Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Saving Money and a Change of Heart

Since the 4th quarter of 2008, Russ's company has given it's employees 2 unpaid weeks off each quarter. Which means that in the last 11 months, Russ has had 7 or 8 weeks off. How awesome is that??? We have loved it.

We have also loved the fact that the company hasn't laid off very many people, and that Russ still has a job. We realize that living with 85% of his salary is much better than living with nothing. But we have definitely had to make adjustments.

Piano lessons for Jason & the little girls were one of the first "luxuries" that we let go of when the pay cut started. I figured that it would only last for a couple of months, and then they could start up again. Instead we ended the summer with the rumor that the unpaid time off would continue at least through the 4th quarter of 2009.

I tried to figure out what we were going to do about piano. Now I was ready for Jared to start piano lessons, and really it was time to get Josh playing again too. But there was no way in the world that we could afford lessons for 5 kids now--that would be at least $250/month.

I briefly considered teaching them myself, and nixed that idea right away. After all, we all know kids who's mothers tried to teach them to play the piano, and most of those stories don't end well. They include cranky mothers trying to teach non-compliant children, and it's not like I really have time in my life to add in 5 piano lessons anyway.

The fact remained, there simply was not $250 anywhere in our budget.

One day I had a flash of inspiration. (It must have been inspiration because I am not this smart on my own!) I thought that instead of paying someone else $250 to teach the kids piano, we could leverage a small fraction of that money and pay our kids to learn piano. Essentially we would buy their compliance. It seemed brilliant to me.

We had a family meeting before FHE one night and proposed the idea. For the boys, who already received an allowance, we would increase their allowance by 30-40%. (I should say for the record, that after our kids are old enough to need money we pay them $1/year, so their allowances are still VERY modest.) The little kids weren't getting any allowance, so the offer of $5/month for taking piano lessons happily and practicing without complaining sounded good to them. The kids were all on board.

There was still one problem--the teacher. Or rather the teacher's attitude.

All I could see was that I was contemplating adding 2.5 hours a week of piano lessons into my already overwhelmed life. I didn't see how I could do that, and what's more, I couldn't figure out how to make myself want to do it.

I added the topic of piano lessons into my prayers, and tried not to worry about it.

After a lot of thought I came up with a lesson/practice sheet that works to write everyone's lesson assignment on, and on which they can record their practice each day. I spent an entire Saturday afternoon sorting through the unruly mess of music in our living room, sorting into stacks of method books, church books, fun books, etc. I sent off some violin music to Cindy Lynn and gave away some more advanced piano books to other friends.

And then we started.

It is not a perfect system. I have yet to hear Jason practice. Of course he's trying right now to get used to working 20 hours a week and still get school done, so I'll give him a couple of weeks. Josh had to figure out a way to remind himself to practice every afternoon, so he's set a reminder on his beloved cell phone. And I have come to the conclusion that there might never be a set lesson time for each child. Right now my goal is that each child have a lesson every week.

I realized yesterday, though, that this is really working. And, surprise of all surprises, we are all enjoying it. Even me. I am enjoying having to sit down on the piano bench and really interact closely with just one child at a time. I am enjoying the excitement they have when the finally can make their fingers do what they've been trying to do. (Even Josh is quite excited!) I enjoy hearing them practice, and brag to their dad about what they can play now. I enjoy them coming to me and asking for help in learning the "next" part.

I would have to say that I have had a mighty change of heart. And I am grateful.

Here is Jared playing after 2.5 lessons.

and no, he doesn't believe in combing his hair after he showers...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Emergency Preparedness Test

Last night as I was making dinner the sky darkened ominously. Soon drops of rain started to fall, and I could hear muted thunder in the distance. Simultaneously I thought "Cool, I love a thunderstorm" and "I hope Russ isn't driving home with the top down!"

I listened to the rain and thunder as I continued preparing the potato soup. As the thunder got louder and closer, I suggested to the big boys that it was probably a good idea to shut down the computers.

Good thing they did, because not 3 minutes later the power went off, then on again, then off, on, and finally, off. Of course we expected that it would come on again quickly, but it didn't.

I wasn't too worried. I went out onto the screened in porch to enjoy the rain, and within a few minutes it had lightened up enough to read. The little kids scrounged a flashlight from somewhere so that they could keep playing legos in the living room. And we waited.

Eventually Russ got home (he'd had the top up, thankfully, and says that pounding rain and thunder are both very loud in a convertible!) and suggested that since there was a burner on the grill, we could finish dinner out there. I was more interested in finishing my book, but I did tell him what needed to be done to finish the soup. (Really, it was almost done. All he had to do was boil some broth. Seriously. I wanted to read!)

When it got too dark to read, I went in to eat. I couldn't remember where I'd put the larger scented candles, so we had only 1 small candle and an emergency candle at the table. (I'm wondering now if the emergency candle would have given off more light if I had pulled the wick up farther. I'll have to give that a try. Right after I find the pliers, because that wick is pretty tight.) We managed to find several small flashlights, and finally Russ remembered that we also have a hurricane lamp.

The hurricane lamp definitely gave the most light. At least until the wick ran out. After that happened Russ scrounged around and finally found the hiding place for the scented candles. At least things smelled good, but there still wasn't much light. We were all delighted when the lights popped back on about 8:00 or 8:30.

Every now and then I appreciate a test run of our emergency preparedness. Not like a complete and total test of no power for 24 hours with freezing temperatures and 2 year old triplets. That was brutal, although I did learn from it and the resulting party will forever be one of my favorite memories.

But last night was a gentle test, and immediately I could see that we need some serious help in the "emergency lighting" department. I'd pretty much assumed that since I owned 5 of those emergency candles I was set, but I learned last night that I really want much more light than that.

The other thing I realized is that I have got to stop buying flashlights and then letting the kids play with them. Or perhaps I need to buy 2x the flashlights and let the kids play with half of them and put the others away for the next emergency.

I think I'm also investing in a couple of those battery operated lanterns. I'll have to hide those too...

True Story: Russ was talking to his brother in Atlanta who relayed this story. The other evening their home teachers were over and there was a thunderstorm. (Atlanta gets some pretty amazing thunderstorms.) WHILE the home teacher was saying the closing prayer, the house was struck by lightning. All of the tv's are now dead. I'm not sure what that says about the home teacher...

UPDATE: I'm sure you'll all be just so relieved to know that this very morning Russ found someone selling 4 hurricane lamps on Craigslist, and he picked them up at lunchtime. Of course now the power probably won't go out for another 4 years, but we'll be ready then!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Book Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
Groucho Marx

For a while now I've been thinking about putting some book reviews on my blog. Not really a straight review, but more like my thoughts about the book. So here's the first one, and we'll see how it goes!

Today I read (a whole book!) Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a novel by Lisa See. Cindy Lynn had mentioned it as something interesting, but by the time it came in at the library I had forgotten what it was about.

I can't imagine I will ever forget the predominant topic of the first part of the book, ever again.

Foot binding!

The story is about two young girls who are bound into a friendship relationship when they are 7, a relationship which is considered to be even more enduring than a marriage relationship.

I didn't think the relationship story was exceptional. On the other hand, the historical background kept me fascinated and repelled at the same time.

First of all, the idea that any culture would subject it's females to such gross brutality and deformity in the name of beauty is absolutely mind-boggling to me. Sure, we women do all sorts of interesting, inconvenient, and even uncomfortable things in the name of beauty. But binding girls' feet to the point that the foot bones broke and there was a significant risk of death? Insanity.

The other part of the novel that was interesting to me was the social structure. Girls were regarded as having no value, both because they had no ability to bring income to a family, and because they would eventually leave the "natal" family to live with the husband's family. Matches were made when they were still children, but they remained with their families until after they were married and pregnant. And when they moved into the husband's home, they were considered the least important members of the household and were treated as servants.

Can I just say that tonight I'm extremely grateful to be living in the here and now?!?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Preconceived Notions

The roses in my neighborhood have been sparse since I've been home this year. I'm not sure if it's because the neighbors switched over to doing some of the care themselves, or because the weather has been quite gray the whole 4 weeks I've been home.

I've taken a camera on my walk a couple of times and come back with pictures of only 3-4 different roses because there are so few on the bushes.

Recently I drove by a local nursing home and noticed that they had a big rose garden at the edge of the parking lot. Immediately my picture-taking antennae were up, and I took my camera when I knew we'd be relatively near the other day. The kids were not excited to sit and wait while I took pictures, but I brought treats and they did survive.

When I got out of the car and assessed the situation, I was somewhat doubtful. One of the things I really like about taking pictures at my neighbor's house is that I can almost always get a green background, which I think makes a nice vivid rose picture. There was only a small edge of grass around the nursing home's rose garden, and then sidewalk, and then street. I figured I would be limited to taking pictures towards the plants, because that would be the only way I could get a nice background.

But some roses just needed to be photographed in the other direction, towards the street. I would wait until there were no cars in the way and then take my shot. When I got home and finally looked at the pictures, I was almost startled.

These pictures, taken against the background of the street, were lovely.

I don't think that it's obvious (unless you know) that what's behind the pictures is a "nasty old road" instead of lovely lawn or forest. And the different colored background emphasizes the intensity of the rose colors beautifully.

It really made me stop and think. How many times to I assume that because the situation doesn't seem ideal, it won't turn out beautifully? How often do I micro-manage to get things exactly how I like them, perhaps missing out on the adventure a slightly different experience would provide?

I'm not saying that I should stop planning. But perhaps I could be a little more flexible in the plans, and a little less upset if things don't go just right.

Definitely something to think about...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Thought for the Day

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
Albert Einstein

Friday, September 25, 2009

A New Look For Me

For many years my wardrobe has been focused on comfort, practicality, and camouflage. Even my Sunday wardrobe (let's face it, Sunday is about a dressed up as it gets for me most of the time!) has been a combination of functional and flattering.

That's why the purchase I made this week was so unlike me.

I went into Payless Shoes to pick up Sunday shoes for the little girls, and to look for boots for myself. At girls' night last spring my sisters had been waxing rhapsodic about the benefits of wearing boots to church. When they mentioned the fact that you could wear warm socks inside of boots, I was determined that I would find a pair this fall.

I picked up the girls shoes and almost immediately found a very reasonably priced pair of boots. Then my eye chanced to fall upon the bottom rack of shoes, where it turned out the deeply discounted shoes were located. I examined and then rejected first one pair and then another. Too tight. Too gold. Too bedazzled.

And then I saw the black sandals. They were intriguing and bold. They certainly did not say "mother of 6." They were only $10.

I tried them on, bought them, and took them home with me for further contemplation. (I am a master of the art of returning.)

Russ was startled, to say the least. It has been years since I wore high heels, and then they weren't this high. He was concerned about whether or not they would be comfortable to really wear, and so I wore them around the house for several hours.

We were fine, the shoes and I.

I may not be able to wear them to church this Sunday. Due to a recent medical procedure on my foot, I may not be able to walk into church at all on Sunday, let alone in these shoes. But one of these days you'll notice I'm looking a little taller at church.

I'll be wearing my new shoes.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Can You See Me Now?

Yesterday afternoon Josh & I were running errands after I picked him up from school. We were driving near downtown and saw a truck with an interesting paint job. I happened to have brought my camera, so I grabbed it and tried to get a picture. Between the rain, the wipers, and the fact that the truck was moving away from me, all I got a picture of was the back, and not a good one at that.

30 minutes and 3 errands later we found ourselves in a long line of traffic in front of Kroger...and that truck was just ahead of us in the other lane! I figured that was a sign from heaven that a picture of the truck was meant to be on my blog. Josh wouldn't roll down his window and take a picture for me, but I thought I got a pretty good one anyway.

Now my question is this: Are there really people who want to be able to drive into a field and not see their truck anymore?

P.S. Russ pointed out that he couldn't tell very well what was on the truck without clicking on the picture & zooming in. Here's a closeup for your viewing pleasure...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Insights from Ether (part 2)

Several days ago I read through Ether 12. As always, I paid attention to verse 27, which is very reassuring to me.
27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
I always need to be reminded that God has given me my weaknesses to help me be humble, and that He is the one that can make weak things become strong.

This time, however, I also noticed something interesting a few verses later. The Lord said to Moroni:
...because thou hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father.
This fascinated me. Because Moroni saw his weakness, he would be made strong.

I was reminded of a verse from the story of the Jaredite barges that had stayed in my mind for several days after I read it. It described the way the brother of Jared approached the Lord when he was praying for the Lord to touch the stones to make them give light. He said:
2 O Lord, thou hast said that we must be encompassed about by the floods. Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires.
3 Behold, O Lord, thou hast smitten us because of our iniquity, and hast driven us forth, and for these many years we have been in the wilderness; nevertheless, thou hast been merciful unto us. O Lord, look upon me in pity, and turn away thine anger from this thy people...
Here's what was so interesting to me. After addressing the Lord, he said:
  • I am weak
  • Thou art holy
  • We are unworthy before thee
  • Because of the fall our natures are evil continually
  • Look upon me in pity
  • Turn away thy anger
Thoughts about this prayer stayed with me for several days after I read that chapter. I couldn't stop thinking about the humility with which the brother of Jared had prayed. We are unworthy before thee...our natures are evil continually...

I've never had a very good understanding of what it means to have humility. From time to time I seem to catch a glimpse, and I'm always grateful for more understanding. This time, as I pondered on these verses over the next few days, an experience from the past was brought to my mind.

In our early years of homeschooling we belonged to the Christian homeschooling group in Durham. Another family in our ward already belonged to this group, but apparently two Mormon families was the tipping point and it caused a crisis in the leadership of the group. At one point in the next year I found myself having a long phone conversation with the leader of the group, a devout Southern Baptist. I had not lived in North Carolina long at this point, and I was surprised by her frequent use of the word sin. She frequently interjected into the conversation the reminder that she was a sinner, that she sinned, that her children sinned, etc.

(True confession. She used the word sin so much it reminded me of the old children's rhyme about ice cream ....only different. I sin, you sin, we all sin, for I sin.)

I've thought about that experience occasionally during the intervening years. We Mormons tend not to use the word sin very much, and seem much more comfortable talking about our weaknesses. (Notwithstanding and all.)

I'm wondering if perhaps true humility is to be able to see and acknowledge both our sins and our weaknesses. Perhaps true humility is coming before the Lord with the awareness that we are unholy before him, and that our natural-man selves do evil continually.

After all—how can we work to change what we can't see? How can we pray to the Lord for help overcoming what we don't want to look at? How can we repent of things that are too uncomfortable to acknowledge?

Interesting thoughts...

P.S. I just noticed, as I was reading aloud to Russ to make sure that my thoughts were coherent, that I have always missed a word in Ether 12:27. As I read it aloud I read the word weaknesses. And, as you can see, I used weaknesses in the next paragraph. But I realize that the word in the scripture is actually weakness, and I think this changes the meaning for me. At least tweaks it a bit. What do you think?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Insights from Ether (part 1)

Do you have a list of questions that you're going to ask when you get to Heaven? I certainly do, and it gets longer all of the time. It starts with "was labor really necessary?," includes a couple of questions about dinosaurs, (when? how? why?), and now ends with a desire to seem some pictures of the Jaredite barges. Have you read the specs lately? Here they are:
  • small
  • light like a fowl upon the water
  • tight like a dish (bottom like a dish, sides like a dish, etc)
  • ends peaked
  • the length of a tree
  • airtight with a hole in the top and bottom
  • no windows
  • no fire
  • must contain 344 days of provisions--water, food, beasts, animals, fowls
I must confess that I cannot wait to see these barges!

As I was reading the story of the Jaredites this time, a couple of new things jumped out at me. (Have I mentioned before how much I love reading in this other edition ? Well I just love it, and Sharon got one and loves it too. So it's not just me that it helps! And I just read in the back of mine today that all of the royalties are being donated to the Humanitarian fund. That's pretty cool.)

Anyway, back to the Jaredites. As the Lord and the brother of Jared were discussing the problem of lighting for the barges, the Lord explained to Jared why the barges had to be built in such a specific way. He said:
24 For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.
25 And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come...
I don't remember seeing this in the same way before. That first the Lord told the brother of Jared that they would be in the middle of the sea because of the waves, and then he told them that He was the one that sent forth the winds, and the rains, and the floods.

I think it's common to wonder if our trials, challenges, and adversities come from God. President Kimball once said "though I know God has a major role in our lives I do not know how much he causes to happen and how much he merely permits."

I remember arguing with my brother in law (who loves to argue) about this one time. His contention was that God "made" me have triplets. I disagreed — since I never felt like I had to go forward with the fertility process, I thought it more likely that God had allowed me to have triplets, knowing that the experience would provide lots of opportunities to learn and grow.

But in these verses in Ether the Lord is specifically telling Ether that He is causing these things. He is causing the winds, the rains, and the floods.

And then in the next verse, the part that I thought was beautiful. The Lord says,
I prepare you against these things...
I find this so interesting, and I love it. The Lord is saying that he does cause some of our difficult experiences — but that he prepares us for them. How reassuring to know that when we have been living the way we should, the Lord has prepared us to be able to survive the trials that he will send us.

And a last thought, this one from the 6th chapter of Ether when the story of the Jaredite's voyage recommences. After a description of the furious winds that blew, causing them to be tossed upon the waves of the sea, and buried in the depths of the sea, Moroni said:
8 And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land.
This is what I need to remember. (I might need it tattooed on my forehead so that I see it every time I look in the mirror.) I need to remember that it is the winds that bring me closer to the promised land. That it is the challenges and trials and adversity that can bring me closer to my Heavenly Father, and closer to being the person he knows I can be.

I'm still not ready to say "bring on the wind," but perhaps this will help me not to fight against it so hard...

THIS is What Happens...

when your son has an equipment malfunction while trying to buzz his own head...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Something Fishy This Way Comes

(don't you love Jared in the background of this picture?)

About 18 months ago I cut out some dresses. (That's how it goes sometimes--things get cut out and then not sewn together for some time. Or sometimes forever, sadly enough.) I was determined to get these sewn this fall. I finished them last week, except for the embellishments-- I wanted fish around the bottom. I finally had a chance to sew the fish yesterday evening/ last night.

And just in case you were interested in knowing how long it takes to satin stitch 14 fish onto 2 dresses, the answer is 4 episodes of the Gilmore Girls and 2 episodes of Dougie Howser. It was a long evening!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Shoulda Listened...

Saturday I went to our stake's Women's Day in Chapel Hill. Russ and Jason were away for the day having male bonding time, so my friend Sherry was going to watch the little kids. As I went to pick up keys to leave, I had the thought that I should really take the van. "Good idea," I though. After all, I had 3 little kids and there are only 2 seat belts in the back of the convertible. And I certainly wasn't going to drive there with the top down and arrive with convertible hair. But when I told the little kids to get in the van, Jared immediately put up a fuss and asked if we couldn't take the convertible. It didn't seem like a big deal, and so I agreed.

When I drove into the parking lot at the stake center I immediately realized that I should have listened to that thought. (Was it a prompting?) I had totally forgotten that in addition to attending the Women's Day, I was supposed to pick up our food storage order that had just arrived that morning.
  • 4 large buckets of wheat
  • 4 large empty buckets
  • 50 lbs of flour
  • 35 lbs of oatmeal
  • 18 large cans of random food storage things
I'm pretty impressed with myself that I got everything into the convertible and there was still room for a driver. Needless to say, I didn't drive home with the top down. I was afraid that I'd leave a trail of buckets behind me!

(This picture doesn't do a good job of showing how bad it was. The trunk was packed FULL. The 4 buckets of wheat were smashed into the back seat and the 4 empty buckets were in front of them, sticking forward between the seats so that I kept hitting them with my arm all the way home. And the floor in the back was completely full. It was one crowded convertible!)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pictures from Today

Here are a couple of fun pictures from today.

The girls were occupied for a long time in the school room this afternoon. I knew that they had sharpened all of the colored pencils, but didn't really know what they were doing with them.

Apparently they were making their own Pokemon cards. (I have no idea why, since Jason & Josh have a grocery bag full of cards!)

And here's a note I got in the mail from the bank. It made me LOL. Now that's good customer service!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Little Kid Scripture Reading Update

Well Russ & I re-evaluated at the end of last week and have changed the kids' scripture reading plan. Instead of reading 5 pages a day, we're now reading 2-3. It's still taking us 40 minutes, which I think is still a very long time for 9 year olds to sit still and listen. When we were reading 5 pages, though, I could tell that by the halfway point they had reached saturation and weren't hearing anything anymore. Hopefully they will still feel a part of the Bishop's challenge, but it will be a better experience for them this way.

I can tell they're listening better now that we've cut down on the amount of reading. I can't decide if it's a good thing or not to let them play quietly while it's someone else's turn to read. Rachel's definition of quiet seems to differ quite a bit from mine...

I continue to love the easy reader version. Today Rachel jumped for joy when we read that the wives had babies. She was that excited. Jenna was in the bathroom at that particular moment, and when she rejoined us Rachel told her excitedly, "Jenna, the wives had babies!"

Then they waited anxiously to hear the names, and were disappointed when it became obvious that the names aren't mentioned.

Jared suggested that the babies be named Nephi Jr., Sam Jr., Laman Jr., etc. The girls thought those were great names. They thought the baby girls could be named Nephina, Samita, and my personal fave, Lamianne.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I ♥ Church

Last night I went to bed really really tired. I'd been gone most of the day because of our stake's Women's Day, and while it was an excellent experience, it was also tiring.

I went to bed grumpy that I was going to have to wake up early to go to church this morning.

This morning I did not get up when the alarm went off, which meant I was rushing the rest of the morning. I am usually pretty happy about going to church, but this morning I thought more than once about how nice it would be to climb back into bed and stay home.

Of course I didn't. Millions of years of training and conditioning prevailed and I kept moving towards church, bad hair day and all.

Once I was there my concern about how tired I was gradually faded. It was replaced by interest in the topic of the first talk, and introspection during the second talk. It was replaced by a feeling of peace as I was able to sit quietly during the sacrament. It faded still more during the dynamic Sunday School lesson that inspired me to pray more for missionary opportunities in my life. And it was totally gone by the time I got to Katie's excellent Relief Society lesson.

After church I chatted in the hall for a few minutes with one friend and then another. As my impatient children pulled me towards the door I saw several other people I wanted to talk with. Outside on the sidewalks there were little groups of people standing and talking in the lovely autumn sun. I felt filled with a sense of love and connection to these people with whom I worship each week, and wished a little bit of me could stand and chat with each one.

On my way home I realized that I had missed seeing someone at church, and so I stopped by her house to see if I could borrow a book. We talked for a few minutes (children so impatient in the car by this point!) and again I had that feeling of connection and well-being and love.

I know that my introvert friends would say that church works for me because I'm an extrovert. And maybe they're right. Whatever the reason, I am so grateful that whatever my feelings when I arrive, each week my mind is invigorated, my spirit is touched, and my spirits are lifted because of the contact with our ward family.

I ♥ church.

Out of the Mouth of Babes

Tonight we had dinner with our delightful friends Wells & Tami. After dinner we were sitting around talking. Tami was telling us that she had finally succeeded in potty training Isaac, their adorable but challenging 3 year old.

I had forgotten that Jared was sitting behind me on the couch until he said "I'm so glad that I'm a guy..."

We all looked at him in surprise.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because I'll get to have a job and go to work every day. And my wife will have to do the potty training!"

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Miracle of Terro

There is a reason that I have a favorite ant poison. I went upstairs this morning before I left to check on the ants on the sewing table.

I saw


Not an ant. Not on the cards with the Terro on them, not on the sewing table, not on the window frame.

Even the ants that I thought were dead were gone.


I guess this means that they got the message, even without their frozen friends...

And now, I am going to go sew without any ants!

Haute Playground Couture

I am freely willing to admit that I am not fashion forward. In fact, I am more than a little fashion backward.

Jenna, on the other hand, has a style all her own.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Whining about the Bad Stuff

Perhaps it was inevitable that since things went so well on Wednesday, there would be problems on Thursday.

Problem #1)
One of my children went out yesterday afternoon to turn in some job applications. I will not name any names, but he does look a lot like this fine-looking fellow.

The child called full of excitement. One of the places, upon hearing that he was homeschooled (and therefore available during the day) had said that they were interested in hiring him. He would need to get a background check (can't have a felon mixing those milkshakes!) before he could have an interview, though.

I did some googling and calling and finally found the right office at the courthouse downtown. I then called the child and told him that he would need to go to the courthouse (3rd floor, if anyone else needs a background check) with $25 to get the background check. I told him where the parking garage was and wished him luck.

A little while later the phone rang again. "Mom," he said, "I have to have $25 to get the background check."

"Well yes," I said, "that would be why I told you that you needed $25."

"But I only have $5 cash," he said. "I thought I could use my credit card." (The question I have not yet asked is, at what point did his $25 background check become something he could use my credit card for??)

While we were discussing his options the stake president walked by. I suggested that he hit up the stake president (a good friend) for a loan, which he did.

Sometime later I received another phone call.

"Mom," he said, "they won't let me out of the parking garage."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because I don't have 60 cents to pay the parking fee."

"I thought you just borrowed money from the stake president."

"Well, I had $5, and so I borrowed $20 from him. I forgot I would need money for parking."

Now we live quite a bit north of Northern Durham, and the child (and my car) were right smack in the middle of downtown Durham. And I was not in the mood to drive downtown just then.

I considered the options.

First I called the credit card company. Chris, a nice man who's native language was fortunately English, answered and asked if he could help me.

"I'm not sure," I told him. "My brain dead 17 year old son is stuck in a parking garage 30 minutes away without 60 cents to pay parking. He does have a credit card with him, and he is near a cash machine. I am wondering if he can use the credit card to get some cash so that he can escape from the parking garage." (We don't ever use our credit cards to get cash, so we don't know the PIN numbers for them.)

"Sure," helpful Chris replied. "But I do need to make sure that you know that cash advances will be charged the highest interest rate of 29.9%."

Since I didn't plan on paying any interest at all, this didn't bother me too much.

But he continued. "I also need to let you know that there is a transaction fee for the cash advance. It is 4% of the total of the cash advance, with a minimum transaction fee of $10."

HUH? There was no way in the world I was paying a $10 transaction fee so that he could pay a 6o cent parking fee. I thanked Chris for his time, and hung up the phone.

Just then the child called, telling me that there was a bank near the parking garage, and suggesting that maybe he could get some money that way.

I called the bank, and spoke with a teller, explaining the whole long saga. After laughing, he agreed that if I gave him permission he would let the child withdraw $5 from my bank account. With no transaction fee.

Problem #2)
After I saw the ants on my sewing table on Wednesday afternoon I got out our favorite ant poison. It's called Terro and it usually does a terrific job of getting rid of the ants. Sometimes it has the unfortunate intermediate effect of bringing more ants to the area. Sometimes many more.

Yesterday was obviously one of those times. Here is one of the cards I put the Terro on. The other one had about a bazillion more ants than this one. But I don't mind that so much, since I know these ants are going to eat the Terro (which they obviously love) and take it back to their ant brothers and sisters so that they will all, um, no longer come visit my sewing table.

Unfortunately this time the ants haven't confined themselves to eating the Terro. They're also traipsing all over the sewing table, crawling under the sewing machine and even getting on the fabric while I'm sewing.

I finally had enough last night. I can only smash so many ants and keep on sewing. I cleaned off the whole table, and wiped it with a clorox wipe, gathering many tiny ants in the process. Unfortunately the clorox wipe didn't chloroform them like I'd hoped it would. And I wasn't in the mood to smash that many more ants. After some consideration I zipped them into a ziploc bag and stuck it in the freezer.

Hopefully that will teach the ants to stay off the sewing table!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Aren't You Glad You Didn't Write This?

From Associated Press
September 10, 2009 12:11 PM EDT

WASHINGTON - The U.S. trade deficit in July hit the highest level in six months as a record rise in imports outpaced a third straight increase in foreign demand for American products, according to government data released Thursday. Both gains provided more evidence that the most worst recession since the 1930s was losing its grip on the global economy...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Celebrating the Good Stuff

I am always quick to complain when things go wrong or badly, so today I want to celebrate a day in which some things went very well.

First, I took Jenna to the orthodontist. Jenna and Jared both have had a number of preemie-related tooth issues, and one of them resulted in a silver crown for Jenna.

The last time the kids had their teeth cleaned the dentist pointed out that the crown was keeping the 6 year molar behind it from descending. The dentist suggested that she could take the crown off and put a new, smaller one on. The orthodontist's suggestion was slightly more expensive but much less invasive, and so we chose that option.

Last week she went in for her first visit and he put a spacer between two of the teeth to make room for the appliance that would then create enough room for the tooth to come in on it's own.

Today after examining her he called me back. (And admired my newly straight teeth again!) He said that although the research show that in 80% of the cases this would not happen, the spacer has created some room and the 6 year molar has descended a little. So he put another spacer in, and said that he thinks there's a good chance it will resolve without the $appliance$.


Yesterday afternoon I did some grocery shopping. One of the last things I put in my cart were 3 huge bags (20 rolls each) of Cottenelle toilet paper. The girls in our home have very sensitive skin, and when I find our favorite tp on sale I try to stock up. This time I was very excited to get a 20 roll bag for $9.99.

I went through the self check-out, as I always do. I am very entertained by scanning my own groceries. Because the big tp bags were on top I scanned them first, and then stacked them neatly on the extra bagging shelf past the place with all of the grocery bags.

Last night about eleven I started having this niggling feeling that I had forgotten something during the day. Finally it came to me that I didn't remember loading those big things of toilet paper into the back of the car after I shopped. And I didn't see them anywhere in the house. I realized that I must have bagged the groceries from the main part of the bagging shelf, where the bags are, and just completely forgotten the toilet paper.

Normally I would probably just write off a package of toilet paper. But not $30 worth!

There was a problem, however. Kroger has this program with one of the local churches; turn in your receipts and they and the church will donate a portion of the receipt value to the homeless shelter. A tiny, tiny portion—something like 1/10th of 1%. But I put my receipts in the box each time I shop, feeling like a tiny donation is better than none at all.

And so I was unable to prove to anyone that I had, indeed, paid for $30 worth of toilet paper yesterday afternoon.

But I had to give it a try.

So after the orthodontist we headed to Kroger. I explained the situation to the nice young man behind the customer service desk. He looked doubtful once I explained that I didn't have the receipt, but agreed to call the manager.

The manager bustled up, asked what the problem was, and the nice young man explained. She thought for a minute, and then asked if a certain employee was working today. "No," she was told, "she's off today."

"Great," I thought. "There goes my chance to salvage my $30."

But then, much to my surprise, the manager explained that yesterday this employee had mentioned to her that there was this big stack of toilet paper left on one the self check -out stations, and she didn't know what to do about it.

So the manager believed my story, and gave me my 60 rolls of nice toilet paper.

And it's happily sitting in my kitchen right now.

P.S. Just so you don't think that my day was entirely perfect (I would hate for you to experience dissatisfaction with your life because I did get my 60 rolls of toilet paper!) I should also mention that when I sat down at the sewing table today there were tiny ants all over it.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Year of Blogging

The other day I looked back at my first blog posts and was surprised to realize that I had started blogging almost exactly a year ago.

I started thinking of how I would celebrate a year of blogging. Would I celebrate with a funny post, or something thought provoking, or a retrospective?

As it turned out, I did none of those things. Instead I spent my morning here:

Making sure that my collar bone was not broken.

The physician's assistant came in, took a look, and assured me that whatever had happened, my collar bone was probably not broken. She suggested that I would be helped more by taking 800 mg of ibuprofen rather than the "wuss dose" of 200 that I generally take.

Then she sent me to the xray place for "just to be safe" x-rays. Unfortunately everyone else in Durham had chosen that moment to have their own x-rays, and they told me that the wait would be over an hour, but that I could come back later.

Instead I demonstrated my lack of medical compliance (no surprise there) and went to see my chiropractor instead. He did some more pushing and prodding and then held a tuning fork to my collar bone. It turns out that I am perfectly in tune and my collar bone is perfectly intact. Apparently it is actually the pectoral muscle (which attaches to the collar bone and to the shoulder) that is causing all of the pain.

I spent the rest of the afternoon having a nap, getting a much needed haircut, and running a few errands. So the funny, thought-provoking, retrospective post will probably never happen.

But I did want to send out a big thanks to everyone who makes blogging such a great experience for me. Thanks for caring about my life and my thoughts, and for sharing yours with me!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Irrational Mommy

I am not much of a shopper. I enjoy new clothes as much as the next person, but there is a well defined limit as to how much shopping I am willing to do to acquire them. The same goes for my kids. My shopping strategy is pragmatic and practical. If I see something I think they will like I buy it and bring it home. If it doesn't work, I take it back. Much better than endless time at the store with kids in tow.

But every now and then, as if by magic, another side of me emerges. The irrational side.

When we were having our family portraits done at the beach the irrational side was out for quite some time. I went to every Kohls in the greater Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area one afternoon to find the white shirt I'm wearing in the pictures.

Russ thought I had lost my mind.

This morning he was thinking that again—when I got up before 8:00 AM on a Saturday morning to go to a Walmart 45 minutes away.

It all started this week when I was looking online for winter church shoes for the little girls. I was comparing what was available at a number of sites, and decided to check Walmart too. They didn't have anything I was interested in as far as church shoes went, but they had the most adorable pink patent leather half boots.

I was sold.

So sold, in fact, that the next day I ordered some online. (Gotta love 97 cent shipping!) But then it started worrying me—in the day between when I'd first looked and finally ordered, all of the size 1 boots had gone and I'd had to order two size 2's. After looking at Jenna's feet in her current shoes again I was seriously doubting that she was going to be able to wear a pair of size 2 shoes anytime in the next year.

I went back online, but there were still no size 1's. What I did find was a way to search the Walmart stores around me to find the pair of shoes I was looking for. Much to my horror, none of the stores close to me (and close is a relative term--thanks to the recent closure of the ghetto Walmart, I am now 25-30 minutes from the nearest Walmart) carried any of the pink shoes. My nearest option was 45 minutes to the west, in Burlington.

And so this morning I got up at the unbelievable (for Saturday) (let's be honest--since I've been back from Utah, for any day!) hour of 7:45, showered, woke the little girls, and we were off on a girl adventure.

They are pretty excited about their new shoes.

Not half as excited as I am!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Day 1 of the Book of Mormon Challenge with the Kids


Can I just say I am exhausted? We just read 3 chapters together, and my brain is like mush. It's a good thing that I feel so strongly that we will (all) be blessed for reading this way, because it is not going to be easy!

Today we took turns each reading a column. Rachel and Jared probably took at least 10 minutes to read their column. Jenna reads so much better--she read 4 columns and was still going pretty strong.

To answer Cindy Lynn's question on my other post, no, we are not using the standard LDS version of the Book of Mormon with the little kids either. We are using this version:

Both of our older boys first read this Book of Mormon with this version, and we have given it now as a baptismal gift several times. I feel pretty strongly that it's too much to ask a young reader to read something that is so difficult for most adults. In small doses, such as family scripture reading, sure. But in any quantity too much is lost. With this book my early readers are able to understand completely what they are reading about.

Here are some samples.

I was very impressed with the "author's" explanation of how and why she made an easy-t0-read version of the Book of Mormon, and have not found anything that has made me doctrinally uncomfortable. I've actually looked at my kids' copies a time or two when I'm puzzling over a verse I'm not understanding!

If you're interested in finding a copy, we've bought our books at Seagull Book, but they are often hard to find. It looks like you can also find them through Amazon and at the BYU Bookstore.

What About Jared?

(this picture has nothing to do with what I'm writing about, except that I'm writing about Jared, and this is my own cute Jared, and how could I pass up this picture?)

I've started my Book of Mormon reading this time in Ether. I just wasn't quite ready for 1st Nephi!

Right off I had some interesting things to think about.

First, Jared. We spend a lot of time talking about the brother of Jared. He had great faith, he was directed by the Lord, he saw the Lord, and he had a unique name. But what about Jared? I noticed this verse in Chapter 2 today:
38 And who knoweth but the Lord will carry us forth into a land which is choice above all the earth? And if it so be, let us be faithful unto the Lord, that we may receive it for our inheritance.
39 And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did cry unto the Lord according to that which had been spoken by the mouth of Jared.
Jared must have been a man of great faith as well. I wonder what the reason is that he asks his brother to do the praying for him. But in each situation it is his idea that his brother is praying about. That's interesting to me.

I also loved these verses because it shows how much faith he has in the Lord. I wish that ever, in the middle of a trial, I would think something like "who knows but maybe the Lord is taking me to a land that is choice above all the earth" instead of thinking "I'm quite sure that my life is going to be completely wrecked by this experience." I really admire his combination of faith and optimism.

7 And the Lord would not suffer that they should stop beyond the sea in the wilderness, but he would that they should come forth even unto the land of promise, which was choice above all other lands...
What a reminder that the Lord often has destinations in store for us that we can't imagine ourselves. We are content to stop in one place, and he is trying to take us to this land of promise. Again, I am usually so short sighted in these situations!

Last: (who knew there was so much to think about in the first two chapters of Ether!)
24 Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.
25 And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come.
Usually at this point in the story I am more focused on the issue of them being as a whale (because you know this is appealing to me, or at least being with a whale!) or focusing forward on the story of the lights. But today these parts of the verses grabbed me.

We wonder sometimes if the Lord causes our trials. This seems to say to me that sometimes he does. Sometimes he has made the winds and the rain and the floods, all of which challenge us. But how comforting that he also says that he prepares us against these things, so that we are ready for them and can survive them.

At first I thought that this seemed a little pointless. Why would the Lord cause something and at the same time prepare us to survive it? Wouldn't it make more sense to just not cause the trial in the first place? But then I realized that many things are achieved during the experience that would not happen without it. We invariably learn important things about ourselves in these experiences. And we learn to trust more completely in the Lord, especially when we see how well he has prepared us for the wind and the waves and the rain...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Book of Mormon Challenge

On Sunday our bishop issued a challenge; that all of the members of our ward read the entire Book of Mormon in the next 4 months.

We had family night last night and discussed this challenge. We agreed that we should all accept it, and that I will make a chart to help track everyone's progress.

But wow. Four months isn't a lot of time to read a 500+ page book of scripture. It was a lot of reading in a short amount of time when President Hinckley asked us to do it a few years ago, and it will be a lot of reading in the next four months. And fast is not my preferred way to read the scriptures. On the other hand, I've completely neglected my scriptures this summer and this will be a great way to jump start my reading.

I won't be reading in the standard LDS issue Book of Mormon. I'll be reading instead in an edition called The Book of Mormon: A Reader's Edition".

Instead of being printed in the blocky text that we're all so familiar with, this edition is printed in paragraphs. And when the text is poetry, it's printed like poetry. It's much easier for me to follow the thoughts and ideas when they're not arbitrarily broken up into sentences. (Although I do miss the footnotes sometimes.)

This edition has 600+ pages instead of the regular 500, so I'll be reading 6 pages every day. I read my first 6 pages today, and I'm thinking about blogging about some of the thoughts I have. It's always easier for me to read the scriptures if I find something specific in my reading to think about—so maybe I'll write about that here.

I'll also be reading out loud with the little kids every morning. They're all a little overwhelmed at the thought of needing to read 5 pages every day, but I'm hoping that this will really help with Jared's reading problems and help them to begin to gain their own testimony of the the Book of Mormon as well.

Wish us luck!

The Long Drive Home

How is it that the drive home is so much longer than the drive to Utah? I'm sure there are a multitude of reasons. We leave fresh and excited, thinking of all of the adventures that await us. We drive back home exhausted, and this year, sick. Last year the drive home did take longer. Because Jason was still a relatively unexperienced driver (with 2 years of experience but still driving with a permit) I decided it would be prudent to spend 5 days driving home instead of 4. This year we drove home in 3.5 days to try to squeeze in a little extra time at my brother's house in Kentucky. It was exhausting. But I am getting ahead of myself.

After our two extra days in Utah (we'll look at them as bonus days with our friends) we left Logan on Wednesday morning. First we went by to say goodbye to my dad & Ramona. I thought that I knew the shortcut to get from my dad's house to Logan Canyon, but I must have been off somewhere. I ended up in the middle of Utah State University campus right as classes were changing. I sat, and sat, and sat, and sat. It did not make me have warm and fuzzy feelings about all of those USU students.

Finally we got off of the campus and drove through the canyon, which is always very scenic. We passed the exit for Tony Grove and waved sadly, thinking of the fun we'd had and the hike not taken. :(

I love driving out of Logan Canyon and seeing Bear Lake in front of us. But then the questions start in my mind. How on earth can we send a man to the moon and yet not know how deep Bear Lake is? Surely someone can figure it out with a couple of strings and Google Earth.

We got gas and I stopped for a famous raspberry shake at La Beau's. It would have been more enjoyable if I hadn't had to wait about 20 minutes for it. When I finally went up and asked if my shake was ever going to be ready, they realized they had handed it to the guy who ordered ahead of me with the rest of his order! I still can't believe he ate my shake.

I was talking to Russ on the phone while I was waiting, whining about it taking so long. Rachel walked by me right as I hypothesized to Russ that they probably had to milk the cow before they could make my shake. She turned around, startled, and said "they have a cow in that building???" I just love my literal kids.

The shake was very delicious. I gave all of the sick kids a bite, and then shared the rest with Jason. It was much better than the raspberry shake I had last year (the day before Cindy Lynn's wedding) at Utah State. Or maybe I was just much calmer this year.

We left Bear Lake with Jason driving and me ready for a nap. I woke up just in time to see this priceless sign somewhere in Wyoming.

It is a relief to know that.

Actually I kind of like Wyoming. I like Eastern Wyoming because it has interesting mountains and rocks. I like it that now Wyoming has lots of windmills to see. They are particularly lovely in the evening, but I love to see how small they seem and then how huge they are when you get closer.

Last year we saw windmill arms (?) being transported twice. They were unbelievably large--they had to use 2 semi flatbeds to transport them. I'd hoped we might see one again this year, but no luck.

I was also fascinated by the green part of Wyoming. What's with all of the green layers? Has Wyoming corroded? Is there a partnership with Oz that I haven't heard about? Whatever the reason, it was definitely green there--much more than shows in the picture.

We did skip one of our usual stops--my tummy was still full of raspberry shake and I was sure that the little kids, who were still coughing like crazy, didn't need huge cones. And then I saw this sign and was righteously indignant and glad that we were not stopping.

They've doubled the price of their cones! They used to be a steal at 25 cents. Now they're just a bargain.

Here are a few more of the sights that entertained me along the way. Oil donkeys. And a big thanks to Josh for telling me that that's what they're called, which makes total sense.

I always enjoy driving under this museum. We may never stop and go into it (remember my people vs. places dilemma?) but it's neat to see.

I also enjoy seeing the names of places. Some places are easy to figure out. All of the "villes" and "burgs" fit into this category. But sometimes I see places and cannot figure out why on earth anyone would have ever named them that.

Why would someone call a place Amazonia? Do you think they were inordinately proud of their women? Or had uncommonly large women?? And Knob Noster. Let me tell you how happy I am to not be living in a place called Knob Noster.

Occasionally I see a sign that seems to call to me.

And every time we drive through Missiouri I'm curious about Emma. Located about 55 miles from Independence, MO, I wonder if it's named for Emma Smith. I think I'll have to try to do a little research about this. Or maybe I will just ask friend Janet, who lived for several years in central Missouri.

One thing I saw all along my trip that just delighted me was this:

All along the roads, highways, and interstates, in residential areas and in remote southern Utah, were these sunflowers. I just loved them. Sometime after crossing the Mississippi I noticed that I wasn't seeing them anymore, and I was sad.

The arch, as always, was stunning to see. I really appreciate that they put the interstate right alongside it so that you get a great view for several minutes.

One person commented to me on my trip that they enjoyed driving across one part of the country but not the other half. Not me. With the relatively small exceptions of the area between Moab & Spanish Fork Canyon, (what a waste land!) and then between Bear Lake and I-80 in Wyoming, I think it's all interesting. Ok, maybe Nebraska is a little monotonous too. But the rest is great. I love crossing the rivers and seeing the bridges. I love driving along Nebraska Highway 2 towards Interstate 29 and seeing the pioneer markers along the road, and knowing that this is where the pioneers walked. When I get to I-29, which is down in a flat river bottoms kind of area, and see the low cliff all along the interstate, I wonder how hard it was for the pioneers to get their wagons down those cliffs.

I love seeing the farmland along the way, with the beautiful farm houses and the silos and barns. (Although I do prefer the rolling hills farmland to the flat.) I love seeing the little towns with their big church steeples showing from miles away.

I even love seeing the farm equipment drive by us on the road, provided it's going fast enough! (This picture does not do a good job of showing how HUGE this tractor was!)

We always love driving in Kentucky--both because it's beautiful and there are lots of horses, (here at the Retired Thoroughbred Farm)

And because it means we get to hang out with our cousins for a while. Sadly our visit with our Kentucky cousins was what got cut because of our sick days in Utah, so we have promised to go back and see them some other time.

After all of the driving, this is perhaps the most welcome sight of all. We know when we see it that we'll be home within a couple of hours. The little kids are excited to see Russ, and I'm excited to see Russ and to collapse into bed.

What an adventure it was!