Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hawaiian Haystacks and Lyndsay: A Sort-of New Year's Eve Story

Tonight is New Year's Eve. I just drove Lyndsay and her friend back over to the friend's house, where her family is hosting a pre-dance dinner for the youth in our ward before they go to the Stake New Year's Eve dance. (didya get that?)

I knew from an inside scoop that they were serving Hawaiian Haystacks for dinner, so I mentioned it in the car as we drove. Lyndsay had never heard of them. "Really?" I said (maybe that's kudos to me, or not, I'm not sure.) "Oh, I've got a great Hawaiian Haystacks story that actually involves you, if you'd like to hear it."

Well, who can turn that down, right?

I told her that way back when, I had a visiting teacher and very good friend named Shannon Oaks. She was one of the very first friends I had as a newly married woman, herself newly married. She and her husband, Dan, became great friends of ours. I can remember her bringing me her amazing homemade cinnamon rolls when she would come visiting teaching. Man, they were good. Well, one day she came for her monthly visit, and by this time, she was great with child, as they say. We got to talking about pregnancies, and I mentioned that my period was late. "How late?" she asked. "Three weeks," I remember saying. And her eyes bugged out of her head.

"Three weeks!?! You're pregnant! Are you kidding me? Take a test!"

I was filled with excitement and anticipation over her excitement and anticipation. Looking back, I'm not really sure what I was waiting for, except that I didn't feel any different (that gross part would hit in another 2 weeks and about knock me off my feet for the next 4 months.) and I wasn't sure when was the right time to take a test to be sure. You know, we were poor college students, and a pregnancy test was no chump change.

So, I bought a test. And I took it. And she was right! A little baby Lyndsay was growing!

Well, she gave birth to her first daughter, Amanda, and she and Dan bought a condo and moved out of our ward. Months later, my husband and I bought our first home and we moved out of the ward also, but we stayed in touch. I'll never forget bringing Lyndsay home from the hospital. She was wearing a little pink onesie with a pink ribbon headband adorned with a silky white ribbon rose. Shannon and Dan (and baby Amanda) were the first to come over to see her and to bring us dinner. (Here it is!)

Hawaiian Haystacks!

A classic dish of the 80's, carried over into the 90's by well-meaning Mormons everywhere. Comfort food. She had all the components in separate bowls for us to construct our haystacks. Rice, chicken, green onions, olives, cheddar cheese, mandarin oranges, pineapple, tomatoes, crunchy chow mein noodles, and of course, the chicken gravy. They were delicious! Of course, I was a ravenous newly postpartum mom whose nipples were blistering and bleeding and whose episiotomy was on its way to becoming infected, but even without those factors, I remember how loved and cared for I felt as I ate that delicious meal made by my first friend as a married woman.

So, I've never made Hawaiian Haystacks myself, that I remember, though I can recall plenty of ward parties where they were served. But every time I think of them, I think of Shannon Oaks, and baby Lyndsay, all fresh from God. And me, a brand new mother, with no idea of what was coming my way in life.

A sweet memory. I often wonder what ever happened to Shannon Oaks. I miss her.

I pulled up to the friend's house, and the two girls jumped out. "Enjoy your Hawaiian Haystacks!" I called.

"We will! And now we'll always think of that story whenever we eat them," Lyndsay said, her friend laughing and agreeing. And just before she closed the car door, she said, "Love you! See you next year!"

Her last year at home.

Funny how Hawaiian Haystacks are now both a first and a last.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Traditions

Christmas was really great. Would it be awful of me to say that it's okay with me that it's over? Because I'm exhausted.

We celebrated Christmas a day early this year. Because our children have two families, we only get to have December 25th every other year. This was hard in the beginning, but I decided that it was just important that we had Christmas all together, not necessarily what day it happened to be.

I love traditions. We have traditions like Christmas music beginning the day after Thanksgiving (which is also when we usually put up the tree.) and sleeping under the tree the first night. We read a scripture about Christ each night in December, followed by a Christmas story and family prayer. We have advent calendars. We try to do one family service project each week in December. And we make graham cracker houses.

I put off doing the houses until Dylan could be home with us, and I was glad I did. He may not even be fully aware of it, but I think our traditions have meaning to him somewhere deep inside, and I wanted him to know that he is a valued member of our family.

So, the kids got to work and turned out some pretty cool creations this year:

Another of our traditions is to go caroling around our neighborhood. We saved this one for Christmas Eve so we could have Caitlin and Sean with us. Sometimes, by the time we get to this activity, I'm so tired that I start to justify in my mind why it would be okay to let it slide just this year. But I never say anything out loud, because I can't let the troops know I'm weakening. There would be mutiny. Every year, when we knock on that first door, my heart fills with warmth and happiness and I'm so glad we're out there doing it. Our neighbors have come to look forward to it each Christmas season.

When we got home, we did our scripture reading, and then I had a treat prepared. The Giant Cinnamon Rolls from Mel's Kitchen Cafe. This is an ingenius idea, and a delicious one too! Except that rather than "glaze" them, I frosted them with cream cheese frosting, like Cinnabon. We had egg nog too, and watched a Christmas movie (Elf) before sending the kids off to bed.


Frosted. So delicious. I highly recommend.

Of course, we also did the Christmas Eve jammies. And we took our annual family picture in front of the tree. Our 7th picture together. Wow.

Christmas Day itself was wonderful too. Of course, it was Saturday for us, so we didn't have to rush off to church. We opened the presents, I made breakfast (Overnight Caramel Sticky Buns from Our Best Bites.....again, highly recommended. So easy, too.) and while the kids played new Wii games and watched movies, I took a nap. Then I resumed my place in the kitchen preparing lunch and snacks and treats for munching on throughout the day while we hung out together and played games. (Settlers of Catan? Awesome.)

The tradition that seems to flow through every holiday is that I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Cooking, baking, cleaning up. Eating, cleaning up. Cooking more, cleaning up more. Over and over. I ran the dishwasher three times each day. Having Dylan here seems to multiply the food consumption by a factor of 10. In the five days he was here, we went through 7 gallons of milk and 6 pounds of clementines. And loads of other things. But it is gratifying to feed growing children!

The other tradition is that I finish up the holiday tired. Needing a break. Some peace and quiet. Some fend-for-yourself meals complete with paper plates. Some reading time.

And guess what? That's the (one?) plus of divorce. I just dropped the three big kids off with their dad in Arizona and up next for me is my tradition of decompression and relaxation.

It might be one of my favorite traditions.

Friday, December 16, 2011

My Dad is My Favorite Guy

You know I love my dad. I really do. He's incredibly intelligent, interesting, witty, gentle, and humble. He's experienced a lot of loss in his life, but never of his faith, which shines so brightly that it can even illuminate the pathway of those around him. It has for me. He is my hero and a mentor to me, and still, even at my age, nothing thrills me like making him proud of me. He's been there for me during some very lonely, trying times. Those experiences have bonded us at the heart, above and beyond the ties of father and daughter.

And yet, it had been almost three years since I'd last seen him. He lives ten hours away, and with his work and my schooling (etc.) the chances to visit become harder to find. But when Aiden turned 12, I really wanted my dad to ordain him, if his own dad couldn't, and my ex-husband was very supportive of that. He, too, loves my dad. My father has been a pivotal priesthood example to my children, baptizing all of them, blessing them many times, ordaining Dylan, and taking Lyndsay and Dylan to the temple with family names. I wanted to carry on the tradition with Aiden.

He and his wife, Raelene, were scheduled to come the weekend following Thanksgiving, when Aiden turned 12, but then a job transition made that impossible at the last minute, so we rescheduled for the following week. The visit had to be rescheduled again, when the day before they were set to come, they had a huge snowstorm which dumped several feet on them and closed the roads off the mountain. So, this last weekend, we made plans again, and hoped for the best. It was tricky for me, with it being the weekend before my nursing finals, but Aiden was so anxious for his ordination, and I wanted my Dad!

What a great visit it was. In fact, the only thing missing, was Dylan. But we had a wonderful Sunday with the rest of the kids. Dad conferred the Aaronic priesthood upon Aiden and ordained him a deacon, and gave him a most beautiful blessing. All of us were there for that. I am so excited to see him get to pass the sacrament this next Sunday.

On Tuesday, I kept Aiden home from school, and we took Lyndsay out early, and we all went to the Los Angeles Temple to do baptisms. When Lyndsay and Dylan were old enough, Grandpa took them and we each did 100 family names. Amazing! Aiden was really, really excited for this special day. He was quite the trooper and he did 157 baptisms! Lyndsay and I each did 64, and then we shared 50 names with three other women who were there to do baptisms. Dad was in the font the whole time and performed them all! I must say, there are few things greater than being in the temple with your children. It was a marvelous day, and a great first experience for Aiden, which I know he'll remember forever. I love that my children can have these memories with their grandfather.

We're all pretty lucky to have him.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

One Down!

This is a picture of my clinical group with our instructor there on the left (Love her), taken last Wednesday following our last day of clinicals at the hospital. Mrs. C. took us all out for lunch to celebrate.

Yesterday I took my last final. The Big One. Cumulative. I hadn't studied much at all, maybe a combined total of 2 hours in bits and pieces since I had my Dad and Raelene here for a visit, and who wants to study when your DAD is here and you haven't seen him in years? But I will say that I had a few things going for me: I had done well on all the exams, so I wasn't starting from too far down in the barrel. And, the day before finals, when the rest of my group that you see up there was in the library for an 8 hour study session, I was in the temple with my Dad and Raelene, and two of my children, Aiden for the first time, doing 334 baptisms for family members on the other side of the veil. I personally did 64 baptisms, and Lyndsay reminded me as I dropped her off at school yesterday morning and I expressed a bit of anxiety at going in for the biggest test of the semester so unprepared, that I would have 64 people helping me. It brought me such peace. She was right. At that moment, I knew God would honor my efforts and my sacrifice.

There were 100 questions on the exam. Nursing exams are brutal, by the way. There's hardly ever one right answer and they're never purely memory questions. They're always analytical, using the information you've learned about body systems and disease processes and applying it to patient situations and nursing judgment. Sometimes every answer is correct, but only one is the best, and that can be really hard. Around question 45, I was so sleepy. I had this overwhelming urge to put my head down on my desk and just take a quick nap. I kept telling myself, "Just one more question. Just one more." Once I got to #75, I got a second wind. And bubbling in #100 I almost started to cry. My last test question of first semester! It was really emotional for me, as memories of what this semester has been like raced through my mind's eye.

I remembered the first day we met together and I was absolutely terrified, not seeing a single familiar face, and knowing I was surrounded by very gifted students. I thought back to the craze of all those early mornings, packing lunches, cooking breakfasts, getting myself and the kids ready for another day of school. I thought of late nights studying after the kids were in bed. How I ran dry 4 highlighters. 4! Trying to keep track of all the different course work in each of the 4 classes. Practicing blood pressures on every willing person I could find. Practicing my head-to-toe assessments on my children. Each grueling exam. That first clinical day when I drove home crying. And then meeting Mrs. P. Winning the Success in Nursing Scholarship. My class presentation. All of the things we learned. And by the end, walking the halls of the Transitional Care Unit of the hospital with the confidence to enter any patient room.

Question #100 was now bubbled in.

I turned in my exam and looked back at the students left in the room. We'd become like a family, and it seemed so surreal that we wouldn't be back in this room for Friday lecture.

My clinical group met for lunch at a cafe in Pasadena to go over exam questions and wait till the time that grades would be released. Then we headed back over to the campus.

I missed 7 questions, which means I got an A not just on the exam, but in the class. The class that in the beginning we were told that maybe 2 or 3 students would get an A in, and that previously A students were relieved and thrilled with Cs. The first semester director came over to me and said, "You might like to know that you are tied with two other students for number one in your class, and that by the end of 4th semester, the number one student gets an award at graduation. No pressure."


I am amazed. Stunned. Humbled. To the point of tears, even now. It's okay with me if I'm not number one. (Though I'd like to get As all the way through!) I am so supremely grateful that I am getting to have this experience, and I really don't mean to sound proud or boasting at all. I'll tell you that most of those students have much, much more time than I do, and most of them study a lot harder than I do. I have worked very, very hard, but I know that my success has been a gift from God. I promised Him that no matter what, I would do my best to do important things first, like scripture study and prayer with my children and Family Home Evening. I would make myself (mostly) available to them, and do most of my studying after they went to bed (or at least Conor). And I would honor His holy day and never study or do homework on the Sabbath. I have kept that commitment through three years of schooling now, and I believe that it has made a difference. He is well aware of my limited resource of time, and how much there is to study. And He has magnified my capacity to learn, understand, and retain. I believe with all my heart that God honors those who honor Him. So, I humbly thank Him for His grace and assistance with this first semester of nursing school.

It feels strange to wake up this morning and not have school on my mind. I don't have to read anything or study anything. It's going to take some getting used to! But this 10 week break will be filled with other wonderful and rejuvenating things, and I am very excited for second semester. OB. Pediatrics. Med/Surg. Good things ahead!