Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The 70% Cure for the Hiccups

When I was in college, there was a guy in my apartment complex who collected cures for the hiccups.  He had undergone brain surgery a few years earlier, and when he awoke from the anesthesia, he had a semi-permanent case of the hiccups.  They would come and go several times per day.  It became a topic of conversation for him, so he decided to collect antidotes and write a book.  I don't know if he ever wrote that book, but it did get me thinking seriously about a cure.  Not seriously enough that I would go into medicine, but I would like to say that my research can now benefit mankind.

Somewhere along the way, I heard that hiccups are caused by the diaphragm getting off its regular pattern.  I figured the cure needed to act as a reset for the diaphragm.  So I came up with a cure that combined my technique for holding my breath in the pool--I never was coordinated enough to take a breath while still propelling my arms, so I figured out how to hold my breath all the way across the pool--and pretending to be a balloon with a slow leak.  Before you get too excited, I will say that this cure is effective only about 70% of the time.  Repeating the process can increase its effectiveness, but I have had stubborn cases of the hiccups once or twice that simply had to be waited out.

Still, now that I've tested this remedy on first graders, I think it is time to share it with the world!

Step 1:  Take three very deep breaths, filling your lungs and belly.
Step 2:  On the third deep breath, hold your breath.
Step 3:  Keep holding your breath!  You should feel like your lungs are going to explode.
Step 4:  When your face is turning red, your eyes are bugging out, and you fear drowning...oh wait, that's right, we're hiccupping, not swimming...
Step 5:  ...open your mouth ever so slightly and let the high-pressure air out as slowly as possible, as if you are one of the front two tires on my van.  (Have I mentioned that I've had two flat tires in the last four months?  No?  Well here are some photos so you can feel bad for us.)

On our way to see the Real soccer game. The kids had to substitute a game of Battleship for soccer that night.
This was at about the point that we realized our spare, which we've never before used in nine years of owning this van, was also flat.

At least it was nice weather for getting a tan on the side of the freeway. #5 was lucky to have caught a ride to the game with some friends.

Distraction can enhance the effectiveness of the hiccups cure too!

Let me know if this process works to eradicate your hiccups, or feel free to pass along your own cure.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Beware the Affections and Confections of Mrs. White!

One of my favorite days of the week is Monday, because I get to volunteer in the classrooms of my three youngest children.  I like getting to know the students and faculty, and have found over the years that as I spend time with my kids' classmates, they students grow into young adults who can talk easily with me, too.

Every once in a while, I feel like I do something truly influential for a student.  For example, as I was reading with individual students from #5's class a couple months ago, one little Latina pointed out her completed wish list assignment that was displayed in the hallway a midst all the other wish lists on the wall.  I noticed that she wished she could someday be a teacher, and then she turned to me and added, "Yeah, but I can never be that."  I returned a perplexed look and said, "Why not?  You can be anything you want to be."  "I can?"  "Of course!  If you'll work hard and be a good student, you can be a teacher or anything else."  Her eyes absolutely lit up and she grinned from ear-to-ear!

I don't know if that moment of awakening will stick with her through 18 more years, but last week I did change a child's entire life, I think.  I was quizzing more first graders on their phonograms, and another little girl was having a fit of hiccups.  It was funny to both of us as she tried to make phonemic sounds around the staccato, guttural breaths.  So we took a break and I showed her how to eliminate the hiccups.  Then we resumed for another four or five minutes.  When she had finished the list, I asked, "Where did your hiccups go?"  She smiled in acknowledgement that they were gone, at which I said, "Now, if your mom or dad asks what you learned at school today, you don't have to say that you learned a new boring reading word or something.  You can tell them you know the cure for the hiccups!"  One more life changed forever.

You may be asking yourself, "So, what's with the title of this post?"  That is I haven't yet revealed to you my influence over #3's fifth-grade class.

My volunteer time with the fifth grade is spent reading a novel out loud while the students follow along in their own copies.  This is not a thankless job.  In fact, my favorite part of every Monday is when I stop reading, close the book, and tell the students that's all for today.  This causes them to all moan in unison and say, "Just a few more pages!" to which I respond that I wish I could, but I will see them next week.  I usually arrive while they are wrapping up their lunch, and it's super fun to have them file in, see me, and rush to get their books opened and explain to me any parts of the story I might have missed if their teacher read more of the book between Mondays.

Our current novel is The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull.  I can always tell a favorite of the kids' because they complain more insistently when we close the book for the day.  This book has drawn the most complaints so far this year!  I highly recommend it for tweens.

The Candy Shop War
If you're not familiar with the story, there is a character named Mrs. White who owns The Sweet Tooth Ice Cream and Candy Shoppe...along with ulterior motives.  While her candy that makes children weightless or literally electrifying is fun at first, the children soon find they are in a war of magicians who are seeking a powerful treasure.  Mrs. White's most famous--because it is also the most addictive--confection is her white fudge.  It dulls the mind and distracts the senses of all who eat it (the adults of the town) while also making them crave more of it constantly.

Well, this book set things up too perfectly for me!  With the teacher's permission, and some serendipity through my friend, Pam, who had too much fudge on her hands this weekend, I showed up to class yesterday with a candy box  filled with fudge, which I had sprinkled with powdered sugar.  I offered it to the students, "For those who dare to eat it."  I explained that it was mostly chocolate fudge so they wouldn't be too dumbed down.  Of course everyone cheered to be receiving come curriculum-related candy in school.  (The school's wellness policy doesn't usually allow sweet treats.)  Of course, my caveat was ignored, and everyone took a piece, though I did notice one girl who gingerly placed her fudge at the top of her desk to wait for her classmates to test it first.

Halfway through the reading, I came to a sentence where one of the characters was warning another child to beware of Mrs. White and her dangerous candy.  At that moment, a girl in the front row dropped her book to her desk and snapped her head toward me, gawking with wide eyes and open mouth.  Then she turned to the boy next to her and pointed at my daughter across the room, whispering, "She is [#3's] mom!"  She had just figured out that I am Mrs. White!  That whispered moment of recognition for what I had just perpetrated was great!

After my 30 minutes were up, and the children blessed my ears with their complaints and whines for more reading, I stood up to leave.  "Did you like the fudge?" I asked.  "Yes!"  Their teacher chimed in, "I bet you'll all be really mellow for the rest of the day, right?"  As I left, a boy in the back row said, "That fudge was so good!  Can we have more?"  "I'm glad you liked it," I answered.  And then I added, smiling wickedly and mischievously rubbing my palms together, "It's addictive, isn't it?"  Mwa ha ha!

Monday, November 26, 2012

From the Pens of Babes

It's not just the mouth of babes that says funny things.  Once these kids get writing, they are quite entertaining.  (BTW, click on the pictures to enlarge them if you want to see the details.)

Last night, #4 came across a Valentine booklet that her classmates made last year in second grade.  Each child wrote a page for all the other classmates, and the teacher bound them into booklets.  Just for kicks, here are some of our favorite messages of love to our sweet #4.  I am leaving the second-grade spelling and grammar as is, because it's more fun that way!

Dear [#4], want to have another play date sometime.  Yes____  no____  Love, Madeline
     You gotta' love the classic Yes and No waiting for a checkmark.

Dear [#4], I like you in my class.  You are the best.  You have a great math folder and math teacher.  I will be out of school.  So I will be out of school.  You go to a great church.  You live in a great house.  Love, Eduard.
     For the record, Eduard has the best handwriting in the book.

Dear [#4], I love your voise, hair, eys, and lips.  From, todd.
     This one makes #4 giggle every time we read it!

Dear [#4], I love your hair.  I'm very glad that you are in my class.  from, Amanda
     Second graders must not be very picky about hair, because #4 only brushed it 50% of the time last year, yet everyone seems to love it.  In Kindergarten, Eduard used to love #4's long braid, so she asked me to braid it frequently that year just to make him happy.

Dear. [#4] you look good.  from. Jacob
     #4 didn't giggle at this one until I started reading it with great emphasis on "goo--ood"!

Dear [#4], I like you because you have the same initials as George Washington.  Sincerely, Autumn #13
     There is much I love about this note!  Besides the obvious, the compliment is funnier to me because Autumn #13's dad is English; that she would tie her favorite thing about #4 to George Washington who beat the Redcoats just strikes me as funny.  And the fact that she identifies herself as #13, her line-up number, cracks me up.  (Or maybe she watched a lot of House.)

Dear [#4].  I like your hair.  You are nice.  You are cute.  Love, Grace
     I guess hair is a really important feature to eight-year-olds.

Dear [#4] I think you are the nicest kid in the class.  I like how you collect a lot of stuff.  love, Maddie
     Well I don't like how she collects a lot of stuff!  Though I am glad for the sake of the reappearance of this Valentine booklet that she kept reams of homework and other papers from last school year.

Dear [#4], you are nice  love, Cam
     Don't worry, we razzed her about the underline of "love" from Cam.  More giggles!

Dear [#4], I like that your after me in line.  from, Brandon
     Does this kid have the beginning of a superiority complex?

Dear [#4]  I love your hair and I also like how you dress.  From Whitney  to [#4]
     Again with the hair.  Even funnier is the fact that #4's school enforces a uniform policy, so all the kids dress the same!  At least Whitney likes the uniform.

Dear, [#4]  I like you long hair  From, cole
     That makes five!

Dear [#4]  I like your last name.  thank you for being a good freind and pal love, lucy
     I like her last name too.  It shares an initial with George Washington.

Dear [#4] I like you I like your Belt It cut.  Love Michelle
     More support for the uniform policy.  These kids are brainwashed!

And my favorite...
Dear [#4]  I was just kiding About your bur p's their tromendis they go BuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurP
     (Not #4's favorite compliment.)

#4's classmates aren't the only prodigious authors on the topic of love.  #5 enjoys practicing his relatively new writing skills as well.  Recently, I found this red-dry-erase-marker message scrawled on my bathroom mirror:
In case you can't decipher it, here's what it says:

 Mom and dad
               Mom + Dad
          ♥           ♥                                    kis on the [sketch of lips] evry day                 
          ♥       eechther
          ♥        bi
                 [#5]   ♥

At least the kid is secure in his parents' love for each other, even if he is tending toward graffiti.  It makes me a little nervous that he tried to write our phone number at the end.  What is that for?  "For a gross time watching my parents kiss, call 812-07P5"?  That's so junior high!

Sorry for all the lovey dovey stuff in this post.  I'll end with #5's recent composition.

After a year of listening to him beg for piano lessons, I started teaching him at the beginning of this school year.  Unlike my other children, whose enthusiasm faded after two months and devolved into the normal moaning and groaning of piano practicing, #5 can't get enough of the piano.  Every Monday, he rushes through the door and asks if we can please start his lesson NOW!  We recently watched a six-year-old piano genius on Ellen, and I mentioned that the boy reminds me of Mozart, who started composing at about that age.  After I explained to #5 what composing is, he made a beeline to the piano and began putting together his master works.  I told him he could earn a piano star (ten stars equals a prize) if he wrote a song.  At his next lesson, here is what was written in his notebook:

In case you can't see the double bar lines at the end of his lines of letters, those indicate the seven songs he composed, beginning with his rendition of "Pop! Goes the Weasel".  He had counted his existing three stars, and filled in enough compositions to get a prize.  I told him the songs generally needed to be longer, so he quickly added some repeat signs and played through them all for me.

I dutifully presented Little Mr. Loophole, who takes after his sister, with seven stars.  I then gave him some manuscript paper and a quick lesson in writing notes, clef signs, and time signatures.  I don't want to squelch his interest in composing, but he's going to have to show me the real thing next time he wants a plethora of stickers in his notebook.  

The bonus to his seven stars, which he was quick to ask about, is that he also earned three more stars for passing off songs during his lesson, which means he now holds the record--ten--of all my students for the greatest number of stars earned in one lesson...and he hasn't let us forget about it!  He challenges his sisters so frequently to break his record that I wouldn't be surprised if we see the gauntlet thrown down on their bathroom mirror in the near future!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Parenthood is Messy

My cousin-in-law posted this on her Facebook page today:

"Um, pleased to announce Owen [age 2], Grant [age 2 mo.s], and I performed a circus act at the grocery store today! With toy balls flying left and right down isles, while waving and yelling hi & chatting with every person we saw - courtesy of Owen, I then proceeded to knock over an entire Thanksgiving display with the cart and boxes went flying everywhere. We then somehow spilled the bag of grapes at checkout stepping on half of them while paying. Ran into a cement post on our way out... And realized we got charged for something we never got, all to make a second trip back into the store... Getting home to realize we really did get that thing I thought we never got. Hm. Some days I wonder...... ;)"

In the comments, I officially welcomed her from the stage of being a cute mom to being the frenzied, publicly humiliated mom that most experienced mothers become sooner or later.  If I didn't reach that point earlier, I certainly reached it when #4 was an infant.  Halfway through my shopping list, and with a very full cart, #4 began wailing in Wal-Mart.  She wouldn't calm down for anything, so I went to the ladies' changing rooms to nurse her.  There I encountered an attendant who told me the changing rooms weren't for nursing mothers.  The baby's crying underscored the tears I could feel coming, which softened the attendant's heart and she finally offered me a room at the inn, I mean stall...I mean a stall in the store.  When I lifted the babe out of her carrier, we all discovered that she had blown out her diaper with the signature mustard yellow squishiness of newborns.  It was up to her neck!  I was so desperate to get her calmed down that I just wrapped the messy baby in her blanket, disappeared into the changing room, and nursed her anyway.  When she was calm, I wiped her clean as best I could and headed home.  The silver lining is that I at least didn't have #s 1 through 3 also with me.  That would have put me over the edge!

Do you have any frantic or funny stories with your young ones in public?  Share them!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Crisis of My Political Faith?

All my adult life I have considered myself socially conservative and labeled myself a Republican.  Listening to conservative pundits, I occasionally would disagree with their spin.  I did become disappointed with the ineffectiveness of national Republican administrations and congresses, but I've read the platform of the Utah Republican Party several times and have taken issue with no part of it.

I'm starting to think, though, that the labels I happily accepted do not mean what I think they mean.

This week, I completed an online survey at YourMorals.org.  The surveys they offer are conducted by social psychologists at three universities.  Their research looks at why people disagree about what is right, and how that translates into social and political values.  I took the Moral Foundations Questionnaire, which gave a broad overview of my morals.  The results surprised me.

At the end of the survey, the site gave a bar graph showing my results ranked against the average results of self-described liberals and conservatives.  In only two out of nine rankings did I come close to the conservative morals.  Two of the bar graphs put my values in line with Libertarians.  The other five bars were either in between conservative and liberal results, or well beneath both.  

These results piqued my curiosity, and I wondered if perhaps a political party other than the big two would reflect my political values more.  So I read up on Libertarians, since my Liberty and Property scores seemed to be in line with them.  I like some of their ideals, but I don't believe their ideals can be realistically applied to society.  I'm not Libertarian.  The Green Party doesn't fit me well either.  (Although, I am giving ear to a friend of mine who says that greed too easily overwhelms our stewardship for the environment and animals.  Can I give up my desire for Utah to develop its energy resources in favor of protecting species?  That remains to be seen.)

So where do I fit?  I think maybe I don't.  Kent gave me a link to an interesting TED talk by Jonathan Haidt, who is one of the researchers behind the Moral Foundations survey: "The moral roots of liberal and conservatives."  Though he is a self-proclaimed liberal, Haidt wraps up his short lecture by insisting that both sides of the political spectrum need to listen to each other.  Liberals consider themselves open-minded and diverse, yet if they are closed to conservative viewpoints, their open-mindedness goes out the window.  I agree that both sides need to be present in our society, but more importantly, they need to make compromises politically if we are ever going to make lasting progress.

I guess that means I'm more of a moderate independent.

So will I renege my Republican registration?  Not in Utah; especially not here in Utah County.  In this state, the only way to have a voice with my vote is to work through the Republican primary process, since it will almost always be a Republican who wins.  At each November vote, I can still vote for whatever candidate I like (and it hasn't always been the Republican), but at least I might get a good candidate through the primary elections.

I haven't voted yet, because I'm undecided on our local school board candidates.  However, for our national leader, I will be voting for Mitt Romney.  Even if Mitt weren't the candidate, I would almost certainly still vote against Barack Obama.  In a nutshell, here's why.

My vote for Romney:
Major reason:  I liked Mitt Romney during the primaries leading up to the 2008 election.  It's not because he shares my religious persuasion, but because I respect him as a businessman.  I have wanted a businessman (or woman) in the White House for many years.  I think a businessperson will have an understanding of and solutions for our economy that lawyers and politicians just won't grasp or believe.  Romney's track record in turning around corporations and giving the U.S. a profitable Winter Olympics leads me to believe that he can do a better job for our economy than most anyone else who has been presented as a presidential option.  I expect he'll make budget cuts that will hurt, but that will also make Americans take more responsibility for their own decisions.  Yes, I would even give up the EITC or the Child Tax Credit if that would help balance our budget.  I also believe he has the right business and leadership experience to negotiate trade relations with China and other countries that we must work with.

Minor reason:  I like the people Mitt Romney surrounds himself with.  I like Paul Ryan, and I like that Mitt's family members are the ones reaching out to his base.

My vote against Obama:
Major reason:  I don't believe he represents Americans well or has America's best interests at heart.  I don't generally like how he handles international affairs.  I don't like his extravagant parties and vacations in the midst of our tanking economy.  I don't like his position on abortion.  (He and Michelle Obama are more left on that issue than even many liberals).  He has said things that I agree with, and I'm trying to give Obamacare the benefit of the doubt, but overall I don't think he represents the majority of Americans, including many who voted for him as a symbol of a new American era in 2008 based on his race and his "Hope and Change" campaign.  

Minor reason:  I don't trust the people President Obama surrounds himself with.  His close ties with Planned Parenthood and Acorn make me nervous.  Van Jones and Reverend Wright are also not good people to have listened to.  His extensive use of teleprompters has me wondering how much of what he says comes from his own brain.

Ahhh...my newly self-labeled Independent mind feels better already.  Now that all that political stuff is off my chest, I can go vote on Tuesday and take my blog back to happier posts about family events, funny kids, and the upcoming holidays.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Face(book)ing My Past

It's been almost three months since I finally joined Facebook.  Yeah, go ahead and label me a Laggard.  So what if it took me until 2010 to get a cell phone?  And I was perfectly happy waiting two more years for a smartphone.  (I knew once I got one, I wouldn't be able to live without it, and I was right.)

Once I gave in to carrying a tiny computer with me all day, I figured why resist Facebook?  Admittedly, I was a little hesitant to join the social networking site.  Years ago, my Early Adopter friend, Charlotte, told me Facebook opened the door to hundreds of friend invitations from people from her high school years that she didn't have energy for anymore.  That sounded like something I didn't need in my own life.

Maybe I was wrong.

I started in August by sending friend requests to neighbors and current friends and acquaintances.  After a few days, I included extended family members that popped up as recommendations.  Here and there I added friends from early in my married years and even a couple from college.

Monday night at dinner I was telling my kids that most families didn't have home computers when I was their age.  (I sound so old to myself!)  Kent refuted that idea, and I had to confess that one of my third-grade friends had a Commodore 64, and we all thought that was really cool.

(FYI, the Commodore 64 is now memorialized in a Smithsonian Museum exhibit that opened this year.  Now I know that I'm old!)
That computer got me thinking about my childhood friends.  What are they up to now?  Did we follow similar paths in adulthood?  Some of the friends I've connected with on Facebook have chosen to leave the Church or pursue vastly different paths from where we both were during our in-person friendship.  Would friends of my childhood with similar upbringing have done the same?  The scientist in me was curious.

Today, I finally took the plunge and reached out to my Commodore 64 friend of the past whom I haven't seen in 20 years when I moved from Ogden.  As I scrolled through her Facebook friends, I saw many names and even some faces that I recognize from childhood.  If she accepts my friend request, will other friends from my past reach out to me?  I hope so.

I know I can't maintain more than a few deep relationships in my life, but what I'm learning to love about Facebook is that no one expects that level of friendship in the virtual world.  So is it even worth reconnecting with people that I probably still won't keep up with?  Yes.

It was perhaps more than coincidence that I found my friend's page today.  I've spent the last two days thinking and praying about my role for my family.  I've been a full-time mom for 14 years, but this summer as my youngest prepared for first grade, I decided to take on an extra job or two (okay, three).  Then, when #1 received her patriarchal blessing on Sunday, I had an impression that I needed to focus on being involved in my children's lives as they enter the teenage years, and I had to take a hard look at my decision to be a second bread winner.  I felt that I needed to trust our household income to God, and put myself back in place as protector of the hearth.  These past few months while I've been working, my house has suffered, my children have been on their own for schoolwork, my callings seem too stressful, and I've felt on the edge of panic attacks more than once.  I told Kent last night that even though I feel competent to bring in some income, I don't think it's right for me to be adding his role to my own.  So I am letting go of much of the work I've been doing to focus again on being a mom and a homemaker.  I'll still do a bit of work with the foundation, and be a source for Solavei phone service, but I'm not going to actively make those things a job anymore.  My kids are my job.

Just look at these crazy people.  They need all the help I can give!
I've still felt a little unsettled about this decision, mostly because it requires me to stop worrying about income  and put my trust in God to help Kent provide for the family.  It is not my burden, though, and I need to stop trying to claim it.  My role is to run the household on whatever income God sees fit to bless us with.

When I looked up my long-lost friend on Facebook today, I found many posts about the important role of mothers.  Her posts were a reassurance to me that this is the right decision.  Kent feels good about it, and I'm looking forward to the possibility of catching up my blog, redecorating my house like crazy (just wait 'til you see what's now only in my head!), practicing the piano again, and maybe even writing a novel.  There is so much good work to do besides the work for money.  I kind of feel bad for Kent not getting to be the stay-at-home parent.

Thank you Facebook, and prayer, for reconnecting me to what matters: family and relationships.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Happy to Call Happy Valley My Home

Provo's Mayor Curtis linked to an article about Provo on his own blog, and I am here to echo his thoughts.  Our family moved to Provo nine years and 13 days ago.  We've loved it here.  It's a good city and we have wonderful neighbors and friends here.


Kent and I have recently noticed how delightful Provo's downtown is becoming.  I'll give a shout-out here to our dads who have each been influential in making this a great place to live.  Kent's dad, Steve White, was one of the Utah County Commissioners for several years, and played a big part in getting the County Convention Center, which just opened this summer.  My dad, Paul Glauser, is the director of Provo City's Redevelopment Agency, and has done a lot to revitalize the city's older neighbors and downtown.  Just a few weekends ago, Kent and I enjoyed a rooftop concert (following a tip from my dad), and it was great to see so many people out dining and walking the streets of our beautiful city.  My favorite part was the lack of drunk college students spilling their beer on me in the press to the stage.  It was just good ol' fun with good music.  I would even take my kids to these concerts.

It's nice to see someone else bragging about my kids' hometown, too.  Check out the article by Stephen C. Fehr who writes for The Pew Center and is former editor of the Washington Post.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ch, ch, ch, Changes

Our lives, recently, have been full of changes.

#1  Hair

I cut mine.  Kent grew his--on his face.

#2  The House

A year after realizing that I really could get rid of the clutter, the bare walls, and the pink carpet of our master bedroom, the project is complete...almost--I still have some decor to change up a bit.

#3  Health

After taking most of the summer off, I'm getting back into exercising with the stake aerobics group.  This has given me positive energy; but it also complicated the sciatica I've had on and off for seven weeks now.  It's to the point that most mornings I can't stand up straight until I've done a few yoga poses.  I'm usually fine for the rest of the day, but it's not a fun start.  I also finally went in for a annual checkup--six years after my last one--and found out...(I'll come back to this one, just to build suspense.)

#4  Five Kids in School All Day

I thought that being a stay-at-home mom with no kids at home for seven hours of the day would open my life to free time.  I've looked forward to this day as a time that I could finally get organized, keep a clean house, and write a novel.  Instead, I follow the kids to school once a week to help out in their classrooms.  I also had job opportunities land in my lap this summer that have taken all my free time.  So my house is worse than it was with children at home, and I am buried under a pile of late paperwork.

#5  Work

At the end of August, one of my kids asked me, "So Mom, how many jobs do you have?"  Being forced to count them, I totaled up four part-time jobs: piano teacher, Volunteer Coordinator for A Child's Hope Foundation, bookkeeper for a friend's new company, and beta tester for a new cell phone service provider.
This is the phone I got to use for free for two months.  Kent says I don't have to use my brain anymore because this smartphone will remember everything for me.  He's right!  I love it!  It even reads my book club books to me.

#6  Spirituality

All these changes have brought a lot of stress into my life as the demands on my time ask more and more of me.  Subsequently, my spirit has suffered.  Our family devotionals and scripture study became too easy to skip.  My already-infrequent meditation exercises became a thing of the past.  And my personal prayers were rattled off in less than 60 seconds each evening.  As I evaluated my relationship with God each Sunday, I knew I was found lacking and that the Lord was just waiting on me to reinvest in our relationship.

I have stayed committed to my personal reading of the Book of Mormon.  My goal was to read the whole book this summer with my two oldest girls, and then treat them to lunch for a mom-and-daughter book club discussion.  None of us finished before school started, so we reset our lunch date for sometime during winter break.  This week I discovered that I can bring the scripture to the floor each morning as I stretch out the muscles around my sciatic nerve.  Two birds with one stone there, baby!

This morning, I felt to pray and had a relatively long one-way conversation with Heavenly Father.  I told Him that I felt like I was trying to do so much good for my family that it was killing me with stress.  I told Him that my efforts have changed from trying to keep everything in balance to just trying not to be pulled over the edge.  I told Him my desires to add household income to start eroding our mortgage, or at least keep up with rising gasoline and food prices; to stay involved with my children at school and have fun with them at home; to keep a clean house and a pantry full of food from the garden and up-to-date food storage; to have more time for my church callings.  I prayed for our country, that good, thoughtful, but busy people would at least take the time to see the choices we are facing this political season and that we not have our minds confused with political spinning.  I want our citizenry to be informed with truth when we vote so each of our votes reflects what we truly value.  My entire prayer was a plea for help with prioritizing the good things I am trying to do.

Today was one of those times that part of the answer came quickly, and in quite an unexpected way, which also introduces more changes:

#7  Work

I cleared my calendar and headed up to Draper this morning thinking I was going to a meeting to help my friend make some bookkeeping updates and discuss how he could streamline and better control his company's expenditures.  Instead, I found out I was being replaced.  My first thought was, "Now I might have time to put my household in order.  This is an answer to prayer."  I admit that my second and third thoughts were more along the lines of disappointment, anger at being rejected, and worry about our finances.  However, I can see that this change is for the better, both for his business that needs a full-time bookkeeper, and for me and my family.

Dropping the bookkeeping will also give me more time to work on my newest business: being a social services member for Solavei.  I've been impressed with the beta testing phase, and now that the company has launched nationwide, I'll be signing up anyone who wants $49 cell phone service with unlimited data, text, and voice with no contract to sign.  Yes, I'm advertising.  I will avoid writing about it again on my blog, but it will probably show up occasionally on Facebook.  This is a service I feel good about promoting, and this one-minute video explains why:


#8  Health

...I found out that I'm still healthy and that I should be taking a calcium supplement.  Shout out to all you ladies in your mid-30s: add calcium to your daily regimen, and get a baseline bone density test and mammogram so your doctor can track that information as you age.


#9  The House

The master bedroom may be redone, but it is currently a storage area for everything that will go back in the playroom-soon-to-be-bedroom.  Look what we're doing!  (More pics to follow.)

#10  Our Hair

I had wanted short hair before I had white hair and had the same hairstyle as everyone else.  I guess I cut it just in time, because I've already pulled out three white hairs this month!  Kent changed his facial hair back to zero when it affected our kissing too much.  I liked how it looked, but two weeks' growth never got soft enough.

Isn't it funny how many changes bring us full circle in a spiral of improvement?  I find myself in high-stress phases of adulthood, but they are centered around good things that bring me joy.  And having joy is the whole point of life.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Stretch Marks

Don't worry, I'm not including a photo of my stretch marks.  I figure no photo is better than any photo of that.

Last week I went to a Mother's Blessing for my friend Mindy, who is ready to birth her twins any day now.  In case you've never heard of a Mother's Blessing (I hadn't), it's similar to a baby shower, but for the mom.  And instead of cute games and gifts, the guests bring poems or thoughts about pregnancy/labor/motherhood and symbolic beads or charms to add to a bracelet for the mother-to-be.  In many ways, it was a spiritual event where we friends encouraged Mindy and each other in the journey of motherhood.

Luckily for me, another friend of mine, Charlotte, had posted some thoughts on her blog earlier this month that I felt were helpful for a mom-to-be as well as moms-in-action.  I read her thoughts at the Mother's Blessing.  I won't copy her entire post here, but I highly recommend that you read it at this link; it provides some context for the rest of my post.

I've spent much of this summer feeling like I'm being pulled in too many directions.  Just as my preggo friend has worried about losing herself to the twins' schedule and her body to their growth, I've wondered if I'm losing myself as I serve my family.  Charlotte described perfectly what I've been feeling about my own self stretching to meet the demands of back-to-school children and a husband who takes on too many projects and who is married to a wife (me) who takes on too many projects plus one.  Will the essence of "me" be swallowed up in being a wife and mother?

This paragraph from "Memories for Later" (emphasis added) touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes:

"I think my poor little soul might be getting some stretch marks.  I can't possibly fit in anything else, and yet more comes and I stretch a little more to hold it.  But the marks are showing and my resolve threatens to rip wide open.  I know I will never be quite the same.  But when I worry about what will be left of me, I try to remember that what now appears too much will eventually be a faded memory.  I will be left with the proud marks of a mother who's paid her price.

And maybe those marks will sparkle silver someday.  It seems to do so in the older mothers I admire."

 #s 1 and 2 off to catch the bus to high school.  Only four more years.  Yikes!
Taking the long view helps, because, like the end of pregnancy, I can practically count down the months I have left with my precious children before they leave the safety of my home to grow as young adults.  That day is coming too soon.  Motherhood will never leave me quite the same as when I began, and I look forward to that!  Raising children has forced me to change for the better.  And when I have graduated from the school of raising children and my silver hair matches my silvery stretch marks, I will have many years to develop my individual interests again.  The me at that point will be more interesting for the stretch marks I'm adding to my soul now.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The First 2 1/2 Hours

Now I know how neurotic I am.

I spent the first 90 minutes of school vacation zonking out with no alarm set, which was well deserved because I woke up at 3:45 a.m. today...for no apparent reason.

After 90 minutes, I bolted awake to a sitting position with my heart racing!  "There must be someone I should be picking up or dropping off, or somewhere I'm supposed to be, or something I'm supposed to be doing!" I thought.  With heart still racing and hands shaking, I double checked my new exterior brain--the calendar on my Smartphone--and no, there was nothing until #3's ortho appointment, for which I had set a reminder.

After a few deep breaths, I was comatose again for the next 60 minutes, during which time I caught up on all the dreams I had missed at 4:00 a.m., and which I will not bother to bore you with.

Clearly, I can't trust myself when I give myself the day--or just five hours--off.  I need a real vacation.

14 Years in the Making

This day has finally arrived!  

We've had a faltering start to school this year.  It's been so busy around here that I even only managed to capture a back-to-school photo of one of my children.  (Actually it was a back-home-from-the-first-day-of-school photo.  Note the dirt on her tights.  She must have had fun on the playground.)  Isn't #4 sweet?

Back to the point: school vacation has started!  You read that right.  Summer vacation is for the kids.  School vacation is for me!  The three youngest started school one week ago.  On the fourth day of school, my fifth grader threatened my school vacation plans by staying home sick.  Yesterday the two oldest went to a half-day orientation to high school while my niece and I worked on her scrapbook.  But today is the day!  The house is quiet and will remain so for six more hours.  School vacation is IN!

For the past couple of years, I've looked forward to August 2012 when I would start putting the house in order, catching up our financial records, and maybe even stay on top of a part-time job or two.  Now that the day has arrived, am I going to tackle the piles of canning dishes I created two days ago?  Sort the stacks of hand-me-downs that have accumulated?  File some receipts or argue with the health insurance until they cover our doctor check-ups?  All of those are so tempting.  But no.  I am celebrating this momentous day of having all five children in school all day by taking a nap and reading a book.

Oh yeah.  I still have to check my fifth grader out for an orthodontist appointment, teach two piano lessons, and make dinner for a new mom.  But at least I have a few hours of me time for the first time in a long time!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Plastic, please

Yes, I usually ask for plastic bags at the grocery store so I can recycle them and imagine them turning into a lovely park bench.  But that's not what I'm talking about here.

Last September, Kent won a cake stand and other cake accessories at a Corporate Alliance auction.  It was all so cute that I immediately hid the stand, forks, and candles in an almost-never-touched cupboard in our furnace room.  You see, nice things don't last long in our household.

For example, I was hesitant a few years ago when my parents offered to go in on the cost of some new couches for us.  They thought the faded, stained leather sectional with the baggy cushions and unraveling stitching needed to be replaced.  I agreed; but I feared for the new furniture.  Would it be able to withstand my children's childhoods without also quickly becoming faded, stained, and worn out before its time?  I didn't think so.  I was right.  (But it's still nice to have comfortable couches, and the microfiber does withstand the stains better.)

Today I hosted a birthday lunch for a friend of mine.  (Happy 30-something Diana!)  I used the gift card that also came in the auction to buy a darling cake, and decided the cake accessories should make an appearance.  The children would be gone, so the glass cake stand had a higher chance of survival.

It's just too bad that I put it "away" in the kitchen instead of the furnace room.  The kids came home.

I handled #2's unsolicited confession quite well.  Probably because I knew the stand was doomed the moment I brought it home eleven months ago.

The icing on the cake, so to speak, was #1's accident while moving dishes into the sink an hour later.

Notice the missing spout.  This pitcher is was the only nice beverage container I own(ed).  I loved it's simple yet elegant lines.  It lasted 19.5 months because I kept it hidden in another out-of-reach cupboard.  It now resides in the garbage can.

So much for nice stuff...for now.  The reason for this post is not to complain--after all, I'm thankful to have kids around, even if they ruin my stuff--but rather, to make a record for future use.  In the next decade,  when #1 and #2 are opening their wedding gifts, I'll just confiscate everything glass.  This way they won't even have to think about taking care of nice things while also taking care of their future children.  It's for their own good, as well as the good of my future grandchildren.

And when you get a wedding announcement from one of my kids--many years in the future--just remember that "they" want a cake stand and a pitcher.  I'll even send you a thank you card.  Oh, and you can wrap something from Tupperware for them, too.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Monday, August 6, 2012

Goodbye Little Friend

Today we said goodbye to one of our resident outdoor cats, Tiger.  Many of you have told us for awhile that it needed to be done, and we knew it was time to free her from her old, painful body.  Still, it was surprisingly hard to watch her pass from life to death.  All of us shed some tears.  My poor, tenderhearted boy cried on and off for the rest of the day, and #3 got quite emotional when we told our favorite memories of Tiger at bedtime.

Tiger was one of the cats that came with the house.  She showed up one day about 13 years ago.  She was likely someone's pet that was abandoned in the field next to our house.  The previous owners never fed or watered the two cats that hung around, but when we bought the house 9 years ago, I let the cats sleep in the garage during the winter as a thank you for catching mice.  When Tiger started getting too old to mouse, I began leaving food outside.  The children all consider our feral animals to be their pets, and Tiger has always gone along with that.  She let them carry her around in baskets, dress her up like a baby, and sneak her into their rooms at night.  (They only got away with that a few times until once when Tiger was shut into #1's room and peed on the floor.  Then they all agreed outside was a better place for animals.)

A few children had special bonds with the kitty.  As soon as we moved in, #1 named Tiger and claimed her as her own personal cat.  #4 was born shortly after we moved, and Tiger decided to be the baby's companion.  If ever I brought #4 outside to watch me work in the yard from her baby carrier, Tiger would climb in and drape herself across the baby's legs like a warm, soft blanket.  Or she would be sure to stay by #4's side as the baby grew more mobile.  She put up with a lot of "affection" from #4.

Our niece, Eve, also loved Tiger dearly.  The picture above was taken on a night that we were babysitting.  Eve didn't want to go to bed with our children, but wanted to wait up for her parents.  I let her watch a movie in the family room while she waited.  When they came, we found that Eve, like her cousins, had sneaked the cat inside and dressed her up a bit. Tiger's necklace matches Eve's socks!)  It was fitting that we let Tiger go during Eve's visit this summer from England.

Living outside under our pine trees was a problem for Tiger's long hair because the pine needles would get matted into the fur.  I took Tiger to the vet several years ago when her mats were getting bad.  The vet guessed at the cat's age based on her teeth.  At the time, Tiger was about seven years old, and the vet was surprised that an outdoor cat had lived that long.  After eight more years, our granny cat was more than 100 in cat years, and probably would have kept hanging on.  But it was time to release her from the oily matted fur that was too thick to even cut, the arthritis that made it difficult for her to follow the shady napping spots on our deck, and the recent infection that resulted from having her ear torn by another animal.  It was time.  But we are still sad.  Goodbye sweet, little Tiger.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Inside the Minds of the White House: Part 3

Apparently, Kent and I not only passed on our dreaming tendencies to our children, they also inherited our propensity for doing things in a businesslike manner.

In June, #s 1, 2, and 3 held a minor celebration in their bedroom.  Hearing the cheering, I came in as future attorney (#1) handed over $1 to future entrepreneur (#3), with future CFO (#2) witnessing the transaction.  When I asked what was going on, they explained that #3 had earned her first dollar from a deal they had worked out in April.  They then handed me a contract they had all drafted and signed!  (Click on the contract to see it larger.  I've blocked out their full names, but just know that all three are mentioned, with the agreement being all about #3.)

The fine print that they forgot to add is that #3 is to be paid in increments of dollars.  So June was the first--and so far the only--time she had earned enough to be paid.  (I'm pretty sure she should look into other business opportunities besides keeping anything in her room clean.)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Inside the Minds of the White House: Part 2

Dreams.  The sleeping kind, not the life-goal type.
#2 is sweet to let #5 cuddle.
(He's not strangling her, I promise.)
Am I the only one who doesn't want to hear anyone else's dreams, but who likes to tell others my own cool dreams?  I think there are two reasons for this.  First, when someone else wants to tell me a dream, it usually becomes obvious in the re-telling that the dream was too wacky and didn't make enough sense to be worth re-telling.  But, second, I so rarely have interesting dreams that when I do, I want to share it.

I have bored myself awake at least half a dozen times that I remember.  Dreaming about watering the houseplants just isn't as exciting as actually watering them I guess.  I type this at 4:24 a.m. after waking myself at 2:15 from a dream in which I was shopping at DI.  ~Snoozer!~  (Or, rather not, since I'm no longer snoozing.)

Kent frequently dreams about saving the world or being a secret agent or a battlefield hero.  He used to share his dreams with me, but has mostly given that up since I clearly don't care about his motion picture-worthy slumber adventures.  (Or maybe he doesn't want to make me feel bad about my lame dreams.)

#1 has not yet internalized that I don't want to hear her bizarre dreams, either.  But maybe the world does.  After repeating her dreams in mind-numbing detail to her sisters, her friends, and anyone else who will listen, she turns to the computer and turns them into novellas.  She has six such in the works.  Maybe I shouldn't scoff, though.  She might be the next Stephanie Meyer, who was inspired by dreaming of a glittering man.  If #1 ever publishes one of these books and then signs a corresponding movie contract, I'll eat these words.

Last week at breakfast, #1 was telling #3 about a dream within a dream where her friend had dreamed the same dream.  (She hasn't even seen Inception yet.  Hmm...maybe her dreams are movie worthy.)  I was cleaning up the meal and had the "pleasure" of experiencing her long-winded dream for about 20 minutes.  #3, who is slow-going in the morning, sat through the whole re-telling.  When #1 finished, #3 remarked, "I never have time to have that much happen in my dream.  I usually dream about myself just standing around waiting for the dream to start."  Upon clarification she confirmed that yes, she literally dreams of herself just standing there for a very long time, then the dream gets going...and that's usually about the time I wake her up to start the real-life day.  Poor kid.

If dream material is genetic, then I guess we know which parent passed on their dream traits to each daughter!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Inside the Minds of the White House: Part 1

Allow me to take you back 20 years.  My family moved to a new house and city when I was in high school, a difficult thing to be sure, but I'm not going to complain about that.  (If we hadn't moved, I never would have met Kent.)  The new house had more rooms, and as the oldest child, I was given my own bedroom for the first time.  Not only did I have the room to myself, but it was the room that doubled as the guest bedroom, so I was upgraded from a twin to a brand-new, queen-size bed.  I carefully selected the new bedding to be the focal point of my sunny room, and it was beautiful!  Suddenly, I morphed from being a sloppy teenager to being quite tidy.  I probably took it too far.

My friends loved to play a game that I think was meant to mock me, but I took it as a compliment.  I would leave my bedroom and they would remove a little nick knack from its place on my shelf or dresser or even closet.  With one glance around the room, I could identify what had been taken.  When that became boring, they would leave everything in place, but just turn or slightly move an object.  Because I knew the exact distances and angles of everything in proportion to each other, I still had no trouble identifying the thing that had been upset.

Don't think my OCD was restricted to nick knacks, either.  When I had achieved the perfectly made bed, I wanted to keep it that way.  The sheets were smoothed and tucked tightly with their hospital corners; the comforter hung evenly down all sides with just enough of the top turned down to reveal the reversible pattern; the pillows were plumped; and the ruffles of the bed skirt brushed the carpet exactly enough...to hide the sleeping bag I kept stowed under the bed.  That's right.  I pulled out my sleeping bag each night, took off the foremost pillow on the bed, and curled up on the floor. After all, I saw no reason to ruin a perfect thing, so I wasn't about to climb into bed and MESS IT UP!

No one ever complained about my clean room.  My parents were probably grateful for my tidiness, which extended to my college years.  My roommates would tease me a bit and plan future reunions at my future house where they could play the "Neat and Tidy Game" in any room.  But we had forgotten one factor of that future. We hadn't considered the havoc of kids in those reunion plans.

I spent the first five years of motherhood fighting for an immaculate home.  It took a lot of tears (my own and my children's) and yelling and general frustration to maintain cleanliness.  Eventually I grew up and decided it wasn't worth it.  I could have either a clean house or emotionally healthy children.  After much deliberation--just kidding!--I chose the children.  That's not to say I don't look forward to the day when I can deep clean in the morning and the house will still look about the same at dinnertime. In fact, we're getting there.

My sister took three of my children home with her on Sunday night and kept them until Tuesday.  With the two youngest gone, the house stayed remarkably cleaner.  So I figure in four more years, I'll like how it looks again.

You may wonder, though, "What about the master bedroom?" Well, maybe I've let some of my neurosis sneak back in:

Kent's napping spot.  
(Why didn't he close the door on his dresser?!)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Taking YouTube by Storm

My kids keep popping up on YouTube. You might recall #1's role in the Techno Jeep stop motion video. Well, I didn't recall #2's part in a String Cheese Ad that was filmed at her school. Have a look. She is in the background at 14 secs and 21 secs (on the right, behind the kid stringing his cheese).


Over the weekend, a friend sent me a link to the new Salt Lake Pops Orchestra music video featuring David Osmond's voice and Aubree Oliverson on violin. It is a remix of Katy Perry's "Firework". I like the remix way better than the original. David's voice is great; I like what the SL Pops is doing to make classical instruments contemporary; and I like that they are featuring young, talented musicians. The day after I first watched it, #1 casually mentioned that the music video she had helped with (as a background person) was up on YouTube. We looked it up, and there was this Firework video again! (July 4 seemed like a timely release.) She pointed herself out in the school's hallway, and then it panned to a shot of David singing. I asked her if he had been there actually singing his part while they filmed. "Yeah. So?" "Did you get his autograph?" "No. Why?" "Because he's Utah famous!" She had no idea who he was, so I reminded her that he had been on American Idol (not top 20 or whatever, though), but she didn't seem impressed. She agreed that he has a nice voice, but that's where her fanaticism ends. In frustration I flopped down on the couch: "This reminds me of the time your dad said Beto Cuevas [the lead singer of La Ley, my favorite Latin band and possibly my favorite band ever, which is saying something] and Adam Lambert have stayed and sung at the very same orphanage we stay at in Mexico, but we always miss them!"

All these little brushes with the few people I care about in the music business, and my family members treat it all oh so casually. I should just stick to revering Vivaldi and Liszt. Then I'll never get worked up about possibly ever meeting them! (They're dead.)

Anyway, here's the music video. The links to other Salt Lake Pops Orchestra videos and Lindsey Stirling are good, too. Look for #1 at 9 secs (her backside) and 18 secs (now walking behind the violinist) and 23 secs. She's wearing a white T-shirt. The other 4 min. are worth watching too!


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Down By the River Part 2

Three years ago I posted about our first experience playing in the river near our home.  We've enjoyed lots more visits to the river, but this year we found a rope swing that hasn't been pulled down yet.

On Saturday, #1 was invited to an evening swim party, and #5 fell into a fit of pathetic sobbing because he wanted to go swimming too.  Normally, we, his parents, don't give in to crying; but his tears must have struck a chord with Kent who offered to take him to the river.  We grabbed some towels and camp chairs and drove two minutes to the bottom parking lot of the Provo River Trail.  The rope swing is about 3/4 of a mile upstream, so we enjoyed a nice evening walk together, too.

The wind picked up as we reached the water, but the children were only briefly deterred by the icy water and cooling air.  Truly, it sounds more windy in the video than it was.

Kent and I figured that kids would naturally know to let go of the rope, but that was not a safe assumption to make.  #4 just dragged into the water and then hung there, not wanting to get all the way wet.  We didn't bring a life jacket, which was also adding to the hesitancy.  Once they figured out to stuff swim noodles in their bathing suits, though, they all four had a great time.

Kent and I had fun watching them and laughing with them.  We love living so close to the lake and river.  I'm including a few photos of the scenery that I enjoy here when I ride my bike in the mornings.  Enjoy!

And, of course, the first scenery I had upon entering my house.  This is in the kitchen.  The kids all stripped pretty quickly to go rinse off in a warm shower.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Frantic Family Posts

Yesterday at my ward's Relief Society retreat--an activity for the women's group of our LDS congregation--I had a few minutes to talk about how I make living the gospel part of my life.  I collected a lot of thoughts in the days I had to think about that topic, but with only seven minutes allotted to my presentation, I pared it down to a few basic ideas.  At the end of my spiel, I briefly talked about the process of defining our family's values and the weekly checks we do in family council to make sure we don't become so caught up in the daily run-around that we neglect the pillars of our family and what we want to accomplish long-term.  I directed the audience to my blog, where I posted about that process in 2010.  We still use the process, more consistently at some times than others, but it has stuck, so it's a good one for us.  We can usually get through an entire family council (not including calendaring) in ten minutes or less.  Maybe it will be good for you and your family, too.  It works for families of any age and size: parents of young children, children of mixed ages, single people, and couples with no children at home.  Here are links to the four posts so you don't have to search my whole blog for them:

Looking back at these posts, I realize I never explained how we use our frantic family white board.  Once each week (usually Monday night after kids are ready for bed), we all gather around the white board in our kitchen.  We sometimes read through the Family Statement first.  Then we quickly address each Standard Objective.  By quickly, I mean we decide if the objective gets a green dot meaning we're doing great in that area, a blue dot (couldn't find a yellow dry erase marker) meaning we're doing okay but could be better, or a red dot meaning that objective is suffering and needs our attention.  As we walk past that board all week, the idea is to focus our minds on whatever Standard Objective needs help.  For example, a red dot on Education usually means I need to check the kids' schoolwork online or help them catch up on missed homework.  A red dot on Home Maintenance currently means that I need to get bids from roofers.  Often, we will define the red dot and make a note on the board as to what we are going to do to make the dot green.  If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you'll see that sometimes we can't commit to a dot of just one color.  Some of them are blue with a red center, or green with a blue center.  But you get the idea: rating things with colors is a time-saving way to evaluate how we're doing and direct our focus to those things that need it.  We also look at how we're doing on the Rallying Cry and determine if any targeted completion dates need to be adjusted.  (Last week I erased the target dates because summer has put our Rallying Cry on temporary hold. Once we get a better summer routine established, we'll figure out how to make the Rallying Cry happen again.)
Click on the photo to enlarge and read the board more easily.
I will add that we tweaked our weekly check-ins a bit.  Under "Individual Well Being", we added each family's member's first initial with a blank space next to it.  At family councils, we let each person give him/herself a colored dot and talk about why they are a certain color.  Recently, we missed a week or two of our check-in meeting, and #4 told me she wanted to meet again because she had been working to change her blue dot to a green.  When I stopped and thought about it, I realized she has been a lot more responsible and cheerful and affectionate lately.  How great to know that the change in her behavior was intentional and not "just a phase"!

By the way, I love visitors to my blog, which is why I keep it public.  Friends, acquaintances, and other nice people, please feel free to post a comment.  I learn so much more from dialogue than from just my own writing.  If you don't have a Google account, you can still post "anonymously" and then add your name at the end of your comment so I know who you are.  If you're a weirdo or a spammer, you aren't invited to comment.  Or maybe you are so I can block you!