Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Alligator Daze

One of the fun things we did while we were in Florida was go to an alligator farm on the edge of the Everglades. Everyone had fun holding a baby alligator. (With it's mouth taped shut, and don't worry--they rotate the alligators so that their mouth doesn't get sore.)

We loved the alligator show, although we were a little worried when the guy held the alligator's mouth open with his chin!

The little alligators are so cute. The picture on the left was babies--about a year old, I think. And the one on the right were a couple of years old. When we threw in the food pellets they climbed all over each other trying to get them.

Everyone loved the airboat ride. When Russ & I went two years ago we had to put bits of cotton in our ears to protect us from the noise, but since then they've upgraded to ear protectors. So we all looked very cool.

We saw a few alligators, turtles, and egrets (I think?) on our ride.

(This is Cindy Lynn's picture, and I swiped it right off of her blog.
My picture had too many heads in front of the bird. Thanks, honey!)

As we left the alligator farm we noticed that the neighbors must really not want to be invaded by the 'gators!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I Hope They Call Him on a Mission

Today, a newly returned missionary spoke in church. He left here 2 years ago a boy, and today he stood before us a man and spoke (softly) of the power of missionary work. His father sat on the stand and I could see the love and pride in his eyes. It was beautiful.

As I've gotten older and watched my friends send their sons on missions, I've realized what a sacrifice this is for parents; sending their precious child out into the world to serve the Lord for two whole years. Two years of communication through only one letter a week, two years of hoping and praying that all is well, two years of missing that child in every aspect of family life.

It is not in my nature to handle separation well. When Cindy Lynn went to college we sent her with a cell phone so that we would be able to communicate with her. She & I talk several times a week and IM almost every day, and I still miss just having her around. I can't even fathom how it will be to send a child on a mission.

But I know what I want for my sons. I want them to be men like their father and their uncles. I want them to have the spiritual strength that comes from living for and serving the Lord 24/7. I want what I saw in church today.

And that's why when the time comes I will suck it up, sharpen my letter-writing skills, and pretend to have a stiff upper lip.

So that my sons, too, can experience this amazing transformation.

I just hope I can teach them to want the same thing.


P.S. My new heroes are my incredible brother & sister in law who sent all three of their kids into the MTC within just a few months of each other. Our twin nephews and their older sister are now serving in the Ukraine, Las Vegas, and Portugal, all at the same time!

(Yes, I know that girls can serve missions too.
But today I was thinking about my sons!)

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Magazine Dilemma

I'd be willing to bet that some of you have a pile exactly like this in your home. A pile made mostly of church magazines. Magazines that have lovely Greg Olsen paintings on the front of them, magazines that seem somehow too holy to go into the garbage can.

Magazines that multiply like rabbits over the years.

So how do you deal with it? Do you have a strategery? Do you keep them all? Keep a certain amount? What's working for you?

Help me please!

The Risks of Waiting to Be Seated

I know that I said that the church branch in Hana, Maui was the smallest I'd ever seen, but I'm changing my story.

The branch in Hana was positively overflowing with people compared to the branch in Marathon, Florida. (Marathon is in the middle of the Florida Keys, and there is another branch in Key West at the bottom of the Keys.)

We got to church late, probably due to the 85 minute drive from where we were staying in Key Largo. Don't get me wrong--I love an 85 minute drive when this is what I get to look at along the way!

When Russ & I went to the Keys for our 20th anniversary the water was very turquoise. This trip it was much more blue. And on the morning we drove to church it was almost as smooth as glass in some places. It was very beautiful for an ocean/water lover like myself.

But back to the branch. We asked after church, and the Key Largo has about 20 active members. I think this is either 4 or 5 families. There were 3 people (besides us) in Sunday School, and one of them was the teacher. There were two women in Relief Society--the RS president (who taught the lesson) and the Sunday School teacher. Wow. The branch president asked if we would be visiting again the next week, and said if so they would love for us to speak in sacrament meeting. So sad to miss an opportunity like that... I might actually get my fill of speaking/teaching if we lived in a tiny branch like Marathon!

After church Ken & Alisyn and the older kids were going to go on down to Key West, and Russ & I took the younger kids back up to Key Largo. Since it was after 1 in the afternoon as we were so far from anywhere we went to lunch at the IHOP next to the church.

When we walked in and asked for seating for 14 the waitress said that they had a group of tables that would sit 8 and another by it that would sit 6. Perfect! We had one table for the adults and another for the kids!

We adults had a very enjoyable meal eating our delicious IHOP food (I adore IHOP harvest grain & nut pancakes with strawberries & whipped cream) and talking,

and we totally ignored what was happening at the table behind us.

When we were almost done (which meant that basically everyone else was done and waiting for me to eat those last few bites of scrambled egg) I saw something interesting. A woman had walked into the restaurant, stood still for a minute, and then started gesturing wildly. I wondered what on earth was happening, and so I turned to look behind me to see what she could be gesturing about.

And then I saw it. The waitress was preparing to sit this woman and her companion at the table next to the tables with all of our kids. And she was having none of it. She marched herself right over to a nicely secluded table on the opposite side of the restaurant and sat down.

Smart woman.

When we were leaving the restaurant I walked by their table and said,

"I don't blame you for not wanting to eat near the kids. Most of them are mine and I didn't want to eat by them either!"

I wished her a peaceful meal and left her laughing...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

May I See Your Vacation Photos Please?

As I mentioned before, we took a trip to the Florida Keys last week with our dear friends to celebrate their daughter's graduation.

We left as soon as Rachel & Jenna were done singing in the talent show and drove to Savannah that night. The next day we got up, ate, and were on the road again.

One of the (many) fun things about traveling with friends is that the traveling arrangements can have so many different configurations.

Because we have a dvd player in our van and a power inverter (used to be for Cindy Lynn's nebulizers, now very helpful for kids wanting to be entertained by playstation or game cube while traveling!) we got the younger kids. (I guess I should also say that we got the younger kids because 5/6 of the younger kids belong to us!)

Ken and Alisyn got the teenagers.

We did feel a little bit gypped when we heard that the teenagers slept most of the time. Although I did insist on a nap in our car too.

When things got really crazy in our car Russ & I joked that we were going to drive this car on our next vacation.

It even had a checkerboard painted on the top of it!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Postal Fantasy

Part of me really wants to be living a life where this could be my mailbox....

(Let me clarify--I want the manatee, and maybe occasionally the grass skirt. I could do without the rest. Obviously I like my manatees a little more dignified!)

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Miracle of St. Augustine

I'm back!

Did you notice I was gone?

I would have blogged about it, but I figured blogging on a public blog about a vacation while you were on it was tantamount to asking someone to burglarize your house. And since we've already had that experience (long ago and far away) I decided I would wait until we were back to announce to the world that we had, indeed, been gone.

Hopefully I can blog about our fun adventures over the next few days. But first I need to tell about the real miracle that happened to us--an alignment of many tender mercies that turned what could have been a really difficult situation into nothing more than a hot and sweaty inconvenience.

First, a word of explanation. We went to the Florida Keys with our wonderful friends Ken & Alisyn to celebrate this:

Erin the lovely graduate
The Miracle of St. Augustine took place on our way home. We left the Keys in the morning, and stopped in mid-afternoon for ice cream. When we went back out to our vans I convinced Alisyn to come and drive with me so that we could talk psycho-babble, while Russ drove their van and Ken got a nap.

We got on to the freeway, I moved into the left lane, and then happened to notice out of the corner of my eye that they were still in the far right lane at the same time that a big SUV was coming up too fast behind me. By the time I had gotten out of the way of the SUV Russ was quite a bit behind me and I didn't worry too much about it. We drove and chatted for a few minutes before I started watching my rearview mirror for Alisyn's van. I was surprised not to see it--I expected that Russ would be right behind me. After a few more minutes I reached for the cell phone to call him and ask where he was, and that's when I realized that he had taken the cell phone with him. I asked Alisyn for her phone, and she said that one of her girls had borrowed it and so it was in the other van. Which meant that we were in our van with no cell phones, and Russ & Ken were in the other van with approximately 6 cell phones!

I pulled into the right hand lane and slowed down, figuring that I must have been going faster than I realized and that within a few minutes they would catch up to us. Alisyn and I both watched our mirrors, waiting for the van to appear. A couple of times we thought we saw it, but it was never the right one. Finally we decided that we needed to pull off & stop for a few minutes, and if we still didn't see them, go find a phone.

I pulled off right before an exit and was surprised to see a small turtle on the ground in front of the van. In my other life I am a turtle-saver, and so I hopped out and picked it up. It was a soft-shelled turtle and felt a lot different than I expected. I also didn't expect it to try to scratch me with it's feet, so I dropped it and then picked it up and tossed it gently back into the grass beside the road. Hopefully it saw the error of it's ways at that point and decided to stay away from the interstate.

After waiting for a few minutes and still not seeing Alisyn's van we started our van again and went in search of a phone booth. I was a little worried about finding one--I'd read that now that almost everyone has a cell phone they're starting to take out some of the phone booths. Which is all fine and dandy, unless all of your cell phones are in an undetermined location somewhere in Florida and you don't know where that is!

I circled one gas station, drove past another one, and we decided that we'd have better luck if we went to a nearby hotel. Unfortunately the road I was on was a dead end and so I turned around and went towards the gas stations again on my way to the hotel. Alisyn & I were discussing our options, including begging strangers at the gas station to let us borrow their cell phones if we struck out at the hotel.

Tender mercy #1 happened when sharp eyed Rachel spotted a pay phone at the first gas station. (Guess her eyes are better than mine!) We pulled up and hopped out of the van with all of the change we could find. First we called Russ's cell phone--no answer. Then we scrounged up some more coins and called Ken's. Joy of joys, he answered.

"Ken," I said, "We don't know where you guys are, and you have all of the cell phones!"

and then he said what I had not expected to hear.

"We're broken down on the side of the road--the serpentine belt came off," he explained. "We're at mile marker 101."

We had exited at #123. No wonder we hadn't seen them in a long time!

I promised him we'd be there as soon as possible, and then Alisyn and I jumped back into the van and we drove 20 minutes south. As we got closer to mile marker 101 we started watching the other side of the road, and sure enough--there they were. We flashed our lights and honked but they had already seen us coming and were waving across all the lanes of traffic. We drove to the next exit, got off, got back on going north, and within a few minutes were pulling up behind them. This is what we saw.

It was HOT and HUMID and really buggy, and the kids ran and jumped into our air conditioned van right away. Don't they look happier here?

When we got there they told us that the tow truck was supposed to arrive any minute, but it didn't. It was probably another half hour before it did arrive. While we were waiting (and sweating) they told us what had happened. Russ had only driven for a few minutes before the car started steering funny. He heard a funny sound under the car and pulled off the side of the road, which woke Ken up. They couldn't figure out what was wrong until Ken looked under the van and saw that it was a problem with the serpentine belt. (A car part I've never heard of but one they've had a lot of trouble with.)

Here's a picture of Russ with the belt, which was shredded.

Ken said that after they realized what was wrong they immediately called AAA and ordered a tow truck. Then they got ready to call us and realized that they had all of the cell phones and no way to find out where we were. They told us that at that point they said a prayer, and within two minutes we called from the pay phone. Tender mercy #2. (And tender mercy #2 would have happened even faster if Russ had noticed that his phone was ringing and answered it!)

The tow truck finally arrived and the driver assured Ken that they would be able to find a shop to fix the belt, even though it was by now 7pm on a Saturday evening. He hoisted the van up onto his truck, which is always interesting to watch,

and away he drove with Ken & Alisyn, leaving us with a few extra kids in our van.

We followed them into St. Augustine to an auto parts store, since Ray the tow truck driver had called around and not found any shops opened. Fortunately for all, Ray the tow truck driver used to work for Daytona, and thought he might be able to fix the broken belt. Now I don't know if all tow truck drivers can replace a serpentine belt, but I'm going to call Ray tender mercy #3. Especially after we learned that the reason that the tow truck didn't show up for so long was that they had problems finding one, and finally called Ray even though he doesn't work for them (whoever them is) anymore. I think Ray & his Daytona past were worth waiting for.

No one had much cash and Ken & Alisyn didn't know how much Ray's services were going to cost, so we went and found an ATM. I think Alisyn knowing the PIN for her credit card was tender mercy #4, since she couldn't find her cash card and Jason had mine in the other van. I never know any of my PIN numbers, in fact I doubt they exist. I can only use my cash card to get cash. So I was really impressed.

She got out about $250 and figured that with what Ken had in his wallet that would surely be enough. And then we took the kids to a Chik-Fil-A that we'd seen to let them burn off some energy in the play area.

Much to our surprise Russ & Ken arrived only 15 minutes or so after us. When we asked how much Ray from Daytona had charged them, Ken told us some obscenely low amount--something like $30 for the 10 mile tow and fixing the belt too. We were surprised and Alisyn was delighted. Tender mercy #5.

When it was finally time to order some food Josh happened to point out the party platters. I jokingly asked the cashier (who asked about Jason's BYUI t-shirt and told us that her twin brothers are on missions right now!) if we could order a platter instead of separate meals, and she said we could. We ended up ordering a platter of chicken strips, a gallon of lemonade, and then a platter of fruit. The manager, Hank, brought us plates, bowls, forks, and a container of yummy caramel dip to go with the fruit. It was a fabulous meal--much better than we would have ended up with otherwise, and probably cheaper too. Tender mercy #6.

Our trip had some complications--we had problems with our hotwired hotel reservations on the way to FL and on the way back. Those problems were irritating and made me tired and cranky. But in comparison to the problems that we could have had with Ken & Alisyn's van, they were nothing--just an inconvenience. There were so many ways things could have been much worse with their van, and we were so grateful for all of the little things that fell into place to help us.

As we drove out of St. Augustine and back towards the freeway this is what we saw --a lovely ending to the Miracle of St. Augustine!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Happy Father's Day

This morning I got up late and was reading blogs while eating my yummy breakfast. I thought this blog made an interesting and valid comment about how men are perceived in our society.

Russ and I have talked about this before. Sitcoms and television in general portray men as stupid, bumbling, sex-crazed, rude, etc. I don't think that I've ever considered this as part of Satan's attack on our homes and families; we no longer respect men and many of them no longer respect themselves or see themselves as leaders in their homes.

I snuck up behind my boys the other day and took this picture—I just love it.

As we celebrate Father's Day this weekend I am so grateful for the fathers in my life. I'm grateful for my father who worked so hard to provide for our family and taught me to love the gospel. I'm grateful for my father in law who's example taught his sons to work hard and to be kind and considerate.

And I am grateful every day for Russ, the father in our home. I am grateful for the example that he is to our three sons. I am grateful for his never-ending love and consideration to me, for his love for and desire to spend time with our kids, for his example of willing church service, and for his diligence and effort that provide the things we need.

Happy Father's Day!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Beneath the Glasses

Jenna got glasses when she was about 5. We were concerned that she wouldn't want to wear them and so we made a big deal about how cute she was with them on and how good they looked on her.

When we had our big family beach picture taken the next year I told Jenna that I wanted her to not wear her glasses. I know she was confused — here we had spent so much time telling her how great her glasses were, but now that it was the big picture moment she wasn't supposed to wear them.

I know it's confusing to her, but I just can't help it. When she's wearing the glasses what we see are Jenna and the glasses.

Sometimes I miss just seeing what's beneath the glasses...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Recognize this Boy?

Now this is something we haven't seen in a while!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rachel's Song

Jenna isn't the only one singing a song at tonight's talent show. Rachel needed a better accompanist to be able to sing her song for you. Enjoy!


Huge thanks to friend Mindy, who noticed my conversation with Cindy Lynn about freezer containers for jam, and then noticed a box of old freezer containers at a local second hand store. I haven't found these at any stores since the disposable "tupperware" containers were introduced, and I've wished I had more. Now for $2 I have more for me and a bunch for Cindy Lynn too! (After a thorough dishwashing, that is!)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Summer Storms

(not my picture!)

Last night I drove home in the dark watching a thunderstorm. It was such a beautiful drive that I actually drove more slowly than usual, enjoying the night and the darkness and the intermittent swish of the wipers and the flashes of light.

Some time after I got home I thought I heard heavy rain; when I went out onto the screened porch I realized it was the strong winds that I was hearing. There was still only a little bit of rain and still occasional flashes of lightning, and I stood out there for a minute enjoying it all.

As I was getting ready for bed I noticed that the storm had moved closer. The wind had died down, the rain was heavier, and the lightning was more frequent and accompanied by thunder. I was thrilled—I think it's a treat to have a storm to watch as I fall asleep.

Normally we snuggle on Russ's side of the bed before separating to our own sides to sleep. I would so love to be a snuggle sleeper, but I have enough problems getting to sleep when I'm just dealing with my own self. If I'm touching Russ I'm way too aware of his breathing and any movements or sounds that he makes to ever relax enough to fall asleep. So we snuggle and then go to our separate corners.

Last night he scooted over to my side of the bed and we snuggled up and watched the show outside the window. Crashing and banging and pouring rain—it was magnificant. At one point I got up to check on Rachel, expecting that the storm would have woken her up already, but she was still sweetly asleep. (How is it that sleeping children are so beautiful?) A huge flash of lightning just a minute later changed that. It was so bright it was much brighter than day, and the accompanying clap of thunder rattled the house. When Rachel came in whimpering I invited her to snuggle up with us and enjoy the show. At first she was scared, but after a few minutes she started finding things that were interesting about each different flash of lightning. Our favorites were the ones that light up the sky but still showed clearly the outline of all of the trees and leaves.

Within about 15 minutes the storm had moved far enough away that the lightning wasn't as bright and the thunder wasn't as loud. Finally Rachel decided that she was ready to go back to her own bed, and she gave me a kiss and ran back to her room. Russ had fallen asleep and was breathing loudly (but lovingly) in my ear, and so I pushed him back over to his side of the bed.

As I lay there waiting for sleep I couldn't help but be reminded of another summer storm, one that was an answer to an unspoken but frantic prayer.

When I was 29 weeks (and 2 days) pregnant with the triplets, my water broke. It was very early and very unexpected. And VERY scary. When we got to the hospital (via ambulance) they assured me that they would be able to stop my labor and that I would just get to say in the hospital a couple more weeks on antibiotics while waiting for the babies to mature a little more. They gave me first one drug and then another (through first one method of administration and then another) but nothing stopped my labor. I was having enough contractions and in enough pain that the whole thing was kind of hazy.

What I do remember clearly is the doctor coming into my room and telling us that it looked like they weren't going to be able to stop my labor, and that we needed to decide if we wanted our babies to be born in Charlottesville, VA, or Fayetteville, NC. We were baffled. What on earth were they talking about?

They explained, and for a moment I felt like a modern-day Mary. Essentially, there was no room in the Inn. Or rather, no room in the Duke NICU. The Fayetteville NICU was the only one in the state in that moment with 3 NICU beds available, and Charlottesville VA was the next closest place.

Russ and I agreed that lacking any other criteria to judge by, Fayetteville was closer (2 hours away) and so we made that choice. Then he got in his car and started driving as they put me into the Life Flight helicopter for the flight to Fayetteville.

Lest this flight to Fayetteville seem too relaxing, let me point out that the first question the doctor asked the Life Flight EMS guy when he came up was "How many minutes until you can have her in the OR in Fayetteville?" The EMS guy told the doctor that it would take 34 minutes, and the doctor decided that we probably had that much time.

I don't remember the helicoptor flight. When people ask what it's like flying in one, I say I don't know. All I remember is knowing with a certainty that I was in transition on that helicoptor. The EMS guy had asked me to put my thumb up in the air when I was having a contraction, and both he & I were all too aware that I was having too many contractions, too close together, and that they were lasting too long.

I'd not planned to experience labor with the triplets. I was going to gestate them a healthy (and uncomfortable) amount, and then I was going to have a nice scheduled c-section. None of this labor pain for me. Instead there I was in the helicopter, experiencing all sorts of unbearable pain by myself.

Normally when a patient is in the Life Flight helicoptor the gurney is put in feet first, and they're able to communicate with the EMS people on board. Because my head was not the "business end," as they so delicately phrased it, they put me in head first. The pilot was on the other side of a large piece of plexiglass, so I was all alone.

I had taken different child-birth classes before I had Cindy Lynn and Jason, and I didn't have any pain medicine when I had Jason and Josh, so I wasn't a novice at childbirth. I had never been very good at most of the "distract yourself from the pain" methods, though, and I had never done it all alone. In fact most of my previous success in enduring painful contractions had probably been because I held on to Russ so tightly that it literally transferred the pain from my uterus to his arms!

Oddly enough, that time in the helicoptor was the one time in my life that visualizing as a way to lessen pain really worked. I visualized myself in Cherry Grove, NC—a place that we used to go for family reunions. I visualized myself floating in the warm and very salty water of the canal behind the house, visualized the hazy humid air and the beauty of all of the different houses. I'm not sure why this was the image that came to mind — possibly because I had just missed a family reunion there the month before, and Russ had taken the kids for a few days and sent a beautiful picture of the canal to me. Whatever the reason, every time a contraction started I put my thumb back into the air and thought of the warm water of the canal.

This is the picture that Russ sent to me.

After we had been in the helicoptor for about 15 minutes (time for approximately 200 contractions, I'm sure!) there was a bit of a commotion. The pilot and the EMS guy talked back and forth, and then the EMS guy leaned over and yelled to me that a line of thunder showers had just moved in over Fayetteville, and that we were going to have to land in the next county and drive 30 minutes through the pouring rain to Fayetteville.

I said that I didn't think so.

The EMS guy radioed the doctor, who made the EMS guy check my cervix, an ordeal that he has probably still not recovered from 8.75 years later. (He apologized to me repeatedly.) He later told me that after checking my cervix he told the doctor "I don't know how to measure this, but I know a head when I feel it," whereupon the doctor told him to tell the pilot to turn around and fly back to Duke.

I have never been happier. The moments not occupied trying to ignore the unbearable pain of my contractions had been filled with the awareness that I was about to go and give birth to extremely premature triplets without my husband there, in a place 2 hours away from my home and my other three children. I could not fathom how we were going to handle the months ahead in those circumstances. I knew that I was not going to be able to drive for a few weeks, and that I was going to want to be with both sets of kids. I didn't see how we were going to manage having triplets born 11 weeks early, and I certainly didn't know how we were going to do it like this.

I'll spare you all of the gory details; suffice it to say that we flew back to Duke, they called Russ and told him to come back to Duke, and he got there just as they were starting to deliver the babies. (He claims that I didn't need him at that point because I was so in love with the anesthesia man, and it's true, I did love that anesthesia man. But I always need Russ. Even if he doesn't dispense good drugs.)

I have always been grateful for that summer storm, and when we have those late afternoon storms in the summer I think of what it meant for me that day. It meant that I could deliver my babies with Russ there, and it meant that I could be at home with my big kids during the day and then drive 20 minutes to the hospital and spend every evening with my really little kids. It made a difficult situation much more bearable.

Rachel--2 days old
When my babies were still very little someone in my triplet support group who had had a traumatic and very early delivery said that on her triplet's first birthday she had experienced post-traumatic stress disorder. It made perfect sense to me that her body & mind might revisit that trauma on the anniversary, and I was ready to have a little PTSD of my own as August of 2001 approached.

Instead of PTSD, though, I experienced almost a magnified awareness of the miracles that we had experienced that day, and I had a profound and deep sense of gratitude at the gifts of a loving Heavenly Father.

Including a well timed thunderstorm...

PS--sorry this got so long...I actually only intended to tell about last night's storm when I started writing!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Strawberry Jam: Tips, Tricks, and Stats

May is one of my favorite times of the year. Because May means strawberries. More than strawberries, strawberries that you pick yourself from Lyon Farm near Durham. If you've never been there, you cannot imagine the deliciousness that is Lyon Farm.

One year my sisters were flying in for a family event in May. I kept telling them that I had to go and get some strawberries for their visit, and they kept telling me not to worry about it. Well when they got here and were served fresh (not cooked) strawberry pie and strawberries and whipped cream on pancakes and waffles, they too were converted to Lyon Farms strawberries.

This year I was in Utah over the big berry picking weekend, and when I got back the weather got strange and I got busy. When I realized that the best of the berry season had already gone, that my best berry picker got married and left us, and that my second best berry picker was still recovering from surgery, I did the unthinkable. I went to Lyon Farms and bought my berries already picked. But we had been out of strawberry freezer jam for 2 weeks already, and things were getting ugly.

The first order of business was to make a pie. As Soon As Possible.

I like the recipe with cream cheese on top of the crust. Yum, yum, yum.

Then I started the long task of making the jam. Some years the kids help a lot, but I did most of it after bedtime this year so it was just me and endless episodes of the Gilmore Girls. (Season 2)

Every year I tell myself that I will remember how many batches of freezer jam I made so that I will know the next year if it was enough. And of course I never remember. So this year I am recording it here, in my blog. And unless my blog falls in an empty forest between now and then, I'll be able to look back here and remember that I made...

13 batches of strawberry freezer jam!

So I know that most of you aren't making jam for a house full of jam snobs like I am, who will only eat strawberry freezer jam on their toast, sandwiches, and occasionally even pancakes. But just in case you're making more than a batch or two, here are some things I've learned to speed the process.

Usually I dump my buckets of berries (not all at once) into a sink full of cold water to clean the berries & cap them. This year my berries were more fragile and I was afraid that soaking in the water would kill too many of them, so I washed them a few at a time. Then I cap them using a grapefruit spoon, which removes the cap without taking too much of the berry. Unless you're an 8 year old, in which case it removes the cap and half of the berry as well.

As I wash the berries I set aside the nicest berries and those in the best shape for putting in pies and on angel food cake and any other yummy desserts we can think of. The others go in a bowl destined for the blender. I blend up most of the berries, and then about 1/4 I process in the (slower) food processer instead so that I can mix those chunks in with my blended berry puree. That way I save time but still have some chunks in my jam.

I never use the stove when I'm making jam. (Or pudding, or white sauce, or anything that requires boiling something that would scorch easily.) I use the microwave instead. Here's how I do my jam.

Bowl #1--I mix the 3 cups of sugar (I always use the pink sure gel boxes because they use less sugar and I'm all about making this jam as close to healthy as possible.) and the package of pectin in this dry bowl.

Bowl #2 (a big glass bowl)--I put the mixed sugar/pectin in here, then add 1 c water and stir well. Then I put the bowl in the microwave and cook for about 5 minutes, stopping to stir 3 times. By the end of 5-6 minutes in my microwave it has started boiling, and I boil it for 1 minute. While this is boiling I measure my pureed berries into bowl #3 and I mix a new batch of sugar & pectin in bowl #1.

Bowl #3--I measure 4 cups of my berry puree into this bowl, and then as soon as my boiled sugar/pectin mix is done boiling I dump it in here and stir it in--now it's jam! As soon as I've dumped the boiled sugar mix in the pureed berries, I transfer the new sugar/pectin mix into this (hot) glass bowl, mix in a cup of water, and put it back in the microwave to start cooking again. Then I pour the hot jam into freezer containers, measure 4 more cups of puree into bowl #3, measure more sugar and pectin into bowl #1, go back and stir the cooking sugar/pectin in the microwave, and on and on and on.

I find when I make my jam in an assembly line like this I'm able to make a lot more batches in the same amount of time as just a few made one at a time using the stove.
In the end the island is covered with freezer containers full of jam and my feet and back hurt. But in a good way. ;)

This year I learned a New Fact about jam making. I went back to Lyon Farms and bought some more berries, which were even more fragile because it was even later in the season. I came home, washed them and capped them and blended them and then I was beat. I just couldn't bring myself to actually make the jam. So I put my pureed berries in the fridge and went to bed.

The next day I started up my berry making assembly line and made another 5-6 batches and left them on the island that night. (For those of you who haven't made freezer jam, it has to sit out for 24 hours before it goes into the freezer, for some reason.) The next day when I was ready to put it in the freezer I noticed that the jam in the containers was frothy looking. I thought I must not have cooked one batch right, but when I looked more closely, every container from the night before was frothy looking. When I called the sure-gel hotline I was told that one of the things that could cause a lot of bubbles in my jam was letting the berries sit too long. So I guess my fragile berries did a little fermenting in the fridge overnight before I turned them into jam. Who knows--this could turn out to be the best jam yet!

The other day at the pool I met someone new in our neighborhood. You know, the nurse who was worried about Rachel's sub-orbital bones being fractured. When she heard that I have 6 children and that 3 of them are triplets, she said that she thought I was a goddess. Truly. And she was very serious. So here you have it. Strawberry jam tricks from a goddess...Enjoy!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Why I Blog

A friend just sent me a link to an interesting article in the NYT called Blogs Falling in an Empty Forest.

According to the article,

many people start blogs with lofty aspirations — to build an audience and leave their day job, to land a book deal, or simply to share their genius with the world.

Yesterday I remembered something that I might want to blog about. The problem was, I wasn't absolutely sure I haven't already blogged about it. (I keep telling people that my brain worked much better than this when I was younger!)

And so I picked the label that I thought I would most likely have used if I had blogged about this memory, and started reading. I didn't find the memory, but I sure did find happiness. As I read each post labelled "my cute kids" I found my smile growing bigger and bigger.

I am a very nostalgic person. I love pictures and I love scrapbooks and I love slideshows and anything that reminds me of happy moments. I love that for almost 10 months I have recorded moments of family fun and family not so fun.

I love that I have a record of thoughts and ideas that have been on my mind. I love that the process of taking a thought from my mind and putting it into (relatively) coherent written words has forced me to think more clearly and improved my writing. I love that sometimes what I've thought & written has been meaningful to people that I care about who read my blog, and that sometimes you've responded with your own thoughts and feelings that have blessed my life.

Jason asked me the other day if I keep a journal. For many years I have considered my email a truer journal of my life than any journal I ever kept. Instead of a repeated and annoying "today was ok....", my email conversations tracked what I was thinking, what I was experiencing, what I was learning.

A blog is almost all of that, plus pictures too. No wonder I love it!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Who Knows How I Got This Way

(sorry about the lack of a more eloquent or clever title...)

We did not have the typical introduction to parenting. After four months of caring for a very fussy baby and 6 weeks of caring for a constantly vomiting baby we heard the news that no parent wants to hear—that our precious child had a terminal genetic illness.

(Just so you don't feel too bad for us, in that moment we were actually relieved to hear that news; she had been so sick that we were afraid that the doctors were going to tell us that she was just going to die. Finding out that there was an average life expectancy of 19 years at that point felt almost like a gift to us. Perspective is a funny thing, isn't it?)

Because she was our first child I don't have anything to compare to. I don't know who we would have been as parents if our first child had been uneventfully healthy and our last child had been the sick one.

One time one of my friends made a comment about me that was unexpected. It's been far too long for me to remember more than the general feeling of the comment — but she said that she thought I was unusually good at finding joy in life and particularly in doing things that brought us joy.

I have wondered since that day...How much of who I am and how I have lived my life has been shaped by the fact that we have been (most years) reminded on a daily basis that life is fleeting and that there are no guarantees? Would I have missed out on precious moments enjoyed with my children and with my husband if I had been able to live complacently, sure that every opportunity would be infinitely available?

I would never have chosen this particular trial. (Would we choose any trial?) But I am a firm believer that we can find a gift in every situation, and I know that there are more than a few gifts in my life because of Cindy Lynn's illness. (Not the least of which is the really amazing person that she has become because of the things that she has had to deal with.)

I have this sign over my stove. When all is said and done, this is what I want. To have lived however much life we have in such a way that we (all of us) have plenty of wonderful memories of our time together.

Cindy Lynn's Make a Wish trip
The Big Island of HawaiiThe Nauvoo Temple