Wednesday, October 28, 2009

BOO! Bags

Years ago, when I lived in Arizona, there was a fun little sneaky tradition of Boo-ing your friends and neighbors at Halloweentime. That meant that you would leave a plate of cookies with a ghost sign on their front porch, and ding dong ditch them. That family would, in turn, hang the ghost in their window to fend off future Boo-ings, and they would pass the Boo on to two other families within 24 hours. It was so much fun to see the ghost signs popping up in windows all around the neighborhood as friends performed secret acts of kindness for one another. Really, the only unselfish thing going on at Halloweentime, if you ask me.

I saw on Lark and Lola a jazzed-up version of the Boo idea, and knew we just had to do it this year. Now Heather, of Lark and Lola is infinitely more creative and talented than I am, so instead of the handmade Boo! garland she included in her bags, I used the scrumptiously delicious Pumpkin Spice Caramel Corn and Chocolate Caramel Corn recipes from another favorite blog (I badly need to update my blogroll!), Picky Palate. Let me just tell you up front: If you're trying to decide how you'd best like to die, make yourself a batch of Pumpkin Spice Caramel Corn and get all cozy and then eat yourself to death. It will be well worth it.


So, the kids and I baked double batches of each caramel corn--plenty of jobs for all the kids to be helpers, from popping the popcorn, to picking out every unpopped kernal, to unwrapping the Pumpkin Spice Hershey Kisses.

Once it was cooling, we printed off Lark and Lola's Boo! poem (which she wrote herself), but she also included a link to other versions of Boo! poems. She even gives you a link to download her spooky Halloween font. She thinks of everything.

We glued the poems to the front of the bags.

Then we put some of each flavor caramel corn into clear bags and tied with Halloween ribbon, and put them into the black bags with purple tissue paper.

The last part was the most fun, and though it was a bit tricky to keep the Teenage Boy's attention through the entire process of creating the bags, it was not tricky to get him excited about delivering the bags in the cover of darkness and ding-dong-ditching our friends.

So much fun! We picked families that we thought would most appreciate the gift, and would be most likely to pass it on in the spirit of the fun. Families with little kids are a great choice. We took about an hour, once it was dark on Sunday night, and made our secret deliveries. No one was caught. (That we know of.) And we hope we made some families very happy, with plenty of time to Boo! their own friends.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lombardi Ranch

On Saturday I took the kids to Lombardi Ranch for their not-to-be-beaten pumpkin patch. We'd gone several years ago, and just days later they had a fire and lost most everything. Thankfully, it's almost fully recovered and there are few signs of the damage. Everything was growing and flourishing, and so beautiful. Acres of corn stalks, sunflowers, and many, many more pumpkins still on the vine. It's the best place to take the family for pumpkins in the Los Angeles area, and boasts a petting zoo, train ride, corn maze, scarecrow competition, pony rides, craft booths, a farmer's market, and a live band.

This is Lyndsay, trying to get the horse's head out of his food trough so that Conor could pet him. She was ultimately successful by reaching in and grabbing the hay, so the kids could feed him through the bars.

Here's Conor with a donkey, and some droopy drawers. (But at least they're not poopy drawers!)

My four scarecrows. Well, I don't know what that creature is on the right.

Aiden encourages Conor to climb to the top of the bale pyramid.

Again, Lyndsay has a way with animals. They've always loved her. This mama cow (her calf was in the pen with her) would not take her head out of her food so that we could pet her. But then Lyndsay climbs up on the fence and the cow just loved on her for several minutes, rubbing her head all along Lyndsay's legs. I suppose she's the Cow Whisperer. After enduring all the love, I realized I had a (soundless) video feature on my camera, so I had her climb back up to see if the cow still loved her. She did.

A peacock! This was important for Conor to see in real life because his favorite insult is to call people "Peacock Poopyhead", don't ask me why.

This sweet llama, again came over to love Lyndsay. She was startled by how close she was when she turned around.
"He's got a pony named Bob. . ."

After dropping and throwing several pumpkins (and thankfully not breaking them--did you know that pumpkins bounce?) Conor finally decided on his favorite.

Lyndsay and Dylan had a much harder time choosing just the right one.

For a drive-home snack, we bought gigantic peaches from the farmer's market.

And then we brought our load of pumpkins home and set them on the front porch. On Saturday morning, we shall carve them.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

To the Fifth Power

Tagged for a meme! (Thanks, Luisa!) Here goes. . .

Five North American Cities in Which I'd Seriously Consider Living:

1. Seattle, Washington
2. Anchorage, Alaska
3. Denver, Colorado
4. Portland, Oregon
5. Moorestown, New Jersey

Five Songs to Which I Know all the Words:

1. "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel
2. "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" by John Denver
3. "The Fox" by Nickel Creek
4. "Popular" from the Wicked soundtrack
5. "Kodachrome" by Simon and Garfunkle

Five Foods I'd Wish to Have in Unlimited Quantities on a Desert Island:

1. Bread
2. Butter
3. Honey
4. Chocolate
5. Ice Cream (can you tell I have a bit of a sweet tooth?)

Five Chores I Should Be Doing Right Now Instead of Blogging:

1. Studying the articulations of the skeletal system for my exam tomorrow
2. Cutting out and sewing Conor's pirate costume for Halloween
3. Cleaning out the refrigerator
4. Making a grocery list
5. Mopping the kitchen floor

Five Childhood Friends I'd Love to See Again:

1. Lisa Dovi
2. Marnie Fisher
3. Kristin Hanna
4. Allyson Masi
5. Brent Hoppe

Now, five friends to tag (but please play even if you aren't tagged, and then let me know!):

1. Ohana Dreams
2. Angela
3. Mom
4. Josi
5. Tara

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Desires of my Heart

The season of gift-giving is fast approaching. I usually ask my children what special gifts they might be hoping for, but more often, I rely on my knowledge of them and my vantage point as their mother to give them what I know their heart longs for. It may be something that they didn't even know they wanted, and yet, when the brightly colored paper gives way, it's as if secret desires have come to fruition, and there is a look of joy, a look of, "How did you know when I wasn't sure myself?" cross over their faces that is most satisfying. It was a longing so deeply embedded within their hearts, that they hadn't even yet found the words to express it. One can have access to that knowledge through careful and thorough love, day by day. And though I only occasionally get it right, that's the kind of gift-giving that I want to do.

I believe in blessings. I believe in the laying on of hands and administering by the power of the priesthood, personal blessings designed specifically for the recipient, from God.

On two distinct occasions, while receiving a blessing, once at the hands of my father, and once by my husband, I was promised that God was aware of the secret desires of my heart, and that I could be assured that I would be given them. The first time I heard that phrase, "You shall have the desires of your heart", I was a little intrigued by what they were. I went through the list of things I pray for in my mind and thought of each one, 'was that it?'

What is the secret desire of my heart? What if there is only one, a crowning desire?

I can think of several things I long for and hope for, both now and in the future. But maybe each of those things would be likened to the gifts that my children would tell me that they wanted for Christmas. Maybe the real blessing, the most earnest desire is still germinating inside the tissues of my spiritual heart, and only a wise and all-knowing, all-loving God can see them taking root. What a comfort it is to know that he has taken notice, even before I have.

I have desires for my family, desires as a mother, desires as a human being, and desires that spill over from this life into eternity. I often wonder just which desire was Heavenly Father assuring me of?

But just as my children open their gifts and instantly recognize the wisdom and synchronicity of their gifts, given by an imperfect and faltering parent, I trust that I, too, will recognize the desires of my heart, as they are realized in my life. Saying to God, the supreme parent, (maybe with a little gasp of awareness) "Oh, thank you! It's what I've always wanted."

I wait to see, already grateful.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Speaking of Happiness. . .

On Saturday morning, nice and early (well, maybe not nice and early, but definitely early), I got to go to the Los Angeles Temple. I don't attend the temple nearly as often as I used to, or as often as I should. I have all sorts of good excuses, but not good enough excuses, if you know what I mean. Temple attendance had been on my mind for quite some time. I even scheduled a day in August to go by myself, but then I was sick. When my issue of the Ensign arrived, I was flipping through and reading an article about the blessings of the temple, and thinking to myself how I really needed to go, when my friend, Jenn, called, and in the course of our conversation about how she had taped the Nie episode of Oprah for me, she mentioned that she was going to the temple on Saturday morning and would I like to go?

Yes! I said. And then, ummmm, maybe. And then, I'll see if I can. Because already I was being bombarded by those doubts and excuses that attempt to keep me from doing the right thing, including that one about how tired I am and how Saturday is my only day to sleep in. But the more powerful urge to go, that feeling of, "You've asked me to help you find a way, and now I've just given you the way!" wouldn't leave me. And I knew it to be true. So, I called Jenn back the next day and said, "Count me in."

It was incredible. The temple always makes me so happy, and I had a great experience there that left me elated and peaceful for the rest of the day. I must go back more often for more.

Then, last night, I got to drive out to Los Angeles and visit with my dear Piper for a few hours in her hotel room, where she was just spending the night before flying back to Oklahoma in the morning. She had just experienced a whirlwind dream trip to meet Tony Hawk with her 10 year old son, Jackson. Maybe you remember how much I adore Piper? Maybe you remember how she flew out to Arizona last year to meet me and joined my family reunion? Well, I hadn't seen her since, and in that time since I'd last seen her, life has become very eventful for her. Miss Piper is about to become a Mrs.! She has met an incredibly wonderful man who cherishes her above all else and who has given her a ring that is absolutely exquisite! I got to hug her and see that ring, and hear the most romantic tale of their meeting and courtship, and talk wedding details, and laugh and cry. All in three short hours in her hotel room. Such a blessing. I needed a dose of Piper.

And today? Well, today I am learning 10,000 new vocabulary words associated with the appendicular skeleton, and trying not to forget the 10,000 vocabulary words I learned last week associated with the axial skeleton. And I remember, when I see the date, that today would have been my 18th wedding anniversary with my first husband, the father of my oldest three children. Eighteen years. We were married at 10:12am, on 10/12. I remember the feelings of that day so well, and now I've doubled in age since then. We've been divorced for seven years, and life has changed so much for both of us. I don't even know if he will remember the significance of this day, but I still feel the need to be thoughtful about him, and about our nearly eleven years of marriage, and the three children that were a product of that union on this day. And now that the pain has passed, and the wounds have healed, and forgiveness has been given, I can feel happiness even about the good times we shared and the lessons we both undoubtedly learned during that former life. The evidence of it, meaning those three kids, is pretty darn amazing, and makes me happy every single day.

And happy is good.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Happiness List

This is me, age 16. Joyfully happy.

I spent two days this week in a complete funk. Wanting (but not getting) to do nothing but sleep and just be left alone. (and maybe eat a lot of ice cream, which I didn't.) There are days like that, days that seem as oppressive as the smog over the city in the early morning. I don't always feel like this, so I know I'm capable of feeling happy, vibrant, light, and optimistic. But lately, life seems to take a lot of energy, and I struggle with summoning up the needed energy.

"Snap out of it," I tell myself. That rarely works.

"Be the change you wish to see in the world," I try to inspire myself. Maybe tomorrow.

"Do happy, and then you'll be happy," I remind myself. But I'm too tired to act my way to motivation.

It's easy to see everything that you wish could be different, or better. It's much harder to focus on blessings.

But then I began to conjure up images in my mind of how I want my children to think of me. Of course, before I ever had children, I had a very clear image of the kind of mother I would be. The one up before dawn, baking and setting a lovely breakfast table, fully dressed and groomed. The one cheerful and smiling, whose sparkling home was always graced with soft music, and who always had a freshly baked treat coming out of the oven. The kind of mom who walks the children to school and awaits them in the afternoon to walk home. The mom who, long after the delicious dinner has been cleaned up, and bedtime stories have been read, stays up just to talk to each child in his bed and hear about his day. And then we pray together.

Well, that was my goal. (Stop laughing. It was your goal too, and you know it.)

I have bits and pieces of that dream that actually made it to reality, and for those, I am proud. And the thing is, I realize that the closer I live to my dream, the happier I am. I feel like I am living my life with purpose, and enjoying the sacred calling of motherhood. Feeling blessed, and being buoyed by the gratitude inside of me. It's usually when I start living far beneath my dreams that I begin to feel that wallowing feeling. It sometimes starts to edge its way in when I'm living too much for me, and not for my family. I remind myself that I need to be present.

I had courage this week. After two difficult days, I decided to muster up my courage to take back my happiness. I put my school books away, and took Conor to the park. We bought popsicles, just because. We read stories, and while he napped, I baked cookies for the kids and their friends that would pour through the door. I had music playing in the background, and I smiled. At night, after Conor had been put to bed, and all I really wanted to do was go veg in my room and watch a movie until I crashed, I instead went downstairs and just sat on the couch where my two teens were still reading and studying. Because I was there, we talked. And it was nice.

The next day I realized how happy I felt, just for doing those small things that engaged me with the people I love. For me, my actions definitely affect my happiness, and being busy in pursuit of happiness keeps my mind wandering to all the needs that press on my soul and bring me down. I decided to make a list. My "Things That Make Me Happy" list. The list couldn't contain anything that was materialistic, because that kind of happy is fleeting and deceptive. Instead it was things I could do that make me happy.

First things first, like 'read my scriptures', or 'spend time in prayer', because I find it's always easier to feel happy when I feel close to the Spirit. But then also, things that nourish the essence of who I am, like 'sing the Moulin Rouge soundtrack loudly in the kitchen', and 'laugh with a friend on the phone', and 'bake cookies with Lyndsay', and 'play a boardgame with Aiden', and 'plant flowers', and 'go for a walk', and 'save some money somewhere', and 'do something for someone'. I'm going to hang my list on my bathroom mirror, so that I see it every day. I can choose daily to do things from the list to maintain and increase my happiness.

What I really want my children to think of me is that I am a happy mom, a cheerful mom, a fun-loving mom, an optimistic mom who joyfully makes the most of life. All the rest--the games, the songs, the stories, the cookies, the talks--is just the icing on top of all the happiness. And since happiness, like a funk, is contagious, I'd rather be passing along joyful germs. They can't help, I've discovered, but be infected.

Mothers are so powerful.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

From Terri, With Love

After my Teenage Boy posts, my friend, Terri Holladay, did indeed send me a private in-depth email. I loved it so much that I asked her if it would be okay for me to post it here, for you other moms to read. She happily agreed.

Terri is amazing. She and her husband, Chris, have five boys, all wonderful kids, really. I got to teach the youngest two in Primary when I lived in Show Low, and now the youngest is serving his mission. She was the mother who gave me the idea of offering to pay the kids $5000 if they didn't kiss by their 18th birthday. I think of her often, and how well she balanced the role of parent and friend to her children. Here are her words of encouragement and advice to me, and to you.

Jenna - first of all I am really flattered that you would ask me for advice - I do have five eagle scouts, five missionaries, four temple marriages and three college graduates - but I sure am NOT an expert! And yes it is normal and you will be fine! You already have the biggest thing going for you - that is the gospel is LIVED in your home, you love your children, you care and worry about where they are, who they hang out with, what they are doing, etc etc. and you strive to have daily communication with them. In the end, I think that was my best ally - just talking to them. No matter what, I could always get them to talk to me - eventually. Sometimes they want to do that independence thing - but in the end -Boys NEED their Mommies! I would often stay up late with them and just talk - much to the chagrin of their father who would be totally ticked about me keeping them up late (he was and still is a total bed Nazi!). But I did it anyway, and that is what kept us going.

I also think you have a handle on the other thing that I think is so important and that is consistency and accountability. We had rules and we STUCK to them - come heck or high water if you get my drift. The curfew was always 11:30 - not 11:31 - no discussion - if you make the choice to come in late, you will have to pay the consequence - this isn't being mean - this is teaching accountability - and it worked. They had many disappointments but they learned - they were mad, but they got happy again! In the end it taught them obedience and it sure made some great missionaries!

I am sure you know that 95% of Eagle scouts serve missions - so it is super important to complete that. We are not scouting lovers at all. But we did it because it helps them get on missions and THAT is important. They did learn great things and it has been a blessing - but love it - we didn't. But we did it and earlier was much better - you are on track. The first three were done before 16 - and Skippy just before 18 - no good! Do it early with all of them - much easier!

Jenna - you are an amazing person and a wonderful mother - I don't worry at all that your children will be faithful but it isn't easy as you know! I had to give a talk in church in June and the topic was "How to prepare to send sons on missions" I guess up my alley! Anyway, I asked each of the boys to tell me what THEY thought helped them go on missions - they said that "church attendance was always a priority" "you always talked about when I would go on a mission - not if" "praying every single day in family prayer that we would go on a mission" "being there for me in all my activities in school, church, etc - I knew I was important" Those are a few - as they moved down the line, the example of the older brothers was HUGE. Especially for Skippy - he surely did not want to be the only brother to not be an eagle, or not go on a mission - that was a very big motivator for him - so it will be a huge bonus when Dylan goes. I also give a lot of credit to Tim - he was an amazing older brother - such a great kid - believe me though he had some "attitude" with a capital A at about 15. Wow! We even have it on video! He is so embarrassed now - but hey he is human!

So hang in there - keep doing what you are doing - love them! It will work out I promise! Oh one other HUGE thing - good friends really help! How Sean ever made it on a mission I still am wondering - he just did not have great friends - not many active kids his age - but he had the brother influence and he and Skippy were best friends - so that helped a ton.

I admire you and love you!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Death by Teenage Boy, episode 1

So, the teenage boy says to me:

TB: Mom, I just want you to know that if I come home smelling like weed, I promise it's not me, it's just the people around me.

Me: (thinking, 'Compose yourself here, Jenna.') What is that supposed to mean?

TB: Nothing, I just didn't want you to freak out if I ever smell like weed, because I will never do drugs, it's just that everyone around me does, and I just don't want to get blamed.

Me: What do you mean, 'everyone around you?' Your friends? Because you shouldn't be hanging around anyone who is doing drugs.

TB: Mom, everyone does drugs.

Me: Everyone? Or just the losers?

TB: Most kids, Mom.

Me: Most kids? Or just the stupid loser kids? Your friends?

TB: Yeah.

Me: Your friends, or just people you know?

TB: People I know.

Me: Well, there's a difference. Why are you around anyone doing drugs, ever, anyway?

TB: What am I supposed to do, just jump over all the kids at school when I'm going to class?

Me: Every kid in the hallway and all over campus is smoking weed? You seriously want me to believe that?

TB: . . .and I'm just supposed to fly over them?

Me: Oh, c'mon. They're not standing in the middle of the hallway in between classes, son. I know they're doing it, but they're hiding it a little better than that. It is illegal, you know.

TB: (this news seemed to stun him a bit)

Me: You did know that smoking pot is illegal, right? It's against the law. You can go to jail. (I threw that in for good measure.) And this is junior high. Do you really expect me to believe that you have no choice but to be friends with potheads?

TB: But I'll never do drugs, Mom, I told you.

Me: Because you're so invincible? Nobody is invincible. When you're around something enough, it doesn't seem as bad. I mean, kids smoking weed is so yesterday's news to you, you'd forgotten that every kid doing it is breaking the law.

TB: (silence, and the "she doesn't understand anything look" is on his face)

Me: You've always had courage with your friends in the past. I would hope that if someone you were really friends with decided to start using drugs, that you would have the courage to say to them, 'I really like you, but if you're going to make that choice, I can't hang around you.' That's the kind of boy I've always believed you to be.

TB: (shaking head)

Me: Oh, and don't think I won't pull your butt out of there and homeschool you again, because I will. (Again, for good measure.)

Later. . .

(to Teenage Girl)

TB: Mom's mad at me because my friends smoke weed.

TG: (Gives a great lecture on her own.)

TB is a big talker, to be sure. He always has been. But these are the issues he's dealing with. I do believe that he has decided he will never do drugs, but that isn't enough. I want him to decide he also won't be friends with other kids who will do drugs, especially kids who will in junior high! And I think the 'friends' he's talking about are not really his friends, but after more probing, friends of friends' older siblings, and kids that everyone knows of at school, but still. He's already on a short leash about whose house he can go to. I prefer they all hang out here, because I know me, and I don't know all of them.

Ah, the joys of figuring out life when you're a teenager.

It's a slow death, I tell ya. For me, I mean.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Death by Teenage Boy

Don't you hate it when you're trying to have a nice moment, initiate an interesting conversation, or connect with one of your children, and all you get is a smart-alecky, flippant comment? Like they're throwing up some wall in your face with a huge yellow sign on it that reads, "Go ahead and get to me. I DARE YOU."

And the child is not trying to be mean or rude (though sometimes he is), he's just trying to get the laughs, and protect his vulnerable heart. I realize this, because shamefully, I was much the same way as a youth. Right at the climax of the moment, I'd bust it all up with some sarcastic or witty comment. I'm so regretful of that. And my punishment? Raise a child who does the same thing!

I get to feeling sometimes like nothing I say matters. He's not listening, or if he is, it's only to challenge me. Nothing I do has an impact. He's not the trusting I'll-take-your-word-for-it type, he's the I'll-see-for-myself type. And frankly, that scares me. Then we end up in a silent (and sometimes not-so-silent) battle of wills.

I get my way, but I never win.

It was so much easier when all I had to do was make sure he was bathed, and dressed, and fed. I mean, he's always been stubborn and strong-willed, but this testosterone stuff really complicates my life. He is pulling away, and yet he's challenging me to keep him close, to accept him. More experienced mothers of older boys tell me it's all natural, it's all normal, it's all fine.

I'm praying, "Please Lord, help me get this boy on a mission." I'd be lying if I claimed I don't fantasize about the letter home that says something like,

Dear Mom,
You were right, and I am so sorry.
Thank you so much.
I love you.

More experienced mothers tell me he's a good boy. He gets straight A's, he's 13 and almost an Eagle Scout. He's respectful to women, and capable. He's picked good friends and is responsible. He opens every door for me, and carries in the bags.

So what is my problem?

I guess it's facing the fact that he is pulling away, becoming a man. Facing the fact that I am not the main influence in his life anymore, and that this is the time when I have to trust that the foundation laid has been sufficient.

I think I have trust issues.

I just want all the best for him. I've been the stars in his eyes, and now it's some girl named AshleyMadisonEmilyNicoleSarah. Some girl who writes 'Sexy' on his arm in ballpoint pen, and I have to be the mean mom marching him to the sink with orders to wash it off, that we don't draw on our skin, and that 8th graders are not 'sexy', for heaven's sake, and you'd better be careful, young man.

And there I go again. I got my way. Total lost battle, though. Darn it. I think we both keep feeling like we just mess up all the time.

How come most of the questions he asks me necessitate "no" answers? ("Can I read Stephen King?" No. "Can I watch 'Braveheart'?" No. "Can I talk to girls on the phone?" No.)

How come he likes to challenge every single thing I say? No, seriously, every single thing.

How come he bugs every person in this house just to be a pain?

Can you tell? I'm not very good at this.

(Terri Holladay, if you're reading this, I really need an in-depth private email with wisdom about raising teenage boys!)