Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Vacuums and Other Blessings of 2008

2008. Only hours left of her. So, what will I take away?

My first full year of blogging. Which gave me an outlet and brought to me friends, old and new. I am especially grateful for all of my new writer friends, who can't possibly know how much their validation and readership has meant to me. Through them, I found new opportunities to sell my writing, and that always feels good. Because of them, I am garnering inspiration and the courage to do something with it!

I sold 8 articles this year, and was also featured on iVillage with "Stop at the Eleventh Hot Dog Until Next Month". That was cool.

I got to interview Nicholas Sparks!

Eleven years of homeschooling transitioned into a new phase of life when the kids went to school.

I had my first blogging miracle:

It was early in the year. I was studying the Law of Attraction after a bunch of hype on Oprah, and wondering if there was any validity to it at all. I read The Secret, and wondered even harder. While wondering, I opened my scriptures and received my answer, a manifestation of the Law right there. I realized the law of attraction is all just secular gobbledy-gook for faith. And I know there's validity to that. "Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find."

At about this same time, my vacuum died. It was ugly, and after several weeks of lots of kids and no vacuum, it got uglier. I was testy, to say the least. I really, really like clean carpets, and we had no money to buy a new vacuum. I posted about my plight on my blog, and I day-dreamed of clean carpets. I visualized them. I pushed the vacuum in my mind's eye and heard that delightful sucking sound that gives me such a thrill. And that night, a miracle.

There in my inbox was a gift certificate for for the price of a vacuum--which happened to be on sale that week at Amazon, and which also happened to have a no sales tax and free shipping offer attached to them. And it was from a reader from another country whom I'd never before met, nor spoken to. Well, it was really from an angel. And her note said simply, something like, "We've been recently blessed beyond measure and are trying to share the blessings out a bit. Buy a new vacuum."

When I emailed her in shock and disbelief and complete humility, her reply was, "It's not just from me, Jenna. The moment I read your post I felt one of the strongest promptings I've felt in a long time. Your Heavenly Father loves you very much and wanted to ease this burden, I think. ~hugs~ I love you too."

She didn't know me beyond the words on my blog, and yet she was my sister, my angel. And I'll love her forever. I think of her every time I vacuum, and we call it our Miracle Vacuum. It's running strong.

That Law of Attraction, boy. That's some heavy-duty stuff.

2008 brought all but one of my siblings together for a reunion in Arizona. You remember that, in May. And I got to meet my sweet blogging friend, Piper, in person there!

2008 brought me the opportunity to write a play, my first play ever, and have it performed just a few weeks ago on a stage with a full set and everything in Arizona. Wow.

2008 gave me the opportunity to grow closer to my children, and to apologize to some people I hurt long ago in my past. Foolish pride.

In 2008 I made the decision to go back to school. Weeks away!

2008 gave me a minivan! And a wheat grinder! And some food storage! And my piano tuned, a most thoughtful Christmas gift from several of my piano students. (you know your piano is out of tune when your students' parents conspire to get it tuned for you!) I couldn't be more grateful.

2008 gave me so much more, in blessing and in hardship. But mostly blessing, I think.

2008 gave me room to grow.

Thank goodness for 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Beyond Bath Salts: A Handmade Christmas

Yes, I realize Christmas was less than a week away, but don't you already miss it? Well, maybe not yet, but I can't possibly spring this on you at the last minute next year, so I'm giving you plenty of time.

I've received some amazing handmade gifts for Christmas in the past. No matter what they are, they are always the most beloved gifts I receive that year because of the thought and time that went into them. I saw several bloggers announce that they were taking the "handmade Christmas pledge" this year and I'll admit I was intrigued. Of course, teens are still going to want their video games and Ipods, but still a little something made by hand, made with love would still be treasured.

So I'm starting early. I hope. And to inspire you to do the same, I've scoured the internet and crafting blogs for good ideas. Ideas that go beyond bath salts and chutneys. We can do better than that. If I start early, maybe I can give to more people, and I can definitely save at least a little money. And have fun in the process. Oh, and don't forget there's always birthdays all year long as well!

Cute block calendar From Lark and Lola. This is adorable! And just by changing the papers you could get an entirely different look. This would make a great gift. Coordinate it with your recipient's decor.

Fabric Dollhouse from UK Lass. This is too cute. Seriously. Almost makes me want to have another little girl. I love the tote-ability. You could make a little clothespin family to go inside. Or, for a boy, look at the variation for a farmhouse.

Crayon Roll or simpler Felt Crayon Roll from Skip to my Lou. Yes! Love this! Toss one in the diaper bag, or as I like to call it, "Mom's Bag O' Tricks". So cute! And no more tearing the helpless Crayola box.

Oil-cloth lunch sacks also from Skip to my Lou. Go green. Save the forests and the landfills and make reusable lunch sacks. My mother did it to me. I mean, for me, and I do it for my kids. Sew up a batch of these and they'd make a great family gift, would they not?

Rice Heat Therapy Bag from Sew, Mama, Sew! If you don't have one of these, make an extra for yourself. They are phenomenal. You can make a pair of them too, one for heating, and a smaller one to keep in the freezer.

2 Easy, Cute scarves from Craftzine. These wouldn't be hard to whip up, even for a novice knitter like me. It's all in the yarn, ladies. Great husband/father gift.

Etched Casserole Dishes from the Happy Valley Knitter. This is a great Christmas gift, but would also make a great birthday or wedding gift too. Make a set of them in different sizes, or add in some baked goods or kitchen utensils. The other thing I like about this is that when you take dinner over to someone, it will be very hard for them to forget to return your dishes!

Cargo Scarf This is a cool idea from, is it not? We could do a better job on the fabric choice, but it is a great idea. Better yet, make one for every member of the family to wear and load them all up like pack mules. Never carry another thing again!

Bath Bombs. Bath salts are not my thing, but these things? Are the bomb. They are so fun! And teens love them too. You could make them in a variety of colors and fragrances and add them to a pampering basket. Directions at

Literary Clock another great idea from I mean, c'mon! The possibilities are endless! Anything from children's classics to favorite novels, to medical guides, to cookbooks! A clock for any room or office anywhere!

Hope something here inspires you! I'll be on the lookout for more great ideas! And if you have some, send them my way!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Question of the Week: Chronically Late Family Members

Stephanie Humphreys is faced with a dilemma. She wrote:

Okay, here's one for you. Many of my family live in the same small town and we do get together quite a bit. For a long time everyone treated lateness as a joke, but is has become chronic and very annoying to me. I can plan a meal for 5:00 and have the last family finally show up at 6:30. Since we most often do potluck that means the meal arrives in spurts. No one will admit to being the late one, in fact, one of the latest people commented at the last dinner that they came half an hour late on purpose because they knew they would still beat others. We have had to leave dinners without eating because of other commitments, which wouldn't have been a problem had the dinner started in time. I tell my husband that I want to start dinners on time and we'll just eat whatever food has already arrived, but he says that is rude and would hurt peoples feelings. So what does Miss Manners have to say about this?

Your husband thinks you would be rude? Seriously?

My first reaction is screw them, eat everything and clean up and teach them a lesson. But that probably won't go over well. So. . .

Families are complex, intricate organisms. There's a delicate balance between so many differing personalities, especially when in-laws become involved and the family expands beyond those that grew up in the same household. I think before any action is taken the following question should always be asked: "What effect will it have?"

For example, you might be very satisfied by venting your annoyances to the guilty parties. You might experience a nice puffed up feeling of pride that you spoke your mind (and may have even been theoretically correct), but if the result is hurt feelings and resentment, it's not likely that you have really solved your problem.

That being said, being late is rude. I think it was Dr. Phil who said that being late is a sign of narcissism, and egocentricity. It's as if you think that you are so wonderful, so valuable, so indispensable, that nothing could possibly happen without you, and that no one will mind waiting for you. Well, the whole world doesn't revolve around you, and you need some professional help to deal with that. However, dinner is waiting.

If members of your family are self-centered, there isn't likely much that you can change about that. That's a personal evolution. But maybe there are some logistics that you can look at. For instance, what is within your control? The time set for the event? The distance that people must travel? How the courses of the meal are divided and assigned?

So, let's look at those things. 5pm is early for a potluck dinner, in my opinion. It's a great time for family dinner, but for people dealing with gathering kids at the end of the day, awaiting a working husband, preparing the dish to bring, finishing up errands of the day, etc, it may be that 5pm just isn't realistic, but nobody wants to complain about that. Church dinners are never scheduled for 5pm for that very reason. Dinner gatherings are usually scheduled just a bit later than a family dinner might be usually held. What if you scheduled the next get-together for 6 or 6:30pm? People can't wait much longer than that for dinner, so is it likely that they'll still show up at 8?

Is the gathering always held at the same person's house? Switch it up. And I would say, pick the person who is most likely to be the straggler and have it at their house. Having hungry people show up on time to their house is a powerful motivator.

Don't assign beginning courses to the late people! Assign them the desserts! I mean, c'mon. If you have something scheduled for 6pm, it isn't realistic to think that people will arrive at 5:45, and be in their chairs with their arms folded and heads bowed for the blessing on the food at 5:59. When an informal family gathering occurs, there is an acceptable window of arrival. And, people like to come and chat a bit before sitting down. So, if you've invited them to come at 6, then plan to sit and eat at 6:30, and no one showing up after that time has any right to feel ruffled that you didn't wait longer. They should just apologize profusely, sit down, and eat. Experiencing the fact that people will not wait beyond reason should spur them into action the next time around. And if they arrive so late that dinner is over and cleaned up (these are the people bringing dessert), then tell them they can dish up a plate in the kitchen. Say it with a smile, though.

Families must have communication. Can you have a family council with the adults of the family about this matter? Maybe there are others that have issues contributing to their lateness and they would appreciate a forum to discuss them. Without accusation, ask how others feel about what time these events should be held and where, and what proper protocol will be acceptable if something should arise causing a delay. Because beyond communication, families should have respect for one another too. That's just plain common sense.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


The cable to connect my camera to the computer was MIA for several days, so this feels late, but you know what they say: Better late than never.

Christmas was wonderful. The whole entire month, really. Just magical. Miracles happened, as they always do, and things came together in incredible ways. I just feel blessed.

On the 23rd, I took all four of my kids to the theater to see The Tale of Despereaux. If you remember, we read this book aloud last year and fell in love with it. I knew we had to see the movie together. And since he's free, we took Conor for his very first big-screen movie experience. He sat in his booster seat and immediately started signing that he wanted something to eat. And drink. It was really fun for me to do that with them.

On Christmas Eve, we had all six kids. We had our traditional candlelight devotional and read the account of the Savior's birth in Luke 2. Sang a few songs, and took the homemade cinnamon rolls (thanks, Lyndsay) out of the oven and slathered them with cream cheese frosting. Then we headed out the door for some caroling. It was raining, so instead of walking our neighborhood as we usually do, we hopped in the car and drove around to friends' houses. Sang them some songs, gave them a gift, and then came home happy and warm. Inside at least. Then we ate our cinnamon rolls, drank cocoa, and watched A Christmas Story.

The kids headed up to bed, and Santa did his thing till 3:30 in the morning. But we let him watch The Great Debaters while he assembled Conor's kitchen, so that helped. A little. Fantastic movie, by the way. The kids were up at 5:30. We managed to stall them until 6:30, and then there was just no more sleeping in sight. This year Conor got the cutest wooden Kidkraft kitchen, and a shopping cart with food. He loves imaginative play, and fell into toddler heaven immediately. The boys each got their own 2 man tents, sleeping bags, and mini-lanterns so they can have backyard campouts and because they needed that stuff anyway for scouts. Lyns got a Zune MP3 player and a camera, (and her beloved Chi from Nana), and Caitlin got a Flip video camera. In pink. So cute!

Adam got me that watch I dreamed of, and a crock pot! A red one! With programmable settings, and a dishwasher safe, removable crock! I'm in heaven, having gone a year with no slow cooker! And then, he also arranged for me to have a massage from a therapist in our ward. That happened last night, and I feel so happy! I need to do that regularly to get my neck back in shape. It's in bad, bad shape.

My kids did sweet things for me. Aiden made me this cute Christmas decoration and attached a lip balm to it.

Dylan bought me several of my favorite candies. Lyndsay made a card and wrote the sweetest letter in it that any mother could ever dream of receiving, and she bought me three pairs (!) of darling, cozy new pajamas.

We had Adam's brother, Nick, and his sisters, Angie and Jennifer, come and spend the day with us. Everyone played board games like Ticket to Ride (a favorite with the kids) and Settlers of Catan (a favorite with everyone). I prepared an afternoon buffet of berries, nuts, crackers and cheeses, vegetables and dip, artichoke and spinach dip with breads, 7-layer bean dip and tortilla chips, fruits, and other yummies. I thought this would be an easy solution, but it kept me in the kitchen most of the day. That, and preparing dinner, which was chicken and mushrooms in gravy cooked in my new crock pot and served over puff pastry shells, cranberry sauce, fresh green beans, and pumpkin pie for dessert. We over-indulged. Nobody was hungry. It was wonderful.

I finally got to sit down around 7pm that evening. Here are my new jammie pants from Lyns and my red holiday toes.

Okay, everybody up for some family photos.

I drove my kids to AZ on Friday to spend the next two weeks with their dad, and so now it's just me and the little guy at home. My project this week is to get the Christmas stuff put away and read a lot of books! I'll keep you posted, for sure. Great things are brewing for the new year. It's gonna be a good year. All my best to you.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Question of the Week: Getting Kids to Pick Up!

Cari asked me "How do you get the kids (ages 8,5,3) to pick up after themselves so that you don't feel like a servant picking up after everyone all day long?"

Ah, an age-old question. I'm sure even pioneer mothers were frustrated by lengths of rope left laying around the yard by active young boys and corn husk or rag dolls left by little girls. It's always been a mother's plea: "Pick up your stuff!"

I'm also sure that many other mothers have tried-and-true methods better than mine, but I do have a reasonable amount of control over the "stuff" owned by the six children who live here, and here's how I've done that.

First of all, as a mother you will always be a servant, but you should never be a slave. The service we render ought to prepare our young ones for a life beyond the one we provide for them. A very important part of mothering is equipping our children to be capable and responsible, to be disciplined and dutiful. This must start young!

A 3 year old is old enough to pick up toys and books. But maybe not always without your supervision and cheerful cooperation. We do the "Clean Up, Clean Up" song from a very young age, and the point is to instill as a habit that when we're done with one thing, we pick it up before moving on to the next thing. Simple enough. But if you don't train them young, look out. It's a hard habit to teach later on. (I had no idea until I inherited a few stepchildren who didn't have this habit.) This is incredibly labor intensive, but it's an investment that pays huge dividends. You can call attention to all the work that must be done to keep a house in order, and a child will begin to notice on her own. After a meal, call attention to the fact that we must all clear the table and do the dishes. After a bath, involve her in helping to pick up all the bath toys. After dressing, say out loud that we must pick up the dirty clothes and put them in the hamper. When we get out of the car, we take everything with us, and when we come into the house, we put away anything we bring in. If you just do these things without the oral commentary, (or worse, if you don't do them at all but expect them to), it will be much harder for the child to start to make regular clean-up a habit. It requires a developed consciousness that is not automatic.

Also, have a place for things. My 2 year old has a bucket for toys and a basket for books. Period. My older kids have drawers and tubs for games and toys that include lots of pieces (Legos, Imaginext, Lincoln Logs, etc), and they each have a "Special Box" that slides under their beds and holds anything they want to keep, or little odds and ends that are important to them but have no specific place. They can slide it out, play with whatever, put everything away, and slide them back under. That has worked really well for me. Oh, and as a rule (except for the toddler who needs to play downstairs under my supervision), I don't let toys come downstairs. There are eight people in this house and keeping a handle on every little thing that every person has would be a full-time job (it is, I think!) if there were not a few boundaries. One of those boundaries is that the toys stay upstairs.

Another boundary is that each child has his/her own laundry bucket and does his/her own laundry. No mass piles of dirty laundry left in bedrooms, bathrooms, or laundry room. I can only handle so much.

But now here's the biggie, and it's not really enforced so much these days because the kids learned I was very serious years ago. Basically, they better pick up their crap, or I will, and I'll throw it away. Little odds and ends that I find left around the house I will gather up and set in a designated spot. (Right now it's on the bottom stair.) They have one day to retrieve their belongings and put them away, or they're gone. This works wonders to create almost overnight remarkably responsible children, but beware that in order for it to be effective, you must follow through. It will break your heart at times. It will be a party at others, but you can't be wishy-washy or you will be detected for the fraud you are. I've trashed items, I've given away items to the Good Will, and I've held hostage a few items that could be purchased back from me, but only rarely. Now? You'll hardly ever see kids' stuff hanging out where it shouldn't be.

Cari, your 5 and 8 year old are old enough to handle their stuff with proper guidelines and reinforcement. But set them up for success. First, make sure they don't have too much stuff. That can lead to some carelessness, when they just have so much that what they have isn't appreciated. Go through their toys and books and donate what they've outgrown or become disinterested in, throw away what is broken or useless or stupid (all McDonald Happy Meal toys and all the worthless garbage they bring home from those school fundraisers), and begin with a fresh system in place. Help them to get organized and simplified so they can feel that sense of order and control, and then teach them to be good stewards. After all, that's what you want them to be, of all that they may be blessed with in life.

And you'd better model it yourself, or no matter what you do, you'll be fighting a losing battle!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Go Ahead, Ask Me Anything

When I was in high school, I had a fascination with Miss Manners. Have you ever seen how thick the Miss Manners books are? I read them cover to cover. I had an interest in etiquette, and of course I wanted to develop the quality of grace in my life, but I think on a deeper level, I loved that this woman knew everything about how to behave in any situation.

Now, all these years later I am not a social pro, or an etiquette Nazi, but I do enjoy having answers. I'm not an expert at anything. Anything! But I have picked up random bits of knowledge and experience that I love to share and feel like I've helped someone. And I have these opinions, you see. Opinions about things my husband was surprised that one could even have an opinion about! I think Miss Manners and Dear Abby have the coolest jobs. Once my dad joked with me about having my own syndicated advice column. That would be so incredibly fun! (I love telling people what to do! That's what happens when you're an oldest child.)

So, can we just pretend? Just for fun, throw a few bones my way?

A few disclaimers: You can either ask me a personal question, or for advice. I'm fine to embarrass myself, but I do try not to embarrass others. Oh, and I will not answer any political questions, so don't go there. (I try not to do anything to lose readership by offense.) You can either leave your question in the comment section, or privately email me your question, and you're welcome to remain anonymous if you'd like, but we all know it's more fun when we know who's asking.

The one problem I see with this idea is that most of my readers are smarter than I am, and probably don't have any questions or situations they need help with. In that case, maybe you have a personal question for me, or maybe you could just make something up to humor me and see if you agree with my answer. If nothing else, even if my advice stinks, at least it should provide for some good blogging!

So? Go ahead! Ask me anything! I can't wait!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mother of the Year

This morning I realized with dread that I may not be a good mother after all.

This morning was the Winter Program at Aiden's school. It was already a hectic morning, beginning at 5:30am, when it's rush, rush, rush until the last child is dropped off at school just before 8am, and I headed home to get Conor up and dressed. But the Winter Program was to begin at 8:30. So, no time to shower and primp beforehand. Oh well, I don't dress to impress the other mothers these days, and Aiden already knows what I look like (and what I could potentially look like, so that was no big deal---funny how I've evolved.) Sweats and no makeup it was.

Adam was up most of the night working, so he told me at 8:05 that he needed to sleep instead of come along. I was only marginally ruffled, but just for selfish reasons like realizing I would have to wrestle with Conor alone.

The school is only about a half mile away, but it was near freezing (seriously) and raining, so I drove anyway.

There was no parking spot anywhere. I ended up parking further away than had I just walked from home. Grumble, grumble.

I had to lug the 28lb. Conor, my purse, and the video camera uphill, in the rain, to the school's auditorium.

Which was already standing room only. And barely that. Crap, I thought. I hate these stupid programs. I admit I thought that too. I even thought, I hate soccer games and Back to School nights. Just let me stay home and read to my children and feed them cookies. Stop making me come to these ridiculous programs. You can see I was not my best self.

I pardon me'ed, excuse me'ed through the crowd and sat on the floor in the aisle so I could at least have a shot with the video camera. Conor didn't so much want to sit. He wanted to stand. And dance. And keep tipping into the woman sitting in front of us because of the slope of the floor.

I only had to hang in there for 3 groups. Aiden's class was third.

But they started late. Of course they did.

Conor drank milk from his sippy cup and swallowed wrong. He started coughing. The woman next to me (in the chair above me), started covering her baby as if Conor were spewing virus germs all around. She looked at me like an unfit mother, bringing my sick toddler out in the cold and the rain to hack illness all over these poor other babies. I almost told her he wasn't sick, he just swallowed wrong, but then I thought, "Aw, let her have her self-righteous mother moment. We're all entitled once in a while."

The first two numbers were by the kindergarten classes. Heaven help me. How we have morphed Christmas into this politically correct, culturally inclusive, non-Jesus holiday is moronic to me. Conor danced, so that was good. Except that he kept stepping on me, and tipping into that poor woman in front of us. I saw this one mother beaming with pride, mouthing the words to the song, and face-miming her daughter into a cheerful performance. Her daughter never even cracked a smile. Never sang a word. Wouldn't even lift her arms when every other kindergartner lifted her arms. She just stood there. Still that mother beamed. I actually thought to myself, "Why is she so happy when her kid is up there not even singing?!"

I told you I had reason to worry.

The Special Ed class sang a Spanish Hanukkah song.

And then several more. My nerves were fried with Conor's energy. My butt hurt from sitting on the hard floor. I was a little sick of having people step on my fingers. I watched with cynicism all these parents of children who shook sleigh bells and sang weird holiday songs and yet acted as if their child was supremely talented.

Just come on, already. Please, let's get this over with!

And then, in walked Mr. Aiden. Like a big boy. With his scarf. His cute scarf that he made in class as part of his Winter Wonderland costume. My boy! He beamed with confidence! He was in the back row, because he is tall. And they sang perfectly! I was video taping the whole thing. The singing, his cute face close up, the dancers in front. It was great! I had one of those stupid smiles on my face, and I think I even mouthed the words (darn it). It was by far the best performance up to that point. And it was a real holiday song. And he knew all the words, Aiden did.

What was I worried about? I turned into one of them as soon as my boy was up on that stage! I'm a good mother after all!

When it was over, I turned off the video camera and looked down to see that Conor had emptied the entire contents of my purse and wallet all over our few square inches of linoleum while I had been distracted. Argh, that boy.

I threw it all together, packed up squirming Conor under my free arm and excuse me'ed, pardon me'ed my way back up the aisle and through the crowd back out into the almost freezing cold, where it was raining harder, and trudged our way all the way back to the van. And drove a block home.

And now I'm exhausted.

But so proud of my Aiden. I can't wait to watch the tape.

And I'm so relieved I don't have to do this again until March.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Neutrogena Life

Monday is my Neutrogena Day.

Sometime after having my 4th baby, my hair started acting weird. A lot of it fell out, and that was not a welcome change after 9 months of such lustrous locks. But something else happened. No matter what I did, how I shampooed, which shampoo I used, or how long I rinsed, my hair remained oily looking at the crown of my head. After months of frustration, it finally dawned on me that maybe the problem was build-up. Residue from the shampoos and conditioners, that just wanted to stick around.

And then I remembered Neutrogena, from my hair-obsessed teenage years. Neutrogena is the anti-residue shampoo. Use it once a week, and the build-up is gone and your favorite shampoo works much better! What a relief!

So yesterday was my Neutrogena Day. My hair is bouncin' and behavin' now, lustrous and shiny as ever, and finally it feels clean. Just needed to remove that build-up.

I've added my Mary Kay Microdermabrasion to my Monday build-up removing routine. Might as well remove all those stubborn dead skin cells while we're deep cleaning and purging, right?

And while we're at it, what else can I purge? What other build-up has accumulated around this house? On Saturday, we tackled the kids' rooms. I require that they be kept in reasonable order all the time, but you know how stuff accumulates. Several times a year, but always before Christmas, I insist that the kids go through their toys, clothes, books, etc, and decide to give away to the needy the things that they've either outgrown, don't use, or no longer find interesting to make room for the new treasures coming. Two birds. One metaphorical stone. We donated lots of books to the library, and bags of clothes and toys to the Good Will store in town. Plenty of other stuff went into the trash. Ah, what a feeling! I love getting rid of stuff.

So yesterday, as I was removing residue from my hair (which doesn't have a chance to build up anymore, since I stay on it with my Neutrogena), and still glowing about the ordered bookshelves and clean bedrooms, I was thinking about this upcoming year, and what other build-up I need to focus on. The kind of dingy, pretend-it's-not-there gunk that makes its way into my life. Into my heart. Into my behavior. The kind of stuff that rears its ugly head in the form of impatience with my kids, emotional eating, a lack of zest for life, and neglect of myself.

Well, I could work on my selfishness. And then there's judgement. Oh, and procrastination. (I saved that one for last.) Plenty more, believe me.

If my hair feels this good with regular treatment, and my house feels this clean after some attention, I am so excited to think about what will happen to my life when I start stripping away the unnecessary build-up.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Graham Cracker Happiness

I was tired yesterday when I came home from Church. I wanted to take a nap, but I knew there was no time to waste. I unloaded and re-loaded the dishwasher, made a quick lunch for everyone (tuna), and put Conor down for a nap. At least I would have a few toddler-free hours.

Sunday is the day when my stepkids come over, and we get to be all together as a family. I like to make it extra special for them, and for all of us. We usually have a big Sunday dinner, and the girls help peel potatoes and set the table. Pretty. I roast a chicken. Or two. Seasoned just right, and finger-lickin' good, really. Lion House rolls, corn, beans, fruit, mashed potatoes and gravy. Like a mini-Thanksgiving.

Of course, when we sit down to eat, I have to remind the boys that I did not go through all of this work to cook a nice dinner and set a beautiful table so we could hear fart jokes, racist jokes, or the violent imaginings of their junior high minds. Good grief! How will I get them married? Ah, the family dinner. A time to learn so many things. Like, let's not use our chicken leg bone as a spoon, okay?

Everyone helped clean up after dinner, and get the table cleared because last night was the night of the Graham Cracker Houses! A favorite tradition, no matter how young or old. See the spread? (Oh, and by the way, this lovely dresser, which I turned into a dining room sideboard--mostly to spare poor Adam from having to lug something else up those infernal stairs--was FREE! Yes, the friend that sold us the armoire for $100, gave us the dresser as a bonus, just to be nice and because he had to get it out of his house in preparation of new furniture. Isn't it perfect?)

It's always cool to see how different everyone's creation is. Even Conor got into it this year. I constructed the little house for him and then piped some royal icing on it, and he stuck his little candies on.

(Adam's apartment building)

Anyway, my tiredness dissolved somewhere between those tuna sandwiches and the graham cracker frenzy. I don't remember feeling tired again until everything was cleaned up, wiped down, put away, and the baby was snoozing. The Christmas carols were playing, and the white lights of the tree softened the edge of the early darkness and the rainstorm that was brewing outside. I'm grateful for that burst of energy. Moms only have so many Christmases with their little ones. Mine are getting fewer and fewer. I want every memory to be jolly and warm, and sugary sweet. I want them to fall asleep smiling.

Like my mother did for me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Labor of Love

He grunted. Loud and low. He groaned, and he strained beneath the load. He moaned and needed a break, but there was no time for rest. Blood vessels burst leaving dark bruises on his arms. Sweat dripped from his face and down his back.

Push! Push!

Okay, not so fast! Slow down, nice and easy.

Now, on my word, push!


Okay, now hold it, hold it.

More groaning. Primal grunts, (and maybe some swear words). It just didn't seem like it could fit. But it's halfway done, so now what?

Can we turn it? Can we lift it just a bit and ease it around?

Push, push, slow it down.

Now one last time, give it all you got!

Ah, sweet relief! And here she is!

Four men. Four strong men, oozing with testosterone, (and one with love for his wife), and it only took an hour to get it up the stairs and around the landing into our bedroom. The walls were only marginally damaged. Nothing that some wall putty can't fix. Well, maybe some things that wall putty can't fix.

All that sweat, all those muscles. (Maybe even the swear words.) Kind of a turn on. It was a full afternoon. I didn't know whether to cry with the stress, laugh because of the sheer hilarity of the situation, or run from the room so I didn't have to witness death if that thing should come crashing down on top of them.

All in all:

Beautiful (HEAVY) solid wood armoire from a friend? $100

3 hours each for the labor of two Mexicans picked up on the street? $60

"furniture moving straps" that were only a little useful? $12

Listening to your husband barf his brains out in the bathroom after the exertion of lifting said armoire up the stairs with three other guys for an hour just so you can have this beautiful piece of furniture for such a steal and as your Christmas present?


Mental note: Don't ever decide you'd like it better downstairs. Ever.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Real Life, Censored

My pal, Don blessed me with this award here, for being a Real-Life Blogger.

Aw, shucks. Thank you! The fact that we all love reading about other people's lives is fascinating, isn't it? Especially my life. It boggles my mind, but I'm oh, so grateful.

I try to keep it real. I'm a pretty in-your-face kinda gal, what you see is what you get. Sometimes I dance around the real yucky stuff, but we all know I'm not that sweet, try as I might. One thing I have tried to do, however, is to not allow my blog to be a dumping ground for all the garbage that goes on in my life. You'll probably never read anything about my ex-husband's latest court antics, or the nitty gritty of my financial woes. I won't bash my husband, and I won't tell you anything "interesting" that might be happening with people I know. . .who might somehow get wind of my storytelling. I'm not really a gossip, and I don't like to dwell on the negative.

But, boy, you think this is good? You should read my Journal! I better be long dead before anyone gets hold of those archives! I gotta vent somewhere! (And my husband should thank me that I'm not one of those wives that spews it all on him!) But I digress. . .

Now, as is tradition, and in the Spirit of Giving, as is appropriate at Christmastime, I now share the good fortune of the Real Blog, Real People award with these dear friends and fellow bloggers:

Misty of Rainy Day in May because she had the guts to write the story of her marriage, and split, and re-marriage to her husband. And those kinds of stories really get me. And give me hope. Thanks for keeping it real, Misty.

My sisters, Abby, Hannah, and Sarah, because they need more awards for their darling blogs, and because their blogs are so real I never have to pick up the telephone to keep in touch with them, which is good because I have no time anyway.

Piper, my blogging soul friend, because she's as real as it gets, and her vulnerabilities teach me to trust myself and love who I am, just the way I am. I heart Piper.

Luisa at Novembrance, because her "real" is my fantasy, and she shares it all so perfectly.

And then, my blog friend Andrea, who holds back nothing, heartbreak or triumph. She strengthens me in the process, and she always has my prayers.

Share the love, gals! And congratulations! Keep it real.

See Why I Love this Woman?

Here's a Christmas video of Hilary Weeks' song, "Christmastime". It's lovely. Enjoy.

And for fun, here are two other videos of her singing two little ditties she does at her Time Out for Women performances. You can see how real she is. It's a treat to hear her sing in person, to see the light in her eyes, that gorgeous smile, and her humor. But here's the next best thing, and it always makes me giggle with recognition, so I wanted to share. How can you not be a fan? I'm lucky enough to call her 'friend'.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Be Coming

I don't want Christmas to come. I want it to just be coming. I don't want it to actually happen, because then it would be over, and I like what Christmas coming does to people. I like what it does to me.

It's probably not some big secret that this has been one very hard year for my marriage. I don't know what it is about me (well, that's not all the way true. I am learning what it is about me, and I'm working on it), but marriage is hard for me. I don't want it to be. I love being married, and the marriage ideal, and the theory of marriage. I'm a big fan. But there are all kinds of things about me (and the men I pair up with, according to my therapist) that make marriage more work then it seems like everyone else is doing. In a way that kind of bugs me. In another way, it steams my locomotive with the desire to make it up yet another hill. I think I can. I think I can.

I am the oldest of nine children. I am fiercely independent, and I have a tendency to think I can do everything better than the next guy, and that my ideas and ways are superior. They may be, but this does not make for a happy husband. It's taken me about 15 years of being married to really get that, and I'm not saying I'm totally abandoning the philosophy (cause I do really like the way I do things!), but at least I'm aware now. And I recognize that the dangerous voice that appeals to me when times are tough is the voice that whispers, "You can do fine without him. You can do better without him. You don't need to put up with this." I say 'dangerous' because I know God didn't design me to do it all. I know that the greatest happiness I can have in this life is the happiness gleaned through a partnership with my husband. I know that (even though it often feels like it) Moms just can't do everything. Dads are necessary, and without them, children suffer. I know that without the lessons I will learn in this marriage, I will not be all that I was designed to be. Neither will he.

But man, is it hard. I am really, really good at forgiveness, but man, this is hard.

Thank goodness I'm not left to my own defenses. I am humbly grateful to a God who knows every recess of my heart. I'm even more grateful that I've learned to recognize and listen. Christmas is a time of coming together, not pulling apart, and much to my chagrin, marriage, it appears, (especially second marriages) are works in progress, not instant heart balms.

Even when his name does mean 'consoled'. It isn't past tense yet, but at least it gives me hope in the promise of what is to come.

Christmas makes it so much easier to serve, and service makes it so much easier to love. Funny. I think someone else gave his life trying to teach that.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Festive Weekend

Late Friday night, after Lyns got home from work and Aiden and Conor were in bed, I took Lyndsay and Dylan out to (finally!) see Twilight. We loved it! Yes, we loved the books more, and realize that much more character development happens in the books, but still, it was fun to see it on the big screen. This was the first movie that I've taken my kids to since we've lived in CA! (Well, I took Dylan alone once on a date, but that's it.) Overall, we were satisfied and had a great time together.

On Saturday, Dylan headed out the door early-early for a 25 mile bike ride along the beach for his Cycling merit badge. He has such dedicated leaders. I am so, so thankful for them in his life. Lyndsay and I went to get her eyebrows done, and then we hit the stores to get Christmas shopping done. (So much easier--and more fun--without Conor!) We had a great time together. Saturday night, Adam suggested we go to the Montrose Christmas Parade, so we bundled up the kids and drove downtown. Very fun, very festive. I love me a good marching band.

For the first time, we celebrated St. Nicholas Day this year, just for kicks. St. Nick's kicks. We read our nightly scripture, read a short Christmas story, and then had the kids line their shoes up on the front porch for St. Nicholas to leave a treat in. We had Sean with us, but not Caitlin this weekend, so we were one shoe short. Dylan wanted to put all of his shoes on the porch, being the opportunist that he is, and Conor wanted to keep opening the door to check for treats, despite my explanation that the treats would be there after he woke up.

Each child was thrilled to find a new ornament just for him and a few small treats in his shoe in the morning. Conor especially loved the surprise and keeps turning all the shoes upside down and patting their bottoms hoping that more chocolate kisses will fall out.

After Church and naps on Sunday, Lyndsay got to work baking gingerbread girls and boys, and I made a potato cheese soup with bacon and some cheddar biscuits for dinner. It was cold-ish and raining, and with the Christmas music playing and all the white lights on in the house, it was just too cozy to not have comfort food for dinner. After our dinner we ate the cookies and drank mugs of egg nog.

And now, back to the rigors of the week, sprinkled with Christmas cheer!