Monday, December 31, 2012

So Many Books ...

... so little time," says the bookmark I got for Christmas from my parents this year.  So true and so fitting.

I've been a member of for several years now.  The past two years, I have taken part in the reading challenge they offer.  My goal each year was 52 books.  One per week.  In 2011, I read 58.  In 2012 I read almost 62.  Not bad.

Or is it?

I have an ambivalence toward this reading habit of mine.  On one hand, reading is good.  It expands my horizons, it engages my imagination, it keeps my vocabulary in decent shape.  On the other hand, I spend a lot of time reading when I should be being more productive.  I use reading as an escape.  It's a pretty benign escape behavior, to be sure, but I tend to drown myself in it all the same.  I feel like it's not always entirely healthy, my reading, and that makes me nervous.

I have had this discussion more than once with people, my concern for the amount of books I read when things get stressful.  And the side coming at me is generally the same:  "Hey, it could be so much worse.  It could be alcohol, it could be drugs or affairs.  Books are nothing to worry about."  While I see their point, I don't entirely agree.  Yes, it could be worse.  It could be something destructive.  Yes, yes, yes.  But.  That doesn't mean that it can't become obsessive or slightly unhealthy.  That I could be avoiding dealing with things I should be facing.  That some moderation might be called for.

This year, I am setting a different goal.  I really wish I could specify genres in my reading challenge goals.  I can't, so I'll have to leave it to myself to be honest.  My goal is 24 books.  That's it.  Two a month.  And the first one I read HAS to be non-fiction.  (I don't stomach non-fiction too well.  I lose interest about half way through nearly every time.)  I will in general be choosing books written by general authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the like.  I might even do a couple of political books.  But only after I have completed a non-fiction book can I read a novel. 

We'll see if it helps.  It may actually not matter much, because if I happen to get in to grad school this fall, well, any reading goal I set will be thrown out the window and replaced with text books.   And that will begin a whole other set of difficulties ...

Friday, November 30, 2012


This is a little bit of a silly story, but I'm having one of those moments where I feel very, well, in God's awareness. 

My mother passed away one year ago today.  It's crazy to me how a calendar date can wreak such emotional havoc.  She's not any more gone than she was yesterday, but today I'm having a very rough time. 

Anyway, one year ago today, only hours after my mom's death, some very dear friends were wondering how on earth they could be useful, and so I asked them to bring a stack of things I'd been collecting to the DI (Mormon Good Will) just to get them out of my house while I was decorating for Christmas and getting ready for a funeral.  They were here in minutes and I was grateful.  As I was decorating, though, I noticed that two Santas and a small lit, potted tree were missing.  These were some of my favorite porch decorations.  After searching everywhere I came to the conclusion that the box must have been in the entry by my stack of DI items and taken away by mistake.  Grateful for the help and love shown, I tried to feel good about those decorations I loved blessing another family.  Still, only a few days ago I thought of those things, a little sad again that they are gone.

Today I have been wanting to finally decorate for Christmas.  It generally gets done the day after Thanksgiving, but we had a bit of company, and that wasn't really going to be much fun for them.  The rest of this week has been crazy, but tomorrow is December!  My mom loved the holidays, and particularly Christmas, so it seemed like a fitting activity.

Well, I woke up, got the kids off to school, and then curled up with a blanket on the sofa and slept until 10:45.  That tends to be sign number one that I'm not doing great.  I finally woke up, planning to meet Larry for lunch, got in the shower, and sobbed.  And sobbed.  Out of the shower, still sobbing (in fact rivers of tears running down my neck), I texted Larry and told him I didn't think I could make it.  He told me to come anyway, and we'd get Sonic, where we could just sit in the car.  So I did.  And I felt a little bit better sitting and talking with him.  I came home, put on my Johnny Mathis Christmas music (which actually reminds me of my step-mom, not my mother, but it's a very nostalgic one for me all the same) and went up to the attic to start bringing down Christmas boxes.  The first one I noticed was one on the very bottom of all of the Halloween decorations.  I brought it down, and guess which box it was.  Yes, that missing one from last year.  The one with my woodsy Santas and pretty tree.

I know it had been there all along.  It's not exactly a miracle.  I just missed it last year.  Chances are VERY good that I had not put all of the Halloween boxes on their shelves, and this was hidden behind them.  But still, of all of the days to find it, this is the perfect one.  It is as if my mother, or my Heavenly Father, is letting me know that things will be okay, that happiness will continue to fill my life, even in the midst of the sadness.  I hope it is a good sign for a merry holiday season.  For fewer tears and more laughter.  For joy and togetherness, for warmth and love.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Orange you glad ...

While oranges are a winter fruit, and I never even bother to look for good ones in the summer, I think of creamsicles as the ultimate summer flavor.  Orange popsicle and vanilla ice cream all in one yummy bite.  In fact, my freezer currently contains 2 treats for the kids, fudgesicles and creamsicles.  My mom called them 50/50 bars, thanks to the Good Humor trucks of her youth.  For a while when I was a kid, they sold a checkered orange sherbet, vanilla ice cream combo in 1/2 gallon containers.  Awesome.

Last night #2 said, "I'd like to make some cookies."  Sure, I said, sounds great.  "Except I'd not like to make them myself, but have someone else make them for me.  I'd just like to eat them."  (She was playing 15 going on 5.)  So I made cookies.  I rarely need arm-twisting. 

I've seen a great-looking creamsicle cookie recipe, and fired up Pinterest to hunt it down.  But the only flavoring in the one I'd pinned was orange zest, which, being summer, I am fresh out of.  Many of the other recipes I found on-line looked like they'd turn out a cake-y product, and while those are okay, I was looking for soft and chewy.  I finally settled on pimping out a chocolate chip cookie recipe which used dry vanilla pudding mix as an ingredient.  I added more pudding, lots of orange flavor, and white chips.

The final product was perfect.  Just what I'd been looking for.  And they were a big hit with the kids and with Larry.  I used orange juice out of a container, but if you have fresh oranges, that's what I'd go with, for sure.  I didn't pay close attention to the yield, but it was at least 6 dozen. I imagine these would also be very good with chopped walnuts, if you're into that sort of thing.

Orange Chip Cookies

1 c butter, softened
3/4 c packed brown sugar
1/4 c white sugar
1 (5.1 oz) vanilla pudding mix
2 eggs
1 tsp orange extract
Zest of 1 orange, and 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed juice (or 2 Tbsp orange juice)
2 1/4 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 c white chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugars.  Mix in pudding, eggs, extract, juice and zest.  Stir in flour, soda, and chips.  Drop spoonfuls onto ungreased sheet.  Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, until just barely starting to brown in spots.  Let set 2-3 minutes and remove to cooling rack or counter-top.  Store in an air-tight container.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

The LionHeart

... Well, that's what my 5K training app calls me anyway.  LionHearted.  For starting to run.  The first day.  And that's how I felt.  Today, on day three, the app awards the Determination Badge.  But I don't feel determined.  Just old.

#3 is a talented, kind, intelligent, awesome kid.  Unfortunately, along with her great musical ear she also inherited her athleticism from her mother.  I had none of the latter to give.  When she was 5 and 6 she played on the local AYSO team, and liked the idea of being part of a team.  Actually playing and practicing?  Not so much.  After a couple of years of listening her complain from about week 2 of the season on, we decided to go with her interests and strengths and focus on music.  She has thrived and excelled with that.

#3 does not want to give music up, but she is really wanting to get involved in a sport now that she is in the throws of middle school.  I understand.  I had that desire, too.  I didn't do a whole lot with mine, however.  She is determined to join cross-country in the fall.  And I am ecstatic for her.

To that end, we decided to start a training program.  I installed the app mentioned above.  I knew I'd be a better partner for her than #2.  #2 conditions with a 5 mile run "warm up" followed by sprints, crunches, planks, etc.  #3 is nowhere near so fit.  Neither am I.  We are also nearly the same height. (I won't mention who is taller.) Good partners, right?

Well, in theory, that would be true.  The first day we were definitely on the same pace.  Day two we both felt like we were getting our trash kicked.  Day three ... well day three we were both still really feeling it, but during the last half of the workout, times we were supposed to be running #3 could go quite a bit faster than I could.  I'd watch her sprint ahead, and I'd long to catch up, but there was no way I could make myself go faster.  No way I could make my legs stretch further.  I'd call out to her when it was time to walk, and she'd walk back to me while I walked forward and we'd continue on from there.

Now, I'm not stupid.  I have 26 years on her and 20 extra pounds on my frame.  I figured that there may come a time when she would out-pace me, when we may need to put the app on her iPod and we'd train together, but not side by side.  I guess I was imagining that day coming after a few weeks.  Not after day three. 

Which brings me to what is really bothering me.  I wanted to do this to help my kid.  To train with her so that she can be (to quote her) "super fast and super awesome" this fall ... or at least so that she can keep up.  This is not the first time I've started a 5K program.  I've never gotten past the first 2 weeks.  I frequently decide to start up with walking 4 miles per day or with a Zumba class or with something.  I just don't stick with it long enough to make any sort of habit.  Today is Saturday.  We had planned to go running at 9 am.  I did not want to get out of bed.  The only reason I did is because I knew #3 was waiting for me.  That she needed me.  We got going (only 15 minutes late) and as it turned out, she didn't need me.  I need her.  And I'm holding her back.  Already.

Next week: Week 2 training.  THAT is when I will need courage.  THAT is when I will need determination.  And that, frankly, is when I will need humility to continue on, realizing that even at different paces, maybe some good will still come to #3 because I am there behind her, cheering her on and training my hardest to "help her" get in shape for the fall.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Baby Steps

Our family loves the movie What About Bob? One of the best things about the story is that Bob becomes "cured" by Dr. Marvin's new book, Baby Steps, without ever even cracking the cover.  The title alone was sufficient for Bob.  So much for all of the research, writing, editing, etc, that went into the actual text.  It's hilarious.  And a little bit understandable.

Baby steps.  Sometimes small things, small pieces of progress, are the best we can do.  And I feel like I'm getting a crash course in coming to terms with the best I can do.  It's about patience, acceptance, and ultimately grace.  The things I am learning could be the topic of a whole other post.  Maybe several.  Maybe I'll get to it, and maybe I won't. 

For now, I am trying to ease myself back into the flow of life, out from this little eddy I've been drifting in for the past several months.  It has been shocking how physical this grieving has been for me.  The emotional I expected.  But to not be able to make myself do even the things I wanted desperately to be doing, that was a surprise.  I'm trying to overcome this.  And today, I had a little break-through.  I sewed.

It may sound silly.  But I love to sew.  I love to create.  I had little time while care-giving my mother to sew and create as much as I'd wanted to.  It was literally the month before my mom came to live with us that Larry had cleared out an art space for me, which meant that I had separate rooms for art and for sewing.  It was such a kind, thoughtful gift, and I never really made much use of it.  Well, I'm back to one room now, and that is just fine.

One of the first things I wanted to get back to doing after my mom passed was creating art and sewing.  I have a long list of projects to finish, to begin.  At night, it always sounds like a great thing to do in the morning.  Come morning, however, I can't bring myself to get in there and get started.  Last night I took advantage of an energy spurt and folded some sheets and towels that have been sitting since the funeral, and this morning I woke up, made lunches, and sewed. 

I now am the proud owner of a sunny new dish mat.  A dish mat I had intended to make last summer.  I can't begin to express how good it feels.  Tomorrow morning I may be back in bed, but at least today I created.  It's a baby step for which I am very grateful.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Hopeful, Happy, Helpful

I keep waiting for the perfect time to write this post. When I have enough time, enough energy to be able to convey what is in my heart. But the time has come when I can't afford conditions to be perfect.

I have a new love in my life. Her name is Yogalaxmi. She is a beautiful, talented, sweet girl. She also happens to be eastern Indian. She also happens to be orphaned. She also happens to suffer from the virus which took her parents from her. An AIDS orphan in a very impoverished region of India doesn't always get the help she needs. Luckily for Yogalaxmi, an amazing person named Sister Daisy has taken it upon herself to care for a group of these orphans, providing them with a home, with nourshement, and with love.

Luckily for ME, another amazing person, my cousin Melanie, came in contact with Sister Daisy and this group of kids. Many of us in Melanie's situation would feel heartbroken about it, would go home wishing there were something we could do, and maybe be a little more aware of our blessed lives. Melanie did all of those things. But she did something more. She decided to act. She, her family, and some friends in India created a non-profit charity called Gingham Project. And that is how I came to learn of Yogalaxmi, and was given the opportunity to support her personally.

The goals of Gingham Project, if I may be so bold, are these:

#1. to provide support for the orphans in Sister Daisy's care

#2. to help those and other children in the area of Tamil Nadu have the opportunity to get an education.

That second goal seems vast. I had not been previously aware that in many countries such as India, the government provides education to all kids, BUT in order to attend school a uniform is necessary. This policy effectively keeps the very poor from sending their children. So what do kids need? Uniforms. It's pretty simple, in reality. Uniforms and necessary school supplies are relatively cheap for our American budgets, about $20. For poor families in India, however, that may be months worth of their household income. In the aftermath of Cyclone Thane, which hit in early January, it's harder than ever for these families to provide uniforms.

Gingham Project is currently running a fund drive for uniforms. Their goal is to send 100 children to school this June ... the beginning of their school year. That's $2,000.00. They are about half-way there. Funds need to be raised by April 15. Is there some amount you can give? Is there some way to get your kids involved?

One personal plug for this organization ... Sometimes it can be scary to donate when you aren't sure what your money is really paying for. Melanie and her family and their associates in India don't recieve anything for their efforts. Heck, Mel's travel expenses come out of her pocket! And why travel expenses? Because everything that goes to these kids is hand delivered. No middle men. Melanie is planning a trip in May to deliver the uniforms and school supplies to the kids. In fact, it is a dear dream of mine to go with her. To see the area for myself, to meet the people we're serving. To wrap my arms around that darling Indian girl of mine.

Hopeful, happy, helpful. They are the words that Melanie uses to describe these kids. Poor beyond my comprehension, and yet radiant, inspirational. They have certainly inspired me from the other side of the world. Will they inspire you, too?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Be Mine, Valentine

My mom was the queen of construction paper cut-outs. In fact, it's a craft I inherited from her at a young age.

I remember these posters she made for the kitchen at our church when I was little. Basically a reminder to wash and put away all dishes, and another reminder not to leave food in the refrigerator. She'd made little rhymes for each, and cut-out "graphics" of plates and glasses on one and ketchup, mustard bottles and a pickle jar on the other. They hung in there for years, getting all faded the way that only construction paper fades. (In spite of those posters, there was a bottle of Tabasco sauce in that fridge for at least a year. Our Sunday School teacher would start every lesson off by passing that around our class and having us "take a whiff." He was a college kid.)

One of my mother's construction paper masterpieces was a box covered in red and decorated with intricately cut out white and pink hearts. It had "Be Mine, Valentine" written in beautiful script with a red maker. We had the same one every year. (Mom was nothing if not thrifty!) But it was kept well and gorgeous. Inside were a couple of Hershey bars, broken into their little lettered squares, each placed in brown candy papers. It was probably an inexpensive way to give my brother and I our Valentines, but I always thought of it as quite elegant, even as the critical teen-aged girl that I was.

The chocolates were not all. Every year Mom created new bright and colorful cards. They usually contained some poem she'd written on the theme, of course, of how perfect and wonderful we were. That's how she generally saw us. She loved my brother and I more than anything else in this world, and she made sure we knew that.

Cards creations continued for her grandchildren. They were usually included in a mailed box full of heart-shaped cookies. I found one set of those hand-made Valentines, from the year that #4 was a newborn. A poem for each child, in construction paper and marker. I put them into the kids' grandma memory boxes.

I wish I'd kept more of those cards over the years. Hopefully more will turn up over time.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Ready or Not ...

There is no way possible to prepare a toddler for the birth of their younger sibling. We all try. We buy books and videos (I suppose they are DVDs now) all about new babies and big brothers and sisters. We talk about the baby. We train the older child to point out where the baby is in mommy's tummy, to even kiss the tummy, and to talk about how excited they are for the new baby to come.

But let's face it. Toddlers have absolutely NO idea, really, what is coming. No matter how well they answer all the questions. No matter how often they kiss that belly. A baby comes, and it takes mommy's time, and toddler's old car seat and crib. It cries, and needs attention 24 hours a day. The big sister or brother's routine is turned on it's head ... just like the entire household. My #1 reacted by loving #2 to death, but acting out towards Larry and I. #2 tried very hard to pretend that #3 simply was not there. #3? Poor #3's life fell apart. She cried and was sad constantly. I thought we'd ruined her previously insanely cheerful disposition. (I've long since figured out that #3 will react strongly no matter which way her feelings lean. She'd just never before had reason to be so distraught.) #4, being the caboose, just chugged along, asserting his preferred position as the big black engine.

I find myself similarly blind-sided. I thought I'd had a handle on grief, that I understood what it would be like. With my husband's poor health for nearly our entire marriage, I've imagined more often than I care to admit what it would be like to lose him. I thank God that I haven't, and that he seems to be getting a handle on his immune system. Losing a parent can't be more traumatic than losing a spouse, right? And in the past two years, I of course had contemplated losing my mother. In some ways, I'd lost parts of having a mother when I became the caregiver. So when she passed, I had it all mapped out: get through the funeral, get through my grandmother's funeral, get through Christmas and the school holiday, and then I could mourn properly. I think I imagined needing a good week or two to earnestly fall apart, and then I could slowly rebuild back into normal life.

I didn't anticipate that holding in pain for several weeks would make me scared to finally let go. And I'm scared of mourning too much. It feels like it might drown me. I didn't anticipate that I'd feel such let down from all of my care giving duties. Or that, being a home-body sort of girl, I'd hate to be home. Or that when I'd then try to fill up my time with being out of the house, I'd become exhausted. That church would be one of the most difficult places to be. That trying to get back into a diet that I gave up on during the hospice phase would induce major emotional stress. I didn't think that I would just not be able to bring myself to start working on all of the projects I've not had time for over the past years.

When I do start to let go, to cry, to feel sad, there emerges the presence of this obstacle that I can't even name. It's something that I need to get over, get through ... I'm not sure. I can't decide what it is. It must be loss. But it feels like something more sinister than that. Something nebulous and concrete all at the same time. I have no idea how to defeat it. I had truly thought that when my mom died, the hard part was over. I'm starting to wonder if I was wrong about that.

In an effort to gain some control, I imagine that it would be helpful to go on a trip somewhere entirely unremarkable. All by myself. For several days, maybe even a week. I would cry and read and watch harmless movies and just lay there. I almost feel that if I could do that, then maybe I could be done and move on. But not only do I not have the opportunity for such an indulgence, I fear it would probably work out as well as my original grief schedule did. It's frustrating to be a rather self-aware person who finds herself unsure of how to proceed, of how to help myself through this. Nothing seems right. No course seems like the one I want to take.

To be honest, much of the time, I'm doing alright. In those moments, when I start to worry about all of this grief work, I wonder if I'm making a bigger deal out of it than I need or ought. I have always had a tendency to over-think things. But then a bad day will hit, and I'm pretty sure that I'm not just being dramatic.

I tried to enlist the aid of Elmo and Mr. Snuffleupagus in my kids' transitions from baby to big sister. They were entertaining, but ultimately ineffective. There's surely a plethora of resources out there to help in this transition of mine as well. I imagine they'll be more helpful than Sesame Street was with my two-year-olds. Eventually I may have to put on some big-girl pants and seek them out.

Monday, January 23, 2012

My New Best Friend

Did you ever read a book, and were just certain that if only the hero could meet YOU instead of the heroine, that filmmakers would have a much more interesting main character to work with than Bella Swan? Or watch TV, knowing that the only reason Jack Bauer wasn't knocking down YOUR door is because he was simply too darn busy saving America from terrorist-driven nuclear disaster to notice how hot you are?

Yeah, me neither. So the following is a totally new and different experience for me ...

I just finished reading "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?" by Mindy Kaling of The Office fame, and I am pretty sure that if she ever met me, or even just happened once to be one of the 9 folks who stumble across my blog on a daily basis, that we would be best friends. Instantly. In fact, I'm so sure of it, that if I were technologically savvy enough, I'd find a pic of her and one of her college roommates and totally photoshop my face onto the face of her roommate, just to prove my point. (I'd enlist the aid of my virtual friend Kristina, but she's too busy preparing her Sunbeam handouts for Sunday. And asking my 15 year old for help seems too um, what's the word?, loser-y.)

I know, I know, you think we come from totally separate worlds. You're correct. Mindy's in Hollywood, I'm in Boise. She's 5 years younger than me. I'm a stay-at-home Mormon mom of four, she's a single working woman, who doesn't sound like she's ever been religious. She loves to shop, I hate to shop. She's a comedy writer, and I'm more of an introspective, commentary-on-daily-life-experiences writer. Plus, she gets paid to write, and I'd probably have to shell out good money to get broader readership. (Which currently consists almost entirely of my dad. And Kristina.) And, as I probably should have mentioned first, Mindy grew up in Eastern Mass, I grew up in Western Mass. That's right. Night and Day.

So what am I thinking? Well, it's really pretty straightforward. Mindy is really funny. I am a comedy connoisseur. I love intellectual, subtle humor. So she'd tell jokes, and I'd laugh hysterically. That right there is a basis of a great relationship. She'd never feel threatened by my success, which I think is another big plus in my favor.

Reading Mindy's memoir felt like staying up all night at a sleep-over or at Girls' Camp and hearing all about her life. We really connected. I get all of her ironies and sarcastic asides. I identify with her thinly veiled insecurities. She has a brother, I have a brother. She had 2 girlfriends in college, I had 2 in high school ... one of whom is named Kelly (just like Mindy's character on The Office). She thinks married people should be pals ... my husband and I are totally pals. She loves romantic comedies, I love romantic comedies. And we both note the disturbing trend of female romantic leads with BMIs of 4 who eat like linebackers. Crazy, huh?! We're practically twins.

Of course, the problem is social circles. We don't run in the same ones. So meeting is going to be hard. My idea is this: Mindy seems to be the sort of girl who'd make a habit out of googling herself now and then. If she does it soon, this post might pop up. After reading it, then browsing around my blog, reading all of my deep and thoughtful posts, intermixed with touches of humor, she will leave me a comment with her cell number, we start texting, and the rest, as they say, is history. I'm so excited, I can hardly breathe.

I better get back on that diet. I want to look great when I'm her guest at the next Emmys.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Product Review, Eastwood-style

Ritter Sport
Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts

THE GOOD: Super tasty dark chocolate & hazelnuts ... plenty of antioxidants, flavonoids, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, plant sterols and a lower glycemic index. Perfectly acceptable treat for someone watching her health.

THE BAD: The 3.5 oz bar qualifies as "about" 3 servings. (I'm not sure I even want to know what that implies.)

THE UGLY: Unless I happen to have two other people who enjoy dark chocolate and nuts with me at the moment, I am going to eat 3 servings. And it won't even take me super long to do. That's about 1/3 of my allotted calories for the day in a 20 minute sitting with an incredibly low food volume. Not my smartest move of the day.