Thursday, April 28, 2011

Big Giant Coconut Cream Easter Eggs

A really lousy picture of a completely divine confection


I love coconut. I seriously do. Everything is better with coconut. Except coconut shrimp, but only because the shrimp ruins it. But coconut in brownies, lemon bars, chocolate, cream pie, mmmm, mmmm, mmmm.

My grandmother had a candy business when I was a child, and she hand dipped all her own chocolates. She's still doing it, all these years later, and even though the store is long gone. She gave this recipe to my mom, who made it for us kids every year, and now I continue the tradition.

Here is the beloved Coconut Cream Easter Egg recipe. Thanks for asking.

2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
1/2 lb. butter (no substitutions, not even margarine, don't even think about it.)

Blend all of this together. I use my Kitchen Aid (wheeeee!)

When it has come together, add in 1/2 cup coconut. I will freely admit I use more. Maybe even double. Check the consistency, and add a little more powdered sugar, if needed. If the cream filling is holding its shape well, you can form it into eggs at this point, but if not, stick the bowl in the fridge for a bit and once it has chilled you can shape it into eggs. My mom wrote on my recipe card in parentheses, "Larger ones taste better." I couldn't agree more.

Place the shaped eggs on a wax paper lined cookie sheet and put the whole thing into the refrigerator to get them nice and firm.

Next:

Melt 1 lb. milk chocolate and 1/2 lb. dark chocolate in the top of a double boiler.

Also, melt 3/4 cup paraffin wax in a glass measuring cup over boiling water. (You can buy paraffin wax in the baking aisle, and though it seems weird to eat it, it makes the chocolate shiny and not melty in your hands. I also don't measure it too well, I just use one of the rectangle slabs that comes in the box and melt that. I don't know how if it's a full 3/4 cup.)

Once both are melted, stir the paraffin into the chocolate. At first it seems as though they will never come together, but they will. Just keep stirring and be patient. Trust me. And once they do, it's a beautiful sight. Now, let the chocolate cool just a bit, or it will be too runny.

Now to dip. I'm not very graceful at this part. Use a meat fork to stab each egg and dip into the chocolate. Lift and let the chocolate run off and then let the eggs set on waxed paper. I usually dip them all and then give them each a double dip.

Then you can decorate as desired with colored icing. I left this part off this year, but I usually decorate with piped flowers and stripes and write each child's name on the eggs.

We keep ours in the fridge because I like them cold, and then we slice them, but feel free to act like a Barbarian and just start shoving that giant egg into your mouth.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Since I Last Posted

Thursday: Before our zoo membership ran out, I figured we should get one more trip out of it. I took Lyndsay and Conor, since they were the only two at home. Conor walked the whole zoo this time, since we got rid of our strollers in the last year, and I realized that this may have been the first time ever in my life that I've been to a zoo without a stroller in the company. He was good and tuckered out (read "complaining") by the time we were done. And by the way, the new Elephants of Asia exhibit is really beautiful.

Thursday evening, we dyed the Easter eggs. I was going to skip this tradition this year, but my genes don't let me skip traditions, so even though we only had two of the kids home, I figured the younger of the two (Conor) was the one who really looked forward to it. Lyndsay had her best friend over, and we had ourselves a little egg-dying party.

As predicted, Conor really loved the whole process, and after the eggs were dry, he stickered 'em up real good. Nice and tacky-like.

Friday: Prom day! This was the LDS Prom with a Night at the Museum theme. About ten stakes do this huge prom every year for all the kids (about 700 kids go). This year they rented out the Museum of Natural History in Los Angeles, and it was an amazing production. They also chartered buses to get the kids there so teens didn't have to drive (or have their parents drive out there). They had it catered and DJ'ed, and they got to dance and eat around the dinosaur bones.

Getting ready for prom is a whole day affair, did ya know? First thing in the morning was an eyebrow appointment. I got some grocery shopping done and then took Lyndsay for a manicure. My Maria came over in the afternoon with her daughter, who was going to get ready with Lyndsay. Maria and I chatted it up downstairs, and then went to pick up the boutonnieres for the guys at the flower shop. The girls got busy on their hair.

Lyndsay asked me to do her makeup, which I love to do.

After primping for what seemed like forever, and making executive decisions, like which of my earrings to wear, she was ready. And she took my breath away.

We borrowed this amazingly gorgeous dress from my beloved Amber, who has an easier time of finding modest prom dresses in Utah.

I dropped Lyns off at the church building where she met up with her date, who was just a friend from another ward. I looked around at all the other girls, but I seriously think Lyndsay was the most beautiful. It was so fun to see her and all the other kids all dressed up and excited, and feel safe knowing that this prom would not be like my proms, where kids show up drunk and leave for hotel rooms. There was even a modesty check before the kids could enter, and if needed, adjustments were made right there.

Saturday: This day began in an exhausted way. Lyndsay had gotten home from the prom around midnight and she came in to give me a kiss goodnight. I had fallen asleep (though I'd tried to stay up!) and I woke up immediately and wanted to hear all about it. So, she sat on my bed, in her big, beautiful dress, shoes off (feet killing her), and hair straight again from dancing the night away. She told me all about it, and how much fun it was. We talked for an hour, and then Adam got home--he had been the videographer at the prom, and they swapped stories too. It was just so exciting that I got a dreaded second wind and couldn't fall asleep until about 4am. But I had to get up early to get started on the cake.

Caitlin's 15th birthday was last weekend, but we decided to celebrate this weekend when the boys would be home from Arizona. She requested a German Chocolate Cake, which I decided to make substituting toffee bits for the pecans, due to Conor's allergy. (turned out great!) I needed to get the cakes baked though, so they could cool.

While they cooled, I made the Giant Coconut Cream Easter Eggs that my mom always made for us, and that I always make for my kids. No piping decoration this year though.

Then came the frosting, and cooling it completely so I could add the toffee bits and have them not melt.

Then came the lasagna dinner that Caitie requested, in which I decided to forego the ricotta and give the b├ęchamel sauce a chance. (That's a gamble I would recommend) Frost the cake, make the chocolate glaze, make the salad, set the table, get the garlic bread ready, stick the lasagna in the oven, leave directions for Adam to take the lasagna out and put the bread in, run to the airport to pick up the boys, come home, eat an amazing dinner, eat a delicious cake, clean it all up, put Conor to bed, and wait for teenagers to fall asleep so that Mr. Bunny can make his appearance. Fill, and hide the baskets.

Sunday: Easter. Wake up early and take pictures of the kids finding and loving their baskets. Start making the turkey dinner. We don't usually have turkey for Easter, but I had an extra one from Thanksgiving time taking up too much room in my freezer, so I opted to just use it. We have church from 11am-2pm, and Caitlin and Sean had to be back home by 4pm, so that meant that most of dinner had to be ready or cooking before we left for Church. I got the turkey ready, made the Lion House roll dough, and with that rising, I cooked breakfast burritos to offset the impending sugar highs. Cleaned up breakfast, had Lyndsay shape the rolls, and I made the fruit salad and peeled potatoes and cut up broccoli. Got the table set. Did a load of dishes, baked the rolls, and then stuck the turkey in the oven. Thank goodness Adam did all the ironing. He does that every Sunday, and I love it. With the rolls hot out of the oven and buttered and the turkey cooking, out the door we went to Church!

Amazing! When we got home, the turkey was 30 minutes from being done, so I cooked the potatoes, steamed the broccoli, and then once the turkey was out, I made the gravy. . .

. . .and called the kids to eat! Boy, were they grateful! The food was delicious, and everyone was happy. After it was all cleaned up, Caitlin and Sean went home, and we relaxed the rest of the evening.

Monday: That's today. Back to reality, Spring Break done! Seminary, school, piano lessons, and class for me tonight. And good news! Adam booked a commercial! For Sonic. He's got wardrobe today, and then is shooting it on Wednesday or Thursday. So, so, so grateful!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Accentuate the Positive. (After whining about the negative.)

Today was a mostly horrible day. The horrible parts included a trip to the DMV (which in and of itself can make a day horrible) to renew my license, a suspension to my license that I didn't know existed, a $100 fee that popped up in the system related to my accident 20 years ago and that prompted the unknown suspension, leaving the DMV without a renewed license and a dead cell phone battery, two more hours on the phone with the NJ DMV (most of that on hold, and being called a liar, literally, as the rude woman slammed me on hold for another 20 minutes), and then getting a call from my car insurance telling me that as of today and for the next 3 years, my car insurance is now double since because of the suspension I didn't know I had, I no longer qualify for the Good Driver Discount. And that's before we add Lyndsay to the insurance once she gets her license.

I wanted to cry.

Wait, I did.

And not just because of the aggravation, inconvenience, red tape, and bureaucracy, not to mention the increased insurance costs that we can't really afford, but also because being dragged back emotionally---again---to the most horrible time in my life, and having it still haunt me, is really draining. And the whole thing feels so unfair to me.

But the day wasn't all horrible. Today I made strawberry jam for the first time. Strawberries were on sale for $1/lb, so I bought lots of them. An older woman in my ward had given me boxes of canning jars, and I wanted to conquer my fear of canning and just do it.

It worked out great! Here are my pretty quilted canning jars filled with homemade strawberry jam, setting on the counter. That was really fun. And I'm pretty sure I could live on homemade whole wheat bread and jam for a long time, happily.

But wait! I won't have to!

Because you see those mounds? That's right, BEANS! My beans are coming up! I planted over a hundred plants, and today they began their upward push!

Beans burst forth with such confidence, I love it.

And there are peas growing! The peas survived the scavenging squirrels, thank goodness, and pretty soon, I'll be up to my eyeballs in peas! Glorious!

See how God compensates for all my misery with His glorious bounty? I am grateful.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Book Review: The Crazy Daze of Motherhood

You all know by now that from time to time my writer friends will contact me and ask if I'd be willing to do a book review. They offer a free copy of the book, which is often sufficient bait for me. These days, however, I've had to turn down many offers, just because my reading time is limited with school. When offered The Crazy Daze of Motherhood, by Jane Isfeld Still, I made the time, because I always love a fun (and funny) retreat from life in the form of a motherhood memoir.

I carried this sweet little book around in my purse. It's just a tiny thing, at under 90 pages, and each chapter is a funny story of life as a mother, and the adventures of having a large family. Jane Isfeld Still has a terrific ability to find humor amidst craziness. When I had a few moments, I'd pull the book out of my purse and read a bit. While waiting for kids after piano lessons, while waiting for my night class to start, waiting here, waiting there. . .this book was perfect to pass the time with and get a good laugh.

I loved the story of her "culinary illiterate" daughter, who decided one day to bake a cake. From a mix. She asked for help from her mom, but her mom encouraged her with "there are directions with pictures on the back of the box," and let her loose. A bit later she called her mom needing help with how exactly to beat the batter.

"Use the eggbeaters."

"Mom, I need you. How do I get the eggbeaters in there?"

"You put them in the holes on the bottom of the egg beater."

She looked at the beaters and at the box. "I know that. How do you fit them into the box?"

Jane goes on:

"That effectively shut me up until I had time to compute the fact that she had added all the ingredients into the box. . .She had dumped the oil, eggs, and some of the water into the box. "You are supposed to dump the cake mix into a bowl and then add the ingredients."

"You told me to follow the directions. Nowhere on this box does it say to dump the cake mix into a bowl."

I loved that story.

This is a fun collection of anecdotes of motherhood that we all can relate to, even if we all wouldn't be honest enough to share them. Jane does a great job.

You can win a fun prize from Jane to help celebrate the release of her book. Just go to her blog at http://www.janeisfeldstill.blogspot.com and become a follower, and then leave her a comment and tell her that you're a new follower. You could win:

1. Mother's Daze basket, soap, chocolate, lotion, decorative candles, and recipe cards

2. Box of blank cards with a smattering of Canadian chocolate

3. Chocolate


Do it! And if you need a fun gift for a mother in your life who could use a laugh, consider this little book!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Waste Not

I really hate waste. Especially wasted food. I have had plenty of years of my life where food has not always been plentiful, and I know how many people in the world are literally starving, so to me, food is like gold. And because people often comment to me that I seem to be able to stretch a little bit of money a long way, I thought I'd give you some of my tips, when it comes to feeding a family. Which you probably already know, but maybe never thought of.

1. I almost always shop with a purpose. Meaning, I don't just go to the grocery store and buy what looks good. I check the grocery store ads to see where the deals are, and I plan meals around those items. If chicken is on sale, then I plan to cook chicken. If roast is on sale, then that's what we're having. (Or, at least that's what I'm buying to freeze.) After checking the ads, I make a menu, usually for two weeks, detailing plans for breakfasts and dinners. I make my grocery list based on what I need for those meals. Everything I buy, I buy for a reason, and I use coupons wherever I can.

2. I cook from scratch most of the time. That means, I buy basics like flour (which I don't buy a whole lot of, since I grind my own wheat), sugar, eggs, butter, buttermilk, etc. You can bake a whole lot more with the basics than if you spent the same amount on prepackaged items. That means that if I want to make biscuits and gravy for breakfast, I (usually) make my own biscuits. I say 'usually', because there have been a few times that I had a coupon for Pillsbury refrigerated biscuits that was such an amazing deal, I chose to use that and count it as a time saver. But, usually, nutrition is way more important to me than time, so I opt in that direction.

3. I grind wheat and bake most of our bread. I also make powdered milk and will keep it in the fridge to use in baking, saving the fresh milk for drinking. We go through about a gallon a day--and that's with me saying, "Get out of the milk!", so it adds up. Using wheat and powdered milk also helps me feel confident using our food storage.

4. When I plan our menus, I schedule non-meat days. I usually try to schedule one bean day, one soup day, one vegetarian day, and one salad day. That keeps our meat consumption down, and it diversifies our nutrition. For bean day we might have chili, or black bean and chicken enchiladas. For soup day we might have lentil vegetable soup, or chicken tortilla soup, or black bean soup (we love black beans), or cheddar broccoli soup. For vegetarian day we might have a quiche, or a vegetable lasagna, or baked potato bar. For salad night we have some kind of huge dinner salad, like BBQ chicken salad, or taco salad, or just a huge salad bar night with a gazillion choices to make your own. Now obviously, many of these meals can be served in different categories (taco salad, if made with beans only and not meat can be our vegetarian night, for example), but the point is, it gets us out of the meat and side dish routine, and forces us to use a whole lot more veggies and grains. My kids eat a LOT of fruits and veggies. I pile their plates with vegetables or salad, and they eat it all, because they have to. I do not feel bad requiring them to eat large amounts of vegetables, so there. They can choose not to once they're out of my house, but these are the years that their bodies are growing and that growth is my responsibility. Also, I think they've developed good habits and a taste for vegetables, which will carry over into their adult years.

5. I pride myself in finding uses for everything so I don't have to throw things out. For example, we buy a lot of produce. In fact, I buy most of my produce at a separate produce market that is very cheap. We're talking an entire shopping cart just filled with fruits, veggies, and raw nuts. I know lots of people buy produce with good intentions and end up throwing it away. I hate doing that. My kids are flying to Arizona this evening for spring break with their dad, and I realized I still had quite a bit of veggies in the fridge that I couldn't eat alone. So, for breakfast I made our green drink and juiced them all. A bunch of kale, a bunch of parsley, 3 lbs. of spinach, several stalks of celery, a bag of carrots, a cucumber, and 5 or 6 apples. Took care of that! Also, I go through my fridge, freezer, and cupboards routinely and look for things that got left over. Like half a package of cream cheese, or a cup of whipping cream, or a can of garbanzo beans, or shredded chicken, or corn tortillas approaching their expiration. A few sweet potatoes in the cupboard means we're having baked sweet potato fries with dinner. Whatever I find, I search for a recipe to use it up, and many meals come together just for that reason--to avoid wasting something that's sitting in the fridge. You know how you buy something for a meal and then end up not needing it all. Finding a use for it always makes me feel so frugal and clever. Sometimes I see friend's fridges packed full of miscellaneous ingredients and I think, "Don't go shopping till you use all this stuff up!"

6. For lunches: I pack some of the kids' lunches every day (some like to buy, and we get free lunch). At the beginning of the week I make a batch of chicken salad. It's delicious. I use a big can of chunk chicken, some mayo, and I cut up one apple (with the peel) into little dices, and a stalk or two of celery into little dices and throw that in there. Sometimes, if they're in season, some halved red grapes. A bit of salt and pepper, and it's good to go. I buy those Orowheat Sandwich Thins, Whole Wheat. I toast one up and put the chicken salad on that. It's the perfect size, and I got sick of kids not eating their whole sandwich. (Waste!) Then I cover that chicken salad up, stick it in the fridge, and use it the whole week. Also in lunches goes a fruit bag (I cut up an apple, and throw in some grapes, or strawberries, or a mandarin orange), a vegetable bag (I cut up half a red pepper, throw in some baby carrots, and sugar snap peas), and then a nut bag (5 or 6 cashews and the same number of almonds). If I've done baking, I'll add a couple of mini pumpkin muffins or zucchini muffins. That's lunch. The kids take water. At the end of the day, they leave their brown lunch bags and zip-locs on the counter and I reuse them for the whole week. On Friday, I toss them, and on Monday they get new ones. I do own reusable insulated lunch bags, but my kids won't use them. Too embarrassing, they say. But they're fine eating a fruit bag and a vegetable bag, and no Twinkies, even in high school, so I'm good with that.

For me, at home, I will often make a ginormous pot of vegetable soup with lentils in it that I'll eat from the whole week (and make Conor eat) with a slice of homemade wheat bread. I'll use chicken stock and add red pepper, green pepper, celery, onion, garlic, carrot, cabbage, and a can of diced tomatoes, and throw in the lentils at the end. Also, we eat leftovers from dinner for lunch. If leftovers pile up from two or three days, guess what everyone is having for dinner? That's right! And I dish them up--no choices. I want it all eaten! Two people get this, three others get that. No point in making something new with perfectly delicious food in the fridge.

7. For snacks? You guessed it. Fruit or vegetables or nuts. I rarely buy prepackaged anything. This is the famous line around here: "Mom, what can I eat?" "Have an apple!" I also bake a lot, so they can have muffins or bread. Of course, I make treats too, but always homemade. Cookies, brookies, brownies, etc. Now, my teenagers sometimes do buy their own junk food, like chips or candy, and that's fine with me, because most of the time they're eating well, and it was their money.

So, want a challenge? Go look in your fridge and find something that needs to get used up, and find a way to use it for dinner tonight! One ingredient can inspire a whole meal and will make you feel like a clever homemaker and a wise steward. Good luck!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Babies Forever

Loving sweet baby Conor

I've been thinking a lot lately about the fact that I'm never going to have another baby. I'm trying to make peace with it, since mostly the realization makes my heart very, very sad. When you're young, it's so easy to think you have forever in the "mommy" stage, being pregnant, having babies. I loved it so much. I loved being pregnant, I loved giving birth, (though I'll admit, I hate the first day after giving birth--afterbirth pains are the worst), I loved nursing my babies, sleeping with my babies, staring at my babies, kissing my babies, squishing my babies, and watching them grow. Well, that part is kind of bittersweet. Then you blink, and your kids are grown up! I realized a few weeks ago that I am not a young mommy anymore. Not that I'm old, but I look around at the young mothers in the ward, and it dawns on me, "I used to be in that category." Now, I'm not. I don't have a little flock of young ones under my feet anymore, I have big, giant kids. Thank goodness for Conor, my second round!

If life had worked out the way I had planned, I would have had more children. The jewels in my crown. But life took a different direction. Interrupted my childbearing years with a divorce. Then the grace to give it one more chance. I wish Adam and I could have had more babies, but we had such strains between us. And now, Conor is getting ready for kindergarten and I will (hopefully) start nursing school. I can't even see how that would work. Starting all over again with a baby, when I fantasize about it, would definitely have its drags. Life is uncomplicated right now, with the youngest being almost 5. But as my older ones prepare to leave the nest, part of me wants to fill it up again, just keep doing what I love. Being a mother. It's one of the grandest purposes of this life anyway.

Last night, after taking Aiden out to Baskin Robbins for a surprise ice cream treat (after his piano practice), I spent some time writing in the journal I keep for him, about the whole wake up to practice thing. I flipped back in his journal to the pregnancy entries, when he was growing inside me and I didn't know if he would even be a girl or a boy, but how deeply in love with him I already was. Then, as he grew, he tumbled around in my belly like the boy I discovered him to be, and I can still feel little Lyndsay and Dylan's sweet hands on my swollen abdomen, pushing the protrusions of little baby feet back in and laughing at the game of it all. I remember the reverence of the night of his birth, and the miracle of looking into the eyes of a child fresh from God, entrusted to my care. I remember sleeping with him suckling next to me, or just curled up against my body through the night time. Thinking that those experiences are over for me is so hard. Time goes by, and one stage ends as another begins.

I wish I could have prolonged the time.

I prayed last night, thanking Heavenly Father for the gift of being a mother, since I realize so many would give anything for that gift and are denied. I thanked Him for the gift of being able to carry my children in my womb, since I know how many come to motherhood in other ways. Four times I had that sacred privilege, and I am so grateful. I don't mean to be greedy, but now that I'm staring "done" in the face, it kinda tears me up. And then I wonder, if I had ten children, would being "done" still bring a sadness with it?

I hope I can still have babies in the eternities. I prayed for that too.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Wake Up Call

The rule is, Aiden practices 30 minutes a day, Lyndsay practices 60.

Do they love it? Not so much.

I have taught both of them piano, but last summer I made the decision to farm them out to a friend of mine who also teaches. With my 12 (paying) students, and being a mom, and taking care of the house, and school, it became too easy for me to put off teaching my own kids, even when they would beg me for a lesson. "I'm tired, let's do it tomorrow." They both do well on piano and continued to show interest, so I felt like it was worth it to pay someone else to move them along.

But with children, interest wanes. I see it with my students, I see it with my own children. Music practice is hard. It's relentless. Just when you master one piece, you start all over on another from the ground up. Music practice also builds confidence, though. When you attempt to do something hard, and find that after time you can do it, there is nothing that beats the thrill. And, kids look forward to and enjoy their lessons much more if they feel prepared for them.

So, the rule is, Aiden practices 30 minutes a day, Lyndsay, 60.

Yesterday, Aiden came home from school and had a little bit of time before my lessons began and before he was getting picked up to go to a friend's house. I asked him if he wanted to do his practice then, or wait until he got home. He chose after he got home. (duh) I reminded him that I had school and would not be home, so he would have to be sure to get it done. He promised me.

I got home from school at 10pm. First question I asked Lyndsay (who was still up with Dylan watching 24 on Netflix) was whether they had both done their practice. She had, Aiden had not, despite the fact that she and Adam both reminded him. Now he was sleeping.

Oh, dear. I hated what I felt like I had to do.

I went into his room, and woke him up. "Aiden, get up, you need to go do your practice."

He didn't stir at first, and then with a repeated nudge, he sleepily sat up and said, "What? Mom, you're crazy."

"Get up. You gave me your word, Aiden, and you are a boy who keeps his word, so go downstairs and practice your piano."

Not happy.

He protested, telling me he would do extra tomorrow, how tired he was. "Aiden, I gave you the choice, and you promised me. How can you sleep knowing you didn't keep your promise? I'm helping you have a clear conscience so you can sleep better." My voice was getting louder. He got up and sat himself down on the bench. I set the timer.

He played "I Feel My Savior's Love," with a little more anger than I think was intended. So, I sang from the kitchen as I loaded the dishwasher, hoping to lighten the mood, "I feel my mother's love, when she wakes me up to practice!"

He told me to stop.

He got through his 30 minutes and went back up to bed. I went in to check on him, and he had some tears in his eyes. I told him how much I loved him, how much I appreciated him practicing, and how sorry I was that I had to wake him up. Gave him some kisses, and wished him a good night. My heart ached. Sometimes it's so hard to be tough as a mom.

I wondered what I'd meet with Aiden this morning. He came down, and I said, "Good morning, Aiden. I love you." He replied with the same, and after a few minutes, he added, "I'm sorry about last night, Mom."

Oh, I love that boy! He's such a treasure.

When he gets home, it's 30 minutes on the piano. But then, I may take him for an ice cream cone. I can't be too tough.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sweet Peace

My friend, Ale, and me with Hilary Weeks

Me with Kris Belcher and her sweet guide dog, Nadine

with the beautifully radiant, Mariama Kallon

Time Out for Women was so satisfying, like the best spiritual meal, at a table surrounded by my best friends. Each speaker gave me something I needed. Each song tugged at my heart. I laughed hard. Tears trickled down my cheeks as I successfully avoided the sobbing cry (like when Hilary Weeks sang the song about wishing she could make time stand still while her children were still young. That was a killer, in a good way. You know, where you just want to play a song over and over again and keep on crying?)

We got to hear from Michael McLean, John Bytheway, and Kris Belcher (my new favorite person--she was born with a cancer in her eyes and as a result of the radiation she received to save her sight and her life as a baby, she ended up with tumors that cost her her sight and one of her eyes thirty years later. She has learned to trust in God and even find humor in her new life. And man, is she hilarious!) on Friday night, and on Saturday, we heard from Hilary Weeks and Mariama Kallon (survivor from war-torn Sierra Leone, saved by minutes from having her arms and legs chopped off by a machete, though her sister was not so lucky, and who joined the Church years after carrying one of the humanitarian hygiene kits around for years given her by the Church. She came and did a fireside for our Stake some time ago, and I've never forgotten her.) We also heard from DeAnne Flynn (who wrote that great Mother's Mite book), Laurel Christensen (her talks on CD are so fabulous for YW--she was fantastic), Mary Ellen Edmunds (always a classic), and Wendy Ulrich.

Several times during the talks, mention was made about "that burden on your heart" or "that heavy trial you're carrying", or something in similar vein. For most of my life, I've always known what that is. Oh yeah, front and center. But this time, I actually had to stop and think to myself, "Hey, what is my heavy burden?" And I realized, I don't feel weighed down.

I mean, sure, things aren't perfect. If I think about it for a minute or two, tears will flow that Dylan is moving out, or that Lyndsay has one year left before she follows. (but to be honest, I've been crying about my kids moving out since they were born!) I still struggle with the fact that I'll never carry another baby within my womb, or give birth, or nurse a little one at my breast. Killer! My marriage isn't perfect, and I'm still crossing fingers that I get accepted into the nursing program. Financial security sure would be helpful. And I miss my parents and siblings.

But, stillness. Peace. I realized I had already commended all of my trials into the hands of Savior, and I trust Him to use them for my good. My heart doesn't feel heavy! I am okay, and even strong, despite sadness over some things and struggles with others. Life will never be free of trial, and peace is possible in the midst of it.

I am so, so grateful.

Friday, April 8, 2011

When Ya Gotta Go, Ya Gotta Go

I'm headed out of town again today. This time all for ME. I'm going with a friend up to Fresno to attend Time Out for Women, and it will be extra fabulous because we will be the guests of Hilary Weeks, which means we get to sit right up front with her and the other presenters and have lunch with all of them in between sessions. We were hoping that NieNie would be one of the speakers, but she's not on the circuit yet, I guess. Maybe next time.

Still, Time Out for Women, which is an all day event for women put on by Deseret Book, featuring well-loved speakers, writers, and performers, is always an amazing experience. Such a battery-charger. I could really use that.

Like mothers everywhere, I spend the majority of my time, and mental and emotional energy on others--mostly my children. Taking care of me is always in my radar, because I know how important it is for my vessel to be full, but even knowing that doesn't mean it happens like it should. And, to be honest, even when I make the effort, I am often interrupted or distracted.

So, to get ready to head out of town for two days, I've been busy at home making sure I won't really be missed. Preparing a schedule for everyone to follow so people know where they have to be (Lyndsay and Dylan are working at a wedding open house tonight, and Lyns takes the ACT in the morning), a meal plan (so the family doesn't just eat Doritos and gummy worms all weekend)--including doing some baking (chocolate zucchini bread from OurBestBites.com), and making a chore chart (so that things get done around here and I don't come home to a disaster). Everything will be fine. All my lists and schedules are posted to the fridge. Adam does a terrific job, willingly taking over so that I can have this treat.

I'll get all the kids fed and off to school, and then, it's MY time!

Monday, April 4, 2011

On the Road with Dylan

Last week I took Dylan on a road trip, just the two of us. There were several reasons for the trip, but mostly it was because I wanted some time with my biggest boy, the one who has gone and grown up, and the one who will be moving to his dad's this summer. I get all torn up and weepy inside realizing I have only about 100 days left with my Dylan in my nest, and no certainty that he will ever return for more than a visit. How the years fly by!

The last few years have been difficult ones, with butting heads and budding independence. I wanted some time with him outside of our home to build some sweet memories and so that he could feel my attention, my devotion, and my love, just for him.

We filled the days together, and I treated him to things we hardly ever get to do. We ate at his favorite restaurants (The Outback and Golden Corral). We saw a movie (Red Riding Hood). We went mini-golfing. We did some shopping.

On Friday we drove out to Zion National Park for a hike. We decided to hike to the three Emerald Pools. The Lower Pool was an easy hike, the Middle Pool not much harder. The Upper Pool was a bit tougher, and I had to stop a few times to catch my breath. Dylan hiked behind me so that he could catch me if I fell, which I didn't, but I thought it was sweet of him. When there were big rocks to climb up to, or jump over, he would go ahead of me and offer me his hand. We made it to the top, and reveled in our accomplishment. I thought about how our relationship has evolved from a little boy who needs everything from his mom, to an almost-man, who now gives to me and helps me as much as I help him. Our strengths balance each other. Not just on the hike, but on our walk through life, Dylan has stretched my heart and opened my eyes to so many things that have helped me to grow. Raising him has been a privilege, and I'm so glad we had this chance, one-on-one to create happy memories together.