Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yep, I Do Believe I'm an Ant

Conor wanted to know why we were going to the grocery store again, to buy more strawberries. I told him there are two kinds of people in this world: ants and grasshoppers, taken from one of my favorite fables. I told him how all summer long, the ant worked each day to gather and store food. He knew that winter would come and food would not be plentiful. He used the warm weather and abundance of the season to prepare for tomorrow. Meanwhile, the grasshopper just spent his time singing and dancing and relaxing. He had no need at that moment, and grasshoppers are really only concerned about that moment. Well, winter did come, and the grasshopper was cold, and hungry. There wasn't food to be found under all that snow. The ant, however, was toasty warm in his home with his stores of food filled to overflowing. He could relax and enjoy security in the harshness of winter because he had not wasted his summer in frivolity.

"Now, which would you rather be?" I asked Conor. "An ant, or a grasshopper?"

Well, an ant, of course.

And that's why we're going back to the store for more strawberries.

Also, I reminded him, our prophet has counseled us to do all we can to be prepared for a time of need. Food will not always be readily available, and we do not ever want to be hungry. So, when food is plentiful, as in summer time, and it is on sale, we buy as much as we can!

One of my basic food storage goals is to be able to always have homemade wheat bread and fresh jam available. I don't know about you, but I could live on those two items for a long time, happily. I feel like I've become competent with bread and know that my ton of wheat will never go to waste. Living in California, where fruit is amazing, I decided to make as much jam as I could, to last us throughout the winter---which, admittedly, isn't as romantic a winter as I wish we had, all snowed in and cozy, but still. I try not to buy fruits and vegetables out of their season, which means, I'm not buying strawberries in January, even if I can find them in the store.

I made two batches of strawberry jam yesterday, to add 8 pints to my storage. I plan to make another batch once my pectin arrives in the mail. I then stemmed additional berries and froze them in one-pound batches for use in breakfast smoothies once school starts. As you can see from the picture of my fridge, I still have about 10 pounds left to use--more jam, more to freeze, some to eat fresh on steel-cut oats. Or, in yogurt. Or, just for a snack! And today, when berry prices jump back up to more than triple what I paid, it won't bother me a bit. My strawberry stores are full!

(And I also have peaches and mangos ready to be jammed, and offers to glean apricots and blackberries for even more! Winter will be sweet indeed!)

Monday, July 25, 2011

They Left Over a Week Ago, But I'm Just Still Happy!

I should have blogged about this last week, but I was busy cramming for a midterm. No matter, because reliving it today makes me all happy inside. The bad thing about living in California, for me, is that none of my family lives in California. The good thing about living in California, is that people tend to come here for vacation. And people that live in Hawaii, who are in the process of moving to New York, have to come to California, and that's when I get lucky. My youngest sister Abby and her family have lived in Hawaii for the last three years and are now being transferred to upstate New York---how's that for a change in climate? Her husband, Orion, is a hard working Army man, and that's the name of the game. So, off they go. And very cool, they planned a cross-country road trip to visit most of the family along the way. I got to be first.

Abby has three adorable children. If you remember from years ago, I traveled out to Kentucky with baby Conor to help her when she had her second little boy, while her husband was in Afghanistan. Now she has a pudgy, delightfully joyful, squishy-soft baby girl, named Kaydence. She is 5 1/2 months old, and I was meeting her for the first time, which I found interesting, since my Lyndsay was exactly that age when Abby and the rest of my family met her for the first time. And now, 16 1/2 years later, Abby has her girl, and mine's about to fly from the nest. I love this picture of us with our brown-eyed girls.

Kaydence reminds me so much of baby Lyns, with her big brown eyes and dark eyebrows. What a little love she is!

Though Conor (as always) was initially resistant to the onslaught of people wanting to play with his toys, he warmed up to the idea, and loved having his cousins, Calix and Maddox, around. After all, Batman is much more fun if you don't have to be the good guy and the bad guys, right?

My kids loved on Kaydence. Aiden will be such a great daddy.

What I was so looking forward to was taking all the kids to the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. I've wanted to go for years! I only had Aiden and Conor by that time, but it was great fun.

Conor took frequent breaks to pat Kaydence's head or hold her hand. He was enamored with her and made comments about how fun it would be to have a baby sister. But that's not happening, sadly. I did love how gentle he was with her.

The boys in front of a large tank: Calix, Maddox, Conor, Aiden.

Petting some baby sharks.

Shark Lagoon was cool! And we had the nicest weather. We spent four hours at the Aquarium, and had such a good time together.

Last I heard, Abby's now in Iowa, having spent some days in Arizona with a crowd of siblings (and our dad) and up in Colorado with another crowd (and our mom). I'm really excited for her family adventure up in New York. I know she's dreading the snow and the cold, but she'll do fine. She has grown up into a capable, wonderful mother with a beautiful marriage and family. I am so proud of her! And her visit did my heart good.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Brother Forever

These pictures make me cry. They are the last two days we had Dylan here with us. And they make me cry because though I've been so wrapped up in how Dylan's leaving affects me, I sometimes forget to remember that Dylan's leaving affects each of us, even little Conor.

Conor adores his big brother. Dylan wasn't always the best influence on him, teaching him things for kicks that we would rather he not, for example, but Dylan and Conor have a sweet bond. Dylan was there when Conor was born, cheering me on through the pushes. He has been so kind and patient with Conor and has almost limitless patience with him. Conor feels cool when he's with Dylan. He wants to do the big boy things that Dylan does. In fact, though I was the one in tears the days leading up to Dylan's departure, the only emotional thing that Dylan ever talked about was how much he was going to miss Conor. And they did spend some tender times together those last few days.

I drove Lyndsay and Aiden out to Arizona to spend time with their dad and Dylan on Monday. Conor, of course, came along for the ride. He was so excited to see Dylan. The hardest part came when Conor started talking about his birthday next month and asked Dylan if he would be at his party. When Dylan explained that he couldn't be, Conor's face just fell, and his big blue eyes filled with tears. It broke my heart. He clung to his brother, and when it was time to drive away, Conor sobbed in his car seat back down the I-10 West. When I asked him if he wanted to talk about it, he just said, "I just want my brothers and sister home with me."

Me too, buddy, me too.

I feel sad inside that my children feel sadness. As if my own emotion wasn't enough, I feel all of theirs too. Dylan needs to be in Arizona with his dad right now, I know that. I feel peaceful about that. But seeing how his needs affect the other kids really clarifies to me how important every member of a family is. We need to all be there! It's hard to not be together. Not just for a mom, but for a brother! Brothers need brothers. We all need each other, and when life takes us apart from one another, it's hard.

Dylan only has three years left of living at home before college or a mission or whatever he chooses to do with life. Of course, I had hoped to have those three years here with me, and here with Aiden and Conor. Conor's at an age where he very likely will have no memory of living with Dylan as he grows up, which is very sad to me. We will have to find a way to keep the bonds of brotherhood strong across the miles. After all, we believe family relationships are eternal. Thank goodness for that.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Room Reveal

It looks better in person, but here's a glimpse into the new bedroom for the boys with fresh paint and new bedding. Conor is loving his graduation to a big boy bed in the big boy room with Aiden, and Aiden is king of the roost on the top bunk.

There's a great big framed print on the wall over the third bed, which you can't see, obviously, and behind this shot is the dresser and the bookcase, all organized and lovely. There's a big walk-in closet in this room too, which we painted, re-organized, and used our newly found space to store 24 of the buckets of food storage that had been in our family room. That helps a lot! I still need to get a curtain in navy blue for this room, and a bedskirt for the third bed.

And then the super big surprise! Aiden and I redid Lyndsay's room too as a birthday present for her! It was so hard to keep it a secret. We did it the day after we did his room. Cleaned everything, repainted, Aiden took down and hung up all the shelving and pictures, hard worker that he is. I found the awesome Amy Butler bedding set at Bed, Bath, and Beyond and fell in love with it. You should have seen Lyndsay's face when she walked in after getting home from Mexico. She is so in love with it! It makes me so happy to make my kids happy. (And clean rooms make me happy too.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Busy Hands and Happy Hearts

My husband says I move at a million miles per hour. I do? Maybe that's why I'm so tired. I think this last week he may have been right, but I have found that nothing beats depression and moody funks like being busy, having a project, getting things done. It's how I cope. Well, when I'm lucky it's how I cope. Other times I cope with ice cream, sad movies, and crying. Then again, maybe that's not coping?


Last week was hard. Sunday was my last Sunday with Dylan. Monday was my last Monday with Dylan. Tuesday was my last Tuesday with Dylan and my last night with Dylan living here. (See the pattern here?) Wednesday was torture. Thursday, my handcart pioneer stock kicked in and I got back on the trail. Pushing and pulling. And painting.

I decided to purge and repaint the boys' room to help encourage a fresh start, and to also help Aiden with his grief with a celebration of now being The Big Brother. He helped me completely empty that bedroom and walk-in closet. Huge task. He worked like a dog from early morning till 11pm, never once complaining or asking for a break. He was amazing! And he was such a joy to work with, because he sees what needs to be done--sometimes even before I do, which is a trick, let me tell you--and he just does it! He hauled furniture, tubs of toys, books, more furniture. He took pictures off the walls. He filled nail holes with putty. He sanded the filled holes. He masked the walls and trim. He painted, and painted, and painted with me (and the missionaries who came to help for 2 hours). And then, near exhaustion, he worked with me for another 2 hours putting everything back. Which included dumping every bucket and bin of toys and sorting them back into their proper homes. And can I just say, I don't know how anyone else has any Legos at all, because it seems like they're all in my house. He was such a joy, and an enormous help. I told him I couldn't have done it without him. And I wasn't just being nice. He said, "Well, some people are good at organizing, but they hate it. I'm good at it and I love it!" (You want to clone him, don't you?)

I know, I know, you want a picture. I actually have some, but I can't put them up yet. I will very soon. It looks amazing, though. We found (well, Aiden found) great new bedding for all three beds, which is what we matched the paint to. Everything is fresh and clean. And organized. Whew!

Tomorrow? Lyndsay's birthday. Lyndsay comes home from Mexico for a brief stay before leaving again on Thursday. My sister Abby and her family (squee!) come to visit on the first stop of their cross-country road trip as they get transferred from Hawaii to upstate New York.

I better get busy!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Book Review: Safe Money Millionaire

I like money books. I have a section of a shelf with money books. This may seem strange, since I don't (yet) actually have any money, but I believe in visualizing my way to success, and someday I will have money and will need to know what to do with it. At least I hope so. And up until recently, I thought I knew the best things to do with money, should I ever come into some. But I just read a book that counters the advice in most of those other books, and most of the advice I've ever heard from financial gurus, like Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman, and I must say, I'm intrigued.

Safe Money Millionaire is a quick, easy to understand, engaging book. You don't have to be a math or finance or accounting whiz to get it. Basically, the premise is this: all the advice and "wisdom" we are programmed with about investing our money on Wall Street or in 401(k) plans is designed to turn a profit, but not necessarily for the one who is actually doing the investing. It happens time and time again, where well-intentioned, hard-working, responsible people max out their 401(k) plans, thinking they are doing the smartest thing, only to be actually losing wealth and valuable time in the volatile market. The authors, Brett Kitchen and Ethan Kap explain what a rate of return is and why a higher rate of return doesn't actually mean that you are getting wealthier. They also debunk the myth about tax savings and 401(k) plans with a great analogy about paying tax on seeds or on crops.

The book does read a little like an infomercial, spending the first half explaining why conventional financial advice is really not wise at all, and then the second half explaining what they believe to be the best and safest way to grow your wealth, which is with cash value life insurance policies that are carefully and strategically set up with a Safe Money Millionaire Advisor. You can grow your money with the "ups" in the market, while protecting it against the "downs". You can borrow against your policy, paying yourself back with interest to grow your wealth, instead of paying banks and finance companies, and earning interest on your balance as if you never borrowed against it. And, in the event of death, benefits are paid to your loved ones.

I liked the chapter about real people who have grown wealth through life insurance policies. People like J.C. Penney, Doris Christopher (founder of Pampered Chef), Walt Disney, and Ray Kroc (McDonald's). I also liked the examples of regular, not-famous individuals who have chosen to grow their money through Safe Money Millionaire principles and how it worked for them. Yes, you do have to go to their website, and yes, you do have to work with one of their advisors, but chances are, if you're serious about your money, you're doing that anyway, and that advisor is offering you options that may not be the best after all.

I am intrigued. I really enjoyed the chance to preview this book, and I actually do plan to go to the website and do more research. Because, you know, I plan to have money one day, and I'd like it to be safe! And growing! And in my pocket, instead of someone else's!

Safe Money Millionaire can be purchased from Amazon. And you can visit the website here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fly Away Home

In the fall of 1995, I sat in a movie theater, great with child. We were watching the movie, Fly Away Home, the story of the young girl who goes to live with her father after her mother dies in a car accident. Her father has not been a part of her life, living on a different continent, and the transition is rocky, but then the girl, while protesting the deforestation about to happen near their property, finds and rescues about a dozen goose eggs. She tucks them into a drawer with heat lamps and watches them carefully, until one day, they begin to hatch! Geese imprint on the first living thing they see, so suddenly, she is the mother to all these baby goslings. They give her life meaning and happiness, and she spends all her free time with them. But she also knows that geese fly to warmer climates in the winter, and it's the mother goose who teaches them how, so she must find a way. With the help of her inventor father, she builds a little plane glider that has wings painted like a goose's, and she trains her geese to make the long-distance flight. Elaborate plans are made to carry this out while avoiding the authorities, and bring her babies south, and finally, after much training, the time comes when they must make the journey. At the end of the trip, of course, the news media has caught wind and are there waiting for them to arrive. Once she has done her part to ensure the safety of her geese, she must turn around and head home. She knows the geese are supposed to return to their spring and summer home, but she has no guarantee that her unconventionally raised geese will know that part.

I can remember my feelings in that movie theater so clearly. I was balling my eyes out, rubbing my round belly. Little Dylan-boy was just finishing up his growing on the inside of me, and I was crying because I knew the day would come when he would have to leave me, and of course little toddler Lyndsay would grow up and leave home too. Even before he was born, I was crying about him leaving!

I suppose I was doomed from the beginning then.

Today was the day that I took Dylan to the airport so he could fly away home. His new home, where he'll get to make new friends, attend a new ward and school, join a new Scout troop, have a new life, and all without me getting to watch it every day as I have for the last 15 years. It was torture sitting there waiting for that plane to pull up to the gate, and when it did, I lost it. Letting him go was one of the hardest things I've ever done. But, I'm not crying for Dylan, I'm crying for me. He left with a piece of my heart---a piece I need! But I will learn to live without it because he needs it more. I know this is the right move for him. I know it's what he needs. But I just miss him so much, already.

Before we left for the airport, I called him to my bedroom, where we knelt together. I held his hands in mine and prayed with all my heart for him during this time, to be safe, to be happy, to have great growth, and to always remember how much he is loved. I prayed for him to remember who he is and to discover the abundance of gifts and talents he has been given so that he can use them to bless others. I prayed that he would live up to who he was sent here to be, and that he would be strong and protected.

I certainly expected to have more time with him in my home. There were things I'd hoped we'd still get to do together, but I have peace that I've done the most important things. And I am still his mother, forever.

As the credits roll at the end of the movie, the pond still frozen over from winter's chill, the honking of geese can be heard, and one at a time geese fly in for a slippery landing on the ice outside the bedroom window of the one who raised them. They all came back! They didn't forget their mother!

I don't know if Dylan will ever come back to live here again, but I do believe that he will always know that he has another home. And I hope he comes to learn that it was out of love that I let him fly away.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Don't Go!

Them. You. (I realized that I haven't blogged in over a week. Please don't stop coming!)

Yeah. So, see that picture up there? What a luxury that is, to have all 4 of my children sitting on one couch in my house. I won't have that again until Thanksgiving. That's why I haven't been blogging much. I've been crying. Well, that and keeping myself busy with things like massive yardwork so I won't sit around crying. These are tough times.

Dylan and Aiden spent last week at Scout Camp. Dylan earned his last merit badge for Eagle, plus one more, and was sick for part of camp. Now, all his dad has to do is help him with the Eagle Project. Motivated young scouter Aiden earned eight merit badges. And came home with the flu.

While the boys were gone, I got Lyndsay ready for her big adventure to Mexico. She left on Friday with my Maria and her family, and from what I hear, she's having a great time. Random people are taking pictures of her, and she's feeling very white, but she's having a great time.

Yesterday the boys and I began the job of cleaning out their room. We're going to rearrange bedrooms once Dylan moves, advancing Aiden to the top bunk and moving Conor from Lyndsay's room into the bottom bunk. We've got Dylan all packed up (*sniff!*) and most everything from the boys' room crammed into the hallway so we can paint later in the week. We all need a fresh start.