Friday, May 30, 2008

Whirling Dervishes Run for Fun Undaunted by Whirlwind

This week has been a bit too much. Six resume orders (though only one from my business). Cub Scout pack meeting. Karate. Last piano lesson. Home teaching. Stake auxiliary training meeting. Birthday present shopping. Trip to Party City for supplies. Delivery of 4 cubic yards of mulch. Fixing bikes. Last day of preschool and accompanying party. Some kind of laundry vortex where I swear I did five loads a day and it just kept multiplying.

It's been day after day of timed-to-the-minute agendas and our family is like troupe of whirling dervishes--but faster and with less spiritual focus--twirling in and out of the van in a choreographed frenzy.

I'll spare you the logistical details of how I managed to show up for the elementary school's annual Fun Run and the errands I squeezed in between the kindergarten and upper grades' races. Hallelujah we did have spring weather today! Like the good sport I am, I loaded Haley and Jesse in the cumbersome double stroller and ran alongside Levi for the kindergarteners' 1 mile run. Actually, Levi didn't let me run alongside. Heedless of my good-sportingness, he refused to even look at me--except when I shouted, "We're catching up with you!" and he glanced at us, then whizzed ahead.

I didn't even try to run with Logan, who was much faster. But we positioned ourselves to cheer him along at two points during his race. He says he came in 10th. As you can see, he poured water over his head. And he's wearing his shirt backwards because he likes that ugly picture.

It's exhausting and I really could use a nice long session of The Office therapy and an early bedtime. But I have to confess--it's also a blast. So many fun kids doing so many fun things. And I'm the one planting the tomatoes and spreading the mulch and loading the pinata and creating the castle-shaped birthday cake and making the birthday presents and running with the stroller so the fun and can go on and on.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Year of No Spring

I didn't complain when I froze during every single one of Levi's spring tee ball games or when, worst of all, driving snow pelted my face and I told poor Levi to do 10 jumping jacks whenever he felt cold so he jumped and jacked throughout the entire game.

I didn't complain when the kids had to keep wearing their worn-out, too-short jeans to school because why buy new ones when spring really should arrive any moment and they can start wearing shorts.

Or when I had to dig the mittens and coats back out of their box.

Or when Levi's spring fieldtrip to the zoo got snowed on.

Or when our Memorial Day barbecue got moved indoors.

But today it's *%$@# May 29th and the fourth graders are taking their big fieldtrip to the mountains under black clouds and cold driving rain.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Disappearing Mother

I found this image on Swaptorium. Look closely.

We have some old home movies where my mother's disembodied hand enters the scene to smooth someone's hair or adjust their Batman cape, but this takes it to a whole new level. I feel like I can almost see her, like she would be a kindred spirit if I could only see her face.

So what do you see?

~ A smart mother who found a clever way to keep baby happy while posing for a picture of the children?

~ A justification for blogging, which allows mothers to send comminques out into the world and, with, luck avoid becoming totally invisible?

~ A sad metaphor for women's role in society: holding it up, placed front-and-center, but obscured by florals?

~ A perfect allegory for the life of a mother and housewife, wherein the person who pressed and tied those little bows gets no credit or even recognition?

What do you think?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

"For friends at first are friends again at last" -Joseph Smith

Yesterday we got a visit from our beloved college friends, Brenda and Mike Andrus. They got married on the same day we did, then Brenda and I worked together the BYU writing lab. Brenda and I bonded over being outspoken liberals married to mild husbands and the challenges and joys of newlywed life. When my husband worked in the archives and her husband delivered pizza all weekend, we dated each other. Mark and I were among the biggest fans of Brenda's rock band and Mike's mountain bike racing wins (seriously--these are talented people!). When Brenda got pregnant, I followed soon after, and then we bonded over first pregnancy and baby love. There are few people we admire and enjoy more than them. But we moved, and they moved, and life went on and we mostly drifted out of touch.

What then, you might ask, brought us back together for a happy Saturday morning breakfast? What prompted Mike and Brenda to spend a few hours of their precious family vacation chatting with us while their boys and ours bonded over computer games? We owe it all, dear friends, to blogging.

Brenda started a blog, then found mine, and she and I discovered that the years had not really separated us at all. We're following the same tracks now as much as we were then--as if we'd been living on the same cul-de-sac all along--helping our boys enter adolescence, trying to teach the gospel to spirited children, reading like good former English majors.

As Brenda said, if our blogs made this happy reunion possible, then they're more than worth it.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Chicky Loves

My talented sister-in-law Kate put together this chicky banner in mere moments. I'm so flattered that this is the image she thought of for me and my blog. Especially since she doesn't have children yet, I worry about all the times when she sees me grumpy or impatient, or my children dirty.

All day long I've been imaginging myself cheeping little loves out to my chickies.

(Kate says Mark is absent only because of design constraints. But really the blog isn't much about him--that relationship is usually too private to broadcast.)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Roscoe Goes Green

Roscoe and his instructors. Think it's time for Mom to spring for a new uniform and get rid of those capris?

A few months ago, Roscoe transitioned from the kids' class at karate to the adult/teen class. It turned out to be quite a jump. Since the kids learn watered-down versions of all the forms, Roscoe had to learn a lot of additional steps just to catch up to his current belt. (For those of you unfamiliar, a form is a memorized series of defensive and offensive movements performed in series--karate's version of dance.) He had moments of frustration at his lack of advancement and even threatened to quit. But instead he started taking the initiative to ask his instructors to show him the next step or two of his form after each class.

Last night he finally promoted from blue to green--and this is a full-on, bona fide adult green. It's a great accomplishment, and we can see Roscoe benfitting from his work on concentration, memory, focus, and body control.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Housewife's Rule of Five

Today was a bit of a dud. Nothing bad happened--in fact, nothing happened. Just one of those days--rare but real--when I wish for a moment that I were somewhere other than my own house, talking with someone other than my own children. In other words, the perfect day to deploy my trusty Housewife's Rule of Five.

Here's how it works: At the end of your day, list five things you've accomplished. Anything. Even "did a load of laundry," "read a naptime story,""made dinner," or "played ring-around-the-rosie when I really didn't want to."

One obstacle to being a happy housewife is that so much of what we do seems insignificant, goes unnoticed, or just has to be done all over again in the morning. True, no one on God's green earth knows what you did for your family today, but God knows--and you, He, and I all know that it's significant nonetheless.

Today's Five:

1. Did 60 minutes of cardio at the gym.

2. When Logan and Levi informed me that today was Hat Day at school and immediately began fighting over who got to wear our Davy Crockett hat, I leveraged my connection with our Primary chorister, borrowed Mark's church keys, and got two awesome hats from the Primary closet--then got the boys and their friends to school on time. All this in the pouring rain. (Levi chose the gold, jewel-encrusted king's crown; Logan chose the hamburger hat with a bun on top and lettuce, tomato, etc. poking ou the sides.)

3. Completed a resume order.

4. Dusted all three sets of venetian blinds in my room.

5. Invested some quality time in Logan, helping him blog, awarding two positive consequences, and watching the American Idol finale.

And best of all--I didn't raise my voice or snap at anyone, all day.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Her Mother's Words, A True Story

Today was the third day first grade. She had worn her two store-bought dresses, gifts from her grandma, on the first two days. So today she wore a pair of second-hand jeans and a homemade shirt. The shirt was made from fabric that used to hang over the small window in the front door of their brick bungalow. Her mother had fashioned it into a summer top with no buttons or zippers. It wrapped around her back in a way that made it complicated for her to get her head through the right hole. Often her mother had to come sort it out. Since it was now fall, the shirt was worn over a turtleneck. She pulled up her knee socks, her mother buckled her shoes, and they walked out the door.

Down the steps, down the walkway, turn right, down the sidewalk to the corner. At the corner they stopped. “Do you want to cross here?” her mother asked.

So far they had tried it both ways. The first day they turned at the corner, walked down that sidewalk, and crossed the street at the next corner before continuing on to the school. On the second day, they crossed the street right there at the corner. On the other side of the street they walked by a yard with a dog that barked. “Don’t let it know you’re scared,” her mother had coached. “Don’t run. Just keep walking. Just look straight ahead.” And though her heart was pounding, she did keep walking, not any faster but certainly not any slower, arms straight by her side. Glad her mother was beside her.

“Do you want to cross here?” her mother asked. The thought of that barking dog jumped to her throat in a lump. But some other part of her jumped forth as well. Some desire--courageous? stubborn?--not to hide from the dog or the fear. Or maybe to show her mother that she would not recognize the fear.

“Yes,” she said. They would walk right by that dog, eyes straight ahead.

“All right, have a good day at school,” her mother bent and briefly hugged her. She was meant to go on alone. She had been tricked! And abandoned! She could, of course, have said she changed her mind. She could have turned and walked safely down the dog-free street. She could even have asked her mother to walk along with her for one more day. But again that hard spot--independence? determination?--pushed forth.

She stepped one buckled, brown Buster Brown shoe into the street, then the other. If she had looked back she would have seen her mother watching her. But she did not look back. She walked closer and closer to the yard where the dog would bark. The first bark tore into her ears like a shock. But she didn’t break her stride. Her mother’s words echoed in her head, “Just keep walking. Don’t let it know that you’re scared.” Step, after step, eyes straight ahead, hands at her sides, until the barking grew fainter and finally was gone. Then her steps did perhaps speed up a bit, and she thrilled with relief and accomplishment. Soon she reached the school, alone, triumphant.

Back on the corner, her mother smiled as she turned and walked back to the house.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Suburban Labor Camp

Day 3 of landscaping was not bliss. I spent way too much time shovelling dirt under the sun and am now majorly bonked.

When I got too tired to shovel anymore, I cleaned up inside while Roscoe hosted a movie party. I love kids in clumps.

It's fortunate for everyone here that I can get some vicarious weekend joy from feeding kids popcorn while they watch something like Alex Rider. (Watch for forthcoming posts about my quest to remedy the design disaster zone my playroom has become.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"Let's take the time..."

About 10 years ago, Mark came home from work one day and made a comment I’ve never forgotten. He was doing an internship for the LDS Church Archives—commuting from Logan to downtown Salt Lake, which has got to be one of the world’s most horrifically life-threatening commutes, with a long drive down a twisting and icy canyon. Turns out, that little internship has been a crucial key to launching Mark’s career, and in retrospect we see it now as an another example of God guiding us along the path that would lead us to where He wanted us to be.

Mark had safely made it home one evening, and described his view on a workplace debate as, “Let’s just take the time to hammer this out nice and straight.” I jotted this down on a scrap of paper and kept it on the fridge for months. This could be Mark’s life motto. In all things, big and small, he wants to take the time to lay out every strand. Fortunately he’s in a career where obsessive attention to detail is generally a virtue.

Yesterday he enjoyed some fruits of his geeky labor. Over the last few years he’s been championing the use of multi-spectral imaging to examine Joseph Smith’s journals in order to see layers of ink and decode changes and alterations to the next. This would help determine the answers to fascinating questions such as, When Joseph Smith’s scribe changed “wroth” to “worth,” did he make the change immediately or sometime afterwards?

Yesterday the world’s multi-spectral imaging experts focused their fancy machine on a journal page Mark had flagged. They discovered that under the visible words was a page entirely covered with two columns listing names of Caldwell County residents. Apparently the original list of names had been washed (yes, you could do that with the ink used at the time) and written over. No one ever knew those names were there. But now we do. Thanks to Mark.

He and his friends clustered around, highlighters and archival spatulas bristling from their pockets, to admire this revelation.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Jesse's Super Powers

Levi, as I am dressing Jesse: I love Onesies. They're so cute. It's like Jesse's super suit. He really is a super hero. And he can really fight bad guys. His super power is to get peanut butter on their face. [as I slip on Jesse's button-up shirt] And that's his disguise for his secret identity. His secret identity is to be a photographer.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day Breakfast & Repentance

A few weeks ago I decided that this year I would ponder in advance what I wanted to do for Mother's Day and what I wanted my family to do for me. First decision: request the breakfast menu and thereby avoid another round of cold, burnt toast. This was the yummiest breakfast ever, and despite Mark's complaints, is very easy. (Next year I think I'll take pity and assemble everything for him the night before.)
Baked French Toast Casserole

1 loaf French bread (13 to 16 ounces)
8 large eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash salt
Praline Topping, recipe follows
Maple syrup

Slice French bread into 20 slices, 1-inch each. Arrange slices in a generously buttered 9 by 13-inch flat baking dish in 2 rows, overlapping the slices. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and beat with a rotary beater or whisk until blended but not too bubbly. Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk-egg mixture. Spoon some of the mixture in between the slices. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread Praline Topping evenly over the bread and bake for 40 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden. Serve with maple syrup.

Praline Topping:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and blend well. Makes enough for Baked French Toast Casserole.

Allison's Yummy Salad

1 pt fresh strawberries, sliced
1 bunch spinach, washed and torn

1/2 c mayonnaise
2 T vinegar
1/3 c sugar
1/4 c whole milk
2 T poppy seeds

Mix dressing and chill ahead of time. Toss all together at the last minute.

Second decision: What I really need to do for Mother's Day is repent. In the sense of having a change of heart. I need to change, I realize. And I spent the day pondering and praying and studying the Atonement to figure out how to make that happen from the inside out.

In a word, my sin is shortsightedness. For mothers, “giving our lives” for others giving moment by moment, day after day. Sacrificing our time, talents, attention, and patience for our families, sometimes at the expense of our own pursuits or preferences. (Of course, of course, this can be taken too far. We must nourish and preserve our selves so that we have something of substance to give—among other reasons.) Many times I get so caught up in the mundane duties—getting dinner on, getting the kids out the door, getting there on time, cleaning up this mess—that I don’t delight in praising and mentoring and rewarding and teaching and even really seeing my children and their efforts.

On my favorite yoga DVD, while we’re holding a deep stretch, the teacher says, “Gradually, with time, we open—on all levels.” I need to open, on all levels. Open to letting us be late if we must, to letting a mess sit a moment longer while I take care of a child. Open to the chaos that surely will reign during these short years while my children are here. Open to my children’s needs and emotions and desires--and my husband’s too, for that matter. Open to loosen my gaze, to look up beyond the demands of the meaningless moment to see to the horizon, with clearer focus on what really matters.

Here's to another year of stretching and opening as I try to be the mother my children need.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Roscoe Makes My Dreams Come True

Today Roscoe performed in his annual piano recital and did a lovely job. For some reason him playing the piano makes me feel like a real mom.

Earlier in the day, Jesse helped with phase 2 of our weed abatement and landscaping project. His beautiful white skin seems to scream to me, "No sun!" But he loves to toodle around the yard.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Revenge of the Kindergarten Teachers?

Levi, who doesn't like to bathe, took two showers yesterday. In his words, he wanted to "look his best" for today's kindergarten program.

Here's Levi singing "Going to the Zoo." Check out Levi in the front row swinging those hips as he sings.

So here's the part where I wondered if the kindergarten teachers were secretly seeking revenge: A couple weeks ago they sent home a paper explaining that each child must have an adult to perform the Chicken Dance alongside them at the program. The paper required that I sign that I would perform the Chicken Dance. Madness!, I thought. I mean, kindergarteners doing the Chicken Dance--that's cute--but adults? Not so much.

Well, part of me certainly felt like an idiot doing the Chicken Dance. But another part of me had a blast. Levi was so excited. We linked elbows to twirl during the little instrumental bridge, and his bright little face beamed up at me, "You have to skip, Mom!" Chalk one up for the kindergarten teachers.

The best part was the grand finale. Apparently the program concluded a little too early, and for legal reasons, they couldn't cut us all loose with our kids until their school day was officially over. So Levi's teacher said, "We're going to make your day a little more fun," and she invited everyone to come do the twist. Apparently Mark felt he had missed out on the Chicken Dance, and he ran out on the floor and twisted with, uh, gusto. (See him center below, with the greenish sweatshirt. He's the guy doing the white man's overbite.)

Then we stuck around for the 4th graders recorder concert--which for some reason was held in the dark. Mark's favorite part was when the kids clapped and chanted "We will, we will ROCK YOU!" and then announced that their first selection would be "Hot Cross Buns."

See Logan third from the left in the back row.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Under Construction

Do you the love the photo Jessica took to convey "pressed down and shaken together." But my layout definitely needs work. Stayed tuned for ongoing improvements.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Shining Moments

My sister Nancy has about my favorite blog. She had three babies in like 3 years and I happen to know she has her moments of frustration (because she often calls me when they occur). But her blog is a big fat ode to the joys of having and raising children. Nancy does a great job of finding and highlighting and feeding off those great moments. I think Elder Ballard would be proud--his conference talk where he recommended mothers focus on the "shining moments" is one of the only GA talks on motherhood that made me feel actually recognized and understood and appreciated (as opposed to condescended and saccarhine--but we won't talk about that).

So, inspired by Nancy's recent post, here's my current list of favorite shining moments.

The way Jesse nudges up to me throughout the day just to get some mommy contact.

The way the kids all seem to feel you can't properly start your day without climbing into Moms' bed for a while.

Roscoe's half-manly, half-boyish, gangly adolescent self, with his still-pretty face peeking out of his nasty mop of hair.

Jesse's sweet baby voice and the still-new joy of hearing it say words to me.

Seeing Roscoe put his scriptures away after quietly having his own personal scripture study in the morning--all with no prompting from me.

When my kids interact with each other, play with each other, talk to each other, look up to each other, hatch schemes together.

Watching Roscoe pass the sacrament on Sunday, and watching the little kids closely watch him do it.

That Levi has finally succeeded in making baskets in the full-sized hoop and how happy it makes him.

That FINALLY spring seems to be here.

That Mark, more than anyone else on God's green earth, gets--and often appreciates--my inside jokes and allusions.

Mark's dark hair--I'm trying to enjoy it while it lasts (in color and quantity).

That Mark seems to genuinely not care about what age and childbirth have done to my body.

Having a backyard with a tramp and swings and playhouse and sandbox and tree with weird ropes hanging from its branches and sticks decorated with glitter.

Haley's starbuns and dimples and black eyes.

Hearing Haley sing ridiculous, falsetto songs to herself when she's supposed to be sleeping.

Seeing that bright aura of light over each of my children. To me they stand out in any crowd as the brightest and best.

My master bedroom with its big windows and deep tub and high ceiling and cushy bed and locking door.

Looking around the dinner table and seeing that everyone is here.

The hours at night when Mark and I can hang out together and finally have an uninterrupted conversation.

Watching my children speaking proudly of and care for Jesse like a bunch of little mothers.

Mark's mellow chuckle of sincere admiration when Logan regales him with silly stories and movie impressions during dinner.

The way Logan slams open the door and whoops into the house after school.

Having a driveway strewn with scooters and a backyard strewn with dirty socks.

Making bread and cookies and watching the kids eat them.

Walking into church with a long row of children following me like ducklings.

Running errands surrounded by a boisterious crowd of children, like my own personal entourage.

Driving a white Dodge Caravan--the boringest car in the universe--and thinking, "I may look like a shallow Utah sell-out, but really I'm a very fascinating person!"

Seeing food in the pantry.

When everyone comes back home in the afternoon.

That family and parenthood figure prominently in my children's life plans. Most notably Levi, who says he'll have 8 children and 4 babies and, thank heavens, a nanny. But even Logan, who claims he will never marry because that's gross and so he'll adopt his children.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Suburban Saturday & Simple Pizza

Today was all that's best about happy family life in the 'burbs.

Mark and I dug out a big planter area and installed landscape fabric. I'd show beautiful "after" pics, but our Mexicans never showed up with our mulch! We are a bit sheepish and a bit proud that of the 4 houses on our block that have installed mulch planters this spring, we're the only ones who did the work ourselves. We both spent some hours on the end of shovels, hoes, and rakes. I love enjoying the fruits of our labors.

The kids were good sports and played happily with each other while Mark and I worked. And they chipped in quite a bit as well. Roscoe mowed and tended Jesse. Logan raked sticks from under the trees and succeeded in getting his room all the way clean.

For dinner we had homemade pizza. Not quite the cachet of delivered pizza, but pretty tasty nonetheless. Here's my recipe for fast and simple cheese pizza:

1 1/2 cups warm water
4 t yeast
4 cups flour (you can use part whole wheat)
1 t sugar
1 t salt

Dissolve yeast in water. Add remaining ingredients. Knead. Cover and let rise 5-90 minutes. On floured surface, divide dough into three lumps, one smaller than the others. Roll out the two larger lumps to pizza pan size. Bake 5 minutes in 400 degree oven. (I usually roll the first lump, then bake it while I roll out the second.)


On baked crusts, spread 1 can crushed tomatoes. Cover with mozzarella and fresh parmesan. Sprinkle with fresh basil leaves. Bake about 10 minutes more til brown and bubbly.

Roll out third lump. Spread liberally with butter and cinnamon-sugar. Bake about 10 minutes until golden. Serve as dessert.

After dinner, everyone pitched in for a Saturday-night tidy. We vacuumed and put away toys and folded some laundry. Then we started the bath rotation. Haley and Levi each took separate baths, then Logan and Jesse bathed while I combed Haley's hair. Mark and I did some mild yoga twists and stretches to limber up our sore muscles.

Now everyone is clean. Jobs were well done. We're ready for a night of deep sleep and a happy Sabbath.