Saturday, February 25, 2012

Week One was Fun, Week One is Done!

Last week was celebratory. I was about to begin my second semester of nursing school, and God saw fit to bring some of my favorite people to California to bolster my spirits and give me a grand send-off, back to the trenches. I am so grateful.

On Saturday night we got to have dinner with my beloved Luisa and her dashing husband, Patrick. It was our first in-person visit in over six years! We ate at a little cafe in Montrose and then came back to our house for dessert. I made these for dessert, minus the pumpkin part, since that's seasonal. We just had French Vanilla ice cream on top. And, minus the pecans, which, of course, would send us to the ER for Conor's allergy. And, minus the shortening in the cookie dough, because, well, can we just ban shortening already?

But, after I'd prepared that dessert, I had this little voice in my head say that somewhere, sometime, I'd read or been told that Patrick doesn't like molasses. So, just in case, I also made these, and good thing, because Patrick indeed does not like molasses, and we were covered.

I love those people. I seriously do.

On Sunday night, my brother Josiah, his wife Sarah, and their four adorable (and very quiet) children got into town for their annual Disneyland vacation. They usually spend one evening with us while they're in town and we have dinner here, but this time, we were lucky enough to get more of them. They spent the first night here at our house. We had a big spaghetti dinner, played some really fun games with all the kids, and then after the kids went to bed, we stayed up and talked. I adore Josiah and Sarah. I am so grateful that Josiah is my brother, and am so proud of him as a man, a husband, and a father. He's a good guy, and he has a terrific wife that I consider to be my sister.

On Monday, we bought a bunch of Subway sandwiches, packed up some treats, and headed for the beach. We made a stop at the Los Angeles Temple so his kids could walk around and see the new Visitor's Center, and then we continued on to Santa Monica Pier.

It was cold. The kids didn't care. They had a great time playing in the water and digging deep holes. I sat next to Josiah on one side, who was huddled in a towel to keep warm, and Lyndsay on the other side, who had to stay planted in one spot because of her broken foot.

After the beach, Josiah and his family continued on to their hotel in Anaheim, and I took my kids home. But in the morning, we all met at Disneyland! Josiah treated us to a day at Disneyland, a place I hadn't been in about 13 years! This was Conor's first trip, and I think all of us were so excited to get to see his reactions. It was a little strange being there at first. I saw different things that stirred up memories of a different life, way back when. This was my second time with Lyndsay there, and as she pointed out, "The first time you pushed me in a stroller, and now you get to push me in a wheelchair!"

Fortunately for me, Aiden did most of the pushing, gallant brother that he is, but actually the wheelchair turned out to be a great advantage, getting us to the front of nearly every line and enabling us to get on so many more rides than we would have been able to otherwise.

The first ride we went on was Pirates of the Caribbean, which is my favorite. Kind of a shocking first experience for Conor, though. He was scared, but willing, and ended up loving the magic of the rides.

I hated Splash Mountain and Space Mountain. Two of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I didn't know I could scream so loud, or clutch my five year old so fiercely for comfort. My antics were quite entertaining to my other children, but I seriously was scared out of my mind, and shaking liking a baby when I got off. When the group wanted to ride again, I politely (and firmly) declined. Why am I such a chicken? I don't know. It's not a part of me that I particularly like or am proud of, but I'm just not a fan of thrill rides. I don't know how people don't die every day on Splash Mountain. And yet, most people love it! Little children get off the ride saying, "That was my favorite! That was so much fun!" And I'm thinking, "Are you serious? You almost died!" The pictures of me that the ride takes as you come around, were quite hilarious. I didn't buy them, but Sarah took a picture of the picture on Space Mountain, which I'll post when I get it.

Josiah was very concerned that "all our Disneyland dreams come true," sweet guy that he is. And they did! We got to see everything, ride everything (except Indiana Jones, which was closed), eat amazing (and expensive) food, and have a wonderful time together. It was an awesome day.

Here we are on the Jungle Cruise:

Josiah's the cutest. He is the most excited Disneyland visitor. He knows every fact about every ride, and he documents everything. While I'm clutching the hand rails and screaming, he's videotaping. He loves Disneyland!

And here's the lovely Sarah, with three of the kids, Trenton, Camden, and Alyssa. They took much better pictures than I did and I can't wait to get a copy of the pics and video of the day we were there together. (They went back the next two days.)

A pit stop in Toon Town:

We left around 7:45pm or so, to head back home. It had been a long, busy, filling weekend.

Wednesday morning was back to the routine, and for me, back to school! Yep, another semester has begun and I am already feeling frantically behind, mostly because my clinical group chose me to go first for the Seminar presentation we each have to do, so I am scheduled for this Wednesday. It makes for some initial chaos, but I will be ever so grateful that it's done and off my plate come Wednesday evening.

So, up this week: the big dosage calculation exam on Monday. Must get an A, or you get one more try, and then you're out of the program. Medication calculations are kind of a big deal. Understandably. Wednesday my presentation. (EEEEEEKS!) Thursday will be our first day at the hospital. 12 hour shift. Here we go!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Book Review: We Lived in Heaven

I've been laying low with book reviews lately, though I'm always honored to be asked. But when this one came my way a month or so ago, I thought it was serendipitous timing. For one, I was on break from nursing school, so I had time to read a book for review. For another, I recognized the author's name and love her topic.

When I was newly married (the first time) I worked at First Interstate Bank on Brown Road in Mesa, Arizona. Sarah Hinze, the author of We Lived in Heaven, was a customer at that branch. She had recently written a book called Life Before Life, and I remember her telling me about it at the teller window. I went to Deseret Book that afternoon and picked it up, and later, I brought it in for her to sign for me. I know she doesn't remember me, that would be crazy, all these years later to remember your bank teller, but I remember her because of her book. This book recounts more pre-birth experiences, or experiences that mothers or other family members have had with the spirits of their unborn children or siblings.

The third lovely coincidence was that when I received the book in the mail, Sarah had written just a short note on a piece of paper slid inside the front cover that she used to live in the same town that I now live in, many years ago. If you know the town I live in, that's pretty strange!

I believe in a pre-existence. I love that it is part of the doctrine of my Church. It makes beautiful sense to me that we existed before we were born, just as we continue to exist after this life. This book tells accounts of families who have had the opportunity to meet the souls of their sons and daughters before they made the journey to earth. The stories are faith-affirming, hopeful, and uplifting. Sarah shares her own experiences in the book as well.

A few teasers from the back cover:
* A kidnapped child who survived her ordeal by the guiding hand of the baby sister who would be born years later.

* A little boy's memory of being brought to earth by his grandfather--a man he never knew.

* A woman's vision of a child in a garden, and the powerful certainty that he was her son, waiting his turn to come into this world.

This is a heartwarming read. Sarah has done a fantastic job of carefully compiling these sacred accounts from people of all faiths. I also loved that Richard Paul Evans (one of my faves!) has given it a shining endorsement on the front cover. It's a feel-good book, and a book that will make you appreciate the gift that this life is to us, this one stage of our eternal existence.

You can buy We Lived in Heaven here, or visit Sarah Hinze's website to learn more about her work.

Valentine's Day

Blogger is being a pain today. It took me an hour to get these pictures uploaded, so I'm quitting and will just post what I have here before Valentine's Day is over! I do love this holiday, second only to Christmas. Even if it's not filled with romance, I love a day dedicated to love.

Of course, we had to do the Valentine workshop and make a little something for friends. Conor chose this Caped Cute-Sader from this month's Family Fun magazine. (Thank you, FF!)
But let me just say that I never want to cut out another teeny-tiny mask again.

It's near impossible to get a normal picture of Conor. So, we're going with complete silliness. What a pill he is in front of a camera!

Lyndsay found an owl idea on Family Fun's website, so she made up a batch of those for friends at school. Kind of fitting for a senior to give too, "I'll Owl-ways be your friend."

Here was our Valentine's breakfast this morning: Pink waffles with strawberries and whipped cream. And late last night I wrote a love note to each of the kids for them to read with breakfast. It was a teary night, you can imagine, especially as I wrote Lyndsay's. Next Valentine's Day, we'll be sending her a care package at college.

Here we are out of order. Sorry about that. Again, I was having such a time with Blogger this morning. But yesterday I made this cake for our Family Home Evening treat. A throw-back to the cakes my mom used to make. It's red velvet with cream cheese frosting.

We had a nice roasted chicken and roasted potatoes dinner and then for our activity, we did a family Heart Attack. The only good kind of heart attack! We wrote things that we love about each other on paper hearts, read them out loud to each other, and then taped them up all over the living room. It feels really fun with all the love on the walls.

Some of the things the kids wrote are pretty cute, too.

Then we cut into the cake. My sweet Valentines!

Happy Valentine's Day to you! Love somebody!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Nursing School Nesting

I think I am nesting. This is my last full week off before we start nursing school again, and all I can do is finish projects, organize, clean, and stock up my freezer. That's nesting, right?

Several weeks ago I bought this cookbook, and it has filled me with projects, plans, and happiness:
It's an old idea, yes, but the cookbook is updated and lovely. The idea behind it, of course, is to make up several master mixes to make time in the kitchen more efficient. There are many, many mixes, from dry mixes (brownie mix, muffin mix, quick mix, etc.) to spice mixes, to meat mixes and other refrigerated or frozen mixes. Being the "ant" that I am, and being as busy as I am (about to get busier), I have been having a great time. This weekend especially, I was busy stocking up! There are some changes I'll make. For example, I don't do shortening and one mix I wanted to make calls for shortening. I'll use coconut oil instead. Much healthier, same long-term storage effect.

The first mix I tried was the Snack Cake Mix. Many of the mixes are stored in big canisters, but this one is packaged into individual recipe portions, which makes whipping up a quick snack cake (like Applesauce Snack Cake, or Zucchini Snack Cake, for example) a breeze. And, easy for kids to do. The master mix recipe pages have lists of all the recipes that they fulfill, so you can quickly turn to that section of the cookbook.

One recipe of Snack Cake Mix makes 6 portions. I bagged 5 of them, and then decided to use the last one to try out a recipe.

I made the Oatmeal Spice Snack Cake with Toasted Coconut Frosting. Delicious.

I also really loved the idea of the meat mixes. When I get home late from school (which I will three days each week this semester) pulling together dinner can be tricky if meat is involved. I decided to try the Chicken Mix, but I only did half of what was suggested, due to limited freezer space. It involved simmering a whole chicken in water with some celery, carrots, and herbs all day. (Well, it only suggested 1 1/2 hours, but I like my stock to be a bit more nutrient rich, so I left it simmering most of the afternoon.) The smell was heavenly!

Then, I took all the meat off of the bones and gave the skin and bones to the cat, who was only mildly interested.

I strained the stock and then put it into the fridge to separate the fat (per Nourishing Traditions).

And then I took the meat and shredded it up in a big bowl.

A 5 1/2 pound chicken yielded me 6 cups of shredded chicken meat, which is bagged and frozen in 2 cup portions and also about 16 cups of rich chicken stock, which is frozen in 4 cup containers.

While the chicken and beans (beans in a minute!) were simmering on the stove, I made the batch of Slice-and-Bake Chocolate Chip Cookie dough, which is basically just a huge batch of Chocolate Chip cookie dough, rolled into logs, wrapped, and frozen, like commercially available cookie dough in those tubes. There are recipes for several different slice-and-bake cookie doughs. I love cookies. Do you know that about me? I love cookies. So this one makes me happy.

Not a recipe from the Make-A-Mix cookbook, but in the same spirit, I also made up a double batch of Italian meatballs and froze them for later dinners.

And the beans. Yes, beans. Make-a-Mix has a few bean mixes, which are basically just huge batches of cooked up dry beans, seasoned and ready to use. I use black beans most often, and I had the most of those in my cupboard, so I chose those. I followed the Nourishing Traditions method, though, soaking them with a little lemon juice in the water for 24 hours before draining, rinsing, and cooking them slowly most of the day (while the chicken was cooking.)

Here they are soaking, before the cooking. All the foam was removed from the top.

Black beans are so beautiful, I think. Now, I didn't do the seasoning part this time, because I may choose to use some of the beans in other recipes, like brownies, substituted for the oil. I've been wanting to try that out.

But they are bagged up in 4-cup portions and in the freezer. This is a healthier equivalent to canned black beans, and I'll just use them the same way.

But wait! Because while all that amazingness was happening in the kitchen, I was also busy prepping for Primary! I am the Primary chorister, which is pretty much the best calling in the world. I spent several hours at the Kinko's (while beans soaked and chicken simmered. . .talk about feeling productive!) copying, cutting, laminating, and cutting. The Primary theme this year is Choose the Right, and that hymn is also the song for the month. I found great ideas on this blog (thank goodness other people have great ideas that they share so willingly!) So, I made 30 CTR shields, laminated them, and put them on sticks. We can use these throughout the year for various activities, but for the hymn, it will be a focusing activity where every time they sing the phrase, "Choose the Right", or the word "right", they will hold up their shields. It was a lot of work, but it went over well yesterday.

And I think they're very pretty. I like pretty, and I like that I happened to have sticks that matched the colors so nicely.

I also got this great idea for a Melody Map for "Choose the Right" complete with helper cues. The kids totally loved it. Not a great picture, but here it is set up for the first verse and chorus.

And then an even worse picture, of all the second and third verse cues that I will use.

And a bound flip chart, just in case. Three verses of a hymn can be tricky for the little ones. But they always rise to the challenge.

I also made all the visuals for March's song, which is a new one that I found and absolutely love, so that eases up my Saturday prep-for-Sunday stress.

Boy, looking at all this makes me feel like I had a very productive weekend! I assure you, I'm not always this efficient, but I'm feeling the crunch of limited days before school starts again. Today I will be making the master Muffin Mix, and baking something with bananas, since I have some rotting on the counter. And, I need to make something Valentine-ish for Family Home Evening's treat. Maybe a Red Velvet heart cake?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

When the Devils Are Out, You Can Betcha the Angels Are Too

January was hard. It wasn't three days into the new year when the onslaught of opposition began its ruthless pummeling. I could feel it, both tangibly and spiritually, and I struggled. Some days I felt strong and powerful, and other days I felt pushed beneath the torrent.

I feel vulnerable. People who should be kind have not been. People I should be able to trust have betrayed me. People I should be able to count on have failed me. I don't think I'm experiencing anything particularly different from what you are, on any given day. The details vary, sure, but life is hard. For everyone.

One night, I put on a documentary I found on Netflix called The Human Experience. It's done by a couple of college guys, who want to experience life through the eyes of those who suffer in this world. They spent a week on the streets of New York City with the homeless in winter; they traveled to Africa and visited the HIV/AIDS victims, and a leper colony; and they lived and worked at a shelter in Peru for the Lost Children. It was really beautiful, what they did, what they were able to reveal through a camera. I was struck by the stark contrast of two opposing forces: suffering and the beauty of their happiness. The suffering made me weep. Especially those little children in Peru, discarded by their parents because of disability. I saw suffering in Peru with my own eyes, so it felt especially personal to me. And yet, every group of people had a happiness that far outshines my own. The brightest smiles, deep gratitude, spirits that glow right through their infirmities.

I've thought about those faces, and their heartfelt expressions of satisfaction and contentment in life. I wonder if the devils just leave them alone, as if even they have a boundary. But no, that can't be it.

Because when I think back on January, and all of the opposition I felt, I realize how many blessings were slipping in through the cracks with the beams of light. They don't make the trials any less real or painful, but they do offer perspective. If anything, they serve as a testimony that I am not really as alone as I sometimes feel. Someone is watching me, watching out for me, and keeping me afloat. The general trajectory of my life has got to be an upward curve. It's just got to be.

I guess the key is in which force I'm giving credit to for how I feel at the end of the day. Which one I let have power over me. It's not an easy answer or some new realization. It's a struggle for me.

But I'm giving February to the angels.