Thursday, August 25, 2011

This Summer in Pictures

Tomorrow is my last official day of summer. Nursing school begins bright and early Monday morning. (Yikes!) Though I didn't really go anywhere, this summer was very eventful.

For starters, Aiden graduated from elementary school.

I celebrated my last night with all four of my children living under my roof.

Conor "graduated" from preschool (where he'd only been attending for 3 1/2 months).

I planted a garden.

I sent Lyndsay and Dylan to Flagstaff to attend EFY (Especially for Youth) at Northern Arizona University for a week. Then they spent some time with their dad.

When they got home from EFY, I sent Dylan and Aiden off to Scout Camp, their only year to go together.

While the boys were at Scout Camp, I sent Lyndsay off to Mexico for two weeks.

I spent July 4th with all my boys, including Adam, of course. We went to the Sunland-Tujunga parade and then a traditional party at a friend's house, followed by fireworks.

The next day was my last day with Dylan, so I took him on a date. Mini-golf and frozen yogurt. Conor came along.

Then I cried really hard when I had to say goodbye to him and take him to the airport.

Then I watched him get on the plane and I cried some more.

Then I came home and turned my grief into action by repainting and re-bedding the boys' room and Lyndsay's room.

I got to spend some time with my sister, Abby, and her family for a few days, and Lyndsay came home from Mexico on her birthday.

How have enough years passed that my little girl has 17 candles on her cake?!

We celebrated quickly.

Because the next day she left again to go on the Youth Pioneer Trek.

Meanwhile, Abby and Orion treated me, Aiden, and Conor to a trip to the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, a place I've always wanted to go.

Then Abby and her fam had to pack up and move on toward New York. I spent days getting health clearances, blood work, and immunizations in preparation for the RN program. Also a fingerprint clearance, American Heart Association lifesaving certification. Oh, and spending a small fortune on textbooks and uniforms. I also did light homeschooling with Conor and got him started reading. And we read the three E.B. White classics aloud. That was fun.

But some days we snuck away to the park, or to go swimming.

Then I took Aiden and Lyndsay to Arizona to spend some time with their dad. Lyndsay came home after a few weeks, Aiden is still there.

Amber surprised me one Sunday afternoon by knocking on my door unannounced. I love when she does that.

I sent Lyndsay off, yet again, this time for a week of Girls Camp.

And I turned my loneliness into jam. Lots of jam.

And I took Conor to the California Science Center. It's FREE! And very, very cool.

Lyndsay came home and we hosted a Game Night for a bunch of friends.

Then the next day we went to the beach.

Then Conor turned 5.

Lyndsay started her Senior year. (Aaaagh!)

And Adam turned 39.

In between, I've read some books, watched some rented movies, and caught up with some friends. On Monday, I start school and Aiden comes home. Summer is pretty much wrapping up. It's been a pretty heavy emotional one for me, with transitions everywhere I turn. One child moving out, a child in her last year at home, and my baby going to kindergarten. And learning to be a real nurse!

All these things shall give me experience, and shall be for my good. Or something like that.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Beans for Butter: White Bean Episode

Earlier this year I stumbled upon Crystal Godfrey's blog, Everyday Food Storage. I enjoyed browsing around, watching some of her videos, and then I joined her 10 Day Challenge. Most of what she shared and taught was not new information to me, but what I appreciated was the little kick in the pants to put into actual practice so many of the tips I've mentally gathered over the years regarding actually using the food I'm storing. Of special importance to me was using more powdered milk (including making evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk from that powdered milk) and powdered eggs. Those products don't last quite as long as wheat, and if left forgotten will spoil, and result in a big waste of money. I'm not into that. I saw that Crystal had a cookbook, so in the spring, I bought a copy and read it.

I tried several recipes with success, and I love the accountability that her cookbook provides, with write-in pages committing you to actually practice what you're learning. I set a goal to try each section (Wheat, Powdered Milk, Powdered Eggs, Beans, Fruits and Vegetables). The Beans section particularly interested me because I've read for years and years and years how beans can be substituted for butter or oil in baked goods. I love me some butter, and I don't shy away from it, as I believe it contributes to health, however, I don't know if you've noticed, but butter costs a lot more than beans do, and beans also contribute to health. I wanted to see how things tasted with this substitution because it's very important to my peace of mind to know that under any circumstance, come what may, I can still make cookies.

The thing with bean substitution is that you just use the color of beans that matches your end product. My sister uses black beans in brownies, for example (that's coming up for me!), so since I decided to start with white beans, I was making light-colored baked goods.

I set my goals, right in the book, as directed: (though I ended up changing the oatmeal raisin cookies for oatmeal chocolate chip, because, well, duh.) Oh, and the Chili got bumped to tomorrow night because I had to harvest tomatoes.

I opened up a bag of white beans and set them to soak.

After soaking, which though it takes some time, can easily become just a plan-ahead habit, I drained and rinsed them, and then put them back into water to cook.

The first recipe I wanted to try was actually not in the cookbook, but in the email newsletter from Crystal's site: Homemade Nutrigrain Bars. I figured it would be an excellent quick grab breakfast for the days I have early morning classes or clinicals and can't eat with the kids, or on days that I'm gone and they need something healthy.

First step is just like butter. Just mix the beans and sugar, and then continue on with the recipe. I also used powdered eggs in this recipe, and if you do, you do not add the water portion of the eggs because the beans add enough moisture that you don't need to.

The recipe uses whole wheat flour (which I ground up), oat flour (which I pulsed in the food processor), and suggests almonds (which I also pulsed in the food processor). Half of the dough gets pressed on the bottom of a pan, and then I used some of my homemade strawberry jam for the filling layer, and then the rest of the dough gets pressed on top. Into the oven!

I let them cool all the way, and then cut the pan into 14 bars. They were easy to cut and kept their shape without too much crumbling. Everyone had one for breakfast with a glass of milk.

The rest I packed into snack sized Ziplocs and froze them for future breakfast emergencies. I plugged them into a program I use to find that they each have 270 calories, 5g of fiber, and 8g of protein. That's if you cut 14 bars---you could cut yours smaller if you'd like. Paired with a glass of cold milk it's a suitable, and filling breakfast. In fact, I never even felt the usual blood sugar drop around 11am that I usually feel, reminding me to grab a snack. Lots of whole grains, slowly releasing their glucose into the bloodstream. Now, yes, Nutrigrain bars from Kellogg's have less calories, but they also have a lot of unfamiliar ingredients, and they would never in a million years satisfy me for a meal. Nor would I give them to my children as a breakfast. So, there you have it.

Do you want the recipe? Here it is:

  • 1 cup cooked white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs (1/4 c. dry egg powder and NO water)
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup coarse oat flour (take quick oats and pulse in blender until a coarse flour)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder (make sure it's fresh!)
  • 1½ cups chopped almonds, optional
  • 3/4 cup raspberry (or other fruit) jam

Heat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9"x13" baking pan.

Place the beans and sugars in a large bowl, and cream them until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs (egg powder).

In a small bowl, combine the flours, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture, then mix or stir in the almonds.

Use your fingers to press half of the dough into the bottom of the baking pan. (You may need to grease your fingers with non-stick spray to keep the dough from sticking to your fingers.)

Put the jam in a small bowl and loosen it up with a small whisk or a fork (this will make it spread easier). Spread the jam evenly over the dough, leaving about a 1/4-inch border around the edges.

Sprinkle the remaining dough over the jam, all the way to the edges of the pan, and then press on it gently to form the top layer.

Bake until the top is golden and the edges are starting to brown, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely in the pan, and then cut into whatever size bars you like and serve. The bars will keep for at least three or four days at room temperature, or you can freeze them.

The other recipe I tried was the Reduced-fat Chocolate Chip Cookies from the cookbook. These also used white beans (thus, the reduced-fat), and they turned out deliciously! You do have to spray the cookie sheets when using beans instead of butter. These were yummy, and the batch made 61 cookies for me, most of which I froze for lunch snacks.

I still have a bowl of cooked white beans in the fridge to finish off my experiments, but I am very encouraged so far, and will definitely continue in the effort to try pinto beans and black beans in recipes. I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lessons in Love: Dylan Style

Today I was supposed to be getting on the road with Conor to go see Dylan in Arizona for the weekend. I was so looking forward to it. I had planned to pick him up from school today and have him walk me around his new campus, just briefly, and then take him for some ice cream. I knew that tomorrow would be a school day for him, so I would take him home, get a quick peek at his new room, and then leave him for the evening and I would spend some time with one of my best friends. On Friday after school I wanted to take him (and possibly Aiden) out to dinner and a movie, and then on Saturday, I'd hoped to take Dylan to a Frank Lloyd Wright architecture school in Scottsdale to look around, and then some mini-golf, and then a swim/game night over at my brother's house where my AZ family was going to gather so we could see each other. On Sunday I was going to go to Sacrament Meeting at his new ward and then head home.

I know he's only been gone since July 6th, but he's already started school, and I missed that. I'm about to start the RN program, and I have no idea when the next time I can sneak away will be. Dylan isn't scheduled to come home until Thanksgiving break, so I thought this quick trip would be opportune. But when I talked with him on the phone last week, for really, the first time since he left, and I was enthusiastically telling him how much fun we'd have and how I couldn't wait to see him, all I got was silence on the other end. Awkward silence.

So, an uncomfortable conversation ensued, and it became apparent to me that he was not interested in my visit. He thought it was "weird" and "unnecessary". Frankly, he was rude and cold to me, and I was terribly deflated and in tears. I told him to just forget it then, that I would not come out, and I got off the phone. I called his dad in my tears and explained what had happened, and he was not happy to hear how Dylan had treated me, but agreed that maybe the visit should be postponed, though he knew how difficult and hurtful that was for me.

I really thought Dylan's conscience would bug him and he would call me to apologize. Not to beg me to come anyway, but maybe just to smooth things over between us and say he was sorry for being so rude to me. But he didn't.

I was really bummed. I felt rejected. I cried a lot.

On Sunday I wrote him a letter, expressing my heart, and telling him how much I love him. I told myself, "He just needs more time, more space." I've been trying to be okay. His dad tells me how happy Dylan is, how he wakes up early every morning, cheerful and ready to go. How he comes home after school and does his homework right away and how he performs random acts of kindness around the home. How they're having so much fun together, and how they are like "peas in a pod". Well, how can he be so happy and still treat his mother like crap? Which is why it's hard to keep that voice stifled that whispers, "It's you."


Yesterday I had the most blessed conversation with a dear, dear friend of mine. During the years that I've known her, she's been a struggling single mom. Oh, how she's struggled! And though I have tried to be a strength to her, really, it's me gleaning the strength from her. Her faith is so pure and so constant! After she filled me in on the incredible details of the last few months of her life (which, includes a new marriage that happened in the most miraculous way, a move to a new state where she gets to live her dream of being in the mountains, and financial security--really, the last year of her life should be a movie!), she asked how I was doing. I skimmed around the meaty parts, not wanting to bring down the mood, and hoped she wouldn't ask specifically about Dylan.

But she did. She's awesomely in-tune that way.

As soon as I started to express what I was feeling, the tears came too. She listened, and then she chastened me. "Shut up," she said to me. "Shut up! Have you no faith in what you believe, and in what you've taught him his whole life? You have been the most remarkable mother to him. You have trained him up in the way he should go! He just needs time. He needs to become a man, and he can't do that with you. He's gone off to find his way as a man, and to find out what he truly believes and why, and he might make some mistakes along the way, but you have trained him up, and he will not depart from it! He's not even aware of why he's treating you the way that he is, except that he knows that out of every person on this planet, you are the most constant in his life, the safest, most secure source of love. He loves you, Jenna! Don't take his reactions so personally. He loves you, but it's not going to look like the love that you want him to show you. He's trying to become a man, and when he does, you are going to look at him and be so proud of him, and see that he is everything you ever hoped for him. He is going to be such an amazing man, you'll see. And all of your children will rise up and call you blessed! You have done everything you can to be a good mother, and God will honor that!"

It went on longer. I wish I could have recorded it to put it on my iPod. It was so comforting, so reassuring to me, and I felt the confirmation that her words were true. It's so hard to wait! It's hard to wait for the bread to rise, for my schooling to be completed, for the hand of the Lord in my children's lives. And yet, I must remember that while I'm waiting, the bread is rising, my schooling is being completed, and the hand of the Lord is working in my children's lives. Sometimes I'm so faithless.

Dylan is where he is supposed to be, doing what he is supposed to be doing to become who he is supposed to be. I have not failed, and I have not been rejected. This is a season of separateness for us, but it is still a season for love. My love as his mother has been an anchoring foundation in his life, and it will not fail him now.


Late last night, I checked my email to find a message from Dylan. He hasn't used email in years, but decided to get back on. He was happy. He used exclamation points!!!!!!!!!

And all is well. Including me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Last First Day

Yesterday was bittersweet. Yesterday was the last day I will ever be able to see Lyndsay off on her first day of school. Senior year!

I remember years ago, standing in front of the big picture window in our Show Low house, watching the school bus pull up. Lyndsay and Dylan were standing next to me. We had been homeschooling already for two years. Lyndsay was reading well and doing second grade math. But that day was the day she was supposed to be getting on that bus to go to kindergarten. That day was the day we officially were doing things our way, and my babies were staying home to learn with me. We watched as the school bus pulled away, and there we all still were, together! We got right back to work at our big dining room table.

All those years ago, I had such grand plans for the education of my children. I saw bright futures for them, and I did all I could to help guide them along. Each fall meant boxes of curriculum and books showing up on our porch, one of the greatest feelings ever. I am so grateful to have had those years of learning together. I'm sure I remember much more of what we learned than they do, but those years helped to build them, not just as learners, but as people. Now they are excellent at both.

The decision to send Lyndsay to public school when she was ready for high school was a tough one, but it was a decision that I felt confirmed by the Holy Ghost, and it has been a strengthening experience for her. She has been exposed to many things I wish she hadn't, but she's also been refined and tested, and she glows brighter for it. Now she is ready to embrace this last year of high school, at the top of her game. Next year, she will have a first day of class somewhere far away from home, but home will be always be with her, inside of her, a part of her.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bat Birthday Boy

Right now there are two things that Conor loves: Batman and Star Wars. When deciding on a cake for his 5th birthday, without question it had to fall into one of those two categories. We almost went Star Wars, but a few days before, he came back around to Batman, and I was sort of relieved, because I wasn't sure how I was going to pull off a quick and easy Star Wars cake. It had to be quick and easy because time was really crunched, and because I didn't want a huge cake since half of our kids are not at home to eat it.

Conor knew we were going to the beach for his birthday. Early yesterday morning, while we were still in bed, he cracked open my bedroom door, and with his champion bedhead, shoved an open hand in the door, fingers spread, and said, "I'm 5!"

"Actually, no, you're not," Adam said. Oh, great.

Conor looked crestfallen. "Yeah, mom said we were going to the beach for my birthday and that when we wake up we are going to the beach, so that means it's my birthday!"

"Nope, you're still 4," Adam taunted. He loves to do that, taunt Conor.

"Well, Conor, actually, your birthday is tomorrow, but since Lyndsay is going on a trip tomorrow, we are pretending your birthday is today." I tried to smooth things over.

And then he said, "I think I'm going to be sick." (He did look suddenly very pale.) And he ran into our bathroom and threw his head into the toilet.

He didn't actually throw up, which was a relief, and his sudden illness was confusing, but it passed just as quickly as it came, probably because he drank a whole bunch of water when he woke up, and water on an empty stomach first thing in the morning makes me feel nauseated too.

So, we spent the day at the beach. Conor loves the beach. He spent an equal amount of time playing in sand and sea. In fact, he doesn't call it the 'ocean', he prefers 'sea'. And he kept saying, "Will you go out to sea with me?" or "I love to play in the sea."

Back at home around 5pm, Lyndsay and I hustled to get dinner on the table while Conor rinsed off his sand and sea in the shower upstairs. He'd chosen Baked Creamy Chicken Taquitos for his birthday dinner, with some "squashed" (refried) beans, and corn on the cob. He got to choose who said his birthday dinner prayer (Sean), and once the "amens" were uttered, right away he ushered us into our birthday family tradition. "Okay," he said, "Sean, you can go first to say what you love about me." And then he proceeded to order each of us to say what we loved about him. Which is so, so easy to do. But then a surprise ending, as he continued, "What I love about me is that I can control my body so that I can enjoy all my happy things." (He's been especially interested in the topic of self-control lately. He's an interesting guy.)

Next up was Bat Cake, and singing, and making wishes.

How in the world can there be five candles on my baby's cake? At first, he wished for "all the toys in the world", but he said that one out loud, so clearly it's not going to come true. And then I think maybe his self-control hasn't come all that far after all.

Then it was presents time, and he was very thankful and very satisfied. We got Batman and Star Wars covered, and a Leapster Explorer game too.

Lastly, the Gum Ceremony. In our family, children have to wait until they're 5 years old to chew gum. On their 5th birthday, we give them a pack of gum and videotape/photograph their first gum-chewing experience. Lyndsay clearly remembers her Gum Ceremony, which delighted me. For Conor, it was somewhat of a let-down. He popped a piece in his mouth and began chewing. He passed out pieces for the rest of us to enjoy. Then he got up to go into the bathroom. I asked him what he was doing and he said, "I'm spitting it out." "Why?" I asked. "Because that's what you're supposed to do!" he answered. Clearly, chewing something for simply the purpose of chewing it seemed ridiculous to him. Oh well. At least now the mystery and intrigue of gum has been satisfied.

On the way up to bed, Conor said, "This was the best birthday ever! Thank you so much, Mom, for all of my new toys! I love my new toys!"

And I said, "You're so welcome, baby boy. You deserve them."

And he said, "You're right, I do deserve them."

Clearly his self-esteem, if not his self-control, is way above the mark. But I love that he thinks he is something else. I think he is too.