor who wanted to borrow some Ranch dressing for her boys’ lunch.  A wave of frustration set over me because I remembered I had NO GROCERIES.  I told her I didn’t know if I had anything, but I’d check.  She assured me it was fine if I didn’t.  I opened the fridge and found some.  I told her I had less than a quarter bottle.  And it wasn’t even regular traditional Ranch, it was the three-cheese kind.  I sort of apologized I didn’t have more or the right kind, and she said it sounded totally fine.  We agreed Clark would drop it off when he got on the bus for kindergarten.  Then Matt called and asked about the printer.  I started to cry again and he (wisely) decided he’d just call back a little later and promised he’d help when he got home.  I managed to keep my tears to a minimum while I fed Clark and Natalie a piece-meal lunch and got him out the door for school.  I put Natalie in her room for quiet time, and the flood gates opened again.

There was no place to hide.  Every room had some glaring pile or reminder of something else I needed to clean or do or wrap or fix or fold or put away.  More crying.  I thought about my grandma who had a nervous breakdown once, but she had nine children and lived in an old drafty home and had no money to buy groceries.  My life is so much easier than hers was.  What is wrong with me?  All my thoughts started with “I can’t . . . I can’t . . . I can’t . . .  I  just can’t.”

I was melting down.  I stood at my window and stared out across the street.  I saw into my neighbor’s house where she was feeding her children lunch at the table.  With my ranch dressing.  This is what my brain said (and I know it’s dumb, but this is really what I thought):  You know, Stephanie, maybe you’re like that ranch dressing.  It didn’t seem like enough, and it wasn’t the “traditonal” kind, and you assumed it wasn’t what was wanted or needed.  But it was.  It accomplished exactly what it was needed for, and everything’s fine.  It was enough.

I took a deep breath and thought, “What does Satan want me to do right now?”  (It seemed a little more concrete at the moment than “What would Jesus do?”)  He probably wants me to crawl into bed and never get out. I did get in bed, but I said a prayer.  I told Heavenly Father I can’t do this on my own– even stupid laundry and wiping cottage cheese off the door.  I needed help outside of myself to get this stuff done.  I sat up and the first thought that came to my mind was, “Start with the red coat.”  I looked at my coat on the floor by my closet for a minute and felt grateful that God gave me a place to start because I just felt too overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I needed to do.

And little by little, I made progress.  When the kids got home from school, I had some warm banana chocolate chip muffins waiting for them, and a long list of chores and three dice.  They rolled dice and did the chores with the matching numbers.  We all worked together for a couple of hours, and we got a lot done.  I felt lighter and lighter, and by the end of the day, I was myself again.  I felt silly about my meltdown.  It’s only happened two or three times since I got married a full decade ago, but it happened.  And it might again, but God helps me crawl out when I finally break down enough to admit how much I need Him.

And I don’t think I’ll ever see a bottle of Ranch dressing again without remembering that no matter how little I have to offer or how different I feel from what I think I should be, I am enough (with God’s help) to accomplish anything that really needs to be done.

Pride and Prejudice and preference

This post doesn’t have anything important to say.  You’ve been forewarned.

I checked out the two-videotape version of Pride and Prejudice from the library last week and decided to watch it today while I folded and sorted bottomless baskets of laundry.  I love the story and I’ve watched different versions of it many times.  The one I watched today was the 1980 BBC version and I’d never seen it before.  I liked it, but thought it lacked a certain spark, so I kept thinking about it today and tried to come to conclusions about what I like and dislike about each version.  (It was too cold to leave the house and thinking about laundry all day is depressing.)

1980 version:

It took me a good while at the beginning to be able to tell the characters of Jane and Lizzie apart, but at least they actually look they could really be sisters, unlike the other two versions.  I like this Mr. Darcy alright- his serious and arrogant side is very believable and well-acted, but the kinder side of him seemed less than genuine.  My biggest complaint with this version is that Elizabeth Bennett, though spunky, seemed to lack as much spirit and inner passion as I like to imagine her to have.  I guess she’s probably the most accurately Victorian of the the three Lizzie’s, but a little too cold for my taste.  Oh, and the Mrs. Bennett is great, but the father didn’t seem as warm as in other versions.  Cheesy montage of clips set to music, but the best I could find:

1995 version:

I actually haven’t seen this version for a while, but I like it a lot.  Who doesn’t love Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy?  I didn’t like the casting of Jane in this one, but Lizzie’s character is extremely likable and genuine.  I definitely prefer it as a whole over the 1980 version.  I can’t remember enough details about it to say anything very intelligent, but now I definitely want to watch it again.

2005 version:

I really love this version.  Maybe I’m not a purist because the characters are quite modernized in their expressions, rather than the fiercely traditional Victorian restraint.  I love Keira Knightley’s portrayal of Elizabeth Bennett– just the right blend of charm and passion and spunk.  I would totally love to hang out with her, if I could wear pants.  It still bugs me that Jane and Elizabeth don’t even look related, but they are both well-developed characters.  I love the dad in this movie, as well as Mr. Collins and Mr. Bingley– all well cast.  And I really like this Mr. Darcy’; he portrays all sides of his character  earnestly.  (Whenever I watch a period movie like this, I find myself talking Victorian vocabulary in my brain for the rest of the day.)  Except for the last 10 seconds of the movie, which are far too cheesy for my taste, I could watch this movie over and over again and still feel the suspense of it.

And while it’s true that I spent too long watching the movie and almost as long writing this post, I’m not to blame.  It’s totally Jane Austen’s fault.  Any other fans out there?

General Conference Book Club Week 11: Elder Ringwood

(Remember that today is the first day of the 12 days of Christmas.  If you’re interested in joining us in a challenge to spread kindness, click here for more information.)

I know the holidays are a really busy time.  Amidst all of it, try to remember this advice we learned in last week’s talk by Sister Matsumori:

“If we provide a still and quiet time each day when we are not bombarded by television, computer, video games, or personal electronic devices, we allow that still, small voice an opportunity to provide personal revelation and to whisper sweet guidance, reassurance, and comfort to us.”

So whether it’s this book club, or time in your scriptures, let’s take the time to replenish our Spirits so we can keep our priorities strong amid all the bustle.  (I slacked off last week and I felt it.)

This week’s talk is called “An Easiness and Willingness to Believe” and was given by Elder Michael T. Ringwood of the Quorum of the Seventy during the Sunday afternoon session of General Conference.  Our lives can become complicated, but the gospel is quite simple; just taking the most simple, basic steps in our daily lives gives us access to the knowledge, blessings and faith we need to wade through all the complications.

“The daily living of the gospel brings a softness of heart needed to have an easiness and willingness to believe the word of God.”

“If you are like me, you will find what really brought an easiness and willingness to believe were not the circumstances but the commitment to live the gospel during [significant] periods of life.”

You can read it here, or watch it here, or listen here.  It’s also on page 100 in the November Ensign.  Share your insights and goals in the comments after reading the talk.  I missed all your voices last week.  (Go here if you’d like more information about this General Conference Book Club.)

A Christmas challenge: Are you in?

Last night, I read my kids the last chapter of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  Grant and I both cried.  And after I tucked them into bed and was doing the dishes, I kept thinking about how I haven’t done much to act out the true meaning of Christmas yet this year.  And my wheels started turning, and I made a plan.  And I love it, so I wanted to invite you to join in.  It’s nothing super original– maybe a twist on two or three different ideas I’ve heard about before all lumped together– but I’m confident it will help me get my Christmas mojo back (can I be honest?  I’ve never really understood that word.), and more importantly, share with others the love of God and the spirit of the season.

So here’s the basic idea:  Random acts of kindness every day for the Twelve Days of Christmas. It can be anything. (Hence, “random.”)

Here are a few ideas I threw around in my head:  mailing a Christmas package to someone, paying for the next person’s order in the drive-thru window or swiping my card to pay for a particular someone’s purchase behind me in the checkout line at the grocery store, write a letter or make a phone call to someone who might need it, show up at another tired mom’s house and help her fold laundry or wrap presents, drop off goodies at the house of a grumpy or lonely neighbor, . . .  You get the idea.  No need to spend– just look for an opportunity for kindness and jump on it, whether for a loved one or a stranger.

So I’m going to start on December 13th (this Sunday) and spread some Christmas kindness every day through Christmas Eve.  And I’ll involve my children as much as possible– coming up with ideas, or making something together, or delivering or whatever– so that we can feel the spirit of it as a family.  Anybody want to join me in the challenge?

Here’s a button if you want one.  You can blog about it and invite others, or put it on your sidebar as a reminder, or do whatever works for you.

This post right here can be the gathering place for sharing the joy.  Come back and report each day what you did. (I’ll keep a link on my sidebar here for easy access.) And unless you’re in it for the glory, comment your “reports” anonymously or with initials or a pseudonym or something.  I just think it would be fun to hear about each other’s experiences and rejoice (anonymously) in the whole business of joyful service together. Plus, we can read and then steal ideas.

“In short, the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit, that makes our hearts glow in brotherly love and friendship and prompts us to kind deeds of service. ‘It is the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ, obedience to which will bring ‘peace on earth,’ because it means—good will toward all men.’  Giving, not getting, brings to full bloom the Christmas spirit. Then each Christmas will be the best Christmas ever.”Thomas S. Monson

I feel more Christmasy already.

p.s.  The reporting back is not necessary, but just helps with three things:  1) accountability/slacker prevention, 2) letting you “tell” someone about something you did that you’re so excited about, but you can still remain anonymous, and 3) sharing service ideas.  There’s no rule about reporting daily, just update us as often as you can or want to.

Technology is not the enemy.

I think the computer age gets a bad rap from people who call themselves “old fashioned” or more personal and sentimental.  I just spent about four days without the internet and, let me tell you, it felt like you old fashioned people would feel if you found out that the Pony Express was on vacation.  With no offense meant to the lovely little warm place I call my home, I felt like I was totally disconnected from the “real world.”* I couldn’t buy tickets to the Christmas play.  I couldn’t book our let-praises-shout-forth-Matt-is-finally-graduating-from-law-school-vacation-celebration reservations.  I couldn’t even look up the phone numbers I needed so I could do it all by phone.  Matt told me to put together emergency kits for the car due to our “Blizzard Warning,” but I couldn’t do a 30-second online research project about what items should be included.  And give me a break, it’s not like I’m going to pack up the kids and go to the library and sort through a card catalog to find an article in a magazine from 1987 about car kits.  (So I just resorted to chocolate, latin music CDs and warm socks– I figure if I’m going to freeze to death on the side of the freeway, I might as well be with the things I love.)  (I’m kidding.  I’m more responsible than that.  I got a blanket and flares.  And once I can get out of my driveway again, I’ll buy some chocolate.)

I’m rambling.  Sorry.

Anyway, my point is:  The internet is good.  Very good.  And it’s not even impersonal.  I mean look at you (a person) reading my blog right now.  And when you (again, a person) comment on my blog, it’s a tidbit of personal interaction that most likely would not exist in my otherwise scraping-oatmeal-off-the-table-and-forcing-antibiotics-down-screaming-throats-and-drying-wet-gloves-by-the-fire kind of day.  It brings unanticipated and pleasant human contact into my day.  Some of my friends that live inside this computer are:

  1. people I met and knew once, but not as well as I would have liked to and yet this virtual world has reunited us and built our friendship stronger,
  2. people with whom I’ve emailed and even phone-called for advice or to share a funny thought, and I consider them real friends even though we’ve never even laid eyes on each other,
  3. other people I’ve never met at all, but feel like if we met up at any given moment at the Cheesecake Factory, we could sit there together for hours laughing and talking (and consuming cheesecake unabashedly) as if we’ve known each other for ages, and
  4. really creepy lurker people who pull up my blog daily just like to look at my profile picture longingly (because who doesn’t fantasize about being a stay-at-home mom with three children who give them adventures like this?  Okay, I admit it, there are some unhealthy sides to virtual networking.  If you happen to belong to this category, please don’t let me know because I’d like to continue sleeping well at night.)

And I do like getting a nice, handwritten note in the mail now and then, but I don’t think email is impersonal unless the author writes impersonally. Grant entered the technology age this week and wrote his very first email.

Hi granpa I am haveing so much fun with granma I miss you this is my frst leter on the compooter you are my favrit granpa from Grant

I think it’s among the top 10 cutest things I’ve seen in my life.  And he was overjoyed when the very next day there was a note back from Grandpa.  So I like technology.  A lot.  And I’d cancel my gym membership, dental cleanings, and insurance on my car before I’d cancel my Internet.  Because I’m such a people person, of course.

(*Disclaimer:  with all due respect to this great talk by Elder Bednar, ” Things As They Really Are,” I know that what matters most is not virtual.  What’s real is what’s important, but I do love getting to know the real people behind the virtual friendships I’ve found through blogging.)