Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hitting the Road

Tomorrow, after I run out to Pasadena to take an exam, the kids and I are hitting the road on a trip up to San Francisco for my mom's wedding. She's marrying David, whom we all love, her partner of the last many years. I've never been up to her neck of the woods, and as a bonus, one of my dearest friends lives up there too, and we'll be staying with her and her family. It's a quick trip, but a long drive (about 6-7 hours), so preparation is key.

I've done a lot of driving with my kids. For many years, I drove them ten hours to and from Arizona on trips to visit their dad, so I know all about what to expect. It isn't always pretty. Or peaceful. Or fun. But much can be done to make the best of things. I am so excited to have my kids all to myself, with no friends, no internet, no cell phones, no iPods. It's gonna be great.

I thought I would share my Mom's Magic Bag with you. It starts with a great bag, this one from my amazing friend Luisa. She brought it back for me from London and I LOVE everything about it. My Mom's Magic Bag has all the essential tools for bored kids. I take it to Stake Conference, doctor's office waiting rooms, and anywhere else that the kids might have too much time sitting and waiting. Of course car trips. And I switch the goods inside appropriately, but here is what is coming with us on the road:

Sometimes, a little silly game is just plain fun, no matter the age, but I try to keep something for everyone. I have mini Etch-a-Sketches, a mini Simon game, three 20 Questions games, little get-the-ball-in-the-hole games (whatever they're called), a Seek and Find (mostly for Conor, but all the kids use it--it's never the same twice!), and some children's stories and songs on tape.

There's also some notepads, some magazines, some mazes, word searches, and Sudoku pads, sharpened pencils, and some big kid talks on tape.

I also tuck a few movies and the little DVD player in the bag.

Then, I made Road Trip Bundles for each of the kids. The cover is a map of California, so they can follow our journey. Inside are all kinds of games and activities (most of them in double so they can play on the way up, and on the way home). I found great printable pages on Mom's Minivan. Here you can see one of the Road Trip Bingo games (they each get a pack of Skittles for markers), and a License Plate Game (gotta have one!) The License Plate Game for the trip home is just a map of the US that they have to color in as they spot a license plate from that state.

There's even several grids to play Road Trip Battleship, how cool is that?

There's also a Travel Scavenger Hunt. Here's Conor's version, with pictures. The older kids have a more challenging list to find. Their bundles also have Tic-Tac-Toe boards, Line and Dot games, Sudokus, and Word Searches. Plenty for both ways. And prizes? Oh, I've got prizes (I'm all about the prizes), and they all begin with chocolate.

We're packing our own food. We have little mini chicken salad sandwiches on croissants for a picnic lunch, with juices and fruit. I have treats and crackers, and of course my famous Trail Mix. The kids love this, so they each get a baggie for the way up, and the way back. You can do whatever you want with a trail mix, but here's what I put in ours: pretzels, goldfish, yogurt raisins (or dark chocolate raisins, whichever), some kind of M&Ms, dried cranberries, raw almonds, and raw cashews.

So yummy. And a little health tucked in there too.

So tomorrow we're off! Getting there should be interesting. My new GPS that I got for Christmas? Yeah, it died tonight for some reason. The first time I actually really need to use it, and it just won't turn on. It's under warranty, and apparently this is a common problem, but I need it tomorrow! And oh yeah, my printer ran out of ink today, so I'll have to have Adam print off a gazillion directions for each leg of our visit from Map Quest.

But nothing can stop us! Some time tomorrow, if you live in California, open your doors and windows. As I drive by, you'll hear me singing my heart out! You'll have my children's sympathies.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Pizza Pie

I grew Swiss chard in my garden because somewhere I saw (probably in a seed catalog) where it said that Swiss chard was so easy to grow it should be included in every garden. Well, I couldn't be left out of that group, so I planted three squares of Swiss chard (4 plants to a square). I had no idea what to do with it when it grew. And it grew.

But then I saw my garden-inspired sister toss out the idea to slice it up and put it on a veggie pizza. Brilliant! So, I harvested several leaves/stalks (whatever you call Swiss chard) and a whole pile of spinach and sliced it up thin. I also added the baby broccoli sprouts coming in. Using the easy and always reliable recipes from My Kitchen Cafe, I whipped up some pizza dough and homemade sauce and mounded the veggies on top. So much so that my husband was excited about the prospect of pizza until he walked into the kitchen and saw them and changed his mind. I put the cheese (fresh mozzarella, only fresh) on top of all the greens and when they were done, he was so relieved to see how much greens shrink when cooked.

He was also relieved to find that they were delicious. That's right, baby. I'll get those greens in you one way or the other!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Baby Food

The garden is bursting with life! When I think about the years that I dreamed about my garden, and read books about gardening to keep me feeling connected to the process when I couldn't actually participate, and how I planned it all out on paper. . . and then planted each little seed in a seedling tray and had my boys build me my raised beds according to my plans, and we started our little garden. . . and then, well, I look out my back window?

It is good. And I am loving it. We are on the verge of having so much food!

Here are some pictures of the progress. The broccoli plants were huge, and now the cauliflower plants are right on their heels. Here is Conor standing next to a cauliflower plant.

This is the first bed, with lettuce and tomatoes, mostly. The tomatoes have really grown in the last three weeks and create nice shade for the lettuce, which, as it gets warmer, probably won't have much time left.

This is the second bed, with the cauliflower, spinach, green beans, and more red leaf lettuce.

The third bed with broccoli, Swiss chard, more beans, and sugar snap peas. And the Roma tomatoes.
And the back bed with the Heirloom tomatoes, the garden peas, carrots, zucchini, parsley, and cilantro. The sugar snap peas, which I am so excited about, have blossoms!

This is cool. Once you harvest the large main head of broccoli in the center of the plant, the plant continues to put out little baby broccoli shoots in each of the stem junctions. This is perfect for clipping and putting on top of a veggie pizza.

The zucchini have blossoms now! Yay! I have so many plans for zucchini!

The garden peas will be ready to harvest very soon. I am so excited to sit with the kids around the table and shell peas. Talk about a good time.

The Heirloom tomatoes all have blossoms. This is a Tennessee Spears, a green tomato.

More broccoli! I planted broccoli several times, to extend our harvest. Good thing!

And my first planting of cauliflower will be ready to harvest soon!

We'll be up to our eyeballs in green beans. I have over sixty green bean plants, and they each have little baby beans on them. So cute!

Here are the (still green) baby cherry tomatoes. These usually don't even make it into the house because of grazing children.

Isn't it so wonderful? I feel like singing! And I'm already making plans for what to plant next!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bury the Weapon

I wept last night. Alone, privately, in my bedroom. That morning Adam and I had argued, hurtful and hateful. Both of us buried with pain, misunderstandings, and resentments. My children, our child, heard all of it. And though, when it was over, I'd gone downstairs and tearfully apologized to each of them, expressing my remorse and my guilt, I knew irreparable damage had been done.

I am so weak.

I hurt so deeply from within that I find myself ready to wield the sword of my angry voice, cutting deep, rather than risk being wounded any further. It doesn't work.

I have struggled my entire life. There are so many good things about me, things that make me proud to be me. Virtues that humble me and thrill me, all at the same time. I have strengths that others dream of, and I feel so, so blessed. But I yell too often. I've gotten better over the years, but not good enough. It doesn't matter any more that I'm Italian, or that I'm the oldest of nine loud children. I don't want my raised voice to be the first thing people think of when they think of me.

I refuse the excuse of poor behavior that is so often used: "That's just who I am!" No sir. I'm much better than my worst. And I can change.

As I prayed and pondered yesterday, trying to unearth myself from the gripping and smothering hold this weakness has on me, a story came to my mind.

In the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ, a book of scripture I believe to be the word of God, in complement to the Bible, there is a story of a group of people who called themselves the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. This seems like a weird name, but their story pressed upon my mind with a force I'd never before appreciated.

The Anti-Nephi-Lehies had been part of a group of people called the Lamanites. Throughout most of the Book of Mormon, the Lamanites are, for lack of a better term, "The Bad Guys." The Nephites (AKA "The Good Guys", mostly) spend much of their history trying to defend themselves in battle against the wicked and murderous Lamanites, and during times of peace, trying to reconvert them to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through sacrifice and pain, the missionary Ammon taught many of these violent and bloodthirsty people the gospel and they repented of their evil ways. As a token to God of their repentance, they dug a huge hole and buried all of their weapons of war, in a sense, burying their past and their sins, as they moved forward in a new life devoted to Jesus Christ. They changed their name to the Anti-Nephi-Lehies.

Later, when the wicked Lamanites came against them to battle, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies refused to take up arms, even in their defense, because of the covenant they had made with God to never again shed the blood of men. They would rather die than return to their old ways. As the Lamanite army advanced, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, prostrated themselves on the ground and submitted their lives to the enemy, calling upon God and praising Him in the very act of being killed. Well, it isn't very satisfying to fight against someone who doesn't fight back and the Lamanites soon stopped their attack, shocked by the change that had come over their former brethren. So affected were they, if fact, that many of them dropped their weapons and repented, and more Lamanites were converted to the Gospel that day than the number of Anti-Nephi-Lehies who had been slain.

It's a beautiful story of redemption and the power to change. And I decided that I needed to bury my weapons of war too. I cannot yell and scream. No matter my hurt, no matter the injustice, I cannot inflict any more pain on others, especially those whom I love.

Last night, as I wept in my bedroom, I dug a hole in my mind. A hole big enough for my big, loud voice. My angry, hurtful words, my stinging tone, my cutting come-backs. I buried them all. And then I cried more because now I feel completely vulnerable, like a Lamanite warrior who has just buried his sword. Now I must rely on other means. Those hard ones, like long-suffering, patience, forgiveness. I can still express my feelings, but I must do so differently now if I want to truly win. And 'winning' may mean something entirely different after all.

This morning, during scripture study, I told my children about the hole I dug, and the weapons I buried. I begged for their help, as I'm sure to forget, bound to slip and fall. And you know what they said?

They're with me. They forgive me. They'd like to toss some weapons in the hole too.

And they love me.

Now the work begins. Day One, weapon free.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Remembering, The Conclusion

This is the last in a 5 part series. To read them in order, scroll down to Part One, and read up.

One evening, years ago, we were camping with a group of friends. All of our young children had been put to bed in the tents, and the adults were sitting around the campfire playing Tell-All games. The question came to me: "Jenna, what's the worst thing you've ever done?"

I know why I got that question. People tend to think I'm Molly-Mormon, prudish, and Mary Poppins-ish. They want to hear that the worst thing I've ever done is take a sip of a caffeinated soda, so they can laugh and prove their point. Believe me, in just about every realm of my life I am far, far from perfection. But I knew the answer to his question. I knew immediately what the worst thing I'd ever done was. And I knew it topped his, and nobody thought he was squeaky clean.

I hung my head. My husband slipped his arm around my shoulders. A silence fell over the group.

"What?" he probed, adding jokingly, "It's not like you ever killed anyone."

And I started to cry. I didn't mean to make him feel awkward. I told that group of friends the story of the accident. It was really the first time I'd ever told people, except for my husband and a few close friends.

It just goes to show that you never know what's locked up inside a person's heart. I get lovingly (and sometimes not so lovingly) teased about always wanting to be good. There was probably always part of that in me, just inherently in my nature, but there's something about an accident that brings you, literally, inches away from death and then releases you for a second chance, that obligates you to do your best. And, there's something about causing someone else's death, even accidentally, that forever keeps you wanting to make up for it. I owe it to Yvonne.

For many months following the accident, I was plagued with flashbacks and nightmares. True to my hopes, I was engaged that July, and married in October. We moved to Arizona and began our new life together. The first year of marriage is traditionally hard in the best of circumstances, but it was even more so as I struggled to make peace with the past and decide that if my life had been spared, then I certainly must be worthy of some semblance of happiness. That was a difficult balance to find. It seemed wrong to laugh too hard, or too often. It seemed unfair to enjoy life, in the wake of what had happened. I just got to go on with my life, and Yvonne's family was in a very different sphere.

I came to see, although slowly, that that was part of the point.

Heavenly Father loves each of His children infinitely. Each of us is on a path custom and lovingly designed for our specific journey through life. We each only have an appointed time here on earth. That particular day, her decision to not wear her seat belt was as integral as my decision to get out of my car and go back in the house for a last minute trip to the bathroom. For some reason unknown to me, Yvonne's time on earth had come to an end. Mine had not. For some reason, Yvonne's family needed to learn the lessons heartwrenchingly attached to losing a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend.

My accident was truly that. An accident. I didn't mean to do it, and I now know that despite what I feared for a long time, God does not hold me accountable for Yvonne's death. It brought about purposes only known by God above. It was a catalyst of learning and growth for both families affected. I had lessons to learn through the experience myself. Probably the biggest one being forgiveness, ironically.

I don't know how Yvonne's family views me. I don't know whether or not I have been forgiven by them. It's a difficult thing to be on the end of needing forgiveness. This has been a great life lesson for me, because what we need, we must be willing to give. I have no right to withhold forgiveness if I expect to be forgiven. And I have tried to be quick to forgive throughout my life. Heaven knows I've been tested with that one too. But in a quieter chamber of my heart, I have had to learn to forgive myself. One would think it would be easier to give oneself what one needs, but it has proven to be much harder for me.

But finally, not at once, but a little each year, it has come. I will never forget. The events of that day, and the ensuing months will forever be a sort of sacred, reverent memory, but I have forgiven myself.

I recently told my children about the accident. Funny, how children think they know everything there is to know about their parents. I wanted them to see me as a person, not just as their mother. A person who is riddled with mistakes, some of which had life-changing consequences. I wanted them to see me as real and vulnerable, and as a woman who has been humbled and endured suffering to overcome it and grow stronger.

It used to be that I thought of Yvonne and the accident every day. Throughout the years, it changed to every week, then every several weeks, then once a month, and now at varying times throughout the year. But always, without fail, I take time to remember on May 15. I think of Yvonne. I thank Yvonne. Our lives collided, literally, sending us in opposite directions in that real and metaphorical intersection. I have grown to love Yvonne, a woman I have never met, and yet hope to one day. I do not take lightly the chance I was given to keep living. Besides in my journal, where I still have the folded up newspaper article, this is the only time I have ever written out the events of the accident. Many people close to me have never heard these details, and I will probably never write them out again. The time had come to just embrace all of me, the successes, and the terrible, terrible mistakes, and give them all equal credit for helping to mold me into the woman I am today.

Shortly after my accident, two signs were posted at the intersection of Cove Road and Route 130 in New Jersey. One reads, "Dangerous Intersection." The other, "No Turn on Red". Oh, if only that sign had been there for me.

And yet, what if it had? How much more would I have lost? What life lessons have I gleaned from this experience that I would have been deprived of?

Maybe, from a more heavenly perspective, it was no accident at all.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Remembering, Part Four

It was an accident.

That's what everyone kept telling me. But accidents are spilled drinks and torn pages, not dead people. Every time someone tried to console me with "it was an accident," I wanted to punch them in the face. I was now not only the girl who ran the red light, I was the girl who killed someone. That's a heavy label. And I stuck it hard and fast to my forehead with Superglue.

Yvonne was a mother. Her children were grown, but no doubt they weren't ready for life without mom. Yvonne was a woman, a daughter, a sister, a friend. Yvonne was dead, and I had killed her. And yet, we called it an accident.

Truly, it was. Sitting behind that white moving truck for so long, I thought the light had turned green. Really, the truck driver had made a right turn on the red light. Thankfully, I guess, he had made his right turn with plenty of room in traffic, or I would have been slammed on the driver's side by oncoming traffic as I inched into the intersection unaware. Thankfully, I guess, I had been wearing my seat belt. Yvonne had not. The investigator said that had she had her seat belt on, she would have survived the crash.

But still.

I stayed in Arizona for almost a month. When I got home, I received notification that my license would be suspended for 30 months, and that there was a warrant out for my arrest. I found that second part out from one of my dry cleaning cops, who came into the store and told me. "Did you know I'm supposed to arrest you?" he said with a smile. Wait, what? Apparently, the notice to appear in court had been delivered to the wrong address for my father's law office, and so it went unopened. We missed the court date, and now I was Wanted. I called my dad, who made other phone calls, and the date was rescheduled. That date was dark. Oh, how it loomed.

I remember exactly the Sunday dress I wore to appear before the judge. To face the children of the woman I had killed. I remember the pit in my stomach, the sweat on my palms, how my legs trembled. A few things worked in my favor, again, divinely. First, to repeat, my father represented me. The attorney representing the other family was a friend of his, and the judge was the father of a kid I'd gone to high school with. The investigator and the police knew me. I wasn't some troubled kid. I was a barely turned 18 year old, graduated-early, straight-A, never-been-in-trouble little girl. And sadly, it had been an accident. Because of those factors, charges were changed and combined to lesser offenses, and the attorney representing Yvonne's family told me not to worry, that he had no issue with seeking the lesser punishments allowed by law.

I stood before the judge and cried as Yvonne's children shouted out in the courtroom, "She killed my mother!" "My mother's dead!" I could see the compassion in the judge's eyes as he listened. He felt sorry for both of us, but wanted me to be able to move on with my life since her death had obviously not been a willful act.

I had to pay a maximum fine, plus court costs and fees. My license was suspended for the 30 months. And I was given a suspended sentence of 15 days in jail, pending any moving violation in the state of NJ within a year.

I was grateful for mercy.

I was also emotionally exhausted, and filled with the pain of facing Yvonne's family. Walking out of the courtroom, I was consumed with terror that her son would chase me down in the parking lot and kill me in revenge. Or, later he would find me. And I would deserve it. I am amazed, still, that my father walked by my side. And I felt safe.

Facing the legal ramifications of my actions was difficult. But the greater challenge would be learning to forgive myself. I couldn't let myself off so easy.

. . .to be concluded tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Remembering, Part Three

Her name was Yvonne.

I was across the country in sunny Arizona, in the comforting arms of the man I loved and would soon marry. She was lying in a hospital bed in Cooper Hospital in critical condition. Though I was far away, my thoughts were constantly of her. I prayed for her recovery. I asked others to pray for her recovery. I fasted for her. When I spoke with my dad on the phone, I asked if he might find a way to go to the hospital and offer her a healing priesthood blessing. I felt my faith hinged on whether or not Heavenly Father would heal her. And amongst the other feelings I was wrestling with, I felt peace concerning her.

But I was also dealing with a very real darkness. Even 2000 miles away, I couldn't close my eyes without the awful crash replaying in my mind's eye in slow motion. Over and over again, that terrible impact. The jolt as my body flew back in my seat, the crushing and grating of the metal of our cars, the sight of her van flipping and turning, brakes screeching, her body flying through the windshield. Every night for over a week I awoke from nightmares, my heart racing and my pajamas soaked with sweat. I would sob silently in my bed, alone in the bedroom of my grandmother's house. And I prayed that God would take me instead of her. I was the one who deserved to be suffering. The guilt I felt was overwhelming and shadowed everything.

I called home, and though my mother was positive and encouraging to me, things were not so good. Dad's new business venture was not panning out and there had been no income as expected. The family was without a car. My mom was working my job at the dry cleaners and that money was hardly enough to cover the needs of ten people. Several of my siblings let me know of their anger and resentment toward me. They felt I had added to their "suffering" and yet here I was off in Arizona having a great time. As if things were that easy. They said some horrible things to me, which only compounded my guilt and reinforced my desire to just be gone. To have my lot in life exchanged for Yvonne's. I felt that I had irreversibly screwed life up for everyone.

I give my parents so much credit for their gentleness with me. Never once did they lecture me. Never once did they even tell me about how my "accident" had magnified their worries and stress, financially and otherwise. I knew that their insurance premiums would go through the roof, but never once did they mention it to me. I knew that my dad would have to face his business partner and explain why he was even letting his teenage daughter drive his expensive car, but it wasn't rubbed in my face. To me, they were the perfect parents during that time. They must have known how my soul was already wracked, how I already felt this way and that, how I'd already learned more lessons than I ever wanted to learn. How ashamed I was to face anyone. How deeply, deeply sorry I was.

It's odd now, when I read back in my journal of those weeks. This terrible thing had happened, leaving many questions unanswered, leaving me feeling guilty, and weak, and so unworthy. And yet parallel to that I was on the verge of becoming engaged. I was courting the man who would soon take me to the temple. It literally was the best of times and the worst of times. At the same time. But I never felt the best without the worst glaring down at me, and it was difficult.

I tried. My boyfriend was a great support to me. He let me be a mess, and he helped me to feel strong and of good faith. He gave me priesthood blessings. We spent time with friends, we saw movies, we swam, we enjoyed good food. And we were each praying about whether or not to be married.

One morning I called my mom again for news at home. Things were a little better, looking up for Dad and work. But what I really wanted to know was how the woman was doing in the hospital. Had there been any word? Mom hesitated. She said she wasn't supposed to talk about anything until I got home, but I insisted, and Mom doesn't hide the truth well.

Yvonne had died.

. . .to be continued

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Remembering, Part Two

My voice was shaking as I explained to my mom that there had been an accident. I stood at the front counter of the pizza joint a kind man had helped me into. My knees were trying hard not to buckle as the realization that the scene I had just witnessed was my fault settled deeply and heavily into my bones.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

"I'm okay," I quivered, "but there's another lady, Mom. Please come."

I don't know how she got there, but she did, and I remember that she held me, and didn't ask many questions.

Soon, there was a helicopter. Firetrucks. Police. An ambulance. Walking out of the restaurant and back into the highway, I craned my neck to see around the emergency vehicles where the woman was lying. I wanted to go to her, but then I didn't. I wanted to rewind my life. Instead, I was escorted to the back of a police cruiser for questioning, and offered an ambulance. I felt fine. I didn't want to go to the hospital. I wanted to get on the plane and go to Arizona. I wanted to run, and quickly. I watched as the woman was lifted from the highway and loaded up to be taken to the hospital.

"Is she okay? Is she okay?" I asked, feeling the sobs well up inside of me.

She was alive, but badly hurt. That was all they would tell me. Again, I wanted to go to her, but then I remembered my flight.

"I can't go to the hospital. I'm fine. I have to catch a plane." I was completely irrational. My mind was barely my own. The police explained to me, "Do you see your car? That same impact went through your body. A few more inches into the intersection and you would have been killed instantly. Maybe just going to get checked out would be a good idea." A paramedic had joined him and was trying to change my mind too. Unfortunately, I was as stubborn then in my shock as I have been prone to be even when everything is normal. Giving up, they handed me a waiver to sign, refusing to be treated.

With my totaled car still in the intersection, I was taken with my mom to the police station. This was one of the first of many divine providences that intervened during that time. You see, I knew most of the cops on a first name basis. The dry cleaners I managed, was the one that the cops used to have their uniforms cleaned. They came in all the time, and we'd gotten to know each other. They would give me rides home if it was dark and I was walking home after work. I was more comfortable walking into the police station seeing so many familiar faces, than I would have been otherwise, though I was still scared out of my mind as to what my fate would be.

Routinely, I had to do a breathalyzer test. The police officer administering it had such compassion on me, and displayed such tenderness. He knew I was a Mormon, and had not been drinking, he just had to follow protocol. He asked if he could get me anything. Other officers came and put their arms around me, patted me on the back. They had such pity in their eyes, but at least knowing them gave me some comfort. When I was taken back to the office where my mom was waiting for me, my dad was there too. My dad. An attorney. A job he despised and yet excelled at. I've always wondered if part of the reason he became an attorney against stronger desires in his heart, was so he could help me through that time. He took charge, and was a calm, steadying influence for me.

Still, I couldn't stop worrying about the flight I was about to miss. And I could tell that my sanity was threadbare. I felt this strange coming-apartness in my soul that I didn't know how to deal with. Finally, I was taken home, and nothing more was said. Eight brothers and sisters and I don't recall a single one of them asking me any questions. Maybe they did and I blocked it all out. Maybe my parents had warned them to leave me alone, I don't know. But a shroud of silence and protection fell over me.

The next day I woke up sore. Very sore. Like I'd been pummeled. Word had trickled through the ward and phone calls started coming in. The concern was so nice, but I realized that so much was still up in the air, and I was that girl. The one who ran the red light. I was so ashamed, and wracked with guilt and worry over the woman who was in the hospital.

It was decided, I don't remember by whom, that there was no point in my staying home, and so another flight was booked to Phoenix, with the airport's full cooperation due to the circumstances. The accident had already been big news in the newspaper. So, with a much different cloud hanging over my head, I boarded a plane, and flew away.

Hardly escaping.

. . .to be continued

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Remembering, Part One

This weekend was an important anniversary for me. May 15th, 19 years ago, was a day that forever changed me, but very few people know the details of that day.

I had just days before turned 18 years old. I was blissfully in love and planning to fly from my home in NJ to my grandmother's house in Mesa, AZ so that I could spend some time with my boyfriend, who was in Mesa visiting friends. We had been dating pretty seriously, and I felt that a proposal was on the horizon. I was working as the manager at Rinaldo's Dry Cleaners, but that day, because of my trip, my mom had worked for me, and I just needed to pick her up so she could drive me to the airport. I got into the car, and put the key into the ignition. And then I thought, I should make one more quick trip to the bathroom, so I jumped out of the car and ran into the house. I only mention that because since that day, that very decision--to take the time to go to the bathroom--has become the sliding door of fate in my mind. Those two minutes changed the course of my life, or at least the way I think about the course of my life.

Jumping back in the car, I headed the two or so miles over to the dry cleaners to pick up mom. My head was in a million places. Mostly distracted by love and plans for life. I was driving behind a large white moving-type truck, in a sedan (which, incidentally belonged to my dad's business partner who was out of the country), when we stopped at a red light at a highway intersection. The truck driver and I were in the right hand lane, stopped for some time at that light, which I couldn't see because the height of his truck obstructed my view. But when he started to go, I did too. He turned right, I proceeded to cross the highway. And everything went into slow motion.

Out of my right eye, I could see a van barreling toward me, and I thought, "She'd better slow down! It's a red light!" But by the time she slammed on her brakes, it was too late, and she came careening right into me, taking off most of the front end my car and then her van flipped forward, somersaulting--over and over, knocking down the streetlight, breaking the concrete divider, and as I watched, throwing the driver from the windshield and sending her many feet through the air to land in a heap in the middle of the road. It was all instantaneous, and yet terribly drawn out, as I sat and watched it all happen in front of my eyes. I was still sitting in the driver's seat of my car, in shock. Traffic in both directions had come to a stop, with cars jutting out left and right as if the stop had not been smooth. Clearly something was wrong here, but I couldn't understand. I didn't know what to do. Out of my right mind, I remember thinking that I had a flight to catch in Philadelphia and I just needed to go down the street to get my mom. But the car wouldn't start, obviously. The door would barely open. But I managed to squeeze through and start walking. In the middle of the highway, with sirens now blaring and onlookers standing on corners. I walked to the pizza place ahead of me to use their phone. That was when I heard the terrible news.

The driver of the van, the woman in the bloody heap, had not run the red light. I had.

. . .to be continued.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Rule Breaker, Sleep Taker

I woke up at 4:50am. I woke up to breathe, because allergies had reached their peak over the night time. I took some Claritin and went back to bed. Wait, did you catch that part?

I went back to bed!

That's right! And all because my ex-husband is in town! He drove in from Phoenix yesterday, just to spend a few days with the kids. See their schools, meet their friends, watch them play, and take them away! He took them to a hotel after Aiden's baseball game last night (in which Aiden had asked the coach if he could pitch, just for his dad, and he was amazing! Many strike-outs!) and insisted that he drive Lyns to Seminary this morning so that I didn't have to get up. Ha! An unexpected stroke of good fortune! Today they are off to the beach, and I am going to break all the rules!

Like, I think I will not cook breakfast. Instead, I think I will have a bowl of cold cereal. . .in bed! Ha!

I think before I get to studying, I will watch an episode of 24, while I eat my bowl of cold cereal, in bed! Who's living now, huh?

I will take Mr. Conor James to speech therapy and do some studying while I pass the time in the boring waiting room, and when we get home? I will take a nap! No cleaning!

Maybe I'll go for a walk with Lady Gaga in my ears.

I'll probably water my garden and talk to my plants.

I might steal some time from Anatomy to read a chapter in the Elizabeth Berg novel I'm (slowly) reading.

I'll definitely eat a Klondike, or two.

Oh my gosh, I feel like a kid in the candy store! I don't even have to worry about making enough food to keep Dylan and Aiden alive! That's a vacation, practically!

This is amazing! I wonder if I'll even shower. . . (gasp!)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Good Ol' Days

I miss the good ol' days. Sometimes I feel a sadness that the best days of my life are already over, and my dreams have had to change.

The good ol' days for me were the days that we lived in Show Low, Arizona. Real life, married with children was really beginning, and it was exciting. I had the best girlfriends ever--actually, we all still keep in touch in one way or another, and I found my very best friend there, but back then, things were different. We were all in the same ward, thanks to a fortuitous boundary change, that brought them all into my life. It was just about the time when I was learning to accept my new life in the rural mountain town we had moved to. So many great girls, all of us youngish moms, still building our families, decorating our homes, and learning about marriage. In ups and downs, we had each other. We had Girls Nights Out, we had group birthday lunches, game nights, and parties. Scrapbooking and stamping clubs, and serving in callings together. We would go camping as families, all of the men just as awesome as the ladies. Put the kids to bed and sit around the campfire telling secrets and busting a gut laughing. Trudging through rapids to get a bath--maybe Lori washing downstream with all of us laughing too hard to save her--having to attack wild cows with paint guns while they ate the food off of our children's plates unfazed.

Life was so simple back then. My homeschooling had begun with my two little children and I was in heaven. We were remodeling the old house we'd bought and planting a garden. Having another baby. Dance lessons, piano lessons, and cozy holidays. My mind filled with visions of someday having more babies, buying a house with enough land to have horses, a milk cow, chickens, a huge garden, and an orchard of sorts. I would keep on homeschooling, and send them off to college.

Life only turns out with fragments of what you hope for. They may be glittering, jewel-like fragments, but sometimes I long for the entirety of what I imagined, and feel a sense of sadness that the opportunity for some of my dreams has long since passed. I probably won't ever get to carry and hold my own baby again. That makes my heart ache. Even if circumstances were different, the realization that biologically I'm running out of time has started to occur to me and I hate it.

Now, that group of amazing friends lives scattered all over. We all have teenagers now. Some have missionaries, college students. Most have financial security, careers, own homes, go on vacations, have solid time-tested marriages. I feel like I fell off the conveyor belt somewhere along the way. I feel like I just can't get back on track. And I feel alone.

On my birthday last week, one of those old friends said, "Wish we could all go out to lunch to celebrate like we used to!" I had this flashback of those days. How we laughed! How we knew each other so well. Sometimes there were disagreements and hurt feelings, but we shared a loyalty and an in-this-togetherness that I have not experienced since then. It feels like everything in life is whizzing past me these days, and I'm spinning in a different orbit. Soon half of my children will be grown, and I feel like I have so little to show for my life.

Little kids. Big dreams. I miss those days.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day Tag! I'm it. I'm all there is.

Nobody had planned to cook breakfast for Mother's Day. No matter, I felt like waffles, so I came downstairs and got to work making my famous waffles with strawberries and homemade whipped cream. It made me feel motherly, and I like feeling motherly. As the realization dawned on my children, they wished me a "Happy Mother's Day". Adam finally stumbled down the stairs, not remembering that it was Sunday and confused as to why the kids were not in school. I reminded him. Oh. "Happy Mother's Day, Jenna."

The waffles were excellent, thank you very much.

Conor asked me for tape. "Mom, Lyndsay needs the tape so she can wrap you pajamas for you present," he blurted out. I smiled and tucked the secret away. Sure enough, Lyndsay presented me with a beautifully wrapped box with cute, cute, cute summer pajamas. She has such great taste.

Church was nice. The talks were supportive and glowing, and not guilt-inducing in the least. I felt proud to be a mom. I liked it when the speaker used the quote about motherhood being near to divinity. (You hear that, people?!)

Conor and Aiden sang with the Primary in Sacrament meeting, and I'm sorry, but Conor stole the whole show. Too much cuteness. I was beaming. And teary-eyed, of course. They each presented me with a little pot containing zinnia seeds and a thumbprint flower card that read, "My love for you grows and grows. . ."

We came home to a messy kitchen and hungry kids. Adam did the dishes (he's kind of taken over that chore lately, and what a difference that makes!) while I prepared a pan of nachos. Everyone chowed down and all I wanted was a nap. A Mother's Day nap. It was divine.

But not everything goes smoothly as mother dreams peacefully. I woke up to the sound of air-soft pellet guns shooting outside. A definite no-no. They've been warned. But when I came downstairs, I was distracted by the mess everywhere and as I opened the door to find THE BOYS I was horrified to find that they had tagged all over the driveway, back patio, and block wall. In oil pastel crayons. They thought it was chalk.

Let me just pat myself on the back because I did not scream. And nobody died. But I did raise my voice in disbelief and I did question, "Why? Why? Why?" And I rubbed my temples in an attempt to keep my blood pressure down. "We do not live in the ghetto! And you are not gangsters!"

Up to the computer they went, searching for how to remove crayon from concrete. Nothing works that well. Guess who's paying for a power sprayer? (Hint: not me.)

One of the boys remarked, "Wow, I'm really screwing up Mother's Day." I remarked, "No, no, you haven't ruined Mother's Day, and I love you, but whenever you have an idea, I need you to think before you act."

To which he replied, "I did think." So where do we go from there? I'll tell you where. Grounded, for one thing. And the other thing is that I'm considering pawning them off on the police task force that removes graffiti from inner city buildings and overpasses. Just so they can see how un-beautiful and undesirable (and criminal) this artform is.

They wanted to know what we were having for dinner. "Nothing," I replied. "It's Mother's Day and I'm not hungry, so I'm not making dinner." So they helped themselves to cereal and called it good. Ironic, since at lunch I had tongue-in-cheek suggested that we go around the table and each say what we like about having me for a mom. The boys couldn't think of anything at first. Lyndsay likes that I always cook meals, and Adam said, "Hey, you stole mine!" Maybe that is all I'm good for.

I went to bed early. The rowdiness had worn me out and my allergies and back pain already had me hanging by a tattered thread. Conor opened my door and peeked into my bedroom.

"Can I ask you a question?" he asked.

"Sure, what is it?"

"Do you know how much Conor loves you?"

I couldn't help but smile. This is the question he asks every night, and it's really just a ploy to get out of his bed and steal a few more minutes of awake time with mom.

My smile gave him the permission he was hoping for to come running to my bed and climb up on top to hug me. He gives the best hugs.

"I don't want a different Mommy, I want you to be my Mommy," he said.

"I will be your mommy forever," I assured him.

"Because I love you so, so supey much," he said. And this is how much:

"I love you so, so much, more than a helmet."

I think that's a lot. And I think he just resurrected my Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

You know how I love Stephanie Nielson from the Nie Nie Dialogues. She is the epitome of loveliness and a reminder that motherhood and beauty are one and the same. I hope this moves you as it does me.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Oh, BOY!

She thinks he's "Golden". She has a nickname for him, and her voice changes whenever she talks with him on the phone. She's not old enough to date (yet. . .tick-tock, tick-tock), but a few times I've invited him over to the house so I can interrogate--I mean, feed him--and get to know him. She knows the rule about how he can be the favorite one, but he can't be the only one. She told him about the rule that for every two (group) dates she has with him there must be another (group) date with someone else. And his response to that? "Listen to your mom. I think that's really wise advice. I'm cool with that."

He writes poetry. And songs. He plays Lionel Richie and Billy Joel on my piano, though he can't read a lick of music, and he sings. Oh, does he sing. My girl loves the boys with the music, just like I did.

There was Hank. I was a Junior, he was a Senior. Hank with the green eyes and chiseled jaw. Hank, who played Bridge Over Troubled Water while I barely hung onto life for my heart beating so fast. He had those masterful fingers that I wanted always intertwined with mine.

There was Brent. I'd grown up with him my whole life, but somehow saw him when I turned 15. Brent with the blue eyes and the smile that blinded. Brent, who sang harmony with whomever was singing melody. Even with me, as we sat at the piano and played and sang, and I named our future children in my mind.

I see it in Lyndsay, and it takes me back. She's a sucker for a guy with music in his soul. On Friday night I took her to his high school where he was performing in a competition for the UCLA AfterSchool program. The MC introduced him and told the audience he would like to dedicate his song to his "Special friend, Lyndsay." Be still my heart. There she sat next to me (his parents on the other side of me), beaming. I grabbed her knee to steady us both.

He sat on a stool with his ukulele and he sang with his whole heart "She Was Mine" while he looked at her, his eyes twinkling and that brilliant smile of his sparkling against his golden skin. The audience went crazy. Even I was a goner.

He won first place. In fact he scored the highest out of every category-- art, song, spoken word, and dance. He goes on to perform at Paramount next.

There was hugging afterwards, and giggles, and I might have nudged her with "For every two hugs you give him, you have to give another guy a hug." Which got more giggles. And eventually we had to drag them away from each other.

In the car, I said, "Man, even I'm in love with him." To which she replied, "Back off, Mom. You're married." But it's just the way seeing her, seeing him, it just takes me back in time. The thrill of teenage love. It's kind of beautiful. Filled with hopeful promise.

Gearing up for the ride! Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sunday Salad Feast

I subscribe to a magazine called Eating Well, and this month they had a section on Power Salads, and my mouth just started watering looking at all those glossy pictures. I had to have them. I thought this giant, substantial salad would make a lovely Sunday feast on a hot afternoon. The original recipe called for grilled halibut, but I didn't have any, so I substituted chicken. It also called for Boston lettuce, but I think that's the only variety I don't have growing in my garden, so I substituted Simpson and Bibb. The beans and the grape tomatoes didn't come from my garden yet, but they will soon! And the red potatoes make a surprising and filling addition to this salad.

I recently had to do a nutrition analysis project for my Nutrition class, and I was surprised to learn that I do not eat enough grains! I like the idea of including whole wheat bread with dinner, so Lyndsay baked a few loaves this afternoon to go with our meal. The recipe came from My Kitchen Cafe. We used the first one.

And for dessert? More grains! Oatmeal Scotchies. Again, baked by sweet Lyndsay, who made the executive decision to use the bag of butterscotch chips without asking because I had fallen asleep and she didn't want to wake me. Could she be any better?

Grilled Halibut/Tuna/Chicken Salad Nicoise

(This classic French salad is typically made with tuna, but halibut can be used, or the fish can be omitted for a vegetarian main course salad.)

1 1/2 pounds red potatoes (5-6 med.), scrubbed and halved
All-Purpose Vinaigrette, divided (recipe follows)
1 1/4 pounds green beans, trimmed
Juice of 1 large lemon
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1 pound Pacific halibut or striped bass (I used 4 chicken breasts)
1/4 tsp. coarsely ground pepper
1 large head Boston lettuce
1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes
3 hard boiled eggs, peeled and cut into wedges
1/4 cup sliced pitted Nicoise or Kalamata olives
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

All-Purpose Vinaigrette

Peel 1 medium clove garlic and smash with the side of a chef's knife. Using a fork, mash the garlic with 1/4 tsp. salt in a small bowl to form a coarse paste. Whisk in 5 TBS. EVOO. Add
6 TBS fresh orange juice, 1/4 cup white-wine vinegar, and 1 TBS Dijon mustard. Whisk until well blended. Taste and whisk in up to 4 TBS more juice to mellow the flavor. Season with more salt if desired.

Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a double boiler. Add potatoes and cook until tender, 10-15 minutes. Remove to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, slice thinly and place in a shallow bowl. Drizzle with 1/3 cup vinaigrette. Set aside.

Add beans to the steamer basket; cook until bright green and just tender, 4-6 minutes. Rinse with cold water to cool. place in a medium bowl and toss with 2 TBS. vinaigrette.

Combine lemon juice, oil, and 1/4 tsp. salt in a sturdy sealable plastic bag; shake until the salt dissolves. Add fish and marinate for up to 20 minutes while you ready the grill. (I did not do this for the chicken, just salt and peppered it.)

Preheat grill to medium-high for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to medium. Drain the fish and pat dry with paper towels. Season with remaining 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Oil the grill rack. Grill the fish, turning once, until browned and just cooked through, 4-5 minutes per side for halibut, 3-4 minutes per side for bass.

Arrange lettuce leaves on a large serving platter. Arrange the fish/chicken, potatoes, green beans, and tomatoes on top. Drizzle with remaining vinaigrette. Garnish with eggs, olives, parsley, and pepper to taste.