Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hawaiian Haystacks and Lyndsay: A Sort-of New Year's Eve Story

Tonight is New Year's Eve. I just drove Lyndsay and her friend back over to the friend's house, where her family is hosting a pre-dance dinner for the youth in our ward before they go to the Stake New Year's Eve dance. (didya get that?)

I knew from an inside scoop that they were serving Hawaiian Haystacks for dinner, so I mentioned it in the car as we drove. Lyndsay had never heard of them. "Really?" I said (maybe that's kudos to me, or not, I'm not sure.) "Oh, I've got a great Hawaiian Haystacks story that actually involves you, if you'd like to hear it."

Well, who can turn that down, right?

I told her that way back when, I had a visiting teacher and very good friend named Shannon Oaks. She was one of the very first friends I had as a newly married woman, herself newly married. She and her husband, Dan, became great friends of ours. I can remember her bringing me her amazing homemade cinnamon rolls when she would come visiting teaching. Man, they were good. Well, one day she came for her monthly visit, and by this time, she was great with child, as they say. We got to talking about pregnancies, and I mentioned that my period was late. "How late?" she asked. "Three weeks," I remember saying. And her eyes bugged out of her head.

"Three weeks!?! You're pregnant! Are you kidding me? Take a test!"

I was filled with excitement and anticipation over her excitement and anticipation. Looking back, I'm not really sure what I was waiting for, except that I didn't feel any different (that gross part would hit in another 2 weeks and about knock me off my feet for the next 4 months.) and I wasn't sure when was the right time to take a test to be sure. You know, we were poor college students, and a pregnancy test was no chump change.

So, I bought a test. And I took it. And she was right! A little baby Lyndsay was growing!

Well, she gave birth to her first daughter, Amanda, and she and Dan bought a condo and moved out of our ward. Months later, my husband and I bought our first home and we moved out of the ward also, but we stayed in touch. I'll never forget bringing Lyndsay home from the hospital. She was wearing a little pink onesie with a pink ribbon headband adorned with a silky white ribbon rose. Shannon and Dan (and baby Amanda) were the first to come over to see her and to bring us dinner. (Here it is!)

Hawaiian Haystacks!

A classic dish of the 80's, carried over into the 90's by well-meaning Mormons everywhere. Comfort food. She had all the components in separate bowls for us to construct our haystacks. Rice, chicken, green onions, olives, cheddar cheese, mandarin oranges, pineapple, tomatoes, crunchy chow mein noodles, and of course, the chicken gravy. They were delicious! Of course, I was a ravenous newly postpartum mom whose nipples were blistering and bleeding and whose episiotomy was on its way to becoming infected, but even without those factors, I remember how loved and cared for I felt as I ate that delicious meal made by my first friend as a married woman.

So, I've never made Hawaiian Haystacks myself, that I remember, though I can recall plenty of ward parties where they were served. But every time I think of them, I think of Shannon Oaks, and baby Lyndsay, all fresh from God. And me, a brand new mother, with no idea of what was coming my way in life.

A sweet memory. I often wonder what ever happened to Shannon Oaks. I miss her.

I pulled up to the friend's house, and the two girls jumped out. "Enjoy your Hawaiian Haystacks!" I called.

"We will! And now we'll always think of that story whenever we eat them," Lyndsay said, her friend laughing and agreeing. And just before she closed the car door, she said, "Love you! See you next year!"

Her last year at home.

Funny how Hawaiian Haystacks are now both a first and a last.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Traditions

Christmas was really great. Would it be awful of me to say that it's okay with me that it's over? Because I'm exhausted.

We celebrated Christmas a day early this year. Because our children have two families, we only get to have December 25th every other year. This was hard in the beginning, but I decided that it was just important that we had Christmas all together, not necessarily what day it happened to be.

I love traditions. We have traditions like Christmas music beginning the day after Thanksgiving (which is also when we usually put up the tree.) and sleeping under the tree the first night. We read a scripture about Christ each night in December, followed by a Christmas story and family prayer. We have advent calendars. We try to do one family service project each week in December. And we make graham cracker houses.

I put off doing the houses until Dylan could be home with us, and I was glad I did. He may not even be fully aware of it, but I think our traditions have meaning to him somewhere deep inside, and I wanted him to know that he is a valued member of our family.

So, the kids got to work and turned out some pretty cool creations this year:

Another of our traditions is to go caroling around our neighborhood. We saved this one for Christmas Eve so we could have Caitlin and Sean with us. Sometimes, by the time we get to this activity, I'm so tired that I start to justify in my mind why it would be okay to let it slide just this year. But I never say anything out loud, because I can't let the troops know I'm weakening. There would be mutiny. Every year, when we knock on that first door, my heart fills with warmth and happiness and I'm so glad we're out there doing it. Our neighbors have come to look forward to it each Christmas season.

When we got home, we did our scripture reading, and then I had a treat prepared. The Giant Cinnamon Rolls from Mel's Kitchen Cafe. This is an ingenius idea, and a delicious one too! Except that rather than "glaze" them, I frosted them with cream cheese frosting, like Cinnabon. We had egg nog too, and watched a Christmas movie (Elf) before sending the kids off to bed.


Frosted. So delicious. I highly recommend.

Of course, we also did the Christmas Eve jammies. And we took our annual family picture in front of the tree. Our 7th picture together. Wow.

Christmas Day itself was wonderful too. Of course, it was Saturday for us, so we didn't have to rush off to church. We opened the presents, I made breakfast (Overnight Caramel Sticky Buns from Our Best Bites.....again, highly recommended. So easy, too.) and while the kids played new Wii games and watched movies, I took a nap. Then I resumed my place in the kitchen preparing lunch and snacks and treats for munching on throughout the day while we hung out together and played games. (Settlers of Catan? Awesome.)

The tradition that seems to flow through every holiday is that I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Cooking, baking, cleaning up. Eating, cleaning up. Cooking more, cleaning up more. Over and over. I ran the dishwasher three times each day. Having Dylan here seems to multiply the food consumption by a factor of 10. In the five days he was here, we went through 7 gallons of milk and 6 pounds of clementines. And loads of other things. But it is gratifying to feed growing children!

The other tradition is that I finish up the holiday tired. Needing a break. Some peace and quiet. Some fend-for-yourself meals complete with paper plates. Some reading time.

And guess what? That's the (one?) plus of divorce. I just dropped the three big kids off with their dad in Arizona and up next for me is my tradition of decompression and relaxation.

It might be one of my favorite traditions.

Friday, December 16, 2011

My Dad is My Favorite Guy

You know I love my dad. I really do. He's incredibly intelligent, interesting, witty, gentle, and humble. He's experienced a lot of loss in his life, but never of his faith, which shines so brightly that it can even illuminate the pathway of those around him. It has for me. He is my hero and a mentor to me, and still, even at my age, nothing thrills me like making him proud of me. He's been there for me during some very lonely, trying times. Those experiences have bonded us at the heart, above and beyond the ties of father and daughter.

And yet, it had been almost three years since I'd last seen him. He lives ten hours away, and with his work and my schooling (etc.) the chances to visit become harder to find. But when Aiden turned 12, I really wanted my dad to ordain him, if his own dad couldn't, and my ex-husband was very supportive of that. He, too, loves my dad. My father has been a pivotal priesthood example to my children, baptizing all of them, blessing them many times, ordaining Dylan, and taking Lyndsay and Dylan to the temple with family names. I wanted to carry on the tradition with Aiden.

He and his wife, Raelene, were scheduled to come the weekend following Thanksgiving, when Aiden turned 12, but then a job transition made that impossible at the last minute, so we rescheduled for the following week. The visit had to be rescheduled again, when the day before they were set to come, they had a huge snowstorm which dumped several feet on them and closed the roads off the mountain. So, this last weekend, we made plans again, and hoped for the best. It was tricky for me, with it being the weekend before my nursing finals, but Aiden was so anxious for his ordination, and I wanted my Dad!

What a great visit it was. In fact, the only thing missing, was Dylan. But we had a wonderful Sunday with the rest of the kids. Dad conferred the Aaronic priesthood upon Aiden and ordained him a deacon, and gave him a most beautiful blessing. All of us were there for that. I am so excited to see him get to pass the sacrament this next Sunday.

On Tuesday, I kept Aiden home from school, and we took Lyndsay out early, and we all went to the Los Angeles Temple to do baptisms. When Lyndsay and Dylan were old enough, Grandpa took them and we each did 100 family names. Amazing! Aiden was really, really excited for this special day. He was quite the trooper and he did 157 baptisms! Lyndsay and I each did 64, and then we shared 50 names with three other women who were there to do baptisms. Dad was in the font the whole time and performed them all! I must say, there are few things greater than being in the temple with your children. It was a marvelous day, and a great first experience for Aiden, which I know he'll remember forever. I love that my children can have these memories with their grandfather.

We're all pretty lucky to have him.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

One Down!

This is a picture of my clinical group with our instructor there on the left (Love her), taken last Wednesday following our last day of clinicals at the hospital. Mrs. C. took us all out for lunch to celebrate.

Yesterday I took my last final. The Big One. Cumulative. I hadn't studied much at all, maybe a combined total of 2 hours in bits and pieces since I had my Dad and Raelene here for a visit, and who wants to study when your DAD is here and you haven't seen him in years? But I will say that I had a few things going for me: I had done well on all the exams, so I wasn't starting from too far down in the barrel. And, the day before finals, when the rest of my group that you see up there was in the library for an 8 hour study session, I was in the temple with my Dad and Raelene, and two of my children, Aiden for the first time, doing 334 baptisms for family members on the other side of the veil. I personally did 64 baptisms, and Lyndsay reminded me as I dropped her off at school yesterday morning and I expressed a bit of anxiety at going in for the biggest test of the semester so unprepared, that I would have 64 people helping me. It brought me such peace. She was right. At that moment, I knew God would honor my efforts and my sacrifice.

There were 100 questions on the exam. Nursing exams are brutal, by the way. There's hardly ever one right answer and they're never purely memory questions. They're always analytical, using the information you've learned about body systems and disease processes and applying it to patient situations and nursing judgment. Sometimes every answer is correct, but only one is the best, and that can be really hard. Around question 45, I was so sleepy. I had this overwhelming urge to put my head down on my desk and just take a quick nap. I kept telling myself, "Just one more question. Just one more." Once I got to #75, I got a second wind. And bubbling in #100 I almost started to cry. My last test question of first semester! It was really emotional for me, as memories of what this semester has been like raced through my mind's eye.

I remembered the first day we met together and I was absolutely terrified, not seeing a single familiar face, and knowing I was surrounded by very gifted students. I thought back to the craze of all those early mornings, packing lunches, cooking breakfasts, getting myself and the kids ready for another day of school. I thought of late nights studying after the kids were in bed. How I ran dry 4 highlighters. 4! Trying to keep track of all the different course work in each of the 4 classes. Practicing blood pressures on every willing person I could find. Practicing my head-to-toe assessments on my children. Each grueling exam. That first clinical day when I drove home crying. And then meeting Mrs. P. Winning the Success in Nursing Scholarship. My class presentation. All of the things we learned. And by the end, walking the halls of the Transitional Care Unit of the hospital with the confidence to enter any patient room.

Question #100 was now bubbled in.

I turned in my exam and looked back at the students left in the room. We'd become like a family, and it seemed so surreal that we wouldn't be back in this room for Friday lecture.

My clinical group met for lunch at a cafe in Pasadena to go over exam questions and wait till the time that grades would be released. Then we headed back over to the campus.

I missed 7 questions, which means I got an A not just on the exam, but in the class. The class that in the beginning we were told that maybe 2 or 3 students would get an A in, and that previously A students were relieved and thrilled with Cs. The first semester director came over to me and said, "You might like to know that you are tied with two other students for number one in your class, and that by the end of 4th semester, the number one student gets an award at graduation. No pressure."


I am amazed. Stunned. Humbled. To the point of tears, even now. It's okay with me if I'm not number one. (Though I'd like to get As all the way through!) I am so supremely grateful that I am getting to have this experience, and I really don't mean to sound proud or boasting at all. I'll tell you that most of those students have much, much more time than I do, and most of them study a lot harder than I do. I have worked very, very hard, but I know that my success has been a gift from God. I promised Him that no matter what, I would do my best to do important things first, like scripture study and prayer with my children and Family Home Evening. I would make myself (mostly) available to them, and do most of my studying after they went to bed (or at least Conor). And I would honor His holy day and never study or do homework on the Sabbath. I have kept that commitment through three years of schooling now, and I believe that it has made a difference. He is well aware of my limited resource of time, and how much there is to study. And He has magnified my capacity to learn, understand, and retain. I believe with all my heart that God honors those who honor Him. So, I humbly thank Him for His grace and assistance with this first semester of nursing school.

It feels strange to wake up this morning and not have school on my mind. I don't have to read anything or study anything. It's going to take some getting used to! But this 10 week break will be filled with other wonderful and rejuvenating things, and I am very excited for second semester. OB. Pediatrics. Med/Surg. Good things ahead!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

My Gratitude in Pictures

On Wednesday night, the kids and I went to the airport to pick up Dylan. It had been a very busy day. I'd been at the hospital all day for clinicals, and when I got home I had an hour to make four pie crusts, vacuum, and clean the kitchen before Lyndsay and Aiden would get home from piano lessons and we could head out the door. We were so excited to see him. I told the kids, "Listen, I get the first hug. Nobody better get in my way." My only fearless competition proved to be Conor. When we saw him walking down the corridor we were thrilled! I jumped into his arms and started crying. Of course. He was sweet and happy--even gave me a squeeze hug and picked me up off the ground, which thrilled my heart. He's grown! He's officially 6 feet tall now, with washboard abs and a broad chest and strong arms, all of which he was proud to show off. It was wonderful to look at him again and see all of my children together.

When we got home, though it was dark outside, he still decided to hang Aiden's new punching bag for me right then. That was hugely impressive to Aiden, who has missed his big brother, and the two of them worked outside rigging lights and extension cords and finally getting it up in the roof of the carport.

Thanksgiving morning, after blueberry pancakes, they were all outside again, constructing an improved version of the rope (hose) swing that Aiden had begun last weekend, and giving Conor "kiss the tree" rides, which pretty much means, push him so high that he flies into the branches and leaves. He loved it.

Then they came in for some friendly light saber battles.

They pretty much each took a turn dominating, so that was good. And it was hilarious to watch. And slightly terrifying. Every now and then I'd remind them, "We don't have insurance!"

Caitlin and Sean were here to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with us. I've so missed having all six of the kids around the table. Dinner was delicious. So are the leftovers.

On Friday, we celebrated Aiden's birthday, which is actually today, but we wanted Dylan to be here for his party. We were able to sweet talk the man at the tree lot to sell us a beautiful noble fir before the lot was officially open for business, and Dylan and his friend Brad were pretty much crucial to getting the tree off the car, into the house, and into the stand.

Then the boys strung the lights.

And the kids and I hung the decorations.

I think my kids are growing up too much. This is a big tree and they're completely blocking it!

In the evening, we all went bowling for Aiden's birthday. Here's my sweet almost 12 year old. I cannot believe he is going to be 12!

Adam was there too. He took this picture. And, he's a pretty good bowler.

These two really missed each other.

And little Conor was a hit. He got several strikes and spares and beat all the other kids the first game.

And boy, was he so happy to have his Dylan around.

We stopped for a pizza on the way home and then enjoyed cake and ice cream. Aiden's choice? Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, and this one was fantastic! Between this cake and all the pumpkin pies we've been eating, I'm thinking we're all good in the beta carotene department.

And he made his wish. I'm not sure what it was, but mine would be that he never grows up. Of course, based on past experience, I know that one's not likely to come true, so I'll go with hoping that if he has to grow up, that he stays as kind, forgiving, sharing, helpful, polite, hard-working, thoughtful, and companionable as he is now.

At 5:00 this morning I took Dylan back to the airport for his flight home to his dad. It was hard to let him go, but I feel content inside, and I know he'll be back in a couple of weeks for Christmas.

What a great weekend. I am one grateful mama.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Old Soul, Little Body

I was studying on the couch a few weeks ago, and Conor was busy on the floor next to me. I paid him no mind until I heard him say softly to himself, "Aiden is going to be sooo proud of me." He got up, satisfied, and was leaving the room, when I looked over to see what had inspired his self-confidence. There sat a chess board, perfectly set up. "Wait, did you do that?" I asked. "Yep," was his reply. I looked more closely, and darn if that kid--who just turned 5--didn't have every piece in its proper place.

I was impressed. But not as much as when I came back into the room later and found them both playing. And Conor had a sizable collection of Aiden's pieces. I was shocked! He knew the names of every piece and he knew how every piece moved! He was actually playing chess with Aiden (who, if you remember, is our little chess champion).

Apparently, Aiden taught him to play. He took an afternoon and taught him each piece, its moves and position. He said pawns capturing diagonally, though they move frontwards, was the hardest part for Conor to remember, but he got it, that kid.

I'm telling you, he thinks he's a grown up. The hardest part about kindergarten for him is the fact that everyone else in his class is 5. He loves school, and he's doing very well. Reading, counting, adding. One of his favorite parts is seeing the teachers, crossing guards, playground attendants, other parents, and bus drivers, many of whom he knows by name. Some he even has regular special hand signals or high fives as he passes them by each morning or afternoon. The students? Well, he tolerates them. After all, they are only 5 years old, so he tries to be patient with them. He told me the other day that sometimes he feels like a jerk. (Well, he has no real "r" sound yet, so at first I thought he said he felt like a "joke", and I said, "No, no, honey, you're not a joke! You're a great kid!") I find it interesting that he's analyzing himself in the way in which he interacts with others. We talked about it, he shared some interesting insights, and then I concluded, "Then, don't be a jerk." He's my 4th kid, you'd think I'd have more sage advice, but this one throws me for a loop constantly.

If you saw my status post on Facebook, you heard about how he decided to clean up the family room, just because it was messy. His mess, I might add. Toys strewn about. I would have told him eventually to clean it up, but he walked right in, noticed it, and said, "I better clean this up!" I praised him for noticing and cleaning up without even being asked, to which he replied, "That's because I'm being proactive." That's right, Proactive. I'll say. He hears his school principal talk about being proactive every Friday after announcements. But who listens to the school principal, you know? And who adds her vocabulary to his and incorporates it into his character? Well, my kid, that's who. My adult-loving, kid-tolerating kindergartener.

Gotta love him. He's very entertaining. I highly recommend a conversation with him, if you ever get the chance.

Monday, October 31, 2011

I Blinked, and Just Like That. . .

. . . Halloweens with Lyndsay are just a memory.

Lyndsay's first Halloween

Lyndsay's last Halloween at home

I'm not even a big Halloween fan, but this realization is kind of sad. She's out there gathering the last of the candy that she can beg in her childhood. From here on out, she'll have to pay like the rest of us.

Lyndsay, thanks for making 18 Halloweens such a treat.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Me and Mrs. P

The first week of clinicals, I drove home crying and traumatized.

We had been learning and practicing beginning nursing skills for four weeks and it was time to go to a long-term care facility and begin caring for actual patients. All of us were a mix of nerves and excitement. For most of us, that first experience was hugely shocking. Taking vital signs on healthy, willing, cooperative college students is a much different experience than taking vital signs on confused, aggressive, ill, and elderly patients. Bathing nursing mannequins is very different than bathing confused, aggressive, immobile, and obese patients. We were threatened and we were yelled at. The work was physically and emotionally exhausting, and thankless to boot. Though this was a "nice" facility, still the atmosphere was dismal and depressing, seeing the later stages of heartbreaking illnesses and a lifelong inattention to health. More than that, I felt completely inadequate. I wanted to know how to handle every situation, and, well, I just didn't. That week we followed a CNA around for her shift, but the next week, we would be assigned a patient that would become our responsibility. I was scared out of my mind.

When the next week came, I was assigned Mrs. P. I had taken vital signs on her the week before, so I was familiar with her, and I had a sinking feeling that she would be my assignment. I only say sinking, because caring for her increased my feelings of inadequacy. Mrs. P. is an 82 year old woman with a myriad of health problems, but the reason she was admitted to this facility was because while reaching for something on her kitchen floor, she fell and broke her neck in two places. She is lying in a halo, for at least three more months. When I first walked into her room, her IVs were being attended to and I was waiting to take her vital signs. She was not complaining, but there were tears streaming down her face, from the pain she was in. I started to cry too. I couldn't help it.

That second week, I walked into her room and whispered hello to her, reintroducing myself to her. She remembered me. Mrs. P is completely blind in one eye and has glaucoma in the other from her diabetes. Her hearing is going, but afraid of losing her hearing aids, she had her husband leave them at home. She's been married for 62 years, to a man she's known since she was 6 years old. They had six children, but lost two. One died in her sleep at the age of 30, and one son was murdered by a 19 year old gunman while on vacation, leaving behind a wife and two young children. Mrs. P had survived breast cancer 20 years ago. This woman was a fighter, but because she was used to such strength, she finds her current helpless and painful condition very difficult to deal with. Every movement is painful. She can't care for herself at all. It was my privilege to feed her, bathe her, brush her teeth, change her, roll her (with the help of 2 other nursing students), rub lotion on her skin, and see that her bed sore wounds were dressed. I changed her linen and tried to keep her warm. I assessed her, administered her medications, and kept track of her vital signs. But mostly, as I cared for her, I listened to her. I would crack some jokes and she would laugh. Sometimes when the pain just became unbearable for her after the routine of bathing and rolling, she would just begin to cry. She would ask me to hold her hand, and I would. Just standing beside her, holding her hand.

The second day that I cared for her, I was so excited to see her. I practically ran to her room. She was so happy to see me again. She told me that she had told her husband all about me. I told her that I had told my husband and children all about her. She told me how grateful she was for my care, that I was not only good at what I was doing, but that I was kind to her. I guess kindness can be hard to find in nursing sometimes. She told me that I would be a wonderful nurse. That meant the world to me because still I felt so helpless to really make a difference for her. Seeing another person suffer so much really affected me. Together we worked through our routine of daily care. We eased our way into each activity, waiting for pain to subside, or enough sheer will to force through it. Sometimes she would cry. I would apologize, and she would say, "Oh, no, sweetie, you've got to do your job."

When my shift was over, I felt I had to say goodbye to Mrs. P. She was in a light sleep, but I didn't want her to wake up and just not know where I was. I walked into her room and held her hand, and she opened her eyes. "Mrs. P, I said, I have to go home now." She began to cry. She didn't want me to leave, and I didn't want to leave her either. "Thank you for being so patient with me as I learn," I said. "Oh, no," she answered, "thank you for being so kind to me, for making me laugh, for taking such good care of me. I'm sorry I can be such a baby, crying all the time."

At that point, I leaned over so she could see me well and I looked into her eyes. "Mrs. P," I said, "you are not a baby. Crying is not a sign of weakness. You are the strongest woman I've ever known. You are the bravest woman I've ever known."

"You mean that?" she asked me.

"I certainly do."

She is. The strongest and bravest.

I can't wait to see her tomorrow.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Rainy Day

Yesterday I posted as my Facebook status that God must love me best.

That's because our day of clinicals was canceled due to our instructor being ill, and the icing on top of that was the fact that it rained. Hard! So, I got to stay home and enjoy a gray, gloomy, rainy day, and I felt happier than I can remember in a long time. It was such a gift it was practically Christmas!

When it was time to go pick Conor up from school, I decided to walk in the rain. As I walked, umbrella angled against the rain, and sometimes successfully clearing the rushing water I had to jump over to cross the streets, I wondered why it is I love the rain so much. I honestly doubt if I would ever tire of it.

I realized that, for me, as for the earth, the dark skies and downpours have a cleansing effect on my soul. I am emotional. I crave melodrama. I need time to contemplate and reflect, with even amounts of celebration and regret. I need to purge sadness. I need to pull out all my sentimentality from time to time and feel it drip and run all over me, and bring with it tears. I need a good cry, for no good reason, and for plenty of reasons all at the same time. I need to feel things, and feel them deeply, and that helps me feel alive.

Rainy days are more honest to me, especially living in southern California where the sun pretty much dominates the weather forecast. Rainy days are real. They make me look at things in my life with more discrimination, and they rejuvenate me. I am grateful for the replenishment the rain brings to the earth, and to me. I get all kinds of happy with even the threat of rain, the promise of rain, the anticipation of rain.

So, yesterday was a gift. I got up even earlier than I normally do to cook a favorite breakfast for my children and have it ready before I had to take Aiden to the bus at 6am. I was so tempted to keep them all home from school and just enjoy one another. Instead, I busied myself with caring for them while they were gone: tidying the house, taking care of me (me happy and cared for = them happy and cared for), and then I pulled a chicken out of the freezer and set to making chicken noodle soup and rolls to warm them once they came home. Though I didn't forego my studying entirely during the day, it felt so good to just be home, to slow cook nourishing food--to let the water become broth, to let the yeast swell.

Thank you, rainy day.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Something Worth Watching

This is a picture of the Gomez family. They are a Mormon family living in Utah, and they are featured on this Sunday's episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition on ABC. A representative of the show contacted me several weeks ago asking if I'd be interested in previewing the episode and helping to spread the word, not just about the television show, but about the cause that's behind it, and I'm not just referring to a new house.

Little Jonah, there on the right, is 7 years old. He has two very rare blood disorders. So rare in fact, that he is the only person in the world with the combination, and the only way to save his life is to find a bone marrow donor who will match him. The problem is, one hasn't been found yet. In his young life, he's already had 65 blood transfusions and been hospitalized 20 times. His health status is so fragile. At the beginning of the show, the Gomez family is living in the grandmother's basement because Jonah's medical bills have left them unable to afford a house of their own. The basement, though, has some mold, and is damp and not conducive to the clean and abundant oxygen that Jonah requires to help keep him healthy. This is a very moving episode--I was in tears several times as I viewed it this afternoon. The beauty of this little boy's spirit shines right through the screen with his broad smile and upbeat attitude. You will fall in love with him (and his amazing mother and sister) in the first five minutes of the show, I guarantee that.

But besides being inspirational and moving, this episode raises awareness to the need to increase the bone marrow donor bank. You will be so impressed by how many people volunteer to be tested to see if they are a match for Jonah. It's an easy check, just a cheek swab, and sadly, Jonah is not the only little guy on a waiting list hoping for a chance at life. There's information at the end of the episode about how you can be checked to see if you might be a match to save sweet Jonah, or another child.

I highly recommend gathering the family together this Sunday evening for this episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. You know I don't have much time, but I am so glad I made the time to watch, and I am going to get myself checked!

(I was not paid or compensated in any way for this post. I was just asked to spread the word, however I chose to do that.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I Owe You an Update!

Thank you all for being such faithful readers, and coming each day to check my blog. I feel awful that I've been such an absentee blogger, and I actually think of my blog every day, but you know. . . I've been BUSY.

School is going great, really. It's actually quite fun. Our nursing class is made up of 60 students (actually, I think the number is 54 now) and we're divided into clinical groups of 10. We're with those 10 students for all of our classes, except for the big lecture class on Fridays, when we're all together, if that makes sense. This means that we spend a LOT of time together every day, and we've already become like a little family. My group of 10 is awesome. So culturally diverse, most of us are in our 30's, but 2 in their 20's, and one in his 40's. We have 3 men, 7 women, and we all work really well together. And we make each other laugh, which is a wonderful element of being together as often as we are. I've developed close friendships with several of my group members, and I look forward to seeing them each day.

So far we've been learning lots of basic nursing skills. We've learned aseptic technique and sterile technique, taking vital signs, bed baths, bedmaking (with and without a patient in the bed), several kinds of enemas, feeding tube care, and medication administration (drawing up syringes for different kinds of injections, and measuring other meds), among other things. Starting next week, we'll be caring for patients at a long-term residential care facility. We're all feeling excited about actual patient care, but nervous too. There are so many ways to make mistakes, and learning from books, videos, and on dummies is obviously a lot different than real people. But we'll get it, and soon these kinds of cares will be a piece of cake. So, we'll be at the clinical site two days a week, and at the campus lab for another day learning new skills to add to our hats. Then, the other two days will be the research class and the lecture class.

My schedule at home has gotten so packed. My goal when I decided to start school almost 3 years ago was to make sure that it didn't interfere with what I consider the most important parts of my life as a wife/mother. It's important to me that I still cook breakfast, pack lunches, and cook dinner each day (very tricky now, I assure you. . . maybe a post on just that topic soon.) I still want to read to Conor each evening. I still want to have Family Home Evening and scripture study, and I want to have time for dates with my children. Time management has become even more crucial. I've got some work to do, but so far, pretty good. We're all a work in progress.

On a personal note, I want to thank all of you, friends that I know in person and friends that I have "met" from blogging, for your support and kindness and encouragement. I go back and read my initial "Should I go to school" post from time to time. That post got more comments than any other post, I think, and I'm so grateful for your belief in me! This goal would definitely have been easier had I done it 20 years ago, but I have never regretted starting down this path, and I couldn't do it without you. Thank you so, so much.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Kindergarten Blues

My little guy started kindergarten last week. He'd been so excited all summer to go to school like the big kids. I got him up early his first day to get him dressed and ready, but I had an early class and didn't get to take him to school. His dad took him, and the first two strikes happened early on: no backpacks allowed for kindergarten (wish they'd told us that before we all took our kiddos shopping!) and his teacher would be serving jury duty for at least the first week of school.

I picked him up that first day, and he was beaming. He looked so adorable sitting at his desk waiting obediently for his name to be called. On the way home, he told me all about his day, and despite the 105 temperature, he clung to my hand the entire way. "He missed me," I thought. "He wants me close."

The next two days I had to drop him off at the curb from the van, to go into the kindergarten yard, where they don't let parents come before school anyway. He slumped slowly in, but both days his teacher told me he cried. As we walked home, I asked him about the tears. "It's just that I missed you," he said. "I looked out the yard, and you were gone."

He was grateful for a weekend.

Sunday night he told me he didn't want to go to school the next day. "I want to stay home with you," he said. I explained that I wouldn't be here; I had school too. He suggested Daddy, but I reminded him that Daddy has to work. "But I'll cry, I know it," he whimpered. "You can do it, Conor," I told him. "You always have a really fun day at school, and when you get home, you can tell me all the fun things that you learned." He persisted, so I tried other tactics.

"You have to go to school. If you don't go to school, they'll kick you out."

He wanted to get kicked out.

"If you cry every day, the other kids will think you're a baby."

"Oh, no, that part's fine," he said. "They all try to cheer me up."

On Mondays, my school schedule allows me to walk him to school, so I figured we'd do that instead of the dump and drive thing. As we walked, he held my hand. And he said the sweetest things:

"I just love holding your hand, Mom."

"I wouldn't trade you for any other mom in the whole world."

"Thanks for walking with me, Mom."

I told him how much I believed in him and how proud I was of him, and how I couldn't wait to hear about his fun day. I told him how many children in the world didn't get to go to school, and how lucky we all are that we do. When we got to the kindergarten yard, I got down on my knees and hugged him for a good long time. He took his Star Wars lunchbox and his water bottle, and walked through the gate. Once through, he came running to the fence, where I was waiting on the other side. "I can't do it, Mom! I can't!" and the tears were coming.

I wanted to burst into tears. I wanted to say to him, "You know what? Forget this public school crap. Come back out of that yard and come home with me. Let's read stories and bake cookies and color pictures. You belong with me." But I choked it back, and put my fingers through the chain link to grab his hand, like one of us was a prisoner, not even sure which.

I reminded him of how brave he is, gave him every pep talk I could think of. His anxiety waxed and waned (mostly waxed) as the bell got closer. When it was time to line up, his big blue eyes filled with water. "You can do this, my boy. I love you." He started to the line, and then ran back to me one last time. We lined up our lips through the chain link diamond and I gave him a kiss of courage. "When you get home," I told him, "go check your bed. I'm going to leave you a surprise."

He lined up, but kept his head turned around to watch me the whole time. Meanwhile I was giving him smiles and thumbs up and blown kisses and cheers. Finally, his blonde head of curls disappeared through the door, and safely now, I let my own tears flow as I walked home.

I hate kindergarten. It just feels wrong to me.

I'll get home from school around dinner time. Aiden will be at a Dodger's game, and Lyndsay will be tutoring. So, it's all about Conor. I will feed him and bathe him, and read to him a few chapters from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We'll say prayers together and lay together in his bed and he can tell me all about his day. I will praise his strong heart (and mine!) and tell him how doing hard things and facing his fears will make him courageous and brave.

And then, we'll do it all over again.

Friday, September 2, 2011

1 Week Down, 15 to Go

I finished my first week of the RN program.

Longest. Week. Of. My. Life.

But so much fun, too. I'm really enjoying myself.

My schedule has me at school every day. I've never done that before, and it makes for a long week with all the commuting (20 miles each way). Oh, what this will cost me in gas! And I am trying to coordinate all the other areas of my life around this new schedule, which I was in the dark about until I showed up the first day. It's kind of tricky. Some days I can take the kids to school, others I cannot. Some days I can pick them up, others I cannot. Some days I'm home early, some late. And then there's getting all my piano students worked in there too.

Oh, and enormous amounts of reading and studying.

There are 60 of us in this program. We are the Class of 2013. We are together for the Nursing Fundamentals lecture class on Fridays, but other than that, we are broken into groups of ten for our clinical groups. I already feel like I have a new family in those 10 new friends, and many other new friends in the other groups.

Every day I came home dog tired. One day I thought pizza sounded like a fun way to end the week for dinner, but then I realized it was only Tuesday. Tuesday!

This week, besides all the introductory stuff about the program, we learned handwashing and aseptic techniques, and taking vital signs. I heard my first blood pressure this week, and I've been checking everyone in the house regularly for practice. We are told very seriously that this program is rigorous and will demand most of our lives for the next two years, but that we will be so grateful, and it will be so worth it.

I can already tell.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

This Summer in Pictures

Tomorrow is my last official day of summer. Nursing school begins bright and early Monday morning. (Yikes!) Though I didn't really go anywhere, this summer was very eventful.

For starters, Aiden graduated from elementary school.

I celebrated my last night with all four of my children living under my roof.

Conor "graduated" from preschool (where he'd only been attending for 3 1/2 months).

I planted a garden.

I sent Lyndsay and Dylan to Flagstaff to attend EFY (Especially for Youth) at Northern Arizona University for a week. Then they spent some time with their dad.

When they got home from EFY, I sent Dylan and Aiden off to Scout Camp, their only year to go together.

While the boys were at Scout Camp, I sent Lyndsay off to Mexico for two weeks.

I spent July 4th with all my boys, including Adam, of course. We went to the Sunland-Tujunga parade and then a traditional party at a friend's house, followed by fireworks.

The next day was my last day with Dylan, so I took him on a date. Mini-golf and frozen yogurt. Conor came along.

Then I cried really hard when I had to say goodbye to him and take him to the airport.

Then I watched him get on the plane and I cried some more.

Then I came home and turned my grief into action by repainting and re-bedding the boys' room and Lyndsay's room.

I got to spend some time with my sister, Abby, and her family for a few days, and Lyndsay came home from Mexico on her birthday.

How have enough years passed that my little girl has 17 candles on her cake?!

We celebrated quickly.

Because the next day she left again to go on the Youth Pioneer Trek.

Meanwhile, Abby and Orion treated me, Aiden, and Conor to a trip to the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, a place I've always wanted to go.

Then Abby and her fam had to pack up and move on toward New York. I spent days getting health clearances, blood work, and immunizations in preparation for the RN program. Also a fingerprint clearance, American Heart Association lifesaving certification. Oh, and spending a small fortune on textbooks and uniforms. I also did light homeschooling with Conor and got him started reading. And we read the three E.B. White classics aloud. That was fun.

But some days we snuck away to the park, or to go swimming.

Then I took Aiden and Lyndsay to Arizona to spend some time with their dad. Lyndsay came home after a few weeks, Aiden is still there.

Amber surprised me one Sunday afternoon by knocking on my door unannounced. I love when she does that.

I sent Lyndsay off, yet again, this time for a week of Girls Camp.

And I turned my loneliness into jam. Lots of jam.

And I took Conor to the California Science Center. It's FREE! And very, very cool.

Lyndsay came home and we hosted a Game Night for a bunch of friends.

Then the next day we went to the beach.

Then Conor turned 5.

Lyndsay started her Senior year. (Aaaagh!)

And Adam turned 39.

In between, I've read some books, watched some rented movies, and caught up with some friends. On Monday, I start school and Aiden comes home. Summer is pretty much wrapping up. It's been a pretty heavy emotional one for me, with transitions everywhere I turn. One child moving out, a child in her last year at home, and my baby going to kindergarten. And learning to be a real nurse!

All these things shall give me experience, and shall be for my good. Or something like that.