Friday, February 27, 2009

My Pleasure. . .and YOURS! A Giveaway!

I've posted before about my reminiscent love of chocolate, and of my childhood memories of my grandmother's hand dipped chocolates which she sold at Gloria's Confection Connection. I've confessed to puncturing the bottoms of her beautiful creations to see just what was inside.

I called her at Christmas, and sure enough, she was coating the kitchen in chocolate as she dipped hundreds of pounds of chocolates for her loyal customers, years and years after closing her store. My mouth watered. I love her chocolates. But she is on one coast, and I, the other. And I didn't put my order in with enough notice.

How delighted I was then, shortly after that phone call to be serendipitously contacted by a rep from See's Candies, who asked if I'd be willing to do a review of their chocolates on my blog. Are you kidding me?

But I played hard to get. I thought of you, loyal reader, and I couldn't have all the chocolatey goodness to myself.

"Sure, I'll do it," I replied, "but only if you offer something for a giveaway too."

I waited with bated breath. Had I just screwed up my chance for free chocolates? No! Because, as it turns out, not only are See's Candies the next best thing to Grandmom's, the kind folks at See's are also generous and giving. And they were happy to oblige. So for you, gentle chocolate-loving reader, there will be a drawing for a $25 gift card to any See's Candies, in person, or online. Aren't you lucky?

Well, let's face it, I was the lucky one. The one pound box of assorted milk and dark chocolates arrived on Monday. We gathered around and unpacked it from the box as if it were some ancient relic to be handled with only the utmost care. The lid was lifted, and there they were, all lined up in their little papers and shiny. Smiling, even, I'm not sure.

Which one first?

Like it matters. Oh, the joy! At first, I cut each one into pieces so we could share the different flavors, and then the gluttony set in, and I kicked everyone else off the project in the name of 'research'. I had to hoe this row alone.

My favorites? Well, the caramels. The toffees. The creams. The coconut. The chewy nutty ones. The milk chocolates. The dark chocolates. The caramels. (Did I already say that?)

Heaven, it was.

I take my kids to See's Candies after they go to the dentist. That's right. If they had a good check-up. It's right across the street from their dentist, and I figure it's a justified reward for proper brushing and flossing. And I want some.

I love how the nice people at See's always give a free chocolate away for tasting. Even when you walk in with 6 kids. I let each child choose 4 or 5 favorites, which get tucked in his/her own little See's bag. It is so hard to choose!

See's also has an assortment of gift packages, which can even be custom ordered, so you're sure to please anyone. If you don't want nuts? No nuts. If dark is your favorite? No milk. Whatever you want. See's knows how to keep you coming back for more. And what Easter Bunny doesn't need a little help come springtime? Head on over to See's for the best Easter candy and Easter gift boxes. You're sure to score points.

Well, it has been my pleasure. I'm always happy to tell you how much fun it is to eat chocolate. But I'm even more delighted that because of See's, I can share the joy with you. So, all weekend long, leave a comment if you want to be entered into the drawing, which will take place Tuesday morning. And in the meantime, head on over to and start selecting your favorites! You have plenty of time left to do what I do: buy your Easter candy, eat it all, and then buy it again!

Thanks, See's!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Turned On

I drove home from school late last night in silence. No radio, not even the news. I was in a state of intellectual arousal, and all I wanted to do was to hear my professor's words, his enthusiasm, his confidence, his questions, over and over in my head. It was such a rush.

I'm taking a Humanities class on Wednesday nights. The class runs from 6:30-10pm, but I never once even checked my watch. The professor took attendance from his roster and then allowed many other students to "add" his class, though there was floor seating only. He did this, he said, because he felt sure that within a few weeks most of us would not still be there. Once we heard what he would expect of us, we would run for the hills.

A challenge, I thought. Oh, good.

I was already aware of the reading list. I'd about had a heart attack when I purchased the books the week before. Even the cashier said, "All for one class? Really?"

Yes, in the course of this semester, we get to read:

The Oresteian Trilogy by Aeschylus
The Republic by Plato
Manual of Zen Buddhism by D. T. Suzuki
Inferno by Dante
Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare (oh, good! Something 'easy'!)
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
The Rape of Shavi by Buchi Emecheta

And we get to read them fast. Hold on to your horses!

The professor spent the hours lecturing in this beautifully powerful way. I was mesmerized. I love to be in the presence of brilliance. I felt my mind come alive and my heart beat faster, and I knew I was in the right place. Maybe over my head, but destined to drown in the elegance of all this knowledge. He discussed just what exactly the Humanities are, and how they relate to each of us, and why we'd better engage in a serious reading of these texts, and why the media doesn't want us to. Why the words in classic texts are a threat to them, and what the Ancient Greeks have to do with understanding corruption in the government today. Just what is truth? And what is justice? And who should execute judgment?

I was in the front row, right in the middle. That's where I like to sit. I want to be known.

It's been a rare occurrence for me to have a teacher who can really stir me the way that I felt last night. When he said, "Okay, that's enough. See you next Wednesday," we all looked around at each other like, "That's it?" We wanted more.

I felt high.

That's why I couldn't even turn on talk radio on the way home. I just wanted to marinate in the experience I'd just had. When I got home and told Lyns and Dylan about it, I said, "You know, I almost don't even care what grade I get in the class. I just want to be there."

So, I have a week to read 172 pages of Aeschylus. Oh, boy. That's some slow kind of reading, but it's all coming back to me 25 pages in. I remember old Agamemnon and the Trojan War. Time to dust it off and dive in like never before.

Dad, stay tuned. . .you can count on me coming to you for help. Better freshen up. You too, Luisa.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


We had an impromptu family "reminder" discussion this morning after breakfast. It was all about obedience.

This morning, as I was packing lunches and making the Bug Juice (Dylan didn't show up at his usual time), in walked Dylan with a sock in his hand. He'd stepped in cat poop, he said. On the stairs.

"Well, go clean it up," I said.

He didn't like that idea. He thought I should clean it up.

"And why should I clean it up?" I asked. To which he answered, "Because you always do."

Hmmmmm. "Well, not when I'm not the one who smears it into the carpet on several steps," I said. And there was some, "Don't roll your eyes at me, Dylan." And some, "Don't talk back to me, Dylan."

And then there was Dylan losing his video game privileges for one week. Not because he didn't clean up the cat poop, because he did. He lost his privileges because he didn't do it obediently and with a respectful attitude. And this wasn't the first time this week.

I have a thing with video games. Basically, they are my enemy. I despise most of them. I hate the cords everywhere, I hate the mind numbing violence, and I hate the way they suck time away from the kids' lives. However, my husband loves video games. He is the only reason video games exist in this house, because they didn't before he was here. He is super good at them, and he loves the fantasy and the challenge to conquer the world. It's something he loves to do with the boys. Maybe it's a guy thing. So, I pick my battles. Video games are a part of teenage boys' lives, and I've come to accept that. But what we do is have a 30 minute during the school week limit, and a no rated M rule (with one exception, for a game he really, really wanted).

I am on the lookout, for I think that too much video gaming gives one a false sense of power, and that power doesn't exist over The Mother. And jumping right to anger (the "acceptable violence") doesn't jive with me, either. So, that is why if the kids cannot handle their attitudes (ie level of respect, cooperation, obedience, or kindness), then it's time for a break from conquering the world so that we can work on conquering oneself.

I don't mean to portray Dylan in a bad light. He's a terrific kid. Really. I've bragged on his virtues before. I'm merely using this morning as an illustrator of what happens when things go unchecked.

When the oldest kids were very little, we spent a lot of time on character development. It is very easy to do that when homeschooling. It's also apparent to me that when my children are at home, and I am teaching them and they spend their days together, they get along much better. They are kinder, more sharing, less critical, and slower to anger. When they are in public school, sometimes their characters dip to a level that doesn't please me, and we need to bring them back up to par. That's what we talked about this morning. First, and foremost, it is my job to make sure they are good people, who love and honor God. And the reason God used up a whole commandment on honoring our mothers and fathers, is because our parents are our first models of God (or they should be), and we cannot learn to honor God if we cannot honor our parents.

We broke down obedience into four qualities: (that I read from the Duggar's new book, which I loved)

1. Instantly--not when I'm done this level, or after I finish this, or in a minute. As I teach the kids when they're little, "We obey right away." That shows submission and humility.

2. Cheerfully--Obeying with a negative, complaining attitude does no one any good. I expect my children to say, "Yes, Mom." when asked to do something. I like how Michelle Duggar adds, "I'd be happy to", or "sure thing".

3. Thoroughly--I also like to say, "We obey all the way." I can't stand crappy jobs halfway done. And if a child tells me he/she will do something, I expect that he/she has really listened to and understands the task. Michelle suggests requiring eye contact, to be sure the child is really listening.

4. Unconditionally--No matter what. Just like we don't get to pick which commandments we obey, we don't get to choose when or to what degree we obey our parents. (or we can, but then come the consequences.)

If the children can obey and honor my voice, then they are training their hearts to obey and honor the voice of God. That's why the commandment to honor parents is so important in the first place. It's also vital when we have little children who are just learning to obey, and whose eyes are watching the responses and facial expressions of older siblings. It's a difficult thing to be a role model, but it's a responsibility they are endowed with.

We read Ephesians 6:1, a scripture I had the kids memorize, when they were just itty-bitty:
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right."

It is what we will be actively working on right now. Obeying instantly, cheerfully, thoroughly, and unconditionally. Nobody wants to scrub cat poop out of the carpet. But when asked to do it, (especially when you're the one who stepped in it) the correct response is, "Yes, Mom. I'll do it right away."

And then, we can play video games.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Under a Rock, Next to a Nerd

We didn't watch the Academy Awards. (Were we the only ones?)

I haven't even seen a single movie that was nominated, let alone won. Oh, well, bits of Wall-E. I think these days I live under a rock. We don't even get television. At least I still know most of the names of the actors/actresses who were nominated. I haven't recognized most of the names of the "Grammy-Award-winning" singers in years. sigh.

Oh, wait, there was one film I saw. The one that probably nobody else saw. It was nominated in the Best Documentary category. Encounters at the End of the World is a documentary by Werner Herzog, about just what's going on down there at the South Pole. I figured we needed to shake things up a bit for Family Movie Night, you know, from the usual action violence and mystery and comedy. We got a little quiet and chilly (with our coordinating treat of ice cream), and some of us even a little bored. That's how real the movie was, because I'm sure we would be quiet, and chilly, and bored if we were to travel to Antarctica. At least some of the time. But the cinematography was beautiful. I was stunned to see such diversity and brilliant beauty in the lifeforms living in that dark, cold water at the bottom of the earth. It seems so much more fun to be swooning around in the warmer Pacific waters. These creatures really drew the short end of the stick, but at least they weren't shortchanged in their loveliness.

At one point, some under-the-ice diving occurred and water samples were collected. Tiny little organisms danced about under the microscope's eye. And then Dylan says,

"Wait, is it a prokaryote or eukaryote that doesn't have a nucleus?"

And Lyndsay answered (she answered!) "Prokaryotes don't have a membrane-bound nucleus or organelles, but their genetic material is still distributed throughout the cell's cytoplasm."

And Dylan replies, "Oh, yeah. That's what I thought."

And I chime in, "You two are a couple of nerds."

But I secretly love it. I love that my teenagers actually listen in science class. It's cool. (and they're good looking to boot!)

Nobody has time around here to watch much television anyway. Our studies consume most of our free time. My first semester ended last week (and I got an A!), and my next semester begins this week. I'm taking 9 credits, three classes. One online (Business) and two night classes (Biology and Humanities). You should see the reading list for my Humanities class. It's a whole post in itself, and probably forthcoming. Mama Mia!

And then, Biology. . .

Well, at least I now know that it's prokaryotes that don't have a membrane-bound nucleus. That's got to count for something, right?

(Oh, and our Antarctic documentary? It didn't win. Some guy tightroped it between the twin towers and he took home Oscar. )

Friday, February 20, 2009

Birds and Bees

Now Aiden knows the Facts of Life.

Early in my parenting, I found a book by Linda and Richard Eyre, titled, How to Talk to Your Child About Sex, and their approach resonated with me. Basically, they recommend having age-appropriate talks from toddlerhood on up, with The Big Talk happening on the child's 8th birthday. They also detail other talks, that go into subjects like masturbation and pornography and STD's as the child goes through the teen years. I have followed their methods, even using their scripts, with each of my three children with great success, and I heartily recommend the book to other parents.

Eight is a great age. According to our Church, it's the age of accountability. It's an age budding with maturity, but still fresh with innocence. And even though I got tangled up in life and didn't let Aiden in on the 'most amazing, beautiful secret ever' until he was 9, we still reaped great rewards.

With great intentions, I had been leading up to our big talk for several months, telling Aiden that I felt he was old enough now to know about the most amazing, wonderful, beautiful secret in the whole wide world. He was intrigued beyond belief. The Eyre's recommend making a night of it, with a special parent-child date to celebrate. About a month ago, Aiden and I went out to dinner at Panda Express, one of his favorites. The other kids were out and so he and I had some alone time, and he reminded me that we still hadn't had our special talk. I knew it was time, so I fastened up my nerves.

I asked him what the most wonderful thing in the whole world was. He said me, which is a great answer, but we fished around a bit more and came up with families. (I'm still included in that answer.) We talked about the love that we feel for families and what we do for people when we love them. He gave great answers, like telling them, hugging them, and doing things for them. We talked about the different kind of love that moms and dads feel for each other and how they might show their love in a little different ways, like more hugging, and kissing on the lips. And then I told him that it was that love, between a mom and a dad that brings children into the family.


I asked him if he had ever wondered how babies got inside the mom's belly, and he said 'not really', but that he would like to know. He thought Heavenly Father put them there, which was what I told him when he was small. I asked him if he'd ever heard the word 'sex' and he said yes, but that he had no idea what it meant. I told him about a very special hug that husbands and wives can do to show their love for each other and that sometimes that hug helps a baby to start growing inside the mother's tummy, and then I had him read aloud the book Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle. It's just cartoony enough to keep things light, but with very direct and correct information about bodies and lovemaking and how it all 'works'.

It was delightful. Aiden giggled at some parts that were funny, but more than that he was completely fascinated. He wanted to look at each picture and read each caption. He'd had no idea! And he really felt like he was being let in on the biggest, best grown-up secret in the whole world, which was exactly what I wanted.

He asked some questions, and then we talked about just how special sex is and how you wouldn't want to go around giving those kind of 'big, special hugs' to just anyone. That person would have to be the person you loved so much and were committed to, and wanted to have a family with. Sex is just too special and too sacred to go giving it out for fun. We talked about dangerous things that can happen when people don't hold sex to be special and sacred, and how he would want to marry someone who felt it was as special as he did. We talked about how he would hear lots of things about sex, especially now that he knew what it was, and that he needed to remember that lots of kids don't have parents that tell them the whole truth and so some of what he might hear might not be all the way correct. He knows that whatever he hears he can come and ask me or his dad right away and we will answer him. And we talked about how some people like to make jokes about sex or say bad things about it, and that's just because they don't understand how special it is, and we shouldn't join in those conversations because we know differently. We talked about how some movies and television shows only focus on how good it feels and not how special it is, and that we needed to remember that we know better and that we should avoid the things that could make us feel uncomfortable. It's because sex is so amazing and sacred that the world and Satan want us to disregard it and not keep it special. He got it.

His little freckled face was aglow. It was a sweet time between us, as it had been with his brother and sister before. I have found it so much easier and better for your parent-child relationship, if you are the first person to explain sex to your child. When you have a clean slate to work with, there is no squirming or embarrassment. It's really not that awkward at all. And you can make sure that the child's first impression is the one you want him to have. That will be the most lasting. I have found that because I came to them with the knowledge, they continue to come to me for information about things that most kids/teens would never approach their parents about, and they know I will always give them the straight-up truth. I value this closeness with my children so dearly.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bug Juice

When Lyndsay was very young, maybe between the ages of 5 and 7, she was plagued with continual sore throats. Her tonsils were always swollen, and it seemed she'd only have short breaks between these ailments. It was puzzling. I am not the kind of mother that runs her kids to the doctor. While I believe that doctors have their place, I also believe that there is much healing available through other channels. I knew that if I took her to the doctor, she would be given round after round of antibiotics, and then, in desperation, her tonsils would be removed. This was not what I felt was best for her, nor did I think it would solve her problems.

I did what I could for her herbally, and then one day, while in a small natural foods store owned by a little old woman with great wisdom and, I believe, a gift for healing, I asked her about Lyndsay. I explained that besides these chronic sore throats, Lyndsay was a vibrant and healthy girl, but I just didn't know what to do. She set her up on a stool and looked into her eyes.

"Her blood is very poor," she said.

"Her blood?" I asked.

She explained that her blood was low in iron and weak and so it was hard for her to fight off infections. The tonsils are the first line of defense against invading germs, and that's why they seemed continually enlarged. They were working overtime. But, she confirmed, if you take her to a doctor, they'll just remove her tonsils and the infections will move to her adenoids. Soon, they'll want to remove those. But the problem of her weak blood, will still be there, and the infection will just move further and further down into her system.

"We must strengthen her blood."

She took me into her yard and gathered bunches of fresh comfrey and parsley from her garden. She told me to put them into my blender with some orange juice and blend it up into a green drink. Have her drink it every day, she promised, and the sore throats will go away.

And they did. And they have never returned. Of course, from time to time, sickness flows through the family (like right now we're fighting colds, but we fight them fast!), but her constant suffering was alleviated.

I have been a fan of green drink, and the power of plants and the body to work together for healing ever since. This is why, besides being quite conscious of what my children eat, I also make sure we all have a green drink in the morning. Bug juice, the kids call it.

After dropping Lyndsay off at Seminary, I come home to pack lunches. At 6:30am, Dylan comes down and we make the Bug juice. It's the perfect job for a boy. Boys love to pulverize things! Dylan is The Pulverizer in our house, and he does a great job.

Each week I buy a huge bag of spinach leaves (3lbs, I think, for $3.99), several bunches of kale ($.79/bunch), lots of parsley (7 bunches for $1), 5lbs. of carrots ($1.69), and several 5lb. bags of apples ($.99 each bag). We each eat one apple a day, plus about 5 go into the green drink a day. But overall, green drink for our entire family is not that expensive of a venture, and it's sure more affordable than missed work and school, and doctor's visits.

I have a Juiceman Jr. juicer, which is not the best out there, but it is certainly adequate, and I've been using it almost daily for about ten years. But a blender can also be used for a pulpier green drink, or the juice can be strained after blending.

I do the cutting up, and Dylan does the juicing.

The kids drink it up happily. The apples and carrots give it a delicious sweetness that is very palatable. Even Adam, who will barely eat salad, drinks it eagerly.

Conor loves it too.

And I feel satisfied that I am doing what I can to keep little growing bodies strong and vital and free from unnecessary medicines. The kids go off to school supercharged on Bug Juice! It must work, because they're all getting straight A's :) and I haven't taken a sick kid to the doctor in. . .I don't even remember. Ever?

Here's to going green!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Question of the Week: All About Piano Lessons

This week's (late) question comes from the inimitable Luisa over at Novembrance. You really should ask her anything and everything because not only will she know, she'll entertain you as well. But she would like some perspective on piano lessons:

What are your method, approach, and expectations when teaching piano? Do you use a certain curriculum? Will you fire a kid if s/he won't practice? Have you had any motivational challenges to deal with? What about payment: do you ask for a month in advance; do you ever barter; how do you handle missed lessons?

First, let me state for the record that I am not a trained piano teacher, nor am I some concert pianist or virtuoso. I can play the piano competently, I understand music, and my greatest strength lies in the fact that I am a very experienced and natural teacher of children. I have patience and an ability to work with even young kids in a way that keeps them happy and learning. I've heard from many other teachers that working well with children can be a greater asset than can one's technical ability on the piano, and so I really work that angle. Currently, I teach 14 students weekly.

Most of my students are very young, like ages 5 through 9. I have several teenagers as well, and I've taught a few adults. I use a mixture of Faber and Alfred method books. Alfred works really well for pre-readers, but Faber's music is more interesting in the beginning levels. I love the supplemental solo books that Faber has, especially in the intermediate levels. I think they're fun, and they provide a decent range of exposure.

My approach is that I want the piano to be fun, but I make no bones about the fact that anything that is worth doing requires work. If a student wants to play well, he has to work. Work means doing a lot of it. I will not fire a student for not practicing, but it sure isn't as much fun to teach them. I have several students that never practice, and they basically just crawl along at a snail's pace and I collect their money. Their choice, not mine. Surprisingly, even a tiny bit of practice makes a big difference over no practice at all. If a kid doesn't practice, they can still learn, but the rate is obviously slower. Sometimes it takes just the right song to inspire them to practice, or sometimes it's a new skill, like triads. (That really gets 'em.)

I ask my itty bitty students to practice 3 times a week for 5-10 minutes each time. I ask them to put a tally mark next to each song in their assignment book for each time they play it at home. The more competent little kids I ask to practice at least 3 times per week, playing each song 5 times. Older students, I ask that they practice 5 days a week for 30 minutes each session. I also require written theory work. I have some very motivated students who do more than what I ask, and some who do nothing but show up. But they show up happy, and I never guilt them. I will usually play something impressive for them, just above their level and tell them they are "almost there" and if they work hard at home, they can sound just like that.

I have had a few parents come to me with urgency about "getting" their kids to practice, and frankly, I tell them, that is not my job. I do not live with their kids, and I'm not the one who lets them watch TV or play video games when they haven't practiced. I'm also not the one paying for the lessons. I can't do everything. I encourage, and now and then I reward for a certain number of tally marks, but I tell the kids it is their responsibility to practice, because they're the ones that get to reap the rewards.

With my own children, I find it easiest to ensure practice time happens by having a practice time. If left for 'whenever', it usually won't happen. I also set a timer, and the kid sits there till the timer goes off. I allow some wandering through old music, but if I don't hear current pieces being played, then the timer gets extended. Motivation with anything is a challenge, but isn't that just life. We just have to keep pushing through, and because of that, piano lessons teach an invaluable truth and principle to children who want everything easily and now.

I charge $20 per week, for a 30 minute lesson, and I ask for a month's worth of lessons to be paid for on the first week. That is their commitment to me, one month at a time. When someone schedules lessons on Wednesdays at 5:30, I arrange many factors to be available at that time, and when they don't show up, I do not eat the cost of that. If there are 4 or 5 weeks that month, they pay up front, and then if a lesson must be missed I will allow 2 weeks to schedule a make-up lesson. Often I will do two 45-minute lessons to make it up conveniently. I've had really great success with this, and rarely have to hound a parent for payment.

I haven't bartered yet, but I would be open to it if the offer was sweet. Obviously, I'm doing this because I need to earn an income and I love teaching and being able to be home with my own children too. It's been a huge blessing, and it is so rewarding to see kids learn something new and difficult and see them just absolutely beam with pride in their accomplishments.

And of course, it sure is nice to have music being played almost all the time!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Yellow House

A few weeks ago a friend showed me her beloved Fisher Price Little People Schoolhouse, the original one from the 70's that she'd saved and cared for meticulously all these years. It brought a lump to my throat.

My very favorite childhood memories include Fisher Price Little People. I had the Yellow House, and later we added the Tudor House, the Houseboat, the Hospital, and the amusement park pieces, and the Sesame Street Clubhouse, and the A-frame House, the Farm, and the Airport. Probably others were among the collection that my brothers and sisters and I shared. It was my very favorite activity. They were my favorite toys.

Our third floor, for a time, was our playroom. We had the whole room set up with a Little People village. It was my make-believe. It was me becoming a wife and a mom. It was me decorating a house and caring for babies and running errands and visiting friends. I loved my Little People world. My mom tells me that I loved to play Little People with my brother Ethan when we were wee little, and I'll admit, without too much shame, that I continued to play till I was at least 12. I simply loved that world. It was so real to me, and it was my play canvas of all the dreams I held in my little girl heart of the woman I would one day be.

When I got home from my friend's house the other day after seeing her Schoolhouse, I signed on to Ebay to look around. I was shocked to see every little playset from my childhood up for auction! I had these long-darkened memories come flooding back into my mind of the little green girl with the red hair. The blue mom with the yellow hair. The little dog. The gurney that comes with the hospital. The toy cars and wagons for the children. The ferris wheel. The playpen and rocking horse.

The yellow house.

I called my children in to see, and with an emotional exuberance and excitement I told them how I had played for hours with this set. I remembered just how I'd had the furniture set up. The loveseat in this corner of the livingroom, next to the fireplace. The television across the way. Two twin beds under the windows, a crib in the middle.

And then I started to cry. That was the most unexpected of all. I couldn't help it. Just seeing the pictures of those toys, that my little hands had played with so dearly. I could still feel them in my hands. I could smell the particleboard covered with laminate. I had all sorts of flashbacks that brought such a longing into my heart that only tears could fall for that little girl. The little girl who is all grown up now. Whose own little girl is almost grown up now.

I had to bid on it. On the Yellow House. On the Hospital. I knew I couldn't afford them right then, but I had to do it. I was outbid, but not discouraged. Another time will be right. Someday I want to have each of those sets again, in good condition, with their pieces, and I want to lay them all out in my livingroom and gather my children around.

And play Little People. I'll be the family in the Yellow House.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wise Beyond His Years

It was dark and cold and wet from rain, and I didn't want to walk by myself to get my 10,000 steps for today (Sundays are always a challenge). I asked the older kids if they wanted to come to the track with me, and they eagerly accepted my offer.

Dylan opened the van doors for Lyndsay and for me, the prince that he is, and as he climbed into the back seat he said,

"I think I get how to make a girl happy."

"Oh yeah?" I asked, intrigued.

"Just two things, really. First, tell her you love her, and second, do whatever she says."

That's about right. Good think he gets it young. His future wife owes me big time.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love Letter

Dear Adam,

My prince. You are strong, brave, calm, and focused. I needed that from you over the last several weeks, and you were there for me. I am so grateful to you that you were there with me this week. I couldn't have done it without you. Not just court, but the drive, the snow, the unexpected kinks in the chain. Alone, they would have been so stressful. Together, they were an adventure. And we laughed. I love laughing with you. Thank you for so much laughter.

I see you working tirelessly for me, for our family, for your dreams. I see your devotion and the purity of your heart. I see you not bending in the face of adversity and opposition. I see you relying on the Lord, on your faith, and on prayer. Your strength gives me hope, even when things are hard. When I see you praying, I know everything will be alright, deep down inside of me.

I love the way you love me. You give me the freedom to be me. You stand amazed at me, and it fills me with the desire to be more amazing for you. Thank you for teaching me a better way to love. Thank you for being patient as I learn. The way you look at me, the way you touch me, the way you listen to me. You melt me. You are the perfect combination of tender and tough. Thank you for making me feel safe. I want to be your queen.

We have every reason to not be in love. We have had everything work against us, trying to break us, trying to destroy us, and yet, here we are. You and me against the world. That song I used to sing in jest, has become sort of prophetic. And here we are. We have survived just about everything in the almost four years that we've known each other.

And I love you.

I love you, my Adam. I love you. I love being your sweetheart. Thank you for loving me.

Happy Valentine's Day.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Workshop of Love

We had our Valentine workshop last weekend because of the events of this one. The kids are starting to not want to do Valentines (L & D anyway), but I was determined to find something that was 'cool' enough for even a Junior High boy and High School girl. We can't just let our friends go loveless on the day of love, for heaven's sake! So, here's what we came up with, and a huge acknowledgment and thank you to Family Fun magazine, as always.

The kids hard at work: (It's a lot easier to make a list of 40 friends than it is to actually make 40 Valentines) This took most of the day on Saturday.

Lyndsay and her "Rock Candy" ipods. (Boxes of conversation hearts wrapped in pink paper, with mini peanut butter cup earpieces.)

Dylan and his "Valentines are for Dum-Dums"

Aiden tells his friends, "You're all WRITE".

Happy Valentine's Day! Be a sweetheart!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Home Again

I never want to go to court again. Having acted as my own attorney, I really can't imagine the stress that would go along with being a lawyer, living in other people's contention all the time. I take my hat off to those lawyers (I know of only a handful) who are able to do their job well, and maintain personal integrity.

It's difficult to stand on the opposing side of the man you spent 12 years of your life with. I fell in love with him when I was just barely 17 years old. We spent our entire 20's together. We created three of the most amazing kids. I have mostly all good memories to soothe the hurt that's also buried within. But, it surely is hard to focus on all of that when he becomes my enemy in court. I barely recognized him. I looked hard at him, and tried to. He's just different. Not the man I once knew.

Getting to court was an adventure, to say the least. We were caught in a blizzard and forced to turn back and drive back down the treacherous roads to stay in a motel for the night in Payson. But it kept snowing, and the next morning we were again turned back. The highways up to the mountain were both closed. Adam and I sat in the parking lot of a Home Depot waiting. On our third try, the road blocks were gone, and we flew the last 150 miles, as safely as icy, dangerous roads will allow. We made it to the courthouse (me pulling on pantyhose and slipping on heels and a skirt and blouse in the backseat) just 15 minutes before our hearing. Hectic all the way.

But still calm.

I am relieved to have this episode behind me. I trust that the judge will rule in the best interest of the children, and that things will work out as they should. I did the best I could. I told the truth. She will make her ruling next Tuesday by telephone conference.

Beside the reason for the trip, the rest of it, adventure and all, was so delightful. Adam was such a rock for me. He was calm and steady, he was a great conversationalist, he was funny and tender, and supportive. We had a great time together. He got to clear snow off a car for the first time ever (what a California boy!) It was a riot, as he complained about how cold his hands were. I was standing outside in my pajamas, barefoot in the snow laughing my head off. He is so funny, seriously.

Conor was with us, and was a champ the whole way. Strapped for days in his carseat and not a peep out of him. He loved being with us, and we loved his company. He got to see and feel snow for the first time. I miss snow!

He got to chase the chickens at Grandpa and Grandma Holiday's house.

My children were well cared for by friends and family who checked in frequently with them. And even though I know they're terrific kids, still my heart was warmed to hear that they had family prayer together morning and night, and they even had scripture study in the morning before school. Lyndsay cooked breakfast and packed healthy lunches (she even wrote love notes to the boys and stuck them in their lunches as I do every day!), Dylan kept the kitchen clean and cooked dinner. They went to scouts, Seminary, and YW. I am blessed and grateful for their competence and trustworthiness.

The trip was good. I feel stronger for it. I feel closer to my husband after it. I am more impressed with my children. And I came through the court ordeal with no hard feelings for the man whose name I once bore. I wish him well, always. I refuse to condemn him, because then I condemn a part of myself and my history.

But you know what they say, "When you learn better, you do better."

May I.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

About my Style. . .

Well, in a nutshell, I don't think I have one. But I want one. How embarrassing.

Today at Target I did the unimaginable. I bought myself a pair of sweatpants, a pair of khakis, and four t-shirts. I about had a panic attack at the register thinking of spending money on clothing for myself when I knew exactly what bills I could have paid instead. I mean, it was Target, and it wasn't that much money, and had it been clothes for one of the kids I wouldn't have batted an eye. But it was for me, and I never do that. These days. But the sweatpants I was wearing when I bought the new ones had a seat that was about to give out. Not that my butt's bigger or anything. (and it's getting smaller, thank you very much.)

Seriously? It's cold here now. And I realized with some degree of shock and confusion that I don't own a single pair of long pants. Only capris from the thrift store (and I'm not complaining, because L.A. thrift stores are the gold mine of the west coast. Let somebody else pay for designer clothes and then get bored with them when they're still perfectly fine. Suits me!) Oh, and that pair of almost bottom-less sweatpants, which I love.

How did this happen?

I'm not really good at clothes. I don't really know how to pick them out, or what looks good on me. Very rarely have I had clothing that I really feel confident in, even when I had a smokin' hot bod, for a mom-type. I want to, I just don't have the skill to know what to buy, and I don't have the patience or the time to go search them out, a piece here and a piece there.

Today when I bought my khakis, I did try them on, which I hardly ever do. Lyndsay was with me, (which is the main reason these purchases even made it through to the cashier. She's a big fan of me doing things for myself, bless her heart.)

"Did you like them?" she asked when I came out of the dressing room.

"Sure. They're pants."

"But did they fit well?"

"I guess. They're just pants."

She was already puzzled enough that I wasn't trying on the t-shirts. Apparently to her, t-shirts have to fit just right, whatever that means. It's not a formal gown, it's a t-shirt.

"Aren't you going to try on the black pants?" (the sweatpants)


"Why not?"

"Because they're just sweatpants. I mean, I know I'm not S, and I'm not L, so what's left? M. What's left to discover?"

She got a good laugh. But she has no hips and no cellulite, and legs that go on forever, so I let her live in her fantasy. If you remember, she tries on a size 0 and it's still too baggy. Puh-lease! Where do you go from there?

I think it all began when I was a child, when I got random hand-me-downs from various older relatives whom I'd never before met. Aunt's sisters, maybe? I don't know. I did the best I could, and then in high school I started buying my own clothing. Do you know how many times I was stopped and asked if I was a teacher? And I was young for my grade!

I used to watch women around me: my favorite teacher, Mrs. Holt in 7th and 8th grades; my Seminary teacher, Patrese Burke; my piano teacher, Carol Jean Stoker (who was a grandmother, but I liked her style!) I watched women around me whom I wanted to emulate for various reasons, and I admit, I started to dress like them. I painted my nails the same colors they used. I wanted a freshwater pearl bracelet because they had one. I wanted those peek-a-boo shoes that Mrs. Holt had, and dress pants with a belt and a blouse. Carol Jean always wore these silky skirts with coordinated sweaters, so I was on the lookout for those at TJ Maxx. I didn't copy my style from my peers (I felt terribly silly and out of sorts when I tried, though I did have my share of acid washed skin tight jeans--with zippers at the bottom-- and baggy sweaters.) I was born on the lookout for who I wanted to become and I tried to dress the part. Don't you think that's weird that a 17 year old girl is trying to look like her 50? something year old piano teacher? It just dawned on me a few weeks ago that I did that, and that that might be weird.

Oh great. Something else to add to the list. What a nerd.

So, now here I am fashionably clueless. I do my best to fake it, but I don't know that I'm really fooling anyone. And living where I live, it's easier to both get away with anything, and to really stand out as being the clueless one. Oy vey.

But hey. Today I am sporting very nice black lounge pants, with contrasting topstitching and a string tie at the waist. The fabric has a smooth sheen and drapes nicely. And they're machine washable, to boot. With that, I am wearing a slightly fitted, fuchsia V-neck tee with short sleeves and a nice, longer length. I think it makes my breasts look awesome, the worn-out working girls they are, and I'm even feeling a little skinnier in clothes that don't have holes in them.

So until What Not to Wear does an intervention on me, I sure am comfortable, and maybe even a little cute. And I'll keep trying.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Rainy Weekend

My 250th post! That's kind of a milestone! But I won't bore you with 250 things about me, even if I could think of that many. Instead, an update of sorts.

This morning, after getting the kids off to school, Conor and I drove Adam to the airport. He is flying to Utah for his brother's wedding tomorrow. I would love to have gone with him, but the timing made it impossible. I wish Tony and Natalie all the best, though. Tony's life is an inspiration to me, coming back from the deepest, darkest abyss, into the light, where he now gets to be sealed for all eternity to his love. A true second chance, and a beautiful portrayal of the purpose of life. Learn what you've got to learn, and then move forward. I love that guy, and I can't wait to get to know my new sister-in-law.

The timing is unfortunate because I am scheduled to appear in court (in Arizona) with my ex-husband on Tuesday. This has been a very long, drawn-out process, initiated by him back in September, that I know he was hoping would be resolved by now, and I certainly was as well. Upcoming life changes for him have led him to need or want different circumstances as far as visitation and child support go, and we are unable to reach a compromise. That is a very, very kind way to describe what is going on, but those are the only details I'll share here. I am very saddened by the continual animosity I feel from a man I once loved so deeply. For some reason, I continue to believe the best in him, because that's how I knew him, but in doing so I set myself up for deep betrayal and hurt when he displays otherwise to me. He will stop at nothing, and holds nothing sacred, in the pursuit of getting what he wants. I am trying to go forward in faith, but as the date looms closer and closer, I am nervous and even fearful about the outcome. To travel out of state, I have to make significant arrangements for my three older kids who will stay home, and consider the cost of travel, missed work, and missed school. I am missing my final exam, which I have to make up, as well as a class period of work on our final project with my group, which is costing me several points from my final grade for the class. An unavoidable casualty. We'll get on the road on Monday morning and drive the 10 hours to Show Low, appear in court on Tuesday, and then drive home on Wednesday. I'll be anxious for the drive home, to have this all behind us, and to hopefully move forward in more of a spirit of cooperation. Until then, I must use every spare second I have this weekend to prepare, and to get an enormous amount of homework done. If anyone wants to offer a prayer that the judge will have clear and righteous discernment, and that a positive solution may be reached, and that I might have the ability to think and act with wisdom and prudence as I argue my case, I would surely appreciate that. Oh, and a calm heart would be really nice too.

It's hard to focus on something contentious in this, the month of love. This weekend the kids and I will have our Valentine's Workshop, as we do every year. Thank goodness for Family Fun magazine with their brilliant and easy ideas, cool enough even for a teenage boy. Pictures of that to come.

It's been raining for more than a day, and will continue all weekend. I love it. It makes me somewhat melancholy, a little introspective and nostalgic, but I like that. I shed a few cleansing tears, release some stress,

and remember that just behind the rain clouds, is the sun.

Ah, the sun.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Whose Daughter Art Thou?

Last night I gave a lesson to a group of teenage girls. I had been reading in the Old Testament, the story of Abraham sending his servant to get a wife for his son, Isaac. When Rebekah comes to the well to draw water, offering the servant water, as well as his camels, he knows that Rebekah is the chosen one. He asks her, "Whose daughter art thou?" (Gen. 24:23)

The girls we serve have vastly different home lives, and the majority of them do not live with, or do not have relationships with their fathers. But, I reminded them, they each have a Father in whom they can put their eternal trust, and that is their Heavenly Father. He loves his daughters like the most perfect daddy loves his little girl. In that fact, they can draw strength and peace.

"Whose daughter art thou?"

A daughter of a King. A daughter of God.

When that knowledge burns within, it changes everything, from the way we carry ourselves to the choices we make each day. That's what I want for them. To know.

Beside being a daughter of God, today I am grateful to be the daughter of two amazing earthly parents who reared me in the perfect way to become who I needed to be. They gave me all of the tools, all of the experiences that I needed.

Today is my dad's birthday. The Ancient of Weeks. A little more vintage now, is he, a little more loved and adored by me. (That rhymed! See? I get that from him. He gives me gifts, even on his birthday.) I love you, Dad. It is because of you and Mom that I know for sure that I am a daughter of God, and I hope to please you both by the life I owe to each of you. May this year be your best yet!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Boy Wonder

Last year Aiden went on a field trip with his cub scout pack to JPL. He got to lie down and have a moon rover roll over him. It was a big thrill. He came home that day with a fixed resolution to be a rocket scientist one day and work for JPL. He still maintains that is his goal. Or a doctor. That's his second choice because then he could save lives.

Last fall, I received a letter from his Magnet School. They wanted to have Aiden evaluated for the Gifted program and wanted my permission to have him meet with a psychologist for testing. I love evaluations, on me or my kids. I think it's kind of fun to be a psychological guinea pig, so I readily agreed.

Last week he brought me home a sealed envelope with the results.

Apparently, he is Gifted. With a capital 'G'.

I mean, I knew he was a smart kid. But, I think that sometimes he gets a little lost in the crowd. He's so quiet and unassuming. When your oldest child shines so brightly, it's easy to get overly-focused on her. And then along comes the firstborn son, closely following on his sister's heels, and they sort of become a pair. And little Aiden tags along. He's usually a happy kid, he's always done well in school. Occasionally he has temper problems, but he's growing out of those. He's a sensitive kid, a cooperative kid, a "Yes, Mom," kind of kid. He loves a challenge and usually rises to meet it. He's an organized, careful kid. And all along he's cultivating genius over there. This is mother's guilt talking.

I got several pages of handwritten evaluation notes from the psychologist. Aiden has 'extensive vocabulary' and is a 'strong leader'. He tests in the 'superior (underlined) range of ability' in nonverbal cognitive reasoning and processing. In every characteristic commonly found in gifted children, he scored a 5, on a scale from 1 to 5. He excelled in English/Reading and Mathematics, scoring in the 97th percentile nationally. He is "Intellectually Gifted". They would like permission for him to participate in the Gifted Program.

My boy!

The one who chose chess and cello all by himself, and picked them both up effortlessly. My boy who was once given a blessing by his Grandpa Holiday that told him that one day he would be one of the best readers in the world.

Little Aiden. He beamed when I told him the results of the evaluation. The look on his face was priceless.

This is the best kind of revenge for the youngest brother who is always picked on and left out by the older, cooler, smarter? brothers.

Way to show 'em, Aiden.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Question of the Week: "Stepping" it Up

Rachel from Trapped Between a Scream and a Hug asks me:

"I have tried so hard to be consistent with my pedometer and reaching 10,000 steps. But unless I walk about a mile a day, outside of regular mom activity I always fall short. How do have time for that?"

Well, the simple answer is, as with anything, I make time. I don't have any more (or less) than you do.

I have lots of reasons to not fit exercise into my day. I already get up before the sun to drive to Seminary, pack lunches, cook breakfast, yada-yada-yada, and get the kids off to school. I have a toddler. (Enough said.) I have 4 of my own, and 2 bonus children. I have a husband. I have 14 piano students. I am a college student. I am in the YW Presidency. I write. I have to clean my house (I do not have a housekeeper, though I keep threatening), cook dinner, do homework with kids, ETC. I'm sure I do many other things.

But it's actually because of how busy I am that I choose to walk. Let me explain.

Walking is easy, and it's free. I do not have time to drive to a gym, even though I love working out at gyms. There's no way I could fit that into my routine at this point in my life. I love to do video tapes too, but it's harder for me to do them consistently, and exercise must be consistent to be effective. I can walk anywhere, whether I'm at home, or away. It's just about the best exercise around and can help strengthen your joints, muscles, and bones. It's great for the heart. And you can do it all at once, or in smaller segments. Doctors have found that the effects on health are the same if you do one 30 minute walk, or three 10 minute walks.

Also, because of how busy I am, and how thinly stretched I am, I need some time for me. I have been amazed at how affected I am by just getting out of the house and moving, briskly or slowly, breathing in the fresh air, and having some time to think or pray as I walk. I come back happier. Also, if I don't fit it in, I find that my energy level really sags midday and I struggle with fatigue. Even that 30 minute minimum gives me the boost I need (as does eating well) so that I can do all the things I have to do, and do them cheerfully. This makes a big difference to my family. Yes, I make dinner and help with homework, but the attitude with which I do these things has a tremendous impact on the kids and the husband. When I am taking care of me, I am able to really pour myself into my duties at home with an increased portion of love and gratitude. I feel like I am serving rather than slaving.

It isn't too hard, really. If I am just doing my normal Mom things, I can log about 6000 steps a day. A mile is about 2400 steps, and you can do 3000-4000 steps in 30 minutes depending on how quickly you're walking. Sometimes I don't get to go for a walk until 8:30 at night once the baby is down and things have settled down for the night. There have been a few nights where I just gave myself permission to not reach the goal for whatever reason, but most nights, I feel so much better if I have ended my day with integrity for myself and the goal I set for my health and well-being.

Yesterday was a rough one for me. We had Stake Conference, and we had to get there an hour early to get a seat. Not much walking at church. We came home and I took a nap while the baby did. Then I started dinner because the missionaries were coming over. I was so dismayed to see that at 3:00pm I had only 3100 steps! I just had no umph. But I also knew there was no way I was going to start out February by not hitting my goal. So, I put the baked potatoes in the oven, laced up my shoes and went for a walk. Just around the neighborhood. I used the time to think of things I am grateful for and how I can be more loving since this is my second favorite time of the year (Valentine's). I walked for about 25 minutes. We had dinner, cleaned up, etc. At 8:00 I was still at only 7800, so I took my daughter (and a big stick, at my husband's insistence, since it was dark) and we walked for another 30 minutes around the neighborhood. The air was cool and the stars were out. It was nice to spend that time together talking, and when I went to bed I had 10,500 steps, and a peaceful heart.

I sneak in my steps however I can. I walk Aiden to school instead of driving him. I go up and down the stairs as much as possible. If I have relatively close-by errands to run, I put the baby in the stroller and walk, like today we walked to the copy store. I park farther away at stores so I can get in more steps. They all add up. If I vacuum my downstairs, I can get 350 steps. Hey, that needs to be done anyway. Sometimes I turn on the music and the kids and I have a dance party. Whatever it takes. I take my kids with me all the time. They love having that time with me and are always up for a walk. When I find that 10K is not much of a challenge anymore, I'll increase my goal to 12K. There were many days last month I hit that anyway.

Hey, Rachel? You can do it! Today's only the 2nd of the month. Start today! You are so worth it. Your family will become your cheerleaders. Tally up your steps at the end of the month and if you beat me, I'll send you a present. How's that sound?

By the way? I'm doing great today. It's not even 1pm and I'm already at 7800 steps!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Off to a Good Start

January. The month of new beginnings, fresh starts, and unfortunately, many broken promises. I really didn't want that to happen this year. I really wanted to begin this year with renewed dedication to taking care of myself in all areas:

Spiritually, I wanted to recommit to reading my scriptures each day. I do read with my children each day, but I had gotten into the habit of letting my personal study fall by the wayside. I am happy to report that so far this year I have only missed one day. I also want my prayers to be more meaningful. The best prayers of my life were the prayers I whispered, and groaned, and pleaded, and cried, and sang with praise during my single years. I want that again. I'm working on it.

Mentally, I wanted to recommit to my education, and as we all know, I enrolled in college and began my first class this month. I am happy to report that so far I have an A+ average in my class. I scored the highest on our midterm exam and set the curve, which much to my classmates' dismay, did not give them much of an advantage. Although I can definitely feel the added load I am carrying, and I feel more drained much of the time, I am proud of myself and I feel a deep satisfaction that I am pursuing this goal. I am registered for 9 credits in Spring, beginning the week after this class ends, later this month.

Physically, I knew I needed to love my body again. I needed to shed some pounds, to feel alive again, to nourish my body so that my spirit could shine brighter. I needed to take control of my health and take as good care of me as I do my children. I think I am doing well. I slip up sometimes with treats, but it's been in moderation. My goal is to only eat sweets on Fridays and Mondays (Family Movie Night and Family Home Evening). My bigger goal has been to wear my pedometer and walk at least 10,000 steps every day. I am thrilled to report that in January (well, as of Jan. 7th, when I started my accounting) I walked 265,249 steps! That's an average of 10,610 steps a day! There were a few days I fell short, but I never fell short for three days in a row. My lowest day was 5990, when I just couldn't muster any more energy and decided to not beat myself up over it. My highest day was 14,421. This is a big deal to me that I've stayed consistent for a whole month, and it really sets me up in a positive frame of mind for February. I don't know if I've lost weight because I don't own a scale, but I know I've toned up quite a bit, and you know how it is with exercise. . .it takes a good 4-6 weeks to really start seeing the effects. I'm ready for that!

I'm focusing on my relationships this year. With my husband, with my children, with my friends (although I have little to show for this one yet, sorry girls), and even with those who might be my enemies. I'm trying to love. I'm trying to forgive. I'm trying to work on me.

It is gratifying to still be afloat after one month. I've slipped up here and there, but I haven't jumped off the wagon because of it, like I might have done in the past. I have forgiven myself, given myself permission to fail from time to time, and gotten right back up. That means that I am honoring myself, and that is a big step for me.