Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dear 2011,

Dear 2011,

You've been an interesting year. In nature, you've been a bit difficult. (Insert eyes rolling viciously at the prior statement's understatement here.) I'm not sure though if you've been truly painful or if it just seems that way because the horror of some of the other trying times in my life is fading in the recesses of my memory. I suppose either way you go it's alright.

In spite of the extra stresses that you've thrown at me, I have learned to be truly happy in my little sphere of life. It is not what I expected for myself at this point, but it is beautiful. We are happy and safe. We don't have much, but our needs are always met, and as my seven year old says, "we have enough, Mom. Don't you think we have enough?" I have my kids, and they have me. Just as important -- to me, at least -- I have a job that allows me to be home at almost any time that my sweet girls are.

During the course of your stay, my kids have grasped more tightly to their new normal. They have put down roots and found their niche in this life of ours. They have learned to feel normal again. M learned that she's brave enough to go to church with a family friend when her sister is sick. She is finding her own strength and sense of purpose, and in it, she shines! L is finding her own voice as well. While this can create a bit of friction, she is learning to stand up for herself in increasingly appropriate ways. It is grand to see her finding her own inner strength.

Over the past year, I've been able to continue my education. This last semester, I finished up all the requirements for my minor and all except three classes for my major. If all goes well, I'll start the teaching program in the fall. It's been a long road, but when I reach the end of it, I'll have my degree in a field that I am passionate about and in an area that will allow me to be home with my children as much as possible. Despite the challenges, it will be worth it.

It's been a challenging year musically as well. This year, I have: accompanied the choir for our local church congregation, sang a duet in our worship service (for the first time in close to a decade,) and I have begun accompanying our local congregation periodically on the organ. All of these things are a great challenge to me. I'm grateful that I've had these opportunities to stretch though. It's both a trial and a blessing. I am becoming more than I am.

Even in the most trying times that you've sent my way, I've seen the hand of God guiding my life, strengthening me to face my challenges, and making up the difference when what I had to give just wasn't enough. I've seen miracles over and over, so while I might hope for a few less surprise challenges in 2012, I can leave you, 2011, without regret. I've made my share of mistakes, but I'm learning to be my best self.


With heartfelt farewell,



Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Thing About a Date is ...

It's pretty much an acid-bath of uncertainty at any age. I've decided that it doesn't matter that under normal circumstances, I'm a calm, composed thirty-something with a lot to offer the world. Put me in a dating situation, and it seems that I am instantly reduced to that sixteen year old who spends hours anticipating ... and stressing ... and wondering ... (There's a reason for this; I was born with a certain natural grace that allows me to land cleverly or narrowly extract myself from near miss situations. If I'm really nervous, I am perfectly capable of falling off my own shoes. As I've said, natural grace tends to kick in inches from the ground. Add to that the fact that I'm much better at expressing myself in writing than verbally, and well, there're all kind of possibilities.)

The whole "What do I wear?!?" dilemma only seems to get worse with age. Instead of just trying to find something that helps me look my best, I get to add in the whole "I'm a thirty-something mom. I look like a thirty-something mom. How do I dress in a way that doesn't scream 'THIRTY-SOMETHING MOM!!'?" (How's that for fancy punctuating?)

Then there's the additional clothing aspect that falls along the lines of "How do I dress in a way that says although I don't have my teens & twenties figure, I've still got a decent shape without having my clothes cry 'Hold me; I'm desperate!', 'if you don't, my clothing will -- I hope ... ', or worse yet, 'cough, cough, *floozy*, cough, *state street* sneeze'?" It's a concern that extends to the opposite extreme as well. Avoiding floozihood should not necessarily mean downplaying all visual assets.

Best of all, there's the whole "I think it's a date; it sounds like a date, but does HE think it's a date?" piece of the puzzle. If there's one thing that clear about dating, it's that nothing is very clear. Is it a date-date? Is it a friend-date? Is it a fancy hang-out? How do I tell what he sees it as? Does it matter? What do I call this going out with a member of the opposite sex without my children or any other companions thing?

Sounds fun, doesn't it? Actually, it usually is, but the anticipation's a killer!



Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dried Beans, Part II ...

Remember this?




I've loved making most beans in the crockpot. So much more simple ...

Not long ago though, I read this entry on Lynn's Kitchen Adventures about soaking beans in a saltwater solution. Now, I've tried plain water and water with baking soda, but I've never tried soaking them in saltwater. In fact, my first thought was, "But 'THEY' say salt toughens the beans!"

Never one to be satisfied with leaving the intriguing alone, I decided to give it a shot. Now Lynn says 2 Tbsp. of salt to about 4 qts of water, but I don't have a bowl that big. My BIG plastic bowl only held the pound of beans, 2 Tbsp. of salt, and about 12 c. (3 qts.) of water.

This time, instead of cooking the beans in the crockpot, I cooked them on the stove. (They were the red kidney beans -- it's that whole funky toxin thing. I just feel happier knowing for sure that they boiled the requisite 10 minutes.)

The beans turned out fantastic! I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by this as this package of beans is SEVERAL years old. They weren't tough at all. Really, with this method, I had less waste. More of the beans softened. I threw 1 bean out. That's it -- out of the whole batch! The texture was perfect. I used some to make baked beans with and froze the rest.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED:

* Salt soaking the beans is a beautifully effective way to soften them up. Just rinse them after they soak and cook them as usual.

* Freezing the beans without any liquid works well if you are tossing them in soups or a bean salad.

* I prefer freezing the beans with a bit of liquid for most recipes. I've found that about 1/2 c. to 3/4 c. of the cooking liquid works out about right.

* Dried beans are not only less expensive, but they're easy -- especially if you cook up a big batch and freeze them ahead.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Feeling Woozy ...

Stomach of Steel

Seriously!

At least it used to be ...

NOTHING bothered me.

Don't believe me?

What if I tell you that I have worked as both a CNA and a Medical Assistant and thoroughly enjoyed it?

No?

What if I tell you that I worked on the Alzheimer's unit? (We're talking bodily fluids galore. Not a twinge.)

Still not sure?

How 'bout if I mention that I was usually the one who bandaged up my VERY accident prone little sister while she was hysterical over her current loss of blood?

Watching my almost two year old gash her head open? Distressing, but not nausea-inducing ...

Stomach of Steel

until ...

Last February.

You know the time when this happened?

I thought that, as far as the quease factor goes, I handled things pretty well.

Sure, I did have to sit down as they were stitching her up so that I didn't embarrass myself by falling down (It was the logical thing to do. We'd have looked strange if I landed on her and they accidentally stitched us together. :) Right?) and I did almost gag when I saw her poor filleted finger covered in all that blood, but it was a wierd one time fluke.

I thought.

Funny thing though; the flood gate seems to have opened. Took me a while to realize it though ...

Finally, a month or two ago, I was forced to admit that steel has quivered into jello. As a good friend told me about her AWFUL surgery -- something that would have been simply interesting in times past -- I felt my world closing in on me, and I very nearly lost anything residing in my stomach all over the front lawn.

What?

Nearly vomitting AND passing out just from hearing about something with a "Wooze" factor? SO not like me! Must be the sun ...

But wait--

there was that one time. Oh, yeah -- and that time that ... And, well, ...

Jello-guts

Apparently, that's me.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Death and Destruction

It's the last two weeks of the semester.

Know what that means? Things in my world die. It's a problem.

See this?


This would be the cast iron skillet that almost bit the dust -- twice, on two completely separate occasions -- thanks to end of semester mush-brain. (Yes, I believe that is the technical term. Why do you ask?)

Luckily, cast iron is durable, and, after a great deal of elbow grease and a wire scrubbie or two, the pan has been stripped and reseasoned -- twice. It's not the same, but it will do ...

Sadly,

the plants haven't been nearly so lucky. There've been at least two that have taken turns fertilizing the dumpster. Which leads to this semester's current dilemma ...


I realize that this plant (and the others around it) are still a lovely shade of green, but let's face it -- the leaves are awfully thing and equally wilty. To be honest, I'm not sure how many weeks it has been since it was last watered.

My daughters have seen enough College Final Casualties to recognize the symptoms, and my L took me to task:

"Mom! You need to water these plants, the pink and green vine is pretty much dead!!"

She's right.
As I said, things die ... It's a problem.

The kicker is that these plants are from my grandmother's funeral. I feel a bit more obligated to make a real effort to keep them alive. Sadly, my brain's woefully inadequate limits are challenged after completing the basic checklist:

Kids fed? Check.
Kids' homework done? Check
Dishes clean? Check.
Laundry washed? Check.
My homework? Never-ending, but under control.

That's pretty much where it ends. Did you see water the plants anywhere on the list? Me neither. Sad, really ...

Oh well; here's hoping they live to die another day ...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Windblown Wisdom ...

Things I've learned while the winds raged and the power failed ...

* Charging my cell phone each night would not be a bad idea.

* Keeping my mp3 player charged is important as well. While we have a hand crank radio, it was nice not to have to pull it out.

* I like being able to hunker down in our own home comfortably, knowing that we have what we need to be safe, healthy, and happy. Having faith that there's a God who loves us and is watching over us doesn't hurt either.

* The prospect of being without power long term (they thought it would be forty-eight hours or more) does not feel like a real emergency when we have what we need.

* Candlelight is still charming.

* I'm thankful that my parents taught me to use candles, etc. with common sense as a child.

* Christmas carolling by candlelight with my daughters is one of the most magical experiences that I've had.

* I've got a lot to be thankful for. There is beauty -- even in the hardships.

* I'd infinitely rather be without power than hot water and functional sewers.

* One of my random talents that I've acquired over the years is a knowledge of how to layer blankets to maximize or minimize warmth. Strange, but infinitely helpful in this situation.

* Cold isn't so bad, and I've been colder.

* I need to invest in a charcoal bricket camp stove and a bag of brickets. While I've got an emergency burner and fuel, you can cook almost anything on a grill with relative ease, and being able to roast marshmallows and hot dogs might be a fun distraction for some stir-crazy and slightly worried children.

* Kids take their cues from their parents. If I make it a big deal, my kids will too. If I stay calm and remind them of all the things we have to help us make it through, they tend to look at it as a fun and exciting experience.

* Sometimes having very little in the fridge is not a bad thing. We were able to eat a lot of it yesterday before it went bad, and very little actually went to waste.

* I'm immensely thankful for those who are willing to take a job that requires them to sacrifice their own safety, sleep, and warmth to ensure mine. The power company has been truly amazing with how quickly they have dealt with massive amounts of damage.

* It's lovely being able to do laundry anytime and with relative ease.

* Washing dishes by candlelight is rather fun -- when the water is already heated, I don't have to fetch and carry it, or haul it out either.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A New Month of Excitement ...

December in our neck of the woods came in with a vengeance. As if to announce its presence, the new month rode in on the back of some ferocious canyon winds. The damage to several cities is immense. Our city is apparently one that was hardest hit. As I looked at the major amounts of damage to both landscape and property on all the neighboring property, I have been reminded over and over how very blessed I am.

Our trees lost a few branches, and I have now have a puncture wound in my bathroom window screen from tree shrapnel. That's it. No siding lost, no power lines actually down, my roof is still there and solidly attached, and even my plastic snow shovels and the small Christmas tree on my front porch stayed put. They didn't even move.

Although the power went out for good just before six a.m. yesterday morning and stayed out until just about an hour or so ago (over thirty hours) we had plenty of warm clothing, extra blankets, and even food to eat. I had candles, my mp3 player was charged, so I could listen to the news, and I was able to charge my phone at work so that we weren't completely cut off.

We had lots of wonderful family and friends who offered us a warm place to stay, however, it was the girls' night to go with their dad (who had power and heat) and I just snuggled under the blankets here at home and spent some time reading -- just for fun. I know, unusual. Being an English major means that it's something of a rare thing for me to choose what I read.

The girls came back this morning. After a couple of errands in the warm car, we bundled them into a whole pile of blankets each, had Family Home Evening (er, ... morning) where we sang, read, and put up the nativity set. I also taught them to play Phase Ten. It was a blast.

We were all thrilled to get the power back, but I think that there were some great memories made during the blackout.