The Rise and Fall of Trash Club (revised edition)

The second edition story about the time my older brother, Peter, hacked the family chore system by sucessfully  recruiting his siblings to do the chores for him. 

Growing up in the Trudelle family, household chores served as necessary, and nonnegotiable, part of the experience. For most of us, that is; my older brother Peter was a born negotiator. The day Peter discovered his natural salesmanship skills, he determinedly sought to crack the chore system. Speaking like a true aspiring entrepreneur even before middle school, his vocabulary already included words like ‘outsource,’ ‘delegate,’ and ‘market value.’ Now, I’m pretty sure he only used the term market value while trading his basic lunch bag for another kid’s country club deli sandwich—in order to better fuel his recess four square game, of course. But sandwiches aside, Peter always managed to have a lineup of strategies: especially when it came to housework which he regarded as highly unskilled labor.

When he first pitched the idea of employing us younger siblings to do the chores for him, my parents denied his request. They believed a child’s chore motivation should arise not from bribery, but out of a supposedly natural desire to contribute to one’s family. Vetoing cash payment plans, they stated that any chore assistance given would only come through the form of willing collaboration. Of course, they said this assuming no child in their right mind would take on extra chores, just for fun.  Unfazed, Peter kept scheming.

Approximately a week after the denied parental proposal, Peter approached Marie and I, ages 5 and 8 respectively, to hand us each a postcard.  “Look what came in the mail today,” he said, trying to sound casual. Immediately, Marie and I stopped everything to focus. In elementary school, personalized snail mail usually meant birthday invitations, or delayed Christmas cash from relatives.

“Welcome to trash club?” I paused, already bewildered by the first line.
“It’s official,” Peter enthused. “Check it out! It’s a club, where you take out the trash. The headquarters are in Boulder, Colorado and they are offering you guys free membership, with benefits.”
“Wait, Pete. Are you a member too?” Marie asked.
“Yup, I’m actually the Portola Valley branch manager, and the club functions remotely, so you guys will be working for me.”

Just as I’m sure he planned, Marie and I felt honored to be included in such a limited and exclusive club. Gullible and enthusiastic, we jumped at the opportunity to sign up.
Peter had also tried recruiting the other siblings, but with them, he had no such luck. Laura guarded her homework time with utmost seriousness, and Johnny was barely old enough to give verbal consent, let alone speak. This left Steve, the eldest of our clan, shaking his head in jealousy and disbelief at his younger brother’s unfair success at escaping his chores. However, by the time Steve voiced a complaint to our parents, it was too late.

Within two weeks the trash club skyrocketed with success like a Silicon Valley start-up company. Every Monday night the three of us met for a brief meeting before scattering throughout the house to collect the trash and recycling from each bedroom. Reconvening once more outside, Peter would hoist the large trash bins onto an old wheelbarrow, and then we trekked the long driveway pushing the garbage in front of us. Following the street side drop off, Marie and I could cash in on our premium membership benefits. Our favorite was the secret wheelie ride back to the house.

Technically, the wheelbarrow was intended for transportation purposes only. However, we decided it better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission, and let the technicalities slide. With Marie and I double stacked in the wheelbarrow, Peter pushed us back home as fast as he could while quoting Robin hood, and shouting, “who’s driving this flyin’ umbrella?!” To close the weekly meeting, Peter gave us one gumball each, and a high-five for good measure.

As the weeks continued, the group’s positive enthusiasm kept climbing. Marie and I received encouraging postcards from the “headquarters,” and Peter started leading tailgate parties before each meeting. Strutting throughout the house like an inspirational coach, he blasted Jock Jams—and, also songs from Jurassic park—from his portable stereo. “Who’s excited it’s Monday?” He would ask, in a booming radio announcer voice. “Best day of the week! Welcome to trash club. Let’s get this party started!”

Enchanted by the club’s exclusivity, the wheelbarrow ride, and the special gumball treat at the end, Marie and I were loyal and satisfied club members. We thoroughly enjoyed the club while it lasted, however, the trash club start up company—like most bubble cultures—eventually, burst.

One week during the wheelbarrow ride, as Marie and I laughed with adrenaline in our veins, and the wind in our faces, we dared Peter to go faster. Stepping up to the challenge, he kicked his sled-push sprint into another gear. The wheelbarrow, however, was unable to handle the speed on the turn and tipped sideways leaving all three of us to topple onto the pavement. Marie and I slowly stood up trying to hold back tears and Peter’s face grew paler by the moment.

Taking a walk of shame back inside, we attempted to sneak into our parent’s bathroom for a quick mending of our scrapes. We should have known this already, but our house was always far too small to keep secrets, and we bumped into our Dad in the hallway. As expected, he wanted to know why we were holding Band-Aids and Neosporin in our hands. This, in turn, prompted a family discussion about the trash duties.
“Pete, is it really that hard for you to take the trash out by yourself?” Dad asked. “I mean, Chrissa already has other chores, and Marie has barely been introduced into the rotation.”
“Nah, it’s not that hard,” Peter said. “I just don’t really like doing it alone.”
“Maybe the bins too heavy, for him.” Mom suggested, in genuine concern.
“Eh, they’re fine,” Peter said. “I lift the bins by myself, anyway.”
“Well, what is it then?” Dad pressed on.
“It’s just…I’m kind of…” Peter began speaking and then trailed off.
“I’m afraid of the dark.”

Peeve-pets and Positivity

August 3, 2013.  My maid of honor speech from the wedding of my dear sister Laura, and brother-in-law Jesse.  

It’s good to see all of you, but before I start, I must admit something. Despite my calm composed appearance right now, I felt quite daunted while trying to compose this speech. The idea of capturing Laura’s tremendous heart and character in a 2-minute speech is like trying to dump a pool full of water into this 2 oz champagne glass; its just not possible. So, I decided to take a “Laura approach” to the writing process. I took a prayer walk with a paper notebook and listened to dubstep violin for inspiration. Laura is a good teacher, so her methods really work.

Rather than try and fit it all in, tonight I’m going highlight just 3 of Laura’s classic sayings, or Laura-isms and let you discover and share the rest.

# 1 The Peeve Pet

The first is the term “Peeve pet.” That’s correct, not pet peeve. A peeve pet is a term Laura and I coined back in middle school to signify any situation antonymous with a “pet peeve.” More specifically, anything that makes you unusually happy, even if seemingly insignificant. This is a term that Laura needs in her vocabulary and still uses today, because she refuses to let any of life’s joys, no matter how small, pass by without recognizing them. I did a recent mail inbox search for “peeve pet,” and over half a dozen messages from Laura popped up. Peeve pet examples ranged from a cool pillow on a summer night, Casting Crowns and Josh Groban playing consecutively on Pandora, a post-run ocean plunge, a thoughtful student, or even a thunderstorm. [By the way, Jesse, she likes to run outside in storms. Whether or not you want to join her is your choice, but proceed with caution).

#2 “Sooo Great”

The second Laura-ism is the phrase “So Great.” If I ask her how her day went, she will often say something like this: “It was SO great! I went to the beach with Jesse, and Mary, and home group, and they are SO great!” When she says this, it’s like she is genuinely blown away by the goodness and kindness of all the people in her life. Through example, she has taught me not only how to see, but also how to look for, the good in other people.

# 3 A Servant’s Heart

The third Laura-ism came up during the classic question game would you rather? Laura once said, “I would rather go to Bakersfield with you, than to Yosemite alone.” I mean no offense to anyone native to the central valley, but this is perhaps the most revealing of all her sayings. You see, Laura values her relationships with family and friends far more than any spectacular sight, fancy restaurant meal, or even “great experience.” Because for her, the people, and quality time ARE the experience. She lovingly and happily serves the others in her life without expecting anything in return. I experienced the nature of her servant’s heart first hand when she offered to be my “sherpa” before certain track or cross country races in college. She would do anything from hair braiding, hugs to keep me warm, transportation of sweatpants, and of course cheering from the sidelines. I used to hesitate to accept the abundance of her kind gestures until one day she told me with complete honesty: “I just love serving you, so stop worrying.”

IMG_4275 (1)

When Laura went away to college, and then Spain and then Costa Rica, Marie and I would miss her greatly, each time. I hope that one day we can live closer in proximity, but for now, the occasional weekend getaways down to Santa barbara will do.

And so, To Jesse: You are beyond blessed to spend the rest of your life with Laura. But I know I don’t have to have to tell you this because I can see it so clearly in your eyes, actions, and words. As I referenced in song last night, “I knew you were smitten when she walked in.” You’re kindness and patience is remarkable; your approval rating is an A+ in my book.
And to Laura: Thank you for being you. Your love, support, and prayer have been incredible for our entire family– in fact, it has been SO GREAT.

I am truly happy for both of you and excited for the new chapter you are about to begin. I look forward to the years to come. Thank you!

photo (3)

 

From Friend to Fiance to Family

The unusual story behind how my parents met, became teachers,  got married, and arrived at the Priory.

“Paul-have-some-more” meets “Sylvia-head-in-the-clouds”
(translated Cheyenne nicknames, in reference to his huge appetite, and her thoughtful nature respectively)

They first shook hands in the Los Angeles airport, before flying to Montana for a year of volunteer teaching. The recent Loyola Marymount graduate Paul Trudelle was tired, and in need of a change: He was tired of the competitive rat race of the premed track,  tired of the crowded smog bubble of Los Angeles, and definitely tired of the dating game. He had set out his plan to  spend a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and apply for medical school upon his return.

Sylvia Elek appeared tired too; she boarded the airplane only after facing significant resistance from other’s attempts to dissuade her from leaving. It made little practical sense in the eyes of peers, colleagues and family. Why would a well-educated woman with job opportunities in sunny, safe, Orange County voluntarily choose to live in a place with high crime rates, below zero winter temperatures, and a nonexistent paycheck? Nevertheless, she felt compelled to go and signed up for the trip anyway. Both Sylvia and Paul actually requested to volunteer in Alaska, and both of them (much to their original dismay) were stationed in Montana instead. 

IMG_8025.JPG

Friends for a Lifetime

At first, the polar opposite duo showed no signs of sparks. Sylvia acted reserved around new people, kept a diary, and possessed such an innocent nature it nearly classified as rebellious.  For example, throughout high school, she played the famous card game “BS,” unknowingly, and with exuberance, in its long form. Whereas Paul, a textbook extrovert, and enthusiastic master of ceremony of the volunteer orientation, led Sylvia to question whether the town of Ashland ( population 300) could possibly meet this outgoing guy’s massive social needs.

Although as it turned out, even with the complete lack of nightlife and provided entertainment, meaningful social connections were not a problem. Bonding over teaching, cross country skiing, guitar songs, dart games, or small town basketball, the group of eight volunteers became fast friends. In a land wrought with much poverty and alcoholism they did not escape their dosage of trials and tragedies, yet through that, Paul and Sylvia found those years–filled with laughter, learning, and life–as some of the richest they have ever had.

Educators by Trade

IMG_8017

Before they ever fell in love with each other, they fell in love with teaching. They shared the hallway across from their classrooms and collaborated on lesson plans, helped each other set up labs, and shared the inevitable disaster story. They cultivated an organic friendship rooted in the simple joys of quality time–and by November, Sylvia saw romantic potential. Unsure of what to do, she consulted Paul’s roommate Mike for advice. Using the  analogy that boats are meant to sail the sea and not sit in a harbor– Mike challenged Sylvia to risk vulnerability, and tell Paul how she felt already.

Over the next few weeks, Sylvia worked up the courage to follow through with a unique strategy. Leveraging the close proximity of the airline seating arrangement, she confessed her feelings from 10,000 feet above the ground on their way home for the holidays. Paul thought she was sweet but didn’t trust his relationship track record, and quite frankly, at the time, Sylvia just wasn’t his type. “I like you as a friend,” he said, “but I’m considering the priesthood.” Sylvia had no comeback. Paul’s statement had been true at one point,  but we still give him a hard time about this line to the day.

A Contract Renewed
They started the spring semester right where they left off–just as friends, but Sylvia’s feelings never quite died. As the school year came to a close, the volunteers faced the decision of signing a new contract as paid employees or heading back home. Sylvia stood at a crossroads. While she had grown immensely, and enjoyed the friendships,  the only returning volunteer member, was Paul: a good friend, but also a painfully unrequited crush. Seeking wise counsel yet again, she consulted a mentor. “Oh, you gotta come back,” he said with great conviction. “Think of the students and the group of new volunteers. ” Thus after more time in thought and prayer, she signed the contract to return for another year, but let go of any expectation of joining Paul’s future.

From Friend to Fiance 

One afternoon in July, things changed. Abruptly. Midway through a heartfelt spiritual and intellectual conversation, Sylvia shared a word of wisdom that resonated so deeply with Paul that it shook him awake. Suddenly, like Paul of Damascus,  the scales fell from his eyes, and he knew he could never let Sylvia go. “It just hit me, like–here is this wonderful woman, she’s my best friend, knows me better than anyone else, and she has a rock solid faith in God. I would like her to be my wife.” And so, acting on what he describes as none other than the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, he proposed.

“Would you like to spend the rest of your life with me?” he asked. He had no ring in hand; they had never been on a real date, and yet she said yes. The previous hour, or even the previous minute, he had no plan of popping the question, yet he was full unparralelled peace. “If someone had asked me the following day ‘is there any doubt this woman will even stop loving you for the rest of your life?’ I would have confidently responsed ‘absolutely not.’ And I know that to be true, even more to this day.”

IMG_8012
Day after proposal grins. 1979

The following day when their friends heard the news, they claimed to have seen it coming all along. Paul and Sylvia’s parents, however, showed slightly more surprise with the unexpected phone call to announce both an engagement and a request for the blessing in hindsight.“Dad I’m engaged!” said Paul over the phone . “Congratulations son,” said Claude calmly, before silence fell the other end of the line. “Do you mind if I ask, to whom?”

The Sound of Wedding Bells

IMG_8010

A year later they rang in their wedding weekend with a rehearsal dinner at a theatrical production of “The Sound of Music.” On  July 26, 1980, they married in Corona Del Mar, California. To keep consistent with the beat of their musical theme, Sylvia walked down the isle to organs attuned to the Sound of Music wedding processional. It’s almost as though  they sought to set the stage for a future where they would move to a land where the hills were alive, and have a bunch of kids that would fight for space on the bed to sing along with the film at least four times a year– but they denied it in all the interviews.

The Happiest Hotel on Earth

Two years later, with one-year-old Steve Trudelle in tow, they decided it was time to return to their native golden state of California. But not southern California. With pasty white skin, runners bodies, and an innate aversion to traffic, they craved a land with shady trails, starry skies, and wide freeways in golden hills. They prayed–asking God specifically for science/math jobs at a Christian school in northern California–and took action, making an appearance at a private school job conference at the Disneyland Hotel.

Despite Paul’s ability to befriend and conversate with just about any living being, the desirable job prospects looked bleak. One could argue that after hours of striking out, the natural reaction would be to slip out the back door in discouragement. But their bodies stood in Disneyland, the happiest place on earth where according to Walt Disney, “all of our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” And their spirits dwelt with Christ, as coheirs in heavenly realms. There’s nothing natural about that combination.

From a place none other than inside of the elevator, they bumped into  Father Christopher Senk, from the Woodside Priory — a Benedictine, college prep school, founded by Hungarian monks in the hills of Portola Valley, CA. The chemistry was immediate. A week later Paul and Sylvia drove through a tunnel of trees along Alpine Road, growing more enchanted with each turn. Over the next few days, they dined with students, enjoyed the hospitality of the monks, and participated in a series, of what turned out to be, successful interviews. Shortly after, Paul and Sylvia accepted a shared teaching position, moved on campus, and never looked back.

The Present
Today–33 years, 6 kids, and 3 grandkids later–Paul continues to teach science at the Priory. Seventh graders and freshmen visit his classroom during recess to let the shocking power of electrically transform them into hair-raising trolls. They ask questions about the galaxy, and request in class commercials to gawk at the flaming brilliance of the exploding hydrogen balloon. It never gets old. In fact, Paul genuinely enjoys education to such a degree, that he recently admitted he hopes heaven is not just cheesecake and music, but also a place full of teaching and learning–two of life’s greatest joys.

And then everyone graduated from the Priory, and we all lived happily ever after.

IMG_4635.PNG
Johnny’s Graduation May 2014

Well, that sounds ideal, except I have to get back to the story .

Epilogue 

Truthfully, we did enjoy many happy memories worth mentioning:  finding satellites with green lasers on the trampoline,  basketball championships, graduations , and road trips in the club wagon van. But we also lived as a colony with eight different personalities in a 1200 square foot space; conflict and chaos comes with the territory…The midnight evacuation as the El Nino flood waters surged through our hallways; the horror of watching flames engulf our first ever new van or plagues of strep throat: that’s only the beginning of the list. We also disagreed on occasion: about chores , R rated movies, church attendance, and curfews, to name a few. We learned a lot along the way, and to be honest, we are still learning. And… such is family life. Such is growing up. It appears a family balancing act of provision, protection and pulling back the slingshot to let the kids spread their wings and fly off into to their own unique futures.

The inspiration in the Example
My parents have shared many stories with us over the years, but to me, the story of their volunteer years is one I never tire of hearing. I suppose in part because the fact that less glamorous road that turned out to be unexpectedly romantic. But more so because I see a common thread of courage and faith. I saw it with my Mom forging forward to Montana on her own, and in her boldness to face  rejection in the airplane. I saw it in my Dad’s proposal, and his choice to pursue his real passion of teaching.

And through it all,  I’m inspired to watch and learn how God worked to open doors in their lives, with more blessings than they ever could have imagined.

Without further ado, I would like to raise an anniversary glass of bubbly water to my parents as they celebrate 36 years of marriage. Cheers to many more.

IMG_8023

*Seven fun facts

  1. Sylvia took a break from classroom teaching to raise the six kids but she has since returned to the Priory as a math tutor.
  2. At some point in time, each Trudelle sibling (now ages 20-34) has harbored a secret hope that they too might be so fortunate as to skip the dating confusion by having a friend that becomes their fiance over the course of one conversation.  It has yet to happen. But 50% are unmarried, so stay tuned!
  3. The family is now spread out in Seattle, Fremont, Santa Barbara, Sacramento, Portola Valley, and Indiana.
  4. Since the Bay Area has exploded in population, and Paul and Sylvia are still averse to traffic, they cope by spending as much time running or hiking Portola Valley trails as possible.
  5. Paul and Sylvia volunteer at church as marriage mentors and believe all couples should experience serving together for romantic bonding and character building. Oddly, they advise modern couples to actually go on dates before popping the question.
  6. To help them understand the middle/high school recess jargon to keep up with their students, my siblings and I make a point to educate them on the current hot new idioms and phrases. So, if anyone walks by the house and hears an interaction like this:  “Hey BAE, how was your day?” “Not too sketch, the B period class discussion was lit!” –don’t worry, it’s just modern language practice.
  7. They still watch “The Sound of Music” every year.

 

 

 

“Lily Wiggles”

A first birthday poem

My niece Lily, she wiggles, a lot

And her face lights up when she giggles–that tot. 

She’s learning to walk, in step not in crawl

Motivated to reach her soft baby doll

Or cuddle, with her pink blanket “lovie”

May the spirit dwell in her, much like a dovie

Bubbly and active, she’s down for the park

In part, I suspect, to hear the dogs bark

Or perhaps to ride on a swing through the trees

And eat a choice picnic of straight frozen peas

So let’s raise a toast, and with juice quench our thirst

Because today is Lily’s birthday…her first!

She’s growing quite fast, in stature and smile

And I’m auntie Chrissa, I love her a mile.

 

img_4647

 

Costa Rican Redemption

The email that helped send me to Costa Rica within 48 hours.

Dear pulchritudinous parents, sweet siblings, cool cousins, esteemed aunts and uncles.

Do you ever find yourself wishing for a Christmas season sans the whole shopping thing? Have you ever sat in traffic, circled around the Gimble’s parking lot, scavenged store in a state of overwhelm, waited in a long line to purchase a sweater, only to GO BACK TO GIMBLES because the recipient considered the sweater ill fitting and out of style? Well, if you raised your hand on either or both questions, I can’t blame you. Personally, if I could redesign American holiday traditions, I would skip the crowded mall altogether and instead spend the entire advent season  caroling door to door, making snow angels in fresh powder,  and warming my chilly, weary bones by drinking double espresso gingerbread lattes.

Besides, I respect your educational occupations. Amidst the December final exams and grading of papers, no one (and I mean no one ;)), comes into our house, with a single gig of additional cranial RAM floating around in their brain to anguish over what to gift other people. I mean, whether to buy Chrissa a jar of quality almond butter, a leather bound journal, or a moisture-wicking running shirt?  It’s just. too. much.  I feel sympathetic towards those who struggle with decision-making fatigue, and would like to offer you the chance to cross me off your birthday, Christmas, graduation, party favor etc list in one fell swoop.

Que? Let me explain.

Hope Revival? In 2011 a passport issue thwarted my hopes of traveling to Costa Rica, post college graduation with my dear sister Laura. Proverbs 12:13 is true, “hope deferred maketh the heart sick.”  But now, all of a sudden, years later, I have the unexpected opportunity to revive that hope.

Here’s the deal: A number of my friends work for a company that brings the employees to work in Costa Rica for the month of July. This year, in part because of the record low  flight prices,  non-company members and church friends alike are jumping on airplanes to join the fun and start their own adventures.  

Why Now? Last night I sat still for many hours while wearing noise-canceling headphones (they don’t actually cancel the noise in one’s mind by the way) and filling in hundreds of tricky bubbles for the much anticipated PTA national board exam. With several more weeks before the “real licensed work” begins, I find myself in a unique place. The flight pricing and the timing of this trip are impeccable. But after 2 years of student status earnings, my funding supply is not. Naturally, I wrote a pro and con list.

Cons : The total cost.

Pros

  1.  Appropriate Acquisition of Language: Spanish language proficiency ranks high on my list of 2016 goals. But unfortunately,  brushing up on the language with pop radio has caused me to make several embarrassing mistakes with my Spanish speaking patients. Simply put, Enrique Iglesias and Nicky Jam don’t sing like medical terminology dictionaries.  According to career experts, a bilingual brain built through true immersion gives any Californian health care provider a large boost in their employment options.  
  2. Empathy for the 2016 Olympians: Don’t get me wrong, the altitude training in McCall, Idaho was essential for my summer fitness regimen. But if the Olympic marathoners are going to run through the humid, monkey infested jungles of Brazil, then I need to suck it up, put myself in their shoes and develop an understanding for these heroic athletes representing our country. Since running with a flaming torch is most likely prohibited, I’ll opt for my usual non-violent-Katniss persona and run through the forest, or swim through the ocean, as a (hypothetical) girl on fire.
  3. The Question of Costa Rican Cupidity:  Steve Trudelle and Rachel Erlandson sparked the flame of their lifelong romantic fire unexpectedly, on a flight to a Guadalajara; Mom and Dad first shook hands in LAX. Are serendipitous divine encounters of travel a could be a part of the Trudelle DNA? You just never know. This might be an investment in your future grandkids and cousins.
  4. International Babysitting: Any married parent would probably agree that spousal alone time during vacation trips can be game changing in terms of well-being  and sanity.  If kids can find fascination in suburban Sacramento parks, I can only imagine the level of delight they experience in a foreign country that boasts plentiful warm ocean waves and fresh fruit. This being said, I look forward to spending a bit of time working on the Socratic babysitting method abroad.
  5.  The most important reason of all–quality time with friends and fun:. If friends are dairy molecules, and enemies are water, then this trip is like sweetened condensed milk .  

FAQs

  1. Is this really just a big party trip? Um, how am I supposed to run through the jungle, or stand a chance to stand on a surfboard if I get hammered every night? Imbibing a fresh mango lime margarita is certainly possible, but I need to be on my intellectual A game, in order to speak Spanish and keep up in conversation with my intelligent friends.
  2. Will you be safe there?  Absolutely. A) All the men of this trip are of the gentlemen variety and take pride in of escorting the ladies through even the most dangerous of tourist town slums.  B)  Thanks to Johnny Trudelle’s compelling self-defense speech, I carry pepper spray at all times.
  3. I am wringing my hands in guilt and obligation. Should I still contribute? Definitely not. Cheerful givers only, please.
  4. If we give you a birthday present now, what will we do when November rolls around? A slice of chocolate cake, a hug, and your company is more than sufficient.

Alas, If you believe the pros outweigh the cons,  then give yourself the liberty to boycott Gimbels, start your Christmas shopping early, and contribute to the “Costa Rican Redemption fund.”  Consider me Katniss, and yourself Haymitch. All parachute gifts can be sent through pay-pal or wells. Or, if you are still scratching your head in confusion and skepticism, no worries, more appropriately– Pura Vida.

Besos y Abrazos, Love Chrissa