How Glory Goes

Back in July at our Pax family reunion, my grandparents were sitting on one of the blue cabin couches next to each other, soaking in the family togetherness and the chaos that goes with it. Grandma has been increasingly forgetful in the last few years and conversations sometimes looped back around to where they started or sometimes took unexpected turns. 

Toward the end of the day I think she could tell things were winding down (or was she tired and wishing it were so?) and she announced to us all in that way you do when you're hoping to shepherd everyone to the door, "well, we wish we could invite you to our farewell but we don't know when it's going to be!" 

Today I came across that line on a running list of quotes and memories on my phone (because I'm also a little forgetful at less than half grandma's age). I've been thinking of my grandma almost non-stop this week. She had a fall and things have been painful and complicated. She doesn't want any extraordinary measures, she's stopped eating, and she wants everyone to stop praying for her to get better. She wants to go home. As in Home.  She seems to be inviting us to her farewell.

To paraphrase Stephen Colbert, I know it may sound greedy to want more days with a person who lived so long, but the fact that my grandma will turn 96 this week does not diminish, it only magnifies, the enormity of the room whose doors seem to be quietly shutting. 

So it's a tender, bittersweet time unfolding there in that hospice and in Paxman hearts wherever they beat. Shirley's children are taking turns at her bedside and in support of their dad as their parents' paths, at least for now, seem to be diverging for the first time in over 75 years.

When the song How Glory Goes came up on my playlist last weekend, it was a poignant, close-to-home tear starter for sure.  Written by Adam Guettel for his musical Floyd Collins, it's based on the real life account of a man who became critically, mortally trapped in a cave. While people work to try to save him he realizes death is imminent and wonders aloud about what the afterlife will be like: 

Is it warm? Is it soft against your face?
Do you feel a kind of grace inside the breeze?
Will there be trees?
Is there light? Does it hover on the ground?
Does it shine from all around or just from you?

Is it endless and empty and you wander on your own?
Slowly forget about the folks that you have known?
Or does rising bread fill up the air
From open kitchens everywhere?
Familiar faces far as you can see, like a family?

Do we live? Is it like a little town?
Do we get to look back down at who we love?
Are we above?
Are we everywhere? Are we anywhere at all?
Do we hear a trumpet call us and we're by your side?

Will I want? Will I wish
For all the things I should have done?
Longing to finish what I only just begun?
Or has a shiny truth been waiting there
For all the questions everywhere?
In a world of wondering, suddenly you know. And you will always know.

Will my mama be there waiting for me,
Smiling like the way she does,
And holding out her arms,
As she calls my name?
She will hold me just the same…

Only Heaven knows how glory goes,
What each of us was meant to be.
In the starlight, that is what we are.
I can see so far…

I'd like to vote for all of the above, if anyone's taking requests. I'm quite certain there is a chain of mamas and sisters getting ready and waiting for Shirley, even while a chain of us here gets ready to say goodbye, the going and the glory both extending in symmetry and celebration of one extraordinary and beloved Shirley Brockbank Paxman.

O pioneers

[Back in January G and I were asked to be the trail bosses for the youth pioneer trek that happens every four years in our regional congregation. It's where all the youth 12-18 experience a few days of pioneer life, complete with pulling handcarts across country terrain, camping out, leaving modern conveniences behind, and even dressing the part as 19th century pioneers. So here's more than you ever wanted to know about trek in Australia:] 

I have to admit, I was a reluctant pioneer--I'd never done trek, let alone led one--but G was enthusiastic and convincing. And he was right--it was energizing to work on a project together.

G spent months of weekends driving trails and paths in the area in search of a trek route that would work since the church farm where previous treks were held was no longer an option. As we finetuned the route based on campsites and access and planned activities, we realized that this was going to be a difficult endeavour as treks go--very hilly and quite long--but a gorgeous setting. We wanted it be meaningful and challenging but rewarding for everyone. As a somewhat trek-skeptical participant, I worried and fretted over the hardships. What if we made it so hard that it wasn't a lesson of accomplishing hard things but one of failing at trying hard things?!

We started off from this cute village church, the bell ringing us off

We started off from this cute village church, the bell ringing us off

While we were on the trail side of things (everything to do with the trail, trek youth, and families), behind the scenes there was a support crew who took care of all the logistics (outhouses, water, food supply, handcarts, equipment, etc.). They were fantastic. The YSA in the stake served on the support crew and also took on all the re-enactments and the bonfire dance on the last night. Others in the stake pitched in with photography and pioneer games and medical support.

The awesome stake YSA support/re-enactment crew

The awesome stake YSA support/re-enactment crew

Trek finally arrived, 29 Sept-2 October. We walked 41 kilometres over 3.5 days--and saved the hardest day for last, when we had to walk all the way back out, about 17.5 k. Sometimes the learning curve was as steep as the hills were and we definitely had to be flexible and go with flow as things unfolded. But these kids and their awesome trek parents were incredible--positive, flexible, kind, willing. It was so inspiring and gratifying to see their efforts and feel of their spirits. No phones. No tents (just tarps). No showers. Making meals over the fire. Yet even on the hardest segments, there was chatter and singing and cooperation throughout the group. Amazing.

I haven't yet found the words to express how this experience transformed me. G and I and Sam have talked and rehashed and philosophized about the multiple lessons of trek--everything from learning to be a better leader/ gospel parallels & how strong our young people (especially the women!) how fascinating it was to watch how this little microcosm community of different families worked. I would love to do a study on the different things I observed: how the families embodied the different personalities and priorities of the parents and how sharing meaningful work seemed to animate and draw together the families that had that collaborative, all-hands-on-deck approach. So fascinating! Pioneer Trek reality show, anyone?

The hardest thing for me wasn't the sleeping out or the long walking but being the ones who were making everyone do all this grueling work! As trail bosses, we walked out in front of the handcart train and coordinated with the support crew and captains. We led everyone through steep hills and tall grass and through rivers and over steep hills again, the apparent imposers of the hardships and the keepers of the schedule. It was uncomfortable and I don't think I did it particularly well but I did learn a lot--and got to practice patience and humility and asking for forgiveness along the way.

G and I, wiping away tears at the finish line

G and I, wiping away tears at the finish line

We all made it. In our hillside testimony meeting, the youth talked about their own lessons of trek--what they had learned and even how they'd do it again in a heartbeat. (Whew, so glad!) Together we all felt that boost that comes from doing something that's just past what you thought you could actually accomplish and the unity of pulling together to a common goal.

We made it. I love these people.

We made it. I love these people.

That night we got home, took off our shoes and socks, tended to blisters and aches, and cleaned off four days worth of sweat and stench and Aussie dirt.  Before our hair was even dry, G looked at me and said "That was awesome to work together on that. What should we do next?" Whatever it is, I have one request: something with access to showers.

These fantastic photos via Brooke & Dean Fisher, Keturah Manning, and Allison Clark

Renewing my blog vows + hiking in Namadgi

It is a truth universally acknowledged (in my own head) that there's an inverse relationship between having time to blog and having things to blog about. I didn't have a lot of time in the last few months because we were too busy doing things...about which I will now blog, having recently come into more time. I'm sure Jane Austen would have said that much better but you get the point.  

Also, I'm hereby renewing my vows to this blog. I love you, blog, for storing all our photos and moments and memories and various musings. If for no other reason but to give a little window into our lives for family and friends across the miles, I'll keep showing up for you. And paying my yearly fee, which is due in a few weeks. I do. I will. 

When last I left off here, I was dissertating away so that probably would be a great place to pick up.  And maybe later I will. But I'm going to start with the most recent and backfill instead.

Australia's Father's Day is in September and all G wanted was a day hike together in Namadgi National Park. (After our recent move we have sworn off THINGS for gifts for the time being. We didn't intend to acquire all this stuff, it just happened. And we're going to get rid of much of it before moving back next year.) 

So last Saturday off we went. We had driven up on Sam's birthday in August and taken a look at Honeysuckle Creek in Namadgi and the remains of the original tracking station that relayed information and data for the US moon landing (so perfectly captured in the movie The Dish). We didn't have enough time that day to explore the part of the park called Legoland (after rock structures that are stacked and seemingly fitted atop each other) but we vowed to come back. And we're glad we did:

Happy hat heads

Happy hat heads

We had such a great day, tromping around the wilderness, jumping from boulder to boulder, chatting away, and picnicking & admiring the views. It was a great way to celebrate G and the fantastic father he is, doing one of the things he loves most in this glorious world. If you come visit us here, we'll take you here--you get a lot of payoff for a relatively easy hike (my favorite kind).  



Dissertate, alleviate, try not to hate, love your mate

Oh, but it's been a month. 

I had put aside the month of May for the Finishing of Ye Olde Dissertation. It's now or never, folks. I've been trudging along in the grad school weeds for far too long and, though I officially took two separate leaves of absence from the university that don't count against my total PhD student time, even when I account for that time off it's been a fair few years. The move to Australia didn't help. Despite a supportive advisor, the process and turnaround time for feedback, approvals, and green lights, etc., from a committee of busy professors is made more complicated when you're a continent or two away. Anyway, I resolved that after Lauren got home and resettled from her mission in March and after our trip to the US in April for M's college tours, May would be my dedicated month. I'd do it like it was my job! (Oh, what's that you say? It kind of is my job? Hmm, oh yeah.)

Well, the universe laughed. 

While we were in the US, we got an email from our property management company: the owner of our Aussie house was returning from overseas soon and (understandably) wanted to move back into his home in six weeks. Which is, inconveniently, our home at the moment. May suddenly became dissertation month + search-for-a-home and move-all-our-belongings month. And, a week or so later, recover-from-the-flu month. The universe positively guffawed.

At first I panicked. Then I was resigned to it but doubtful that I would realistically be able to get it all done. But you know what? I forgot about the power of constraints, pressure, and a deadline. Now that I know each day has to count, I am in tunnel mode. And writing this helps keeps me accountable going forward. Here are my methods so far, in case you are someone who googled "please help me, I'm a 45-year-old PhD student/mama/dilly-dallier who needs to find some self control and finish this big project and maybe move this month":

  • I took myself pretty much off of Facebook for now (but, full disclosure, am totally still on Instagram. And look: I'm blogging! A girl's gotta connect.)
  • I'm doing the pomodoro technique to structure my writing sessions, doing cycles of 25 minutes of work, 5 minutes off (using this howler timer app on my computer, which celebrates the end of each session with an awesomely victorious wolf howl).  Although I've tried the timer tactic before, it's really working for me this time. And I'm evangelizing the heck out of it because WHY DIDN'T I DO THIS IN UNDERGRAD and all the ensuing years? I can do anything for 25 minutes and 5 minutes is the perfect amount of time to get more Cheds crackers and Diet Coke or throw in a load of laundry or do a few sit ups and stretches or check Instagram. After a few hours worth of 25/5 I take a longer break and Maddy and I go to lunch or take a hike or watch a show. This has been a game changer! 
  • Having Maddy around has been perfect, too. She's a willing errand runner and turns out I'm way more productive when someone's around. (I'm much less likely to crawl into bed with a book if someone else is going to be aware of my bad life choices). 
  • I'm letting the professionals take care of the move. G's work offered to hire a relocation agent for us and packers/movers. YES, PLEASE. So I'm 65% in denial and 25% just letting it happen when it happens and 10% going through and organizing things for our move. In five minute increments.
  • I've pretty much given myself permission to fail in all other aspects of my life right now. This month, it's all about my family and this ever loving dissertation. It's minimum levels of maintenance on everything else because there's no other choice. (Sorry, body that wanted to be fitter for the summer reunions. Sorry, church calling where I could always be doing more more more. Sorry, fun side trips I really wanted to take. Sorry, fun writing projects. Sorry, nice homemade meals. Also, sorry about the perpetual twitch, left eye. Hang in there! I guess you're my canary in the coal mine.)
  • Speaking of nice homemade meals, I've handed over the reins to the family. And they've taken them! WHO KNEW? Each of us makes one-two dinners a week (including shopping for their ingredients if necessary). We're eating better than ever. We've had made-from-scratch tortillas (S). We've had yummy butter chicken (M). We've had bacon-wrapped scallops (G). Turns out I've been hogging the reins and everyone's more than capable to take on shares of the cooking and house running. (Ditto driving and laundry. We're sharing! Everyone's leaning in!  It's awesome.)

Still. It's still going to be close. And maybe I'm cursing myself by writing this (oh, the hubris).  I'm probably about 5/8 of the way finished. The movers come at the end of the month, right about the same time when the final diss draft is due to the committee. But I think it just might happen! 

In fact, it will probably happen no matter what. Things have been set in motion. My dissertation defense is officially scheduled and on the calendar for June 22nd in Boston at 10 a.m. My presentation is open to the public and you're invited. Let me know if you'd like to come and I'll pass along the details. Truly. I'd love to see you.

These four? The best pit crew around

These four? The best pit crew around