Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Logic With Conor

Conor sat at the dinner table in a huff. I wanted him to finish eating; he wanted to finish watching the Christmas movie playing in the family room. We'd been having ongoing conversations that went something like this: (we do this at most meals.)

"Conor, just eat."

"I am eating."

"No, you're not. There's nothing in your mouth. Please just eat."

Then Adam walked into the room. Conor said, "Dad, Mom won't let me watch Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and I am embarrassed to eat my beans."

"Doo-doo, just do what she says. Eat your beans."

And I interjected, "Conor, you don't even know what 'embarrassed' means."

"Well, what does it mean?"

"It means when you feel bad in front of people."

To which he replied, "Well, I don't feel good in front of people right now!"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In Which I am Thankful for my Ex-Husband and My Children

On Saturday, after Aiden played his last football game in the pouring rain, and beat the undefeated team, and after I took his shivering, muddy, very excited little self home to shower, we loaded the big kids up in the van, and headed for Arizona. Still raining, sometimes torrentially, we crawled along in the traffic, and finally, after several hours, and some clearing, we pulled off onto exit 192, where their dad was waiting. He was so happy to see them. They were so happy to see him. It was a joyful reunion.

We got to the business of moving backpacks and pillows and Rip Stiks from my van to his truck. Conor played in the dirt, happy to move his body. I gave Adam (my ex) school pictures of the kids, and delighted in his expression of how they are growing up, and how beautiful they all are. I think so too. On that, we've always agreed. Then, there was a hushed stir, and everyone seemed to know something was up, except me. He brought me over to the bed of his truck, where the kids all gathered with huge, knowing grins on their faces, and Adam produced a huge box from inside his truck. He put Conor into the truck and told Conor to help me open my present. I was really confused.

He said this was my Christmas present from him and the kids and they had all decided to give it to me early so that I could have it for the holidays. Not expecting anything at all like this to happen, I started tearing paper. What I saw confused me even more. A huge Kitchen Aid box. I didn't dare think that an actual Kitchen Aid mixer was in the box, but rather, by a cruel twist of circumstance, whatever it was had been packaged inside this taunting box. But, sure enough, inside the box was an actual Kitchen Aid mixer. In a beautiful gloss cinnamon color, in a bigger and better model than I ever dreamed possible, and it was mine. Adam took it out of the box so I could see it, in all its glory.

I just stood there, with my hand over my mouth. The kids started to laugh. Adam made a speech on behalf of all of them. He said that I have spent most of my life being a mom and doing and giving for everyone else, and that there is no remuneration for being a mom. They had decided they wanted to do something to show their appreciation for all I've done as a mother. Still, I just stood there. In complete shock. On a dirt exit, just off of I-10. I looked at my kids and asked, "You knew about this?" Sure enough. They'd known about it, planned it, and contributed towards it. Lyndsay told me how they picked the color that looked most like a cranberry red, instead of a bright red, and how this color, gloss cinnamon, is a new color, and they all liked it better than the other red. (It is gorgeous!) They showed off how big the bowl is, how many watts the motor has, how much flour it can handle. Still I just stood there, not being able to take in how my entire state of consciousness had now changed.

I mean, maybe this sounds silly, but for almost 20 years I have wanted a Kitchen Aid mixer. To me, a Kitchen Aid meant you had arrived. You were a real mother, a real wife, a real woman, a real baker. I would accept no substitutes, so I just lived without a stand mixer, and kept it on my Amazon wish list. Hoping. Dreaming. I'd look at them lovingly in every department store, hoping one day one would be mine. My sisters all have one. (In fact, one of my sisters has two!) My mom finally got one. I do a lot of baking, but I kept holding out, doing my best with my hand mixer (which, incidentally, is a Kitchen Aid too, just for good measure.) And now, right before my eyes is my own Kitchen Aid? I don't even know how to think like a Kitchen Aid owner! I have identified myself as a woman, mother, daughter, Kitchen Aid-wanter, for so long, that I don't even know how to wrap my brain around this new identity!

Then, as it dawned on me, I began to cry. Everyone hugged me. I thanked them over and over and over again. It was the end of an era. The Kitchen Aid Longing Era. Twenty years! (well, nineteen, but still.) Adam said, "I know you've wanted this for 20 years, and I've always wanted to get you one." Even he knew! I was amazed. Lyndsay beamed. The boys were still grinning. Dylan loaded the mixer into the back of my van, and after goodbyes, and some more thank you's and hugs, Conor and I drove away, back towards the ocean, while Adam took the three older kids further into the desert. I still couldn't believe what had just happened to me. See how dramatic I am? But see, so far in my life, I have never been in a position to buy a Kitchen Aid for myself. I've wanted one so much, but have had to hope that someday life would provide a way. And it had. Appreciation from my ex-husband and the three children I share with him brought a Kitchen Aid mixer into my life!

As I drove down the road a bit, I was overwhelmed with excitement and gratitude. I called Adam and the kids and left a message. "I can't believe it!" I shouted. "Thank you so, so much! This is one of the most thoughtful things that anyone has ever done for me! Thank you! I LOVE my mixer!" They called back with a united "You're WELCOME!" into the phone.

I got home after dark. Still raining. My Adam carried the mixer into the house and set it on the counter. Wow! Amazing to see it there. For the next two days, every time I came into the kitchen, it took my breath away. And last night, Conor and I decided to use the bananas to make some banana bread. It was so much fun!

And so delicious. I am one very, very lucky girl. This Kitchen Aid thing, well, it changes everything. Holiday baking just got for-real.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday on the Road

Today we hit the road. Well, today Conor and I will drive the three big kids to Arizona to spend a week with their dad for Thanksgiving. (Thank you, LAUSD Furlough days!?) After dropping them off, Conor and I will get back on the road in the other direction and drive back home. And it gets dark early, so that should be fun.

A break.

The kids haven't seen their dad since summer vacation, so it's been a while. I think my grocery bill could use the break just as much as I could. Man, do teenage boys eat! But I digress.

Whatever will I do? Oh, please.

1. I will sleep past 5:30am. Every single day. Even 6am sounds like a dream. But probably more like 7am, if I am lucky and Conor cooperates.

2. I will still be teaching piano lessons.

3. I have a Political Science project due about my city government.

4. I have a Microbiology project due soon in which I have to correctly identify two unknown microbes. I thought I wouldn't have to go in to the lab this week because class is cancelled due to Thanksgiving, but apparently, I have to make several trips down to do inoculations and tests so that I can figure out what little guys I'm dealing with.

5. I have a test in Lifespan Psychology on Tuesday night. Oh, crap. I'd forgotten about that till I just wrote it down.

6. I have lots of sewing to do for Christmas. This is probably what I will use as a reward pending completion, or at least progress, in the above 5 tasks.

7. Thanksgiving. Though, I don't know what we're doing for Thanksgiving. I don't know that I really care to go to all that work/expense for just the three of us. With two of those people (and I'm not one of them) not being very good eaters. Hmmmmmm.

Well, so with everything on this list (that I would have to do anyway, whether my kids are here or not, except for the fact that if the kids were here Thanksgiving would be non-negotiable), what do I get a break from? Ah, let me tell you.

1. Seminary.

2. Scouts

3. YW

4. Football

5. Counseling sessions

6. L & A's piano lessons

7. cooking Dinner every night, as opposed to dinner with a lowercase 'd' for the three of us.

8. cooking Breakfast, and fixing Lunch, and Snacks, and more Snacks.

9. telling Dylan over and over and over and over to watch his language. Especially around Conor.

10. telling Dylan over and over and over and over to leave Aiden alone.

11. telling Dylan over and over and over and over that we are not racist in this house.

12. telling Dylan over and over and over and over that I need him to do this, do that, STOP doing this and that, etc. And to please tuck in his chair. (inside joke.)

13. telling Dylan to please stop passing gas and hocking lugees (is that how you spell it? I've never written the phrase 'hocking lugees' before.)

14. Dylan. Let's just give him his own bullet point. I love that kid to death, but man, a break from him is good for both of us. Of course, I'll cry and miss him as soon as I drive away, though. And I'll pray the whole way home. Oh, Dylan!

So, that sums it up, I think. Hitting the road!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Processing Pumpkins

My garden yielded three pumpkins this year from the two plants I had growing. Our plan had been to carve them for Halloween, but because we won several pumpkins in a contest to guess the collective weight of five pumpkins (somehow, magically, I guessed exactly right!) we ended up leaving our home-grown pumpkins unscathed. I was determined to cook and puree them so that they could feed our family instead of just going to waste. But, if you're anything like me, you have a lot of lofty aspirations that kind of go by the wayside. This time, though, I was sufficiently inspired by The Prudent Homemaker and decided to show my gratitude for my small harvest and get to work!

Now, these were not pie pumpkins, which, I hear are smaller and sweeter than other varieties. But they weren't outrageously sized, so I wanted to try anyway. Next year, I think I will only grow pie pumpkins since my garden space is limited and we can always get carving pumpkins elsewhere.

First step: Cut the pumpkins and scoop out all the stringy mess and seeds. Which, I could have roasted, but step one had me so ticked off, and nobody likes roasted pumpkin seeds around here anyway, so I tossed them. (The Prudent Homemaker can only get me so far.)

After all three pumpkins were cut up, I put them in pans and poured a little bit less than a cup of water into each pan and roasted them at 400 degrees for about an hour. When the fork went into the flesh easily, they were done.

They cooled and then I cut the flesh off the skins and put it through my food mill with the pumpkin screen. (You must get a food mill!) Aiden did most of this step for me.

Then I put 2 cups of pumpkin puree into each freezer bag. I ended up with 8 cups of pumpkin from my three pumpkins. Not bad. And a heck of a lot cheaper than buying canned pumpkin, even if it is on sale right now. I froze three bags and with the other I made pumpkin cranberry bread over the weekend. The pumpkin taste definitely wasn't as strong or noticeable, but it still made really yummy bread.

And now I feel proud of myself for doing it. I'm so glad I get to wait a year before doing it again.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Prudent Homemaker

I found the most wonderful website yesterday. It really blessed my life, as I've been going through something lately. I wanted to share it with you here, because even if you are not going through financial difficulties, we could all probably do a little better at cultivating beauty around us, using our resources a little more wisely, and finding ways to be more grateful.

The website is called The Prudent Homemaker. The wife and mother who made it tells the story of how her family had to live on food storage alone for two years straight. She details beautifully how she did that, with links to menus, recipes, and how-to instructions for everything from gardening to canning to homeschooling. This woman magnifies her glorious calling as a homemaker, and it really inspired me. Plus, she takes stunning photographs that show off her cooking-from-food-storage recipes and the abundance that she harvests from her garden. Every photo you see, she took from her own cooking or garden. Incredible.

Of especial interest to me was the link on the side bar titled "Encouragement". This is where she shares some things that help her keep her spirits up and her heart full of gratitude even when things have been really rough. Things like get out for some fresh air every day, serve someone, clean something---but she explains it all so well, and I realize there is much I can do to bolster my own spirits, instead of waiting for rescue for happiness to come.

Find her photo tutorial of canning pears--and check out the link for what she cans every year! Oh, my! I love it! Also, see the slide show photos of her enviable pantry. So neat, so organized, and so inspired, as it literally fed their family for two years!

Browse around. See if something doesn't make you want to feel a little better about the magnificent calling of homemaker.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween Weekend

Conor and Aiden as clowns

Clown noses should come in sizes, no?

We did consider just spray painting his real afro in rainbow colors, but he really wanted the wig.

And his blue eyes add a nice touch.

A bit sick of the pictures? Ready to go get candy?


This year, with Halloween falling on Sunday, we did things a little differently. On Saturday the kids got dressed up and we went to our ward's Harvest Festival. There was a dinner, various booths and games, and of course, the Trunk-or-Treat. This counted as the kids' Trick-or-Treating, and they did just fine. Even Dylan, who refused to dress up, was still able to bum a backpack-full of candy from the activity.

Lyndsay as an 80's girl again. She had to go work at a Halloween office party for a friend of mine, but she came to the Harvest Festival for a bit.

Several of the kids got in on the face-painting fun.

Pretty cool, huh?

There was a pinata for the little kids, which Conor loved.

I thought it was cute that after he had his chance to whack the pinata, he sat in a little rainbow ball on the sidelines, waiting for his turn to go gather up the candy.

Conor's favorite part. They really loaded up too. The parking lot was full of cars, and the kids just keep going around and around until everyone is empty.

On Sunday, after church, we had a whole family Halloween party planned. First I made this incredible soup with some Italian bread for lunch while Dylan and Aiden (our decorating committee) got to work decorating. We just used the streamers and balloons I had on hand, so the colors weren't especially Halloween-ish, but when we had our planning meeting earlier in the week for suggestions, it was Conor who said, with his pointer finger in the air, "I think there should be balloons at this party!" And so, even green and blue, we had balloons. While they decorated, we watched It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

Lyndsay got to work baking the sugar cookies. We had to try out Mel's "Favorite Sugar Cookies". This is also when I realized that I must have gotten rid of all of the old Halloween cookie cutters, thinking I'd buy new ones, and never did. So, our cookies weren't especially Halloween-ish either, but they were still tasty.

After the cookies were baked, we mixed up the frosting and tinted it in various colors, and got out all the sprinkles stuffed in the back of the cupboard.

And we all just sat around and decorated cookies! It was fun!

Dylan, who turns out to be something of a cookie artist, took things very seriously. Paintbrushes and everything.

Lyndsay's creations. After the cookies were decorated, we plated many of them and delivered them to neighbors.

After cookies, we gathered for another movie. We watched Lady in the Water.

Not sure if this is a good thing, but Conor loved that movie.

After the movie, we went out to the carport and played the Donut on a String game, where we all raced to see who could eat a donut hanging from a string with no hands. You know the one. We videotaped that one, so no pictures. Which makes things even more interesting, because shortly into the game, I laughed too hard and aspirated on a chunk of donut, and though Lyndsay took a quick sec to slap me on the back, the boys just kept on eating, seemingly grateful for a definite distraction to aid their win. Indeed, Dylan won. And eventually, I was able to cough up that chunk of donut and come in last place.

I made cheeseburgers for dinner, and while I did that, Adam unwrapped 15 million caramels. We melted them down and the kids made caramel apples. A fave.

Conor especially loves activities like this.

Speaking of Conor, throughout the night, as Trick-or-Treaters came to our door, he loved giving out the candy. He waited on the porch for them, and called out to them, even if they'd been here already. Inside during slow periods, he wondered aloud when more "customers" were going to come. And when finally a knock on the door came, he ran to answer yelling, "We have customers!"

When that candy was gone, we put Conor to bed, turned off all the lights, and the big kids sat in the livingroom while I read them a scary story I'd found on the internet. And then, we moved to the family room to watch the original When a Stranger Calls, with Carol Kane and Charles Durning. That one really got to Lyndsay, who knows all too well how scary it can be to be alone in someone else's house at night while babysitting.

The party ended around 10pm, everyone happy, a bit spooked, and tuckered out. It was a great way to spend the day together. So much better than just Trick-or-Treating. And I bought plenty of candy for us too.