Thursday, January 27, 2011

Spring Garden Plans

My friends on the east coast are getting their fair share of snow this winter. I have to admit a little jealousy at their being snowed in, having school cancelled, and bundling up in front of movies all day while the world outside is covered in white. I do miss real winter. But there are good things about living in southern California, too, I know. Like the fact that I just enjoyed a long walk without even long sleeves, and the fact that I can plant a garden. Right now.

I got a package of new seeds in the mail this week. That's always fun. I took out all my seeds today and made a list of what I want to plant this spring (now) and what I will plant for my summer garden. My summer garden list is longer, and many of those plants take up much more space. Summer brings favorites like zucchini and cantaloupe, and tomatoes, in all their varieties. But winter/spring can still yield abundance, like peas, broccoli, spinach, carrots, and so many kinds of lettuce. I'm trying a few new things too: a new variety of garden peas, a new variety of spinach, some cabbage, and also leeks. We'll see how they do.

Last year, I made a master plan of my garden beds and saved it on my computer so that I can print it off and fill in my plantings. I put down the date that I planted, and how many plants in each square, based on the Square Foot Gardening method. When one harvest is complete, I'll often go back and put something new in the space, like where I stuck watermelon and pumpkins after spinach was done for the summer. This keeps me organized and gives me information about what varieties are where, how long germination is taking, when to expect harvests, and which companion plantings worked well (and which didn't).

The nice thing about winter/spring crops is that most of them prefer to be planted directly in their garden spaces, so I can skip the step of planting indoors and transplanting later. Now, I will look at my list, and make my plan! I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lessons in Love #2

Some say there's a bright side to everything.

Last week I was able to have a much needed and long overdue in-depth conversation with my friend, Luisa. Luisa is my mentor, given to me by God, (everyone should have a mentor!) and, as it turns out, is just a bit farther down the path of enlightenment regarding some tough issues I'm dealing with presently. We hardly ever get to talk anymore, though there was a time that we spoke on the phone at least once a day. Now, the kids are older, life is busier, there's that dang time difference being as we're on opposite coasts. . .

Our talk was wonderfully uplifting and encouraging. I even had the thought that this very conversation was reason enough for us to find friendship in each other almost twelve years ago on the internet. My heart was so, so grateful.

A few days later, a package arrived with some books that Luisa had sent to help further me along. Books that had helped her. I read everything that Luisa tells me to, and I got right to work on these ones. Let me say, that I felt completely wrapped in love as I read the first, and then the second, and then the third. Loved by Luisa, yes, of course, but also, loved by God. I felt that I had done at least a few things right to end up right here, right now, receiving direction and guidance, when my soul desperately needs it.

I had to drop my Sociology class. It was only a six week course, fast-tracked, and the second class was an exam on the first five textbook chapters. The problem was, though I had ordered my textbook before the first week, it did not arrive until the day of the second class, and I just knew I couldn't walk into an exam that unprepared (ie, clueless). So, I made the decision to just drop the class and take it again later.

Last night, as I lay in bed, still reading, reading, reading (and absorbing, lightening, enlarging, humbling, learning, craving, etc.) I had the thought that it was a blessing that Amazon took so long to deliver my text to me. Had my book come promptly, like most other Amazon orders, I would be reading Sociology day and night. Because I am not, I can read these other books, and gain so much more. I think the timing was so magnificently orchestrated: my talk with Luisa, her books, dropping my class.

I'm still in school, don't get me wrong. There was just a more important class to take, with much more important information for me to be learning right at this moment. And a good student learns to recognize the Teacher.

p.s.--Amber said YES! She's preparing her story as we speak, and it shall be posted soon! Stay tuned!

Friday, January 14, 2011



I don't collect much of anything, except for this one thing, dear to my heart: Noah's Ark ornaments, specifically the Hallmark ones. I always have a hard time justifying even this small indulgence because, well, for one, have you seen my tree? It's not like I need more ornaments. And two, providing presents for six children is a financial feat in and of itself, and I feel guilty peeling away any of those funds for something admittedly trivial. But I really love them. I go and see the new release right when it's unveiled towards the end of summer. I get so excited.

I love the story of Noah and the ark, and I believe it to be true, not figurative or symbolic, though, to me, it is rich in personal symbolism. I love the trust God had in Noah, his patience and long-suffering (ultimately in vain) for the people in teaching them and calling them to repentance (I mean, they had more than a hundred years to pull it together!) I love that God taught Noah what he needed to do and how to do it, and that a way was provided for him. I love that the animals obey Him, and I love the cleansing of sin, starting anew. I love how those who loved God were sustained and protected during a difficult time. Even more, I love the miracle of the rainbow and the promise of God. His promises are sure, and I rely on them. I love the beauty of God's promises and the hope they fill me with. All of that is what these little resin ornaments remind me of.

I saw the 2010 ornament in St. George while visiting Amber this past summer. I loved that it was bright blue. I loved the adorableness of the chubby animals, but I couldn't justify $15.95 right at that moment. When I went back to the Hallmark shortly before Christmas, two different stores local to me, they were sold out. I was crushed. I mentioned it on my Facebook page, and an old friend from Show Low, Arizona posted back, "I got it for you! Send me your address."

See? Hope = Miracles.

I couldn't believe it! She wouldn't even accept reimbursement for her thoughtfulness to me, a friend who served in the Relief Society Presidency with her, over ten years ago. When it came, I was in heaven! I am so, so grateful to my friend, Dawn.

Today I took down my Christmas tree. I lined all of my Noah's Ark ornaments up on the table, just because I love them. The bottom three are miscellaneous Noah's Ark ornaments, but the others are all Hallmark. Since I started collecting them, in 1996, just weeks before my Dylan was born (his nursery was Noah's Ark themed), I am only missing one ornament, 2001. (There was no ornament produced in 1997, 1998, or 2002.) Of the entire collection that Hallmark has produced, I am only missing two others: 1988 and 1991, so that's pretty good!

I also have a large wooden Noah's Ark set that sits in my family room, and my mom knitted me a Noah's Ark set as my Christmas gift this year. I love it!

I thought I would share with you some of the cuteness:

I love how different each one is. Every year, I think, "What else could they possibly do with Noah's Ark next year?" And each year, I am so pleasantly delighted.

So, what do you collect, and why does it make you happy?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

It's His Birthday, and I'll Cry if I Want To

Well, that didn't go over well at all.

Tonight we celebrated Dylan's 15th birthday. I can't remember a worse birthday celebration. I really blew it.

Last night, I watched this horribly emotional movie about mothers and children--mothers who give their babies up for adoption, lost relationships, and the ripples of regret. It was actually a pretty good movie, but when it was over, I couldn't stop crying. Into my pillow, as quietly as I could, I sobbed and sobbed. I remembered every harsh thing I'd said to my children, every time they irritated me and I let them know it, every time I was too busy, too short, too detached. I wished I could do things all over again, especially when I realize that I'm running out of time. Motherhood is fraught with melodrama.

My thoughts turned to Dylan. Fifteen, he is, now. And we struggle, he and I. In fact, this will be the year that he will most likely move in with his dad for a while. It rips my heart out, and yet, it whispers relief. Both of which are hard to deal with.

I didn't get much sleep. Once I fell asleep, the night was fitful. Swollen eyes and fatigue kept me moving in slow motion throughout the day. I made dinner, but then some people didn't want to eat. "It's Dylan's birthday dinner!" I proclaimed, "Please eat!" So all these people gathered around the table in a huff.

"Now," I said, "we're going to go around the table and all say what we love about Dylan."

Dylan, of all people, protested. "Thanks all the same," he began, "but I'd rather you not. I hate that part. It takes people too long to think of something nice to say."

"It's a tradition, and we're doing it," I said. I have no idea what the right move to make is anymore. Give in, plow through? I've been walking on eggshells with this boy for so long, I can't even think straight. It does take people a little longer to think of nice things to say to him, but there are plenty of them, for sure, and he needed to hear them. We needed to think of them. He's full of goodness! He is loved!

I brought down Dylan's gifts. Two pairs of jeans, neither of which fit him. One because of a warehouse mistake, one because of growth. Frustrated, and obviously disappointed, he asked why I was trying to "change him". Can't I see that he only wears Dickies shorts? He doesn't wear jeans because he doesn't like jeans. Oh, brother. I thought it was because he didn't have any jeans, and here it is January and all.

I argued that I'd bought them from Tilly's, his favorite store, and the one pair really should fit him, since it was the same size as the last pair we bought. He tried them on, just to make a humiliating point. The point being that I'm stupid and clueless, I suppose.

Just give me back the bleeping jeans and I'll return them.

He liked his other two presents, but the atmosphere was shot. My feelings were hurt, rightfully, wrongfully, reasonably or unreasonably, I admit to all of it. I've been killing myself trying to please this boy and I just can't get it right.

We sat down for cake, and I didn't have any candles. Why should we have candles? The birthday's already ruined, why not take it all the way down? I found a huge jack-o-lantern candle and set it in the middle of the angel food cake. Our traditional mother-child-birthday cake photograph is laced with disappointment. We sing. Even I didn't buy it. He makes a wish. Finally. I can only imagine what it was.

The cake was delicious.

I want to run and run and run. Except that it's dark outside, I'm out of shape, and I hate running. Lyndsay tries to comfort me. I begin to cry and tell her to be quiet. "Yeah, well, when the whole birthday is on your shoulders and you mess everything up and your child is so spoiled that he complains about any gift he is given, then I'll tell you things are fine." She walks away. Smart girl.

Now I sit here sulking, with everyone else upstairs in safety. Fifteen years, I made it. The last birthday I may have my Dylan-boy with me. Probably nobody understood the emotional backdrop to this evening's charades. The movie, the lack of sleep, my turmoil over failing my son, the regrets, the mixed emotions about him leaving, anxiety about the future. All of that showed up tonight.

They just wanted cake, I think.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I noticed today that I have 74 followers! You fools! No, I jest. Actually, I'm deeply, deeply grateful and a little excited too. It's kind of cool that someone would read something that I write about my uneventful life and abundant opinions and think, "I'd like to read something else she writes. In fact, I'd like to read it all!"

Wow. I think I would like to break 100 followers this year. Then, I'm going for 30,000. Well, baby steps, baby steps, Jenna. Anyway, think that's possible? How could I do that? What would you like me to say? What would you be interested in reading? Burning questions?

I think I would like to have my best friend guest post on my blog. (Hear that, Amber?) She's incredible in so many ways, but her latest feat of incredible-ness is that in the last year and a half or so she's lost a great deal of weight (like a hundred pounds) and is now sporting bikinis at beaches all across the world. I even caught wind of her plan to start running marathons. Now she's this force of sexiness that can't be stopped, though I don't think anyone's trying. Of course, I thought she was sexy before, no matter her weight, because you know what they say: "Sexy is as sexy does."

Does anyone say that?

What do you think? Would you like to hear Amber's amazing story of self-reinvention? Would you be interested to know how she found the will to get started and how she kept going? Would you like to see a picture of her in a bikini?

Let's ask her.


(she loves to be put on the spot, trust me.)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Let it Be

It has taken me a long time to be okay with my children being gone for long periods of time while they visit their dad. In fact, even an overnight visit used to tear my heart out, and I'd spend the entire time at home, crying, desperate for my old life and a "real" family. To help stave off the loneliness and failure I'd feel, I would deep clean and listen to spiritually encouraging talks on tape. Talks on faith, angels, miracles, and answers to prayer. The scrubbing would keep my hands busy while my mind clung to vestiges of hope. But I always missed my children.

After a few years, in order to disconnect myself from my difficult reality at home, I'd escape to my best friend's house in St. George. I'd show up there, monthly, for a while, and stay the duration of my children's week long visit with their father. Being with her was the best medicine for my aching heart.

After five years, I was remarried and expecting another baby, and Conor proved to be a healing balm. Now I was never without the fruit of my womb, and taking care of him helped me not feel so empty as a mother while the older three were away. But still, each time I drove the five hours to Arizona to drop them at our halfway point, I was giving myself pep talks to keep from crying. When the highway mile markers counted down the last ten miles I developed this pit in my stomach that knotted itself more tightly as we drove, and I would be filled with this urge to impart last bits of motherly wisdom, advice, and love. Just in case. Goodbyes are the worst. I would cry and pray as I headed back west toward home.

Things have gotten easier.

I still don't like it when my children are gone, but there are elements of the time apart, the break from normal life, that have become beneficial for me. Now, though I don't look forward to them being gone, I can look forward to the time away from routine and busyness for spiritual renewal and personal reflection. That's what I've learned to do with the quiet house and the extra time.

I use their visits with their dad to improve me. As a person, a woman, a mother. I evaluate what is working and what isn't. I pray about each of my children's needs and challenges and spend a little more time listening for answers. I read my scriptures more, I write in my journal more, I try to spend some more time in service, and with friends. I spend one-on-one time with Conor, and I try to accomplish some tasks around the house. I use the time to fill me up, so that I have more to give when I put my cloak of motherhood back on.

This has been a small miracle within my heart, as the years have gone by. Nothing can be done about the fact that my marriage to their dad did not work out. I cannot allow them to feel like life ended when that marriage did, but rather that we take the challenges that come and find a way to be blessed by even the most difficult circumstances.

I drove to pick them up on Saturday, after a two week hiatus. I was so excited to see them, to have them in my arms, to listen to their voices in the car, to have them in the house, filling it up again with their personalities and life forces. I was excited to cook for them, to pick up after them, to have them near me. They need me. I am the one who knows every detail, who can keep it all straight, who knows who needs to be where and when, what's coming up today and what's coming up next week. I am the one who has nourished every aspect of their growing beings. I am mom.

Today I woke up two minutes before my alarm went off. Which just goes to show how deeply within my soul I am a mother, connected to my babies, because I haven't been up this early in a month. But today was back to Seminary, scones for breakfast, scripture study and prayer and dropping them off at school. Today was directions about classes that Dylan needs for second semester, reminders about Aiden's healing feet (no running at recess! Perfect for LAUSD), and arranging for Lyndsay to work after school this afternoon.

Today will be full and happy, and so am I.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Maria, Mothers, and a Mango

I loved Maria before, but now I really, really love her.

My planned 30 minute visit turned into a three hour delight. She lives in a difficult-to-find location, way up in a nearby canyon, so rather than risk my getting lost, she had me meet her at a predetermined place and then I got in her car and she drove me up to her house. When we arrived, it was like being in another world. A fresh stream gurgled by, the oaks still held onto their yellow leaves, and not another car (or human) was in sight anywhere. It was so peaceful. She showed me around her property, what had been the original house, what rooms her handy husband added on as the family grew.

She showed me the crates and crates of jams she had stored, jams made from every imaginable fruit. She told me how she loves to make them ("It's what I do," she said with a huge smile) and then give them away to everyone, and somehow she still always has plenty for her own family. She gave me a quart of mango jam. Mango! I told her about my attempt to make freezer jam this summer, and what a dismal failure it was, and she promised to include me this summer so we could do it together. (Yay!)

She showed me the crates of bottled honey she has collected from her beehives, and she freely handed over a mayonnaise-sized jar of her orange-blossom honey, golden yellow like I've never seen before. I get to watch that happen this summer too. I cannot wait.

Inside, she had her daughter baking me a dessert. I told her that the way this is supposed to work, I am the one who should be bringing her treats. She just laughed. She said she so rarely gets visitors, that she was just so excited! Then we talked about how life is when you cannot have any deliveries ever. No pizza. No Chinese. No UPS, FedEx. Whoa. But despite the inconveniences, she loves where they live. The peace, the serenity, the privacy, the beauty. I had to agree.

She told me about how it was that she came to be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and how beautifully her life has changed since she made that decision, how happy their family is, and how at home she feels. We talked and talked and talked. Well, mostly she talked, but I loved listening.

Maria is from Mexico. She is the 11th of 12 children. She told me about life growing up, how different it was at that time and in that culture. How there was so much less stuff, and yet so much love and contentment. She spoke so lovingly about her mother, whom she has so much reverence and gratitude for. She told me several stories about her mother, and I've been thinking about some of them all day.

Their family would gather around the table at mealtimes, but Mother never sat down with the family. Instead, she served her husband first, and then her children, one at a time. She would stay by the stove making additional tortillas, serving up more beans or meat, as the growing brood would finish one serving and beg for more. She kept the food coming until everyone was full and then she would eat whatever was left. With sweetness, Maria told me that it wasn't until years later that she realized her mother never dished up a plate, but rather ate out of the pots because there was rarely enough left to plate up and she didn't want her family to know. It made me feel pangs of love for my own mother, who similarly fed the nine of us from the stove as she poured batter and flipped pancakes, until she would finally eat whatever was left.

This was my favorite story though:

In Mexico, people didn't keep food in their houses. Rather, every day the mother would go to the market for the food for that day, and that day only. So, early each morning the children would wait for their mother to return from the market. Maria said her mother would come walking down the road with her two sacks of food, one in each hand with the ingredients for that days' meals. The kids would run to meet her, practically knocking her down, as they dug through the bags still in her hands, grabbing bananas or whatever else they could out of the bags to begin shoving in their mouths. It reminded me of when my own mother would go to the grocery store and as she would set bags on the table and go back for others, we kids would just start tearing through things, ripping open bags of cookies or loaves of bread or boxes of cereal (sometimes just to get the prizes!)

Well, one day her mother bought a huge, beautiful mango at the market. It was bigger than any mango she'd seen and smelled so sweet and fragrant. Her plan was to hide it from the kids so that once they all left for school she could cut it up and enjoy it all for herself as a special treat. She tucked it between some clothes in her closet until the kids went to school, but, as mothers frequently do, she got caught up in the chores of the day, and she forgot all about the mango. Weeks went by, and one day she smelled an odor that she couldn't figure out. Finally, she was led to her closet, where she found the rotten mango, still hidden between the clothes. She sat down with her head in her hands and wept. Not because she had forgotten the mango, but because it had rotted due to her selfishness when she tried to keep it from her children. She vowed to never do that again, but instead to share every sweet thing with her children.

I love that story!

Now, let me tell you, I am not so much like that mother. I always sit at the table with my family, and I always have a plate dished up. I probably have even told my children they couldn't have seconds if there wasn't enough for me before, I'm sure. And please. I have stashes of "Just for Mom treats" all over my house. There's "don't-touch-those chocolates" and "don't-eat-that ice cream" and everyone knows the rules about any bag of Cheetos that comes into this house. But I'm not necessarily proud of any of that. I have some food issues because sometimes things were hard to come by when I was young, and things are still hard to come by now. Food is like gold to me. But food, like gold, I suppose, shouldn't be hoarded. And look at how freely Maria gives away whatever she has, probably because of her mother's unselfishness.

So, I'm not going to have stashes anymore. I am still going to sit and eat at the table from a plate, but whatever comes into this house will be shared openly and lovingly, because it feels so good. Much better than chocolate tastes from my stash late at night. And it seems that the more we share and give away, the more that comes back to us.

Definitely true with love, and I've only been to Maria's one time. I can't wait to go back.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Lessons in Love #1

When you make the goal to 'love more', you'd better be prepared for what happens next.

The day I decided to open my heart more, I got a voicemail message on my cell phone while I was still out of town. It was my Relief Society President, who had tracked me down with some help from my husband at home. She wanted to ask if I'd be willing to add Maria to my visiting teaching assignment each month. (Visiting teaching is an LDS custom, where each woman in the congregation is assigned to another to care for, look after, and make a monthly visit to.) Maria is a brand new member of the church, baptized with her entire family just a week before Christmas. I played the piano at her baptism. I already love her, and Lyndsay has already become fast-friends with her two teenage daughters, who spend time at our home. Maria's youngest son is in my Primary class, and I adore him, and her husband has given me great tips about my future nursing career. We had them over for Family Home Evening a few weeks ago. I think the whole family is wonderful and amazing.

But visiting teaching?

I was so glad I had missed the call so that I didn't have to give my Relief Society President an answer right then. I was really upset by the request. Hadn't she looked at the records? I haven't done my visiting teaching in years, practically, with a few spotty exceptions. I really like the other woman I "visit", but arranging schedules and that compulsory urge to take a treat and prepare a lesson overwhelms me at this stage of my life, to be truthful. Something about me? I do things all the way, or not at all. For instance, I either diligently homeschool my children with a complete classical curriculum, or I send them to public school and never volunteer in their classrooms. Go figure.

I deleted the message and stewed. I had to tell her no. I had to think of all of my other responsibilities--my children, my family, schooling, piano lessons, etc, etc, etc. And, I reasoned, Maria deserved someone much more dedicated than I. Much more willing than I. Much more loving than I.

I let several days pass. When I got home, I told Adam of the request and my desire to just say no. He said nothing one way or the other. (Why can't I ever be like that?)

But as I said my prayers, asking for help in this goal to love more fully, I couldn't shake the feeling that Heavenly Father was delighting in the irony he saw me swimming in. "Father, help me to love more--(but please don't ask me to actually do anything!)" Thankfully, He is so patient with me and my stubbornness. I could feel Him up there smiling, and shaking his head in an amused, Fatherly way.

I called the Relief Society President back the next morning. "I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you," I said. "Your request really threw me for a loop. I thought to myself, 'Why is she doing this to me?'" She laughed on the other end. "I've been thinking," she began, "I know you're in school, and. . ."

"No, no," I interrupted. "I will do it. I will try my best."

There. It's done.

Adam asks the next day what I ever decided to do about it. When I tell him, he says, "I knew you'd cave." Is that what I did? Because caving feels like falling, and I feel elevated.

At church I tell Maria the good news. Her face lights up. "Someone to come and visit just me?" It's as if she feels like the luckiest woman ever. And then I realize.

Maria doesn't need me. I need Maria.

I go tomorrow, to learn more love.