Saturday, August 31, 2013

Financial Milestones

The day I picked Aiden up at the airport after his summer visit in Arizona, he requested two things: a haircut and a bank account. I expected both. Aiden got a summer job this year and for the time he was home, earned pretty good money.

I have tried to instill good financial principles in the kids. First, they pay their tithing, right off the bat. 10%. Of what's left, half goes into savings, and the other half is theirs to do with as they please. Because Aiden had "real" money to work with, he wanted a checking account. Lyndsay got her checking account when she was 16, because that's what Bank of America allows. Chase, however, (Aiden researched) allows younger teens to open an account as long as a parent also has an account. So, I opened a small account, in order to help Aiden open his. He was so excited, there was no way I could turn him down.

Here he is, the proud owner of his very own debit card. It's great practice for him. I keep the kids' savings accounts separately. When Lyndsay went off to college, I transferred the balance of her savings account to her checking account, so she now has stewardship over all of the money she's saved.

Although Lyns made it through her first year of college without a car, and actually planned to do another year, because she is in an off-campus apartment this year we decided it might be best to just try and find one. She was home all summer working and using my car, which was a little restricting, but since I haven't found a job yet, it was doable.

She was thinking she would spend up to $5500 (total) on a little car. But the last week she was home, we found one on Craigslist for $2900, and it seemed perfect. She preferred to have a cheaper car and more money in the bank than having a bit nicer/newer of a car and less cash. The money she has saved brings her so much security and it scared her to spend so much, so we went with this 2001 Toyota Corolla. We had it checked by two mechanics before buying it, to make sure there were no surprises.

Her first car! She paid for everything herself! We did put new front brakes on, new windshield wipers, and got an oil change and fluid top-off. We got it smogged and went to the blasted DMV and got it registered in her name. She paid for it all. And in total, it was under $3500. I'm so proud of her!

She looks so cute in it, doesn't she? I think it's the perfect first car for her, safe and reliable. In fact, today she arrived back up at BYU, driving all by herself! It will be much easier for her to manage this year of laundromat, grocery shopping, and cold weather, without having to rely on a roommate's car. And I imagine she'll love the freedom of coming home whenever she can as well.

I know Dylan has been working every spare second too. He's had a job near his home in Arizona and he goes there right after school and on weekends. Hopefully, he's saving! I know he really wants a car as well, and of course college is fast approaching.

I have been surprised at how many of my kids' friends (especially the older ones) have never had a job or have never had to earn money or pay for anything themselves. Things just seem to be given to them. That seems nice in the short-term, but a bit debilitating in the long run. I want my children working for money as soon as they are able. They don't pay for everything, but they can help share the cost of things they want and need, and it takes a lot of practice to be good at budgeting and using money wisely. I would rather the kids learn those lessons young and while they are still in a relative safety net.

I think my struggles have made an impact on them as well. They see the problems that come when there isn't enough money, and they've learned ways to make do with very little and make thoughtful choices, which sometimes means saying no and doing without. Even meager incomes can be handled well, and I always tell them that if they can't handle a little money, they won't be able to handle a lot!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Behind Every School Project . . .

It wasn't the 4th day of school, when Aiden told me he had not one, but two projects already assigned. I thought he was joking, just to get to me, but no. His teachers are piling it on. He got his science project done last week, but there was this history one left to tackle.

My assignment: Buy sugar cubes.

His assignment: Say no to every single social invitation on Saturday and get to work! (very hard for Aiden. He's a friendly guy, and he'd rather be biking, running, throwing, climbing, or doing crazy stunts and giving me a heart attack.)

So, on Saturday, he set up a work station in the family room right after breakfast, and there he stayed for about 7 hours. Glueing sugar cubes together with hot glue. (Did you know Aiden has a temper? If you'd ever like to witness it, ask him to glue together 246 sugar cubes with a hot glue gun. Then stand back.) Well, he finally got it together. And I kept the movies playing on the screen in front of him.

Of course, since Aiden was doing a project, Conor felt inspired, so there went another room in the house. Conor set up shop in the dining room. And made a whole lot of nothing. He lost interest in his diorama, though he was beautifully organized for creativity.

And then when Aiden started painting the sugar cube pyramids, inspiration once again struck Conor. His main challenge was how to create brown from the other colors he had. And then he realized how hard it is to paint one's name with a paintbrush. He left this on Lyndsay's bed for her to find when she got home from work. Oh, and then the cup full of paint water got dumped all over the carpet, so that was fun.

Aiden's project is supposed to be about a travel destination he'd like to visit. Obviously, he picked Egypt, which kind of surprised me, but I think he was going for practicality of construction. (I suggested Stonehenge.) It looks simple enough, but this thing took him hours and hours. It's been in various stages of drying for the past three days. Today I got a text message asking if I could go buy palm trees. This was the best I could find on short notice, at the pet store. Tonight he finished up the visual part of the project. Not without a fight, though. The Great Sphinx he made out of clay took several days to dry. He didn't even want to do the Sphinx, but I thought it would be a nice touch, and once he decided to give it a go, he did a good job. The problem was, he constructed it in pieces which he attached together and as the clay finally dried (today while he was at school) pieces started falling off. He was not a happy camper when he got home, though I'd warned him on the phone first with a very encouraging, "We'll just Gorilla Glue it back together, no problem."

Well, there must have been a problem, because during a piano lesson this afternoon, I heard a loud thump and I knew the Sphinx had just hit the trash. (The temper, again, you see.) And broken into even more pieces. Which made me mad. So, after my lesson, I fished out all the pieces from the trash and set to glueing them back together myself. I know that hot-headed boy of mine. I knew that the second he tossed it, he regretted it.

Once the glue was dry (and now the pieces just give it a more authentic look. Right?) he painted it and glued it down into the diorama. And then he thanked me and told me he was sorry he'd thrown it away right after he'd done it. See?

Finally, a happy, relieved boy. He makes me smile. Behind every picture of a kid with a finished project, is a Story. With a capital S. Ask any mom.

Now he begins the work on the written portion. Help us all.

Thankfully, Conor was assigned a project also. Today. Due tomorrow. Which I found out about at 6:40pm. Oh well, it was easy and Conor did most of it himself. I just had to print out a picture for him. His project is an About Me Bag. (Not like a pirate talking there.)

He decorated it with stickers and his favorite words.

Inside, he was to put three items that tell about himself. Only three. He chose a Lego Ninjago guy. Because he loves Legos.

His favorite Wii game.

And a picture of the dead bunny. Well, not a picture of the dead bunny, but a picture of Chadwick, our bunny who died two years ago.

I probed to see if this was the best choice of items for his bag. I said things like, "Well, what about a picture of our family? You only get three things." Or, "We have a cat that's still alive, you know." But no. He said it was very important to him that it be a picture of Chadwick. He misses the bunny so much. Still prays for him to "have fun in heaven" every night.

Tomorrow Conor has to present his project to the class. He made us all practice with him, telling us exactly what to say and how to react. ("I appear out of nowhere and go to the front and say, 'Hi, I'm Conor,' and you say, all together, 'Hi, Conor!' But do it serious, not like you're goofing off." N.A. Meeting. Got it. He went through his whole presentation, item by item, very soberly. And then we clapped when instructed.

He'll be just fine. My house, on the other hand, might take a while. But that's okay. Because little do they realize that while they work on their projects, I'm loving the work I get to do on mine:

Raising them.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Blog Love

I love this blog.

Sometimes I forget how much it means to me, how much of my soul I've bared here. Last night I spent about an hour going back and reading old posts. It filled me with gratitude that I've taken the time to write so much down. Milestones, experiences, snippets from life. I had forgotten so much until my memory was jogged by the blog posts. (It lessened the guilt I feel for not writing as frequently as I wish in my journal. This blog is a journal!) I laughed like crazy. Aiden came home from his friend's house and sat with me on the couch and we read posts and laughed to the point of tears.

Other times, I felt my heart deeply moved with compassion for myself. For me. Because though I am so hard on myself, I can see through my posts that I am really trying. And when I dare to put down in writing some of my feelings, of course there is so much more hidden between the lines. I'm proud of where I've been and what I've come through.

The other thing I was reminded of last night, was how much I love you, the readers of this blog. A handful of you are family (who have to love me), some of you are personal friends, and others of you I've never met. But I read your names and your comments, and I see how long some of you have taken time from your lives to follow mine. It's really humbling. And you can't even begin to understand the strength that your comments have given to me. They mean so very, very much. I had this wish that I could invite you all over for a big slumber party so we could all talk in person. And eat cookies, of course. There would have to be cookies.

Seriously, though, I wish I could know you. But even through this forum, I am so grateful for you, and I consider you friends. We all help each other along this road of life.

There were a lot of posts that I was really proud of. Posts that, when I read them back, feel inspired to me. And sometimes I've written things and months (or years) later I go back and think, "Holy cow, did I really share that?"

This post is #668. That's a lot! I see my children growing up, my education progressing, my marriage evolving, my challenges and trials appearing and becoming resolved. I see the cycles of my garden from seed to harvest, year after year. I see a lot of holidays and traditions, and a whole lot going on in the kitchen.

Reflection. Vulnerability. That's what this blog is for me. And I love it.

I'm curious: What have been your favorite posts from my blog? I would love to know.

And, thank you, friends. There are a lot of blogs out there. Thanks for stopping by to read mine.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Forward and Back?

The other day I picked Lyndsay up from her boyfriend's house to come and have dinner with the family. And in her huff, she sat down at the table and said, "'Family' is just you and Conor." And it really hurt my heart.

Because that's kind of true. Right then, at least. Aiden was still in Arizona with his Dad. And of course, Dylan is there too, so it was Conor and me, sitting across from each other, and I'd gone to pick Lyndsay up because I wanted just one more chair filled.

"That's right," I huffed back. "Whomever is sitting at this table is your family. And just because there's only one parent here doesn't mean I don't count and it doesn't mean that my family isn't real or worthy. And if I want you here, then you should be here. We're your family."

But it made me think even more about issues in my life.

Like what in the world has happened to my family. The only stinking dream I ever had about my life was about marriage and family. I try to picture life in the future. How can I even have a family reunion? We can't even call it the Consolo Family Reunion, because most of my kids aren't Consolos, and I might only be because that's where I was left standing. I can't call it a Staley Family Reunion, because I'm not a Staley. I guess I could get married again, but good grief, then whose name do we use?

I can't ever have that cute vinyl sign in my house that says, "Johnsons, Est. 1992" or whatever. We don't even have a name that unites us. Man, the craziest families at least have that.

I could just live alone for the rest of my life. I could get some house on a lake with a canoe tied to a dock. I could read and sew and garden, and work as a nurse (if I ever get a job), and write in moments of quietude, or sip hot chocolate on my deck and watch the sun set. My children might come and visit me because they feel obligated, or because their children want to play in the lake. But then, they also have to visit that other family they belong to. And then there are the in-laws.

Or I could, as I mentioned, get married again. Again. Oh my gosh. Well, you can see how the dynamics of that are less than ideal.

I have so many what-ifs running through my mind, all the ways I could have done my life better, but I know there's no point to that kind of thinking.

For months he's been saying he loves me. He's sorry. He realizes. Please.

And I've been saying, I'm sorry too, but no. No way. Just can't do it. I can only go forward now. I'm 40, for heaven's sake.

But he's very sorry. He sees now. He really, really loves me. Please. And he respects my feelings and gives me my space. Accepts the devastating loss in his life with as much humility and strength as he can muster.

And my heart goes out to him, but doesn't soften towards the idea, because frankly, I blame him. I was strong. I got out. I said, "Enough." How can I turn around? I'm going forward.

But I can see the changes. They might be real. They seem sincere. They seem independent of me.

And then there's a little boy named Conor, who sometimes asks through tears if he can call his dad. And who loves to call for a Group Hug whenever we're all together. I've been down this road before. I can picture his life unfolding. Him missing his father. Me missing him when he's with his father. New men and new women coming in and out of his life. The worries. The sadness. The wishes.

And completely uninvited, unsolicited, and almost unwelcomed, I begin to think in terms of him again. I try to block it out, but it's there, and it beckons me. Just see. Just explore. What if going back is not the same as going backwards?

Explorations don't always end with exciting discoveries. Sometimes they're dismal and disappointing. We're both allowing for that possibility.

But it's that noun: possibility, that leads me to that verb: explore.

Maybe we're still family.

For now, that's all I can say.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Birthday Feast For Adam

I know this post is going to raise questions. Don't ask me, because I don't altogether know the answers. Yes, we are still separated. Maybe I'll say more another time. But on Sunday morning, I woke up filled with love for Adam. It was the day before his birthday, but Sundays are easier days for a family dinner than are Mondays. And for some reason, I was overcome with the desire to cook for him and make him happy. He loves my pasta, and I had just processed the tomatoes in my garden. It was 8am, with church at 10am, and I thought, "Do I have time to make loaves of French bread?"

I don't always think that way on busy Sunday mornings. As it was, I had to write game show questions for Primary Singing Time. I did that quickly and then rushed downstairs and started making bread. I hoped I had just enough time. Then I started dicing onions and garlic and browning meat to get the sauce simmering.

I texted Adam and asked him if he wanted to come for a family dinner to celebrate his birthday after church. Yes, he did. Very much, thank you.

Then I realized that the children would probably be hungry, so in between the bread kneadings, I made some spelt waffles. At that point, I kinda gathered that I might be a bit nuts, and maybe had bitten off more than I could chew. Thankfully, people were smart enough not to step foot in the kitchen or they might have been trampled.

Waffles done, the loaves were shaped to rise, and I ran upstairs to take a shower. After my shower, I ran back down, put the bread in the oven, and ran back upstairs to do my hair and makeup. I had pushed it to the absolute limit, but it looked like things would work! I was feeling so charged up and happy.

I came down to throw some singing materials in my church bag and that's when I saw the piece of paper saying that Conor had a talk to give in Primary. Of course he did! I quickly wrote a talk, took the bread out of the oven (probably another 5 minutes would have been nice to brown it up a bit more, but I didn't have it to spare), left the sauce on a low simmer, and threw my shoes on. Out we went. I got down to Primary just in time.

At Church, I was feeling so happy, I invited Lyndsay's boyfriend to come to dinner also. (That's happy.) I was happy to see Adam, and had a wonderful time at Church. Afterwards, I went home and got to work putting the rest of things together. Adam and Sean came a bit later. Lyndsay and Braulio set the table, Adam played with the boys, and helped in the kitchen. I made one of the loaves into Cheesy Garlic Bread (Holy YUM.), and cut up another one for dipping in oil and vinegar, or spreading with butter. I made a pan of brownies and a cherry pie. Boiled the noodles (Adam opted for rigatoni over spaghetti this time), and we all sat down to eat.

Caitlin was at the beach and not able to be with us, and of course we're missing Dylan. Always. But dinner was delicious, and everyone had a great time. We went around the table and told Adam what we love about him. He's funny. He's sincere. He's heartfelt. He's always ready to have a good time.

After dinner, the kids played video games, and Adam and I fell asleep on the couches. A Sunday afternoon and a big pasta dinner can bring out the nap time, let me tell you! The kids ate an entire pan of brownies in the meantime.

I didn't have the time to bake a cake, but I did have some cherries in the freezer, so I made a cherry pie instead. (It wasn't the prettiest, but it was tasty!) We stuck a single candle in it, representing the 1 after the 40, and called it a Happy Birthday.

Adam needed to feel loved. Everyone needs to be celebrated on his birthday! And we had a great time being together, with all the kids. Adam and I had a chance to talk, which we've done a lot of lately. It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon and evening.

Happy birthday, Adam. I do love you, and the good news is, 41 has got to be better than 40!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A (Mostly) Fictional Summer

On May 1st, my first official day out of school, the only thing I wanted to do was read a story. Not a textbook or a drug guide. I wanted a good, take-me-to-another-place novel. I have a self-imposed rule that I don't read any books except school books during the semester, and I mostly followed it. Once I was out of school, I did have to study for my board exams, of course, and I did. (Passed! I'm officially an RN!) But I also had a wonderful time with books this summer. Here are the ones I liked best, meaning I gave them 4 or 5 stars. 

A mesmerizing story of a man and his wife who live isolated in a lighthouse off the coast of Australia. The wife has been unable to carry a child and has suffered several miscarriages. One day a small boat washes up on the shore of their rocky island and there is a baby inside with a dead man. The woman decides to keep the baby, against her husband's better judgment, and raise it as their own. There are tragic consequences as a result of this choice.

I love Anna Quindlen. I saw this book in the BYU Bookstore when I was there for Women's Conference around my birthday. It's a memoir about aging, and though it's more applicable to women turning 50 or 60 even, I love Quindlen's writing and her examination of a woman's life.

Dancing on Broken Glass profoundly affected me. It's about a marriage, a highly unconventional marriage. The husband has bi-polar disorder and the wife a family history of breast cancer. They already have so much stacked against them, but the powerful love between them helps them navigate unimaginable circumstances. It's a tear jerker, for sure, and it will leave you changed.

I LOVED this book. I have several books about books, and this one goes a bit further, teaching not only what books to read to children, but how to teach them to deconstruct stories and begin literature analysis. I took all of my summer reading choices for Conor from this book.

Gerald Lund is one of my favorite LDS authors, of both fiction and nonfiction. He is a masterful teacher, and this is the most complete book of understanding personal revelation I've ever read. It is richly illustrated with personal experiences and examples of the ways that the Lord reveals himself in our lives and answers our prayers.

This is a great one. A mother's memoir, and she's in a similar stage as I am (well, except that I have a few younger kids too), but it's about her process of parenting her son through high school and into college and how her life as a mother changes. All things I can relate to. I bought another book by this same author that I haven't read yet, but I like her voice.

My mother was the one who introduced me to this book of historical fiction about a woman named Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)who was tithed to the church at age 8 and expected to live the rest of her life as a handmaiden to a disturbed young nun named Jutta. But Hildegard had unique spiritual gifts of her own, and after the death of Jutta, Hildegard felt called to break free from her prison where she'd lived for over 30 years, and write of her visions of the divine. Very interesting.

I really, really enjoyed The Orchardist. This story takes place at the turn of the century in the Pacific Northwest. A man inherits an orchard after his mother dies, and once his sister disappears, he lives there by himself for years until one day two pregnant feral teenage girls sneak onto his property. Letting them into his life changes everything. Beautifully written.

The Aviator's Wife has been on my to-read list for a long time and after a friend read it and couldn't praise it highly enough, she loaned it to me and I scarfed it down. This is a great story. Historical fiction again, about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I love stories about strong women, and Anne is definitely that.

The two books I was most excited about this summer were the new releases from Jeannette Walls and Khaled Hosseini. I pre-ordered them back in February. They did not disappoint. In fact, The Silver Star may be one of the top 3 books of this year for me.

And the Mountains Echoed was not as emotionally gripping a story as A Thousand Splendid Suns, one of my all-time favorite books, but I love Hosseini's writing so much and I love the settings and the characters in his stories and how he weaves lives together over time and distance.

And then, The Book Thief. I've had this book in my collection for several years. I bought it for Lyndsay, I think. I've wanted to read it, but just haven't gotten around to it. Then it seemed like everyone around me was reading it and gushing over it, so I pulled it off the shelf. Yeah. An incredible story. It will make my Top 10 this year for sure. This is another one that will stay with you a long time.

It's been so enjoyable to read for pleasure again! I'm reading a few really good books now, and have lots more in The Pile. And I'm always taking suggestions. Here's to books!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Another School Year is Upon Us

I cannot believe the summer has gone. It really seemed too short this year. I feel like I blinked and now the kids have to go back to school. That means, take the boys to get haircuts. Aiden had two this summer, but I didn't get Conor in until last week. He was a bit shaggy.

This is a year of Doing The Best I Can. Money is so tight. I haven't been able to find a nursing job yet, and since I'm not in school, I don't have the cushion of my scholarship and grant money. I wasn't able to buy the boys any school clothes, but thankfully, I had bought them some new things in the spring, so they don't have a lot, but what they have is in pretty good shape. I did have to buy Aiden some shoes though, since his toes were poking through.

For our First Day of School Breakfast, Aiden requested pancakes. I made whole wheat pancakes topped with our strawberry jam. Flipping pancakes at 5:30am is going to take some getting used to again!

But even at 5:30 in the morning, Aiden can still put the food away.

After Aiden's breakfast, we woke Conor up for scripture study and family prayer, and then we took Aiden to the bus. He picks the bus up at 6:30, so we leave at 6:20. I cannot believe this boy is in 8th grade this year. When I married Adam and moved here, Aiden was starting kindergarten. All of his schooling has been in California. It seems like yesterday I was bawling like a freak as he marched into his kindergarten classroom with his too-big backpack on his back. It's surreal to think that the next time we have a First Day of School, this guy will be starting high school. HIGH SCHOOL.

After Aiden was safely on the bus, I made Conor his pancakes. And since this was his official birthday, I stuck that candle right back in there and called it a party.

A very important task of the school year: packing lunches. Getting Conor to sit and eat at school is a major challenge that we have. He set a goal to improve on this. Many days he would come home after school with his lunch untouched because he would rather play. But that's too many hours without nourishment. Of course, then he has to sit and eat it at the table when he gets home, but that runs close to dinner. I get tired of the struggle.

The night before I made Whole Grain Pumpkin Muffins (with freshly ground spelt flour, and no sugar). I put these in Conor's lunch instead of a sandwich. He loved them. And he came home with only a few peppers and carrots left, which he ate quickly, thank goodness.

Second grade already. It literally seems like last week that he started kindergarten. Of course, that was the same week I started nursing school, and that seems like an eternity ago, so go figure.

This is his first year at the magnet school, so he will be working hard! And he has the same teacher that Aiden had when he was in 3rd grade.

For this one day, the school let the parents come onto the yard with their kids. I stayed for a bit with Conor and then when his teacher came out, he gave me a kiss and was fine with me leaving. We've come a long way since the days of Daily Morning Tears.

I came home and baked Chocolate Chip Cookies. Because that's our tradition on the first day of school. (And many other days of the year.) The kids come home and tell me all about their day, their teachers, their friends, their classes. . . and they eat cookies. It's terrific.

And this guy? My biggest boy. My Dylan Boy. A Senior this year. A Senior! He started school a few weeks ago, because his school is on a year-round schedule. I miss him so much. But I talked with him today and he said he can probably come for a visit at Thanksgiving time. So, I'm already excited.

Lyndsay leaves in a few weeks to head back to BYU for her Sophomore year. It's back to the grindstone! And I think it's going to be a great year.