Saturday, November 30, 2013


Hope y'all had a lovely Thanksgiving.  We did.  I love spending time with my family, which is why I haven't been spending much time here on the blog.  Sometimes, when it is a matter of priority, the blog loses.  And that's ok.  I won't have my family around forever.  The twins are getting bigger every moment.  Angel is turning into a sweet little lady who makes dinner for all her dollies in her play kitchen.  Eddie is learning how to change a sour mood back to sweet.  David is drowning in junior high homework.  Chris is dealing with why-is-school-so-important-itis.  Ben is applying to colleges.  And Alec is doing this.

I'm amazed.  They all grow up so fast, and I don't want to miss a moment.  I'm afraid to catch a breath sometimes, and then the very next minute I can't wait for something to change.  In between the fear of losing and the excitement of growth, there is magic.  If I quiet my brain every now and then, I see it.  It comes in twenty hands and a hundred toes and a thousand chances to serve and a million heartbeats of love.

I love this family!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Cooking on Vacation

Yeah, almost done with the vacation stuff.  I just go out so rarely that it's a big deal.  My dad said, after watching me have a panic attack just before the plane took off and took me away from my kids, that I either need to stay home or go out more often.  I'll stay home.

Really.  Besides my family being my huge-est-er ever joy of life, I have all my tools there.  Like my bed and my kitchen.

Eating on vacation is a challenge.  I want to chose foods that are good for us, but I'm hampered by not being able to cook or do decent food prep.  So we improvise.  Here is our kitchenette in the hotel:

I loved having this.  Full fridge, microwave, and medium sink.  Full dishwasher even though we only had a set of 4 dishes.  Ha.  Countertop stove with two burners.  No oven.  How am I supposed to make cookies to drive out the old-coffee-grounds-and-burnt-popcorn smell?

In a covered skillet on really, really low heat.  They were yummy.  Snickerdoodles were Jay's favorite.  How did they get such a funny name?

I laughed about having to buy such cute little containers when I usually buy the giant packages!

We ate sandwiches and soup and prepackaged hamburger helper and rice dishes.  Mixed with frozen or canned veggies and a loaf of French bread, it was pretty good.  Dad wanted to eat out for one meal a day, but we made the others.  Apples and bananas.  Cold cereal or fried eggs for breakfast.  And muffins in a microwave!

It's much easier than I thought it would be.  Grease coffee cups (one cup for each 1 1/2 to 2 regular muffins), scoop in the mix, and nuke.  I did four cups in 3 minutes.  The batter doesn't brown, so I sprinkled on some cinnamon sugar before I put it in the microwave.  And yum.  Now I have a new quick breakfast for the early-morning boys.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

More Pictures

And you thought I was done, huh?  Settle back in your seat.  I've got more pictures, then I'll be done.  Promise.

sucker for the flag - highway overpass, Petersburg

lovely wood detail -  farmer's market in old town Petersburg

wouldn't stop so I could shoot him

Civil War cannon - siege of Petersburg

long layovers at the airport

out the little window of the plane

happy to be nearly home

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Coming Back With Pictures

Wow it was hard to be gone from my family.  Surprisingly to me, it was even harder to come back.  I've spent the last week in a downward spiral, but I think I'm pulling out of it now.  What a mess I am sometimes.

But now I'll bore you with pictures from my recent trip to Virginia.  Feel free to duck out as I plug in the slide projector and set up the screen.

 icy sunset somewhere over the midwest

traveling buddies - glad we always got seats together

happy sign at the airport

colorful leaves for Opa and Alec

sightseeing with the army graduate

cute little garden - love the fence

Alec taking panoramic pictures of the colors

rail fence in Colonial Williamsburg

shoreline near Jamestown

fun fountain near to commemorate Jamestown

James River

Dad at City Point - loved the tree tunnel behind him

what kind of trees are these without bark?

did better than he thought he would

gorgeous sunset over the Appomattox River

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


I've traveled six thousand miles over the past five days, left my home and family, and had bad jet lag - twice.  I have decided that I really don't like traveling.  Not without my family.  And nothing would convince me to leave some of my family... except my own flesh and blood.  In this case, my eldest.

When Alec started basic training, I waited anxiously for his letters. I loved it when he could call home, and I worried about him.  That's what a Mom is supposed to do, right?

I remember that when I left home for the first time, I was all too happy to leave.  And I didn't want to come back.  But I did.  And then I didn't.  And I loved being gone, and having my new, grown-up life.  But I loved coming back home gone with my family, too.  It was a hard, awkward mix for the first while.

Alec was glad to be gone, too.  I think most kids are.  But the first time he mentioned basic training graduation, it was only too obvious that he wanted us to be there.  Oklahoma was a long way from our home.  But we were there for him.  That's what families do.  We're there for each other.

Alec and his Opa have an especially close relationship.  Alec is his first grandchild, and they  have always been buddies.  I really wanted to take my dad with us to see Alec's basic training graduation, but I was afraid the long trip with our rowdy active family would be too much for him.

So we hatched a plan to get my dad out to see Alec.  After basic training, Alec had nine more weeks of training in Virginia, and I thought it would be fun to fly out for that graduation.  Obviously it is too expensive to take our entire family (even though Angel cried to me on the phone first time I called home that she needed a "ticket to the plane, too").   But my dad and I could go.

We had a good time, even though I cried all the way as I was leaving.  I'm a mess like that.  This Mom has a hard time going away from her kids.  Dad and I went to Alec's graduation, did some sightseeing, rested lots, and spent some good time with this boy who is quickly becoming a remarkable man.  How did that happen, I'd like to know!  I'm sure I haven't had him long enough.

And now I'm returning home.  I'm melancholy to leave Alec there, but he has another month of Airborne training before he can come home.  But I miss my other kids.  I miss my man.  I'm sure my bed has missed me.

And I can do without being away for quite a while.  I'm really just a homebody... and I like it that way.

The Call

After graduation, Alec had to return to his barracks with his group,and I picked him up later so we could spend the day with him.  When he slid into the front seat of our (much nicer than I thought it would be) rental car, there was a pile of papers on the seat.  As he reached to grab them, he realized that the big white envelope was for him, and his eyes flew open wide.  I got him.  Evened up the score a little.

A few weeks ago, Alec called home like he usually did. In the course of the conversation, he casually mentioned that when I flew out, I might want to take a later flight that day, as his mission call might be coming in the mail.  Ok.  Wait.  Your what??

Alec had prepared the paperwork necessary to send in his mission application before he joined the army.  We were working in it back here.  He told me that he would wait until he got home to send it in.  But then he sent it in earlier, and didn't.  tell.  his.  mother.  I'm sure his dad was laughing his head off in Heaven.  Jay loved to pull surprises on people, and Alec has a healthy dose of that in him, too.

So when I got the big white envelope in the mail from church headquarters...  as I was pulling out the driveway to head to the airport, of course...  I didn't tell Alec that I had it.  We had hoped, but not expected it to come that day.  It was a good surprise.  Touché, my dear boy.

We hurried back to the hotel where Alec carefully opened the letter.  Tears ran down his face (manly ones, I assure you) as he read, "You are called to serve in the Cape Town, South Africa mission."  I'm still teary, and excited, and gonna-miss-you-honey as I type. He'll report to the missionary training center there in South Africa in the spring.  He made some happy phone calls and posted his news on Facebook.

Coming kind-of-soon, to an area not-so-near you (actually more far, far away than anything): my Alec.  And he'll be awesome.

Army Graduation

Have I mentioned enough times that we had a rough time with our travel from home to Virginia? We got waylaid in Chicago long enough that we were going to miss our last connecting flight. Hooray for some hard working airlines people who got us a more direct flight instead. Even still, we got to that last airport after the car rental counters had closed. We had to take what cars were left... and we didn't get a good deal. And then we had to drive for what turned out to be two hours to get to our hotel... at 2 am. Or was it 3? Regardless of our exhaustion, Alec's graduation was bright and early at 8am, local time. That's 6 am for the time our bodies were used to.

Dad and I managed to drag ourselves out of bed and find the right building on the army base. Challenging after having been given wrong instructions twice. Dad slowly climbed the flight of stairs to get to the auditorium. We slipped into our seats as the graduates began to line up to get their certificates. Close. I knew we were fine because they go in alphabetical order, and we're not at the beginning.

To my surprise, they called Alec's name first!  And there he was, in the front of the line.  He earned the highest marks of anyone in his entire class, and graduated with top honors as Distinguished Honor Graduate.  Of course, my iPhone refused to turn on when I was that insistent in it turning on NOW.   So I didn't get any pictures of him walking across the stage or shaking hands with the Army brass who were at his graduation.  But I saw it.  At least I made it there.  Whew.  I'm a good mom after all.  Barely. be continued...

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Seeing the Civil War

We visited some Civil War sites.  All around us are remnants of the Siege of Petersburg, which cut off supplies to the Confederate capitol of Richmond.  The siege ended April 2, 1865, and the Confederate army surrendered seven days later.

We went to City Point, an old plantation that was taken over by Grant's Union army and used as headquarters and transportation hub.  Supplies came down the James River and traveled by rail to the Union forces around Petersburg.  What was a small community of maybe 300 people became one of the busiest ports in the world.  Every day, more than 200 boats and ships delivered goods.  I learned about this from a textbook, but now that I have seen these places, I have a beginning of an understanding.

I had never stopped to consider the huge work of supporting an army.  Alec's most recent stint of training taught him how to cook for the troops, both in kitchens and in field conditions.  He showed us foldable trailers that were equipped to feed 250 soldiers, and larger trailers for 800. Wow.  Cooks, water boys, people to fix the machinery, someone to sew the uniforms, teachers of battle skills, places to live...  The support structure was then, and is now, enormous.

I shall never again complain about having to take care of a measly 10 people in my home.  Or at least I shouldn't.

Fall in Virginia

Gorgeous.  That's all I can say.  We really don't have words for the amount of beauty that makes your eyes open wide and fills your heart an amount of peace and joy that makes it feel close to bursting.  Wow.  It's not just the fall colors on the trees, or the amount of trees.  Living in the desert, I love lots of plants and trees.  And it's not even how the grass and green things grow right up to the edge of the road.  It's how nature feels.  It's how alone and loved I can feel when all I'm surrounded my is trees and grass and water.  Heart-full.

We went to Colonial Williamsburg.  They have done a great job at recreating (and restoring?) a bustling town in the early American colonial era.  I loved seeing the people all dressed up in period costume, selling herbs from their garden or strolling though the streets.  The plan wasp to buy the expensive tickets and make a day of going through all the houses and shops, but my dad was so tired from traveling that we just walked down a few streets instead.  Still, it was fun and I loved it.

We went to Jamestown and took the little auto tour of the island.  Where have I been that I didn't know that Jamestown was on an island?  I also didn't realize that it has been 400 years since Jamestown was settled.  400!  The place feels like deep history.  So solemn and so quiet.  I loved it.

I'll post pictures when I can.  Right now I'm making do with my dad's iPad, and I really don't know how to insert pictures... or really how to work it much at all.  So pictures will have to wait.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Traveling With the Elderly or Disabled

I do not claim to be an expert on this topic, but I have done it a few times.  On this trip, it is just me and my dad, so I can focus more on his needs.  He is almost 70, so not too terribly old, but he does have a set of challenges from his Parkinson's Disease.  I also spent a few years taking care of my first husband, who became quite disabled due to his brain cancer.  So... here are a few things that have made life a little easier on vacation.

Mind the sleep schedule.  A healthy young person can get away with less sleep, but don't push it for them.  No red eye flights.  Don't plan things for very early or very late.  I'm feeling better when I get enough sleep, and it is compounded for an older or disabled person.  For this flight out, I had a hard decision between leaving early in the morning or arriving late at night.  Coming from the west, I chose to arrive later because 11 pm in Virginia was really only 9pm for us.  That one backfired on me due to long delays in Chicago.  Grr.  We didn't get to the hotel until about 2 am!  Which leads directly to the next point.

Travel easy.  This is not the time to cut all corners to get the best price.  Do that when you are taking you after-college backpacking trip through Europe.  Take direct flights with no layovers.  Get a hotel close to your destination.  Don't sweat all the small stuff.  Minimize walking.  Oh, and get a hotel room with a kitchenette!

Don't forget the medicines.  Most meds need to be taken on a fairly strict schedule.  My dad has one he has to take four times each day.  During our five-gate switcheroo at the Chicago airport, I noticed Dad starting to get shaky, and remembered that we had missed a dose of medication!  Being away from home is stressful enough.  Don't mess up the system further by forgetting the drugs.  Know which medications need to be taken with food, or an on empty stomach, and be prepared with snacks.  And be aware that pain will likely be worse, due to stress and unusual activities.  Take pain pills along.

Keep it low stress and cheerful.  Did I mention our delays in Chicago?  It was a mess.  An entire runway was closed, and it threw off the whole airport.  Everyone was shuffled around, and everyone was frustrated.  But I have learned (the hard way!) that if I lose my cool, I have not only my own emotions to deal with, but also a breakdown from my charge.  So we did a lot of people watching.  We played a game out of trying to get others to smile.  We made jokes with fellow travelers.  By keeping my frustrations in check, I helped my dad to not get stressed out, and the whole situation went ever so much better

Ask for accommodations.  Most places have accommodations for the elderly or those with disabilities, but you have to ask for them.  Ask to be preboarded on the plane.  Ask for an handicapped-accessible hotel room.  Ask to be seated near the aisle in the auditorium.  Ask for an elevator, or for the closest table.  Most people are more than happy to help -and they actually are required to make accommodations!  I am ever so grateful to the cheerful airport worker who ran down the concourse, pushing my dad in a wheelchair, so we could make a connecting flight.

Slow down and allow for breaks. I spent most of one vacation in a hotel room, missing out on day trips with the rest of my group, so my ailing husband could sleep.  Traveling is stressful, and you need more rest.  I'm typing this right now as my dad takes a nap.  Allow for time, especially in the middle of the day, or after a long walk, to rest or nap.  Plan a resting day after a busy day.  And walk slower so your companion doesn't try to kill themselves keeping up with you.

Eat well.  Your body needs better nourishment when it is stressed.  Avoid the rich and fatty foods if you can, or at least eat them sparingly.  Pack lunches for on-the-go times.  Make healthy choices from the restaurant menu.  Get good snacks of fruit from the grocery store.  Prepare your own food if you can.  We got a hotel room with a kitchenette and it has been wonderful.  We even had hot cookies baked in a frying pan!  If you have healthy food available - and his requires advance planning - you will be less tempted to go through the drive thru or get something unhealthy from the gas station.  Make sure to eat enough fiber.  Nothing will ruin a vacation faster than getting sick, or feeling constipated and miserable.

Stay familiar.  Bring comfort things from home.  Keep the same medication and sleep schedule as much as you can.  Eat the same kinds of things as you can.  Don't leave your companion alone in a strange place.  Do things they usually like to do.  We're watching tv in the evenings as a way to unwind on this vacation even though I don't usually... but Dad does.

Take care of yourself.  Make sure you get enough sleep and the things you need.  You know how the airline attendants always tell you to put on your oxygen mask first.  Do.  You won't be able to help much if you are not well.

Have fun.  You are on vacation to have a good time, so have a good time!

Getting Ready to Leave

Preparing for this trip was different from most trips I've been on, because I had to get ready for everything that would happen at home and on the trip.  Talk about a double migraine!

For a trip across the country with my dad, I had to arrange the travel and accommodations.  Shuttle to the airport or long term parking?  Airplane itineraries and costs.  Rental cars and hotel rooms.  There are so many things to do there!  Which ones look the most interesting and are the closest to where we will be?  Might as well see as much as we can on our short trip.  Or should we rest and relax more?  And what are we going to eat while we are gone?  Convenience food from the gas station, making sandwiches across a hotel bed, or eating out?  Oh yeah, mind the budget.  There were so many details to arrange and keep track of.

At the same time, I needed to arrange for everything on the home front.  I know that other people can do most of the things I take care of on a daily basis, but I also know that no one knows all the things I regularly keep track of unless I tell them.  So I made lists.  Scads of them, of course.

In the end, I had the sense to organize the travel things, just like my mother taught me, in one nice folder.  The reservations for hotels, airplanes and rental cars slipped neatly in one side, while the other side of the folder held maps and other information I would need.  Dad said she would be proud of me, and I hope to continue to learn from her.  Mom and Dad loved to go on trips, and
Mom spent many hours researching and finding good deals.  She was a planner extraordinaire.

On the home front, I didn't have to worry too much about who would take care of the small fry.  Trent ordinarily goes in to work at noon, and the high school boys get home in the early afternoon, so Trent arranged to come in to work a few hours late every day to cover that gap.  I was a little bit worried about how the boys would do in the evenings, but they are very responsible, so I'm sure they will do well.  I have four older boys, three little ones, and dinner.  On a rotating schedule, each boy takes care of a younger sibling, or makes dinner.  I froze casseroles, and markered cooking direction on each one, so dinner should be pretty easy.  Other things to coordinate were Chris's driver's ed schedule, Ben's last few days of his after-school job, and homework.  Big signs on the kitchen window reminded the kids how to go about making dinner (like starting an hour before dinner time) exactly what the babysitting detail required (yes, brush their teeth every night) and a list of how to clean the kitchen (we've been having some struggles on getting that job all the way done).

It was definitely more work to have to plan the week two times over.

Back From a Break

The first year that I heard about The Nester's challenge to write on one topic for an entire month, I was intrigued.  I like to write, and this seemed like a good way to try something new and practice my writing.  Now that I have done it two years, I'm can safely say that while it does stretch out my brain a little bit, it also leaves me exhausted.  When the month is over, I have no more desire to write.  I take a break for a few days before I can write again.  Don't know wether that is a good thing or not.  Just is.

So...I'm back now.  I've had another reason to not write this week, because I've been getting ready for a trip.  Right now I am sitting on a bed in a hotel room, three thousand miles away from home.  It is crazy to I me that you can hop on a plane and be so far away, so quickly.   I don't travel very much, so it's all quite novel to me.  The most different part this time is that I am without children.

I am a mom.  That's my job, my calling, my life.  And I love I it.  I love each of my children with a fierceness that only a mother bear knows.  And I left them all, way back home, so I could go on this trip with my dad.  He and I travelled across the country to see Alec graduate from the next phase of his training.  Heaven knows I would rather be with my family, but with the distance involved, they could not afford to be gone from school and work that long, and we could not afford the expense of taking the whole family.  So drat.  And here I am.  I miss my kidlets terribly.  But I love being here.  I've learned some interesting things, and remembered some things I don't want to forget.  So stay tuned for my travelogue!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Happy Autumn

Isn't this just gorgeous?  I am so grateful for this beautiful world.  Every time I turn around, there is something else amazing to look at.  And I found these in my very own backyard.  Thanks, Lord.