Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

Happy Birthday, my boy! How can you be 9?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


My pick for Family Game of the Year.

One of my favorite things about family time is playing games together. I love it. I love to have that relaxed atmosphere, with a hint of competition. I love the laughter and the lessons in sportsmanship. You learn a lot about people when you play a games with them. And it brings everyone to neutral territory, as teammates, rather than parent and child, or siblings.

We play lots of games. In my house in Utah I actually had a huge walk-in closet just for my games. I had that many. And puzzles. It's not hard to accumulate games when you've homeschooled for as long as I had. But you know how it is, some games really blow. They're way too complicated, way too boring, or take way too long. Or they just seem stupid. We have a few games that we return to over and over again, and I get very excited to find a new one to add to our rotation. Sunday nights are for treats and games. And I think we have a winner here, so add it to your Christmas list. It will make a great family gift.

Okay, so here's the deal. It's easy. There are 9 big tiles covered in I-Spy type picture drawings on both sides. You arrange the tiles in a 3 x 3 square, and that's your game board, so it's different every time you play. And sometimes throughout the play you are directed to rotate a tile, or flip a tile, so things are not static for long.

There are three colors of playing cards and two dice and a timer. The object of the game is to find as many pictures as you can and the first person to accumulate 6 cards wins. You roll the colored die. Whichever color shows, that's the color card you draw.

Red cards are for bidding on. Let's say I roll the red. I say, "I bet I can find 4." (of whatever the red card tells me to find, like "things that fly", for example, but you can't turn the red card over to see what it is you're looking for until the bidding stops.) The player to my left says, "I bet I can find 5." It goes around, and you can bid or pass. When it stops, you flip the red card over, start the timer, and you have 30 seconds to find whatever it is. If you are successful, you keep the red card. It's hard!

Green cards are just for you. They're just like the red cards, except no bidding. If you roll a green card, you also roll the standard die, and whatever number shows, that's how many of the pictures you have to find. Make sense? If you succeed, you keep the card.

Blue cards are Pictureka! cards. Instead of a description like you find on the red and green cards ("find vehicles"), you'll just see a drawing, and that's what you have to find. But it's open play for everyone. You start the timer, everyone looks, and the first person to spot it, points at it and yells "Pictureka!" That player keeps the card.

First person to 6 cards wins. Easy, yet difficult enough to be really fun. And with little ones, you can just play the blue cards and find the pictures. Great for detail observation and memory skills, higher-order thinking for kids, and you can play with as many people as you want, from two, to. . .well, we played with all seven of us.

So, there you have it. And it's on sale at Amazon for $13. How's that for cheap entertainment? Go buy it, play it, and you can thank me later. Turn off the TV and play a game together. And Merry Christmas.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Odds and (No-More Split) Ends

This is a post in which I update family (and interested friends) on several unrelated, random goings-on. And I add pictures. (And maybe too many parentheticals?)

Lyndsay finally got her hair cut and is happy. It has been a long torturous journey. So many times she has gotten her hair cut, but hated it (though to my fairly distinguished eye it looked exactly the same) She was going to cut it right before going to Youth Conference a few weeks ago, and I told her maybe that wasn't the best idea. She may not have been satisfied with her hair, but at least she was confident about doing it. What if (yet another exactly-the-same) hair cut ruined what would otherwise have been a great weekend? Thankfully, she took her old mom's advice.

Now, admittedly, she was in fantastic hands this time. The woman for whom she nannies the triplets, was (in her former life) a hair stylist at a very swanky L.A. salon--you know the kind (or at least you've heard of them) where people drop $100 for a cut. Yikes. (If I ask for gold highlights, are they 14k?) But anyway, this wonderful Karin (pronounced not like Karen, but like Carinne, accent on the second syllable) that Lyns works for, is hip to Lyndsay's hair and her feelings as a 14 year old girl, and when Lyndsay happened to approach the subject one day ("Karin, when you see me, do you ever imagine something you'd like to do to my hair?" To which Karin replied, 'Every single day!') And so she was on.

Lyndsay turned her long flowing locks over to her beloved friend and employer and let her do whatever she wanted. And it was perfect. And finally, (finally!) Lyns is overjoyed with satisfaction and happiness. And everywhere she goes, people talk about her hair. And who doesn't love that?

Of course, I think she'd be beautiful bald.

And now, onto my Aiden. Who is now the cutest little "brainiac" ever. Did you know he's in the Chess Club at school? (love these Magnet programs for gifted kids!) Did you know that I can no longer beat him? Very rarely does anyone in this house beat him. I would be humiliated, except that I'm so darn proud of him, and I think it's so cute that when I place my fingers on a piece in anticipation of a move, he'll lovingly guide me with, "I wouldn't do that, Mom," and then point out how if I do, he'll have me in checkmate in 3 turns. I've actually learned some cool chess moves from him, but I stopped even having a shot at winning several weeks ago.

And besides the Chess Club, he's all on his own decided to join the orchestra and play the cello. Remember that performance I took the kids to last winter? The one where that boy showed up to sit next to my daughter, and I laughed at them eating dessert with braces, and there were all those little kids playing the cello? Well, Aiden does. And it so impressed him, that when given the opportunity to learn, he jumped at it. He got his very own, specially-sized cello last week. He comes home from his cello class at school and faithfully teaches me everything he learns (because I've always wanted to play the cello too) and then he practices dutifully each day. It's adorable. And he's so proud that he can already read notes, thanks to all those dumb piano lessons his mom made him take!

Speaking of Aiden, his 9th birthday is Wednesday, but that's the day I will be driving the kids (in my new van!) to AZ to spend Thanksgiving with their dad. So, the celebration took place on Saturday night. Sorry to let you all down, but Aiden's cake was not special this year. It was, however, delicious. Seriously delicious. He wanted my carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, and I was more than happy to oblige. (And when I apologized that all I had in the house were pink candles, he replied in typical agreeable Aiden fashion, "No problem. Pink is a manly color.") Each of the kids invited one friend over for dinner (Aiden's fave, baked mac and cheese, a la Linda McCartney) and a movie (Indiana Jones' latest) and cake to celebrate little Aiden. I took him to Target to pick out a watch, which he loves, and Lyndsay bought him (well, all of us) Subway sandwiches for lunch to honor him. We got him a nice wooden chess board for his gift, and his friend gave him some Legos and a really fun board game, which I will devote an entire blog post to (maybe) tomorrow. I LOVE fun family games, and this one is a hit. Happy Birthday, my boy! Love that kid. More on him on Wednesday, in a memory lane photo jog.

Oh, but here's a cake I did last week for a friend's son's birthday. A bowling alley birthday party. Thus, the bowling alley cake.

And here's a few random shots of all the kids just hanging out on a Sunday recently. (minus Conor who was in bed.)

And here's my van! Thank you, Sara! Thank you, Julia! Thank you, Yair and Eran from Israel!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Things to Be Grateful For

I heard a great quote in church today. The speaker said something like, "a grateful heart is the first step to greatness." I think this stood out to me so much because it's so easy for me to see all the things that are going wrong right now in my life, and all of the things that I wish could be different. But I do need to see that in the midst of storms, I am blessed.

1. I have a van! And I have this van because of the extreme generosity and kindness of friends and strangers. One friend loaned me the money to get it, and another friend gave up two days of her precious time to drive me all over Los Angeles looking at vans and helped me inspect and test drive them. The two brothers who owned the dealership where I ended up buying the van took special compassion on me and made it possible for me to buy this particular vehicle. And they filled the gas tank for me, just to be kind, and they told me to come for free oil changes, and that anything I needed, they would take care of me. It's a long story, but they were angels to me, and it was a miracle. And now I have a van!

2. My children love me. And not just love me, they are fiercely loyal and protective of me. I am undeserving of such devotion, but I am strengthened by it, and so grateful. I never want them to grow up and leave my nest.

3. Somehow I can keep forgiving. Somehow I can keep loving. I am so grateful for this about myself because the alternative, a life of bitterness and misery, seems so unappealing.

4. I sold another article! Maybe two, and that money will come in handy for Christmas.

5. An old, old friend from my past, a girl who used to torment me and tease me all through elementary, junior high, and high school till she moved, contacted me on Facebook, and apologized. Sincerely. What a difference "I'm sorry" makes. If only everyone knew that.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

That's my Boy

This morning while I was cooking the oatmeal and peeling oranges for breakfast, Dylan came into the kitchen and asked if I could make a copy of his report card for him.

"Sure," I said. "Why?"

"The kids at school don't believe that I got straight A's," he said. "They don't believe I can be good looking and smart."

I see.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Knock-Kneed Love

We had a guest speaker come and teach the Young Women's lesson yesterday in church. Have you ever met someone and just felt that they were a kindred spirit? That was how I felt listening to her. Even after her lesson, two of the other leaders came up to me and said, "Wow. That was like listening to you. You two have the same life!"

She talked about how her life's experiences have helped her gain a testimony. She talked about the pain she felt at her parents' divorce, and her struggle to understand why she had to come to earth to a family that would break up. I have prayed for peace and clarity about the very same issues. And the answers I've received have been very similar to what she shared. There are things that I could only learn in that way (and through going through a divorce myself), things that will enable me to help other people and have a compassion and tenderness I might not otherwise have. And it's true. I feel like I do understand things that others from intact families may not, and I have been able to help other people through difficult experiences because of what I've gone through.

This woman also said that the greatest role a woman has in life is to love. Sounds trite, but it's actually so profound. That is our gift as women, if we cultivate it. Nothing grows without water and sunshine. She described how she has had to learn to love in some very trying circumstances. Her first son was born with a disability that went undiagnosed for a few years and raising him was very draining and consuming. He wasn't easy to love all the time. And she has had to learn to love a husband that has been very difficult to love for reasons she alluded to, and I understand. But it is a woman's calling to love. And, she said, love is always an act of work and courage. Put that in quotes. It was the best thing I heard all weekend.

"Love is always an act of work and courage."

Chalk one up to another answered prayer. I'm having trouble loving a few people right now. And I needed that boost and perspective. You know how it is, when you've been earnestly praying about something important to you, and suddenly the answer is delivered, in whatever form, and it just pierces you. That's exactly how this was. I couldn't have stopped the tears if I'd tried.

Courage means being afraid and proceeding anyway. Courage means feeling uncertain but stepping out in faith anyway, even with knocking knees. And work is effort. But work is satisfying. Sometimes not right away though. Here's to love. All the way. I want to be known for the way that I love, and I must thank God for putting just the right people in my life who enable me to practice what I yearn to glean. Isn't that just the way it works?

Saturday, November 8, 2008


My alarm went off at 4:30 this morning and I threw some clothes on and stumbled downstairs to cook Dylan some eggs and toast. He was all bright-eyed and happy to see me. He had to be at his school at 5am for the bus ride to the 15K he was running today. (Good grief, I would never be bright-eyed about getting up at 4am to go run 9+ miles on a Saturday morning, but he gets this trait from his father, and I play the dutiful and supportive mom who will never let him leave the house--no matter how early--without a good breakfast, and we call it team work.)

He even thanked me. He said, "Thanks for always getting up and cooking me breakfast, Mom."

He's welcome, of course.

"And thanks for always being willing to drive me to the school. Since it's so early lots of the kids' parents make them walk so they don't have to get up."

I looked up at the sky and I could see the Little Dipper shining brightly. Walk? It's pitch black out here! Crazy people are the only ones awake. The crazy running people and the crazy bad people. No way you're walking. You're so welcome.

This afternoon I went with a friend up to the Glendale building to serve lunch to 200 teens who gathered for a portion of Youth Conference. There was my Lyns, having fun, a little dazed. The kids didn't get in till 2am last night after their fun with the Special Needs Adult Carnival service project and then some play time at an Olympic gymnastics gym. But tonight is her first dance! Tonight she will dance with a boy for the very first time, and I won't be there. Which is good and bad, because I'd cry. (And probably laugh.) But I practiced with her, and I was the boy. Oh, my gosh. A boy holding her waist. Or her hands. She knows not to do the asking, and never to say no to a boy who gets up the courage. I hope she doesn't spend her entire teen years being a wallflower like her mother was during the fast songs.

We dropped leftover food off at the local park for the homeless people. I couldn't stand to let it go to waste. And I brought all the recycling home to put in my blue can. (Since this Church is true, shouldn't they recycle?)

Aiden and Dylan (he ran his 15K in one hour and 24 minutes) were waiting for me at home. Conor was still sleeping. The boys and I played Buggo. Have you ever played Buggo? You should buy it and play it with your kids. It's one of those games that is so easy, and yet, it doesn't make a mother look anxiously at the clock, like how much longer do I have to pretend to enjoy this? Really, it's cool. And fast.

Then Aiden asked me to read to him from On the Banks of Plum Creek, while he did a Search-A-Word that I'd printed off the computer. I love those books. You know, they used to call me Laura Ingalls. Ma and Pa went for a walk into town and left Mary and Laura to tend Carrie. A big storm blew in, a blinding blizzard, and Mary and Laura had to bring the woodpile in. Lucky ducks. I was born in the wrong time.

It was feeling rather cozy. Lazy, reading, games, movies. Who cares that it's 90 degrees in November? Let's have hot cocoa and pretend that it's actually fall.

And so we did. It's been a lovely afternoon.

Monday, November 3, 2008

What I Need

Like many, I've been sucked into the world of NieNie and her recovery. I tune in faithfully every day to read the re-runs on her blog (being kept up by her sister) and her sister, CJane's blog to read the accounts of healing and progress. I have fallen in love with these families. All of them. The Nielsen's, the other Nielsen's, the Clark's, and all of the siblings' families everywhere. They are a testament to the power and potential of family. They are the model for families everywhere. There is love and support oozing from every crevice, and laughter, and tears, and friendship, and closeness. It's almost too much.

And I want it.

Of course, like everyone else, I am also enthralled with Stephanie and Christian's love story. Their romance is so palpable, it's better than a movie. Stephanie is every ounce true to herself. She loves herself; she loves her marriage; she is desperately in love with her husband; she is in love with her children and motherhood. Her life is dreamy with love. And Christian, in turn, seeps with love for his darling wife and everything that makes her who she is. He adores her. He cherishes her. All he can do now, in his healing, and while he visits her still in the hospital, is sing her praises and love her back to life. I sit and read and I cry every time.

Man, to be loved like that. To have love like that. And they never forget how blessed they are.

And so, over the last several months since the plane crash, as I've learned more and more about Stephanie and Christian, and their families, I find myself slipping into that all-too familiar female trap of comparison and feeling sorry for myself. I start to feel like I really got gypped in life. I mean, of course I love my husband. But I'd be lying to say that my marriage is the stuff of fairy tales. Far from it. Like, distant land far.

And I actually pray about it. I actually say to Heavenly Father, (and I paraphrase here), "Now, why couldn't I get that? I'm cute enough, right? Fairly smart. I'd really make the most of it. I mean, marriage and motherhood is the highest and most noble calling in life for women, and I'm aware of that, so didn't I deserve that? Why did you stick me with this?"

And as tenderly and lovingly as He always does, he brings understanding to my stubborn heart.
(and again, I paraphrase)

"Well, you could've had that, but don't forget that that included a fiery, permanently disfiguring plane crash while still in her 20's. Don't you think that she needed the love she has to endure what I'm asking her to endure? To have the will to continue fighting to live? You, on the other hand, my darling daughter, you have a different mission in life, and you have every blessing and gift necessary for you to fulfill that mission. Every one. Those which you struggle with, which you consider roadblocks, those are your tutors, but they are blessings nonetheless."

I suppose I get it. Even though at times I still drag my feet. Stephanie is influencing the world with the power of her love and example in her marriage and family life. But she has to endure a physical and emotional pain that I do not begrudge her.

I, on the other hand, I get to learn to love unconditionally, how to forgive willingly, how to find value in that which the world might discard. I get to learn how to perservere and persist, how to exercise faith and endure in the face of hardship, how to develop real charity (the love of Christ), and so in order to learn those things, I must have the kind of love that will teach me.

I've always heard that there is more equity and justice in the design of God than we can even comprehend. I suppose I can believe that, and go from there with what I have. I suppose I'll be a far better Jenna than I'd ever be a Stephanie.

But I'll still love her as my sister (that I've never met), and learn from her. I am a better person because of her, and she doesn't even know it.