Thursday, January 1, 2015

Goodbye, 2014

For the 365th day of the year, we are staying in – as usual. Nothing too exciting. However, I have started what I hope will become a tradition. We have some crepe paper, but it’s the balloon that should be fun. There are four balloons of each color, but only one of each color has a message inside. We all pick a balloon on each hour starting at 6pm, pop it, and someone reads the message.

First: Call Papa and Nana and wish them happy new year.

Second: Call Granny and Grandpa and wish them happy new year.

Third: Pick two songs to dance to. (This one fell by the wayside. Nobody danced…)

Fourth: Name two goals for 2015:
Peanut: Make the biggest Minecraft griefs, trolls, and raids, and give extra love.
Meatball: Give the most love to all of the people that I adore, and to get the greatest jobs.
Bub: To be nicer and not so crabby, and to have more patience
Me: To stop yelling, and to show more love to my wife and kids

Fifth: Name one place in the western USA that you would like to visit in 2015:
Meatball: California
Peanut: Montana (this came out of nowhere!)
Me: Nevada (because we will be going through it to get to and from Cali)
Bub: San Francisco
I have some serious planning to do! I can totally make these two trips happen!

Sixth: Tell one adventure or cool thing you would like to do in 2015:
Peanut: Go from Utah to New Mexico and back. (Again, left field)
Me: Carlsbad Caverns (because we’re already going to California)
Bub: Go bowling
Meatball: (after much hemming and hawing) Do something unexpected. (I think he was tired…)

Looks like it's going to be a fun year!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

DAY OF THE DEAD

We haven’t been to church for a while – the whole summer, in fact. This doesn’t bother me or Bub. It definitely doesn’t bother Peanut. He has no use for church at this point. Fine. We are good people. We don’t hurt others. We are teaching our kids the same.

But Meatball. He is a different story. He is our sensitive guy. He is so smart (they both are). He prefers conversations with grown-ups. He sometimes doesn’t fit in with kids his own age. He has struggled to make friends. He has strange interests for a seven year old (researching tornados, making potholders, reading about how dogs’ noses work, and worrying about cancer). He can be loud – but that’s just his natural voice – you know how some people are just quiet and others are not. Well, he is not. Definitely not. He has a sense of what is right and wrong, ordered and disordered, correct and incorrect, structured and loose. He makes no effort to hide that he wants things to be right, ordered, correct, and structured. When those things don’t happen, he is uncomfortable. So, in other words, he is in uncomfortable situations quite frequently.

So, when he says that he wants to go to church because he likes the people there, I will do everything I can to make it happen for him.

And, he’s right. The folks at SVUUS are awesome. Seriously awesome. The grown-ups are, without a fault so far, inclusive… End. Of. Story. The description of the church is “an intentionally diverse religious community.” Despite my awful social skills, even I have managed to be welcomed. It’s a relatively small congregation, and on any given Sunday you will find straight, gay, bi, male, female, trans, poor, very affluent, abled, differently abled, and a multitude of skin tones.

Given all of that, it’s not hard to imagine that the kids are loving in a way that is surprising – at least in my experience of kids in these parts. There is not a sense of superiority or entitlement due to any number of factors that are flaunted by so many who are part of the majority in this state. (Majority = religion, color, gender, neighborhood, whatever.) The kids (and adults) at this church seem to see through everything and directly into a person for who s/he is. (Shouldn’t it be this way always?)

And, honestly, some of the kids are odd – well, in the conventional way of looking at things. They are odd because those around them are odd. I’ll not mince words here. It’s still not an everyday occurrence for most people to hang out with a transsexual or someone transitioning. Around here, it’s still very strange to be gay (although it is getting better). And, probably everywhere, it’s frowned upon to be poor. So, marginalized populations have always had a tendency to gravitate towards each other for support or comfort. So, these odd kids – being raised by odd parents/guardians – don’t care that Meatball is sometimes odd. He feels comfortable with them. They are friendly towards him. They respect him.

I’ll do anything to help him feel this way. So, he wants to go to church? Great. Let’s go.

Once per month – usually the first Sunday – the whole congregation stays together for an “all ages” lesson. Other Sundays, the adults stay together for the sermon/discussion while the kids go downstairs to their age-appropriate lessons (which are awesome and I’ve learned quite a bit – For example: Walls of Jericho. I had no idea…) I realized that this Sunday would probably be the “all ages” sermon, but I didn’t give it another thought. It was two days after Halloween – the last day of The Day Of The Dead.

Oh, I’m all for The Day Of The Dead. Great idea. It’s important to remember those who have left our lives. It’s appropriate to meditate or quietly reflect. It’s healthy to grieve, to celebrate, to feel. It’s NOT THE DAY TO TAKE MEATBALL TO CHURCH!!!!

Holy shit.

The pastor (love her) started out by talking about her mother-in-law who had just passed two days prior. The pastor’s wife (kooky, awesome pianist/musician) was having a difficult time, but she soldiered through. My little Meatball was very quiet.

The director of kid’s instruction gathered the kids together at the front. “Some of you may not had someone die who you were close to like a grandparent, but maybe you’ve had a pet die. Raise your hand if you’ve had a pet die.” Meatball’s right hand rose, and although his back was to me, I still saw his left hand wipe come up and the tears from his face. The kids returned to their seats.

The choir (and the kooky pianist) did an awesome number about a journey through life. The pastor continued with the sermon about life’s journey and how it’s like a steamer trunk. Through our journey, we collect things from others, and we put them into our trunks. At the end of our trip, our trunk (heart) is full of love and memories and compassion and beauty.

Then, we all sang a hymn. The point of the hymn: those we have lost are never really gone. They are in the music of a mountain stream, the wind through the trees, and pink and orange in a sunset. Meatball didn’t really understand this while we were singing – mostly because he LOVES the singing, LOVES trying to follow the hymnal, LOVES the collective voices. So, I explained it to him in a whisper at the end of the song. Not my brightest moment because, well, instant tears.

As if the little guy hadn’t had enough yet, the pastor invited folks up to light a candle for loved ones lost. If they wanted to, people could mention to the congregation whom they were honoring. Thankfully, Meatball didn’t realize this microphone bit.

So, he got up and headed up to where the candles were. He waved me off when I asked if he wanted me to go with him. (Proud but bittersweet mommy moment as my boy grew up just a little bit in front of my eyes.) He was second in line and was crying before he even got there. The pastor, bless her heart, was on her knees helping him light his candles (three of them!) and comforting him. It seemed to take forever – for me at least. As he came back to his seat, his tear streaked and splotchy face just broke my heart – and the hearts of just about everyone around us.

We took our leave to the back of the room to breathe, get a tissue (or 17), and calm down.

We returned to our seats and there was a long line of people who wanted to light candles – most of whom wanted to mention the name of the person(s) lost. Some were calm. Some were celebratory. Some were crying themselves.

With every “I light this candle in memory of my grandma,” or wavering voice offering love to a departed sister or “my dad was a good man,” Meatball choked back another sob. And another. And another.

We returned to the back of the room – and then out the doors entirely for some cool fresh air on our faces. I learned that he lit a candle for our neighbor, Virsel, who died when the boys were five, our aunt Bernice, (who is actually still alive but apparently he is confused), and of course, our dear, sweet Lizzy – the best dog EVER. She was my dog, for sure, but she very nearly became his dog, and no boy adored a pet like he adored her. She loved him back – almost as much as she loved me.

I told him that we could leave that instant if he wanted to go, but in a typical seven year old fashion, he wanted to stay for treats! (Coffee, tea, and food are always served in the “cafĂ©” after the services.) So, we returned to the chapel in time for half of the final song. Then, we headed downstairs and got him a nice big cupcake.

On the way home, he informed me that he is never going to church again.
Now, we have a problem...

Monday, November 17, 2014

WHO THE HELL DO I THINK I AM?

A couple of weeks ago, a guy got on the State Street bus and gave his sob story to the driver. “My wallet was stolen. I don’t have any change. [Insert a couple more excuses here.] I've got to get to work. Can I just get a ride?”

Now, this happens all of the time on the State Street bus. Probably on others, but definitely on this route. The poor driver must hear it all damn day long. And, it’s usually a bunch of crap. It’s very often someone who is freeloading and / or panhandling. Happens all the time.

And, it was the 1st day of the month – perfect timing, right?

So, this guy – he’s been on the bus before, and he was wearing his construction hat / reflective vest. It’s obvious that he is actually going to work.

So, in my superior and holier-than-thou position, I rolled my eyes and shook my head and was generally irritated with the fact that he was holding us all up (as if we have someplace so important to go at 6:15am).

And, then I stopped. And I mentally kicked myself in the head. Who am I to judge this guy? Who the hell told me that I was so bloody important? (Because, let’s be honest – I’m not.) What a bitch, right? I mean, hell – I’ve forgotten to get change the night before! I’ve left my bus pass in another bag! I’ve been late / scattered / not all together and held up the bus!

So, in my new position as an equal to this guy, and with a humbled opinion of myself, I dug around my bag and came up with his fare for him. He was super appreciative and promised to pay me back. I told him not to worry about it because “we’ve all got to get to work.”

Lesson learned, universe. Thank you for sending it my way.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

PANTRY TOTALS 2014

I am loving the look of my pantry lately. Thanks to a gift from a friends aging dad, I currently have 104 empty jars just waiting to be filled, and I WILL fill them. After all, it’s tomato time! Plus, it’s fall and time to put up chilis and soups and winter squashes and beets.

Back in 2011 (?), I set a goal to triple the number of jars of things that I had personally canned. I’m so, so close! I made that goal before I actually counted what I had – which was 83 (?). I didn’t think that I could do it! That’s 249 jars of food! (Who does that, by the way?) So, to be so close is astounding.

There are commercially packaged foods on my shelves, and that’s fine. What I do is more like staples. I want/need to do more meats, but Bub isn’t keen on that (yet).

Here are my totals as of September 1, 2014:
Strawberry Jam: 1
Pear Jam: 1
Grape Jelly: 1
Apple Butter: 7
Plum Jam: 2
Apricot Jam: 22
Razzleberry Jam: 2
Blackberry Jam: 18
Cherry Jam: 5
Topical Sun Jam: 4
Nectarine Jam: 2
Peach Orange Jam: 1
Jalapeno Jelly: 4
Peppricot Jam: 4
Pickled Peaches: 1
Peaches: 12
Apples: 2
Spaghetti Sauce: 1
Turkey Broth: 8
Veggie Broth: 3
Apple Pie Filling: 6
Tomatillo Salsa: 3
Green Enchilada Sauce: 2
Black Beans: 6
Applesauce: 18
Cherries: 18
Apricots: 17
Turkey Chili with White Beans: 3
Split Pea Soup: 2
Carrots: 13
Sauerkraut: 2
Red Cabbage Relish: 2
Mustard Pickles: 2
Sweet Zucchini Relish: 5
Dill Pickles: 2
Basil Beans: 2
Bread and Butter Zucchini: 3
Pickled Beets: 1
Curry Zucchini: 3
Dilly Beans: 2
Chili Dilly Beans: 1
Candied Carrot Relish: 3

So, yes. I do have 66 jars of jam (and I haven’t even put up any grape jelly yet this year). It’s a ridiculous number, I realize, but along with a quick loaf of bread, these make awesome holiday gifts for the neighbors, teachers, bus driver, etc. A couple of years ago, I had 79 jars on the shelf right before the holidays. After the holidays, I only had about 15 left.

I’ve been canning since I was little. I always had a job in the kitchen to help my mom in the fall (usually adding the sugar to the jars and watching the needle on the pressure cooker gauge – by far the most stressful job of my entire life). However, I’ve been canning on my own since the summer that my mom died. The last birthday present that she ever gave to me was my water bath canner, and I’ve been going gangbusters since then. So, it’s been more than 15 years that I’ve had something on my shelves to compliment what we buy at the store. Usually, that was some jam and some fruit because that’s what you can do with a water bath canner. However, I’ve branched out in the past few years with the adoption of the pressure canner (which doesn’t freak me out nearly as much as it used to).

Does this save me any money on my grocery bill? Gawd, I hope so! I can’t imagine how much it would be otherwise. Honestly, I’ve never calculated the cost. This is very strange for me. I calculate the cost of just about everything.
With the exception of lids and sugar (for the 66 jars of jam), much of my canning is free. Free fifty free!

The cherries, apples, zucchini, and blackberries come from my own backyard. I wish the tomatoes did, too, but my plants have struggled the past few years. The apricots come from a tree on an abandoned lot about two blocks away. The pears usually come from the tree next door to the best friend of a coworker. The veggie broth comes from discarded pieces that we otherwise eat (peelings from carrots or potatoes, outer leaves of cabbage, the top leafy part of celery stalks, zucchini ends, etc.) The turkey/chicken broth comes from the carcass of the thanksgiving turkey after we’ve cleaned it off. The nectarines came from a friend’s father’s tree when he had an overabundance (he simply wanted a jar of jam in return). The grapes come from foraging from vines that hang over tall fences that people disregard. (Folks pick what is on their side of the fence and forget about what grows on the other side. It’s all on public sidewalks, and therefore public property according to state laws.)

I buy a lot of stuff when it is on sale (god bless Rancho Markets) and from the farmer who lives down the street (the guy with the three-legged dog). For example, in less than 3 hours, I made 13 pints of sliced carrots for $4. That’s $0.25 per 16 ounce jar compared to a current price of $0.50-$0.65 per 12 ounce can from the big box store.

Sauerkraut. $2.50 in the store, and I made mine for $0.33 per quart.

And, then there are the leftovers. When Bub makes a LOT of food (which is every single time she makes soup or chili or just about anything), I will bottle it whenever possible because our freezer chest is small, and canning avoids the possibility of freezer burn.
The beauty of the whole thing? In the time it takes to cook the noodles, the technically from scratch sauce is heated up and ready to go. With a cube of butter and two cups of flour, we can have a cherry pie in the middle of winter without eating that horrible canned goopy stuff from the store. With a little flour, cinnamon, and butter, we can have a loaf of apricot/applesauce/cherry/peach bread in no time.

The best part? It all tastes better than store bought, and I know exactly what is in my food – especially important for the salt content.

So, does it make a difference? I think so.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

THE BOYS' FIRST SYMPHONY

I was offered four free tickets to the symphony. I figured it was a perfect time to test whether or not the boys are ready for The Nutcracker.

So, I went home and told Bub (who likes opera and ballet but not necessarily the symphony – I think that she likes having the visual happening with the music). She said “Well, I think that you should ask the boys if they want to go instead of telling them that they have to go.” If you’re married, you know that this is code for “I DO NOT WANT TO GO TO THE SYMPHONY.” Fine, I replied.

So, over dinner, I told the boys that I had tickets for Friday, and Peanut about choked on his food from the excitement.
Bub: “I don’t think it’s what you think it is, buddy.”
Peanut: “Isn’t it where they have all the instruments and the play music on the stage?”
Bub (defeated): “Yeah……”
I can just imagine what was going through her head.

Friday rolled around, and she was sick. Well, that’s the story she gave me. OK – she really was… Anyway, I got home, and three of us got all spiffed up. Then, I presented the dinner options:
"We can go to the top of this hill [Ensign Peak] and have a picnic where we can see the whole city of Salt Lake, or we can go to a restaurant and eat Hungarian food because the guy that wrote the music was raised in Hungary."
Meatball: "Picnic!"
Peanut: "Restaurant! Denny's!"
Bub (who hates Denny's): Oh, yeah. Denny's sounds great!
Me: [evil eye]

So, we left. We got half way to Salt Lake when I realized that I forgot the tickets. *@#^$&@ Bub met us in Stansbury with the tickets and back we go. To Denny's. Denny's.

After Denny's, we found a parking spot and hopped on the train, but not before we talked Heidi W.'s family's ear off. We got to the symphony at the perfect time and found our seats while I reviewed the 100 rules that the boys needed to follow.

Certain that they would get bored, I gave them some ideas: Close your eyes and imagine what might be happening as the music changes, and pretend that you're the conductor. So, we spent a lot of time whispering about fairies in the woods and goblins or witches because that's how the music sounded. Meatball turned to me at one point and said "I think someone is really annoyed at this part of the music." He was right. We also spent a lot of time waving our arms about because we were the best conductors in the world!

We didn't stay for the entire thing. We were just too tired, but while we were there, we were very well behaved. I was very proud of them both.

Florida 2013: Part 9: home

Happily, the trip home was so much better. It only took 6-ish hours, and all planes were on time. Crowded, but on time. Dad picked us up at the airport, and delivered us home to a house with no water because the main line on the street was broken. Good! I didn’t want to do all of that laundry, anyway!

Some of my favorite pictures from the trip:

Monday, November 10, 2014

Florida 2013: Part 8: breakfast on the beach and lighthouse

Bub wasn’t feeling great the night before, so the boys and I left the hotel at the crack of dawn. We walked off the property and immediately onto the beach. We had hotel towels, a cooler with milk and fruit, and a box of cereal. Breakfast on the beach, baby!

Even better were the turtle trails! I noticed this the day before while on my run. There were lots of squared marked on the beach with 3-foot high sticks, cautionary ribbon, and signs. These squares are turtle nest sites! We were visiting during the height of egg-laying season. How exciting! Volunteers comb the beach during the night and keep an eye out for female sea turtles coming ashore. After she lays her eggs and goes back to the beach, the volunteers will mark the area. Everyone knows not to mess with the area. I was happy to see that people actually respected these sites.

See those scoop-y looking indentations with the smoother section in the middle just to the side of Meatball? That’s the path that Mrs. Turtle took back to the sea after laying little Timmy Turtle in his nest to hatch. It was quite an educational morning. Plus, how often do us land lubbers get to have breakfast on the beach?

The last time we were in Florida (in this exact same area), I was the only one to climb the Ponce De Leon light tower. The boys were too little to care, and Bub was having none of it. This time was different. The boys were actually interested in the displays – especially the lens exhibit – and we spent the afternoon on the grounds. It was so much fun.

See that bathtub and sink? These are exactly the same as the tub/sink that are still in the house where I grew up.

Then, we climbed to the top of the lighthouse. We = me and the boys. Bub was, again, having none of it. There were about 300 steps, and we counted every one. The view from the top was beautiful.