Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Happy Birthday, Jay!

It was Jay's birthday recently, and he would have been 48, old man.  I really enjoyed having a husband who was a few years older than me.  He would hit all the age milestones first, and I've have a while to get used to the idea of being that much older.  By the time I hit that particular birthday, the age was old hat.

We celebrated by making his favorite treat (except maybe homemade ice cream): easy no-bake cheesecake.  It whips up quickly and is ready before you know it.  Wait - I'll be real.  We did know it, and usually ate the soupy cake with spoons before it had time to set up because it looked so good.

Jay's Cheesecake

First, the crust.  Traditionally, we make a quicky crust out of crushed graham crackers, but I finally found a from-scratch recipe that I could simplify and I liked it so much I think I'll always be making our cheesecakes this way, because when we have graham crackers we eat them.  The crust is pretty thick, but I like it that way.

Then you make the filling out of cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk.  The only trick here is to beat it until there aren't any lumps left.  Next to waiting for it to chill, this is my hardest part.  I guess I just don't have much cooking patience.  Usually I just get to the good enough! part and we all like it anyway.  This recipe came from Jeanne, my first mother-in-law and it's a family favorite.  

2 sticks soft butter
1/2 cup sugar - could be half white and half brown sugar or whatever you have
1/4 cup honey
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon or several good shakes.

Mix all together until it is good and creamy.  Pat on the bottom and up the sides of a 9 x 13 casserole dish.  Bake at 325 for about 20 minutes.  Easy!

2 8 ounce packages cream cheese
2 15 ounce cans condensed milk
2/3 cup lemon juice (real juice is best but I never have it on hand)
2 teaspoons vanilla

Blend it all up together.  Pour into cooled crust and refrigerate until firm.  Decorate with fruit (we did blueberries and pineapple this time) or a can of fruit pie filling.  Raspberry pie filling is especially delicious.

It didn't last very long.  Good food evaporates around here and leaves only smiles on everybody's faces.  I'm happy when they are happy.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Lupus Cake

I have a friend with lupus.  It's a nasty disease/condition/curse.  She's had a whole slew of challenges with it this past summer, and I ache for her.  Well, not really, because her body aches just fine for her all by itself.  But I do wish that it could be better and easier for her.

One challenge she has right now is a very restricted diet.  Her guts will only tolerate a very, very small variety of food.  I think if she even thought of eating normally, she would get sick.  It's hard to feel human when you have to fix food for your family to eat - that you can't eat.  And then to be too tired to fix another meal that you can eat is just kicking you when you're down.  Not fair.

So I wanted to get her a nice cake for her birthday.  The candles are special order and I got the bakery to write her name in frosting.  I hope you can heal out of this season, dear friend!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mission Monday

I'm reminded to be thankful in my kitchen this week.  In the past couple of days, I have cooked oatmeal in the microwave, fried up hamburger on the stovetop, baked bread in the oven, made a batch of French toast on an electric griddle, and roasted a big chunk of meat in a crock pot.  I don't even know how many appliances, large and small, I have to cook food.I have to remember that not everyone is as lucky to be able to prepare good, clean food as I am.

From Madagscar:

I've got some crazy good news though: We are going to get a stove this week!!! We've been out of propane for a month and a half, and by "we" I mean the whole city of Fort Dauphin... So after lots of dry ramen consumed, we will be getting an electric stovetop to last us until someone in Antananarivo finally sends a truck full of propane tanks at us. I'm so excited for some cooked food at home! The only problem with an electric stove is that yesterday morning, half of our house's lights and plugs stopped working... It's not too bad, but our fridge is not refridgerating and our washing machine is not washing and there's no lights in the bathroom! You really need lights in the bathroom dang it!!!

Blessings come in all shapes and sizes and I'm so thankful for all of the great stuff in my life that makes me so happy! Like lights in the bathroom... Haha there's lots of things we take for granted!

And here's the link to the South Africa blog.  Maybe we can be a little more thankful today for all the Lord gives us.

Friday, September 25, 2015

I Kinda Hate Weddings

Oh, what a terrible thing to say!  Aren't we supposed to love weddings and get all happy and teary-eyed at them?  Maybe.  I don't know whether we can really assign "supposed to" and "should" to our feelings.

Before I get too far, let me explain that I love marriage.  I love the idea of a good woman finding a good man and making pledges and promises to love and support each other no matter what.  I love the idea of two people turning into husband and wife and starting their own family.  I really, tryuly believe that is the best way to find happiness and growth on this earth.

It's just the wedding itself that is hard for me.

I went to a wedding recently.  I went by myself, which is a rare opportunity.  I got to sit by myself, have my own thoughts, and enjoy the quiet.  I took the train and listened to the excited chatter of the group at the back of my train car.  They were missionaries headed to the airport and excited about their next adventures.  I smiled over them and loved seeing them, as any mother of a missionary does.  I said a silent prayer in my heart for them and missionaries across the world - young people away from home, trying to do what is right.  In a few years, they will be done with missions and looking to find their own mate they can commit to and love.

I took a bus from the train and walked a few blocks to get to the wedding.  It was beautiful and full of love.  I couldn't help but think of my own wedding when I was as young as they were - 23 years ago.  I was thinner and simpler then.  My only worries were getting through college and loving on the handsome man who had asked me to be his forever.  I miss that young Jay. I should have been expecting an emotional crash, this sweet young couple were married in the same temple we were all those years ago.  I didn't realize it until I got inside the temple and felt the quiet, but I hadn't been back in this particular temple since Jay passed away.  Then I crashed.

 I hate crying in front of other people, I really do.  Besides, this was a wedding - a happy time!  Who wants people to be sad-crying big sobs of heartache at a wedding?  That would be bad.  I didn't want to mar their happy day, and I managed to hold it in until after the ceremony was over.  But it was hard, and uncomfortable to sit there alone.  Everyone is happy and celebrating togetherness, and I sit there by myself.  It's hard sometimes.

 After the well-wishes, I found the nearest bathroom and gave permission to the tears.  I've learned not to fight the sad when it comes.  It's too hard and too raw and too real.  My poor heart is wounded more by the sharp edges being stuffed back in than in the release of the emotions.  Crying in bathrooms is good because there is plenty of tissue, and cold water to splash on your face when you are done.

I will always be a widow.  Yes, I've remarried and chosen to share my life again.  But those first memories of being a newlywed - a young wife - will always be a big part of me.  We fit together, we learned together, we grew up together.  My life was shaped by his as we figured out how to live harmoniously together.  That doesn't go away.  Neither does the pain of his loss.  He was only 38 - far too young to go.  I never would have imagined being left a widow at 33.  Far too young.

But I survived.  And I fought my way through the waves of grief that, over time, don't crash over me quite so viciously, or hold me under quite so cruelly.  I've learned to pick myself up and keep going.  I've learned that if you cry with your head bent over your lap then the tears fall straight down into your tissue instead of running down your face first.  I've learned when not to wear mascara.  I've learned to sob silently.  And I've learned how to cherish Jay's memory without making my heart sting.  I've learned how to let my heart grow by accepting new things of love and beauty.  I've learned to accept that this part of me will always be there.

I'm better for having gone through all that.  The fight made me stronger.  I'm softer because of the pain.  The grief gave me compassion.  The heartache taught me to rely on the Lord, and He has always been a rush of peace for my aching.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Finger Food

I recently remembered eating my mom's pull-aparts.  She would take a few rolls of those cheap refrigerator biscuits, pop them open - that was my favorite part.  She dipped the dough circles in a mixture of melted butter and orange juice concentrate and "snug them up" in a bundt pan.  She'd bake them until the house smelled warm and citrus fresh, then invert the hot pan onto a plate.  We were supposed to wait until the stuff was cool, but we couldn't wait.  Waiting for food when it is right in front of you is hard for a hungry child!  We'd burn our fingers a little bit, pulling apart the gooey rolls.  Then we'd burn our mouths a little bit by eating them when they were still oven-hot.

But they were so good and sweet, in spite of the chemically taste of the refrigerator rolls.  Hot sweet breads are the best, aren't they?

So this week I made my own, with bits of dough dipped in a butter-orange juice mixture.  I didn't have my mother's recipe so I just made it up as I went.  I wasn't sure exactly - until they came out of the oven and I saw my own children clamoring to pull apart bits of sticky sweetbread.  It was a hit.

After that, I branched out and tried a savory version.  I took a round loaf of bread and cut the top in a cross-hatch pattern, but not quite all the way through.  Kind of like slices one way and then slices the other way, too.  It ended up looking like a bloomin' onion.  I melted butter and mixed in garlic salt and other spices and drizzled it over the bread, making sure to get it in every cut.  Then I covered it with grated cheese, again getting some in all the cuts.  I covered it in foil, baked until the cheese was melted, and stepped back as it disappeared with all my boys around.

It was gone so fast I had to whip up another version with barbecue sauce and mozzarella cheese.  It
 was gone nearly as quickly.

It's good to have good food to feed my family.And I got to remember my mother for a few minutes.  Thanks for loving us, Mom.  Thanks for teaching me how to love.

My Family Makes Me Happy

A little bit of what we've been doing the last while:

Dad getting ready to tell bedtime stories to Georgie and Angel.  They love him so much.

Freddie deciding that he'd rather play with his Legos than listen to a bedtime story.  He'll pitch a fit if he misses any of the story, though.

Eddie logging into the computer to report his hours of trombone practice on the band's website.  He really enjoys playing it, but I don't know about lugging the big thing to school every other day.  I'm sure he's glad it's not a tuba.

I didn't get pictures of Chris or David - they are getting to those teenaged years where they would prefer not to have their pictures taken.  Still love 'em!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Family Spotlight

We have a weekly bulletin that comes with our church program every Sunday.  On the back, they highlight a different family each week.  This week, it is our family's turn, so I thought I'd include the little bits we wrote about us.  Yeah, it's a small program and we are a big family, so you only get the shortest of short version of everyone.  We don't have fascinating bios, not a professional portrait, but we're just a regular old family.  Here goes...

Opa is the resident patriarch of a large, loving family including 28 1/2 grandchildren!  He spends time working on the model train layout in his garage and loves it when people come over to run trains with him.

Dad loves helping everyone around him.  He is a whiz in the kitchen and really enjoys cooking and baking.  He sang with the Mormon Youth Choir, and signs ASL beautifully.

Mom enjoys spending time with her family and sleeping.  If she remembered what a hobby was, she might write, dabble in graphic design, hand-letter calligraphy, or crochet.

Alec (21) is serving a mission in Cape Town, South Africa.  He is learning great things and growing, and will be coming home next March.

Ben (19) is currently loving his mission in Madagascar.  He loves to learn and play basketball. No, he hasn't seen any lemurs, but he has learned to like rice.  

Chris (17) is a senior this year and looking forward to track and field season where he runs hurdles.  He has a real talent for computer animation and 3-D modeling.

David (14) is in ninth grade.  He likes singing, dancing, and being with friends.  He enjoys track and field, building things, and solving problems. He likes cooking and baking bread for his mission fund.

Edward (12) is in seventh grade.  He likes eating, sleeping, reading, and hanging out with friends.  He is learning to play the trombone and guitar.

Angel (7) is our little ray of sunshine.  She's doing great in first grade in spite of her tumble out the window a few years ago.  Miracles do happen - thanks for your prayers!

Frederick and George (5) are loving kindergarten.  Fred likes playing the piano, giving backscratches, and playing with Legos.  George is becoming a good writer and likes to build things with any kind of blocks.

Our favorite meal is traditional Sunday tacos where everyone pitches in to help each other get to the eating part!  Working together takes a lot of the stress out of our Sabbath meal.

Favorite family traditions include our annual family birthday party with pizza on fine china, measuring up every birthday on our growth chart, and monthly Family Home Evening with all the cousins.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Mission Monday

Some weeks are good and some are not so good.  And sometimes they are good and we don't even know it.

Missionaries are encouraged to keep good records of what they do - it helps them to be organized and accountable for their time.  They are often encouraged to get better numbers as a way to motivate and encourage them to improve.  Some missionaries look at the statistics as an end of themselves, but most I've known understand that the numbers are just a way to track what you are doing with people, and the people are most important.  So sometimes when, by the numbers, it doesn't look like you are doing much, you might be accomplishing much more than you think.  The real value is the connection with people, and helping them live happier lives.

That's a good reminder for me this week, as I try to see progress and growth in me and my children.

You can go check out their blogs about South Africa and Madagascar.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Road Trip

We went on a road trip over Labor Day.  It was fun, and we all enjoyed it.  Or mostly all of us enjoyed it, or or we all enjoyed most of it.  Probably most of us enjoyed most of it - isn't that how road trips go?  We spent the weekend with our Swain cousins in a lodge with plenty of room for running and an industrial kitchen for cooking up enough grub to feed us all.

On the way home, we looked like this - happy and tired and ready for our own home and our own beds. Except David.  He seems to be the only one awake, so maybe he should have been the driver.  Shh.  Not yet.  We'll have plenty of time for growing up and not sitting in the back seat anymore.  For now, enjoy the childhood.  I know I am.

Love this family!

Sent from Samsung tablet

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Yard Sale

When we moved last year - yes, it's been an entire year - we had two weeks to empty out a spacious house and move into a much smaller one.  Most of our stuff went into a storage garage that was literally packed to the ceiling with all our stuff.  What on earth could we have owned that took up that much space?  As a minimalist, I was quite disgusted with all of it.

A good deal of it was large furniture items that we could not shoehorn into my dad's already-furnished house.  We planned to go through it the garage and clean it out, but it was just crammed in there too tightly packed too efficiently to be able to get anything out.  Finally, the day came when we were tired enough (me:of having so much STUFF! and him: of me complaining about it!) that we just had a garage sale.

We hauled load after load of furniture and big stuff from the garage out onto the lawn where passers-by could see it.  We set out signs and advertised.  We brought water and set up canopies so we could sit out there all day long.

The stuff slowly disappeared.  People drove by and slowed down.  An older man, on vacation from California, packed more things into his car than he would be able to drive back home.  A couple slowly talked down the price of a tandem bicycle they would ride together.  A group of college boys together carried away a heavy side table that they thought looked like a treasure chest.  A neighbor girl went home and back three times until she had found enough money to buy an old blue bike.  Women wheedled, babies cried, little children carefully counted their coins.

At the end of the day, we loaded up what didn't sell and took it to the thrift store dropoff.  We were a few hundred dollars richer and a few thousand pounds lighter. Whew.

I thought I'd be jumping-up-and-down happy to see it done.  I wasn't.  Glad to be done with it, yes.  Relieved, yes.  But it took more emotional energy than I counted on to let go of things I had loved.  I'd paid good money for that stuff - picked it out carefully and lovingly.  I wanted it!  And the memories attached to each piece were substantial.  The ghosts of happy family times pressed thickly on my sentimental heart.

I'm sad that I don't have room for some of those nice things, but I'm not willing to store them.  Maybe one day I'll have my own house again and I can pick out just what I want to put in it again.  Until then, I'll just have to see what I can do to make happy family memories today, with what I have now.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Bon Appetit

School is in session, and we've settled into a comfortable routine.  The other day, Eddie came home with a recipe from his "Introduction to Foreign Languages" class.  They spend a few weeks with three or four different languages so they can get a feel for them before they commit to a year-long class next year.  Right now, he is studying French and wanted to make the eclair.  Bien sur!

He and David had a great time making them, and everyone enjoyed the eating of them.  Georgie couldn't stay away from them for anything!  Yes, mes fils, you can bring home good recipes and make them anytime.  I might even do the dishes for you.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Mission Monday

A couple of transfers ago, I got a message from one of my missionaries that his new companion's mother wanted to get in touch with me.  Ummm... yes?  It turns out that they have a facebook group for parents of missionaries in that area, and they wanted to invite as many as they could get.  As an introvert, I'm impressed with the strength of the support from this group.  We share news and pictures and heartaches.  They freely share ideas and hints and how-do-I-get-things-to-the-other-side-of-the-world.  It's been fun to be a part of the group, especially when someone posts a group picture where I unexpectedly see my boy!

No, there are no boys, mine or otherwise, in this picture.

It makes me think of what a wonderful world it would be if we could all be so supportive of each other.  It's an amazing thought, isn't it?

You can click away to read about what's happening in South Africa, and in Madagascar.  Pray for these boys, if you would - it really does help and support them!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Birthday Recap

So yeah, we managed to pull off a birthday tea party.  I was quite surprised that, despite the short notice, almost all the little girls came!  What am I supposed to do with NINE extra little girls in my house?  Take deep breaths.  The twins didn't even mind being outnumbered.

Honestly, I was so busy prepping food and cleaning up and getting things ready (in the middle of the usual Saturday hubbub) that I didn't even think about little girls until quite a few had collected.  After so many boys inhabiting our home, it was a little bit shocking to see such a pile of princess dresses and fluffy outfits.  I'm laughing at myself.

I gave them free reign at a pile of polka-dot paper, sparkly pens, and my old stash of scrapbooking stickers.  After a giggly while, we set the table for the tea party.  We had a little lesson in etiquette, then poured the pink lemonade.  It was adorable to hear them demurely murmur "oh, dear," when they dropped something on the floor and hilarious to hear their pretend British accents.  I have to admit that I had a good time just watching them, and I tried really hard not to laugh so they could hear.

My birthday girl was absolutely delighted by everything, and that made all the not-very-much effort quite worth it.  Actually, I'd go to the moon and back for her if she needed it.  What mother wouldn't?

At the end of the day, Angel climbed into the top bunk early and snuggled into sleep with her favorite pictures and birthday cards taped lovingly to the rail (with the roll of tape I gave her 'cuz I was tired of losing mine to her.  Win.).  I love that the last card on the right is one Alec sent her from South Africa - last year.  It's a prized possession.  Oh, how we all love this girl!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Tea Party!

It's Angel's birthday.  That sweet little girl of mine is turning 7!  I think I am getting old because these little ones of mine seem to be growing up faster and faster.  Before long I'll be telling stories about my rheumatism.

She has been planning her birthday party for... oh since about the last birthday.  And she wants everything under the sun, I swear.  Fortunately for me, her enthusiasm works better than her memory, and she is easily delighted.  Last year, we moved to a new house right before my birthday, so I was successful in begging off having a party.  This year I have no such excuse and we will be having a tea party.

She wants all her little friends to come, and I think there are about three hundred and seventy of them.   She wants plenty of goodies to eat, too, and has specifically requested doughnuts and cupcakes and brownies and pie and cookies and a birthday cake, of course.  She wants herbal tea or maybe lemonade and juice is good and I really like soda but we don't have it very often but can we have it for my party please Mom?  And we can't forget the pinata.

I'm looking on this page for ideas of fun things to do at the party because I'm not a very good party planner.  I'm not a very good party-goer, either - I'd much rather stay at home.  But I'll throw a party for my little butterfly because I love her.  It's a good thing she is only 7 and hasn't had a lot of experience going to parties, because my parties are decidedly low-key.  I am totally impressed with mothers who throw all-out parties for their kids - don't get me wrong.  There are some pretty amazing parties going on out there!  I'm just not one of them, and I've finally decided that it's ok.

I think we'll pass out markers and let the kids decorate their plates.  If I'm feeling really well, we'll make fancy hats out of paper plates.  We shall have a little lesson on tea-party manners, and serve tea and crumpets.  Or something.  With our little fingers extended, we shall try not to slurp.  We could even frost cupcakes.  Afterwards, we will break open a pinata in the front yard, stuff everyone full of candy, and send them all home.

Good enough.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tuesday Doodles

I got a hold of some markers and a sheet of green cardstock.  I had some time while I was sitting in a less-than-gripping meeting, and this happened.

No, I didn't do the silhouetting with a Sharpie, but wouldn't that be cool if I could?

I'm not fond of how the font turned out for "am a", but I like the rest of it.  I wanted the "I" to be special, because we all have that infant divinity in us.  I wanted the "God" to be complex and beautiful, because He does so many amazing things for us.  The more I sat in the meeting (on a hard chair.  Ouch!), the more doodles got added on the end there, but I guess that is the way God is - always adding and expanding and loving us.

I am a child of God.  It brings me such comfort and direction.  I hope you can feel that, too.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Mission Monday

I'm having some reality checks while my boys are on missions.  We have so much!  We have so many things that we take for granted - and then have the audacity to complain about.  Must repent and be more grateful.

Every week, I send out a letter to my missionaries with all the newsy tidbits of the family.  Then I send another very short email with the question of the week.  That way they don't get inundated by having to remember all the things I've asked in the middle of the regular letter.  My questions for the last few weeks have been about how the people live.  I've found out - again - how simply people live when they are poor.  Here are descriptions of at-home life in Madagascar:

Usually there's one room (to the house). And it might have a bed, maybe two, some reed mats you can sit on, and maybe a little chair or bench. Then there's usually a table that they keep there stuff on and sacks full of their clothes underneath. Sometimes they store their clothes under the bed.

They usually cook on a charcoal stove outside. Only very rich people (like our branch president) have ovens or gas stoves even. The missionaries usually have gas stoves. But we ran out of gas three weeks ago and Fort Dauphin does not have any at all... So we're still waiting for it to come from Tana. But since most people only have one room houses, there aren't really kitchens. They'll just have a cutting board maybe and then two or three pots and one little charcoal stove that fits one pot. So cooking happens outside, unless it's raining, then you just have a smoky house.  Don't worry about us not having gas, I've been eating dry ramen every day.

(For games) there's kinety which is a marble game, then there's kinety be which is bocce ball with metal balls. Then there's soccer with balls made from trash bags tied together, some games with bottle caps, and some toy trucks made from from garbage scraps. Those are the biggest ones.

 Wow.  I have an awful lot to be thankful for!

You can read more about how the boys are doing in South Africa and Madagascar on their blogs.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Last Firsts

My babies just started kindergarten.  Wait... what??

'Twasn't very long ago that I was holding them both in my arms, smelling the scent of their little heads...  wait, I did do that a few days ago.  They are big and heavy and wiggly and I could only hold them both for a moment, and I think I threw out my back.  But it was wonderful to hold them both, and they laughed and then demanded to be let down.

I bought them new shoes for school.  One pair is red and the other is blue, because those are their favorite colors.  This is the first time I have bought different-looking shoes.  Usually I just buy two pair of the same kind of shoe, and then wish I had bought three pair so we would never have to worry about finding that one shoe that is lost.  Except that we would just have more shoes to lose, I'm sure.  These things never turn out the way you want them to!

As we got their feet measured and started looking at the shoes, I realized that their shoes were much longer now than they are tall.  Baby shoes are taller than wide, and the ratio goes quickly to an as-tall-as-wide blob that looks like cartoon feet.  I love those little round shoes.  And now they look like big boys - with laces!  They learned how to tie their shoes in a day.  In a day!  They are big boys now, with real shoes and backpacks.

We walked them to school, Trent and I, and slowly made our way home.  The house felt empty and quiet.  I've seen this milepost coming for two decades - the day when all my children were in school.  It happened briefly when Eddie started kindergarten, and Angel was born a few weeks later.  But now it's the real deal.

I had a good cry about missing my babies - all of them.  There will be no more new kindergarten children clinging to my hand and nervous to go into the giant, busy school.  Oh how I've loved being a mama for my babies!

We're starting a new chapter here, and I have no doubt that it will be filled with as much love as the last chapters.  Maybe even more.

First Day of School

What happened to the summer?  I blinked and it was gone - and now it's time for school to start.

This year, we have a senior in high school, a freshman, a seventh grader, a first grader, and two kindergartners.

 We wake up early, have breakfast and make lunches with the high school and middle school kids.  We read some scripture and say our morning prayers.  That seems to make the day go better.

Then Trent and I have half an hour to talk and plan the day before we start the second shift.  The elementary school kids get up and dressed.  Opa comes out and we have second breakfast.  We should be Hobbits.

We talked about having the little kids get up with the big kids, but decided that this was a more grown-up time we could spend with the big kids, and good, uninterrupted discussions don't happen very often with them.  We cherish those moments.

Before we know it, they are all off to school.  Before we know it, they will all be gone, just like the summer.  Love these kids, and I'm so grateful I get to be their mother!