Monday, August 31, 2009


Saturday was one of the sweetest days ever. Though the fires continue to burn (and we can see flames at the end of our street, and a family we know has lost their house and belongings), we are trying to make the best of things inside our home. Lyndsay and I spent the entire day together on Saturday, working together and being together. She kept thanking me for spending the time with her, but really, I was the grateful one. Long stretches of time together are becoming more and more rare, and the easy-flowing love between us was a peaceful and joy-filled antidote to the worries outside the door.We worked the majority of the afternoon on the dress she wanted to sew. It was one of her value projects for her YW Recognition Award, which she is almost finished with. She picked the pattern and fabric, and did most of the sewing. It helped her get to know her own machine quite well, and the finished product turned out perfectly! So darling, so Lyndsay.

Afterwards, with a houseful of hungry boys, she and I started the dough for the cinnamon rolls, and once rising, we prepared Taco Salad, one of our favorite meals. She and I have great synchronicity in the kitchen. Oh, and if you're wondering, here's how to make the perfect Taco Salad:

Taco Salad Jenna's Way

lay a bed of Fritos on a plate
next cover with shredded Romaine and baby spinach leaves
next comes ground turkey, browned and seasoned with Taco seasoning
A nice pile of refried beans, warmed
shredded cheddar cheese (to melt a bit on the warm ingredients)
diced tomatoes
sliced black olives
a bit of salsa
a dollop of light sour cream

Anyway, once dinner was done, we got back to work on the cinnamon rolls, and may I say that we found the absolute best recipe ever? Over at My Kitchen Cafe, Vanilla Pudding Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting. To. Die. For. A whole box of vanilla pudding, prepared, in the dough, which makes the dough so soft. The rolls are HUGE, like Cinnabon huge, and so, so good. They were finished around 9pm, and we let the boys come down to eat them fresh from the oven and dripping with cream cheese frosting. We definitely have a new go-to favorite recipe now. You should try it. They're all eaten now, but the memory of them makes me smile. And want more soon.

We went to bed full and tired from a productive, homey sort of day. I took my journal out and shed a few tears as I recorded the tender feelings of my heart about my almost-grown daughter who is so lovely, and so breathtaking. Then I wrote a letter to her in the journal I keep for her, and have since the day I first discovered she was growing within my womb. I told her how much it means to me that she loves me, and that when given an entire day to spend however she would choose, she chooses me. I told her how I search her face and her hands and her feet for remnants of her childhood, and what I wouldn't give to have back just a snatch of her sweet little girl days. A few days of baby teeth and ponytails. What a privilege it is to watch her grow and bloom and become far more than I ever, ever imagined possible could come from me. I am in awe.

And I am blessed.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Home Fires

Things are eerie around here. The Angeles Crest fire continues to burn out of control in La Canada, and living in the valley of those mountains has us trapped under a thick blanket of suffocating smoke. My stepchildren and their mom live in La Canada, and are actually on alert for evacuation, and have their bags packed and ready to go. Businesses are closing because of the air conditions, and those who can, are fleeing.

I, of course, can't.

I woke up this morning to the familiar smell of campfire in my bedroom. Wildfires bring back terrible memories for me, having lived through the evacuations and scare of the Rodeo-Chedeski fire back in 2002. At least this time there is only inconvenience for me, and not a mortal fear. With everything sealed up the best it can be, and children still sleeping, I went downstairs to cook a Saturday Breakfast. One of the big kinds. The kind that gets me out of making lunch.

I cooked eggs and toast, bacon and pancakes. Aiden wandered down and set the table with the good dishes, and poured a round of orange juice. We feasted, we laughed. A few disgusting news stories were shared. The phone rang, but we let it ring, because for this one moment, it was family time, and I didn't want to be interrupted. Save two pieces of whole wheat toast and a few stray pancakes, every bit of food was consumed, kids cleared dishes from the table, and everyone was happy.

The phone rang again. Aiden was invited to go with a family from the ward to Newport Beach for a day of bike riding and swimming, to escape the smoke. It made me happy for him. He's such a good boy, and is always in the shadows of his older siblings. When fun opportunities come his way, especially fun adventures that I can't always provide, I'm always filled with gratitude and excitement for him. He deserves every good thing, and he always brings honor to our family with glowing reports of his kindness, his excellent manners, and his appreciation for everything. So, Aiden is off, breathing fresh ocean air.

Lyndsay and I plan to sew her a dress today, and bake a batch of cinnamon rolls. Cozy, hunkered down things to do. The Best of John Denver is playing on the stereo, and though it's been 20 years since I've heard my mom singing to those songs, somehow I still know every lyric. All about mountains and a carefree happiness that seems so elusive at times. Some love and longing too. I can feel it all, and it makes me wish for an acoustic guitar and some harmony. I miss John Denver.

The wildfires burn. I pray for them to be controlled and extinguished.

The homefires burn. I pray that they may burn forever. All things safe, glowing brighter.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Listmaker

Just this morning, as my friend and I were walking our laps around the high school track, chattering away about school shopping and our high school-aged daughters, I mentioned some random memory I had about my own school days.

"I was such a nerd," I said, "that I would make up a calendar and plan out my outfits for the entire month."

"Wow," my friend replied, not at all trying to talk me down from nerd.

"I mean, I even wrote down what underwear I would wear. And what socks. And which necklace, earrings, and bracelet. Total dork."

Yep, that's me. I've always been a nerd, and I've always been a listmaker.

Over the summer, while my kids were in Arizona, their dad happened upon Lyndsay doing nothing else but. . .making a list. "You are just like your mother," he told her. And that wasn't good or bad. In fact, I found it a little sweet that he remembered something like that about me. And yes, she's a lot like me. Making lists.

Yesterday, as we were walking home from the track, just as the sun was peeking up over the mountains, she told me that she'd started a list in the back of her Journal of life goals. I think it had something to do with the fireside the night before, where the Bishop showed a video of Randy Pausch's Last Lecture.

"That's a great idea," I encouraged her. "Setting goals is a great way to live life, because you're sure to accomplish more if you have some idea of what you want to do."

She told me that on her list were things like travel to another country (preferably Thailand or Peru, but some place in Europe would be great too), not date until she's 16, not kiss until she's 18, go skydiving (what?!? Now that part is like her father, for sure! "Don't tell me when you're doing it," I begged, "Just tell me when it's over."), and in Randy Pausch style, she'd like to be the one that wins the huge teddy bear at the fair too. Just for fun. Actually, whatever is on her list, I have no doubt she'll accomplish it all.

Then today, while cleaning up bookshelves, I found a folded piece of paper with a list written on it, in Lyndsay's sweet handwriting. Her Summer 2009 Goals. It was a pretty impressive list, especially considering she would spend a good chunk of time in Arizona, a week at Youth Conference, and working full-time the rest. She had goals on her list like "Do a CPR class", and "Play Moonlight Sonata by memory". "Memorize 'The Living Christ'", and "Study Biology." She's almost through with 'The Living Christ', and others she has completed, like "Homemake a piece of clothing", and "Exercise and eat healthy", and "Read some novels." "Save money", for sure. Suddenly I feel urged to locate a CPR class and get her signed up. I not only love making lists, I love crossing things off of them too, my list or not.

I thought about the lists I still make, and how they create such a tangible framework for the routines of my life. I have lists of things we need, lists of things I hope for. Lists of ideas for Christmas gifts, lists of things that come to my mind pertaining to each child. Chore lists (for them and for me), grocery lists, meal plans, and resolutions. Lists of scriptures that I love, lists of recipes I want to try. Lists of books I've read and hope to read. Lists of bills to pay, lists of writing ideas, and lists of movies I want to see.

Lists make me feel productive and focused. Lists help me see progress and improvement. In fact, writing this post about writing lists was on my to-do list for today! Along with a million other things, so in the spirit of crossing things off of lists. . .

I'd better get cracking!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mom's in the Kitchen

(Edited with added links at the bottom!)

I saw a plaque in a magazine photo of a livingroom that said something like, "In the memory of every great childhood there is a large kitchen, a warm oven, a simmering pot, and a Mom." I like that. It's true for me, and it's one of those memories that I desperately want to bequeath my own children.

I, like many moms, spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Why, just yesterday we had the most scrumptious Sunday feast, a departure from our usual Roasted Chicken and all the trimmings. One of the things I miss most about Utah is Cafe Rio. My boyfriend at the time introduced me to the act-fast, cafeteria-style, freshly-made Mexican food on one of our first dates after I'd moved to Draper. Everyone seemed to know what they were doing, and I felt completely discombobulated and my turn to bark my order was fast approaching. He did the recommending, and I just did what he said. And never looked back. Pork Barbacoa. Burrito or salad, either one is heaven. Let me die in pork barbacoa.

I found recipes on a cooking blog for Cafe Rio's sweet pork and had to go for it. It begins with marinating a pork roast in Coke overnight and then slow cooking it in the crock pot the next day. I found recipes for the famous black beans and lime-cilantro rice, and even the tomatillo-lime ranch dressing. It takes a bit of assembling and time, but oh, is it worth it. The kids and I had a Cafe Rio feast last night, salads piled high, even with fresh pico and crunchy tortilla strips on top. And we remembered Utah. For dessert, Lyndsay made a Peach Blueberry Crisp, served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Sunday dinners are the best. We all pitch in to prepare, we feast together, and we all clean up, and then usually play a game.

I bring all of this up because many of my childhood memories include my mom in the kitchen. There were nine children, so there was hardly a break between preparation for one meal, and the preparation of the next. One of my very favorite Christmas gifts ever was when my mother gave me a recipe box (and each of my sisters as well) filled with handwritten recipes from her collection. It was the most marvelous thing, all in her familiar writing. I have perused that recipe box over and over, each card bringing back memories of days long ago, and some I see are recipes that have become part of my own family traditions.

A few weeks ago, I saw an exchange between my mom and my sister on Facebook that started something magical. It was one of those ABC's of Me things, and when asked what she makes well in the kitchen, my mom answered, "Sour Cream Blueberry Cake". My sister asked, "You mean the one in our recipe boxes?" And the reply, "That's the one!"

Well, my sister said she was overflowing with blueberries, and at that time so was I, so I chimed in with the idea that all of us sisters bake Mom's Sour Cream Blueberry Cake on the same day and then blog about it, so we could all do something together to celebrate Mom and our own motherhood spent in the kitchen. It was kind of cozy knowing that my sister was baking the same recipe at the same time. One sister had to wait a bit, but has since baked her cake, and it's interesting how we each followed the same recipe just a bit differently.

Let me tell you, this cake is so, so good. Moist and wonderful. It makes a fine breakfast or dessert. You will love it, especially with all the fresh blueberries available right now. Try it if you like. My mom is such a warm and sharing kind of mom, I'm sure she won't mind if I let you in on our family blueberry cake.

Mom's Sour Cream Blueberry Cake

1/2 cup softened sweet butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups blueberries
1/2 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 325. Grease and flour 9x13 pan (or a bundt pan, as my sister did). Cream butter and sugar, add eggs, one at a time. Beat well. Mix dry ingredients together and add the dry ingredients alternately with the sour cream, ending with flour. Stir in vanilla and 1 cup of the blueberries; Pour half the batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle with brown sugar and the other cup of blueberries. Cover with the rest of the batter. Bake 40 minutes.

Just for fun, here are the posts on Hannah's and Abby's blogs. Amanda and Sarah, play along!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I have a lot of decisions to make in life. Every day is full of them. Some presenting themselves fresh that day, others leftover from days and weeks and months, even years past, still lingering, still pressing on my mind.

It's sometimes hard for me to make decisions.

I fear I have passed this indecisiveness on to my daughter. She likes my help in making many decisions: "Should I get this color brown eyeliner, or this color brown eyeliner?" "Should I get this toy for Conor, or these puzzles?"

Usually I steer her to decide for herself, to just go with what feels right, and she'll take the plunge with boosted confidence in herself.

Sometimes, though, in my life, more than one thing feels right. And then I'm stuck. I pray and pray, but the heavens just seem to answer, "Decide for yourself. Go with what feels right."

I don't like those kind of answers at all.

But I recently took the plunge with one of my lingering decisions regarding this next semester of school. I have a handful of classes left to take before I can apply for admission into the nursing program. Three of those classes are lab science classes (read hard, very hard, and very long classes). That would mean at least three semesters of classes, to fit in a lab science each time, along with another straggling prerequisite.

But getting into college classes these days is extremely competitive. Because of the economy, people of all ages and former occupations are flooding college and university campuses trying to up their edge and gain some advantage in this craziness. There are many more students than there are classes and teachers, at least around here, so it's basically a first-come, first-served operation. And first-come is based on your length of enrollment at the school. Each student, or group of students is given a day on which they can register for their upcoming classes. My day for registration comes several weeks after the day that longer-time students get to sign up, so the pickings are slim. This time, every single non-science course that I still need was filled and closed. Every one. Very discouraging, because I'd hoped to take a science and an "easy" class.

Microbiology had a wait list of 2, but I was permitted to enroll, and I did. The downside of Micro is that the only section of the class left with room was going to be four days a week. Monday and Wednesday for lecture, and Tuesday and Thursday for lab. That's a lot of driving back and forth to Pasadena, and it's a lot of arranging care for Conor, and it's a lot of busyness and chaos in an already busy and chaotic life. But I need that class, and I didn't really have much to choose from.

And then, looking around, I saw that Anatomy and Physiology A had 5 openings, and I wondered, "Do I dare?" It was listed as a hybrid course, with the lecture part being conducted online and the lab portion occurring on campus once a week. I figured that I had to teach myself Chemistry last semester, and that I was fairly competent with self-instruction, so I emailed the professor to ask what she thought. (See? I can't make decisions!) She agreed that two lab science courses would be a tall order, but she encouraged me to just 'go for it'.

Five days a week.

It has weighed on me. Even in the most ideal of circumstances, that is a lot of sacrificing for a family to have Mom obligated to that extent. I realize I am a woman of extremes. When I do something, I love to do it all the way, and this school venture has been no exception. It's as if I think, "If I'm gonna do it, then let's do it!"

But a voice has whispered that the sacrifice this particular semester may be too great. The price not really a bargain, even though it would mean shortening my schooling by a semester. Other things need my attention, and those things are worth far, far more.

My children, mainly. I have teens. I have a preschooler. I have an in-between. They grow so quickly and I don't really want to be completely absorbed past observation so that I miss a semester of their lives. And a few of them, I've come to learn, need a little more supervision--er, um, I mean--attention. I can't get back time with them. They need me, and I want to be present and available for them.

I have my piano business, my church calling, my duties in our home, and really it began to seem selfish to me to squish everything into the corner in an attempt to save a semester. Besides that, how much fun would I be to live with, being stretched so thinly? Not much, I am guessing, and there's no way Microbiology is going to screw up my Christmas spirit.

So, I prayed about it. ("Heavenly Father, I think I may have gone zealously overboard. Maybe it isn't so important that I take both science classes this semester. Maybe it is more important that I be present in my current life and for my children than building up my future life at the expense of my family? This is what I feel You whispering. I think I'm going to drop Microbiology. Please let me know if this is the right decision.")

It feels like the right thing to do. I have always promised myself that during my season of mothering at home, I will be available. Nothing is as important to me as raising these children with whom I've been entrusted, and often that has meant putting other interests and pursuits aside for a time. My own mother reminds me that there will come a day when I will have time for everything else. School is important, and it is the right thing for me to be working on. I am so grateful to be doing so. But it isn't worth pushing other important things to the side to plow through at breakneck speed. So, I'm dropping Microbiology. It will be there in the Spring (don't I know it!), and maybe the Spring will be more of a time for crunching. For now, I'll keep moving forward, and focus on Anatomy and Physiology.

And Adam, Lyndsay, Dylan, Aiden, Conor, Caitlin, and Sean.

Ah, peace.

One decision down. Several hundred more to go.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Farewell to Two

This is Conor on his last night of being two.

It was kind of emotional for me, loving two as I do, and as bonded to my heart as Conor is. Two was a good, long year. On his last night being two, after his bath, and as he was dressed in his "Buggo Jammies" (named for one of his favorite games), I read him some stories, we said his prayer, and then I snuggled him in his bed.

"You know," I whispered to him, my face close to his, and as he ran his fingers around my face giving me tickles, "this is the last night that you are two. That means I have been your Mommy for three whole years, and you have been my baby for three whole years."

He stopped the tickles and placed both hands on my cheeks.

"Tomorrow you will be 3! But will you still be my baby forever?"

"I will," he said. "You make me a birthday cake?"

"I will," I answered. "With a dinosaur. Just for you."

"Just for me," he whispered in echo, and then snuggled into his blanket, thumb in mouth.

Yesterday we celebrated Conor's 3rd birthday. He was so grateful that everyone had come to his "party", meaning his Dad, his Mom, and all his siblings. "Thank you for coming to my party," he kept saying to each of us.

He sang along to himself on "Happy Birthday" and when it got to 'Conor', he sang 'Conor James', which was cute. And he spit the candles out perfectly.

And he got Batman toys, because he loves Batman. (I'm not sure why since he's had no real experience with Batman anything, but somewhere he heard the word, and a 'guy' was involved--he loves 'guys'--and it stuck. His Uncle Ethan would be proud.)

He's a happy little guy.

And now he's 3.

One never knows for sure, but it might be a very long time (grandchildren) before I get to see 2 again, and that's kind of sad for me. Probably almost as sad as saying goodbye to 3 for a season will be next year.

But until then, I'm lovin' every ounce of 3.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Produce Rut

Conor with the Hami melon

I've spent much of my life in a produce rut. There wasn't a lot of experimenting with new and exciting types of fruits and veggies in my household growing up. It was the usual salad: lettuce (iceberg), tomatoes (although they were Jersey tomatoes!), cucumbers, and maybe some shredded carrots. Maybe. In the garden we grew corn and some squash--zucchini one year, pumpkins (I think), some beans and peas. As far as fruit goes, we stayed pretty safe: apples, oranges, grapefruit, pears, peaches (both of which were often canned), and some occasional berries. At my Grandmother's house, I ate turnips, to be adventurous. And I liked them! But, I didn't have my first taste of asparagus or spinach or kiwi, or many other things until I was an adult.

When I became a fully-fledged grocery shopper/meal preparer, I bought the same old standards that I'd always had. And I think that's just the way it goes: we keep on eating what we've always been used to eating. For those who gag just a little at Brussels sprouts, it's probably because our moms didn't cook them while we were growing up.

Then, as I became more interested in health and nutrition, and gardening even, I made small changes. For instance, I haven't bought a head of iceberg lettuce in more than ten years, I'm sure. I tried to expand my tastes and experience by trying new things, and having my children be used to them as well. Many years ago I never would have thought that a spinach strawberry salad with almonds would be delicious. But I do now. And still, I walk through the produce market that I go to, and pour over seed catalogs for my one-day dream garden, and think to myself, "What is all this stuff? And if I had it in front of me, what would I do with it?"

One of the best parts of summer is the abundance and variety of food that ripens from the earth. My kids and I decided that it would be fun for us to expand our horizons a bit, and try some of the bounty that is available to us, that before we've only passed by on the way to the apples, beans, and carrots. I will say that I am extremely proud to have raised kids that eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Even Conor surprised me the other day with his board book, when he correctly identified about 30 varieties of produce, most of which he's actually eaten. I was stunned! And this is a kid who just barely started talking! We definitely spend more on produce than on any other food category when it comes to grocery shopping.

Here's what we always buy from our produce market (this is all fresh, not frozen or canned, so obviously in the winter a lot of this is not available): 3 varieties of apples, 2 varieties of grapes, red pears, Bosc pears, white plums, red plums, white peaches, yellow peaches, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, bananas, oranges, clementines, tangelos, grapefruit (ruby red, usually), lemons, key limes, pineapple, baby carrots, 'regular' carrots, string beans, snap peas, snow peas, spinach, kale, 2 or 3 kinds of lettuce, green onions, yellow onions, 2 kinds of parsley, cantaloupe, watermelon, kiwi, mangos, red bell peppers (we don't care for the green ones), broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, sweet potatoes (sometimes), celery, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, and garlic. Whew! How colorful! I also always have dried mango, apple, pineapple, raisins, and apricots for snacking. You might think, "That's a lot of produce!", and it is, but it goes fast around here, and it's so much cheaper than prepared snacks, especially if you can find a place to buy it that's not the grocery store.

We decided that each week we'll choose one or more new kinds of fruits or vegetables to try. Our first stop? The melon section. Lyndsay loves melons, and there are so many kinds!

Our first week we chose the 'regular' kinds, like watermelon, cantaloupe (which is really a muskmelon), and a honeydew. Then, we added a Sharlynne melon (spelled differently depending on whom you ask). We did some research online and learned that Sharlynnes are very perishable and must be eaten quickly upon purchase, so the next day we cut into that baby, and boy were we in for a treat! It was pale, like a pear inside, and the seedy center was very runny and easily poured out. It was so, so sweet. I can't even tell you how delicious it was! Lyndsay, Conor, and I ate the whole thing by ourselves over a couple of meals (and it was a 6 pound melon!) before the boys got back from their dad's.

The next week we thought we should try some squash. I usually buy crookneck squash (yellow squash) and zucchini, but I don't venture out much beyond those two. Well, I buy canned pumpkin, but maybe that doesn't count? No, I'm counting it. Anyway, I had tried spaghetti squash one time in my life and thought it was so super cool, but had never prepared one myself, so that's what we chose. We searched through recipes, and ended up adapting one to make it into a main course meal. Even Adam liked it, and he's generally not a fan of veggies.

(I know I do not have a good camera for food photography. So sorry!)

I cut the squash in half and baked it in an oven for about 45 minutes. Then, using a fork I shredded the inside flesh into the 'spaghetti' noodles. It's amazing, really. For the sauce, I used two cans of stewed tomatoes, a veggie bouillon cube, and some onion diced and sauteed in olive oil. I poured that sauce over the 'noodles', added a can of black olives, a couple of diced (cooked) chicken breasts, and then some mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, and baked the whole thing in a casserole dish. It was even better as leftovers.

Our next week, Lyndsay gravitated back to the melons. We had to get another Sharlynne, of course, and let the boys in on our new delicious treat. But we also picked a Hami melon, after great debate. This is a melon that originates in China. Today we tried it, and were not really impressed. It was a bit crunchier than we like, and while it did have a medium sweetness to it, it also had a foretaste and an aftertaste that didn't work well for me. Now, we've read that this is a long-lasting melon and will keep (and slowly continue to ripen) if left on the counter for weeks, so it's possible that we just should have waited longer. But I don't think we'll try again with a Hami. I want melons that are very sweet.

We have many other fruits and vegetables that we're looking forward to trying (do I dare try rhubarb?), and we love that with each experiment we are broadening our appetites and nourishing our bodies. So. . .what else should we try?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Busy Conor, Happy Conor.

It's an interesting thing to parent teens and toddlers at the same time. As I look back, I notice that my parenting has always sort of followed the flow of Lyndsay, because she was the first. She set the standard of "you're not old enough", and then, "now you're old enough", which is both good and bad. I recognize that Aiden is allowed privileges at a younger age than were Lyndsay and Dylan, and I have to catch myself sometimes.

But then you throw in Conor. Almost seven years younger than the other five kids running around here. We definitely can't gear family movie nights to him. Nobody else would stay! Good thing Conor loves movies! More so, he loves the snuggling and a "show"--doesn't matter what show. He's in it for the snuggles.

With my three older kids at their dad's for the summer, and Adam's two at their mom's, there's been a lot of just Mom and Conor time. It's like a wonderful (and sometimes awkward) flashback to the early days of motherhood. Pulling out all the learning toys and puzzles, all the picture books, gobs of activity books and early childhood resources, and looking at each other like, "Now what, kid?"

Mothering a toddler or a preschooler is sweetness. Complete innocence and trust, an open mind like a sponge, and nothing but pure delight and joy in everything around them. Conor is happy to do whatever I'm doing. If I'm baking, he wants to help. If I'm cleaning, he wants to help. If I'm reading, he climbs up on the couch next to me with his blanket and a book and copies what I do. He likes to build with his brothers' trains, Legos, and castle sets, and he's always got a bag of "guys" (Lego people) that he totes around. Every "guy" must have a shirt (armor) and a hat.

When he was having his rounds of evaluations for Speech therapy several months ago, I was asked all kinds of questions about his developmental progress. Two questions made me feel like a total failure of a mother.

"Does he play with Play-Doh?" (ummmmm, no. I hate Play-Doh because my mother before me hated Play-Doh. Play-Doh has only made it into my house once by an evil child at Lyndsay's birthday party, but I threw it straight into the trash as she slept. He can figure out Play-Doh at somebody else's house so they can clean it out of their carpet instead of me.)

"Can he use scissors?" (can he use scissors? He's 2! Who gives scissors to a 2 year old?)

I felt the evaluator's judgment and condemnation, like, "And you wonder why your kid can't talk?"

I figured maybe I was ready to be a better mother now, so I plopped Conor into his carseat and off to Target we went. Mission? Scissors and Play-Doh. Oh, and the other horrible thing that Conor loves--magic markers. (Thank goodness that I have a toddler in the days of washable markers and Magic Wonder markers!)

He was so delighted. We bought a small activity tub of Play-Doh complete with four colors and animal cookie cutters. I found a little plastic organizer with a handle and we bought little art supplies to go inside. His very own Magic Wonder markers (and a pad), some crayons, these fantastic Twistables (you've GOT to try these!), a glue stick (washable), some scissors, some stickers, and some construction paper.

Never has a boy had so much fun. He wanted to get crafting right away! And, because I have worked hard to train him, he is meticulous at putting everything away where it goes and cleaning up when he's finished! It's a dream!

Guess what? The kid loves Play-Doh. I gave him one of my little rolling pins and he rolls and cuts till the clay is all done, lining up his circles and bears and dolphins across the table. Turns out, Play-Doh doesn't have to be a tool of the devil!

And he loves to cut! He's even good at it now, and I've added some patterned scissors to his collection. He cuts and cuts with determination, and he'll glance up the way a 6-year old will take one hand off the handlebars of his bike as he rides as if to say, "Look, Ma! No hands!", but in this case, "Look, Ma! No eyes!"

Digging through all of my thousands of dollars of homeschooling manipulatives and games and what-not has revealed other treasures. Like pattern blocks. I have several different sets, some plastic, some wooden. Sometimes we use the pattern cards, and other times we play "Make a Quilt Square", which would make my mother proud. Conor loves it. He loves to arrange the shapes and colors, and I figure it's got to be good for his brain, right?

Of course we read. A lot. Seriously. And we practice all of his speech 'homework'. We sing, and we do hand rhymes, all the classics. And his new favorite activity? Weeding the flower bed. Keeps him busy for a long time, and then he likes to hold the hose and water.

It's fun to play new mommy for a while. Now that I've introduced Play-Doh and scissors, maybe I'm even doing a better job this time. Maybe?

Of course, I had more energy the first time around. It's a toss up. Conor's set up though, with his routines of fun and learning and play. This weekend the big kids will be home and I can add boy/girl drama, sex-talks, scouting, sports, shopping, and music back into my repertoire.

I think I'll bake a cake to celebrate.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Guranteed Delivery. Every Time.

Last week I was talking to a very close friend on the phone, and though I tried to dismiss the feeling several times, I felt urged to share with her a very personal and out-of-the-ordinary experience that I'd been dealing with. I thought she might react uncomfortably, but in fact, she didn't. She happened, even, to have a book that she thought might prove extremely useful and enlightening to me. She had loaned it to another friend, but said she would immediately go and get it and Express Mail it to me.

I was stunned. First of all, because I recognized that that my prompting to share this information with her was no coincidence, and secondly, because in our relationship, I'm the book friend. There was symbolism in that in every direction. And I am grateful whenever I pick up on those little cues in life.

The book was scheduled to be delivered by Monday at 3pm. Guaranteed. I didn't leave to go anywhere, besides my walk at 6am. It was all I could do to make it through the weekend so I could get my hands on this book. I waited, and I waited. Nothing. The mail usually comes around 3pm on Mondays, so hoping to get a Netflix DVD off in time, I went out to the mailbox at 1pm to stick it in there.

Only to find my mail had already been delivered, and on top, a little orange paper that said, "Sorry we missed you!"

What? No way I missed a knock on the door. And I was not waiting until tomorrow! When Conor woke up, I buckled him into his carseat and decided we would hunt down the mailman.

We combed the streets. No sign of him anywhere. Several streets over I saw a mail truck parked. So I waited in ambush. But an African-American mail carrier approached, and he is not my mail carrier. I questioned him anyway, but he gave me his best guess at the whereabouts of the probable location of the carrier for my area, and off he went.

I drove some more. No sign. I went to the post office, just in case he'd come back to drop off a load of 'undeliverables'. The kind woman checked for me, but no. He was still out there somewhere, and he still had my package with him. She told me he was a substitute carrier today, that my normal carrier was on vacation (Aha! Thus, the early delivery!) She also told me he was Asian, Vietnamese, to be exact. (Very helpful information in Los Angeles County). She gave me her approximation of his location and again I started my hunt.

One street over from her guess another mail truck was parked. Victory! I waited a good ten minutes, and then an Asian mail carrier approached from around the corner. Yes! I jumped out of my van and ran across the street to him waving my little orange card.

But no. Wrong Asian mail carrier.

However, when he saw my address, he did know the substitute mail carrier, and even his cell phone number! He called him (Dan, so you know), and told him I was looking for my Express Mail, and got his exact location. I thanked him profusely, and sped right over to the corner where he was.

Lo, and behold, Dan! He took my orange card, checked my ID, and gave me my package. I told him how important this package was to me and how I'd been waiting for it all day and was shocked that I hadn't heard the knock on the door. And then, he confessed that he hadn't knocked. It had looked from across the street that nobody was home, so he just left the card instead. Somebody didn't want me to have that book! (The lights are off because we live in 'Green L.A.' and are supposed to be conserving energy, you dope!) I looked at the clock just as it clicked from 2:59pm to 3:00. A postal miracle. Guaranteed delivery, alrighty.

I raced home, ripped open the package, and began to read immediately. Answers! Information! Truth, even!

I had to stop reading to teach piano lessons, play with Conor, clean up this and that, make dinner, etc. Oh, and go look for something in one of the kids' bedrooms.

And that's when my heart broke. It's only happened to me a few times, but I found something in one of the kids' belongings that really tore me up. Some written things (not in a journal) that filled me with great concern for my child. I immediately visualized my confrontation with the child. But then, a sweet and loving voice whispered a different perspective into my mind, something I hadn't first thought of. It gave me comfort, but still I was filled with concern. So, I began to pray to know how to handle the situation. What should I say? What should I do?

With that episode in the background of my mind, I was still stealing time away to devour this book that had arrived and that was giving me fresh insight into this other experience that I was dealing with. (sorry to be so vague! The details of all of this are so incredible, but also so personal, on both accounts.) All of a sudden, it seemed to me, the tone of the book changed and there was a paragraph that seemed oddly out of place. In fact, I've gone back to look for it, page by page and can't find it again. I'm sure it's there somewhere, but still. I'll have to paraphrase.

It said something like, "When someone you love is in need of correction, but is old enough to know right from wrong, giving them correction will usually only breed resentment. Still, the need for correction remains, and must be dealt with. Instead, give love. Unconditional love, free flowing love. Love that can exist for a person while at the same time feelings of disgust or disappointment can exist for an act or behavior. Their conscience will correct them and the change will be lasting."

It was better than that, but that's what is in my memory. Instead of correction (confrontation, lecturing, punishing), try love. This child of mine is indeed old enough to know right from wrong, and in fact the little whispers I initially heard were pointing out to me that the very thing breaking my heart was evidence that this child was already suffering the guilt of doing wrong. This child needs love. This child needs to be reminded of some tools, there for all of us, when we have gone astray and are wracked with guilt and sorrow.

How timely that at the moment of my heartache and indecision, I had also been sent the information that I needed, thinking that I only needed it for a different set of problems. Isn't God so wise? He is the best multi-tasker there is. And to think I almost had to wait a whole other day!

I am learning. Listen to the promptings. Follow them. He is the source of healing. And also, He loves my children even more than I do and He knows what they need. My best bet at parenthood is partnership with Him.

The rest? I give it all to Him. And listen.

He guarantees delivery of all that I need.