Wednesday, May 30, 2012

When it rains........

     You finished that phrase in your mind with, "it pours", didn't you?  Apparently I am writing for an audience of pessimists.  All joking aside, I am going to try to avoid making this a pessimistic post.  Considering recent events in the Stanger household, a more fitting ending to the saying above would be......"clean your rain gutters."  I have decided that rain gutters are one of those necessary evils that often do more harm than good.  The only reason that I have even given rain gutters enough thought to come to this conclusion is because we had a very unfortunate event occur on Sunday morning involving one.  We were in the midst of the usual Sunday morning hustle and bustle.  After a fairly regular Sunday morning juice spill, Dirk headed down to the storage room for a roll of paper towels.  He there discovered a puddle of water in the center of the storage room floor. The next half hour or so was spent with a flashlight, studying every inch of wall in an attempt to discern where the water was coming from.  I should here insert that the previous day, it had rained torrents.  In fact, I had been so happy that it was raining on Ryan's birthday, just like it did a year ago, the day he was born.  It seemed so fitting and the Idaho earth was in serious need of a drink.  Back to the musty storage room, which was currently even mustier and much damper than usual.  Upon failing to locate the leak, Dirk and I decided we'd better be thorough and check the rest of the basement for water.  Seek and ye shall find........and we found a domestic version of the Everglades along the back wall, extending out about three feet.  Actually, Dirk first discovered our basement swamp as I was in the process of making sure Ryan didn't tumble down the stairs.  I will forever be impressed that the only word to escape Dirk's lips indicating that there was any sort of problem was, "Nuts!".  In fact, so mild was the expletive used, that I was surprised by the amount of flooding when I had contained our curious crawler and had come to survey the damage for myself.  As carpet squished beneath our feet, we knew we had to act fast.  Water was coming in somewhere, and we needed to figure out where.  There was also the small matter of turning the basement back into a dry land.  As luck, fate, karma, whatever you like to call it, would have it, we have a friend who lives almost directly behind us who happens to clean carpets for a living.  We made the call and our knight with giant water sucker arrived in his trusty white van in a matter of minutes.  Moments after arriving, our hero also helped us pinpoint the problem.  A broken rain gutter on the side of the house.  That's right........we were currently standing in our bayou of a basement because a plastic tube broke.  Unfortunately, Dirk and I had not put "clean out the rain gutters" on our spring cleaning and projects list.  This particular rain gutter was clogged with over a year's worth of debris and the onslaught of water pouring into it had nowhere to go.  So it found the weakest point, and out it poured.  Underneath it was a giant hole and a window well full of water.  Our friend sucked the water out of the window well and headed downstairs to start on the carpet.  My dad also drove in from Idaho Falls to help.
     While the three men ran about drying, fixing, postulating and pounding, there was still the small matter of getting myself and three children ready for church.  That's right......come hell or, quite literally, high water, we were going to make it to church on time.  Ryan was somehow managing to sleep through all of the chaos, and I decided it was an opportune time to take a shower.  As the warm water cascaded over me, I got to thinking.  About how much worse it could have been.  Events started playing over in my mind.  What if the juice had never spilled?  Dirk would not have gone downstairs to get the paper towels.  How much water would have poured into our basement from the full window well if we hadn't noticed it until that evening.....or the next day?  What if this had happened two weeks from now while we were in California?  We would have come home to a musty, moldy, very wet surprise.  In the past year alone, many homes in our neighborhood have had flooded basements which caused much more damage than our little flood.  As it was, the only things touched by the water were carpet and cement.  There are currently two giant fans still blowing the carpet dry.  But it is almost dry.  It is not ruined.  As I stood in the shower Sunday morning, I began thinking less of the flood in our basement and more and more of the flood of blessings which have rained down upon me.  I am blessed enough to have a home that can flood.  That house is filled with three beautiful, active, intelligent, healthy children and a husband who would do anything for me and those three children.  It is filled with glorious, wondrous chaos.  I have extended family nearby who would drop everything they have going on in their own busy lives to come and help us in our time of need.  I have good neighbors who are there in the blink of an eye in times of crises.
     Lately, I have been keeping a gratitude journal.  Each night, I try to write five things I am grateful for.  Some nights I climb into bed so exhausted that I neglect to write anything.  Other nights I climb into bed exhausted, with just enough energy to feel guilty and write five things such as.........a bed, sleep, sleeping children, night, darkness.  Other nights I write much more meaningful things.  On the night of the flooded basement, my gratitude journal entry read as follows, "Today I am grateful for:  1)"Heroes proved, in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life....."(it was Memorial Day weekend), 2)Friends, old and new, 3)Repaired rain gutter and drying carpet, 4)Second chances, 5)Healthy children."  Healthy I type this, Ryan is in his crib sleeping off a nasty stomach flu that has been plaguing him for two days.  You know what they say......"when it rains, it pours."  The ubiquitous they may continue to say whatever they darn well please.  But I choose to say this, "When it rains, check your rain gutters, and more importantly, count your blessings."  As I have striven to focus on gratitude, I have come to realize that even in the most seemingly inconvenient and trying of circumstances, there is still a virtual flood of blessings filling my life.  Sometimes it's all about taking the time to notice them.  And sometimes, a flooded basement and a sick baby are just enough to remind me of how much I really have and how easy my life normally is.  A week from now I will walk out my front door, a healthy Ryan in his stroller, a perfectly dry, reassembled basement waiting for us when we return.  I will stroll around the neighborhood at a leisurely pace, with my three healthy children in tow, most likely in abundant sunshine, and I will do so with a renewed awareness of just what a blessing it is to be enjoying such a perfectly ordinary day in the life of Shannon Stanger.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Baby Mine

     It is very possible and highly likely that I may meet an untimely death by electric shock before the completion of this post.  I am going to attempt to write a tribute to my angel baby, who will be turning one this Saturday.  The inevitable flood of tears that is likely to be produced by this effort, combined with the electric charge of the computer planted on my lap could prove fatal.  If this were to happen, I suppose my family and friends would find solace in the knowledge that I departed this mortal existence doing something I loved.  Without further ado, or morbid predictions..........

   Three hundred and sixty two days ago, Ryan Daniel Stanger arrived as the missing piece in our family puzzle.  I arose bright and early, though, truth be told, it wasn't very bright at all.  It was a cold, rainy Idaho spring morning.  Dirk snapped a few last pictures of me as a beached whale, and we hopped in our red mini van and drove to the hospital to the accompaniment of Jack Johnson.  I made a conscious effort to inhale and exhale as I allowed Jack's soothing, beachy tones to calm my nerves.  This effort required to breathe normally was not because I was in labor, but because I was preparing for a second c-section. Sure, I had been through it once before, but it had been an emergency.  I hadn't had nine months to freak out about it and to study up on every rare complication that could possibly occur.  Between Jack's mellow acoustics and the rhythm of the rain hitting the van roof, I was reasonably calm by the time we reached E.I.R.M.C.  Still, the prospect of being sawed in half is always slightly unsettling. Thankfully, the panic was offset by the anticipation of meeting this little miracle who was so longed for.  Upon arrival, I was ushered into a cold, sterile room where I was handed a gown that was so large that I briefly wondered if they were going to hand me a few stakes and instruct me in the new age art of tent birthing.  After putting on the tent/gown, I was hooked up to no less than one hundred machines and monitors and was then forced to drink some liquid that tasted like paint remover smells.  Nothing calms the nerves quite like drinking battery acid while listening to incessant beeping on a stone hard bed.  My sister was a welcome guest.  She arrived bearing the day's newspaper (I always like to save a paper from the day my children are born).  She then hailed a nurse to bring me the strongest flavor of ice chips available in an attempt to lessen the after taste of the unmentionable substance.  Her company helped the time to pass a little more quickly, and before I knew it, I was being whisked off to the O.R.  Dr. Isbell greeted me like it was any other day.....just a normal visit......not like he was about to perform a surgery so gruesome that a tarp had to be placed in front of my face so I couldn't see him pulling out my internal organs.  Before I was to become a circus act (you know the lady who lays in a box while the guy with the mustache saws her in two?......c-section!), there was the small matter of anesthesia, aka, having a needle the size of a baseball bat shoved into my spinal column.  I think I held my breath for the entire ten minutes it took to get the spinal block in place.  After I was pleasantly numb, and had vomited into a plastic tub, I might add, it was time for the tarp.  My arms were strapped down and an oxygen mask was strapped to my face.  Never had I felt so much like a mental patient, or a science experiment in Dr. Frankenstein's lab.  I closed my eyes as I listened to the swooshing, sawing, grinding, clinking and sucking taking place on the other side of the black plastic barrier.  After what seemed like ages, there was one very large swoosh, pop and then a few seconds of silence, followed by the incomparably beautiful sound of a tiny, angry cry.  Then, over the top of the tarp, came Dr. Isbell's hands, holding aloft a 7 lb, 21 in. red faced wrinkled miracle.  In that one instant, every fear that had been plaguing me subsided.  I had wondered if I could really love another baby as much as I did my other two children.  In that one sublime moment, my heart, like the Grinch's, grew three sizes.  More than that, the hole that had lingered after my previous miscarriage was filled to overflowing.  Suddenly, I felt whole.  This tiny, red faced screamer was who I had been waiting for. As with my other two babies, the second he was placed in my arms, it was like he had always been there.  He belonged there.  After only moments, I could not imagine my life without him.
     As I sit here on this rainy Spring night, it is almost impossible to believe that it has been almost a year since that rainy Spring morning when a little ray of sunshine made his way into my world.  The next few months were a blur as I tried to find the balance of spending time with my older children while taking care of a helpless newborn.  It was an odd feeling being confined to the couch, watching out the window as people began their regular summertime activities all around me.  Dirk was a life saver as he took Morgan and Hyrum to fun outings and activities.  And I sat on the couch, sometimes in the basement, trying, through my sleep-deprived, post pardom stupor, to embrace each moment of tiny baby wonder.  Knowing that Ryan will probably be our last child.......our last baby, I have made a conscious effort to enjoy the little details of his infanthood.  I have held him more than he may have needed to be held, rocked him after he was well asleep, just to smell the warm baby powder sweat of his sweet blond curls a little longer.  I have tried to memorize each dimple of his chubby fingers, and will forever have a still frame in my mind of his toothless jack-o-lantern smile.  His "thunder thighs" have likewise been etched into my mind where my most precious memories are kept.  His belly laugh, so "deep and chubby", as Morgan once very aptly described it, is locked tight in my mind and heart.  His belly button has received countless kisses and raspberries, and I'm surprised his perfectly rounded cheeks haven't fallen off yet from the constancy of my lips upon them.  He is my sunshine.  As much as I have always loved and still love my other children unconditionally, Ryan brought a new kind of hope into my life.  He has helped me to believe that miracles can happen, that wounds can be healed, and that love truly knows no bounds.  How I love his soft baby curls and his smile that fills his whole face and lights up the entire room.  When he crawls toward me as fast as his chubby legs can carry him, his tiny diaper bum wriggling in the air, I am reduced to a pile of mush.  When I watch him sleep, I am reminded that angels really can dwell on earth.  When I look at him, I am complete.  I am whole.  My heart knows the deepest contentment.  When I see my three children and my husband together, I feel like the most blessed woman in the world.  Through all of the sweet potatoes spewed onto my shirt, the days of wondering when I would sleep again, the anguish of once again failing at breastfeeding, there has been God's tiny miracle smiling back at me, with a look behind incomparably blue eyes that seemed to whisper, "It's ok, mom.  I was always meant to be right here, with you."  My Ryan has made my life complete, when I didn't even realize it was incomplete.
     I have already written a post about one of my favorite memories with my little sunshine.  It's called "Dance Partners".  One day, when Ryan was maybe a month old, Dirk was out hitting golf balls with the older children, and Ryan was having an untypically fussy day.  After nursing, rocking, bouncing, and shushing had done little in the way of calming, I turned to music.  I found my Micheal Buble station on Pandora radio, cradled Ryan against my shoulder, and slowly began to dance around the room.  The first song we ever danced to, my tiniest of dance partners and I, was Harry Conick Junior's version of "Someday".  I truly will always remember and cherish the feeling of his warm baby head nuzzling my neck as we waltzed through the living room to the sound of smooth jazz and the smell of freshly cut grass wafting through the screen door on the warm summer breeze.  There is a part of me that wishes I could keep him an infant forever.  What will I do without that deep chubby laugh and that larger than life gummy grin?  I know I will always still have them, because Ryan will still be with me.  But baby Ryan, my last tiny precious infant Ryan, will always occupy a special corner of my heart.  When cloudy days come and I struggle to find the sun, I will think of my sunshine baby.  I will remember our first waltz.  And the words of the first song we ever danced to will warm my soul:

Someday, when I'm awfully low, and the world is cold
I will feel a glow just thinking of you
And the way you look tonight.
Oh but you're lovely, with your smile so warm and your cheeks so soft,
There is nothing for me but to love you
Just the way you look tonight. 
With each word, your tenderness grows,
Tearing my fears apart.
And that laugh that wrinkles your nose
Touches my foolish heart.
Lovely, never, never change.
Keep that breathless charm.
Won't you please arrange it, cause I love you
Just the way you look tonight.

My dearest Ryan- You will always make my heart glow and I will love you forever and a day.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


     What child doesn't love blowing bubbles?  I still enjoy sitting in the summer grass and watching as my children send the translucent orbs out into the clear blue Idaho sky.  People often talk about comfort food.  Well, blowing bubbles is a comfort activity.  Bubbles take me right back to my childhood.  They rose into the stifling Virginia air of my girlhood just as well as they do here.  Yes, I have always loved bubbles.  I never realized, however, that I would someday be viewing the world from the inside of one of these magical spheres.  I currently reside in the bubble of Shelley, Idaho.  It is a sleepy town populated by about 3,000 people.  If that description alone doesn't give you a good enough idea, I will expound.  There is a field for every ten houses, and a cow for every ten people.  Up until a few years ago, there was one lighted intersection.  The Main Street diner, Mick's, is the regular Saturday morning meeting place for several of the local farmers.  There are about twenty last names among Shelley's 3,000 residents.  I think some level of bartering for livestock may still occur when wedding arrangements are made between members of two of the Shelley "dynasties", aka farm families who make more money than most of us will ever see at one time.  Hopefully by now you get the picture.  Shelley, Idaho is not exactly a hip, happening, metropolitan melting pot.  I spent the bulk of my childhood in Richmond, Virginia.  We didn't live in the heart of the city, but in a nice suburban outlet.  We were in day trip driving distance of Washington, D.C., Jamestown and Virginia Beach.  The air was thick not only with near constant humidity, but also with history.  It is only now, looking back, that I realize how much I took for granted living in one of the most historical places in the country.  By the time my family moved away, I could have probably given someone a guided tour of the Smithsonian, and I had played on old Civil War battlegrounds like they were my own backyard.  Growing up in Richmond as a white Mormon, I was a minority.  I hung out with a close knit group of friends.  There were five of us; Jackie, Erica, Robin, Katherine and myself.  Jackie and Erica are black; Robin, Katherine and I are white; and Robin and I are the only Mormons.  We did everything together, from impromptu fashion shows to school trips to Christmas parties to slumber parties and movie marathons.  We were all part of the T.A.G. program at our elementary school.  And we were the very best of friends.  When I was thirteen, my family moved to Idaho.  I should say back to Idaho, as this is where both of my parents are from (mostly) and where I was born and lived until the age of two. We had moved to VA because of a contract my dad had taken with Virginia Power.  The contract was up, and it was time to get back to our roots.
     In my awkward adolescence, I did not feel that I was returning to my roots, but rather that I was being forcefully uprooted from everything I had come to know and love.  When we arrived here, I was amazed by how oddly out of place I felt in a sea of white Mormon faces.  Every girl at my middle school had the same hair and the same pair of jeans.  When I greeted people with a cheery, "Hey ya'll!" they looked at me like I was an alien, or at the very least like they were wondering why Paula Dean's granddaughter had moved into their neck of the woods.  No one drank soda or even Coke.  They drank some substance called "pop" and sat on "couches" instead of sofas.  Someone asked me one day if I wanted to "sluff" class with them.  I had absolutely no idea what they were referring to.  Not quite ready to accept the "resistance is futile" mantra of the Borg (sorry- I come from a very Trekkie family), I started hanging out with friends who were "different".  They were "stoners" and "skaters", aka the kind of friends that are likely to give the parents of an adolescent girl in the midst of an identity crisis a heart attack.  But they accepted me for me.  They didn't care what brand of jeans I wore.  They actually started to speak in some of my Southern lingo.  They were open to the idea that there is a great big wide world out there, and they wanted to hear about the parts of it I had seen.  I struggled all through the rest of middle school and high school trying to find out exactly where I fit in.  I made friends in many of the different cliques but never really settled into one.  I was a nomad.  I eventually found theater, which became my lifeline.  The final play I starred in my Senior year was none other than Steel Magnolias.  I was Shelby.  Looking back now, I find it a little ironic that I spent most of my high school career trying to hide who I really was and ended high school playing a role that was so close to my roots.
     I have now officially spent more of my life in Idaho than I did in Virginia.  It is a strange realization, as VA still feels like home on so many levels.  With time and maturity, I have come to realize that Idaho is not just a state of wide open fields and closed minded people.  My children were born in the bubble.  Sometimes I worry about that.  I have to admit that some sort of pride rose up within me when my daughter made "best friends" with the only part Asian girl in her class.  It is hard to teach your children to be color blind when there is no color.  It is hard to teach them about other cultures in a town where potatoes and football and church every Sunday are the only way to live.  I love that we live in a safe community.  Where I grew up you didn't go into certain neighborhoods.......ever, at least not if you wanted to keep all of your teeth in your mouth and your virtue intact.  You didn't go anywhere alone.  Here, I occasionally leave my front door unlocked when I am away.  Shelley is, admittedly, an ideal place to raise children in some respects.  But, I want my children to realize that there is more out there than this Mayberry existence (if this were a musical, a very inspiring song would now begin, but alas..........).  I suppose I will have to fashion my own pin and pop the bubble myself.  I have already begun attempting this, armed with pictures from my childhood and books (thank goodness for books!!!!!) about different countries, cultures and people who have made a difference.  On Martin Luther King Jr. day we read his "I Have a Dream" speech for Family Home Evening.  I wish I had the means to take my children around the world to see all of  the places and cultures that exist.  Of course, I do not.  Instead, I hope that through repeated discussions and readings, I can teach my children to be tolerant, accepting and compassionate to everyone.  As I have watched bubbles climb the summer skies so many times throughout my life, I have noticed one thing.  They always pop.  They are a brief illusion of happiness and are soon gone forever.  I hope to keep my children safe and away from harm while at the same time teaching them to keep their feet firmly planted on the ground and their minds and hearts open to all they can learn from and feel for all of the people outside of the bubble.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Arranged marriages and apple pie

     I believe in arranged marriages.  It certainly worked for me.  Now, before you start cringing at the image of a fresh faced fourteen year old shaking with wide eyed terror as she is promised to a fifty year old letch, let me explain. I did not get married at the age of fourteen, but I was around that age when I met my then future in-laws.  My church youth group was doing a "missionary activity".  Two or three young women were placed together as "companions" and we were assigned to a home where we would go and teach the gospel to families in our ward who had volunteered.  Each volunteer family was to choose which country they would be representing and was to serve a meal from the selected country.  My "companions" and myself were assigned to "Mexico", aka Craig and Cathi Stanger's house.  As the door opened for me and my companions, we were greeted by a smell so mouthwatering that it made me wonder why we were coming to teach the gospel to a couple who had obviously already found Heaven itself.  We were ushered into the living room where we sat timidly on the couch opposite the Stangers.  As cricket noise began to fill the resounding silence in the room, it became apparent that neither of my "companions" had any intention of speaking.  It was up to me.  The only way into the kitchen of heavenly smell was to get through the discussion.  So, I began.  I couldn't tell you one thing I said.  But I fudged my way through a brief synopsis of the basic beliefs of our faith, answering the frequent questions of the Stangers with trepidation.  I tried to smile and pretend I knew what I was talking about, but inside I was a nervous wreck.  The Stangers were gracious.  They smiled and nodded and didn't even correct me as I spouted off what was most likely false doctrine.  My "companions" offered a few barely discernible head nods in agreement with what I said.  It was obvious that I should never attempt to be an actual missionary.  The evening's next activity came much more naturally to me; we ate.  After my first taste of the Stanger's cooking (Mexican just happens to be my favorite), I was near proposing marriage to them.  Little did I know at the time, that this would be the first of many scrumptious meals at the Stanger table.

     At the time of my rather pathetic missionary attempt, my future husband was actually serving a mission for our church in Uruguay (where he was most likely partaking of a much less appetizing meal of cow stomach stew).  For reasons which still elude me, after I left the Stanger home that night, Dirk's father turned to Dirk's mother and informed her that I was the girl for Dirk.  Approximately four years later, Cathi Stanger showed up on my doorstep with a hot, homemade, and yes, heavenly apple pie and informed me that her son would be home from Utah State for the weekend.  She handed me the pie and asked me if I would consider going on a date with Dirk.  I think I said something exteremely eloquent like......"uh.....ok."  I then went inside and devoured almost the entire apple pie.  Dirk had absolutely no idea that he would be taking out a girl that weekend who was almost four years his junior and who really really liked to eat.  He was actually dating another girl at Utah State at the time.  As fate would have it, Dirk and Julie ("Barbie" to all of Dirk's sisters) broke up that very week.  The rest is a very small chapter of history.  Dirk's parents must have realized that my love of all things edible would be an attractive trait to Dirk.  He has since informed me that, aside from my smile, my love of eating is one of the first things that made him fall in love with me.  I have had many more delicious meals in the Stanger home over the past nine years, most accompanied by noise and laughter.  Dirk and I now love to cook meals together and try out recipes in our own little kitchen.  We now strive together to teach our own three beautiful children the gospel.  I don't know what exactly Dirk's father saw in me that night years ago that I showed up at his door as an awkward teenager.  But I will be forever grateful that Dirk's parents knew their son well enough that they were able to help him find his best friend and soul mate.  I couldn't have handpicked a better husband for myself. He is my rock and my help meet; my solace, my companion, my partner in every sense of the word.

     I plan on learning how to make Cathi's famous apple pie.  Someday, it may just be the key to making sure my kids end up with the right person!