Wednesday, August 29, 2007

She's living my dream life . . .

A friend sent me an e-mail entitled, "Perspective: The invisible woman." It spoke directly to what I've been feeling lately. Wanting to know who wrote it, I googled the title. Turns out that it's an excerpt from the novel, "The Invisible Woman" by Nicole Johnson.

I checked out Nicole Johnson's website -- -- where I discovered that she's living my dream life. (She even had an article about how to deal with dreams that die.) Weird.

Just yesterday I jotted down what I'd like to have on my dream website:

Frugal not Frazzled -- a place to share money saving ideas, budgeting advice, and lots and lots of encouragement.

The Modern Prude's Book Reviews -- the thinking woman's guide to good, clean literature.

Family Friendly Fare -- recipes most kids will eat made from ingredients found in most family kitchens.

Before and After -- a place to post any before/after shots. i.e. the shower before you cleaned it and after, the child with gum in their hair before you removed it and after, your toddler before they cut their own hair . . . you get the idea.

Bed-head Hall of Fame -- from the fuzzy nest toddlers wake up with to the cockatoo 'do that my own short style imitates most mornings -- the good, the bad and the ugly hair families wake up with.

Annie Investigates -- a column written by my dog, Annie. Where she researches and answers the important questions of life such as, "In what country is it considered polite to burp after dinner?" "How do cyclists in the Tour de France relieve themselves?" "Why are sunsets more colorful than sunrises?" "Where do batteries go when they die?" (These questions can come from kids or adults. I'll never tell which is which.)

Brain Cramps -- a place to read about real women doing really dumb things. My own brain cramps include letting my 10-year-old daughter cut my hair, running the washing machine with soap and softener, but no clothes (repeated at least once every other month), grilling blackened chicken (will include photo) that is so black it's inedible. Oops!

Ramblings on art, ancestors and recognition

There was a new columnist in my local paper this morning. And he was good. Really good. I actually laughed right out loud. I didn’t want to like his column, but I just couldn’t help myself.

Now, you may wonder why I didn’t want to like his column. Only because I’ve been turned down twice now as a columnist for that newspaper. Apparently they don’t like my style. Or my subject matter. Or just me.

As I was reading today’s new columnist I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps it’s best if I just give up my dream of ever becoming a paid writer. Because, here’s the thing -- for every genre that I aspire to write, there’s already someone else writing it. And often writing it better than I could.

I spent a little time today in Park City strolling along old Main Street. I stopped in at a handful of art galleries and oogled the art. Beautiful paintings, quirky sculptures, dazzling detail – some of it beyond words of description. I examined a few pieces up close. My mind whirled thinking about the time behind each brushstroke, each color. A part of me even wanted to be an artist, wanted to capture beauty to share with an appreciative audience.

Back at home, I picked raspberries. While wading through green prickly branches for perfectly ripe fruit, my mind wandered. I thought about the art I’d seen and wondered what I’d buy if money weren’t a consideration. Then I began thinking about the people who could afford to purchase art. Actually, I had to use my imagination, as I don’t actually know many people who own or collect fine art.

That little nugget of noodling led me to contemplate people I do know. Family. As the berries in my bucket began accumulating, I acknowledged my roots. Teachers. Farmers. Quilters. Homemakers. I come from what I like to call Pioneer Stock.

I thought about my grandmas, great and great-great, and the berries they must have picked, the garden produce they must have canned. They didn’t have the means to purchase fine art or the time to create it. Instead, they spent their time working to care for their families. The artifacts they left behind run along utilitarian lines: a worn and faded double wedding ring quilt, an old potato masher with a well-used wooden handle, a mason jar lifter with calcium deposits on the metal from years of removing canned produce from hard water.

And now, back to how all this relates to my dreams for recognition. Yipes. That is exactly the word that describes what I seem always to be looking for . . . RECOGNITION.

I guess I used to get it through good grades, through academic achievement. And that’s probably why writing a self-syndicated column from 1997 to 2000 helped to keep my emotional boat afloat. I was getting a little recognition in the form of reader feedback and small but concrete paychecks.

There is something in my personality that craves, maybe even needs recognition. Is that weird?

I’m left wondering if I’ll forever be part of an appreciative audience and never the performer. Are other performers driven to seek the limelight?

Switching gears now, stay with me.

Ways that I currently get recognition:
Being a witch at the Pumpkin Walk and cackling. (Bless the Burt kids. They never tire of hearing me cackle. )

Teaching Sunday school.

Hosting parties.

Hmmmm. I guess that’s about it. But are there other ways I can “perform” and get my recognition fix?

Yeah. I’m volunteering to help the student council at Loula Belle’s middle school. When I’m goofy with the kids and they respond, that feels good. And writing the skits they’ll do for “Character Counts” might fit the bill too. And maybe I could tell my hubby and kids that I have unfulfilled performance yearnings. Maybe they’d consent to being an appreciative audience. Hey, even just being an attentive audience would be fine. (Better than the eye rolls that I currently get.)

And what about the retirement home where my grandma lives? Maybe I could play the piano for them to sing along with. I probably can’t commit to doing it every week, but how about once a month? Or every-other month?

We'll see.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ever feel like you've prepped your whole life for something else?

I was reading a comment my friend left on another blog where she wrote, "Sometime I feel like I've prepped my whole life for something else." I've had those same feelings. Still have then, in fact.

I grew up as a fairly typical over-achiever. Valedictorian in high school. One of the top three English graduates at USU in 1994. And I bought into the whole notion that a woman could be anything. Do anything. Really have it all. And what have I become? An at-home mom. (I don't like the term "Stay-at-home" Mom. It sounds like a command for a dog.)

For three years I wrote a self-syndicated parenting column. It kept my emotional boat afloat while my kids were tiny. But eventually it began to pull me away from them. Plus I had un-diagnosed depression. Talk about miserable.

Even this past year, with my kids all in school, I've wondered what I should be doing. (Why is it that we as LDS women give ourselves so many "shoulds?") Anyway, I made it a matter of prayer, fasting and study. And I found out that humble as it is, the Lord needs me right here in the home. Not only that, I learned that I need to be content too. (Big sigh. I'm still working on that.)

When some girlfriends and I got together for lunch a few weeks ago, I asked them if their lives are what they expected them to be. All three said, "Yes. Why, what did you expect?"

I guess I expected to be famous. Important. A best-selling author. And I expected parenting to be easier. After all, wasn't I easy to raise? (Don't answer that, Mom.)

My question for my friends was, "How did you know not to have out-of-control expectations for yourselves?" Their answer: we always planned on staying home with our kids.

Now that I've had a bit more time to noodle over their responses, I've noticed that they have one big thing in common -- their mothers stayed at home.

Mine, on the other hand, was a working mom. Something that I think really is a calling for her. She's done an excellent job raising us and teaching many other kids as well. I guess I always planned on following in her footsteps. (She's famous at the Middle School where she teaches, gives motivational talks to women's groups, and turns anything and everything into an excuse to have fun.) I never stopped to think that what's been good for her might not be right for me.

So, here I am at the homefront. As the days and weeks go by I'm getting better at being a content at-home mom. I'm even learning to stop pestering the Lord to see if the time is right to alter my occupation.

In preparing a Sunday school lesson I came across an excerpt from Lucy Mack Smith's History of Joseph Smith. She had recorded the whole experience of Martin Harris losing the first 116 pages of manuscript for the Book of Mormon. She quoted Joseph as saying, "I should have been satisfied with the first answer which I received from the Lord." It really struck home for me. Ever since then I've been trying to be satisfied with what I've been called to do.

Just lately I've developed a new way to look at the lumps and bumps of life. The way I see it husbands, children, in-laws, housework even -- all help to knock off the rough edges of our emerging character. Not an easy process, and one that won't be done in this lifetime, but every little bit that's knocked off gets us closer and closer to being a beautiful, carefully crafted diamond.

So, just think, we're no longer the black little bit of coal that we were when we came into this world. Look at your wedding ring and envision your own bright future!

I figure that the Lord's not done with me yet. I've yet to put my big mouth to some serious work for Him. I just gotta remember to keep my expectations in check. But is that like telling someone not to dream? 'Cause I don't ever want to stop dreaming. Stop creating possibilities that might someday involve me.

What do you think?

For the Strength of Mothers . . .

Don’t look now, but yesterday I emptied our truck of 36 bags of sand. They weighed 50 pounds each. And, because I wanted to really challenge myself, I started my stopwatch. Are you ready for this? I moved 1800 lbs. of sand in 9 minutes 26 seconds! (If there had been just four more bags, I would’ve moved a ton of sand. Whew!)

You might be asking yourself why I was moving sand in the first place. Because it’s crunch time for my son’s Eagle Scout project. He’s putting in a set of horseshoe pits at our local park, and we kind of jumped the gun when we purchased the sand. (We should have waited until later today.) As it was, my husband didn’t figure that leaving 1800 lbs. of sand in the back of our truck for 30 hours would be a very good idea. And since Bug was up at the park staking out where the rest of his troop would help him dig the pits, the sand emptying fell to me.

You’d better believe that I got good and sweaty toting all that sand. I even wondered if I’d regret it today, but I’m happy to report that I’m feeling great! In fact, this morning at aerobics I only felt a little bit of tightness in my lower back. Nothing too bad. I guess that all these months of aerobics and weight training has really paid off. It just goes to show that fitness can’t always be measured with a scale. ‘Cause the scale still says what it did at the end of October of 2006, but I definitely feel a whole lot more fit.

On a different note, I must gush about my favorite watch. It’s a Timex Ironman Triathlon slim design. Although I don’t use it much for exercise, and I’d never dream of trying to train for a triathlon, I use it all the time in my motherly activities. It has three different alarms. I set one to go off on Tuesdays at 2:50 P.M. to help me remember to pick up Bug from piano lessons. (Prior to setting the alarm I’d forget half the time.) The others I use for similar purposes. They’re great as reminders.

I also use the timer feature a lot when cooking. The self-frosting chocolate zucchini cake my family likes takes 40 minutes to bake. I simply set my watch timer and then wander. That way I don’t have to be in the kitchen listening for the oven timer. If you have small children who sometimes have a hard time sharing their toys with siblings or friends, you could set the timer on your watch for 5 minutes and at the end of the time have your child swap toys with the other child. (I’ve found that after both kids have had a chance to play with the toy they seldom need a trading timer again.)

Last of all I use the stopwatch as a motivational tool. Like yesterday’s sand moving. Only sometimes I use it with the kids. I say something like, “We need to clean this bathroom. Let’s time it and see how fast we can get it done.” Nothing like a time incentive to get them moving.

Well, that’s it for today. Tomorrow the kids head back to school, and I hope to be a more diligent blogger. Ta-ta for now.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Just what is a "graphic novel"?

I just got finished reading Shannon Hale's novel, "Austenland." Before I wax eloquent about how much I enjoyed it . . . (Got it from the library 9 hours ago. Took a total of 4 hours to read it. Stayed up after midnight to finish it.) I must side track to an exploration of the definition of a graphic novel.

Here's the text of what I was originally going to post on this entry:

I just finished reading Shannon Hale’s “Austenland.” Loved it. But I’m insatiably curious about the next project she’s working on. The note about the author at the back of the book says, “She and her husband are working together on a graphic novel.”


This is the sweet Mormon writer from Salt Lake City, right? Is a graphic novel what I think it is? If it is, I can’t mention what I think it is. Can Shannon Hale really be thinking about publishing a graphic novel? If so, I feel to plead with her, “Don’t!”

Where is her mother at a time like this?

I must go out on the web and see if she’s really going to publish what I think she’s going to publish. Be back in a minute.

Anyway, I went to Shannon Hale's website ( and, whew! found out that a graphic novel is similar to a book-length illustrated comic book. No wonder I've never heard of one before. (FYI their book is entitled, "Rapunzel's Revenge" and will be out in 2008.)

I suppose that the unfulfilled writer part of me was wondering if Ms. Hale had somehow been seduced by the siren call of real-world publication to branch out into new and experimental genres outside her conservative upbringing. Is that what happens to Mormon writers who make it big? Duh! Obviously I'm not up to snuff on my publishing lingo and definitions.

Good thing I didn't send Ms. Hale an urgent letter pleading with her not to compromise her principles for fame and fortune. Boy would I have looked stupid.

As it is, only those of who read this blog (Hi, Nan) will ever know that I'm hopelessly dumb and will probably forever be on the outside of the publishing world looking longingly in.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Some of the best childhood moments aren't caught on film

Earlier this week we watched some 8mm video family footage from almost eight years ago. Beans was a baby. Loula Belle was a preschooler, and Bug was starting elementary school. I’ve been surprised that my kids have referenced the night’s film footage throughout this week. Bug mentioned it as he had a snack of animal crackers. “Look,” he said, “I’m reverting to my childhood tendencies.” Loula Belle reminded Bug that his teasing tendencies started years ago, and Beans wondered if we could take some more footage of her, as she’s not in the earliest videos.

Then, today in Relief Society we were talking about teaching reverence at home. Some of the discussion referenced the sometimes irreverent behavior of small children in Sacrament meeting. I thought back to some memorable moments in my own children’s lives, and that’s when a new realization dawned on me. The best childhood moments aren’t captured on film.

There was no camcorder handy to capture three-year-old Bug listening to the closing prayer in Sacrament meeting, quietly mumbling the words after the prayer-giver. (I was feeling so proud.) Then, as the long prayer began winding down, Jared just couldn’t wait any longer. Just as the man began . . . “we say these things in the name of . . .” Jared VERY LOUDLY said, “AMEN!” I could see the shoulders of congregation members seated around us silently shaking with inner laughter.

Children’s prayers, in fact, are an area almost totally missing from our family film footage. Here are some prayers captured only in my memory:

Bug, age 2 ½, saying his nightly prayer: “And please bless Barney [the purple dinosaur].”

Loula Belle, age 3: “. . . Thankful we could watch a video today, and thankful we can watch a video tomorrow.”

Bug, age 4ish, before our corn dog lunch: “. . . Please bless Lou that she’ll learn to like mustard.” (And, amazingly, she has learned to love it!)

Loula Belle, age 4: “. . . Thankful we could have a good, good, good, good, good, good day!”

I’ve kept a Steno-type notebook for each of my kids where I write down the funny things they’ve said – the moments and magic that didn’t make it onto film. Here are a few of my favorites that are gospel related.

September 1999: At Bug’s first parent teacher conference Miss Liza shared a little story that helped us know our efforts to read the Book of Mormon as a family have actually been sinking in. She told us they’d been reading a book called, “The Rainbow Fish.” It talked about having pride. “Does anyone know what it means to have pride?” she asked the class. Bug raised his hand, and she called on him. “It means that you are stiff-necked,” he said. That’s when she knew that he’d been reading from the Book of Mormon.

May 2001: I was resting on my bed due to recent back pain. Loula Belle (age 4) came in to talk with me. Somehow we got on the subject of what it will be like in heaven. “We’ll be floating around in the clouds,” was her take on the after-life.

“Actually,” I explained, “we’ll be with other family members and friends who died before us.”

“But how can we see them?” she wanted to know. “Will we just have our eyes?” (She knew that our bodies didn’t go with us when we die, and wondered if just our eyes did.)

I explained that spirits can see spirits and that eventually we’d be resurrected – our bodies and spirits would come back together.

“Oh,” she said. “Like Grandma?”

“Which Grandma?”

“Grandma Glenna,” she replied.

“But Grandma Glenna hasn’t died,” I said.

“Well, her name is on a stone in the cemetery,” said Lou.

Dear Lou had thought that since Grandma’s name and birth date were already on the headstone with Grandpa’s that meant that Grandma had died. Only Grandma Glenna was here with us – we could see her. To Loula Belle that meant one thing – Grandma must be resurrected.

And finally, August 2002: We were reading the Book of Mormon the other night as a family. It was Loula Belle’s turn to read a few verses. Although she’s very good at reading, sometimes she’ll read the first of a word and guess at the rest. So she’s reading along and says, “. . . thus sayeth the Lord of Hostess. . .” and then again she read, “. . . Lord of Hostess. . .” I guess to a little girl that loves sweets , Lord of Hostess would truly be a mighty important being.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

More Canning (under duress)

Nothing like writing a chipper, up-beat piece about canning to ensure a less-than-pleasant canning experience will follow.

This morning while I was out watering the front plants my husband came out and asked me if I knew what was in the plastic bags on the floor of the food storage room. My heart sank. I knew what was in them. Chicken. Chicken that started out frozen. Chicken that my son was supposed to put in the freezer in that room, not on the floor. Fifteen pounds of boneless-skinless chicken that was on sale and that now needed immediate attention.

What do you do with fifteen pounds of chicken that needs to be cooked? Well, I decided to can it. So today I canned 12 pints of chicken in my pressure cooker.

You could say that I'm a task-oriented kind of person. I like to plan out what I'm going to do during a day . . . sometimes weeks in advance. Having to can chicken on a day that I was going to use for something else really made me grumpy. And because my son was gone golfing with his grandpa, I couldn't even vent at him.

By the time he got home I'd decided that instead of yelling at him, I'd have him buy about ten dollars worth of chicken that will end up in the freezer. He wasn't too happy, but neither was I. I bet he'll listen a little more carefully when I'm asking him to put things away.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Life Lessons Learned from Canning . . .

It's that time of year again. Time to dust off the canner and wash up the Kerr jars. The garden is in overdrive, and we can't eat it all fresh.

First of all, let me just say that I do not look forward to canning. I even wrote myself a note in my cooking/garden journal. It's dated February 2007 and says, "In the winter you never wish that you had canned less produce." I guess that I was enjoying the bounty that we'd bottled and wanted to pre-empt my natural tendency toward giving produce away instead of canning it. It's too early to be sure, but I think my note just may help this year.

I guess you could say that when it comes to canning, I make mountains out of mole hills. I build the job of food preservation up to be monumental -- heavy on the mental. In early spring gardening and canning sound great. In March when my hubby was thumbing through seed catalogs, I specifically requested that he buy cucumber seeds that would be good for eating and pickling. When it came time for planting, I told him to plant three hills so that I’d have plenty to pickle, but by the time the first few cukes were ready to eat, my desire to can them had evaporated.

My hubby made the mistake of asking me when I was going to actually start making pickles. I gave him "the look", a lecture about him having too many expectations for me, and the romance in our marriage went right out the window. Canning and cuddling don't mix.

But that was weeks ago, and as I write this I'm happy to report that we have 21 pints of dill pickles down on the basement shelves. And strangely, it wasn't that hard. Nothing like I'd imagined it to be.

As the last pints were processing in the hot water bath, I found myself ruminating about the possible parallels between canning and life. Here's what my recent bit of canning has taught me:

1. Most things aren't as difficult as you think they're going to be.

2. Many hands make light work. Instead of canning pickles alone (and feeling sorry for myself), I asked my husband to help. It went great! We enjoyed quality time canning. Never thought I’d say that, but there you have it. When my husband isn’t handy, I’m going to include my kids. But for the really involved canning, only a good canning buddy will do. (Look out Linda, I’ve got out the canner!)

3. Don’t leave out the sugar! Last year Linda and I tried something new. We made applesauce without any added sugar. I like it, my kids tolerate it, but it doesn’t store well. I bet a third of the bottles I bring up from the basement have started growing mold right at the top. And the bottles are perfectly sealed. I’ve begun to think that families, like applesauce need a little sugar (laughter, fun, goofiness) to keep them properly preserved. Take the sweet stuff away, and just like applesauce, family life goes South.

4. Sugar goes with salt. I did fresh-packed cucumber pickles, and the main ingredients for the hot liquid you pour over them are water, vinegar, sugar and salt. I guess I was a little surprised by the ratio of sugar to salt. I mean, you expect pickles to be salty, but my recipe called for more sugar than salt. That got me thinking. I figure that salt could be a metaphor for tears/sadness and sweat/work. The hard facts of life. And what I learned from making pickles is that you don’t have to take the lumps and bumps of life straight. A little bit of sugar does help the medicine go down. Work is important, but you can mix in a little fun with it too. Pain and sadness are inevitable, but nowhere is it written that you can’t try to laugh. (Side note: My neighbor is fighting cancer and has taken some low blows. At one point she was on oxygen and a feeding tube. On the day they were able to take off the oxygen she exclaimed, “Look! I’ve got one nostril with nothing to do.”)

5. You can’t rush time. Because we’re at a high altitude I had to add 10 minutes onto my pickle processing time. And according to the experts at the county extention office, time is important. You have to keep the water boiling for all of the allotted minutes. Life is no different. There’s no need to rush. Bad situations will soon end. Good times come and go too. So enjoy the present!

There you have it. Life lessons I learned from canning.