Sunday, January 30, 2011

Birthday Girls

I debated all last week on whether I should post about my own birthday. #4 celebrated hers today, so I might as well throw in what I loved about mine. I hope that's not too narcissistic.

First, you must understand that my approach to birthdays is very low key. I know some moms LOVE organizing themed birthday parties with deluxe cakes and clever games. I remember being a little excited about my kids' parties when the first two turned three, but the fun has since worn off for me. For my own birthday, all I really ask for is a date night to a sit-down restaurant with my Kent. I do recognize that birthdays are a big deal to children, and the bigness of that deal is perpetuated by moms who show up at school with treats and story time on their child's birthday, followed by said party thrown at a building full of bounce houses and ball pits. To meet my kids' happy childhood halfway, I've decided to throw a party with friends every three years until my kids are 12. After that, their friends can take over. That means four parties per child times by five children. 20 parties will be more than enough to do me in along with all the other demands of childrearing. For each non-friend-party year, we have a different tradition. The seventh birthday party is very very low key. My kid gets to pick what she/he wants for breakfast or dinner, a dessert of some sort is served, and the child goes to a week of Provo's summer day camp in June or July.

With such low standards, my children have pretty low expectations of me for their own birthdays. If they want something grander, they take matters into their own hands. Last night #4 taped several sheets of printer paper together and colored a birthday banner for herself. Today she instructed her taller siblings as to what colored streamers went where and how they should be twisted and looped.

When her sisters offered to set the table for her so she could skip that chore on her birthday, she flatly refused. Instead, she directed them in setting her birthday dinner table exactly as she wanted, complete with the name tags she had made for everyone. I'm glad she knew what she wanted and was willing to make it happen without whining for me to do it for her. I laughed when I found this note taped to the front door this afternoon:

Her instructions include a description of a present that a friend gave her yesterday. It was wrapped in a gift bag that had a picture of Garfield on it. She re-wrapped the gift yesterday so she would have something to open today.

By dinner time, when no one had come with birthday wishes, she took down the note. Fortunately, she had earlier mentioned to me that she wondered what my friend Kelly would do for her this year. (#4 calls her "Kells"!) I had forgotten that Kelly had given her anything last year, but #4 hadn't, and she fully expected Kelly and/or her youngest daughter to show up in recognition of this special day. So I called my friend to let her know #4's desire, and she didn't disappoint. They showed up with a little gift around the same time that Kent's parents and brothers came. We all had dessert and sang "Happy Birthday" and #4 was very satisfied with the day as a whole.

Last week for my birthday, I indulged my kids by getting back in bed so they could serve me breakfast. They also made me a banner, and #5 gave me some of his magical powers. I am now able to run super fast and jump really high. (He almost took those powers away when I wouldn't give him candy for a Sunday snack, but he showed some mercy and let me keep my new powers in return for a banana.)

My low expectations for birthdays made me a little uncomfortable to receive my friends' attentions, though. However, after one friend and her girls gave me handmade cards, another gave me a hug and directions to take a nap, another (who is a self-proclaimed non-cook) invited us over for homemade crepes, another mailed me a card, another left a bundle of recipes and chocolate at my door, and the Relief Society presidency brought a birthday lunch to our meeting...I came to realize that birthdays are the day we can openly express our love and admiration for our friends. In other words, I want my friends to feel loved by me on their birthdays, which helps me accept their thoughtful gifts on my day. I also appreciated the phone calls and emails from family members.

My favorite gift, however, was serendipitous. The music coordinator in our LDS ward asked me a few days in advance to play a piano piece in Sacrament Meeting. I've had a piece prepared for eight years and I've always wanted the chance to share it with my ward family. I was so glad I could play it for them on my very birthday. It's an arrangement of "I Believe in Christ", which isn't my favorite hymn, but this particular arrangement expresses the joy and conviction of my testimony that I can't communicate in words. I had prayed all week to not be undone by nerves because I wanted the beauty of the song to come across flawlessly. My prayer was answered in an unexpected way. I got through the first page with no problems, but then as the emotion of the piece swelled, my arms and then hands began shaking. I think it was due to a combination of excitement and nervousness. Either way, I barely controlled my hands and all I could play were the top and bottom notes of each three- and four-note chord. Those who had never heard the piece before got to hear the simple beauty of it, though they unknowingly missed the richness of the full chords. But the flawed performance served to keep me humble while still portraying the message of testimony in the music. I was glad for it to come across that way because I wanted the piece to be enjoyed without me being full of myself. It all made for a good day and I felt loved by my family, friends, and Heavenly Father.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Going Gaga for Yoga

(Has Lady Gaga ruined the use of that term for anyone else? Well, I'm using it regardless!)

Yesterday I clued into a great secret that I thought some of you might want to know about. It's a mind and body workout called yoga.

Apparently, it's been around for a few thousand years, but you know me: I'm always a little slow to adopt the trends. (Today I completed my fourth and fifth texts ever on the hand-me-down cell phone I started using last year. I even figured out how to use punctuation!)

My friend, Mindy, loaned me a yoga video, and since I slept through my early morning workout on Friday, I decided that #5 and I would give it a try. I loved how the more intense poses kind of sneaked up on me and I found myself glistening (the ladies' term for perspiring) and my muscles feeling a little shaky without feeling like it was strenuous. I had thought I had good flexibility, but now I see I have a long way to go. Twice I had to rest in embryo pose, but I focused constantly on my oujaii breathing and never felt out of breath. Then suddenly an hour had passed and I was laying on the floor just feeling open and relaxed. The sunlight streaming through the window added to the peaceful energy I felt. I loved it! I felt like I was walking on air for the next two hours, and each breath continued to bring me energy during that time. I've learned to meditate in the past year, and I think that helped me enjoy this yoga exercise because I could quiet my mind while I went through the movements. At least, that worked most of the time.

Admittedly, the little four-year-old mimicking the dog pose right underneath my dog pose did get a little distracting. About 20 minutes into the routine, he started his "break dancing" around the floor. He did keep mostly quiet, though, and I was only vaguely aware that he would leave and come back and busy himself with other things. For the last few minutes of the video, he sat quietly and just watched me and the TV. When I turned off the set and asked if he liked yoga, he replied, "No, it's dumb. But I have my own list of exercises now." He trotted away and returned with this paper:

Clearly he prefers my regular weight-lifting workout. He's drawn exercising with a barbell, dumbbells, running, and jumping. (Though I'm not sure if he's running with a dog or through a fire, I'm impressed that he knew what a hurdle is!) I guess he was mapping out his workout while I was doing mine. We put his pictorial list on the VCR so he can refer to it next time we work out together. Maybe if we're consistent, those stick figures will put on some muscle!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

REALLY Outside the Box

Kent found this article online today from a newspaper in Massachusetts:

Now, I admire those who can think outside the box. In fact, my newest solution is keeping a toilet paper tube on my flat iron to hold it closed. One of the irons doesn't heat anymore, so by keeping it closed while it's turned on, the working iron heats them both.

But I don't think explosives will ever be part of my outside-the-box thinking.

Still, it would be nice to avoid this surprise chore some mornings.

Even though it makes for a good workout, let's hope we're past these kind of storms this season.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I Doubt This is From Jeff Foxworthy...

...but I could still relate to most of these. Besides, I think it's healthy to be able to laugh at our quirks.

Forwarded from my kids' email:

If someone in a Home Depot store offers you assistance and they don't work there, you live in Utah.

If you've worn shorts and a parka at the same time, you live in Utah

If you've had a lengthy telephone conversation with someone who dialed the wrong number, you live in Utah.

If 'vacation' means going anywhere south of Salt Lake City for the weekend, you live in Utah.

If you measure distance in hours, you live in Utah.

If you know several people who have hit a deer more than once, you live in Utah.

If you have switched from 'heat' to 'A/C' and back again in the same day, you live in Utah.

If you install security lights on your house and garage but leave both unlocked, you live in Utah.

If you can drive 75 mph through 2 feet of snow during a raging blizzard without flinching, you live in Utah.

If you design your kid's Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit, you live in Utah.

If the speed limit on the highway is 75 mph -- you're going 80, and everyone is still passing you, you live in Utah.

If driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow, you live in Utah.

If you know all 4 seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter, and road construction, you live in Utah.

If you find 10 degrees 'a little chilly' you live in Utah.

If you actually understand these jokes and forward them to all your friends, you live in Utah.

While we're at it, we might as well stereotype our religious quirks.

You might be a Mormon...

If you believe Heck is the place for people who do not believe in gosh...

If you pray that your food might "nourish and strengthen your body" before eating doughnuts...

If at least one of your salad bowls is at a neighbor's house...

If you've ever written a "Dear-John" to more than two missionaries on the same day...

If you were frustrated when your son "only" got accepted to Harvard...

If you have one kid in diapers and one on a mission...

If you arrive to an activity a half hour late and are the first person there...

If you have more wheat stored in your basement than most third-world countries...

If you have to guess more than five times the name of the child you're disciplining.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Canning Chicken

Recently I noticed chicken being sold in bulk at a great price. Now, we are mostly vegetarian, but I do like the occasional chicken sandwich or chicken tortilla soup. At about $16 for ten pounds of chicken breast, the price was so good that I couldn't pass it up.

We certainly didn't have room in our freezer to store the box of meat, so I decided to try pressure canning it. The process was so easy that I thought I'd share it here. I also found out that cold January days are the perfect time to undertake canning chicken. The meat was frozen when I bought it. To keep it frozen, I left it boxed on my porch for a day. Then I moved my box to the garage, where it took two days to thaw. By then I had some time for the canning.

Here are the supplies: chicken breasts, cans with lids and rings, and a pressure canner. I got my information from the USU Canning Guide, and I did find an extension office in another state that clarified that the meat must be thawed, not frozen, to begin.

Note about glass surface stoves. My sister had heard flat surface ranges will crack under a canner's weight. Here is a letter from a manufacturer addressing that issue. It looks like you can do it, but you have to be careful, and your canner has to have a flat bottom, which mine does.

I trimmed the minimal fat off each piece and cut them in half to fit in the jars a little better. I left about 1 1/2" of headspace. The canning guide says 1 1/4", but for my recipes, I don't need that much meat per can. I used pint jars; quarts are also fine, but again, we don't eat that much meat. Then I wiped the top of the jars with a damp paper towel, topped them with sterilized lids and rings, and loaded the pressure cooker.

I have a weighted gauge cooker, so the processing was 15 lbs. for 90 minutes. The canning guide says 75 minutes for pint jars, but I misread it and did the quart-jar time. An hour-and-a-half later, this is what I had:

They look like something that's been sitting in a high school biology lab for three decades. I suppose if canned chicken or tuna came in clear bottles, we would never buy it. However, I'm glad that the meat cooks in its own juices, which means I now have broth to cook with as well.

The ten pounds of chicken breast made 12 jars. I haven't eaten any yet, but I've heard it shreds very easily. I like having chicken on hand for soups this winter, and I love that the weather was conducive to this project. (Just looking for that silver lining to those gray winter clouds.)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

So I Married a Thermostat Nazi

When I found myself huddled over the heat vent a few days ago--while wearing a sock hat and a thermal-lined hoodie over my sweatshirt over my t-shirt--I realized how ridiculous my situation is! Really, I look like I'm homeless IN MY OWN HOME! Still, I didn't dare raise the temperature on the thermostat.

(When the humor of the moment struck me, I asked #5 to capture it. He did a good job holding the camera steady.) I'm so looking forward to spring!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year's Resolution

I almost never make these, but I was so happy to maintain a clean house for almost an entire week during part of the Christmas break that I now feel inspired!


Hey, I'm being realistic.

It was a little scary last month to tackle the stack of dishes and recognize the remains of food on pots and pans that had cooked for events seven or eight days in the past. So five is a big leap for me! PLUS, the gift I gave Kent for Christmas was a promise to deep clean our master bathroom at least once during each calendar month this year. I wrapped that up in the form of yellow gloves. And let me tell you, I was sure glad to be wearing those when I conquered the bathroom last week! (It's bad when the pink shower tiles start turning orange.)