Thursday, June 30, 2016

Parenthood, by Dylan

April 30, 2016

I might have mentioned a time or two (or three) that my talented son Dylan is beginning a career as a professional photographer. He has already done several photo-shoots (and he was even paid for one of them, so I guess that means he is a professional...), with several more upcoming. Most have been senior pictures, but then he was asked by a friend to do a series of pregnancy photos. He was a little nervous, but he did some research and discussed it with his digital photography teacher, who has his own successful photography business, and he decided to give it a try. I think he aced it.

There are many beautiful photos in this collection, including some with props featuring ultrasound photos and the baby's name, but here are just a few of my favorites.

People pictures are not a strength of mine. I love them and I take a lot of them, but usually they look too posed or too wild or too disorganized. Dylan seems to have a gift for natural poses and relaxed expressions. He really brings out the best in his subjects.

Perhaps the best indicator of his skill occurred when the mom-to-be in these photos went to Walmart to have baby shower invitations printed, featuring one of these pictures. The photo department would not allow her to have them printed until she brought in a photo release form signed by the photographer. It appeared clear to them that this was professional work!

How come they never demand a release form for my pictures to be printed? Okay, never mind...

At first I thought, "He cut her head off!" Then I realized how perfectly
he'd centered the attention on papa and baby here. Well done, Dylan!

I guess you could say I'm just a little bit of a proud mom!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

An Empty Nest

This den/game room that opens off the kitchen was Mark's bedroom 
for more than a year, until Dylan moved out a month ago.

Dylan has been gone for a whole month now. I do miss him and the house seems very quiet, but I think I'm adjusting. I had hoped by now to have my annual summer deep-cleaning finished, but since the last week of school I've been so sick with sinus, ear, and chest issues, compounded by the stress and smoke of the too-close Cedar Creek Fire, that I just couldn't find the energy to do more than minimal surface cleaning.

I will say that going from four people to two has made a big difference, even with just a surface cleaning. There are fewer dishes left on the sink and less clutter throughout the house. It's much easier to stay on top of things, and I'm liking that part in this season of my life. Nonetheless, would I have traded away the 26 years of noisy, messy, chaotic life with my children in exchange for a quiet, tidy house? Not for all the riches in the world! Children are one of the most important things that magically turn a house into a home.

Mark slept in the middle of this room for 13 months, between the piano, 
television, love seat, and stacks of boxed yard sale and food storage items.
The ancient big-screen TV belongs to Dylan, but he decided not to move it just yet.

I really, really thought I had taken a picture of the den/game room during the time it was converted to Mark's "bedroom," but I can't locate it. So, instead, here are some pictures of how it looks now that he has moved into Dylan's old bedroom. (I keep current photos of all the rooms in my house for insurance purposes, just in case, say, our house burns down in a forest fire...)

With no closet or dresser space to call his own, Mark's few clothes 
were just stacked on the love seat and rocker.

We didn't rearrange the furniture in the den/game room for Mark when he came to stay. After all, I didn't know how long this arrangement was going to last. Still don't, really. So we simply put Mark's bed in the center of the floor, which didn't leave much space for anything else. He piled his few clothes and belongings on the love seat and rocker, and he rarely used the room for anything other than sleep. Dylan quit using the room to play his video games or to play the piano, because they were too hard to get to. I've missed listening to Dylan on the piano this past year. Now, when he visits, he often goes straight to the piano to pound out some tunes!

Mark's bed literally reached from the TV to the foot of these steps into the kitchen.
(What is now the "den" actually used to be Jacob and Dylan's bedroom.)

For a long time, Mark didn't even have a real bed. He went through two nice air mattresses, but both eventually began losing air no matter how well we patched them. Finally, Dylan pulled the top bunk off his bunk bed, dismantled it, and moved it into the den/game room for his dad to sleep on. That was a much better arrangement.

Looking into Mark's new digs from the hallway.

Now, though, Mark finally has his own room, along with his own dresser and closet. Unfortunately, for the first few weeks he was still just living in a mess, a jumble of furniture moved in or shifted while Dylan gradually collected all his stuff to be moved into the new apartment (which is only about a mile from us). Not very homey for Mark. Yet.

Now Mark has room for his bi-pap machine and oxygen concentrator.
The "Call of Duty" skull banner was made by Dylan, but he decided not to take it.

Finally, a week ago, I started to feel well enough to plunge into my summer cleaning, so we started with reorganizing Dylan's old room. Although Mark had moved into it immediately after Dylan's departure, it still needed to be thoroughly cleaned and set up for him. We spent two days tackling that job. Here are the results, with a 360-degree view of the refurbished room.

I bought the small, white bookshelf for the room, which Mark and Sarah assembled for me. I used it to hold the kids' old books, the ones that weren't favored enough to move with them when they each got married, as well as several books I brought from school. Since I'm retiring at the end of this next school year, I brought home my personal books that I no longer use for my students, such as my collection of Shel Silverstein's poetry books.

I couldn't bear to take down the Arrow of Light award from Dylan's Cub Scout years. And notice the empty shelf high above the white bookshelves. This was Sarah's bedroom from the year we bought the house in 1993 until she got married in 2011, and the two high shelves on either side of that window were always filled with stuffed animals and dolls. After she got married, we moved Dylan into this room, and then those shelves were always filled with his Little League and soccer trophies. Now that he took away his trophies, the little shelf looks sort of sad and forlorn.

However, I did manage to fill the shelf on the right side of the window
with cool music boxes and trinkets, gifts from my children and my dad.

Mark now has a tall dresser all to himself! The stuffed pup on top
was a Mothers Day gift from Jacob in 2010, so it stays!

I brought the desk in from my home office, located just off the master bedroom. I figure it will be a good place to work on bills and other financial stuff when Mark is at work and the house is empty and quiet. My other, much larger desk, with my computer and printer and writing stuff, remains in the office. Taking out one of the desks gives me much more room in my little work space.

The cute little bunnies and kitties on the heart shelf and the light switch plate
are remnants from the years of Sarah's occupancy. Mark's Grandma Helen,
Sarah's great-grandma, gave Sarah the bunny light switch plate.

Now Mark has plenty of closet space!

Finally, yesterday when I deep-cleaned the den/game room (which Mark and I have decided to simply call "the den" now that Dylan has moved out), I realized we'd forgotten to move one very important piece of artistry: the Big Mouth Billy Bass wall plaque Sarah had given her dad for his birthday and Fathers Day last year, his first back with the family since our divorce in 2006. So I banged two nails into the wall and hung it right above Mark's bed.

Now it is finished.

Billy Bass sings "I Will Survive" and "Don't Worry, Be Happy."

 And Mark even has his own bathroom to himself now!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Quarter-Century

June 26, 2003: Jacob turns 12!

We never seem to get to celebrate Jacob's birthday with him anymore. In 2011 and 2012, when he turned 20 and 21, he was serving his mission in the Santa Rosa Mission of northern California. When he turned 22 in 2013, he had moved back to the area of his mission to live and work. We did get to enjoy commemorating his birthday with him in 2014 and 2015, but this year he's far away again.

June 26, 2004: Jacob turns 13! (With cousin Marcus,
little brother Dylan, who was almost 7, and family friend Willy.)

And so today, on his 25th birthday, he partied with his in-laws in Utah. By all reports they made it a great day for him, and I appreciate them for that. Friday night they attended the Manti Temple Pageant. Yesterday they went to a Utah theme park called Lagoon. Today they had a grilled dinner, Danielle made him a wildly colorful cake, he opened gifts, and then they had a campfire and made s'mores. Just wish we could have been there with him!

June 27, 2005: Jacob had turned 14!

Instead, I thought I would share some pictures from his past birthdays, the ones when he was young and still safely under my roof. How I miss those days!

June 26, 2006: Jacob turns 15!
(with friends Kyle and Micheal)

July 1, 2007: The date was actually Dylan's 10th birthday, so
Jacob had turned 16 five days earlier, but they shared their party.

Danielle sent me this picture of 25-year-old Jacob today
with the crazy-cool birthday cake she made for him!
June 26, 2016

We did get to wish him a happy birthday for about ten minutes this evening through the miracle of Skype. He took a short break from his celebration at home to visit with us, and we made the most of it, as you can see in the video below.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Into the Furnace

The gauges of my car in Mesa, AZ, on Monday, June 20, 2016.

The Cedar Creek Fire seemed well on its way to containment when a heatwave hit the state last weekend. The extreme heat warning lasted almost a week, until Thursday (yesterday). The excessive heat and dry air led to worsening conditions, and the fire roughly doubled in size over that time. Consequently, the Cedar Creek Fire continues to loom over our communities as a not-so-distant, dark threat.

We live in the mountains, of course, at an elevation of 7,200 feet. For us, a heatwave is when the temperature approaches 100 degrees, or even the upper 90s. Unfortunately, on Monday Mark and I had to travel to the Phoenix area, where the residents know what true hellish heat is all about.

Thankfully, this trip marked the final Valley visit to handle the last of Mark's legal issues from five years ago. We were able to meet with his court-appointed attorney and resolve the matter to everyone's satisfaction. When we arrived at the court, where we spent the next four hours, we weren't so sure of a happy outcome. The prosecutors were asking for jail time, up to six months, and up to $2,500 in new fines for Mark's failure to pull over for an emergency vehicle and driving on a suspended license with no proof of insurance. (It was not a DUI.)

I did expect Mark to be offered a plea agreement, and he was. The first offer included home arrest with an ankle cuff, with the possibility of reducing the fine to just $500. Unfortunately, the home arrest option is only available in Maricopa County, and Mark pointed out that we live in Navajo County, three hours away. This flustered his attorney a bit. Mr. Atkins explained that the prosecutor on duty that day was pretty hard-nosed.

Eleven days before our meeting, I had mailed a letter and a packet of materials to Mark's attorney to familiarize him with Mark's situation. When I asked about it, he said he hadn't received it. More like "hadn't read it," I'm sure, but I was prepared. I pulled a copy of the materials out of my file, handed it to him, and proceeded to fill him in on the pertinent details.

My points: As of September 4th, Mark will have been clean and sober for five years. Fourteen months of his sobriety have continued since his release from prison. Mark has a job where he is valued and has been employed there for more than a year. He has completed parole and is current and compliant on his probation, including working hard over the past year to pay down his many fines and fees from his many bad choices in years past. Mark has severe learning disabilities that make it hard for him to find work, so it's important that he maintain his current employment in order to continue paying those debts. Why would the court jeopardize the job that is helping him stay on track and meet his legal obligations?

Finally, I told Mr. Atkins that Mark and I had agreed that a sentence including jail time is perfectly acceptable, as long as the jail time is suspended. Knowing what he knows now, I said, Mark deserves to go to jail if he screws up at this point. The attorney's eyes lit up. He could work with that.

He went back to the prosecutor and returned with a plea agreement that we could live with: 36 months of unsupervised probation (meaning he doesn't have to meet with a probation officer); a $1,500 fine (with a payment plan of just $40 per month for three years); and 20 days of jail time, suspended (meaning he doesn't have to serve a single day if he breaks no laws during his three years of probation). And they dismissed all other charges except the one for driving on a suspended license. Not too bad.

After Mark appeared and the judge passed sentence, Mark's attorney handed me my stack of documents and whispered, "You're a good woman." That made me feel really good. As for Mark, he was very relieved that it was over. He liked the idea that he'll never again have to appear in court as long as he stays on track. The power is in his hands.

We had a couple of other nice surprises, too. There was already a $1,091 fine in place in connection with this case due to Mark's seeming "disappearance." I pointed this out to the attorney, who was able to argue that it should be dismissed because Mark was in prison and unable to appear. The judge agreed. 

On another case, Mark owed $1,664. When I inquired about a payment plan, I was told Mark had to pay one-quarter of the amount upfront. Well, that wasn't going to happen! So I emailed the court, explaining Mark's situation and asking if he could just pay $50 per month. Apparently, my email was forwarded as a "motion" to a judge, who stunned me by giving Mark credit for "time served" and vacating the fine. Balance = zero!

So Mark was unexpectedly blessed by having $2,755 in fines and fees dismissed. Oh, there's still plenty to pay. His final, current balance is now $11,260 with monthly payments totaling $205 per month for pretty much the rest of his life. Okay, five years. But an end is in sight. In a few months he'll pay off the fourth of seven fines, leaving just three to deal with. That's progress.

As for probation, it may be three years unsupervised for this current case, but he's also doing five years of supervised probation for a 2011 aggravated DUI (aggravated because his license was suspended). However, even that is manageable. As long as he remains compliant, the probation will be reduced by two-thirds. Two-thirds! That means he can be off by the start of 2018, just 18 months away.

To our great surprise, Judges Tafoya and Fuji also restored Mark's driving privileges from two different cases. I think we'll wait a bit on that, though. With his record, the cost of insurance coupled with his fines is probably more than he can afford right now. Much as I'd love to no longer be Mark's main source of transportation, it's probably better not to go there right now. 

A rare "strawberry moon" accompanies our drive back home.
I learned that a strawberry moon is a very rare full moon on summer solstice.
Apparently the last one was about 70 years ago.

While in the Valley, we also took care of some banking and shopping. Our very first stop when we got into town was for lunch at Carl's Jr. As luck would have it, their air conditioning wasn't working. It was like eating in a sweat lodge. The official high temperature for that day was 116 degrees, but my car testified to 117 (see top photo). 

After our experience in court, Mark and I celebrated by going to dinner at Golden Corral. When we finished and stepped outside, it was almost 6:30, but it was still like stepping into a blast furnace. This is the reason I live in the White Mountains!

The huge strawberry moon as seen from our front yard after our return.
(My little camera doesn't take great moon pictures like Dylan's does!)

I lived in Mesa from March 1980 to July 1990. Some people prefer the heat to the cold, but my body doesn't sweat properly, so it was a miserable ten years for me. One of the worst things about the heat is the fact that, this time of year, it doesn't even cool down at night. Sometimes it doesn't even drop below 100 degrees, so there is no relief.

And so it was wonderful to watch on my dashboard as the temperature fell quickly, the higher we climbed. By the time we pulled into our driveway just after 9:30, it was a beautiful 72 degrees. That's our "heatwave" temperature. I love our mountain, even with the threat of evacuation hanging over us!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mark Turns 48

Mark celebrates his 48th birthday at El Rancho.
June 21, 2016

You know how some people are born near a major holiday, like Christmas, and their birthday seems to get swallowed up by the other event? Or how some people are born on or near another family member's birthday and always seem to end up celebrating together instead of individually (like my sons Jacob and Dylan, whose birthdays are just 5 days apart)?

Mark gets ready to eat dinner on Fathers Day.

Well, Mark's June 21st birthday seems to fall into both categories. Not only is his birthday just 5 days before Jacob's and 10 days before Dylan's, but it also falls on or near Fathers Day every year. So, one way or another, his birthday is usually combined with something else.

Sarah is ready to enjoy her bratwurst at her dad's celebration.

Last year, Mark's birthday actually fell on the same Sunday as Fathers Day, so a Sunday birthday party was a no-brainer. This year it came two days later, on Tuesday, but we still had his party on Fathers Day. With our children's work schedules, weekday parties are hard to get everyone to. Even Sunday wasn't perfect, since Jake had to work until 8:00, so he missed dinner. He was there for the cake and gifts, though.

Dylan's burgers are already gone!

We started our Fathers Day gathering with a dinner of grilled bratwurst on buns and Ruffles potato chips with toasted onion dip (my favorite), along with grilled burgers for those of us who aren't huge bratwurst fans. That would be Dylan and me.

Chris and his dinner.

Mark's children brought him plenty of love! They each gave him
one gift for Fathers Day and one for his birthday.

Then, after Jake arrived, it was time to open presents. Jacob and Danielle were unable to attend, of course, since they live in Utah, but Jacob told me they found the perfect gift for Mark. I won't give it away, except to say that it has something to do with Mark's favorite pastime, fishing.

Mark reads the cards before opening the gifts.

Sarah and Chris gave him a Yahtzee game, which used to be one of his favorite games to play with the kids when they were younger. They also gave him a gift card to spend as he pleases. He liked that a lot, because his fishing license expires soon.

The unveiling of the gifts.

Dylan and Jake got him a big bag of assorted candies and two packs of cigarettes (yuck). Before Mark opened the packages, Dylan told me, "Mom, you're going to hate one of these presents." Indeed, I would dearly love for Mark to kick that nasty addiction. And none of the kids support Mark's smoking habit. In fact, on a regular basis they tell him he needs to quit. However, Dylan knew his dad would like the gift and figured it would save him a few bucks. Dylan was quite shocked at the high cost for two packs.

Side note: When I found out about the cigarette gifts, I exclaimed in outrage, "They sold you cigarettes!?" Dylan responded, "Calm down, Mom. I'm eighteen." "Oh," I said. In fact, he'll be nineteen in just 10 days. Why do our babies grow up?

Mark opens the last two gifts, mine.

I gave Mark a boom box with AM/FM radio and CD player, and, along with it, two CDs of oldies he used to love in his younger, head-banger days: Black Sabbath and Guns & Roses. Now that he has his own actual bedroom (instead of sleeping in the middle of the family room between the piano and the love seat), he can have his own space to listen to the music he enjoys.

Dylan presents the final gift to be opened.

Guns and Roses, plus a CD of Black Sabbath's best, 1970 to 1978.

Expressions of love.

We also like to express ourselves on the envelopes... Dylan was particularly pleased
with his balloons that spelled out "OZZY," just like the tattoo on his dad's fingers.

Mark with his birthday cake on Fathers Day.

We ended the night with a cookies-and-cream, Oreo ice-cream cake, with a side of peanut-butter-cup ice cream, and by singing a really strange version of "Happy Birthday to You" to the birthday boy. I take no credit, since I have no voice and cannot sing due to the irritation caused by the incessant smoke from the Cedar Creek Fire over the past seven days.

Mark enjoys his ice-cream cake and ice cream.

Although Mark's birthday/Fathers Day party was a thing of the past by Tuesday, yesterday was still Mark's birthday. So last night we went out to dinner with Sarah and Chris (Dylan had to work) for Mexican food. It has long been our family tradition to celebrate our birthdays at El Rancho.

On Tuesday night, Mark posed for the waitresses' camera at El Rancho,
after they brought his free deep-fried ice cream and sang to him.


The most dreadful rendition of the Happy Birthday song I've ever heard, sung with love!

Friday, June 3, 2016

All Together

Dinner at Native Grill: Sarah, Jacob, Danielle, and Mark.
May 26, 2016

Now that graduation and the wedding are over, things are settling down and life is much quieter. With eight weeks of summer vacation ahead of me, I've already begun to find time for little tasks that have been put off for the last ten months. It's all good. Except I miss having my whole family together.

Sarah was very good and ordered a salad. Jacob ordered a favorite
from the days when he worked as a cook here. Mark also worked at a Native 
in Mesa when he was a teen, back when it was still called Native New Yorker.

Don't get me wrong. I can definitely get used to this whole empty nest thing. Yesterday I cleaned the kitchen and, wonder of wonders, this morning it's still all clean. Just a small, neat stack of dinner dishes from last night's grilled steak and green salad, waiting for me to quickly wash them up. (Mark is tolerably tidy, for a man!) Throughout the next few weeks I'll be doing a deep cleaning of my house, and I look forward to having each room remain spotless as I move on to the next.

Danielle and Mark show their dinner orders, too. It's funny how
food is always so central to family gatherings!

So it's not that I need my children living under my roof, constantly under my watchful eye. The greatest joy of my life has been watching them try their wings and then fly away to start their own lives, knowing that they have the skills and confidence to no longer need me to take care of them. I think that means I did my job as a mom right.

Brothers Jacob and Dylan before the wedding, with Sarah on the left behind them.
Dylan could not have a wedding without his siblings there to support him.
May 29, 2016

What I miss is being able to gather together often. I love to watch my kids interact, alternately wrestling and hugging, teasing one another, building and sharing memories, driving each other crazy, and then suddenly doing thoughtful little surprises for each other. They truly are best friends.

My whole family, on our last night together for the next four months.
Sarah, Chris, Jacob, Danielle, Jake, Dylan, and Mark at El Rancho.
Memorial Day, May 30, 2016

As always, it was hard to say good-bye when Jacob and Danielle headed back to Utah and their lives there. We are planning a trip to visit them there in six weeks, but it won't be all eight of us since Chris has to stay and work. That means we won't all be together again until four months from now, when we take our big family vacation to Anaheim and pay a visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. 

We are all very much looking forward to the fun of our vacation. However, I think we all agree that, while theme parks and the Pacific Ocean's beaches are awesome, the best thing of all will be a full week of our family being together again!

Proof that I was there, too!