Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pearly Whites

Exactly 23 months ago today, on February 27, 2008, Lyndsay and I sat in the office of the orthodontist, a little bit nervous, and a lot excited. Braces! Remember that day? The whole 'jewelry for your teeth' thing?

Well, today, January 27, 2010, they came off! We found out last week today would be the day and we counted down, still a little bit nervous and a lot excited. We did the "This is your last Monday with braces on!" and "This is your last dinner with braces on!" About everything.
Lyndsay remained true and faithful to her pledge to not chew gum--not one single piece--the whole time. Here is Dylan, right before he left for school, equipping her with her first piece of post-braces gum. What a brother.

I had to get one last snapshot of her before we went into the office. Why was my stomach such a bundle of nerves, anyway? Well, I've come to love that shiny metal on her teeth. Her perfectly straight teeth. And I also knew what would happen when they came off. I knew she would look like an adult. And I'm dying for her to stay a kid. Tears!

I had to be back there for the momentous occasion.

Do all moms cry when they see the braces sitting there, all alone and unattached? Like they're some metal umbilical cord or something? You know I'm horrible with goodbyes when I cry at the detached braces. I almost asked to keep them. (I kinda regret not doing it.)

And see what I mean? So grown up. I can hardly stand it. I mean, it seriously takes my breath away.
My girl. The straightest teeth ever. (I'm so, so grateful.)

Congratulations, Lyndsay! Now smile for the world!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Positive Silence

Two of my favorite new words.

Dr. John Lund defines true love as "any thought, word, or deed that is supportive of the 'loved one' becoming his or her healthiest and best self."

However, he goes on to say to that, "Professed love absent of loving behaviors will never convince anyone he or she is loved."

He continues, "Toxic people in the process of reforming have a difficult time loving those who are less than perfect. Without tolerating the intolerable, without assuming that loving them is approving of everything they stand for, what about loving them because you are a good person, not because they are perfect? Do you have to focus on the flaw? Do you really feel that your job is to be constantly correcting others? Why do you persist in seeing only what loved ones are not, rather than seeing the good that is in them?"

The trick then, is to let others feel my acceptance, affection, and appreciation as an end in itself, because I am a good person. The goal is to empower love.

One of the ways to do that is to make sure that the positive far outweighs the negative in our expressions to those whom we love. Many times in our relationships, people cannot hear or feel our love through the dark and confusing cloud of negativism.

Another is to learn to give a compliment to others with a period and a smile at the end, and not a 'but'. I will forever have seared into my memory a time when with great excitement I waited for my (first) husband to come home from work so I could show him how hard I'd worked in deep cleaning the kitchen. As he looked around at my efforts, he replied, "The kitchen looks great, but you forgot the top of the refrigerator." He wasn't trying to be mean to me. I am short, he is tall. I had neglected to see the top of the fridge. He probably thought he was being helpful. Yes, I am well acquainted with trying to be helpful with my compliments. Doesn't work. What I remember, all these years later, was that my efforts were flawed and incomplete.

And then there is Positive Silence. What a novel idea! (You mean I don't always have to say something?)

Stopping toxic or negative behaviors begins with recognizing them, and then learning to replace them with something positive. Remember the advice Thumper's mother gave to him? "If you can't say somethin' nice, don't say nothin' at all."

So, rather than being judgmental, be silent.

Rather than mocking, scorning, or belittling, be silent.

Instead of playing "Devil's Advocate" or defending the opposite, be silent.

Instead of contradicting or correcting others, be silent.

Rather than interrupting conversations or stories, be silent.

Instead of a message of nonacceptance, be silent.

Rather than complain, be silent.

Rather than a reference to a past failure, be silent.

Instead of pointing out the 'unfairness' of life, be silent.

Instead of sarcasm, be silent.

Positive silence is learning to control the impulse to comment verbally or to display a negative countenance. It means not just not saying something negative, but also having neutral or positive facial expression and body language.

It's hard.

But it works. And it's amazing when you first start implementing positive silence and people notice. They look to you with a drum roll in their eyes waiting for you to make your witty, negative, sarcastic, complaining comment. And when it doesn't come, there is a very pleasant, though unexpected void. And then, when things pick up again, there is this tremendous feeling of not just positivity, but triumph inside!

And that just made others feel a teensy bit safer around you.

And you know what people can feel when they feel safe?


Monday, January 25, 2010

Highest and Best Self

I read the Porcupine Book. Again. I feel like as I've been searching and praying for answers about myself as a wife, a mother, and a person, I have been blessed with pieces of the puzzle of truth that come before me. Because I'm asking. Because I'm ready. And I have the intent to do something. The Porcupine Book has definitely given me some pieces of the puzzle.

Over and over, Dr. John Lund reminds us that whether toxic or not, the only person I have any control over is me. My goal should be to decide how I think a good person would act in any given situation and then live my life striving to be my highest and best self. Part of that must also be giving everyone around me permission to have whatever kind of life they want to have, and whatever kind of relationships they want to have. While it seems so obvious, it has been liberating for me!

It reminds me of years ago when Adam and I first went to see a marriage counselor and were discussing issues relative to blending our two families together. The Sabbath Day issue was a big one. With my children, the Sabbath had been observed a bit differently than what Adam was used to. He allowed his kids to do things that I never had. Our children sensed the Great Divide and the Sabbath became anything but reverent. I told the therapist that I thought the Sabbath should be a day of study and prayer and worship. Reading scriptures, writing in journals, writing letters, listening to music.

And her answer? "Well, then you do that."

Her point was that my example would have far more effect than would my guilt trips and manipulation, trying to control everyone into submission and ruining any chance for a sacred day. And as a side benefit, it would certainly prevent the resentment I was feeling from showing its ugly head. She was right. I had taught my family the purpose of the Sabbath. That is my job. But forcing them or guilting them to do anything is wrong. And completely useless. If they have been taught, and then I go about living the way that makes me happy, then my example and my resulting happiness will be the most powerful tool I have to influence my children. Amazing how that has changed the atmosphere of the Sabbath around here, especially the feeling that I carry in my heart.

Part of my goal to become less toxic has been to implement that lesson. My aim is to become my highest and best self. I also want to inspire my children to do good, not compel them to. I read my scriptures in large part because I always saw my father read his scriptures. I knew how important they were to him, and I loved him, so I came to value what was important to him, and my life has been blessed because of my love for the scriptures. I'm sure he did sometimes, but I don't remember him harping on me to read my scriptures. I just remember him reading his.

I feel full and at peace when I nourish my spirit. Reading the scriptures and writing in my journal helps me to do that. I determined to do those two things in the presence of my children so that they could see their mother in action. It was a simple change to make. I now read my scriptures and write nightly in my journal downstairs on the couch instead of tucked away in my bedroom with the door closed. Without me ever saying a word about it, I want them to see what I do to work on my spirit, what I value, what I am willing to spend my time doing.

It is amazing how much stronger I feel when I take care of me. That is my goal this year. It's astonishing to me how much more confidence I have in the Lord to help me with my children, my marriage, my schooling, and my other concerns when I put in just a little time each day to fill my tank. I am in awe at how much more love I feel for my husband, how much more understanding I have for my children, how much less judgment I feel for others when I am taking care of me. It's as though when I neglect myself, I turn to a life of self-betrayal and justification to quiet the nagging inside of my empty soul. It's as though because I'm so out of control of myself, I flip the switch on overdrive and try to control everyone else around me. Well, that doesn't work, let me tell you.

It's not even as if I didn't know this stuff on an intellectual level before. I suppose it's more that I just wasn't really ready to see how it all applied to me. I am so grateful to have wide open eyes now. I feel like I've just been given a key to unlock a room brimming with happiness.

*this week I will share some of the things that I am implementing so that I can be my highest and best self. I would love to hear your ideas and suggestions for what works for you too.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Garden Beginnings

Oh, happy day!

Do you know what is in these boxes? My garden beds! I have been working so hard to get the finances in order and save money to be able to finally have a garden this year. I've been dreaming about it, reading about it, and planning about it for years. I always had a garden when I lived in Arizona and have missed gardening so much. Renting, as we do here, got me to feeling that it wasn't worth the investment of time and energy. But since we've been here for over four years now, and since I have felt on so many levels the importance and need for a family garden, I decided to find a way to have my garden and keep it too. Raised beds! A one-time investment. The day they arrived on the front porch was truly amazing. Finally, we can do this! I cannot wait!

Here is what the yard looked like at first. When I planted the front yard's grass, I also roto-tilled the backyard as a first step in preparation. Since then, the walnut tree has dropped all of its leaves and some random grass has grown.

The boys opened the boxes of cedar wood frames.

I like these because they are so easy to assemble. They are guaranteed for 30-40 years, and if we ever move, we can just take them apart and bring them with us.

I love having strong boys around to do the heavy lifting.

Helpful and cooperative boys are even better than strong ones. I have both!

Lyndsay and I got to work raking and leveling the yard, which proved to be a lot more work than we anticipated. We borrowed our neighbor's level to help us get the ground nice and flat.

Even when it was getting dark I wanted to keep working because I was so excited.

Conor's job was to hammer in the pins that hold the beds together. He did such a good job!

The boys worked to assemble the beds in place as Lyndsay and I worked to level the ground for the next one.
This is the next day, with all four beds built and in place. We have three 4' x 8' beds, with two foot walkways between them, and a 2' x 12' bed in the back, which will be for vining and climbing plants. Everything is carefully measured and squared.

Here is the first of three vertical growing frames that Adam built for me from 1/2" electrical conduit and elbow joints. We used 6' lengths and a 4' crossbar. There will be a strong nylon netting attached for the plants to grow on, but I haven't purchased that yet.

Here are our soil ingredients. We are primarily following methods described in the books Square Foot Gardening and The Sustainable Vegetable Garden. For the soil, we mixed peat moss, steer manure, organic compost, and vermiculite.

Dylan and I did the soil mixing together. We first poured it all in the beds, and then we got on our knees and hand mixed it for over an hour. We talked about the necessary elements for root, green leaves, and fruit growth, and how miraculous soil is. We talked about a lot of other things too. Sometimes we just mixed soil in silence. It was wonderful spending that time together with our cool, soft dirt.

It turns out I didn't quite buy enough compost, as the beds are not quite as full as I'd like them, but we'll get some more soon.

Just look at that beautiful, sacred soil!

We are now having the beginning of the anticipated week of rains. I am glad we got the beds assembled and filled before that began. It took us an evening and a day of work, and it was great fun. Soon I will be starting the seeds and life will begin in the garden. Yay!

Monday, January 11, 2010


I woke up last Monday morning, straight out of a deep sleep, jazzed with an idea. A surprise party! For Dylan! His birthday would be on Wednesday, and he would celebrate with his dad, but the custom has always been that when he gets home, we plan a party for him here too, and sometimes invite some friends. If I planned the party, and held it Saturday night, the day he got home, he would never see it coming. It was the perfect idea.

My relationship with Dylan has been a source of worry and much prayer over the last year. As he grows into manhood and pulls away from me, sometimes we find ourselves engaged in a tug-of-war of wills. Sometimes he feels that I just don't understand him. His love language is gifts, and I knew that this act, if I could pull it off, would speak to his heart and he would feel loved.

I immediately got on Facebook and enlisted the help of one of Dylan's good friends, who was more than willing. I went through his list of friends and started sending private messages, making sure everyone knew it was a surprise. I called Lyndsay in Arizona and let her in on the secret and she took over a few invites. I spent the rest of the week neck-deep in birthday plans, tracking down friends, trying to dig around to find out who he would want there. Since he was turning 14, I was even going to surprise him by inviting all of his girl friends--who before have not been allowed to come for parties. I ordered a cake (the first time EVER that I have purchased a cake for one of my kids' birthdays, but I couldn't have anything suspicious.) I ordered a six-foot sub sandwich with all of his favorite meats, I borrowed party supplies, and picked up a few others from the dollar store.

I could hardly sleep each night. Each morning as I walked, I would go over details so everything would go off without a hitch. We had a few setbacks. . .two of Dylan's good friends (twins) I could not find anywhere. No FB, old phone number, nobody else knew how to get a hold of them. Most of the ten girls I invited couldn't make it for one reason or another, and we had a few last minute cancellations, which bummed me out. But still, things were looking good. I kept my fingers crossed, since pulling things over on a teenager, with a whole bunch of other teenagers as your accomplices is no easy task. But everyone seemed so excited to help out.

I picked up the kids at the airport at 10:30 that morning. The trick was getting Dylan out of the house for an hour so we could pull it all together. Adam and I decided to do the whole "Sean and Caitlin are spending the weekend with us" thing, but Sean was already at our house. So, Sean came up with the idea to tell Dylan about this cool knife he got for Christmas and entice Dylan to go with him to see it when they picked up Caitlin. Caitlin, who would take a suspiciously long time "fixing her hair". (wink, wink.)

The guests were told to arrive at 6:30pm. Adam left with Dylan and Sean at 6pm, and I flew out the door after them, with Aiden in tow, to pick up the cake, the sub sandwich, and the ice. Meanwhile at home, Lyndsay and two prearranged early-arriving guests got to blowing up balloons and stringing streamers across the room. It was so much fun, all the anticipation. I knew Dylan would never, ever see this coming.

The guests all showed up. The house was decorated. The food was spread out. Adam gave us a signal call that he was getting off the freeway, and we turned off the lights and waited.
I wish you all could have been there. Waiting for Dylan was seriously better than waiting for Santa.

When he walked into the house and the lights flew on and everyone yelled "Surprise!", he was sent into a state of shock, instantly. He kept looking around, like his whole world had been turned upside-down and inside-out. He couldn't put it all together, how all of these friends--many of whom had never been to our house before--were all sitting here in his livingroom. And as it began to dawn on him how deep the deception had gone, how everyone had been in on it, how the drive to get Caitlin, the knife, the hair, how it all had been planned, I could see that he was struggling to take in the reality of the fact that he, Dylan Todd, who knows everything, didn't know THIS. We got him GOOD.

In fact, the first hour of the party, he sat in a sort of catatonic state, mentally going over in his mind how far back the trickery had gone, and what had actually been real over the last week. At one point, I went over to him and put my arm around him and said, "Are you okay? I mean, is all of this okay?" And he just said, "Yes! I love it! I just. I just. I've just never been surprised before." (insert evil laughter here)

He snapped out of it, and the kids, the whole rowdy bunch of them, had a great time. It was so gratifying. He thanked me over and over. I knew that the most important goal had been accomplished:
Dylan felt loved and cared for. He knew I'd done it all for him. Because he's worth it to me.
Now, that was fun.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Tomorrow morning my children come home after their three week Christmas visit with their dad.

Words cannot express my excitement.

I have learned to take full advantage of our absences, and this morning I realized how similar to pregnancy these absences are. The three weeks follow the same pattern as the three trimesters do for me. The first trimester of a pregnancy, I am sick, sick, sick. I barf many times every single day and all I want to do is lay in bed, though that never happens. Usually the first week without my children home, I am a lazy sloth. A lazy sloth without much guilt. I never, ever have the chance to wake up without an alarm clock, catch up on movies and reading, slack on the housework, and pay little attention to cooking when the kids are all here, and I know I'm not a lazy sloth by nature, so I indulge for a time, and then it passes. As does morning sickness.

In my second trimester, I am so relieved to be eating and feeling well again, that I break out the Kathy Smith Pregnancy Workout video. I feel powerful and alive and unconquerable. Similarly, in the second week without my children, I am full of ambition and goals. At New Year's time, this works especially well. I reevaluate my life and my relationships, and I spend time with God trying to figure out what needs tweaking and how to best do it. I usually focus on taking care of myself and recommitting to things like exercise, eating well, vitamins, journal writing, scripture study, and prayer. I planned a garden, just a small garden, that kept me up at night in pure joy. Indulgent in all the right ways, the ways that fill my soul, and it's wonderful.

As I round the bed in the third trimester of pregnancy, I feel the excitement in the air. I am struggling to keep up with all my goals, and feeling eager for the next stage to begin. I usually throw in some project before the baby comes. Sewing the crib set. Stenciling the bedroom. Staining the deck, or painting the shutters. As I anticipate my children's return in the third week, I try to keep up the second week's ambition, and then, I've noticed, I add a project for fun. Last year it was painting the entire downstairs to surprise the kids, remember? This year...well, another surprise, and I'm so excited about it. Hopefully, last minute details will come together nicely. (and then I'll tell you afterwards!) I also find things to deep clean. Like the kitchen cupboards, or the walls. A stage of nesting, all over again.

Getting ready for my baby birds, who will be flying home tomorrow. I must get the nest prepared for a soft, safe, happy landing.

Oh, happy day! Or, at least, Oh Happy Day Eve.