Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Christmas Season: A Tree and Blessing Bags

We went back to artificial this year.

I love the idea of a real tree. For the last six years, we've gone to get a real tree from Kathy's Tree Lot on the day after Thanksgiving. $80 a pop. And it's beautiful and it smells lovely. But the sad fact was, real trees just don't have strong enough branches to hold all of our ornaments, so each year many got left in the boxes that just wouldn't fit. The ones that were on the tree would weigh the branches down and take turns falling off. As would the needles. The constant vacuuming, the back-of-my-mind worry about the tree drying out and catching fire, the one more chore of watering. . . I just decided to bite the bullet and go back to fake. I figure in three years it will have paid for itself. And I can enjoy all of my beloved ornaments!

Thank goodness that Aiden is here to haul the tree inside and assemble it!

And thank goodness it's pre lit! No more messing with strings of lights!

So, the house is decorated and cozy and we've been enjoying the Christmas spirit for several weeks now.

There is an idea floating around on Pinterest and various blogs about Blessing Bags. I'm always looking for opportunities to get the kids involved in service, especially during the holidays, so I thought we'd try this out. The idea is basically to assemble bags of simple items that people in need can use. Simple toiletries, some food items, warm socks, etc. We have homeless people all over near where we live and it's very common to come off a freeway to see someone sitting at the off-ramp holding a sign asking for help. I rarely have cash with me, but I always want to help. I've given food that I've had in the car, but thought this might be a nice thing to keep stocked in the van for such occasions.

For Family Home Evening I took the boys to the grocery store and the dollar store and we collected various items to make our bags. We made "girl" bags and "boy" bags. There isn't a huge difference between the two, honestly, besides the socks, kind of deodorant, and color of toothbrush.

There are lots of lists of ideas of what to put in the bags.

The boys and I assembled the bags when we got home.

 We included:

water bottle
dried fruit
nuts (this might not be a good idea for all homeless people as many do not have teeth. Should have thought of that. We were going for a punch of nutrition.)
hard candies
granola bars

There are many other possible ideas!

We made a bunch of them and put them in a box which we now keep in our van. We can't wait for the opportunity to share them and offer the blessing to someone in need!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

And Now He is 15

This little baby of mine. My sweet, squishy little Aiden has gone and turned 15. It's been a big year for him: starting high school and early-morning Seminary, making the football team and playing an undefeated season (even though he missed two weeks due to a concussion). He's being challenged in new ways and he's growing. And growing is sometimes painful. But this boy has a wonderful ability to evaluate himself and step back in line if he's fallen out. He can rein in his temper after a satisfying explosion and say he's sorry. He is both tough and tender. I love watching him grow.

Aiden does so much to help our household run smoothly. He gets himself up and off to Seminary, he's responsible about his school work and schedule, he is the best big brother to Conor, always willing to play a game of chess or SkipBo. He takes care of things at home when I have to go to work. I am proud of him and so grateful for him. We'd gone to pick out his presents a few days prior. He chose a new football and a chair for his room. But I wanted him to feel especially loved and appreciated on his birthday.

I worked the night before, so I was sleeping until about 1pm, when I couldn't stay asleep any longer with the excitement on my mind. I had a lot to do to get ready for his birthday celebration that night and then Thanksgiving the following day.

On Tuesday, Conor had a day off from school, so he and I made a long banner to hang in Aiden's room. We decorated each letter, and then I hid it away.

I hung that up in his bedroom (he still has it hanging. . . he loves it!) Never mind the blankets tacked up for curtains. That's getting taken care of for Christmas. Shhh!

Then I went out and bought a dozen helium balloons to put in his room. He was so surprised by those little simple acts. He wasn't expecting them at all and it really made him happy. (Oh, and he's getting real bedding for Christmas too!)

I made one of his favorites for dinner: Taco Salad. He had eaten a three entree plate from Panda Express just an hour before, but was still able to put this away too. The boy can eat!

He opened cards and was delighted to get some cash. Teenagers love cash.

And after a little break (while I put pies in the oven), we enjoyed cake. Aiden chose carrot cake again this year. It's his favorite.

Here's our attempt at a birthday selfie. Do I look tired? That's because I was! But so happy. I love my Aiden.

Fifteen. Wow.

Later that evening, I found him in his room, shirtless (like he is most of the time), doing Rubik's Cube challenges with his brother. He proclaimed it his best birthday ever. But he says that every year.

Apple Turkeys, Pajamas, Two Dinners, and Scrubs: The Best of Thanksgiving

Up until the week of Thanksgiving, I wasn't quite sure how I would pull the whole thing off. I was scheduled to work Tuesday night and Thursday night, and Aiden's birthday was Wednesday. This year it was only to be me and the boys for Turkey Day. Lyndsay decided to stay up in Utah to save the gas money and to stay focused on her classes, since she'd be home in a few weeks at the end of term anyway. I knew I'd have to do something, and the boys were looking to me to make it happen. I assured them there would be food.

After I woke up on Wednesday afternoon (having worked Tuesday night), I scrambled to get Aiden's birthday festivities accomplished. (More on that in a separate post.) Once cake was eaten and dinner was cleaned up, I did what Thanksgiving prep I could. That included baking the pies (I only did pumpkin this year), baking the rolls, and laying out the bread for the stuffing. This is a yearly tradition that my mom always did the night before Thanksgiving.

Before going to bed, we lay out the bread (one loaf per pan of stuffing desired). I only made one batch this year.

By morning, it's pretty stale and ready to be torn up by the children. Conor got the job this year.

Then I add the onions and celery that have been sautéed in butter, the herbs, salt and pepper, and enough chicken broth to make it moist. Into the oven it goes. (Or, into the bird, but I didn't do that this year.)

Simple and delicious.

I also only cooked a turkey breast this year. Since it was just the three of us, and we only like the white meat anyway, it made sense.

While the food was cooking, we watched Christmas movies and the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. Then we did our other Thanksgiving tradition dating back to my childhood, and made apple turkeys.

The kids never outgrow it. Poor Lyns missed out.

Dinner was ready around 2pm, which is when we like to eat our big meal. We talked about our blessings and Conor made several toasts, which is his favorite thing to do at meal time. We ate contentedly, even though we were only three. I love these boys and I was not going to miss a chance to celebrate Thanksgiving with them, even if I was missing my other children and feeling stretched thin.

Just the basics this year, but all the good stuff. During dinner, I realized I was still in my pajamas. Oh well. I suppose that was a compromise worth making.

We worked together to get the meal cleaned up, I took a nap for about an hour and a half, then got into the shower and got ready to leave for work.

Thankfully, it was a pretty quiet night on the unit. One of the nurses was kind enough to bring a full Thanksgiving meal for us from Trader Joe's (her husband works there). Around midnight, we carved another turkey and enjoyed another delicious meal.

I love the night shift! I got to eat one turkey dinner in my pajamas and the other in scrubs! That's how to do it!

Really, I count my job and my new friends as some of the biggest and best blessings of this year. I can't believe how lucky I am to love what I do and to truly love all the women I get to work with. Their friendships have been a balm to my soul and a steadying force in my life when other things are rocky. This year, they helped turn me into a real Labor and Delivery nurse, and I am so grateful.

I marvel at how God balances our lives. He cannot prevent the trials and the pain we must experience, but He always makes sure we have hefty doses of blessings. His loving kindness has been so apparent to me this year, once again.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Counting Blessings

There is turmoil swirling all around me. It is difficult to feel peace amidst so many competing emotions. Just when I think I may have caught it by the coattails. . .

It's a difficult time for me. I know a lot is riding on my decisions.

Each of my children is struggling in a very personal way with their own issues and I cannot help them. I mean, I'm trying to. I'm praying so hard to know how, but agency is real. As a mother I can love tightly, and release faithfully. I'm am trying to perfect, "Let go, and let God."

My life is the long-term plan, for sure.

Today was especially trying. I'm holding back tears of worry and fear over one of my children in particular. I had the thought today as I drove to the grocery store, "I think I may be going crazy." And it wasn't even all that alarming. Crazy gives you permission to do a lot of things, you know. Crazy could be a load off.

But this week is Thanksgiving. There is no Complaintsgiving. Worriesgiving. Fearsgiving.

And so, after a simple dinner of comfort carbs (grilled cheese, tomato soup, chips and dips), I called the boys back to the table for an even simpler Family Home Evening (which most weeks I fail at lately, by the way.)

I happened to see this link today with free downloads of "Gratitude Pie Charts". Fourteen different little visuals to organize and count your blessings. I picked one and printed it off for us. It was amazing how easy the boxes were to fill up.

And as the boxes filled up, so did my hope, and my faith.

I told the boys tonight that no matter the trials we are experiencing, no matter how hard life seems to be, we always have more blessings and things to be grateful for. I guess I needed the reminder as well.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Breaking Point

Are there little signs in life?

A few weeks ago, I was down in the kitchen when I heard a tremendous crash. Conor was upstairs, and I thought maybe he'd fallen off of something, but I held my breath for a moment and never heard crying. Then he appeared in the kitchen and said, "What was that noise?" Oh. So, it wasn't Conor. He went in search of the probable calamity, and found it in my closet. He came down animated, arms and hands flying dramatically, his eyes wide and his voice streaming words a mile a minute, emphasizing the horribleness of the situation. "Okay," I said. I had piano lessons to teach. I couldn't even muster the desire to go see one more "situation".

Eventually, I went upstairs to face reality. When he said the shelf had fallen, I thought it was the other one, the small one that holds wrapping supplies, sewing supplies, and extra purses. That one has fallen before.  I did not expect it to be the one that held my entire rack of clothing and boxes of memorabilia. I was strangely unmoved. It felt so typical of my life right at that moment.

Everything had looked so tidy and organized. Slacks, blouses, cardigans, long-sleeved shirts, short-sleeved shirts, skirts, dresses hung in order. Jeans and pants folded on top next to sweaters and nursing scrubs. Then boxes of keepsakes, the kids' favorite childhood toys, memories of people and places of my past. All carefully placed and easily accessible, before the weight of it all bent the supports that held it up and sent it crashing to the floor in a heap. But it had looked fine and had been seemingly sturdy for over nine years. No sign of impending surrender.

I often look put together and organized too. Strong, even.

I had no energy to deal with this disaster. I didn't even know where to begin, truthfully. It seemed so daunting and I knew it would involve power tools at some point. Instead, I closed the door and chose to not freak out or panic. I didn't cry. I might have even laughed a bit at the irony. Fortunately, I had just done a load of laundry and hadn't put it away yet, so I just lived out of that hamper. It was fine.

Then, late one night, about a week later, when I was up anyway (thanks to my night shift sleep schedule), I thought maybe it was time for a purge. At the time, I didn't know how I would build a new closet, but I knew I could at least clean out and sort.

One by one, I took each item out. Amazing how much clothing I was holding on to for when I lose weight. Depressing! Skinny clothes that haven't fit in years! All they do is taunt me and make me feel horrible about myself. It was time for them to go. After all, when I lose weight, I should buy something new!

This is only the beginning of that purged pile. I ended up donating three trash bags full of perfectly good-for-someone-else clothing.

I folded the shirts and pants and sweaters and placed them in the closet unit that Adam hasn't taken yet. All of the dresses and skirts and shirts on hangers got draped over Lyndsay's bed for the time being.

This has kind of been a sign to me of the breaking point I'm at in my life. I've held on to things that just don't fit for way too long. I've carried the weight of the past unnecessarily. It's time to sort through mindfully and decide what should stay, and what is no longer beneficial to my mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Hoping and longing for what used to be, what I wish still was, is not propelling me forward; it's holding me back. And I don't have all the answers as to how to fix what is broken inside of me, but I can begin by taking inventory and making some hard decisions.

I don't have a functional closet yet. I've been taking from Lyndsay's bed, a laundry hamper, and the portable closet unit. It's fine for now. A friend came over and took measurements and is going to put up new rods and shelves.

The things that will hang there fit me now. And only the most important keepsakes get to stay.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Deep End

Here I go, jumping in.

I've decided to end my marriage.

That decision is in the very same instance both heavy and light.

Heavy, because who wants a divorce? Heck, who wants two of them under her belt? Heavy because of the failure, the broken hearts, the casualties that always befall the smallest, most innocent ones. Heavy because I've already been down this road and I'm familiar with the ruts. Heavy because I hate those ruts. Frankly, they suck.

Light, because the ruts in that road are more appealing than the ones in the road that continues on in the same direction. Light because I want to be out from under the dark secrets of this marriage. Light because there is peace at home again. Light because without all of the surviving, maybe I can work more on thriving. I know how deeply I believe in marriage, even though it's with kind of a shocking sadness that I realize I have no personal experience to justify that belief. I know how hard I will fight for a marriage and for a family. I know that I can forgive the unforgivable. I know that I will put my needs and feelings very, very last.

And I know I have.

When we separated almost two years ago, I didn't rush to the courthouse. I knew we needed a break and I really believed that break would be permanent, but I was open to every last chance. I was shocked when I felt we might explore our relationship again eight months later and even more shocked that it led to him moving back in this past May. But very soon it was apparent that as much as I love him (and I do!) and as much as I care for him, our marriage is destructive to not only the two of us, but to our children, and there just doesn't seem to be a point in putting off what has been the inevitable for any longer. After a very brief "honeymoon" period, all of the old patterns were firmly back in place. There's so much negative history that just keeps repeating itself, and it feels impossible that trust can ever be restored. The children are begging for relief and I was startled and ashamed at how my attempts to keep things together were breaking them.

Marriages are deeply personal. I don't want to betray the sacredness of our experience, even if it's ending. He is hurting and so am I. I don't need to reveal details of our downward spiral. It is enough to say that I feel like I tried my best. He probably did too.

I am choosing to not hate. I am angry sometimes, but I'm actively working on forgiveness and compassion. For him, for me. I am sick of ugly. I just don't want it in my life. I am craving peace, and am hopeful that this terrible, sad process will bring that to both of us.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Ready, Set, . . .

I've been thinking that I should start writing again.

I have all sorts of things bubbling over inside of my spirit and mind. Life is happening to me, with me, around me, inside of me, because of me, in spite of me.

I am having such exquisite, enlightening, painful, lonely, tumultuous, enlivening, joyful, dreadful experiences. The commodity I'm shortest on is time. Definitely time. But I feel this drive to carve some out, even the tiniest bit, to write.

For me, it's therapeutic, and who couldn't use some therapy, am I right?