Friday, January 30, 2009

And For Dessert. . .

My dear Luisa sent me a cookie Bible to add to my collection. It's Martha's cookie Bible. It has a feature that I've never seen before in a cookbook, and it's brilliant: In the beginning of the book, is an index of sorts (although is it an index if it comes first? I don't know, and I'm tired.) that categorizes the cookies into types of cookie, with a photograph of each cookie, and the page number of the recipe. For instance, there's a page titled, "Light and Delicate", you know, for your tea parties. There's my favorite, "Soft and Chewy", and then, "Crumbly and Sandy (though if you stink at baking cookies, probably anything you try would end up like this.) "Chunky and Nutty", "Cakey and Tender" (also nice), "Crisp and Crunchy", and "Rich and Dense". In true Martha fashion, it is a Good Idea. So you can pick the kind of cookie you're hankering for, look at the photos for the one that tickles your fancy, and then away you go, right to the recipe page. Genius.

When I had more time on my hands, and television reception, I watched Martha from time to time. Every now and then I'd go to her primitive website (this was more than ten years ago when all websites were primitive) and find the recipe for something she'd demonstrated and copy it down. Once she made Carrot Cake Cookies, and I was all over it. I hand-wrote the recipe out and made them a few times, and then stuck it in my massive collection of gathered recipes. When Luisa gave me this cookbook, it was the very first thing I thought of. "You think the Carrot Cake Cookies are in this book? Surely, they must be!"

Flipping to the "Cakey and Tender" section of the contents/index/whatever-it-is-but-it's-Genius, there it was, on the top row, only preceded by such temptations as Pumpkin Cookies with Brown Butter Icing and Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies, page 202. I dug out my ancient copy and compared. The same! Hooray! (And I tossed the handwritten copy, because I'm efficient like that.)

There was a Girls' Night In scheduled for that night at a friend's, so I offered to bring them along. Holy Yum. Now, I leave out the raisins, and I cook them just a bit less than suggested (because she says to cook them until browned and crisp, and again, I lean towards chewy, but do what you want.) but if you love carrot cake, you must make these cookies. And they're pretty to boot. Oh, and I like my cream cheese frosting just a bit sweeter, so I've doubled the powdered sugar, but either way, delish.

Carrot Cake Cookies

2 sticks butter, room temp.
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temp.
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ginger
2 cups rolled oatmeal
1 1/2 cups finely grated carrots
1 cup raisins (if you like that)

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, room temp.
2 cups powdered sugar (Martha says to use 1 cup, but she can't be perfect in all things, right?)
1 tsp. vanilla

For the cookies, beat butter and both sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat until well combined.

Sift together flour, soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Stir to combine. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture. Mix on low speed until just blended. Mix in oats, carrots, and raisins. Chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350. Shape tablespoons of dough into balls, and place on baking sheets 2 inches apart. Bake about 11-12 minutes, or up to 15 minutes if you want them crisper. Transfer to wire rack and let them cool completely.

Mix up the frosting and spread about 2 tsps. (or more!) onto flat sides of half the cookies and sandwich together with remaining cookies. These store great in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or you can just eat them all and get sick, but rationalize it by saying you got lots of beta carotene, protein, fiber, and calcium. Your choice.

Luisa, as usual, the perfect gift. Another Good Idea.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Well, due to popular demand, I'll do my best to share with you. I do not adhere very well to measurements, so sorry if the vagueness is confusing. I just sort of eyeball things, and go with my gut. You know, it's all about the love.

Last night was spaghetti and meatballs. No pictures, but it was really good. Here's my version of how my Grandmom taught me to make excellent red sauce:

Buy some beef or pork ribs, just a few. Cheap ones are fine. Maybe two or three. Salt, pepper, and garlic them.

In a large saucepot, heat some olive oil, and then sear the ribs, till they're nicely browned. Turn down the heat and saute with the ribs (in the oil):

1 onion, chopped
3 (or more, or less, depending on your taste) garlic cloves

You want translucent onions, but not burnt garlic, so keep 'em stirring around. (I usually put the onion in first to give it a head start, and then add the garlic.)

Now, add one small can tomato paste and one can water. Mash it all up and incorporate it.

Add 3 large cans crushed tomatoes.

Then, add:

2 TBS sugar? (I never measure)
2 bay leaves
a bunch of Italian Seasoning (I probably use 2-3 TBS, but who knows, really. Knock yourself out.)
a pinch of fennel

Now, stir it all together, cover it up, and let it cook for hours. At least 3-4. I like it cooked all day. Stir it from time to time, and at the end, take out the ribs. The meat will be falling off the bone and will be a delicious pre-dinner reward. It's my favorite part.

Meatballs a la Grandmom, but with a touch of Jenna (because I didn't have ground beef)

1 lb. ground turkey
1 lb. ground bulk pork sausage
1 cup? seasoned breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup water
Italian seasoning ? (who knows how much, maybe 1-2 TBS)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Some fresh, or dried parsley
salt and pepper

Mash it all together, form it into balls (mine were the size of ping pong balls) and bake on a cookie sheet at 350 for, I don't know, until they're done. Maybe one piano lesson and a few minutes. ? This makes a nicely crowded cookie sheet full, but I'm not sure how many that is. (See how exacting I am?)

Then, after taking the ribs out, I put the meatballs into the sauce pan and let them hang out together for about an hour until I made the pasta.

So, for the lasagna I made last week, just make the same red sauce, without the meatballs, obviously. I browned together a pound of ground beef and a pound of bulk pork sausage and then mixed about 16 oz. ricotta cheese with 2 cups mozzarella and a bunch of parmesan with an egg and some parsley, salt, and pepper. Layer the noodles, then the cheese, then the meat, then the sauce. Two hearty layers, top with noodles, sauce, and then some shredded mozzarella. Bake it for about an hour.

(Why do they give you so many lasagna noodles in a box? Has anyone ever used that many for one lasagna? What a waste, if you ask me. I guess I could make two, but freezer space is at a premium over here. But, I digress.)

How's that? Don't forget the love. And the salad.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

To Speak, or not to Speak?

It's a weird feeling to hope that your child is dumb enough to qualify.

Dumb, meaning, of course, unable to speak. (what did you think?!)

Sweet Conor. He just doesn't really feel like talking all that coherently. He has about 50 words, I guess, many only intelligible to those of us who live with him, and he can put a few two word sentences together. ("Hi, Dash!" he says to the neighbor's dog every time we pass him. Or "Hi, Sis!", or "Hi, Mom!") He puts other word combinations together, but includes signs when he can't say the word. ("Daddy sleeping." or "Sissy working.")

Today the Evaluator was due to come to spend some time with him to see if he is delayed enough to qualify for free speech therapy. He is almost 30 months, but would have to be the developmental equivalent of a 19 month old to qualify.

I had class this morning, and so, couldn't be present for the evaluation. I went off to school hoping that my son didn't impress this woman, which is weird. Usually, you know how it is, you want everyone to take notice of how brilliant your children are.

Well, I got the full report when I got home.

He took full advantage of his captive audience to act like a completely undisciplined clown, throwing off the couch pillows, stomping on the puzzle boxes, displaying other lovely feats of parental incompetency. But, when Adam tried to discipline him, he was told to "just let him play." So, Conor got to play maniac for this woman, doing freely all the things he isn't allowed to do. Pretty much we got blamed for his lack of speech ("he's definitely behind"), and the woman only stayed for about 15 minutes. Barely even talked with Conor, but poor Adam felt thrashed.

In the end, she'll submit his name, but you know how backlogged the system is. It could take months for any therapy to start for him. By that time he could need another evaluation. Frustrating. Now, I hope for his name to stand out in the pile and that he can get some therapy soon!

In the meantime, we'll just keep reading books and engaging him the best we know how.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Grandmom Would Be So Proud

I am lucky enough to still have both of my grandmothers living. I adore each of them. I have sweet, random memories of them from my childhood, like Grandmom Baker's (maternal) pretty diamond rings, and her swimming pool, and trips to the White Mountains to her cabin in Pinetop where I would watch playful chipmunks dart in and out of the woodpile, and I would spin around and around in the wooden cocoon chair that hung from the ceiling, with a white sheep's (?) wool rug under my little girl toes. How funny that so many years later, I ended up living just a few miles from that location.

When I got married the first time, I moved to Arizona from New Jersey and lived near my Grandmom Baker. In an effort to get to know her better, I would go to her house every Wednesday after working at the bank, just to sit and talk with her. I was pregnant with my first baby at that time. I loved spending that time with her, and getting to know her. I especially loved seeing the traits of my own mother in her. It made me feel connected. I get crafting, and sewing, and my aesthetic tastes from her. My pioneer heritage comes from her Ellsworth family. She is beautiful, and she has the same eyes as my mother has, which make me feel at home.

My Grandmom Van Sciver (paternal) was a bigger part of my childhood because she lives in NJ, where I grew up. Every Easter meant an Easter egg hunt in her backyard, where we scouted for plastic eggs filled with jellybeans and coins. Every Christmas Eve, (and many other Sundays) was dinner. She was in the same ward as I was, and she was my Sunday School teacher for a time. Grandmom had a store, Gloria's Confection Connection, where she sold her homemade pies and cakes and her hand-dipped chocolates. Be still my soul. As a child, I went through those chocolates and poked my finger in the bottom, looking for the caramels. Her chocolate-covered pretzels are still one of my favorite treats in this world. We had candy-making tutorials and pie crust lessons with her as a youth group at Church. She catered my first wedding, and as a gift to me, she flew out to UT and catered my second.

Grandmom Van Sciver is FOOD. She is known far and wide for her cooking. Whenever she comes to visit me, my kitchen becomes hers. She will spend most of the day in the kitchen preparing one meal, and then another, and it never matters how many she must feed. All are welcome. (I think I heard that she fed 75 for Christmas this year.) It is her gift. Not just her talent, but her gift to give. It is how she loves, and I have learned so much from watching her give it. One of my most treasured recipe collections, is the one I have from her. All of her specialties, mostly Italian, tons of desserts, all of the dishes that evoke such powerful emotions of my childhood at her house. I inherited part of her gift, I think, because I love to love others by cooking for them. I love to feed people, to nourish them.

From time to time, I pull out my binder of Grandmom's recipes and just cook something that reminds me of her. I do make the best red sauce, but of course, she's the one who taught me, so maybe I make the second-best red sauce. Every time I make it, I feel like my Grandmother's granddaughter.

Last week at Church I saw a woman carrying her baby, with a toddler and preschooler at her heels. She walked over to her husband, and as I caught the scene, I had this tremendous love for them sweep through me, which was odd, since they are not a family that we generally do social things with. But, I suddenly wanted to feed them! I asked Adam if he thought we should invite them over for dinner that night, and he was, as always, agreeable, and ran out to the parking lot to offer the invitation. Which they heartily accepted.

I got home from Church at 2:15pm, and got to work. I got out Grandmom's recipes and decided it had to be lasagna. Had to be. And a spinach salad, and crusty garlic bread.

And for dessert, her banana cake with cream cheese frosting (because I had loads of rotting bananas, leftover cream cheese frosting from Dylan's party, and not a lot of time.) It was all appreciated, and gobbled up.

It was fun to have someone come to dinner. It was fun to spend the afternoon cooking and baking, and it was fun to set a beautiful table, and make someone else happy. It was fun to do for someone else what Grandmom has always done. All are welcome at her table. She'll cook for one and all.

But someone else is doing the dishes. Amen to that.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Good Morning?

It's not starting out too well.

I was in the deepest, most delicious sleep when someone knocked on the door and I sprung back to reality.

"Mom, are you driving me to McDonald's?" (that's where the running club meets on Saturday mornings at 8am for their run, not to eat.)

I looked at the clock. 7:52am. Man, I overslept. How lucky of me! Okay, jump out of bed, heart racing, throw some shoes on and a jacket, head down the stairs, to find. . .

cat vomit in the livingroom. Smeared slightly, because someone else didn't see it before stepping in it. Lovely.

Oh, and there's cat poop in the kitchen.

Yes, and Conor has thrown his bowl of soggy cereal (he drank the milk out of the bowl, but didn't eat the actual cereal) from his high chair into the family room where it's all over the carpet.

Do you remember how I feel about milk? On the carpet, on my hands, the smell of milky cereal?

What the heck kind of weekend is this going to be, anyway? I feel assaulted! Another delightful chapter in the life of a mom.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Live or Die?

We have these group projects each day in my Communications class. The teacher will read the scenario (a list with choices like, "Would you rather have a husband who is a)deceptive, b)jealous, or c)boring," for example). We are to answer them individually, and then get together in a group of 6 classmates and then either discuss our answers, or in some cases, come to a consensus.

Last week we were given a scenario that went something like this:

"Terrorists have taken over a plane with eight passengers, which they are holding hostage. They have agreed to release four of them in exchange for being allowed to land and refuel. The other four will surely die. The President has placed you on the committee that is to decide which four will be released. (I'm really, really giving you the bare bones of the scenario here, but you get the idea.)

The eight passengers are:
1. Brenda Jones, 27, a single mother of three young children.

2. Father John O'Brien, 65, a single priest, no children or family, but does work with inner-city youth.

3. Jan Perkins, 37, widowed, no children, Senator, likely candidate to be first female president. Fights for women's and minority's rights.

4. Andrea Ohms, 19, gifted student, very accomplished pianist, just got engaged to be married.

5. Juan Garcia, 45, father of two, financially independent. Family would be well-taken care of. Has serious heart condition and may not survive stress of hostage situation. Runs a business that employs Hispanics, which would probably collapse without his leadership.

6. Betsy Bates, 23, model, married to a rock star, pregnant.

7. D. B. Calhoun, 54, single, no children, hateful bigot.

8. Elijah Brown, 39, served time for armed robbery, now married and has two children that he is the provider for.

Okay, so we had to rank the eight according to our opinion, and then we had to come to a consensus in our group of which four would survive.

It was hopelessly frustrating and fruitless.

Obviously, I am in my thirties, married, and a mother. I am also Caucasian, and have been in middle-class America my entire life, and my family has lived in this country for many generations.

My group was made up of teens and early twenties, Asian, Hispanic, African-American, and other nationalities, most new to this country within the last ten years, and some living in, or affiliated with, unfortunate areas of the Los Angeles area, along with its problems. A different generation, to be sure.

They wanted to save Juan Garcia first, because he employs Hispanics and the economy is bad.

"But, he's 45 with a serious heart condition. His days are numbered," I said. "And he's loaded. His family will be fine." But they hear their parents talking about job security, so I sympathize.

Then they wanted to save the Senator, Jan Perkins. Because she might be the first female President.

"But, she might not be," I said.

"But she influences the largest number of people and she fights for women's rights and minorities," they countered.

"Well, George W. Bush is President (this was last week, and I knew this was a democratic group), so what if it was him? Should we save him? Or not, because you don't agree with his politics?"

"Ummmmm. . ."

"How do you know you like what Jan Perkins stands for? She doesn't even have any children, shouldn't we save a mother?"

"But a mother just has her kids, Jan Perkins influences the whole country."

"So the government is more influential than a mother?"

"Well, when you put it that way."

Okay, so they wanted to save Father O'Brien. Because he works with inner-city youth.

"Well, he wouldn't have to if the mothers were there doing their jobs! Father O'Brien, bless his heart, is 65 years old! He's on his way out! Can we save the pregnant woman? That's like two people!"

"She has mixed feelings about her pregnancy."

"So did I. Four times. Wait till she looks her child in the eyes."

I tried, "Okay, we have to save Andrea. She's only 19, for goodness' sake, and she shows so much promise!"

"She's just one person," they said.

"She's your age! She has her whole life ahead of her! And she's getting married!"

No takers. Not one of the mothers or women, except for the might-be President made it into the top four. I even looked to the other females in the group:

"Really? You're okay with telling three little kids that you didn't choose their mom?"

They weren't even sympathetic. (Their poor mothers, or their damned mothers, one of the two)

In the end, tried as I might, with all the fervor and passion I could muster, the mothers were all going down. I wanted to save Elijah Brown too. He'd paid his debt, his family relied on him. And Andrea, well, she had too much promise to go down with the flight. They wanted to save the cardiac case and the senior citizen.

I never ever want to be on a real-life committee like this! How do you choose who lives and who dies? And why were all the mothers just brushed over, like they were just mothers? Didn't these people see Titanic? Women and children!

The value of mothering is being forgotten. It kind of broke my heart as I left class that day. I didn't take it personally, but it was a reflection on our nation's values as a whole. A mother's influence is unending! I know that. I am not raising children, I am cultivating generations. But, had I been on that plane, I'd be going down so government could have a key player with no attachments. Kind of sad to me.

Today, however, when I got to class, one of my group members, a 21 year old Asian boy, in his broken English, said to me, "I was thinking about what you said all weekend, about the hostage story?"

"Yeah?" I probed.

"Maybe I was wrong. Maybe we should save the mothers."

Wouldn't his be proud?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Budding Brotherhood

My dear bosom friend, Luisa, tagged me for a photo meme. This one's easy. All I have to do is post the 6th picture from my 6th folder (and pray it's not embarrassing). Here goes:

Sweet joys of boyhood must include wooden trains, mustn't they? Aiden is a really good sport about playing with Conor to keep him out of my hair, or away from the piano if I'm teaching. Conor, of course, adores all of his big brothers, and any time with them is golden. He especially loves being invited to play with the big boy toys, and trains are a current favorite. I love how his little baby feet are crossed. That's the same way I still hold my feet, incidentally.

I'm delighted to see that beyond this one drawer that has been taken out for play, the rest of the room is clean! They must be such good, tidy boys! Or their mother must have OCD. Either way, the details are unimportant-- we can see carpet in a room that three boys share!

Hmmm. . .I'll tag Don, templework, and Megan. But if you want to play too, please do and let me know!

Monday, January 19, 2009

All's Well

I have so many reasons to be happy (which I already explored as fleeting, but also desirable!)

No school today! So that blasted alarm clock didn't go off at 5:30am. No Seminary! No packing lunches and driving to school! Instead, Conor came into our room a little after 7am with his blanket and got into bed for snuggles in between Mom and Dad. A much nicer way to wake up.

I cooked oatmeal for everyone and then put Conor in the stroller, asked Aiden to tag along, and we went for a morning walk. Aiden told me what he knows about Martin Luther King, Jr. and we talked about the equality of all human beings and how one person can truly make a difference.

I've been doing so well at logging my 10,000 steps each day since 2009 began. It's become a 'non-negotiable', and the effects are starting to show:

*I am more cheerful.
*I feel empowered because I am getting stronger (heart and muscles).
*I feel confidence because I set a goal and am living with integrity towards that goal.
*The pain in my neck is diminishing, as surrounding muscles gain strength. This alone has relieved so much depression and mental energy that was expended in dealing with that pain.
*I lost an inch in my waist last week! (Haven't stepped on a scale--will do that Feb. 1)
*I want to do other 'good' things for myself because of this one good thing. (eat well, read my scriptures, floss, paint my toenails, clean something.)
*I can deal with the stress of the day better.
*I have time each day to just think and pray and breathe.

Anyway, I think a lot of this has followed as a ripple effect of painting my walls. The color is bleeding through to my soul! And the opportunity to attend class and develop my mind has given me renewed appreciation for life and my outlook on it.

Back to my day:

Conor likes to sing the "Honey, Honey" song from Mama Mia! (because he can actually say 'honey, honey'), so we blasted the soundtrack and danced around the family room.

I baked mini zucchini muffins (for school lunches) and zucchini bread.

I did my school reading assignments. Will do the writing later tonight.

My boys are off with friends playing, and Lyns has finished Facebooking and Biology homework and will soon go off to work with her sweet triplets.

I feel love for Adam, and appreciation for his hard work. Being tucked against him all night was comforting and delightful. And warm.

Nie is posting again, and she keeps my heart bursting wide open with love and compassion. I keep my nails painted red, partly in tribute to her. I'm finding I like living in red. It is my favorite color, after all!

Well, considering the peace I feel inside, associated with all these happy things, maybe this is joy! A peaceful contentment that all is right, or at least what isn't, is in God's hands, and not on my mind.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dylan becomes a TEEN!

Another teenager in the house! And another nice teenager, which is even better!

Dylan turned 13 and so, to celebrate, we held a "SCARY: Dylan's a TEENAGER!" party. He invited some friends, who were all taller than me and ate a lot. Yeah, those boys. They can put away the food. 5 pizzas, my friends. 5 pizzas.

For treats we had the severed hand, which 'bled' into the punch. . .

We had severed bloody finger cookies, some coming from witches. . .

And we had a variety of spooky cupcakes, instead of one big cake.

The boys watched The Village, and I could tell by their nervous laughter and chatter that they were appropriately scared. Which is good.

Dylan is one cool kid, I have to say. The older he gets, the more I genuinely like him and appreciate him. He's popular, but always kind. He's funny, but tender-hearted. He's chivalrous to girls and women, and he's fantastic with babies. He's smart and strong, and he's uncompromising in his standards. He goofs off, sometimes pushing the limits, but he can rein himself in, and feels adequate amounts of remorse when he's done something wrong. His conscience is a better caretaker than I am, which gives me great peace of mind. He's learning to control his silliness and need to be the class clown. He's learning to wield his developing manhood with wisdom and maturity. He has great ambition and vision for his future.

And he loves his mom. Despite being a teen, he has no problem unabashedly telling me so anytime, anywhere. . .with hugs and kisses, and opened car doors. He'll even carry my purse for me. He's gonna make a great husband one day, when I'm done with him.

Happy Birthday, my Dylan-boy!

Congratulations on your very first armpit hair. That one on the left. Awesome. You're on your way after such a long wait.

Love you!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mama Mia!

It took me three days, but I finally finished watching Mama Mia! last night. It didn't take me so long because I didn't enjoy the movie (though I'm quite sure it was more fun on stage than on the screen), but because by the time I crawl into bed with hopes of relaxing with a movie I'm so doggone tired that I just can't keep my eyes opened. And I'm aware of how I'll feel in the morning if I try.

The one scene with Donna and Sophie before the wedding about killed me.

You know the one, where Sophie comes and asks her mom if she'll help her get ready for her big day, instead of having her friends with her.

And then the music starts. Time slipping through my fingers. The music montage that will slay any mother with a heart. The last moments they spend together as just mother and daughter, before the husband enters and her heart divides. Donna brushes her hair. Blow dries her hair. She sits her big grown up daughter on her lap and paints her toenails for her (that did me in!), they look at old photos. They curl up together. They laugh.

And all the while, the mother looks at her daughter, now a grown woman, marveling at how the time has gone by.

I was weeping. I couldn't stand it anymore. (heck, I'm weeping now, just reliving it!)

I crept into Lyndsay's room to hold her. My arms ached for her. Her room was dark, but her bed was empty. I tried to get my eyes adjusted, when I heard,


Down on the floor.

She was kneeling in prayer.

I knelt down beside her and wrapped my arms around her and said, "I just had to tell you how much I love you."

"Oh, Mommy, I love you too," she whispered back. And then she felt my shudder. The tears I was trying to hold at bay.

"Mommy? Are you okay?"

"I just don't want you to grow up," I sniffled. "I was watching this movie with a mother and daughter and the daughter is getting married and moving away and it just made me so sad."

"Oh, Mommy, I don't want to grow up either. I don't ever want to leave you. You're the best Mom I could ever have. I could never live without you."

"I wish you were still just a little girl," I said through my tears. "It's all happening so fast."

We just sat there in the dark, on her floor, holding each other, me crying.

It's not fair how fast the time slips through my fingers.

"It's funny," she whispered to me, her arms still wrapped around me, "I was just praying and telling Heavenly Father how thankful I am for you, and then you walked in."

My Lyns.

How excited I am to watch your life unfold. How I struggle with the parts that will unfold without me as a witness. How I hope that my memory holds fast every second I've ever had with you.

How honored I am to be your mother.

How I wish time would slow down.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

So Far, So Good

As I expected, I love my college class. Interpersonal Communication. I could use some honing up on that one, and it's an interesting topic with engaging reading because of all the case studies. And because of the nature of the class, there's lots of group work and interaction, so I've met many of my classmates. All of whom are much younger than I am, but what the heck.

I'm tired. It's 9:41pm and I'm finished what I'm going to do today. (not that there isn't more I could do, or need to do, but it will be there tomorrow. Or Friday.)

On another note, today is my mother's birthday. A milestone birthday. She was on my mind all day today as I woke up to take Lyns to Seminary, packed lunches, juiced a mountain of veggies and fruit for the morning green drink, cooked breakfast, read scriptures and prayed with the kids, sent kids off to school, showered, went to class, taught piano lessons, did my homework, made dinner, searched for cake ideas for Dylan's party this weekend, bathed the baby, cut the baby's hair, cut Aiden's hair, helped with homework, did some more school reading, read my scriptures, threw in a load of laundry, emptied and loaded the dishwasher, swept the floor, and planned for tomorrow (undoubtedly, more of the same). . .

She was on my mind because she did all those things for me. And for Ethan. And Josiah. And Amanda. And Micah. And Hannah. And Abby. And Noah. And Jonah. All day. Every day. She was always tired too, I think. But happy. And rarely complained. She showed up every day to do the work of mothering, no matter what, showing me the way. And so, as I go throughout my daily activities and chores, I think of her passing the torch (for it is motherhood that lights the world, I'm sure) to me, and I must not let her down. I must show her that all of her efforts, all of her work, and devotion, and sacrifice have paid off at least in some small way here in southern California, and in the lives of my husband and all of my children.

I love Abraham Lincoln's quote:

"All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother."

I second that notion. Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you. And I know it's really nothing, but. . .

Thank you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Remember when I posed the question a few months back about whether or not I should take the plunge and go back to school? Well today is my first day! I start college classes again this morning on my way to an RN degree. This first semester is short, just five weeks long, and so I'm taking one class, Speech 10 (Communication in Interpersonal Relationships), which is a prerequisite for the Nursing Program. Should come in handy at home too, though, I imagine.

Having never even seen the campus, yesterday after putting Conor down for his nap, I left him in Adam's care and drove out to Pasadena. I found the college, got my ID card, bought my textbook (yikes, the cost!), and picked up my parking permit. I found the building where my class will be held, and made sure I wouldn't get lost today. All's good.

Adam is very supportive of my venture. He is arranging to tend Conor for the three mornings a week that I have school so that we can avoid daycare. My children are so excited for me. They all woke up this morning saying, "It's your first day, Mom!" They all wanted to see my book and my ID card.

Looking at my photo, Dylan said, "You're so cute, Mom."

Lyndsay prayed for me in family prayer that I would be safe in traveling and that I would understand my lectures and enjoy my class.

Aiden said, "Is that the outfit you're going to wear, Mom? It looks good."

I have to say, I'm not even nervous like I thought I'd be. I'm really excited. I love the energy of college campuses. Everybody learning stuff. What a great feeling!

A few days ago, in anticipation of today, Dylan asked me, "So, what made you decide to become a nurse, Mom?" And I answered, "I don't really know, except that one day, I felt like I should go back to school and get my nursing degree. That's all I can really say." And he said, "Wow, you have a lot of faith to follow whatever God wants you to do." I replied, "Thanks, Dylan. I guess I've just learned that He knows a lot more than I do, and He's always right, so I just need to trust Him."

And so, today? A step forward in faith. The rest will work itself out.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Question of the Week: Breakfast Ideas

Megan wants to know: "What are your healthy, warm breakfast menus? You sound like an incredible "from scratch" cook!"

mmmm. . .I don't know about the loose usage of 'incredible', but I am a big believer in breakfast, that's for sure, and I do cook mostly from scratch, saving pre-packaged anythings for dire emergencies.

I've talked about a few of my favorites here:

Toad-in-a-Hole, Fruit and Yogurt Waffles (not entirely from scratch, but it could be), Stuffed French Toast, and Smoothies.

But I will let you in on a secret. I have the best pancake and waffle recipes. Seriously, the best. I never make either from a mix because the difference is so obvious. I will share them with you, because you're so loyal, Megan, and because you asked. Ready? They're easy-peasy.


1 cup flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 TBS. sugar

stir those all together. Add:

1 cup milk
2 TBS butter, melted
1 egg
2 tsp. vanilla

Now whisk that in quickly, but not for long. (I do it fast enough to get the lumps out, and that's it.) Pour it onto a 375 preheated griddle (Griddles are awesome. So much better than a pan.) Wait till the dry concave bubbles appear on top and then flip them. I'm sure you already know that part.

One recipe makes about 6 pancakes. I usually triple it for my family, and I love that the recipe is so easy to double or triple because everything is in quantities of 1 or 2. Also, I usually make it with King Arthur's white whole wheat flour, or I do half and half, and it works great.

We often top the pancakes with peanut butter and jam, for added protein, or I'll cook up sliced apples or peaches or strawberries for a topping.


2 cups flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar

Sift that all together and add:

1/2 cup oil
1 3/4 cup milk
3 egg yolks, beaten (save the whites in a clean glass bowl)

Now, beat the 3 egg whites with an electric mixer until they are stiff. Fold them into the batter carefully and then pour onto preheated waffle iron. The egg whites are the secret to melt-in-your-mouth waffles.

Stuffed French Toast--this is our first day of school and special occasion breakfast

1 cup cream cheese
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup fresh or frozen berries (cut them up if they're big like strawberries)
4 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract
1 loaf French bread
2 TBS. butter

Beat the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla together until light and fluffy. Fold in the berries.
Whisk the eggs, milk and other tsp. of extract. Set aside. (I do this in a pie plate)

Cut the bread on the bias, about 2 inches thick and then cut a pocket into the bread from the crust top, but don't go all the way through. Open the pocket with your finger and carefully spoon 2-3 TBS. of filling into the pocket.

Dip the stuffed bread into the egg and milk mixture, on both sides, and then place on buttered skillet. Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, and serve with warm maple syrup. This makes about 4 servings, bread wise, but you'll have leftover filling. Darn. I can usually do 2 loaves of bread with one recipe of filling.

Other ideas? We do breakfast burritos, with just some scrambled eggs, cheese, sometimes veggie sausage, and salsa wrapped in a tortilla. Or I'll do breakfast pizzas on English Muffins if I have leftover red sauce from pasta I've made. I'll just toast the muffins on a cookie sheet under the broiler, then spread with sauce, cheese, and either ham or pineapple or veggies and put them back under to heat them through and melt the cheese. Sometimes I'll do a quick bread or muffins, and many, many mornings we have good ol' oatmeal. Steel cut is the best, but at least use regular oats (not quick oats). Top the oatmeal with real maple syrup, a pile of berries, and some milk, and you're talking good-to-go.

My main thing is getting protein and fiber into the kids before they leave for school. Cold cereal is basically a snack in our house, not a meal, and on the rare occasions we have it for breakfast, it's always something with high fiber, like Mini-Wheats and then they always have to have loads of fruit on it.

I'll try to post other ideas/recipes as they come up, as I'm sure I've given you nothing original or earth-shattering in this post. But keep it simple or you won't do it. Breakfast is important, and you'd be doing your family a great service if you give them a simple bowl of oatmeal and fruit each morning.

Question of the Week is the Monday column. You'd better leave me more questions, or it's gone, sistas. Or, I start making up my own questions AND answering them. Thanks, Megan!

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Splash of Color!

I haven't blogged all week! I've thought about blogging, but the only thing I wanted to blog about was the amazing change coming over our home and over me. All with a little paint, and a lot of hard work. The thing is though, I wanted it all to be a surprise for my children to come home to, so I couldn't let the cat out of the bag on Cranberry Corner (cause I know at least one of them reads my blog). I picked them up in Arizona yesterday and could barely stand my excitement during that long drive home. Oh, it was worth it!

On New Year's Day Adam and I were snuggled up watching a movie together and I said, "What do you say we go to Lowe's and get some paint and paint the downstairs?"

"Okay," he said. And we went to Lowe's. Just like that! It was so fun to pick out the colors together and plan our project. We picked "Weeping Willow" for the front living room and up the stairs and into the hallway, and "Morning Sun" for the dining room, kitchen, and family room. Lovely!

I got started masking and cutting in as soon as we got home. We did one wall that night, and then called the missionaries to come because they had offered to help us as a Christmas present. We worked hard! (You learn so much about people when you work with them, have you ever noticed?)

It seemed it would never end. We had the missionaries for 3 hours the first day and 4 the next, and then on Sunday we found out that our tallest Elder was getting transferred. Yikes! Monday is Preparation Day for the missionaries, so we were on our own. I worked twelve hours, and Adam worked when he could in between other obligations. I was panicked that we wouldn't finish by Wednesday. On Tuesday morning when the missionaries arrived, I looked up at the new Elder with hope and said, "Please, tell me you can paint."

"I was a house painter before my mission," he replied cheerily. "My dad is a professional painter and I've been painting with him since I was 12. My uncles, my grandpa, it's like our family trade."

(Angels breaking through in song)

The first miracle of 2009! God sent me a painting missionary, just in time! We worked all day Tuesday and Wednesday, and then I had the enormous task of cleaning it all up, putting the thousands of books back on the (clean!) shelves, moving all the (vacuumed under!) furniture back into place, unmasking, washing, vacumming, mopping, ETC, all before I had to roll out of the driveway at 6:30am Thursday morning. Seriously? Without Elder Painter-Man, it never would have gotten done. He was awesome.

The joy of the new atmosphere kept me chugging along. It is remarkable what color can do to one's mood. Everyone who has seen it has commented. We just can't help but be happy! And feel warm, and welcomed, and just, well, just happy!

The other thing I've noticed is that having the walls painted has had a profound affect on me. How I feel in this space, how I feel about lots of things, how I feel about me.

California has been a hard adjustment. Besides all the transitions in life (marriage, blended family, new baby), I have had to make new friends and fit in in a new ward and a new neighborhood. Because we are renting, we have been hesitant, I think, to really claim our space here. And that has been very hard for me. I am a nester. I like home. It's what I do best, maybe, and not feeling permission to do that, or not letting myself do that has taken a toll on my psyche. I think it's even contributed to me gaining weight. It's as if I never felt that I have been truthfully representing myself, but not on purpose, if that makes any sense. White walls are not me. So, I have never felt all the way at home, at ease, at peace in this space, and it's caused unrest inside of me. I never realized it before. It's as if I felt that I always had to defend myself, like, "No, no! This isn't really me!"

And now? It feels more like me. (Does this make any sense?)(Although I noticed that the "Morning Sun" photographed much bolder than it looks in real life, but still.)

And so anyway, because of this one change, putting up color on the walls, I feel more like me. I want to treat myself better, I want to be more productive, I want to be more active, more involved in life. I think I have been in a funk. Now, I feel splashed out of it!

I have to also say that in a way, Stephanie Nielson, of the NieNie Dialogues, has some of my gratitude for these changes. Her authenticity has been inspiring to me. She has this ability, even at her very young age, to just live her life to the fullest and embrace every bit of it and claim it, make it her own, and delight in it all. I have only known of her since the plane crash, as she's slept in her coma and I've read of her recovery through her sister's blog updates. I have grown to love them both, as I've stated before, and I am so excited that Stephanie will be taking back her blog on January 16th. I might celebrate by doing something Nie-ish, like buying a set of Latte bowls from Anthropologie. :)

I feel good. Everytime I walk down the stairs and see the new color, I feel like part of me is back. And that can only be a good thing.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Question of the Week: Do you Butt in?

Our question this week comes from Wonder Woman, who snagged this question from another blog and wondered what I would say.

You're in a store. A sales associate is really nice and helpful to you. When she's done helping you, she begins to have a conversation with a co-worker, and they're talking loudly enough for you to hear it clearly. Your helper is basically saying she'd drive after having a few drinks if she was the only one in the car, because then she'd only be putting herself at risk.

Which is clearly not true.

So do you interrupt?

In a word, absolutely. Positively! This is one time when I'd be really grateful to have such a big mouth and such undeveloped control of it.

Oh, man, this is one of those times when we just need to live outside our own little bubble in life. In fact, my bet would be that the co-worker with whom this stupid (but nice and helpful) sales associate is chatting with is also seeing red flags everywhere as she listens, but just doesn't have the courage to rock the boat.

Well, rock the boat!

It would be easy to interrupt politely: "Excuse me, I couldn't help but overhear what you just said. Do you really feel that way? Did you forget about the other cars you might hit and the people you would endanger? And do you really value your life so little that you would be willing to gamble it, buzzed and driving?"

Maybe she just never thought about it that way. You know how something can be so obvious, but not until you see it? Maybe she really thought that only her passengers would be risked. The sad fact is that many times in a drunk driving accident, the drunk driver walks away. It's the innocents that don't. Maybe she forgot about them.

We have to live in a world where we care about our brothers and sisters, where we look out for each other the way we'd want others too. Make it personal and think about it that way. What if it was your mother, or your husband, or your child on the road that night that our friendly sales associate was taking her joy ride?

How would you feel if someone you know and love was killed on the road by a drunk driver and later you heard a woman say that she heard that drunk driver talking about how she didn't think it was wrong if she drove after a few drinks as long as no one else was in the car with her? Wouldn't you want to strangle her with the what-ifs of your life? What if she had spoken up? What if you could be that person for someone else, to spare them from unnecessary pain, and even spare that sales clerk from a life of regret and remorse that prison time is not likely to blot from her memory?

Can't we all just risk opening our mouths, even if it might offend, in order to do the right thing? Playing that scenario out in my mind would just leave me no other choice. I wouldn't want to live with the knowledge that I could have changed the course of lives.

And really, what's the worst that could happen? She turns on you and says something rude? Tells you to mind your own business?

Well, somebody was once reminded that mankind is our business. And so it should be.

Question of the Week is the Monday column. If you have a question you'd like me to feature, please leave it in the comments section. Please? I like doing this. And thanks, Wonder Woman!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy. Happy? Joy. Joy!

I watched a sweet and touching movie the other night, a film adaptation of Maeve Binchy's novel, Tara Road. Maybe if your life has been perfect, you won't be able to relate to this movie, but I found myself connected to these female characters.

The story is about two women, one in Connecticut, the other in Ireland. Each of them has suffered tremendous loss. Marilyn, in Connecticut, tragically lost her teenage son who died in a motorcycle crash at his birthday party, where he had just received the bike from his dad. This boy was her only son, and without him, Marilyn has become numb to life, and to her husband. Ria, in Ireland, finds out that her husband is leaving her for his younger, pregnant girlfriend, despite the two children and the life they have built together. The two women, in an attempt to get some distance from their pain, and some privacy to evaluate their lives, end up switching houses for a month.

Ria, staying in America in Marilyn's house, gets to know Marilyn's friends, who are charged with looking out for her. One friend, a restaurant owner, especially takes an interest in her, and is tender with her pain. As Ria vents about the abrupt end to the life she felt secure in, about the nonsensical decision her husband is making to leave her, to leave their two children, the beautiful home they built together, to leave the life they have created, the man says to her in an offered explanation,

"Some people think they were put on this earth just to be happy."

Maybe nobody else caught that line in the movie. It slips by just as simply as it is offered. But to me, it was the theme of the whole story.

Like I said at the beginning, if you've had a perfect life, then you might not even bat an eye at this saying. You might not even understand why it stands out to me like it does. You might even argue, "Well, of course! Who doesn't want to be happy?"

Well, I do, for sure. But I think there's something better. After all, "men are that they might have joy."

My first husband left our marriage, because, well, because he was not happy, he said.

"But what about the children?" I pleaded.

"They'll be happier if I'm happier. I need to be happy. I deserve to be happy."

Well, all these years later, I'm not sure if the decision he made has been fraught with total happiness. Sure, he claims he's happy, and in many ways he probably is, but I wonder if he sold out something richer, something more satisfying, for something immediate, and beguiling. What if he capped out at happy?

I do it too. All the time. We live in a world that whispers of the pursuit of happiness. What if it's mostly a lie? What if happiness is like the basement level of what we can really have in this life, if we'd be content to be unhappy sometimes momentarily?

What if we miss out on a lot of joy in our search for happy?

I think 2009 will be about my quest for joy. You know how when you clean out a closet the whole place gets messier than before you ever opened the doors? Maybe happy would have been never opening the doors. After all, with the doors closed no one can even see the disarray. Maybe joy comes after overlooking the mess of everything strewn about, in anticipation of the order that is sure to follow. I don't expect that my joy will be full by Dec. 31 of this year. I expect that I will have some happy, and probably some unhappy. But I think I'd like to invest in the long-term plan.

I just may be surprised.