Tuesday, July 18, 2017

It's Been Quite a Week

I've survived the last week. Barely.

Joseph turned 13, and he was very happy to be our fifth child to have aged into teenager-hood. But his birthday wasn't the problem.

On Joseph's birthday, Elannah had her tonsils out.

She's been wanting them out for months, and they have become increasingly more bothersome. Tonsil stones, multiple canker sores at the same time, and bad throat pain every time she sings or acts made her eager to set a tonsillectomy date.

Now, she says, "I'm never doing that again!" Fair enough.

Along with the pain of having her huge tonsils sliced out of her throat came her desire to have her mother with her at all times. I was very flattered to have my 16-year-old want my presence in her time of need, but I should have taken a page of advice from when I had little babies: sleep when the baby is sleeping. The worst times for Elannah were at night, and the Lortab did nothing for her pain until three days in. Therefore, I was up all day and then all night with her for several days in a row. I'm an old woman. This is hard for me to do now.

I am always simmering at the chronic fatigue level just before Crying Tired, so staying up with Elannah knocked me hard into the Stupid Tired stage of sleep deprivation pretty quickly. It was during that stage that I put my water kefir into a bottle in the fridge for its second ferment--the first time I've done this process.

By the second night of little sleep, I had descended into the Seeing Things Out of the Corners of My Eyes that Aren't There stage. I did nothing but sit in stupefaction watching "The Office" episodes, one after the other, while Elannah either slept fitfully on the couch, holding my hand, or cried silently and wrote me notes of desperation and regret. Occasionally, I jerked when I thought a bug was coming at me from my peripherals.

By the third night, the Lortab finally started doing some good. Elannah and I are similar in that Lortab does little or nothing for our pain. I have to have Percocet when I have acute pain (like the pain from a tooth infection) or I'm writhing. But, finally, the Lortab did something, and Elannah went from agony to blissful, pain-free euphoria. She could finally talk a little, too, and she broke her days-long silence with a long monologue on how happy she was to be pain-free and how she would never, ever do something like this again. Hindsight.

She finally agreed to try to sleep, though I had to talk her into it (it was somewhere around 2 am when this happened). She was worried she would waste this pain-free time and wake up in agony, but she finally slept. I crawled up the stairs and collapsed into bed. Around 5 am, she texted me to ask me to come sit with her again because she was dizzy and starting to hurt again. I dragged myself back downstairs.

I convinced her after that night that she wasn't going to wake up dead, and that I really, really needed to get some sleep before I had a breakdown. She was apologetic for keeping me up, and she let me get some sleep the next couple nights, though she kept me up late and asked for me early in the mornings. I ascended back to the Stupid Tired stage of sleep deprivation, and it felt pretty good.

That was when I tested my refrigerated water kefir and realized it had not developed any carbonation at all. After a long, slow, and confused think, I remembered that refrigeration slows down the fermenting process. I should have left the bottle on the counter. So I took the bottle out of the fridge and set it on the counter, the lid tightly screwed on. I figured two days should do the trick.

Two days later, Elannah was still in a great deal of pain, and I was still in Stupid Tired sleep deprivation when I decided to "burp" the water kefir and let a little of the pressure out.

I'm happy to report my decision to let it ferment on the counter was correct, because the kefir was fully carbonated. The moment I wrestled the cap off, the liquid inside, which was under a massive amount of pressure, shot straight up in a column of bubbles and pieces of ginger. It hit the ceiling so hard that is created an umbrella spray effect, and within seconds, everything in the kitchen (including me) was drenched. I whooped so loudly in surprise that family members came running to see if I was hurt.

Fortunately, the glass bottle didn't shatter, so other than some mopping up and finding pieces of ginger is the strangest of places, no damage was done. And I learned a lesson.

I now have another batch of water kefir on its second ferment (but not sealed too tightly), and a third batch on its first ferment. There was just enough kefir left after the explosion that Husband, Sian, and I got to have a taste. Sian, who made water kefir during her mission in Ukraine, pronounced it perfect, and she liked the added flavor of the ginger I put in.

Elannah is up and around now. She keeps thanking me for being there for her and taking care of her. I keep telling her that she is always my baby no matter how old she gets. And I have been able to get some more sleep at night, putting me back into the Exhausted but Functioning stage of sleep deprivation/chronic fatigue syndrome.

It's been quite a week.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Short Tale of Two Hikes

Last Sunday, one of my friends talked about two different hikes she had taken down in Southern Utah.

One of the hikes was fairly short in length, but the trail led entirely through deep sand. With each step, the sand pulled at her feet, and by the time she reached her destination, she was exhausted.

The second hike was quite long, but the trail was laid over solid rock. Despite the ups and downs and some difficult twists and turns, this hike was far easier to navigate because the rock provided a firm foundation.

As the world goes mad more quickly every day, you get to choose which journey you'll take in your life. Personally, I prefer the longer hike on a firm foundation.

My extemporaneous preaching for the day is finished.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Update on the Kefir Situation

It turns out that I really, really like dairy kefir. I love its sour tang (like plain yogurt), it's thick, rich texture, its brilliant white color, and the sizz of the carbonation on my tongue. I could drink dairy kefir like water and eat coconut oil like ice cream. Husband and Joseph also like dairy kefir, but they like to add a little fruit nectar to it to make it a little sweeter.

My dad, on the other hand, described dairy kefir as "part mucilage with a touch of gum paste." Descriptive but not complimentary. And he likes yogurt. So, obviously, dairy kefir is not everyone's cup of tea.

The bad part is that drinking dairy kefir like water and eating coconut oil like ice cream (which I don't do, by the way--either one--despite the temptation) is that it creates a diet very high in calories. I already eat a crappy diet, so even insanely healthy foods like dairy kefir and coconut oil can't overcome that. Also, just because a little is good for you doesn't mean a lot is better, which is true of so many things in life.

So here are some tips to drinking dairy kefir, assuming you like it enough to develop a taste for it:

1. It's better cold. Also, it gets a little more fizzy as it sits in the fridge.
2. Initially, it can cause some uncomfortable gas and bloating as the happy little microbes you've introduced into your gut start chomping away on your high-carb diet. While a diet made up mostly of plants and small amounts of meat protein is much better for you, in my opinion, many people who drink kefir tend to veer toward a high-protein diet because they feel less bloated at first. My remedy: start small by drinking four ounces of kefir in the morning and four ounces right before bed. Or less, if that still gives you discomfort. Then work your way up as you also start including more plants in your diet. Sian found she had instantaneous gas and bloating when she started drinking it, even though she liked the taste.
3. The grains multiply quickly, so either increase the amount of milk you're feeding them, divide them into multiple containers, or start giving away your extras. You need about a teaspoon of grains for, roughly, four cups of milk. When the grains multiply too much, your milk will still ferment, but it won't get fizzy. My grains started producing so much kefir we had it coming out our ears, so I had to let the grains go dormant in the fridge for a bit while we caught up. I pulled them out and did a ferment and they've woken up just fine after several days in the fridge.
4. Remember that even though the grains are eating the lactose in the milk, they aren't making it any less calorific. A couple glasses of dairy kefir each day could add 300 calories to your daily count. While I don't believe in counting calories if you're eating a healthy diet, 300 calories does do damage if you aren't eating a healthy diet.

So, to solve the "I love kefir and how it makes me feel but I don't love the calories part," I just bought some water kefir grains. I've got them feeding on sugar water right now because they were dormant in the lady's fridge from whom I bought them, but in a few days, I should be able to give you a report on how virtually calorie-free water kefir tastes.

Last note: it's pronounced "keh-fear'", not "kee'-fir." Sadly, most people pronounce it "kee'-fir," but there's not much you can do about that. It's just that I always see a picture of Kiefer Sutherland in my mind's eye, and while that isn't entirely unpleasant, I think ke-fir' sounds much more exotic and drinkable.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Relaxing before the 4th of July Rodeo

When I was in my young teen years, the NPR radio station would play "Music from the Hearts of Space" followed by "Pipe Dreams," two hours of auditory bliss on a Sunday evening. Having always been a daydreamer, I looked forward to this particular night. I would turn off all the lights, lie in bed, and just listen while my brain spun stories out of the notes.

Electronic music has come a long way since then. Now you can enjoy mixes like this one whenever you want. Not great for driving, but perfect for sending you into an alpha state--or theta or delta, if you're really tired.

Sometimes I just love technology so much.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Unconventional Thoughts: the Military

I write largely off-the-cuff here in my blog. That means I have stacks of unfinished, unpublished posts sitting in my list, whether it's because I ran myself into a logical fallacy, got tired of hearing myself talk, or found the topic too personal to share at the moment.

But when I find someone else who describes what I'm thinking far better than I can, I'm thrilled. I realize that some of the things I think are not conventional compared to those around me, so I don't always say what I think unless I find it necessary. Cowardice? Probably. I hate needless confrontation. It makes me feel all sick inside. Getting off Facebook was necessary for my personal well-being.

But we don't grow unless we learn new things, consider differing opinions, and remain flexible enough to change what and how we think when presented with new, true information no matter how inconvenient it is to our current world view. Truth will set us free, but it's not always a pleasant process. Sometimes, it really, really hurts.

One of the unconventional things in my head is that I do not worship the military. For Conservatives, that's particularly affronting. I'm not a Conservative (note the capital "c"), though I am conservative. I would never encourage one my children--or anyone else's child--to join any branch of the military. If one my kids decided to do so, I would try to talk him or her out of it with all my strength.


I find it abhorrent that our government sends troops into places where we have no business. We do not fight defensive battles. We are always and ever on the offense in this phony War on Terror. And why do we invade so many different countries who could not hope to harm us even if they had all the evil intent in the world? Because of money and power. Always follow the money to see why American men and women are sent anywhere to be cannon fodder for American corporations tied to politicians to subjugate and control the resources of another country.

I cannot support duping men and women into becoming cannon fodder. They are not fighting for freedom and liberty. They are not preserving our rights. They are not protecting us from the Other. They are trained to kill, and for what? No matter which way you try to spin it, they're trained to be mercenaries. So many of them come back broken, mentally and physically. So many of them kill themselves to quiet the horror in their minds. And for what? A lie.

Therefore, I cannot abide the sick worship that people heap upon the military. I'm a patriot, not a nationalist. I would fight to defend my country and my family and friends if we were under attack, but I do not swear my allegiance to a corrupt, bloated, deceitful Deep State that has no interest in preserving anyone's personal, God-given rights, including those of the people of this nation. My dad is a vet, and I have friends who have and do serve in the military who are excellent, decent people. None of them deserve to be cannon fodder to the self-styled elites.

Laurence M. Vance has this particular bee in his bonnet, as well, but he says it much better than I can.   Read his latest here.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The State is God. Little Charlie Must Die.

This is disturbing. More than disturbing.

Here is the story.

According to the Daily Mail, young Charlie Gard must be killed rather than be taken to the United States to undergo a last attempt at saving his life.

In a nutshell, Charlie Gard was diagnosed with mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome at the age of eight weeks old. He was only the 16th person in the world to have this diagnosis, and it has required him to be in a children's hospital in London since September of 2016. There is currently no known cure or treatment for this condition.

Desperate, the parents found a doctor in the United States who was willing to offer their son a trial therapy. The parents started a Go Fund Me account and raised $1.6 million in order to transport little Charlie by air ambulance to the States and fully pay for the procedure. All the hospital had to do was release the child so the parents could take him to the U.S. and see if this trial would help him.

But the hospital refused, and the parents were forced to take their rights as parents before the High Court, where the judge decided the parents must just let the child "die with dignity" and allow the hospital to remove him from life support. But the parents are not allowed to remove the child from the hospital.

The parents then appealed to the Court of Appeal, which upheld the High Court judge's ruling of killing the child instead of allowing him to leave the country with his parents to seek help in the U.S.

Matt Walsh wrote about this, and I really like his analysis of what is happening. Read it here. But I feel that he missed one vital point as to why the courts and the government of the U.K. and the EU must be able to supersede parental rights:

In socialized medicine, money for treatment becomes a serious obstacle. A socialized society does not have the money to pay for new or costly treatments because the burden is on the system to care for all the people in the same way regardless of economic status (though we all know that in such a system, some people are more equal than others and will receive better care). This approach suppresses any incentive for innovation, as innovative technologies tend to cost more (at least at the outset). Worse, if they work, then people will be clamoring for them, and if the people are little more than serfs (as they must be in a socialized society), they become bothersome in their pleas for salvation when there really is no money to afford the technologies. Matt Walsh is correct about the need for this death cult, this "die with dignity" emphasis. Life is too expensive when medicine is socialized.

The danger for government in allowing innovation of medical technology in a socialized medicine system is that the people might start realizing that the government is not the loving parent it portrays itself to be--especially when real life death panels become obvious. There may be a revolt.

If the U.K. and the EU allow Charlie's parents to take him to the U.S. for treatment, they run a huge risk: the treatment might work. If it works, it means that the socialized healthcare system is faulty, even if only 16 people in the world have Charlie's particular syndrome. Innovation in medicine and in any part of a socialized society becomes a threat to the establishment, the State. It cannot be allowed if you want to keep the status quo. If the State is God, then the State must supersede parental rights, which means suppressing innovation or refusing to allow parents to utilize innovative technologies from countries that are not yet completely socialized.

Even if the treatment didn't work, the fact that Charlie's parents had the ability to make the decision about Charlie's care is dangerous. Socialized medicine must offer the same treatments for everyone, regardless of outcome. The State is the parent/god of Little Charlie, but his parents are not.

A socialized society means that all must live at the same level of misery.

Therefore, little Charlie has to die to maintain the myth that the State is God.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

My Initial Foray into Kefir Culturing

I am inordinately pleased with myself, and I haven't even done anything that would justify being so smug.

I bought some kefir grains two days ago from a lady in The Big City, and I made my first batch of kefir. Here's what I did:

  1. Bring kefir grains home.
  2. Put them in a glass quart jar (I used a pickle jar that I had thoroughly washed out with filtered water).
  3. Fill the jar with whole milk.
  4. Let the jar sit on the counter for 24 hours.
  5. Strain the fermented result into another jar, put the kefir grains back into the first jar, and fill with milk again.
  6. Drink the first batch of kefir while a new batch is brewing.
I basically filled a jar with milk and kefir grains and let it sit for a day before drinking the results. So easy. No reason to feel so pleased with myself, right? It's not like I did much.

And, yet, I am pleased with myself. Making and drinking kefir is one step closer to gut health. 

Here are the facts:
  • While yogurt contains 2 -- 7 types of live cultures that help heal the gut, kefir contains 10 -- 30 (or more). 
  • Kefir contains 100% mesophilic strains, which culture at room temperature. Yogurt contains mostly thermophilic strains, which require heat to culture.
  • Kefir cultures eat the lactose in dairy milk. When the kefir is fully fermented, even people with lactose intolerance are able to stomach dairy kefir because all the lactose has been consumed, making the result very digestible.
  • Kefir grains are hard to kill. As long as you feed them and don't expose them to extremes in temperature, they'll thrive. The best way to feed them is to keep making kefir. You can even store them in the fridge when you don't want to make kefir so the grains will go dormant but won't die (just feed them a little new milk once a week).
  • Kefir grains multiply. Your initial supply will grow so you can make larger quantities of kefir or give some of the grains away to friends and family. 
  • You can also use nut milks or coconut milk to make kefir, though you'll need to make dairy kefir every two or three ferments to fully feed the grains (they need the lactose).
  • Making kefir is so easy you'll wonder why you never tried it before.
  • Kefir grains contain no actual grain and are naturally gluten-free. They kind of look like blobs of tapioca pudding.
  • The beneficial bacteria cultures in kefir stick to the lining of the alimentary canal (your digestive system) and help heal leaky gut syndrome and repair the gut lining. Yogurt cultures also help heal the gut lining, but they only stay in the system for about a day. 
Why Drink Kefir?

Kefir cultures produce the kind of beneficial bacteria and yeast that your gut needs to be healthy. A healthy gut is able to absorb nutrients from the foods you eat and correctly distribute those nutrients to the rest of your body. The more diverse your microbiome is (the microbiome is the ~3 1/2-pound collection of beneficial bacteria and yeasts that live in your gut), the healthier your gut will be. The healthier your gut is, the healthier you will be overall. You'll be able to absorb nutrients for energy, all your body processes will be working at optimal levels, and you'll even think more clearly and feel more optimistic.

Think of your gut lining as a shag carpet. The pile of the carpet is the villi, little fingers that increase the surface area of your gut lining. When the balance of beneficial bacteria and yeast in your gut gets upset, flora like candida yeast begin to flourish. The pile of the shag carpet gets cut down, and the backing of the carpet begins to crack, allowing small bits of improperly digested food to get into the bloodstream. These particles of food alert your immune system, which rushes to deal with the intruders. This immune response causes inflammation in the body, and that's a good when it is needed to heal a wound on a temporary basis; but constant inflammation from an immune system always on high alert causes a grocery list of chronic and serious illnesses. The doctor who wrote Gut and Psychology Syndrome blames leaky gut for everything from asthma to schizophrenia. 

When your gut flora is imbalanced, the thugs of the bacterial and yeast world take over. They make you crave sugar and processed foods because that's what the thugs need to survive and thrive. They also make you feel tired and depressed. 

A healthy gut, on the other hand, loves healthy foods like plants. When your gut is healthy, the ruling culture is one of calmness and happy productivity. The thugs are held in check and are forced to be good citizens.

Kefir alone won't heal a leaky gut and reduce body inflammation--especially if you haven't changed your bad eating habits--but it's one great weapon in the battle to a healthy microbiome. It packs a powerful probiotic punch. If you're drinking kefir while eating a diet very high in vegetables (raw and cooked), fruits, and some quality protein from meat sources, and with little to no processed foods or junk foods, you'll be able to heal the gut and keep it healthy.

This is long enough, so I'll stop. I'm just so happy that something so healthful is so simple and easy to make and produces so many good results. 

If you want to learn how to make kefir, this is where I bought my kefir grains and learned the simple process of making kefir. Just do a search on making kefir, and you'll find plenty of resources. 

Hubby's Happy Place

The art show was going on at the city park. One of Husband's favorite flute makers had a booth, so we decided to go check it out.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Feral Post-Apocalyptic Children, TCM, and Wedding Plans: a Normal Summer So Far

I had a dream last night that involved an absolutely fantastic old-fashioned mansion--the kind with acres of polished mahogany paneling and lots of stone lintels.

In my dream, it was a post-apocalyptic world, and I was leading a group of survivors to find shelter when we stumbled upon this gorgeous and massive house in the woods (not the one above. I was just giving you something to imagine). We set up shop in the house, and we kept finding new and amazing parts of it, including a sort of fourth-dimensional storage system with clever, interlocking cylinders that made perfect sense in my dream but obviously makes no sense now that I'm awake.

After some time had passed, groups of feral children and teenagers started appearing and attempting to get into the house. I kept trying to warn the others that opening the doors and letting them in would lead to our doom, but they laughed and threw open the doors to invite them in. The intruders were in the process of totally wrecking the house, and no matter how much I tried to warn my friends, they just kept laughing at me. I woke up with a terrific lack of self confidence. I just felt stupid.

The feeling of stupidity lasted for a good 20 minutes while I contemplated my tasks for the day. I had one more article to write from a long list of titles, and it had kind of stymied me for a bit. But as I got busy with the research, the feeling of stupidity dissipated, which was a relief. Nobody enjoys prolonged feelings of stupidity--especially when it seems to be your subconscious taunting you.

I've been writing and thinking about TCM lately. In my writing, Traditional Chinese Medicine has been heavily featured by the guy who gives me the titles of the articles I write. I know a lot more about yin/yang, qigong, and wu xing than I used to, for what it's worth. I finished up the last article today, which went pretty smoothly once I'd completed the research and made myself an outline.

What's really exciting is that I suggested the topic of gut health for future articles, and my liaison was very enthusiastic about it. He told me to go ahead and invoice for three 1000-word articles on any gut health topics I choose.

Getting paid to write exactly what I want to write about? Priceless!

In family news, all my daughters have found gainful employment, so there's a lot of juggling of schedules going on. Sian and Elannah work at restaurants (Sian works at Dickey's, and she always comes home smelling wonderfully of hickory smoke; and Elannah works at McDonald's, which is good because now she can't stand to eat any of it anymore), and Sophia landed a position at a beauty supply store, where she gets samples to try out every month. Gabrielle doesn't live at home, of course, but she is also doing well where she works at a credit union.

Joseph and Little Gary are occasionally feeling the effects of the summer boredoms, but they've quit complaining about it to me because I kept telling them that if I was forced to entertain them, they would get extra chores that I would require them to complete. Now they keep themselves entertained. Joseph is catching up in math, and he has to do 10 pages in his workbook every day. Not his favorite.

Husband and Sian and I went wedding dress shopping, and we found the perfect dress after only a few hours of looking. It's simple but elegant, which is exactly what Sian wanted. What's more, it is a thrift store find of $35. The dress was about $1200 new, so Sian feels like she got an incredible deal (which, of course, she did, because the dress is in pristine condition). We're having a seamstress sew an adorable jacket to go with it, as the dress is strapless, and Sian is going to be the most beautiful bride ever.

It's been hard on Sian having her fiance gone until just a few days before the wedding in August. It's been on Sian's shoulders to make some of the big decisions that couples usually get to make together: what apartment to rent, registering for gifts, making plans for the reception, etc. I'm helping her as much as I can, but she misses her fiance so much. He's off making lots of sales commissions to pay for their future lives, and they talk every night, but they miss each other terribly. Sian has a plane ticket to Washington, D.C., for early July so she can visit him for a weekend, and they're counting down the days.

Husband has been perfecting his flute-making skills. He set up a tidy little workshop area in the garage, and he's produced several really good flutes out of PVC pipe. He's toying with the idea of offering them to teachers for classrooms. He's also taking a few classes over the summer as he works toward getting sufficient tech credits to bump him up a bit in pay.

I've been very newsy lately, I know. It's not that I don't think about things, but I'm not sure I want to share what I've been mulling over quite yet. I've got a couple projects I hope to report on soon.

Oh, we went and saw Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2, last week, and I had so much fun. We went to the theater's $5 Tuesday on a whim, and the boys and Sian came with us to the 9:55 pm show. We all loved it. I'd pay to see that movie on the big screen again, and I only say that about once every five years or so. We saw the Batman Lego Movie earlier this year, and I laughed so hard then, too.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Kyrie by Stephan Carlson

I just found that someone posted a video of the high school show choir women's ensemble piece that they performed at state competitions. They won the highest marks for this piece. They performed it again at the end-of-year concert in the high school auditorium, and did even better, with the girls singing high soprano hitting those notes so perfectly dead on that it rang like a bell. It was so beautiful that it made me teary.

Sophia is the one who announces it at the beginning.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Picture Pages

 Here are some of the photos that have been lurking on my phone.

Gabrielle texted last week and asked for the recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I always keep notes in my recipe books, so it is easy to find. When Sian makes these, she makes her own brown sugar using molasses and white sugar, and it gives the cookies an incredible depth and richness. But Gabrielle made them from this recipe and said they were a hit with all her roommates and friends. I always use this recipe, and, so far, absolutely no one has complained.

In case you can't quite read it, here's the recipe:

1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup margarine (I use butter, and it makes the cookies slightly flatter and a little crisper. I just hate margarine)
3 beaten eggs
12 oz. chocolate chips
3 3/4 cup flour
2 tsp baking soda
3 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt

Cream the sugars and margarine. Add the eggs, chocolate chips, and all of the sifted-together dry ingredients. Mix well. Bake at 350 deg. F for 10 to 12 minutes. Cookies are very moist. If you have an electric stove, lower it to 325 deg. F [which is what I do]. Very delicious.

Sophia had a lead role in the high school's production of Oklahoma, her last play before she graduates from high school this Thursday. She was Laury, and a very nice young man named Robert played Curly.

Elannah and Sophia worked together to choreograph all the dancing, and they did a right fine job of it, if'n I do say so myself.

In April, one of Husband's sisters-in-law came to town with her twins. We all spent the day together, including going to a thrift store. Elannah, Sophia, and their cousins all managed to find floral shirts, which, I guess, are a thing right now. My girls wear theirs all the time.

During that day, we took a tour of the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City, which the boys had never done before and which the girls were too young to remember doing. Here's Little Gary in the main hall that seats about 20,000, with the iconic organ pipes behind him.

I've been lucky enough to sing in a conference choir here. Who knew how many back hallways and tunnels this place has to keep things going smoothly?

Here are Little Gary and Marmite, perching on a stack of chairs in the kitchen. I think we'd had my family and Sian's future fiance over during General Conference, which is why the chairs were stacked after being used at the table.

Little Gary happily announced today that he made the honor roll at his elementary school--the first time that's happened. I'm just relieved that about halfway through the year he started doing his homework on his own with me having to nag him. I guess he's growing up. He'll be a fifth grader next year.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Adventures in School Bus Driving

In the early dark, the school buses at the bus garage start rumbling through their pre-trip inspections. Drivers must check the lights, horns, tires, and gauges before roaring out into the surrounding neighborhoods and towns to pick up happy, alert children and drop them at their schools.

I am one of them.

No, I don't have my own route yet. Since the end of the school year is fast approaching, I might not even be subbing all that often--though I have been driving nearly every day for the last two weeks. But next school year, there's some hope that I may get my own route.

Being a substitute bus driver is exciting, of course. Sometimes, it's a little too exciting. As a sub, you're just hoping that you'll manage to hit all the right stops on all the right streets in a town or neighborhood you aren't all that familiar with, and you hope you won't neglect to pick up some poor elementary school kid whose parents have already left for work and now the door to their house is locked and they have nowhere to go.

I mean, I don't care about the junior high and high school kids, cuz they can figure it out. They've got phones.

But what wakes me up in the wee hours before a run is my brain deciding to stew and stew over a new route, reminding me every three minutes from 3 A.M. on about what time I need to get to the bus garage (even though I remind my brain that I have set my alarm), and going over all possible negative outcomes.

So far, I haven't made any major mistakes. Minor ones, yes. Major, dangerous ones, no. Knock on wood...

For instance, I ended up sitting on the side of a road with a bus full of junior high school kids while we waited for the mechanics to come and fix my battery box door, which wouldn't stay latched (I didn't kick the battery tray hard enough, it turns out. In my defense, I had no idea I could kick it!).

Because I didn't enunciate my location clearly enough on the radio, the mechanics ended up in the wrong neighborhood and took even longer to find me. Meanwhile, I had to keep the kids from going all Lord of the Flies (which is a very real possibility when children that age don't have access to wi-fi for too long) by playing "School Bus Trivia," a game I made up on the spot. We all had a good laugh, and now they know how drivers get out of the doors after the bus is turned off.

And they STILL made it to school in time, much to their disappointment.

Last week, I was driving a route that takes me into a new street with only one entrance/exit. The street is lined with multiple new houses all under construction at once, so there's always cement trucks and other construction vehicles scattered around. This particular route takes me into this street three times a day in order to pick up or drop off a total of three kids.

On Thursday, I was able to thread my way through in order to turn around at the end of the street and get back out. Barely. On Friday, however, the road was entirely blocked--and even if I had been able to get through to the turnaround at the end, the turnaround was littered with the parked cars of the construction workers, making it impossible for me to get the bus turned around.

So there I am: a load of elementary kids are already on the bus, and two cement trucks pouring a new foundation are completely blocking my way forward. Then, when I look in the mirror, I see a guy double-parking a pickup truck with a trailer, completely blocking my ability to reverse out. What?? Does it seem normal to him that a big yellow school bus full of students is just going to sit and idle in the middle of the road for the indefinite future?

I'm now locked in. Dilemma.

I can't leave the bus to talk to the construction workers (there are kids on board), the construction workers can't hear my air horn over all the noise (not that they can move until the foundation is poured, anyway), and I'm not supposed to reverse--not that I can at the moment.

Obviously, I must reverse or I'm never getting out of there, so I radio the bus garage to let them know what's up. I tell them I'm backing up all the way to the entrance of the street. They are nervous. They request that I at least put an older child in the back window to give me directions. I comply by assigning a sixth grader to tell me if I'm going to hit anyone or anything (not that I can hear anything she says because of the construction noise).

So I put the bus in reverse and watch the pickup truck driver scramble to re-park his vehicle as soon as he hears my reverse alarm (miracle!). Then, dear reader, I backed that big bus straight through all the parked cars, pivoted perfectly into the the dead end to get myself facing out to the highway, and got those kids to school on time and with no other problems. My palms were sweaty, yes, but I felt a certain thrill of triumph.

Substitute bus driving = living on the edge. I'm just a crazy kind of gal!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Let Me Brag about My Kids a Bit

Each of my children have very specific interests. In the case of Sian and Gabrielle, their interests were very different. Sian is a musician and composer and has written many amazing voice and piano pieces. She was also her high school's newspaper editor-in-chief because she enjoys writing.

Gabrielle realized she loved to draw at an early age, and she's never stopped.

Sophia and Elannah share interests in drama, voice, and dance, but each of them have their own individual style.

The boys are still figuring out what they want to pursue, but I see a native talent for drawing showing up in Little Gary, and Joseph has been trying to figure out the concept of humor and comedy since he was old enough to talk. He would also be very good at dance if he cared to pursue it, but it's much less socially acceptable for a boy to do that than a girl, I think. Especially when you are junior high age. While I've never discouraged the idea, he would be horrified if I signed him up for dance classes.

As you know, Gabrielle is taking a digital media course as part of her game design degree. She had to create a YouTube channel on which to display her completed assignments, and I thought you'd like to see one of her videos. This is a speedpaint video of a picture concept she first created when she was a young teen. Right at the end, she shows the original drawing so you can compare it to her updated drawing. It's quick, so you have to pause the video in order to really appreciate how much she's improved. I am amazed at the progress she's made.

Oh, FYI, Sian is now engaged to be married! The wedding is set for August 31st. After I hyperventilated a bit at the thought of my baby becoming a wife (and, eventually, a mother), I'm very happy about the whole thing. As is her dad. She's marrying a great guy. He's intelligent (Applied Physics major) without being condescending. He's spiritual without being self-righteous. And he absolutely adores my daughter (and she adores him, of course). He's the kind of great kid who just gets better with age.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Faith Precedes the Miracle

OMGosh! Can we talk about Bill Nye and his amazing transformation from a very mediocre comedian/actor/mechanical engineer into an expert on all things science? He totally, like, proved it with that song and dance that Rachel Bloom performed on his new show. No, no, don't look it up. You'll hate it. Well, if you do look it up and watch it, just trust me that it's horrendous. I could only get through a little bit of it. It's called "My Sex Junk." And if you do watch it, don't say I didn't warn you. (shudder)

But I digress. Bill Nye the Psycho Guy is not something I want to discuss right now. I want to discuss miracles.

The Miracle

I could go on and on about faith (and I have already, though I haven't published any of those posts), but it all boils down to this: each of us has to learn that when you lay your burdens at the Lord's feet, leave them there and don't pick them up again. Picking them up again to worry and stew over them entirely defeats the whole purpose of laying them at the Lord's feet in the first place. Picking them up again shows a lack of faith. Laying them at His feet and then leaving them there with a lighter heart, trusting that He knows your needs, is what builds faith.

Not that that's an easy lesson. It's taken me years. A lifetime, really. And I'm generally a laid-back person.

I believe you know that I told my last writing client to take a hike, as I did mention it two posts back. When they recently said, "Hey, after all this time of you doing excellent work for us, how about we cut your rates to less than half?" I responded, "Hey, how about I don't work for you anymore?"

It wasn't just ego, which I did try to suppress in order to look at their offer objectively. I mean, yeah, I was insulted, but I did consider whether or not I could still work for them and not feel overwhelming resentment, because money. Conclusion: nope. I'm human, not a robot. I was already charging them rates on the lower end for my work as a professional writer, so I didn't see any advantage to tying up my time and mental energies writing for them for pennies.

By severing ties with them, I now placed myself into a position of not having an extra source of income. The whole thing had soured me on trying to find new clients and haggling about rates, so I decided to do something that gets me out of the house and allows me to talk to people other than myself. Thus: I am now a fully licensed Class B driver with school bus and passenger endorsements.

But another problem: I can't drive a school bus over the summer, which means I don't earn anything over the summer. Uh oh.

Also: taxes were due and we didn't have enough tax credits to reduce our federal and state taxes to reasonable levels. This year, we owe a lot. More than we can afford. Uh oh.

Proposed solution: get a maintenance job over the summer (or something) to make up the income shortfall. If I squint really hard, I can totally see how fun that will be. I can work with young people and learn lots about changing light bulbs and painting schoolroom walls. Right? And we'll sort of wing it with the taxes and take the penalty fines while we pay them off in chunks (bites nails).

And yet, I felt calm and peaceful. I laid my burdens at the Lord's feet and explained the situation and why I couldn't work for my former client anymore. I also explained how money is an issue. We're trying to pay off debt and increase our self-reliance, but a family still has to eat--at least a little. Then I made a conscious effort to not pick up my burdens again and just trust and have faith. Every time the worry tried to well up inside, I reminded myself that faith and fear are mutually exclusive. I choose faith.

On Sunday, April 16th, we had no way to pay our taxes, which were due on Wednesday, April 18th this year. I was also barely recovering from a raging tooth infection that had brutalized me with pain all Saturday night and Sunday.

On Monday, April 17th, the antibiotics I got from the urgent care doctor were finally starting to have some effect (and being able to pay the urgent care fees in order to get the antibiotics is a another miracle I won't go into at the moment). I also got a text. It was from a colleague from a former writing job who now works for a large nutritional supplements company.

"Hey, I need a good writer," he said, "and I'd like to pay you an insanely good rate--and also pre-pay you, starting today!"

I immediately responded, "Hey, I'm your new writer!"

It's amazing how getting paid what you're worth can resurrect your interest in writing for other people, amiright?

He sent me a list of the articles I need to write, and I sent him an invoice. He paid me within minutes. It was enough to cover the federal taxes, due the next day. The money hit my bank account on April 18th.

Now I'm a freelance content writer with a client again--a client who is also a writer, I might add, which is why he isn't trying to pay me pennies for my mental exertions. I have a way to earn good money over the summer. I get to write about natural health topics, which is one of my favorites.

This is a miracle, folks. It's one of the obvious and mind-blowing ones, the kind that makes you fall to your knees and cry out your gratitude to a God who knows you personally and answers prayers. While I know answers don't always come like this, I'm not going to argue. Even if we hadn't received such a brilliantly unforeseen miracle, I still choose faith. My last two writing jobs have followed this very miraculous pattern, which has allowed me to stay at home and and be there for my kids (though the bus driving gig does take me away for a few hours at a time).

And I know that miracles are always happening to me; for every miracle that I see, there are probably hundreds that I am completely unaware of. How can I be anything but grateful at all times? How sad is it when I find myself grumbling and groaning about my lot in life?

I'm feeling very blessed.

Monday, April 24, 2017

I Am a Bus Driver

I passed the CDL test, HR has approved me, and I am now an official substitute bus driver.

That's all you need to read unless you want a bunch of details (below).

Tomorrow I go on a ride-along with a driver for whom I will be substituting this week. It's just nice that I get paid for the ride-along at bus driving rates. Cha-ching.

You're probably wondering how difficult the CDL driving test was. In terms of the anticipation factor, it was pretty bad. In terms of actual experience, it wasn't bad at all. My co-trainee was so stressed and worried and turned so white I thought he was going to pass out. He still managed to pass, though.

I spent the entire time my co-trainee was out doing his test (about 90 minutes) studying and studying to keep everything fresh in my mind. I used my own body to memorize the steering components (steering wheel, steering gear box, pitman arm, drag link, steering ring knuckle, spindle, steering arm, and tie rod. Hey! I still remember all of it!), and I visualized myself going through every part of the pre-trip inspection. By the time they all got back, I was confident.

Because it was starting to rain, the tester only made me do part of the pre-trip inspection (I didn't even get to describe the steering components after all that memorizing!). Then I aced the parallel parking skill test, mostly aced the cross-over backing skill test, picked up and dropped off an imaginary load of children, and then headed out onto the road.

My trainer and the tester, who are good friends, chatted the entire time I was driving. I knew they were keeping an eye on how I was doing, so their easy conversation helped me relax and loosen up my shoulders. I didn't hit any curbs, cars, or pedestrians, which is always good. I didn't hit even one construction barrel when we headed into a narrow, one-lane construction zone during rush hour traffic in the pouring rain. I managed not to get hit by any trains at the railroad crossings, as well.

After a good two hours (they asked me stop at the Target so they could grab some stuff for an inservice meeting--and then didn't come out for 30 minutes!), I pulled back into the bus garage and was told that I had done a "lovely job." I don't like to brag, but I'm pretty good at driving large vehicles--even when I'm sitting forward of the front axle. Who knew?

Want to know what it's like to steer a vehicle when you are sitting forward of the front axle?

I thought you'd never ask.

The next time you're grocery shopping, watch your cart. Every time you swing around a corner, notice how you have to push the front end of the cart out into the middle of the aisle before turning the wheels. Now imagine you're sitting at the front of the cart like the figurehead on a ship, steering it. That's what it's like driving a bus: you have to take into account the fact that the front axle is behind you, and then watch carefully to make sure you also account for how big the tail swing is and where your dual tires at the back are going. Without mirrors, the whole thing would be practically impossible.

Also imagine that your cart weighs over 10,000 pounds, and that stopping it takes more time and space than you think.

Now imagine me cheerily waving at you from the driver's seat. I'm waving because I'm thrilled you obeyed the blinking red lights on the stop sign and didn't try to pass me while children are crossing the road. Major thumbs up!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Everything's Gonna be OK

It's been a busy week.
  • Myles the Cat died. He was old, so it wasn't a total surprise, but it was still sad. Some of the kids don't remember life without him around.
  • My youngest daughter turned 16 and has been asked out on her first date.
  • I told my former client to shove it, though not in so many words. After over two years of doing my best work for them, they decided they wanted to pay me less than half what I had been making as a contractor. While that is the best thing for their bottom line, it was the last in a series of straws breaking this camel's back. We parted ways, though I used the opportunity to offer the name of one of my friends who wants to break into the content writing profession and for whom the new rates would be appropriate. They were very interested.
  • My oldest daughter's boyfriend wants to have a little chat with Husband and me in order to ask for Sian's hand in marriage. Gulp.
  • I have mastered parallel parking and backing into a dock with a 40-foot school bus.
  • I agreed to take on two beginning piano students but also asked my driver trainer to set me up with a summer job that runs Monday through Thursday, 10 hours a day. We'll see how it all works out.
While you could interpret the following song as whistling in the dark, I really like it. I always feel encouraged every time I listen to it. Certainly I love the singer's voice. (It's like butter.)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Little Shredder Music

You wouldn't believe how many snowboarding movies I've watched in the last few days. I know the season is pretty much over, and, no, I haven't suddenly become a shredder. It's part of my research for a blog post for Ship Skis's snowboarders to watch in 2017.

I found this piece of music in the Full Moon movie, in the section that features Robin Van Gyn. I have become a little obsessed. Thought you might also enjoy. Click on the link below.

Easy Nothing | Youngblood

Monday, March 6, 2017

Virtual Relationship Disorder: My Story

I deactivated my Facebook account some weeks ago. It's funny, but when I know I can't log on, I do not miss it one tiny bit. I suppose that because I grew up before the Internet--and certainly social media--was a thing, I don't have this visceral need to know what everyone I've ever known is doing, has done, or is about to do, no matter how trivial.

In the time I've been on Facebook (since one of my friends talked me into creating an account in 2008), I've been able to contact people I knew earlier in life and had wondered about and could find out where their lives had taken them. While that was thrilling at first, reality did settle in quite quickly. Now that I had re-connected to old friends and had exchanged enough data to satisfy my curiosity about how they were, the relationships usually devolved into a sort of gray and lifeless limbo, a highly unsatisfying turn of events, to my mind. I'd rather have no relationship at all than one that is only kept alive by the life support of knowing they are "out there" and we can contact each other whenever we want to, but don't.

It's amazing the amount of stress reduction I've felt after FB deactivation. Also, I do other things with the time I used to spend scrolling through my newsfeed.

Yeah, right.

But here's one more observation about the duality that relationships take on in the virtual vs. real world:

I have been looking for a new gig. Sick to death of writing for other people, and exhausted from being a freelancer and having to constantly look for new clients, I reached out to my friends and asked if anyone knew of something--anything--that I could do that would get me a paycheck. One of my friends responded that a data entry job had come up in her department. She warned me that the job often requires 10 hours of work per day--and often also on weekends--and that workers are paid by the piece, averaging around $9 an hour.

The fact that I shuddered in horror at the thought of working those kinds of hours for slave wages isn't the point, even if it was a work-from-home job. Even Husband agreed that I couldn't stay sane under those conditions.

The point is that I don't often talk to this particular friend face-to-face, even though she lives just around the corner from me, and so my interactions with her are usually through text messages--and those are infrequent. We usually see each other at church on Sundays, but she works with the children and I work with the adult women, so our paths don't cross there, either, except for the occasional "hello" in the hallways. My relationship with her, therefore, is almost entirely virtual, even if we are friendly with each other in our extremely rare face-to-face conversations.

If only texting were an aerobic activity.

It was a day after she had told me about this job, and I was getting more worried that I'd have to take it out of desperation, when another friend called me and told me he had put my name in with a friend of his in the county school district's transportation department, and that I had a job as a district bus driver if I wanted it. Get out of the house for a few hours a day? Check. Drive large vehicles? Check. Satisfy my love of a good road trip (even if it's local)? Check. Get paid far more per hour than data entry and get my CDL for free in the bargain? Check. Obviously, I submitted an application, called them up, and went in for the interview the next day. I'm now their newest trainee substitute bus driver/attendant until I get my CDL and the district approves me as an official driver.

I texted my other friend and thanked her for the job info, but told her I wasn't going to apply. I told her of another of our friends who was looking for physically undemanding work and asked if she'd like to reach out to her, instead. She thanked me for the information and said she'd contact this other woman.

Later that day, I was parked in my usual spot to pick up the afternoon carpool of children from the high school and junior high. This guy who got me the job jumped off his bus and came up to my car window, where we had a face-to-face conversation, and where I thanked him in person for landing me the job. We always joke around with each other, and we had a fun, casual conversation before he had to get back to his bus. A short but highly satisfying exchange. He reminds me a bit of my dad. I have only ever texted him about this job. Otherwise, our relationship is all face-to-face.

Yesterday, at church, I had the opportunity to lead the singing time for the children. The woman who told me about the data entry job was the pianist. I interacted with her through the duration of the singing time about the music, but it wasn't until after I got home from church that it struck me that during that interaction, I had entirely forgotten that she is also the same woman who told me about the data entry job. In my head, I have totally compartmentalized my virtual relationship and my face-to-face relationship with her. The compartmentalization is so effective that I fail to remember that both of those relationships are with the same person.

I wonder how I even have any friends who will talk to me at all? I forget, when I'm talking to them in person, that we have this other relationship that is virtual, and vice versa. In my subconscious, the two relationships are with two separate individuals, even if I know, consciously, that they are one and the same person. I realize that I don't even meld the two worlds of our relationships: I don't mention things to them in person that we have discussed via email or text message, especially if that is our primary form of communication.

Does that make sense? Am I the only one who has developed this psychological dichotomy between real and virtual relationships? Is it any wonder why I had such a rage issue with Facebook?

Ah, the endless psychological wonder that is our brave new world of virtual interaction!

This would be my favorite cafe.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


My youngest son, Little Gary, is nine years old. His best friend is a girl of eight, and she's so absolutely cute, she's going to be a total heartbreaker when she's old enough to date, I guarantee it! Her name is Molly.

Little Gary and Molly often collaborate on ways to earn money for the purpose of having me drive them to the dollar store so they can purchase snacks to feast on while they play video games. Their ideas are pretty creative, too. A couple times, they spent a while drawing and coloring comics, which they then sold to people we know. They've made a surprising amount of money selling those comics.

Today, they figured it was too soon to sell comics again, so they choreographed three different interpretive dances and then went and offered to perform the dances for a dollar. To my surprise, they came back with about five dollars.

They're now feasting on cheese crackers and candy while they play a video game together.

Little Gary and Molly have been friends for a couple years now. For a long time, Little Gary used to come to me and complain that the boys in the neighborhood and some kids from school who saw them walking home together would tease them and make mean comments about them being boyfriend and girlfriend. It just bothered Little Gary so much.

I told Little Gary to try and ignore it. I told him that, in fact, those boys are going to be incredibly jealous in just a couple years. When Little Gary asked why, I told him that he is learning how to talk to and become friends with girls, and that's a skill those other boys are going to wish they had--especially in this neighborhood, which appears to have produced a massive gaggle of boys and just a few girls. And especially as Molly gets older.

Molly's mother told me Molly has come to her with the same complaints, and she's told her to just endure it for the time being.

So now they just brush off the comments and hang out together at our house or her house.

"Wouldn't it be great if those two grew up and got married?" Sophia said to me the other day while we watched them playing. I gestured at her to be more quiet. We don't need to give them any ideas. Let them just be friends for now.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

You Can't Trust the Pictures You See

My daughter, Gabrielle, is taking a video game designing class. One of her assignments was to alter a picture using Photoshop. She had to remove the tree from the original photo and insert herself in its place and make it look seamless. After she turned in her completed assignment, the teacher texted her    a gushing compliment (it started with "OMG!") and asked if she could use Gabrielle's picture as an example for all her classes.

Obviously, I'm proud of my daughter for doing such a good job. Obviously, it just reinforces my belief that you can no longer trust anything you see.

Here is the original photo with the tree:

Here is Gabrielle's completed assignment:

At first glance, you wouldn't be struck by anything out of the ordinary in this photo. There's nothing jarringly incorrect about the direction of the light source or how the shadows fall across her body or across the ground. It would be easy to assume this is a real photo if you didn't have a practiced eye for altered photos (which I don't) or if you didn't closely inspect the shadows themselves (which I did only because I knew it was doctored).

In other news, Sophia and Elannah are doubles for the same part in their high school play, which opened last night. They were both cast as Marcy in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (click here to see an example of Marcy's big solo)

Sophia and Elannah, are, fortunately, fairly non-competitive with each other, but this is Sophia's final year of high school, so Elannah can reign supreme in musical theater next year as the only representative of the Aurora family. Meanwhile, there was a tiny bit of squabbling over who got to perform on which nights, but they worked it out without resorting to bloodshed. So, on Friday, we'll go see Sophia as Marcy, and on Saturday, we'll go see Elannah.

Curious about how my oldest daughter, Sian, is doing? She's had an interesting time since she got back from Ukraine.

She found herself a full-time job in August and then started dating a lovely young man last September, and she was over the moon because this young man had all the qualities she wanted in a future husband. There was even talk of marriage after they both finished up the next semester at BYU. Sian was completely and utterly twitterpated, totally gaga, flying high with love and beautiful dreams of a bright future. Husband and I also approved of him as a future son-in-law and future father to loads of our grandchildren.

And then he broke up with her right after Christmas, stating that he just wasn't ready for a really serious relationship yet.

Fair enough. You wouldn't want to marry someone who was going to resent the fact that he was married to you, even if he was the one who first started talking about getting married. But, understandably, it broke Sian's heart, and I spent a few weeks helping her put her shattered heart and dreams of her future into perspective before she had to head back to school. We had many long talks and many sessions where I just let her cry her heart out.

Fortunately, she's been able to deal with her grief and begin moving on with her life. She's even put herself back into the dating pool and has made a concerted effort to be social and make friends. She decided to change her major from linguistics to English teaching with an ESL minor, and, for fun, she took a music composition class, which she absolutely loves. She's doing well, and we talk all the time.

I love how as my daughters have grown, our relationships have changed into friendships. I still play the "Because I'm Your Parent and It's My Job to Teach You Important Things" card with my two younger daughters--and especially with my even younger sons--but I'm encouraged that my two oldest are good, decent people. They are independent and make good choices, but they still feel free to call me and their dad and ask for advice or just tell us about their lives. All my kids are unique, but they all know they are completely loved by their parents, and that whatever struggles they have to go through, they know we're there to support them. That thought comforts me when my brain plays all my parental failures over and over in my head.

Monday, February 27, 2017


Things I Collect on Purpose

If you need me, I'll be in the study. 

1. Books
    a. Cookbooks
    b. Books on subjects I wish I had time and money to master (domestic arts like sewing, upholstery, gardening, interior decoration, etc.)
    c. Books on crochet (afghans, crochet blocks and edgings, bedspreads, crocheted wire jewelry)
    c. Books on subjects I have had to write about extensively in my freelance writing work (plumbing, home repairs, personal injury law, divorce law, car repair, real estate, etc.)
    d. Books on disappearing cottage crafts (i.e. lute making, building a homemade non-electric lathe, building a house by yourself)
    e. Books on miscellaneous subjects that catch my fancy (quantum physics, energy healing, history, health and nutrition, writing, architecture, psychology, etc.)
    f. Fiction (i.e. classic English literature, young adult fiction, books I loved when I was a kid, etc.)
    g. Blank books
    h. Books of house plans
    i. Music books (piano, cello, guitar, voice) and sheet music (piano, solo voice, choral)
2. Magazines
3. Pens
5. Odd and quirky thrift store art
6. Perfume
7. Empty cardboard toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls -- how many times do those come in handy, am I right?
8. Plain white ceramic mixing bowls, soup bowls, mugs, and plates
9. Spices
10. Bottles and boxes of ingredients for foreign dishes I don't make all the time but that are essential to have on hand if I do (i.e. various curry pastes, fish sauce, pho seasonings, rice vinegar, seaweed, rice wrappers, etc.)
11. Shoes
12. Personal letters my friends and family wrote to me when snail mail was still a thing, including the original copies of letters I wrote to my dear friend and former college roommate (who sent them to me recently after making digital copies of them in order to reduce the amount of stuff she has to store while her job takes her around the world)
13. Cheap jewelry

Things I Collect on Accident

Bath salts: a great idea for re-gifting.

1. Bath bombs and bath salts (these are gifts, but I can't remember the last time I had a bath instead of a shower)
2. Ingredients for experiments that are cheaper to buy in bulk (i.e. 10 pounds of diatomaceous earth, five pounds of magnesium chloride flakes, sunflower lecithin, a gallon of vegetable glycerin, boxes of Borax, etc.)
3. Jars
4. Beads
5. Yarn
6. Credit card offers with sensitive information that need to be shredded
7. Fabric remnants

Things I Used to Collect but Never Had the Space to Display

Beautiful milk jugs just mock the lactose intolerant among us.

1. Ceramic milk jugs

Things I Collect Digitally

The key is to remember where you put all your thumb drives for safe-keeping.

1. All the yearly anthologies of Backwoods Home Magazine
2. My painstakingly typed up collection of all my journal entries from the time I was six years old
3. Digital copies of all the letters my mother wrote me after I moved away from home

Bottom line: I'm planning a massive yard sale when the weather gets warm enough. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Rumination in Four Parts

Part I

Life is funny, no?

The ebbs, the flows. The ups, the downs. The twists and turns. Just when you're sitting on top of the world, your throne is yanked out from under you. And when you're at your lowest and most desperate, a guide appears to lead you back up to the light.

I'm not saying I'm currently on top of the world or in the lowest valley at the moment. I'm just tired. I face yet one more setback just as I am presented with a possible opportunity. Both feel exhausting.

Part II

On Sunday, I was sitting in church. It was Fast Sunday, which is a day in the month when you are invited to refrain from eating for two consecutive meals (health permitting) and donate the money you would have spent on food to those in need. During your fast, you spend time in prayer, meditation, and scripture study. It's amazing how fasting can enhance your ability to feel the Spirit--and not just because you're light-headed and hungry.

On Fast Sunday, anyone in the congregation who feels moved to do so can stand up and bear testimony during the Sacrament Meeting.

I was sitting quite comfortably on my bench, smug with the knowledge that I was teaching a lesson in Relief Society (and that I had remembered that fact with enough time to actually prepare!) and, therefore, didn't feel it necessary to take away from someone else's chance to bear their testimony.

But as I sat there, I started thinking about what Sun Tzu said in his book, The Art of War: "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

Why that suddenly popped into my head, I couldn't say. Yet, suddenly, I could feel the Spirit move me (warm feeling, heart beginning to pound) to get up and speak about that. That's not your normal testimony fodder, so I just tried to shake it off. But it kept coming at me in waves.

"Dang it," I whispered to Husband. "I have to get up there, but I don't know what the heck I'm going to say. Sorry in advance."

After I walked up to the pulpit, I stood in front of the congregation and tried to catch my breath. Usually, I have little fear speaking in public. Sure, I get butterflies in anticipation, but I never feel paralyzed with fear, even when faced with a very large room full of people. So I breathed for a moment, and then I opened my mouth and started speaking. I spoke about the need to understand the enemy--in this case, the enemy of all mankind: Satan. In knowing the enemy, we can predict some of his actions and spot his propaganda. Satan laces truth with fatal lies. What he says often sounds so good, so true, so wonderful. But almost always, his propaganda includes the lies that a) there is no God, or b) if there is a God, there certainly is no devil who opposes him and wishes harm to mankind, and c) humankind can ascend or become more and greater without the need for the atoning sacrifice and grace of Jesus Christ. Then I bore my testimony of Jesus Christ as the only savior, the only way to gain eternal life. In order to defeat the enemy, each of us must know Jesus Christ.

I wasn't eloquent. I didn't feel like what I said at the pulpit was profound or moving to anyone--not that bearing testimony is about you as a speaker; it's about the message. But I had to say it, so I did. And then I sat down, feeling decidedly foolish. Husband rubbed my back and whispered that I'd done a fine job. I appreciated it, but I didn't believe it.

Others got up to speak, and as I sat there, contemplating why I had had to get up and speak about that particular subject, the thought suddenly came to me that my thoughts were a piece of a larger puzzle, which was being put together as others also bore the testimonies in their hearts. I felt comforted by that. I listened to the things others said as they bore their testimonies, and I was touched by the truthfulness of what they had to say. All of our testimonies built on each other, like those puzzle pieces coming together to create a bigger picture.

Part III

As I'm sure you've experienced, knowing what you need to do and actually doing it can be difficult. It's especially difficult if the thing you need to do is scary. In my case, I fear failure. I often succumb to the false idea that everything rests on my shoulders, and when the problem is financial in nature, failure could have serious consequences. So when I allow that false idea to consume me, the fear naturally grows until I am overwhelmed and paralyzed.

I've dealt with fear before, sometimes more successfully and sometimes more poorly. I find it is always best to name it. Once you name it, it loses its enervating power over you, and you can start working your way around it. In this particular case, fear is unnecessary. I'm not going to hurt myself if I fail, yet I find that, while I am generally laid back about many things, I can be intensely perfectionist about certain things. That perfectionism creates an aura of fear, sometimes the paralyzing kind.

Here's the issue: I've been working as a freelance writer for years. I spent about six months as a full-time writer for a startup digital marketing company, but they laid me off when revenue went down. Then they hired me as a contractor, and I've been doing that for another 18 months. They kept me busy enough that I didn't have the brain power to take on other demanding clients. 

In January, they had no work for me. I don't know if they will have anything for me in February, either, as they have been less than communicative. I am not sure if they found cheaper writers or what, but here I face the pitfall of freelancing work: no work unless I seek it out. 

Ironically, maybe, it was in January that I started taking courses in website monetization, up-to-date SEO practices, and honing my content writing abilities. I would have used my sharpened skills for the contract work, but since that resource seems to have dried up, I have the excellent opportunity to work for myself. I can do for myself what my client is doing for their clients. The investment is small enough not to be an obstacle. All that remains is that I try.

Part IV

All these things that make me afraid, that make me stretch are part of the bigger puzzle. Would I be forced out of my comfort zone if everything always went my way? After all, the things that really count are already mine.

This is nothing you don't know. All of this is common knowledge. Sometimes I just have to work myself through it once more and remember how far I've come. It's easy to forget that you've already accomplished a great deal when you face that fear again, that fear that whispers, "You can't do this. You're not good enough." 

I just have to keep my eye on the opportunity and the prize. It will all work out.

Thanks for listening.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Resolution: Thin out the Bookshelves (and Other Things)

Happy New Year, everyone! I'm currently lying in bed trying not to move much because my stomach is in a decidedly iffy state. It started last night, which I tried not to take as an omen for the upcoming year.

It was probably my favorite Christmas ever this time, but that may be because I have a short memory. Still, it was mostly lovely. The best parts were:

  • Husband did all of the present shopping, since he's the best at that (I wrap them all on Christmas Eve). He is an expert at finding the perfect gift for each person--and usually for less than retail. For instance, he took my old laptop that wouldn't even turn on anymore and revamped it, bought a new battery, loaded it with Windows 10, got it running all smoothly again, and gave it to his mother, who has been dealing with a clunky, incredibly slow machine for years. Another example: Elannah accidentally permanently corrupted the PS3 when she turned it off while it was downloading something. It just wouldn't work anymore. So Husband took Elannah's broken laptop, removed the hard drive, replaced the PS3's hard drive with the laptop hard drive, and now we have a working PS3 again. For free. 
  • And yet another example of my dear spouse's magic: Husband found the transcription of my mom's letters to me, which I'd painstakingly typed up in 2011, saved on a thumb drive, and then promptly misplaced. Of all the gifts I could have received, that one was the best possible gift. Now I get to format the letters and have them printed into a book for my mother. She wrote me incredibly detailed, multi-page letters from the time I went off to college in 1990, and then when I was on my mission in England until June of 1994. I'm pretty sure she didn't write all those details into her journals, so this will be a treasure trove of all the little things that were happening with my family during those years. She is going to LOVE IT! I am beyond excited.
  • I had all of my children under one roof for almost three days. Gabrielle came up from Utah Valley, and it was so much fun to have them all here before Sian also heads down to Utah Valley for school at the end of this week. Sophia just turned 18 right before Christmas, so she's graduating from high school this year and will make her plans to head off into the wide world. Having all my children together was my favorite.
  • While I mostly did the wrapping, I did make a few gifts by hand. For Little Gary, I crocheted a Sack Boy from Little Big Planet, which he was thrilled to play with (he's still young enough to have that active imagination that turns inanimate objects into thinking beings). For Gabrielle, I crocheted Yoshi, which she loved. For Sian and Gabrielle, I typed up all our favorite family recipes--culling them from my loose recipes clipboard and all my cookbooks--and collected them all into binders. The girls were so excited, and they spent quite a while on Christmas Day reading through all the recipes I'd included and shouting, "I love this one!" I added little notes about who loved which dishes most, who gave the recipes to us, and occasions when the recipes were used. For instance, the recipe that we call "Grandma Lee's Casserole" is actually a dish my 90-year-old grandmother ate when she was very young and living on a farm with her Swedish relatives in Minnesota. She says they just called it "Hot Dish," which is the Minnesotan term for "casserole." After she was married, she made it for my mother and my aunts, and my mother often cooked it while I was growing up. I've cooked it for my family, and my kids love that casserole. Now they'll never forget where it came from. I printed an extra set of recipes for myself, as I thought it would be very handy to not have to sort through all my loose recipes and cookbooks anymore. When Sophia and Elannah (and further down the line, the boys) move out, I'll make more binders for them. All of them can add additional favorite recipes to the binders as they find new ones.
There were many ways in which this Christmas was absolutely wonderful. There was one very sad thing that happened, however. Sian had been dating a wonderful young man for a while, and they had talked about marriage after the upcoming semester (they're both attending the same school). She was so happy, so in love. This was the guy. And honestly, they were a match made in heaven, so perfect for each other in the way they think and view the world and in their future goals. I would have loved to have him as a son-in-law, husband to my darling daughter, and father to my grandchildren. But he abruptly broke up with her right after Christmas, and she was heartbroken. 

It's been a very rough week for her, with lots of long mother-daughter talks and sobbing and general misery. Now we're all glad they didn't end up finding housing in the same apartment complex, where she would probably catch frequent sight of him and have her heart broken over and over. This will be difficult for her to overcome because he was The One (and he told her the same), but she's starting to see a light at the end of that tunnel of grief, even though I warned her that the grief will come back in waves, and unexpectedly at times, and that it's completely normal. It's so hard to watch your children suffer so much, but she's becoming more philosophical about it now. Time will help. 

We're fortunate in the fact that Sian has convinced Gabrielle not to break his face in sisterly retribution. Gabrielle says that she won't hurt him as long as he runs really fast. It's a compromise, but we'll take it. 

Last night, my in-laws came over and we ate tons of junk and watched London's New Year fireworks and a couple old movies before they left at 10pm (close enough! Happy New Year!). Today, my parents and brothers were supposed to come over for dinner (I was going to make Chinese food), but I'm burping egg (blech), Joseph has the trots bad, and Elannah just barely crawled out of her basement bedroom after being sick all night. The smart choice is to cancel. None of us want my 90-year-old grandmother to catch this. Bummer.

But this new year is full of promise. I love the anticipation of wondering what it will bring. Happy New Year, everyone!