Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Wild Hare

About this time last year, I got a "wild hare" to do something a little nuts; donate a large Christmas Tree to the Festival of Trees - a charitable benefit for Primary Children's Hospital to help indigent families that cannot afford their child's health care.  Now, I say "wild hare," because the term seems especially fitting here; "It's an American expression meaning to do something at the spur of the moment without really thinking, spontaneity. It originated from "had a wild hare up my ". If you had a wild rabbit in your backside... you'd probably jump without thinking." Yep.

  From the outside, it seems pretty simple.  Get a tree, some ribbon, ornaments and some friends, and set it all up to donate. Sweet! But it is so very much more. Verging on the bonkers.  Kind of like a gateway creativity drug.  

  After attending the Festival of Trees, you get lulled into a sense of simplicity and fun and jump in, then somehow you find yourself knee deep in glue guns, latex paint and floral wire and wondering where it was that you went wrong.  It is a detail heavy, expense laden, frustrating adventure in competitive creativity that will take every ounce of your, and your family's, patience and ultimately leave your self-esteem crushed to powder on the convention center floor.

   It starts... with the tree. In my naivete, I thought about how I would go about this little adventure with four small kids in tow. So I formulated a plan; shop the after-Christmas sales, use someone's tree and do a kind of "decorate-as-you-go" approach that is slow, easy paced, and thrifty.  I got my tree right off the bat off of ksl.com.  It was too big for their apartment and they were happy for it to go to a happy home, especially if it meant freeing up space at the beginning of the year.  Come pick it up!  It was being stored in a large screen tv box. Since all of the branches were NOT attached to the center pole, it all fit in the box! Yes yes yes! I "high fived" myself. BAM!  Tree is DONE.  This is so easy. What a euphoric rush!

  Then I did what many addicts do, start "pushing" to the unsuspecting friends around them.  "Hey Lisa, Reagan and Mish - y'all are fun and creative!  Wanna help me with a little project? I'm thinking of doing a Scottish themed tree for the Festival of Trees.  I already have the tree so it won't be very expensive! This will be fun!"  Poor things never saw it coming, and soon, they were in.

   I hit the after Christmas sales.  I only had an idea vaguely in the back of my mind what I was looking for.  But hey!  For 90% off, you can splurge a little here and there.  Spend a quarter for a couple of boxes of candy canes, some ribbon... preferably in something that matches, some plaid of this, tree skirt for a buck there, and add some huge plastic bells.  Mish can do something with those. Easy easy. Little did I know then that we would only use 2% of those items. And zero plaid ribbon.

  The website for the Festival remains dormant until about June, the earliest you can register with your theme. We tossed around some ideas of what would be fun and settled on, "The 12 Scottish Days of Christmas."  Because that would have some fun variety, and logically follow a triangular, few-items-gradating-to-many-items pattern, and I hadn't seen anything like it at the festival.  It would stand out against all the elf and red/white candy cane tree white noise.  Perfect!  I registered us online, and wavered, for just a second, before I hit the "send" button. In a flash, we were in. Committed to the Festival of Trees 'til donated tree do we part.

I said to myself, "Just follow the pattern, make it Scottish, maybe get a few signs and a "Wee kirk o' the Heather" birdhouse, and hand out assignments. Easy" And my little brain said, "Use a bagpipe as a star on the very top!" and my internal creativity meter said, "Oh yeah! We're strong enough to handle that, with some tiger blood and Adonis DNA, this will be a SNAP!"  That was the highest point of self confidence. Then we got the packet.  And that feeling that you get at the most tippy top of the roller coaster where instinct tells you to suck in a lot of air and grip the bar in front of you hit: The Official Rules and Regulations. And things started to unravel. The feeling that you desperately want to get out, but you feel trapped was settling in.  Just when you think you can get out... they pull you back in!

  Your tree must be new. *eyes bulge*  All of the branches must have been attached to the center pole at the factory. It must have pvc pipe the length of the interior pole.  The outside part of the trunk must be reinforced with rebar, and clamped down with vent hose ties. *sweat springing to forehead*  Each section of your tree must be bolted together at the joints.  And if it breaks, you agree to come and fix it.  At your expense.  Oh... and little note there towards the bottom, the tree stand, must be an official Festival of Trees $30 metal wonder that we will need to pick up at the Decorators workshop.  Where you will be given further instructions...  "Further... instructions?  There's more?"  *acne breakout*
  I nervously started calling and texting everyone, "Uh, hey, um.  We should probably start figuring out what ornaments we're each going to do, so... ah, anybody got any ideas?  I'm starting to get pressure from da guys up there, and its all signed up, ya know? We need to have a good product..."  I was becoming fidgety, and irritated.  Scottish things, Scottish things.  Like, like the bagpipe and plaid... and ah, well, the flag, which is blue and white... not very Christmassy... and kilts maybe? So I researched the daylights out of Scotland... trying to match up the 12 Days song against items that might be considered a Scottish counterpart, and that would ultimately end up with a bagpipe in a Christmas tree.  

   Then I let everyone pick which ornaments they wanted to do, because if everyone took 3 off the list, no one would get overwhelmed.  Because, as I was discovering, there ARE no Scottish ornaments in Utah. Especially not in the summer/fall. And when you add up The 12 Days of Christmas... you find yourself in need of a total of 78 custom made ornaments. "Pick which 3 you feel like your have the creativity and inspiration to do," I cheerily texted with sweaty palms.  I'll just take what's left over at the end.  I can do this.  I'm in control. No sweat.

Which turned out to be 11 bagpipers piping, 9 kimmers (ladies) jigging, and... the one bagpipe. "No one... no one else wants to go find a bagpipe? Its the easiest one, cuz you just have to find one, just one..." Surely someone has one in a closet somewhere that they aren't using, because if I had to buy one, it'd be over $5oo.  I'll just use Facebook, and ask around. *crickets chirping.* Apparently there are NOT a lot of bagpipers out there with an extra set of pipes they want to donate. Weird. 

In the crafting world, everyone knows that there are limits to what you can take on, and 3/4 of our decorators had 4 kids. EACH. And now I found myself scrambling to find a tree topper bag pipe. In a Festival of Trees approved, rebarred and clamped, metal stand, with a surge protector 8 foot outlet cord, and skirted, branches-attached-to-the-core tree. Each ornament would have to be wired to the tree with any wood and/or paper being sprayed with flame retardant.  Oh, I'll just go pull out my stash of flame retardant!  Retardant indeed. "Full Scale Panic" doesn't quite describe how this easy little project started to make my heart thump and anxiety to settle in. "I'm in over my head!  How did this happen?! Why didn't someone have the good sense to warn me about this!?" I needed a crafters rehab facility to detox and get my head straight.

  What saved me in the end was not an escape, but rather an intervention by my friends and family.  And a glue gun and my sewing machine.  And an angel of mercy bagpiper named Brian who ordered a "set o' pipes" from Pakistan that were supposed to have ebony pipes, but which turned out to be painted wood, so he donated them. And Spot Technology Inc. that was willing to front the cost of the tree after Craig Johnson pled my cause.  As I clawed my way back from the brink of crafters oblivion, everyone stepped up to my wild hare cause and donated time, talents, ornaments, vinyl, the tree, a quilt, signs, frames, pearls, an original signed comic strip, and yards and yards of plain red ribbon to counterbalance all of that plaid.

  Its all set up now. We are the little 8' tree in slot O-02, next to the Brighton Ski Resort panoramic double-occupancy space with the ginormous custom built dog house, tree full of Snoopy dogs with Woodstock topper, against a faux mountain backdrop and miniature ski lift with airbrushed waist-high cutouts of all of the Peanuts characters. Yep, that's us.  And its the only one with a bagpipe. 

And: 12 Drummers Drummin, 11 bagpipers pipin', 10 Lords a Golfin', 9 Kimmers Jiggin', 8 Argyle Stockings, 7 Loch Ness Monsters, 6 Scots Grey's layin', 5 Scottie Dogs, 4 Shortbread Rounds, 3 Plaid kilts, and 2 Wooly sheep on a Spot Techonology's donated Christmas tree. 

The Festival of Trees will be in need of someone to fill that space next year.  I've learned my lesson.  This hare is now tamed, subdued, and properly humbled by the sheer goodwill of friends, family, and community that do this successfully year after year.  I think its a worthy cause, and the lessons I take away from this are valuable and unexpected.  Nollaig cridheil huibh everybody.  That's a Gaelic "Merry Christmas."   Peace out!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Musical Chores

Parenting, for me, has been an evolution of "figuring it out."  It took me a while to understand that a mom without a game plan is just about as useful as a poopy flavored lollipop.  Recently, I have become more philosophical about the whole process of raising a family of 6, and making some informal inquiries about the way different people cope with raising their children.  I have learned a few things about expectations and technique.  

First: You can not just "get along go along," with four small kids.  Or at least MY four kids.  Though running and crying in the bathroom often seems like a good option, the problems that sent you there will still be waiting for you when you emerge from that sanctuary.
Second: You need a game plan.  And a flexible one at that.
Third: Good habits are hard to make, but easy to live with.

As a stay-at-home-mom, or SAHM, I am offended by the general malaise out there that says that all we do is lounge around in pajamas and frizzy hair.  Not so.  This is the nitty gritty of living and raising humans. You have to be on top of your game. All day. Every day.  In essence, to keep it altogether, you must become like the plate spinner who must keep an eye on a lot of things simultaneously to keep it working smoothly, lest it all come crashing down on you. Not for the faint of heart.

So I am trying something new. I am trying to transition my children from simply resource consumers to participating citizens in our household.  With good habits.  And I'm using music.  I happened upon this technique after observing a number of parenting style options and an ad from http://choresgetdone.com/.  I have been evolving through these parenting styles:

1) Mom Does It All: This model is one that looks at children as mere consumers of mommy and daddy's time, patience, and other resources.  Kinda like Veruca Salt of Charlie's Chocolate Factory fame.  Since birth, the only expectation is that they will come when called, and maybe eat the broccoli off their plate.  They are pampered and frequently peppered with suggestions about what they want, and begged - more than asked - to do things to help themselves out. This works with a small child or two. This does NOT work with crowd control.

"Would you like some milk? 2%, 1%? Skim?  Want some chocolate milk?  How 'bout I get you some chocolate milk, hmm?"

These kiddos are not expected to help out, and wake up with everything having been done for them.  If left unchecked, they tend to operate independent of any understanding that their upkeep requires a lot of work. And when they enter the big wide world on their own, they have nary a clue how to take care of themselves because Mummy did it all. A bad egg indeed.

2) Mom Supervises It All:  This model is a hybrid of the Consumer/Citizen.  And this is where we have been living most recently.  Some kids are old enough for chores, and some are not.  The children outnumber me 4:1.  They have chores that they are expected to complete, but if no one is going to check up on it, then the children scheme for how to have an "out." The modified rules are,  "You have to do what mom asks you to if you are directly under her gaze, but if a request is sent from a distance, like, "GO BRUSH YOUR TEETH!" you can weigh the probabilities that you will ACTUALLY get checked on to have to complete the task."  Multiple requests from mom for the same task become a "cat and mouse," game to see who will last, who will get it done, and who will get caught.  And the more children there are in a family, the safer it becomes to just wait for the request to blow over.

After all, dinner will still be on the table, and if you feel like bowing out of clean-up time, just dawdle, and maybe stay in the bathroom for a while until someone notices that you are gone.  There is the occasional time when mom's frustration mounts to the point that the children see their mother's face become detached from her skull, and at that point most kids will just get out of the way.  But even that will, more often than not, only get you sent to your room - NOT on the road to completing the task.

Though not ideal, this is a workable plan for moms, but something usually gets lost along the way: Mom's personality.

Much like "Bootstrap" Bill Turner who became enslaved on The Flying Dutchman, "I am the ship, part of the ship, part of the crew," running a household can suck you in and remove any traces of your former identity. There is more work to do, than time to do it in.  And it is relentless, unchartable, and unstable. Sickness, forgotten homework, emergencies, and kids bouncing on the bed can throw a typical day onto an ad hoc schedule.

When you have many young children, there are also a lot of needs, but very few helpers.  The tedium really starts to drag you down, and there is no quick fix.  The work you just completed is undone moments after you thought you were finished. Cheerios, in the hands of a toddler, can become everything from glue to a hail storm of pellets and powder.  You mournfully think back to the days when you would read a book, take a karate class, or do ANYTHING creative and fun.

After all, that's what you were when you got married!  Fun, vivacious, full of ideas and energy.  Now, you feel like a warden-banshee roaming through the house, and you hardly recognize yourself anymore. You think back to the time when you would say to your friends, "Hey! Lets get some popcorn and go see a movie!" With so many things to stay on top of, that gives way to a lethargic, "Get your shoes out of the living room... please.  Now. NOW! *wait* Right NOW! I've already told you THREE TIMES! Just move them for heaven's sake!"

I don't want to stay in this mode.  So I am trying to transition to a new mode.  The, "You are a citizen of this household," mode.  And we will all be doing things to contribute to keeping it running.  "Many hands make light work."

3) Family Citizenship: In this model, you are able to train with positive reinforcement, and self-guidance.  And it involves a playlist, a routine, and a reward.  The children help you select songs that are associated with a specific task.  When that upbeat music plays, each family member completes that task.  If you finish all of the tasks before the music ran out, you get a point that will cumulatively count towards a reward.

We started on Sunday, and I gotta say, I am ELATED with the results.  The kids are racing against the clock.  And since each task is completed each morning, there isn't a huge mess build up.  Laundry is dealt with in a timely fashion, and after the kids skip merrily off to school, everyone is dressed down to the shoes, and I can walk down the hall and peer into one tidy room after another.  I start feeling like myself again.  Contemplating what would be fun for the day, not just how to deal with the overwhelming mess.  Things will evolve when the kids get older.  But for now, this is working for me:

So, for your pleasure here is our first playlist and the tasks we ALL complete before the songs are finished:

"You are my Sunshine" - Get up and meet in the living room
"The Queen of Mars" - Kids take meds
"Good Mornin'! " - Make your bed
"Birdhouse in Your Soul" - Pick up your room
"Vogue" - Get dressed
"A-G-L-E-T" - Get your shoes on
"Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" - put any stray laundry away
"Scripture Power" - Meet in the kitchen for scripture study/ get your scriptures out.
eat breakfast while dressed and do WHATEVER YOU WANT until its time to go. Parents shower and get dressed in a tidy room with kids all ready to go.
"Ray of Light" - Brush your teeth
"So Long/Farewell" - get your backpack/coat/jacket on, and get out to the car.

We still need to get a "vacuum your room" song, but what has gotten us this far has me just over the moon with delight.  No shouting.  No having to say "HURRY!" a bazillion times in the morning. No being left with a trashed house and a depressed momma.  *pats heart* Everyone just gets ready, and does it themselves to be-boppin music.  Am I willing to give my kids a play date every once in a while to maintain this?  OH YES.  Hopefully it will sink in for each child, that the small and frequent things that they do in a day help to contribute to happy home, a happy living space, and a happy mama. Wish me luck.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The "Real" Christmas Letter

Every year about this time of year, I begin to compose, in my mind, a Crane Family Christmas Letter. A general, "Hey this is what's going on in our lives" kinda catch up for those that don't live near, don't visit, and assume that we are living life from vacation to vacation, party to party, and grace to grace.  So in my mind I try and bridge the gap between that imagined reality and my reality.  But the truth just keeps getting in the way.

I wish I could write the "real" Christmas letter where the peek into our lives leaves you with a sense of my day to day and what REALLY goes on behind these closed doors.  Not a horror show, but the real scratch your butt, half pajama wearin', we are-SO-not-perfect - kind of letter.  Why?  I dunno.  Hopefully so we can climb down off of your pedestals and have you say, "HEY LOOK!  They're just like us!"

During the 13 years we've been married there have been rough years, and it never fails that when you are at your lowest ebb that the Christmas cards come in.  They come from those whom you only marginally like, and don't care to vacation with. You can spot the soul crushing Christmas Cards among the bills, notices and fliers because they are so much bigger than the rest.  You kinda use it as a mail platter to carry in the rest of the mail into your hum drum life.

Somewhat out of curiosity, and the realization that you don't have anything else to do, you grab it.  The glittering silver envelopes with embossed paper, embellished stamps and hand written calligraphy making your residence seem akin in importance to The White House.  I get these and I run a dialogue in my mind that can only be considered sarcastic.

"Dear Katrina and Family!"   (why does the wife of my ex-boyfriend insist on keeping me on their card list? I don't think he told her about that one date where a lot of spit was exchanged....).  Well, hooray for you Kristin.  You figured out how to make every form letter look personalized.  Just like the credit card companies and Publisher's Clearinghouse. And the "signature" at the bottom is in the exact same ink as the letter. You're not fooling me!

"Happy Holidays to our friends living near and far..." Oh gosh - please no. Here we go.
"We hope your year was a blessed and delightful one."  OH Shut up.  It has been the year from hell.
"As we ponder the significance of the season, we decided to spend our Holy Day holiday in the Holy Land! It is going to be a Magical Christmas in Bethlehem. We'll be staying in the Inn, and our nanny is so delighted to try out the stables."   Awesome.  Annnnnd I..... hope y'all don't get shot or kidnapped or both.

"After a whirlwind tour of Jerusalem, Mr. Johnson and I will be surprising our 7 children as we usher in a bright 2012 as special guests of the Monte Martre Sailors club to watch the ball drop for the New Year atop the Eiffel Tower!  Oui! PARIE!"

You spelled that wrong idiot. Its Paris.  Even when you're saying it pear-ie.  Why on earth are you allowed to travel to places that you can't even spell correctly?  Too busy having 7 kids and sailing, clearly. Life is SO not fair.

"But right now we are all a flutter! Our 5 girls will be dancing in 'The Nutcracker Ballet with the Chekoslovakian Orchestra and Ballet Troop, with Yale as first alternate for the role of Clara."

Yale.  Seriously? And there's a "z" in Chezech.. Chezk...  There's a "z" in there somewhere!  Idiot. And its a "troupe" not a "troop" like a bunch of scouts.  Still can't spell.  Where is your spell-check woman? Five girls in ballet.  That's a lot of tutus.  And hairspray.  Better keep all of them away from an open flame or they'll all spontaneously combust. *evil giggle*  I don't even know if Czechoslovakia has a decent orchestra.

Reading line for line stops, and then you  start to scan, "boys, in band... electric guitar... blah blah, debate, chess club, Honor Society... perfect perfect, kids memorizing "The Family, A Proclamation to the World," awesome, and she is keeping up with everything by running. A full marathon. Every month. Freaking Awesome. I only run when chased. OH!  Designing a new house with 4 car garage for the new boat.  Of course.  Skip to the end.

I used to lay on the floor after getting these letters and just drift into a full-on depression until some child stepped on me, "MAM! Where's the JUICE?!"
"Your sister drank it all.  We're OUT of juice."
"Why are you on the floor?"
"Mommy's just looking for... something."

Then one day, I lamented this very sentiment to my friend, Melanie Steele, who gave me the perfect solution: Burn 'em!  She said to me, "Just take all of those cards and burn 'em in the trash. It's very soothing and cathartic to watch those glitters go up in smoke!  Just don't do it around the smoke detectors... You'll be letting in subzero air to try and get those smoke detectors to turn off again."

*sob!* Oh soul sister!  You understand!  You understand that when you think of all the wonderful and truthful things you could say about the family this year, you realize that it is not exactly flattering Christmas Card material!  "We went up to Yellowstone and saw a big brown bear sleeping on top of an Elk carcass!"

I mean, how can you put a good spin on the fact that your 3yr old eats boogers and laughs his butt off when you scold him not to do it because it is SO GROSS!?  He may, in fact, be doing it TO gross me out!  Or that one of the kids cut their own hair up to here, and the other had a picture perfect bedroom suite until they flung pulled pork on the fake peau de soie curtains and melted laffy taffy on the light bulb of their reading lamp just to make the neighbor kids laugh?  And even the good news has a rotten side, like the fact that even though you set up a tent for the first time in a decade, you waited too long to take it down and now have a perfect square of dead grass in the back yard! You can't really spin that! 

But everyone else seems to be doing it.  And effortlessly.  If someone asks me one more time if I'd like to contribute my creative genius for projects, and have a super good camera to blog about my amazing kids birthday parties that I was supposed to have planned with antiques, a Cricut machine, a riding saddle and .... TAPE, I think I'm just gonna LOSE IT!  Melting into a puddle of my own mediocre shame, I have had to devise a plan to get me through this year. There is only only one way out.  TO LIE.

"We are having a banner year!"  Maybe we could do a Christmas card theme with banners. Abigail won first place.... for .... ARBOR day for her short story about a TREE.  Benjamin can spell 90, no 900 words PERFECTLY, and Sam and Za play... EDUCATIONAL games together.  Because Dora the Explorer enhances a child's learning of the world around them and... Spanish and ... SWIPER NO SWIPING!!! Ethics!  And then what do I say about me?

Oh man. Truthfully I am at a stage in my life where my car and appliances are just about the most dear and important things in my life - like next to air.  I can not have a vacuum break, or a fridge, or a dishwasher, and heaven forbid it, my washing machine and dryer go out on me.  It would only take 3 days to go from "tidy-ish" to "Hoarders - Buried Alive!" candidate. 

What did I do this year? Well, I've worked my appliances like galley slaves. They run a couple of times a day, every day. Its not like those young married days, or I assume Old Farty days, where you can just go without one if it breaks until you save and/or research to get exactly what you want.

A clink under the bumper makes me break out into a cold sweat, and finding a hammer in the dryer is actually a relief because at least I know how to fix that.  It is a 180 degree difference from what it was like when we first got married.  I didn't need a vacuum.  I think it was actually years before I actually bought a vacuum.  We just borrowed our neighbors vacuum once a week to get the dust bunnies that collected around our apartment since we were both gone all the time.

Now.  Now we vacuum daily, and if someone is coming over, we start to vacuum HOURLY. Instead of sucking up dust bunnies, this powerhouse has to take down legos, cereal, dry wall, play dough, ribbons, yarn, shredded paper, pencil shards, screws shaken from various chairs and chunks of food that the baby could not be coaxed into eating and the children could not be imposed upon to pick up. With a severely skewed ratio of messers to tidiers, it is a marathon of picking up, loading up, cleaning up, and putting up with a lot of crying. When I go to the bank and they offer suckers, I say, "Yes, just please make them all the same color!"

*siiiiiiiiiiigh* And after all the angels are in bed, and my brain tells me that, "ITS NOW OR NEVER!  JUST WRITE IT! WRITE THAT CHRISTMAS LETTER!!!" Suddenly lying about it all seems like such an effort. And I wonder, can I do the OTHER option, and just not send any at all... is it possible to GET cards without sending them?  My brain hurts thinking about it, and now that I need to get that next load of laundry out, I think I will just have to pull a Scarlett O'Hara, "I can't think about that nawh. I'll think about it tomorrah..." But in the meantime, please don't kick me off your Christmas card list just yet.  We're running low on tinder...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Now We See Through the Bead Darkly

This past weekend I went back to Trefoil ranch, a camping area run by the Girl Scouts, for an adult training in preparation for their Camporee next summer.  I don't want to miss it, and I don't want Abigail to miss it since they will be celebrating 100 years of Girl Scouts.  Lots of cookie sales over the last 30 years have improved the Trefoil camp property considerably.  When I went there as a young girl, the main hall was a log cabin, one main room, dark, and poorly lit dealie-O.  Now it is more akin to a Swiss Chalet.  But it was here that I learned one of the most poignant lessons of my youth: sometimes the bad things that happen to you in life can turn out to be pretty valuable.

When I first arrived at Trefoil, I was about 8 years old.  I went with my Girl Scout troop to my first sleepover camp.  In order to break up girls from the various troops and help them to get to know other girls, they had a system the first day you arrived of shuffling you into the log cabin to register you and handing you an identifying bracelet. 
  Since we all arrived at nearly the same time, we all had a long time to hear the opening spiel, and kinda go through a bottleneck process of checking in, and getting a bracelet, while also learning a knot-tying skill.  It was a long line. 
      We got to get a good look at the beads that went on the bracelets.  Though not spoken, every girl knew that the success or failure of her entire camp rested in those little trays.  You had time to casually look up and down the line of registering scouts and secretly hoped that the girl sucking her thumb with one hand and clutching a ratty stuffed dog while desperately clinging with the other hand, white knuckled, to her mom with the other, did NOT end up in your group.  Those kids were no fun and often slowed everything down. I never could understand kids that had to be persuaded to have fun. "Won't you come play?  Tell us your name?" Gah!  Go home wimp!
   Anyway, I broke my gaze from checking out the line to check out the bead trays.  They looked like so many gems sparkling.   There were ones that looked like diamonds, pink ones, light blues ones and ... what I hoped to get, a yellow bead. Because yellow is my favorite color, and if you can score your favorite color, well then the world can go on! But I'd settle for a diamond one and still be happy.  Diamonds are the most valuable.
   Somewhere in there was a tray of black beads.  Every girl in that line knew that you did NOT want to get saddled with the black bead.  It was Uh-uh-uuuuuugLY!  Yet as I started to count the girls in line, and pair it up with the bead rotation, I could see that I was headed straight for that black bead. Oh no. OH NONONONONOooooo!!! My survival skillz started kicking in.
     Unfortunately for me, so did the girl's behind me, as I casually asked, "Hey, you wanna go ahead of me?"  "Uh NOOooooOO!" It was that snotty, sarcastic "no" that says, "Na ah girl, I ain't takin' no black bead for you..."  Then we hit the first station. 
"Hi, I'm Katydid! Who are you?" (checks me of on the roster)  "Welcome!  You need to think of a camp name and get your camp bracelet.  Here is your gold bracelet string, don't lose it.  Next you'll get your bead from Raven, learn to tie a square knot from Kanga, and then be sorted into your groups!"
    I held my string and walked like I was on Death Row to the bead table where Raven was waiting for me with the black bead already in her hand.  It took all my nerve, but I asked, "Can I have a yellow one?"  Her look was IMMEDIATE exasperation.  "Why is everyone trying to get out of this one?  I like it the best!"  I gave her a look that must have said, "Well then YOU wear it!" because she plopped it in my hand in a way that said, "Here you go and don't argue about it."  I took my black bead, with such dread, over to the knot tying station where other girls were showing off their sparkly beads.  "I got a diamond one!" WHOOPIE for you.  But I couldn't argue that scoring the clear diamond bead was awesome, and therefore she must be awesome.  Her friend crowed, "I got a yellow one!  I LOVE yellow!" I decided then and there that I hated that girl.
    Still waiting to learn to tie my knot, I tried to discern if there was anyone waiting with me who was unhappy with their bead choice, and found one scout complaining about the light blue bead she got - which, though NOT yellow, would at least be an upgrade from black. "I wanted PINK!" she boobed.   I saddled up to her and said in a very cheerful and HELPFUL way,  "Hey!  I'll trade you!"  She perked up, until she saw what I had.  "Uh, no, that's okay...." I decided that I would hate her too.  Meanie. 
  Minutes later, I had a black bead tied securely on my wrist.  Kids don't really swear to themselves in their head, they just feel rotten.  And I did.  We were supposed to go outside and stand by our camping gear.  I knew that camp was a failure.  I was going to have a rotten time, get the rotten kids in my group, and have to wear a rotten rotten ugly bead.
    Then things suddenly changed.  I don't exactly remember where I saw it, but I know that it stopped me in my tracks.  In the sunlight, and out of that musty old registration cabin, I discovered that I didn't have a black bead after all.  It was dark PURPLE.  And the purple lacquer bead next to the gold elastic band was stunning.  It was gorgeous, and definitely enviable, because suddenly the other girls were noticing it too.
      The beads that had looked sparkly in the dark looked a lot more like cheap plastic in the light.  Little Miss Light Blue Bead came up to me, "Hey... still wanna trade?" "Uh, that's okay...." I said, trying not to let her know that I had decided to hate her, and it served her right for not trading with me in the first place.  As she jealously looked on, I let my dark purple bead twinkle in the sunlight so you could see all of the light and dark colors.  And my dread absolutely evaporated.  What was once dreaded was now coveted.  I HAD THE COOLEST BRACELET CAMP TREFOIL COULD OFFER! And it was mineminemine!!! Camp was wonderful again. 
     Flash forward about 30 years.  Now I have four kids.  Even as we speak, they are driving me up THE WALL.  In the 5 minutes that they were up, and I was mustering the will to face another day of laundry, dishes, dinner and poopy diapers, my quilt project was flung around the house, a whole container of chocolate chips was dumped on the floor, and I can smell the diaper that needs to be changed.  It will wait for me.  For me, these are stressful, dark days.  It is hard.  It is tedious.  There are more messers than cleaners.  Hubby is waist deep in his career, and at the end of the day, after dinner, prayers, pajamas and stories, we are pretty well spent. It is the bottle neck of a young family. It doesn't seem like it will ever end. And the creativity of our children that is expressed on walls, chopped up clothes, pulled pork on the ceiling, and animals made out of straws has made other parents grateful that they got the children they have. And sometimes I envy them.  "Look!  They don't sass; they just do what their mom says!  I'd heard of these rare children, but I'd never seen one.  And they have FIVE!"
  Girl Scouts has taught me though, that if you wait a bit, and take things out into the sun, that those things that seemed dark will have a deep luster that will make them the envy of all. Paul told us as much when he wrote to the Corinthians (Ch 13):
 12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
 13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

I didn't know then, how much I would need that lesson in my life.  I don't hate people so easily, and when I am handed dark beads in my life, I try to imagine what they will look like in the light, and what I will be at that point, as a person.  So, it is on to another day of faith, hope and charity.  Faith that it will be worth it, hope that things will work out, and charity for my family... whom I love.  Even though they drive me up the wall.  And no, I don't want to trade with you.  It may not seem like it right now, but I got the best there is, and they're minemine mine! :D

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"Don't Share" Salsa

<---  If you have these, and can chop, you can make this amazing canned salsa.  I call it "Don't Share" Salsa because it is SO GOOD, you don't want to share it.  Even if you had a bathtub-full, you would not invite anyone over for a party.  You would just stock up on chips, lock yourself in there,  and tell your hubby you had feminine problems for a month.  It is SO nummy!  Its fresh, it tastes good on chips, and you kinda want to lick the bowl when you see that there is some in the bottom that won't fit on a chip.

The first time I made it, I did it to support my sister who wanted to have a cooking day together. I wasn't fast enough to come up with an alternative to canning salsa.  I was thinkin, "Why are we doing this?  Yes I'm Mormon, Yes my mother and.... probably a ton of pioneer relatives canned... stuff, but that is why the good lord invented Pace picante sauce in three different sized jars."  I chopped onions and I chopped peppers while my sister Lisa busied herself, and I thought, "You crazy woman.  Why. On. Earth."  And then I had some. MMMMMMMMMMMMMMM! Oh my word.  OH MY WORD!  SO GOOD! So amazingly good!!

Good grief, I gotta go eat some right now while I write about it.  BRB.   !#@!&%$##!  Its 10 pm and WE ARE OUT OF CHIPS!  GOSH DARN IT!  I told Matthew that we could open a jar of salsa if would go out and get some chips.  Yah.  The garage door is going up.  And now I'm like a nervous smoker 3 days after they tried to quit.  "C'moooooon.  C'mon!  HURRY IT UP!"

Anyway.  Here is what you need to start:  One batch of this recipe will make 8 pint jars.  NOT. WORTH  IT. Double batch is worth it.  Triple batch will get you through til Christmas.  Unless you eat it all before then.  By YOURSELF.  But, hey lil' red hen.  You put in the work, you get the rewards.  *checks watch* Its been 1 minute and 22 seconds, WHERE IS HE!?

Unless you have your own (and first time out I didn't) canning jars, go out and get some canning jars. And a funnel that will fit into the top of the lids.  If you don't have some of this stuff, borrow.  I don't have my own jars or funnel.  I just keep borrowing Lisa's and waiting for someone to get me one for Christmas.  YES. This will feel TOTALLY WEIRD, especially as the checkout kid looks at the jars and looks at you as though he was expecting his GRAMMA.  "Just ring it up Skippy!" Just, just ignore him.

One Batch = 8 pint jars.  Multiply for however much you need.  Which is never enough, but I'm gonna make you do the math in your head anyway - so here we go!

Shopping List:

7 lbs of Roma tomatoes.  WARNING: IF you get those beef steak tomatoes and try to use them cuz they were on sale, or someone gave 'em to you, you will be SO SORRY.  You will not have salsa, you will have flavored WATER. Romas are meatier.  THAT'S what you want.

1 lb Onion - White, yellow, doesn't matter.  Unless you feel it will matter to you, then use whatever you like.

2 lbs Anaheim Peppers.  You may very well clear out their entire pepper selection.  Feel free to ask Skippy Jr if there is more in the back.

1/2 C Vinegar - apple cider, or white.  All tastes good.

1/2 C Lime Juice - for freshness!

2 TBS NON IODIZED SALT.  Yes, this is in CAPS so that you'll get the feeling that I'm yelling it at you.  I don't know WHY it has to be NON IODIZED, but Lisa says that all salsa recipes insist on it.  So.  I'm not gonna ruin all this over the wrong salt.

1 TBS Cumin - some people are haters, but it works MAGIC in this recipe.

2 tsp (smaller than a TBS!) Garlic powder.

A stock pot. Borrow one if you have to. A clean rag.  A soup ladle (for ladling salsa into the jars), a slotted spoon big enough to pick up a roma tomato out of hot boiling water, a good sharp knife or food processor that reliably CHOPS (not liquefies), plastic gloves, or something that you can chop peppers in, and an apron in case you are super messy. Or just want to feel like its part of canning. Or just looks cute on you.

STEP ONE: Dealing with tomatoes.
Now let me just say here, that if you get past this step, the rest is cake.  Dealing the tomatoes is the biggest pain in the a@@.  If you can get through this, you will be SET.  Its not hard, it just takes time.
We're gonna take the skins off those tomatoes. *nods* All of them.

If you are doing a triple batch, then just do this step alone the day before you want to actually put things in jars so you are not uber tired and/or depressed.  If you find that you are talking to yourself, you have done too many tomatoes.  Two batches can be a marathon, but doable in the same day you want to can them if you have a friend there to talk with you. And for just one batch  - what the heck!  I told you one batch wasn't worth it!

Start a big pot to boiling.  Get another big bowl and make ice water to put the tomatoes in after you've boiled off some skin.  

Take each tomato, and put an "x" on the bottom.  Also known as "scoring," the whole point of this is to make it easier for you to take the skin off.  Don't hack into the thing, and don't do a tiny dainty "x." Cut through the skin in a longish "x" so that when the hot water makes the skin start to peel back, you can grab it with your paring knife and peel off a whole bunch of the skin without having to hack into the tomato. When you feel like you can't stand to make one more longish "x" the water should be boiling.  Take about 12 tomatoes and drop them in the boiling water. Marvel at your canning prowess, and set a timer for about 2 minutes.  Go make some more longish "x"s on the non-boiled tomatoes.

MULTI-TASKING ALERT: There are three stations here.
  1. The tomatoes on the counter.  
  2. The tomatoes in the boiling water, and then 
  3. the tomatoes in the ice bath.  
  4. Oh.  And then the scored/skinned/rough chopped tomatoes in the stock pot.

  • After the tomatoes skin starts to peel back on that first dozen, take them out of the hot water with your slotted spoon, and dump them in the ice water bath. 
  • Put in another 12 X'd tomatoes to boil, and then grab your paring knife.  
  • Make a few more longish x's on your other tomatoes until the boiled tomatoes cool for a sec or two.  
  • Go back to the water bath and pick up a slightly cooked, (with an x on the bottom,) tomato that should have the skin starting to peel away like old paint.  Start taking off the skins.  I drop the skins in the sink, and chop 'em in my hand, and repeat.  Once all of the skin is off, core the sucker, and either put it on a chopping board to "rough cut it (or cut in 1/2 twice), or just hold it in your hand and cut it in half, and then cut it in half again. Do not cut your hand.  Drop it in your stock pot.  
  • Process all of your tomatoes until they are all safely scored/skinned and rough chopped in the stock pot. Sit for a few minutes.  Feel good about what you've done!

STEP TWO: Dealing with Onions and PEPPERS

Chop/dice the onions first.  Easy. Toss them on the tomatoes in the stock pot.  If you have done a triple batch or more, and don't think that all of your ingredients will fit, then just be smart and put 1/2 the onions in with 1/2 the tomatoes etc. Most stock pots will hold a double batch of this recipe of salsa.

Peppers.  Put on some gloves, or something to protect your hands.  Not all feel that this is necessary.

A guy I know, for example, decided to chop some hot peppers, and scoffed at the idea of doing it in anything but bare hands. "Commando." I can't remember if he itched AND had to go to the bathroom, or just had to go to the bathroom, but the sound that emanated from behind that bathroom door after a few seconds had dogs barking hysterically around the block for miles.  And if you just have an itch, have someone itch for you, or take your gloves off.

Cut off the heads of each pepper. About an inch down.  Huck the end in the garbage.  With remaining long pepper, cut it in half.  FISH OUT THE SEEDS. Yes, I'm yelling at you, because I didn't remove them once. SEEDS ARE HOT!!! Take the peppers and just dice 'em up.  Toss 'em in the pot.

Turn on the stove to a simmer.  You can start at a 7/9 heat.  You're just boiling it all down.  The more you boil, the more concentrated it becomes.  Add all of the other ingredients: Salt, cumin, lime juice, vinegar, and garlic powder.  Stir.  Stir.  Stir, and admire.  Stir.

Start cookin' an stirring.  The heat blends all of this numminess, and breaks down the tomatoes from big hunks to small hunks, but you can't let it just boil - that will burn the bottom of your pot.  Stir, and keep an eye on it. After awhile, you will see the color deepen, and there will be smaller and smaller chunks of tomato.  I LOVE the big bits of tomato.  LOVE LOVE LOVE.  Lisa's kids, not so much. So, cook it down, simmering with the lid OFF, until it looks about like this.


Open up that box of cans.  Nervously take the plastic wrap off.  Start taking off the lids and rings.  SAVE THEM!  You want to soften the rubber on the lids, so put just them in warm simmering water.  BE EVER SO CAREFUL.  The lids like to mate. And suddenly, you have 2 jars left and no lids.  Yep.  Somewhere in there you put on a couple of double lids.  They are sneakier than teenagers!

Line up 3 glass jars.  Ladle each one full to the top of the big rim, but not to the top of the neck.  Don't stick it in the neck, you need a little space for it to seal.  Wipe off the top of each jar with a WET rag.  Fish a lid out (check to make sure its a single), and put it on. Screw down with the ring.

SEALING: You can do this one of two ways.  The hard way, or the easy way.

Hard: You can stick each jar into a bath of boiling hot water about an inch above the lid and wait for it to suck in and pop.  Or
Easy: Turn it upside down and let the heat from the boiling salsa seal itself somewhere in the night.

How can I tell if its sealed or not?  Well, if you can bounce your finger up and down, like a finger on a lid trampoline on the middle of the lid the next morning, it did not seal.  Eat it.  If it doesn't, then its sealed.  You can hide that baby in your secret secret spot, cuz baby, you just made salsa!  I have just eaten my way through half a jar.  And I'm gonna go lie down and have some salsa dreams.  Soooo gooooooood. :D

Friday, September 30, 2011

Ancestor Cards - How I Did It

“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That's why it's your path.”
~ Joseph Campbell
 I saw this, and laughed how I thought it applied to my ancestor cards.  "How did you do it?  What gave you the idea?"  Well.  The fuzzy lint in my brain just wanted to.  I wanted to have the equivalent to ancestor baseball cards: something with all of their "stats" so I would be able to put a face to a name, and know a little bit about each of my ancestors.  The stories I'd grown up with kinda blended, and as I found out later, were sometimes connected with the wrong person.  And I wanted my kids to know their histories as well. Without even one of them, there would be no us.  My own children carry half of my husbands genes, and I couldn't tell them hardly anything about my husbands ancestors.  But I didn't always have a clear cut idea of how to fix that.  How the cards started out, and how they ended up are quite the process, but I'll try and outline it here just in case you want to make some of your own. 
I got to see these at the equivalent of a "Tupperware Party" my Cousin Faye put on,  and it got me thinking about how great it would be to make trading cards, or baseball cards for our ancestors; something with all their "stats" in a nice compact place. I'd never seen it done before, but *pshhht* how hard could it be? Right?  I'm a 4th 5th or 6 th generation Mormon, it should be easy to pull up all this stuff.
The only known publisher that *I* know of for a (nice!) deck of cards is "Heritage Makers."  If you start an account, and then go under "Photo gifts", you can find the printable deck of cards. 
For $24.99 + s/h, you can get 52 cards and the option to add as many cards as you want for $0.50 each.  They offer a monthly charge for their "Premiere" package, but I had SO MUCH to put on each card, I didn't need any special do-dads or papers.  You can see that there is less than a 1/4" of the basic color around each card.  The rest is all my photos, downloaded icons,  and my own info. The program insists that everything be in .jpg format, so, word to the wise.
I ordered two decks "at a special price" ($20 each if you order RIGHT NOW!), one for his family, and one for mine. Now - if you think about it - if you are doing 4 generations for you and your spouse, there is exactly ONE family that will want a full deck.  Your very own  family.  My parents and their family are not terribly interested in half of the deck of cards, and the same goes for my hubby's family.  But if you buy two decks, you can split a full deck, and send half of one to his family, and the other half to your family.  Two full decks take care of 3 families. :D
The first thing I had to decide was how to split up the 52 cards.  That ends in a weird number of generations, so we did the math and realized that if we each did four generations back (starting with our parents), we would need 30 cards each. That means we would just have to add 8 cards ($4 - not bad).  I printed off a pedigree chart and then made some digital folders on my computer and started to organize
STEP ONE: Just like the pedigree chart above, it is the best way to organize your files.  I am number 1.  My Dad is #2,  my mom is #3 and so on.  You should have 30 files for you and your four generations, and also 30 for your spouse. Keeping the numerical order as well as the names of each ancestor in number order will SERIOUSLY help you to keep things straight as the project goes along.   
STEP TWO: If you have computer files, you can start making relevant copies of pictures and documents into each ancestor file. If there's a wedding photo with grandparents and great- grandparents, copy that pic 4 times.  Drop one in each file.  When you run out of information on your computer, contact the genealogy nut in the family, or people you know who have the biggest amount of pictures and information.  Tell them what you want, and hold on.  Its about to get fun.
STEP THREE: Back to the cards: I opened up the program, added 8 cards and picked out a basic (free) color for each of four lines, and began to copy/paste.  My dad's ancestor line has a red background, my mom is yellow.  Matthew's dad has a blue background, and his mom's is green.  Should the cards ever get shuffled, you at least have a snowball's chance in hell of putting all 60 cards back in order.  I toyed with the idea of giving each couple a unique color to help keep the couples straight, but ran up against a deadline, and...  a fear that they would start looking junky.  I also toyed with the idea of doing my own extended family.  All of my siblings would be orange (red + yellow = orange, get it!?), and all of Matthew's would be a blue/green teal kinda color,  but... that hasn't happened yet.  Project #2 perhaps. For this project, we just went BACK in time.
STEP FOUR: Grab your pedigree charts.  After the color background was copied,  I put two plain boxes on each card; one on the top and bottom of each card.  Consistency is nice, so it was super easy to pick a nameplate size, and then do copy/paste for the 60 cards. That'll take you a little bit.  For the box on the top of the card, I picked a nice legible font (this is not the time for frou frou fonts - the cards are small, and you need to be able to read them!). For ease and history's sake I put their name AND nickname.  For women, we left their maiden name for spacing sake, "Marion Naomi Crofts Worthen," went just a tad over my space limit (and I had to keep reducing the font to make it fit), so we just left the maiden name.  If the person went by a nick-name, we put that below their "official" name.  "Daddy Bish" or "Cuddles." 
My own mother, whose offical name is "Margaret," has gone by "Midge" her whole entire life, and I always referred to her mother as, "Grandma Grace." We also put a baby buggy icon to indicate how many children each woman had, and a + (name) if they helped to raise someone.  I had quite a few relatives that became primary care-givers to grandchildren or nieces/nephews.  Also,  an angel Moroni icon to indicate the first ancestor to join the Mormon church, and a wagon icon to indicate a pioneer that crossed the plains.  I made an icon for Polygamous families, but didn't have anyone to use it on.  :/ Oh well.
  On the bottom box we included the following information: 
  • Birth date and place.  I also put the flag of their birth place up in the top right hand corner under their name so you could easily see the different countries that their ancestors came from. For ancestors with no photo, and no information, we used this information to put up a map to show where they came from. ----> Matthew moved his to the left top, but since it was getting done, I wasn't going to complain.
  • Mission - if they served one - including name of the mission, the years that they served, and if it is a vague area, like "The Southern States Mission" I try to include the areas where they served primarily.  (KY) for Kentucky. 
    Marriage date and place, AND ( in parenthesis) a few bits of information.  After "Marriage" I put the total times the person was married in their lifetime.  This... can be surprising.  Also, I put how old my relative was when they got married to my other ancestor.  On another line, to help keep everyone straight, I put their spouses name and how old THEY were when they got married.  "Hey dad!  Did you know that your mom was only 19 when she got married, and your dad was only 20?"  He didn't.  You find some interesting pairings, like this one ---; who knew there were cougars in Mississippi!
  • Emigration information.  I wanted to put where they came to the USA,  when, and the name of the ship,  where possible. If they did emigrate, we also put an icon of a ship up on their name plate.
    Death date, and place.
    STEP FIVE: Photos - We wanted our primary photo to be a picture of each ancestor taken in about their twenties.  Its easier to trace family resemblances, and see certain defining characteristics on a young adult face.  Where possible, we also tried to post a baby picture, and a picture of them as they aged.  Very few have all three, but it was fun to search.
    We also took pictures of any heirlooms associated with that person.   These are SO much easier to have now that photo-phones are available.  For example, on the card for Marion Swan below, there is a picture of an heirloom ring that is passed down to the youngest daughter of the youngest daughter.  I had my mother snap a picture of the ring with her cell phone and send it so it could be included with the card.
    If known, I also added:
    What musical instrument they played
    Something to indicate their profession, 
    Whether they were a Boy Scout, and what rank they attained,
    Military service, if any.  Hobbies when there was space (gardening, photography, baking specialties, and trashy magazines like "True Story" they loved to read *nods*.  Oh yes!)
    Anything connected to a defining story involving them or other items of peculiar interest.
    If a photo wasn't available, then a picture of their headstone, and map associated with that person.
    Photos of things that they made, like quilts, or loved to use - like my great grandmother's favorite tea cup. On one, I have my great-grandmother's wedding invitation, and her calling card from her missionary days. My grandpa has his business sign.
    And, to me, the "piece de resistance" were the signatures.  Matthew and I searched through marriage certificates, old letters, death certificates, books, and just about everywhere you can think of to get as many signatures as we could.  Of all things, it is the only thing that is truly representative of your ancestor. I think only a thumbprint could be more personal.
    We found that there were many, many sources of information about our ancestors.  We started off with pictures and other information that had already been collected by our parents.  From there, we started looking on the Internet and found websites and blogs where unknown cousins were sharing pictures, documents and other treasures we didn't know existed.  For our Utah ancestors, we hit the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers who preserve life histories and rare photos.  We also used free trial memberships to sites such as Ancestry.com to explore records such as census, war records, pictures and many other resources we didn't know existed.  For example, we knew that one ancestor has traveled frequently out of the country.  Ancestry had copies of passport applications from nearly a hundred years ago that contained family portraits and pictures that we never dreamed of finding. We also found that the BYU library has a special collection of photographs, diaries and histories (the L. Tom Perry Special Collection) and we were surprised to find several of our ancestors in their collection.  There many other free online resources such as the Utah digital newspapers archive, death certificate index (great for finding signatures), and FamilySearch.org with information and historical documents that can be had for free.  Finally, when we had noting else, we researched cemetery records and snapped a photo of the grave stone to that no ancestor's card was completely empty.

    It has been a labor of love.  I have been shocked, and amazed at what I have discovered throughout this process.  I am grateful beyond words for what we HAVE been able to find.  I gave up on many an ancestor as a "hopeless cause" for ever finding a photograph or a signature, and have been delighted BEYOND WORDS, to have found it in a passport photo, or a signature in a book, or a letter that someone had in a bottom drawer somewhere.  Matthew will tell you too, that the things we were able to find are far greater than we had even hoped for after our initial start with this project.  Just keep digging, just keep digging... 
    Now that its done, I have put the cards in a baseball card keeper, and I just sit and flip through them.  Nearly in tears for the amount of work it took, and how WONDERFUL it is now to know so much about each one.  As a little prompt, I put a little quote on each of my cards, either about the person, or something that they said - so that you could immediately know something about each one.  So that they could be real and wonderful.  Perhaps you don't think you can relate to that old guy in a stiff colar, but wait til you find out that he had a star tattoo on each hand the size of a silver dollar, a danish flag tattoo on his forearm, and an entire ship across his chest that he could flex to make the flag "wave".  Yes.  I think you will love him!
      Grandma Grace's sister wrote, "Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead; we also are capable of bringing people back to life, merely by writing about them."  Though these cards have been printed, the work is not yet done.  We are still receiving documents, signatures, and life histories from the descendants of these people.  There is more to be had, and once you start scratching the surface, you just want to dig more and more and more.  That talent for quilting that you thought was your own ambition, can actually be traced back to your great great grandmother.  That wit, and humor that you thought was the only one in the family crops up with your bald great-grandpa wearing a black wig in a convertible to scare his wife and give her a laugh in his bright colored tie.  Its odd to describe how you find yourself as you go looking in your past.  They are part of you, and you are part of them.  Its a beautiful thing - and totally worth working for.
    So, good luck on your own journey.  I wish you the best as you forge your own trail and discovery! Just remember - this is a great project for the young.  Even though you have kids all around your ankles, and it seems like its crazy, you are in the best position to remember, to ask, and to record.  It took me until the last, ultimate deadline, 2 years after I started, but I did it.  Just a box, color, and photo at a time.  Once you see what you have, you will know what you're looking for. Happy Hunting!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Only tuff girls can serve a mission to Portugal!
I'm so smart I graduated High School!
Smart girls know the importance of marrying a smart guy...
BA = Believe it! I'm Awesome!
People from my childhood are asking.  High School friends are asking.  People from my mission are asking.  People from college, and friends from my married days are asking, "What happened to you?  Did you fall off the face of the earth?"

No, no.  I'm here- if only just barely.  Impossible?  You would think, after all that I have accomplished in this ole life that I would be on TOP of it all.  I mean, if you can do college-level calculus, motherhood should be a snap, right? They're smaller than you, not as smart as you, and when properly motivated, they do as they are told.  Easy peasy rice and cheesy!   Yet here I sit, with the tv babysitter on, and I feel like a captive trying to relay out a message, "Do you copy?  Do you copy? This is Bravo leader, Bravo leader, Delta, do you copy?! 7 Sept. 2011... this situation is NOT FRIENDLY, I repeat, there are NOT FRIENDLIES! Have been taken captive, conditions are worsening, not known when I can communicate again... send aid.  Chocolate and caffeine.  Will arrange a drop spot..."

The dishwasher is on, the laundry is rolling through, and I have just called and left a message to Matthew about the $2.99 broom that ain't cuttin' it.  The clock is ticking, and I have less time than a Jeopardy! player to write this out.  I understand that this doesn't make sense to some people, - and  I'm thinking of an old boss in particular who said to me, "My friend stays at home, and she complains about how hard it is.  I go to work, and do everything that she does; laundry, dinner, tidying. I mean, what does she do with her time?"  At the time I was expecting my own first baby, and didn't have an answer.  "I dunno.  I work too. How hard can it be? Its like, we work twice as hard as them." <--- remember that phrase, because it counts towards hubris.

But to those with little children, it makes allll sorts of sense. Unless you have a maid, unless you are independently wealthy, Motherhood can be the most sacrificing, time consuming, thankless job on a 24/7 basis that you can ever attempt. Now as a stay-at-home mom, I understand better my fellows in arms.  You stay home, to provide the best environment for your children.  Your home.  Your paradise; your prison. The proverbial Hotel California. You are free to check out, but you can never leave.

This is the second week of potty training captivity in my home.  I am not sure of a release date at this point, but attempting to go out of the compound is decidedly perilous at best.  My trainee is wandering around in naught but a t-shirt so that he can remember that no underwear, no diaper, no nuthin' is gonna catch what falls out of his body.  He is interrogated every 10 minutes with, "Do you need to go potty?!  You need to stay dry.  Don't pee on yourself!"

The two toughest are now in school, so I can sneak my way over to the computer and eek out a message: I have the answer! I know why SAHMs are crazy-busy and stressed! They LIVE. AT. HOME!  There is no night cleaning crew, there is no landscaping crew! And one-income families, of a necessity, must regularly eat everything at home! And then clean it up!  For those who work, and my Boss had one kid, I can say, "Your ONE child doesn't live at your house!  Eat at your house! Mess up your house! - except under direct supervisory control for the few hours that you are there!  They spent their day messing up someone else's place! And the workers get paid to clean it up for you! They gave up carpet years ago!  Its linoleum and indoor/outdoor where she lives all day!"

Where we are now - at this point in my life right now, we all live here. All the time.  THAT is the difference Boss.  No one messes up your house, dips their hands into the hot cocoa and then wants to lick it off over the couch, and tramples the Cheerios that hit the floor this morning into a far flung mess.  And if all I had to do was load a few breakfast dishes, toss in a load of laundry, and leave my tidy home til I came back to the crock pot I made last night, it would seem that there wasn't much to do.  But now.  Now I know better.

I do not fear death, most SAHMs sometimes fantasize about leaving their spouse to "stay home all day",  but if vacuums have souls, my Judgement Day will be an awful one, and I fear that part greatly.  As they tick off the obscene number of vacuums that have met a horrible, terrible, and awful demises under my roof, at that film everyone says you see of your life.  I imagine about 19 vacuums lined up watching and waiting for a just God to dispense justice on me and my family. They can testify of the tortuous treatments that were never designed to be inflicted on an innocent vacuum... well, according to the users manual. I don't want to be there for that.  Or when the help from local play-land restaurants come to the stand...

Photo taken circa 2004
For Example: While my children were sliding down the Del Taco play-land slide, on serving trays, (I don't make this up, I just report it as it was...) and I was simultaneously motioning them to GET OFF or I'm TAKING YOU HOME! and carefully monitoring the potty trainee, my 16 month old lunged unexpectedly  for my sisters Large sized, hermongo bongo, caffeinated soda.  I yanked away his hand milliseconds too late as the drink tumbled backwards, slow motion like - but too fast to grab it with a child on your lap -, onto the bench and then cracked open at the precise moment that would insure that it would splatter drink in every direction, both horizontal and vertical. I let out that gutteral, "sounds like a possessed person" slow motion, "OH NOOoooooOOOOOooooOOO!" as I was swiping for it.  But OH yes.  Drink all over.  Not a "tidy it up with a napkin" mess, but a full fledged, "Alert the manager, we have a situation," mess. While the lowest man on the Del Taco Totem pole was bringing out the mop bucket, I peppered him with, "I'm SO sorry.  Let me get that, for you.. I'll just.. sorry, I'll just stop slipping in it and just move over... there..."  In front of all the Del Taco patrons, as I'm hustling shoes, and purses and our tray over to another table, I took a whiff of my toddler.  And I realized that I had missed it.  And it wasn't pee either.  I had to hand over the babe, diffuse a tattle tale situation, "Tell them if they do that again they are going to have to go SIT IN THE CAR!", and trot the toddler into the bathroom, because mommy was just a little too distracted. And I started that self talk muttering, "Can't believe ... do this all day... I HAVE A DEGREE! Makin messes at the DEL TACO!  You don't POOP on yourself SOooOOOoN!"

Not only had I been too distracted to remind the toddler to go to the bathroom, but also to bring the wipes in case he messed himself. That's another kind of hubris.  "Oh, we went and picked up the kids today - I'm sure he'll be fine!" And so, in my pride, the safety net was removed, and it all. came. tumbling. down. "Don't put that bucket away yet!"  One of the benign ladies in the booth next to me said, "I thought you should know, that red-headed little girl just took a bunch of hot sauce packets up into the play-land..."

  I answered, "Oh thank you... I'll... um, (holding Mr. Poo Poo Platter) I'll go take care of that right now. I... I'm just dealing with four kids under 10, you know...I, uh.  Um. Not doing it so well,"  to which she said, "Oh yes, I understand.  I had four too.  And when the oldest one left, I realized that I could handle three kids quite well!"  I thought about her words as I took the toddler into the bathroom, and started washing his bum.  In the tiny sink.  Swishing water in a reversal of gravity motion, with my hand and paper towels, trying not to get it on myself.  And in that near-to-tears situation, I thought, "Maybe this is just all too advanced for me."  There began to be a faint memory of something that I  had studied in college about hubris which I'll define for you here:

Hubris (play /ˈhjuːbrɪs/), also hybris, means extreme haughtiness, pride or arrogance. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.

Yep.  There's the problem.  I didn't see it before.  But then, those with hubris never do... until it is too late.  I thought I could handle it, nay, even wildly succeed at it!  Be the cool mom who bought everyone their own barbasol can, played on the table and then dropped them in the tub.  Not this.  This was WACK!  And the result of hubris? Well, here is what the Greeks said would happen to that overconfident hot mess: "resulting in the protagonist's fall."

So, I am here, and at the tail end of a bad bout of hubris. I have taken so many hits of caffeine and chocolate to get through the day, I barely recognize myself.  There are days.  There are DAYS where I can't tell you what I did that morning.  Or the date.  I only know generalities and deadlines.  I am told, "Let go, and let God," but they don't say that when company shows up unexpected, and you're trying to downplay the hole in the wall. There is just one place to go.  Depths of humility.  I don't think Abigail will hit college for another 8 years or so, and then I might be back in the land of the living.  Might.  Depends on how bad this case of hubris lasts, and if I will be banned from ever entering into every local restaurant when that day comes....