Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Chicken Casserole

I have a love-hate relationship with breakfast casserole.

With the right recipe, it is delicious!  The combination of sausage or ham with sharp cheddar and Swiss cheeses is tasty.  Sometimes I throw in some pepper jack for a kick, or top it with diced tomatoes fresh from the garden.  It is substantial enough for breakfast or dinner, and the leftovers are great for lunches, too.  It's a winner for serving to guests.  All it lacks are realistic expectations.

Too-high expectations are the bane of my existence.

You see, the instructions for breakfast casserole wrap up with a baking time of 35-40 minutes.  Ha!  I've learned the hard way that that cooking time is not even close.  The first time I got burned--or, rather, not even close to burned, as you'll see--by those instructions was years ago at an overnight gathering with the women from church.  We made our breakfast casseroles at night, stuck them in the oven in the morning, and than had to push breakfast for 40 people back about an hour as we patiently waited for our food to finish cooking.  It was inconvenient, but we were having so much fun together, that we didn't much notice our hungry tummies.

That casserole was so yummy that I forgot about the increased time in the oven, and I decided to make it again for a brunch where I served ten, and again on Christmas morning for my family of seven, and yet again for my mock trial team of 15.  Each time, I opened the oven after 35-40 minutes, only to find an uncooked egg mixture.  I guess I'm a slow learner--or just a hopeful optimist--because it took multiple late breakfasts before I was frustrated enough to remember that this recipe takes about 75 minutes to bake until the eggs aren't runny.  Yep, twice as long as expected.

Last week, Pinterest came to my rescue with a new-and-improved version of my favorite breakfast...or so I thought.  It looks good, right?  And do you see that title?  Crock Pot Breakfast Casserole!  The combination of two of my favorite things!  I love my slow cookers.  I love that I can assemble everything hours before mealtime, while I still have energy, and then it's all cooked to tender perfection when I'm hungry.

Our family's Sunday brunch seemed like a good time to premiere this new slow cooker recipe.  Sunday brunch has become a favorite tradition this year.  Everyone wants to sleep in as long as possible on Sunday, but even the most sleep-deprived teens will wake before noon at the wafting scents of bacon or dark-chocolate brew.  When I come home from my morning church meetings to find my husband donning an apron and scrambling eggs, it absolutely melts my heart.  We all sit down to enjoy each other's company, catching up on our week and laughing together.  Dinners are good, but sitting around a table with my whole family, everyone in PJs with no place to be in a hurry--well, it's a little piece of heaven on Sunday.

The evening previous to this fateful Sunday, Kent and I assembled the casserole.  As I gathered ingredients, he layered them in:
     1 bag frozen hash browns = $1.48
     1 bag diced ham (substituted for
        bacon because it's easier) = $2.38
     1 onion, diced = $0.30
     8 oz. shredded cheddar = $1.83
     Red and green peppers = priceless
        (These were from my garden.
        After caring for them all summer,
        I had high hopes for their use.)
     12 eggs = $0.87
     1 c. milk = $0.11  (But I had to buy the whole gallon, so $1.80.)

I list the prices because I'm that bitter about being fooled by this recipe.  For those of you living on the East or West coast, you probably don't believe those prices.  I know.  I bought groceries while on vacation in LA this summer, and I must say that for people living in an agricultural state, you all are paying way too much for food.  For those of you living in Utah who don't believe those prices, you really should shop at Winco.  Oh, and have I mentioned before that I do bookkeeping for a living?  The total cost of this recipe was $ tax!  So $7.18.  Does that not sound outrageous to you?  Then consider my time and Kent's time.  It was probably ten minutes each in prep time PLUS the backbreaking sum-total minutes of turning on the drip irrigation to my garden all summer and picking two peppers off the plant.  We're easily talking a value of $10 for this meal.  Does that still not sound outrageous to you?  Yeah, I was hoping those numbers would more impressively build my case.  Oh well.

However, the greatest loss stemmed from my expectations for a lovely, hot, Sunday breakfast with my family--and you can't put a price on that!

I came home from my meeting and was a little surprised to not to be welcomed by the warm smells of food upon entering.  I took a serving spoon to the slow cooker, where the casserole had been cooking on warm (as per the directions) for 12 hours (four hours longer than the directions, because I know breakfast casseroles take extra time).  I was greeted by a layer of melted cheese floating on a mass of eggy vegetables.  Bleh!  Foiled again!!  Surprisingly, I was only disappointed, not angry.  I think I've finally learned my lesson.  Breakfast Casserole, to you I say, "Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice (or more like half a dozen times over the past eight years), shame on me."

But I was not giving up!  I removed the lid, turned the cooker to high, and started boiling some quinoa for a different Pinterest recipe that hasn't let me down yet: Five Ingredient Quinoa Superfood Breakfast Bowl.  (Yes, the name is longer than the ingredient list.)

Two-and-a-half hours later, the breakfast casserole was finally cooked and ready to eat...right as we were leaving for church.  "Well, at least tomorrow's breakfast is ready," I thought, as I turned the Crock Pot dial back to warm and replaced the lid.  Wrong again!  The next morning, my kiddos expectantly dug in, bringing bowls of casserole with them to wolf down on the ride to school.  After the carpool, I parked the van in the garage and looked around at the half-eaten servings that were still with me.  Weird.  But not so weird once I scooped up my own serving.  It smelled right.  It was warm.  And then my lowered expectations came crashing down completely.  It did not taste great.  I think it was the peppers, which I had so lovingly sacrificed for this disappointing recipe, that ruined the taste.  I shook on some hot sauce, but even Tapatio couldn't save this casserole.  Halfway through my plate, I looked deep into a forkful of potatoes and eggs and thought, "This casserole is not bringing me joy.  In fact, it's making me more sad with every bite."  I put my fork down and walked away to mourn.

Have you reached this point of my too-long saga of the breakfast casserole to wonder why the title of this post is "Chicken Casserole"?  That's not a typo.  Here comes the answer.

After another 24 hours of the slow cooker warming this breakfast disaster, I realized that I had reached the end of my mourning period, and was ready to say goodbye.  As you may have guessed by my recipe calculations, I am a person who abhors food waste.  I couldn't just dump this creation in the trash.  Fortunately, I have a visiting teacher (a church friend who is assigned to visit monthly, watch over me and my family, and help as needed) who I knew would not balk at my plea for assistance.  Or rather, the assistance of her small livestock.  I sent her a text, and she said to come on over.  63 hours after assembling the wonderful ingredients, I lovingly boxed up the mess and delivered it to Dovie for the culinary enjoyment of her chickens.

Luckily, chickens are not very discerning.  They gobbled it up.  (Is gobbling reserved strictly for turkeys?)  Regardless, they consumed those potatoes and eggs, which will help them make more eggs, and that is pretty cool in a circle-of-life sort of way.
For the daring among you, here is the recipe for the first breakfast casserole that broke my heart, though we are now reconciled.  The flavors are right, but the cook time is way off.  I've thought about trying these ingredients in a slow cooker, but I don't have 60 hours to kill on this recipe again.

Breakfast Casserole - Proceed With Patience
24 oz hash browns
1/2 c melted butter
seasoned salt
Press into 9x13 pan.  Bake 20 min at 350 degrees.  (This cook time is correct.)

1 c chopped ham
1 1/2 c. Swiss cheese - grated
1 1/2 c. cheddar cheese - grated
Sprinkle over baked hash browns

6 eggs - beaten
2 c. half & half
Mix together.  Pour over hash browns.
Sprinkle with seasoned salt.

Bake 35-40 minutes for at least an hour at 350 degrees.  Let stand 10 minutes.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Pink Slip On Life

Our local talk radio station used to carry the Dr. Laura show when my children were little.  I listened often, trying to learn from others how not to screw up my relationships and my children.  Being a stay-at-home mother of five small children was the most difficult thing I've done in my life so far, but Dr. Laura and her callers reassured me daily that mothering well was the most important thing I could be doing for those five little ones.  To that end, Kent and also I took parenting classes every year or two, and tried to remember that we are not raising children--we are raising adults.

The first of our brood is now 18, and as Dr. Laura would say, it is time to give her her pink slip on life.  We will help her move into her off-campus apartment this weekend.  I am excited for her, and I'm curious how having one less at the dinner table will change the dynamic for those of us still at home.  I think these are good changes.

I also wonder if we've taught her everything we were supposed to.  She can support herself, but does she know how to balance her checking account?  She is physically healthy, but I never got around to teaching her natural fertility regulation.  She can boil ramen, but will she feed her body the nutrition it really needs?  She has enrolled in 17 credits at school, which look manageable on paper, but does she have the time management skills to balance that workload with her job, social life, and sleep?

She feeds her spirit, but does she know God well enough to trust that He is still watching over her during the difficult times when He will step back and let her struggle?

Obviously, we have not run out of time to teach her.  But I expect that this new phase of relating to my adult daughter will now be a two-way street.  We will do a lot more listening and learning from her.  We will observe and love and hold our advice until she asks for it.  She will continue to make mistakes, and she will continue to learn from her mistakes, just like the rest of us.

Could we have parented and prepared her better?  Certainly.  But I look at this smart, fun, kind, talented, loving, faithful young woman, and I am blown away by the person she already is.  I know she has the capacity to keep learning and growing and becoming as she forges her own adult path.  Kassidy, we love you and can't wait to see what you do with the rest of your life.  It is yours to live!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Time To Push This Night Owl Out Of the Nest

I have never been so terrified in my life.

That includes seeing "Watcher in the Woods" as a second grader and "The Changeling" at a church youth Sunday School Halloween party.  (Sunday School parties should not include ghost movies, unless it is the Holy Ghost.  I'm kind of against church Halloween parties altogether, but I'm probably in the minority on that.)

This story, however, occurred in my adult life.  Yesterday.

As my oldest children have advanced in their teenage years, they have—not surprisingly—found a liking for staying out late. What is perhaps a little unusual is that I’ve not become one of those parents who waits up until they are home. I do worry about my children and pray for them to return safely each night, but with my screwy circadian rhythm, I value my sleep way too much to let their nighttime escapades cut into whatever dormant hours I manage to collect each night.

That said, if (which is almost always a when) I wake in the middle of the night and I see my bedroom door rimmed with light coming from downstairs, then I know they still aren’t home. On those nights, my parent conscience continues to wake me until all is dark, which is the girls' signal to me that they are home.

As I learned last night, though, a dark house does not necessarily mean that teenagers aren’t still awake and prowling through the halls…or up the stairs.

When I conked out at 10:20 last night, #1 was visiting in the front room with her friends. They were keeping each other company until #2 got off work at 11:30, and they would pick her up. (It’s a good thing my non-driving daughters are cute. I’m not willing to bring home a teenager from work at
midnight, but there are plenty of teenage boys who jump at that opportunity.) When I woke at 1:30 a.m., the light was still on in the front room. I figured the kids had gone out for sodas or something after #2’s shift, so I dozed back to sleep.

At 4:30, when my brain incorrectly concluded that I’d had enough sleep to fuel me for a new day, I knew there was no point in resisting. I opened my bedroom door and was happy to see that the lights were now all off downstairs. Only the faint, gray light from the moon drifted halfway up the stairs between my room and #1’s across the landing. I quietly washed up and went in my closet to dress in my workout clothes. I went back in my room to grab my socks and leaned against a wall near my door to pull on my footwear. From where I leaned, my peripheral vision caught a shadow on the stairs.  At first I didn't register the dark shape; but half a second later, I glanced directly at it, and then back at my shoe before comprehending that the shadow was in the shape of a person.

Everything in this next paragraph processed in under two seconds. Literally. Is that silhouette a person? I asked myself. I turned and faced the black shape standing just below the top landing and concluded that there was indeed a person there. My heart started pounding. I recognized that the silhouette looked like #1. But if it’s [#1], why is she not making a sound or moving a muscle?

Two seconds.

I have never felt such terror.

On the third second, I walked toward the shadow, telling myself that if #1 didn’t identify herself, I would push this creep down the stairs. I reached out my hands, pressing my fingers into her shoulders, then her head. My voice, uncontrollably, came out in a loud, husky, half sob, “What are you doing?!”

#1 quietly replied.  “I had to put the cat out. He was in the house.”

As I told this story to the family
tonight, #1 helped out by reenacting
her part.  Imagine her standing quietly
 in the dark, backlit by only dim
moonlight from below.  Creepy!
“Why aren’t you moving?!”

“I didn’t want to scare you.”

Mission NOT accomplished! I thought to myself as I clambered into bed to cuddle with Kent, who was now dully awake. “Just go to bed,” I called back to the stairs.

“Okayee. Sorry.” #1 sneaked into her room while I tried to figure out why she was feeding me this story about a cat, and more importantly, wondering with whom she had been all these hours. It took a good 20 minutes for my adrenaline to wear off before I could scamper to the office (and the refuge of its lightbulbs) to start my daily routine.

In the security of daylight, I asked #1 what she had really been doing at 4:30 a.m.  Apparently, she and her friends brought #2 home around midnight. #2 went right to bed, but #1 stayed up visiting with friends on the front porch. When she finally came in and locked up around 2:00, the cat lurked in with her. #1 fell asleep on a family room couch, but kitty got bored after a few hours of exploring the house and woke #1 at 4:30ish to be let out. #1 heard me moving about upstairs. As she came up to her room, she saw me putting on my shoe and froze in place so she wouldn’t startle me.  Her consideration backfired grandly!

Addendum to the original post:
When I told this story to someone recently, #s 2 and 4 filled us in on what had been happening in their room.  As I said, #2 went to bed at about midnight, right after getting home from work.  When #1 finally said goodbye to her friends two hours later and came in from the porch, the sound of the front door closing woke #4, who is a very nervous sleeper.  She climbed into #2's twin-sized bed, and her older sister tried to comfort her before they both dozed off.  At 4:30 a.m., when #1 got up to put the cat out, the sound of footsteps in the house startled #4 awake, and she again woke #2.  They both listened to the front door open and close, and then footsteps padding across the tile floor and up the stairs, which are the ceiling to their closet.  Straining their ears, they heard my alarmed cry, which set off their fearful imaginations.  They were worried about what had happened on the staircase, but too scared to get out of bed to check.  They told each other that it was probably #1, but the factor of the unknown kept them awake until the comfort of morning light around 6:00 a.m. finally let them rest.

Despite her good intentions, it is clear that my #1 night owl needs to leave the nest so we can all get some sleep!  Only 38 alarming days to go...

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Reverse Lost

#1 in the middle (gray shirt) with her friends.
#3 wasn't our only child to head south for the border this summer.  When #1 couldn't get any of the school groups to organize a trip to Mexico with A Child's Hope Foundation, she organized her own group.  She led an orientation, collected travel money, and made hotel reservations for herself and six friends to join the charity's June work project.  This coincided well with #3's stay at the orphanage, because it meant that her older sister could deliver a few long-sleeved tees and other necessities.  (It turns out that the June fog is rather chilly in Baja.)

Neither sister considered the fact that #3's presence at the orphanage might be confusing to anyone else.  It set the stage for a humorous exchange.

The ACHF work project group arrived in La Mision on Tuesday afternoon.  They dropped by Buena Vida Orphanage (where #3 is staying) that evening, but the group didn't do a lot of mingling or introductions at that point.  Samantha, who was leading the trip for ACHF, was also training two Trip-Hosts-to-be, Brennan and Emily.  She was busy introducing them to the director, and then everyone returned to camp for a fireside chat and bedtime.

#1 with her sister's summer "siblings".
After a morning of hard work on Wednesday, several of the volunteers went to Buena Vida to eat lunch, including Samantha, Brennan, and #1 and friends.  #1 sat next to #3, who sat next to some of the teenage girls from the orphanage, who were next to Samantha and Brennan.  Our American Trip Hosts were speaking to each other in Spanish, and #1 could tell they were talking about her and #3, though she couldn't overhear their exact words.  Here's the conversation she later learned, which is translated into English for your convenience:

Brennan: Okay, I've been working really hard to memorize the names of all our volunteers.  I cannot remember that girl, the one sitting next to [#1].  What is her name?

Samantha:  I don't know!  I don't recognize her either.

Brennan:  Is she with our group?  I don't even remember her being at our meet-up yesterday.

Samantha:  It looks like she knows [#1].

Brennan:  But I know for sure she didn't come in [#1's] vehicle.

Samantha:  Yeah, I don't know which family she's with.

Brennan:  This is so weird!  I've never reverse lost someone before!

Samantha:  Maybe she's just passing through and is visiting the orphanage?

Samantha to Jaquelin, one of the Mexican teens:  Jaquelin, do you know that girl?

Jaquelin:  Yes.

Samantha:  Has she been here this whole time?  [Meaning, has she been with our group these two days?]

Jaquelin:  Yes.  [Meaning, #3 has been here for two weeks.]

Samantha, trying to clarify:  Has she been here at the orphanage all day?  [Meaning, has #3 been here doing construction work?]

Jaquelin, taking the question literally:  Yes.  [Meaning, #3 has been here all day, and all day the previous 15 days, too.]

Brennan, understanding that Samantha and Jacquelin might not be understanding each other, now interrupts in English to Samantha:  Maybe she is just a really white Mexican and she's one of the newer children here.

Brennan decided to test #3's language.  He got her attention and asked: Come te llamas, por favor?

#3, without batting an eye, gave her name.  She and #1 were now wondering what Samantha and Brennan were saying about them.

Brennan, in Spanish to Samantha:  Whoa!  She speaks Spanish!  She must be one of the orphans.

Finally, it hits Samantha:  I know who she is!  Kent told me his daughter was living at the orphanage this summer so she could learn Spanish.  This must be her!

#3 got a ride to, and at, the beach with the rest of the volunteers and orphans.
They all shared a good laugh, which grew funnier when they shared this exchange with the whole group at the fireside that evening.  The volunteer families had also been confused by the presence of this very white girl at the orphanage.  Most had assumed she was part of someone else's family in the work project...until she lined up with the orphans before dinnertime and chanted their evening prayer with them--in Spanish.  That really confused everyone!  Rumors and assumptions were flying in whispers, and were revealed at the fireside after #3's presence was explained.  The favorite rumor was that she had moved to Mexico with her parents, but when they both died, she couldn't get back across the border and was sent to be raised in an orphanage.  Obviously!
#3 in the middle of a volleyball game, literally.

Serving an early meal at The Breakfast Club in Tijuana.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

My Farm Boy

Maybe Idaho is the burr in the saddle that makes my children want to leave home in the summer.  A few years ago, Kent and I decided that farm work would be good for our kids, so we sent them all up to live and work with our Idaho cousins for two weeks.  (All except #2, who adamantly refused and signed a contract to be my personal assistant for the summer because she couldn't stand the thought of hard manual labor.)  The other four of them tended chickens and goats, weeded a massive garden for the weekend farmer's market, cleaned out the cat barn, moved irrigation pipe, and did any number of other farm jobs needing attention.  They also played Rambo and other night games, went to a rodeo, camped in Yellowstone, and took a sailboat out on the water while there.  They all seemed to have a great time.  Yet fewer of my children go back every year.

The first year was so good for their work ethic that we, their parents, enacted a new summertime standard: if our kids don't find another good work option for themselves, they get sent to Idaho.  This summer, all our girls found other options.  #1 has a work-from-home, paying job, and also paid to spend next week in Mexico with one of ACHF's work project groups.  #2 is putting in many hours at Mooyah's to earn moolah for her choir trip to New York.  #3 made a run for the border.  #4, who eschews hard labor, signed a personal contract to develop her YouTube editing skills and enter some video contests.

#5, however, likes hard work and LOVES being with the cousins on their farm in Idaho.  Last week, I took him shopping for jeans, boots, and work gloves, and then drove through a pelting rain storm to meet up with the cousins who were visiting Salt Lake for the weekend.  The exchange in the downpour from one car to the other was so hurried that I forgot to give him a hug goodbye.  That boy is such a tender heart that I worried about him getting homesick.  Luckily, the farm is way too fun.

In our phone chats every other night, #5 tells me he misses the family, but he is having a great time. His daily chores include cleaning the house, caring for turkeys, and weeding two rows of the oversized garden. Then he gets paid $8 per hour to help with a major landscaping project.  He already earned enough to buy a semi-automatic airsoft rifle.  His summer mom, Elan, assures me that their kids wear goggles, long sleeves, and gloves for their evening airsoft battles.  So far, I've received no reports of injuries, only of adventures from my cheerful farm boy.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Canada Was So Last Year

Hightailing away from home for the summer seems to run in our family.  My mom spent every summer of her child- and teen-hood working and playing on a mountain ranch in-the-middle-of-nowhere-California.  Of course, she lived at a convent during her school months, so going to her great aunt's ranch every summer was essentially going home.  (I'll write a novel based on her story someday.)  I grew up browsing photos and hearing stories of the two years my dad lived in Africa.  It wasn't until my adult years that I realized that most kids don't grow up seeing nine-foot-boa-constrictor road kill or hiking Mt. Kilamanjaro.  (I could write an interesting book about his story too!)  By comparison, my own teenage summers seemed bland, until I remembered that I, too, spent a couple of summers away from my parents, working for my grandparents' business in Oregon.  I traveled across that state with my new friends there as we explored the coast or took day trips to the temple in Portland.

Since I know it runs in the family, I shouldn't be surprised that my daughter doesn't want to be constricted by international boundaries for her summer breaks.

Last year, #3 traveled with a friend for two weeks in Canada.  They stayed with a friend of the friend who has more money than she knows what to do with.  Those types make the funnest hosts.  #3 rode horses, went boating, and got launched in a giant, homemade slingshot.  I learned about that last activity when she got home.  I guess she thought that explaining how they used a tractor to pull her and her bungee cords back before releasing her 50 feet in the air might make me nervous.  (She was probably right.)

This year, the same friend extended the Canada invitation to her again.  But now that she had a passport, #3 had another country on her mind.

Last December, #3 asked if she could live at a Mexican orphanage for the summer.  Specifically, she wanted to move in with her friends at Casa Hogar Buena Vida as a sort of Spanish-immersion program.  Granted, she's grown up visiting this orphanage every year, but I still wasn't enamored with the idea of sending my child away to a foreign country for two months.  She persisted in asking, though, so in March we told her that if she wanted to make this happen, she needed to find out what documentation and legalities would be involved.  It turns out that it's pretty easy to abandon a child in Mexico.  A notarized letter granting parental permission and a few other documents were all it took to make her trip legal.  Her promise to me of daily FaceTime settled my worries.

One week after school let out, #3 caught a ride with some Child's Hope volunteers in a luxurious RV.  She sprawled on a leather couch for the ride across the border, and they dropped her off on their way to another orphanage.

I'll admit that my expectations for her summer away were clearly different from hers.  I encouraged her to write daily in her journal, or vlog, or at least email about the adventures she was having.  I mean, how many kids can say their parents sent them off to live in a Mexican orphanage?  I imagined her coming home and writing a memoir about teaching the Latin Americans some Latin dancing or learning tortilla-making at the hands of the orphanage director.  I assumed that with three dozen siblings, she would have a volume of material with which to entertain.

It turns out, that orphanage life is a lot more boring than one (I) would expect.  #3 spends a lot of time on her iPod, going through Duolingo lessons.  She sleeps in most days, does some morning chores, and then sits around watching the children and letting the teens practice their English with her.  She'll occasionally join an evening game of volleyball, and then stay up late listening in on the girl talk about who has a crush on whom.  It's pretty much her life in Provo, but more laid back and slower paced.  And if you know #3, you know that's exactly her type of summer break.  Live up the lazy life while you can #3.  I still expect you to learn some Spanish!

Note: I waited to post this, hoping that #3 would send some photos to add on.  She refuses.  I'll add pics later if I ever get any.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Movin' On Up

Three of our five children are reaching milestones in their education, moving on up to new schools.  And one will be moving on out too!

#4 is finishing elementary school and will be entering junior high next year...unless I can talk her into online schooling.  I've never before thought about homeschooling in any capacity, but I would love to be #4's education coach in her difficult subjects.  More importantly, she would have extra hours to develop her filming and video-editing skills.  She has become a sixth-grade celebrity, always bringing comedy and creativity to the classroom.  Any advice on how I counter the pull of peers who want to see her at school every day next year?

Pictured with Mrs. Ruiz,
ballroom coach,

art teacher extraordinaire, 
and big-time sucker for #3.
#3 starts high school in the fall, and will be leaving the charter school to attend the much larger district high school.  She is sad to be leaving her art teacher, who is also her ballroom coach.  Fortunately for Little Miss Loophole, she found a way around not really leaving.  Last month, when #4 attended auditions for next year's ballroom team, #3 asked if she could go watch.  Wanting to support her support of her younger sister, I agreed.  Two hours later, when I came to attend the parent meeting at the close of auditions, I discovered that #3 had wheedled her way into dancing in the auditions..."just for fun," according to her.  And #4 had opted to not dance.  (I think she was intimidated by the high schoolers who were auditioning.)  The coach had already stated that team members must attend the school...though she might make an exception for boys.  After the meeting, I spoke with the coach to let her know that I did not expect her to let #3 audition, and we certainly didn't expect special treatment.  I know #3 holds a place in this teacher's heart, so I was trying to help her say no to my daughter, who was asking for special treatment.  I also told her that #4 still planned to take the ballroom class next year (if I can't talk her out of going to school), and that I would be happy to get in my volunteer hours by running the team tutoring once per week.  (I'm already running it at home every day, so I might as well change the location and dovetail, right?)
Two days later, #3 received an envelope letting her know that she made the the school she won't be attending.  Mrs. Ruiz said it was my chat with her that sealed the deal, because knowing that I am committed to helping the team lets her know that #3 will show up.  So even when I try to thwart #3's wheedling, it ends up helping her!  It must be nice for her to live a charmed life.

#5 doesn't have a huge milestone for him, but I'm ticking off milestones as he gets older.  Last night was my fifth and final 4th-Grade Utah program.  The songs and choreography are catchy, but not catchy enough that I want to hear them ever again!  #5 is a cheerful student, which may be what earned him the honor of showcasing Utah County in the program.

It's a little strange to see my youngest growing up and discovering his own talents, because he needs me less.  He started the year wanting to learn martial arts, probably to round out his super-spy abilities.  He continues to build his Nerf weapon arsenal each birthday, and used his own money last week for a manly watch with lots of features.  But jiujitsu lessons were pricey, so he relented to my wishes and gave the elementary ballroom team a he won't think of trying a different extracurricular activity next year.  I feel like I'm raising a mini, non-womanizing, James Bond!

#2 is halfway through her high school years, and is already ready to be done.  She's been at PHS for four years now, since she started attending with the gifted program in 7th grade--and it's getting kind of old.  Her sophomore year has mirrored that of many seniors as she sang for the second year with the school's audition ladies choir, Bella Voce, and danced on the audition D-Fusion team.  She completed a UVU concurrent enrollment math class and continues to thrive in every subject thrown at her. School does hold some allure for her next year, though, as she just found out that she made the top audition choir at the high school.  Next year will be a good year to be in Chamber Singers because the choirs will be traveling to New York City next spring to sing at Carnegie Hall.  Our agreement is that #2 will have the full cost of the tour saved up by mid-September if she wants me to sign the commitment for the trip.  Accordingly, she wisely chose to take a job at Mooyah's (the same week that #1 quit there), and hopes to save up lots of money this summer.

PHS senior class photo in front of the university #1 will be attending.
As our resident graduating senior, #1 is the star of this post.  Seeing her move on to higher education, where her professors won't need mom to come put in volunteer hours or chaperon field trips, is bittersweet.  I love being involved in my kids' school and education experiences.  Now, #1 is taking that completely in her own hands.  She is excited to study in the Woodbury School of Business at Utah Valley University.  Their business school has a strong entrepreneurship program coupled with required internships with local small businesses.  This is perfect for #1.  She has been courting a marketing firm that first impressed her during her sophomore year when she completed the Young Entrepreneurs Program with the Chamber of Commerce.  This firm wants her on board as an intern and just needs to find a place for her.

In the meantime, #1 is also working for Dream Dinners.  She makes reminder calls to customers and follows up with those who have shown interest at expos.  Her sunny attitude and cheerful voice make her perfect for the job.  And the flexible, work-from-home job is perfect for her and her schedule.  In addition to a renewable, full-tuition scholarship from the university, the UVU Honors Program was kind enough to extend a housing scholarship to #1.  That means she can continue to make work calls from her private room in a condo that she'll share with three other honors students.  It's a perfect setup.  The Honors Program also showers her with other perks, including field trips, tickets to all school events, and a free bus pass.  That will come in helpful...since she still doesn't have a driver's license!!!  (Did I mention she is also a great moocher when it comes to friends with cars?)  To give her some credit, she did recently renew her learner's permit--for the third time.

#1 earned a long list of awards and recognition in high school, including being a state semi-finalist for Utah's Sterling Scholar in Business and Marketing.  (It's a big-deal award in this state, with hundreds of students competing each year.)  We laughed to learn at PHS' awards night last week that BYU had also granted her a half-tuition scholarship.  That message must have been lost around the time that she declined acceptance to BYU to get almost everything free at UVU.

Most importantly though, #1 got a lot out of her education.  The three schools she attended through the last 13 years have served her well, and she has served them well.  She led service efforts as a student body officer in elementary school.  She rocked digital media and mock trial in middle school.  She found a love for performing in drama and choirs in high school.  She has worked, studied, and played--and found a great balance for all of it, which will serve her well in years to come.  Tonight, as her family watched her cap-and-gown procession, we heard her name and cheer to celebrate the educational milestone she has completed and the doors she has opened for her future.
Congratulations to #1 and the class of 2016!

Monday, March 28, 2016


This year is #3's last at the charter school as she is choosing to enter the school district's local high school next year.  She will miss some of her teachers greatly, including her math teacher, Mr. Jones.  He keeps the subject engaging, as evidenced by interesting questions on the math tests.  Andrya does make a good argument for Justin Bieber's assumed comparative math abilities, but I agree with her write-in answer.  (Click on the image to read questions 4 and 4a.)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Greatest Snow (Mishaps) on Earth: Snow Tubing

My little White girls after a day of sledding in Provo more than a decade ago.
You’ll remember my experience downhill skiing (aka human bowling, aka across-hill stomping) as a 13-year-old.  I wish I had remembered it a year later because that experience should have taught me not to join the annual ski trip with my church’s youth. But I was a slow learner when it came to those sorts of things.

Look how they've grown!  (#5 has been born.)
So far, #3, my current eighth-grader, has escaped this winter
unscathed.  She does not take after her mother in that respect.
This selfie is from our New Year's Eve sledding at East Canyon.
My sister, Carolyn, was kind crazy enough to invite us to
share her vacation condo and disturb her peace for a few days.
The winter of my eighth-grade year came around and I found myself piled into another minivan on our way to the same ski resort.  This time however, I was determined to not give the bunny hill a second chance.  Instead, I convinced a few other friends that we should join those who were snow tubing.  The ski resort had a really great “hill” for this.  In plowing their road all winter, the resort had built a big berm of snow between the road and the stretches of meadow that were now blanketed in several feet of Utah powder, This sloping meadow made for a wide tubing hill.  In theory, the bank of snow protected tubers by keeping them on the meadow side, rather than on the road side.  

(Do you see where this is going?)

The rental shop was very helpful in providing all sorts of injury-inducing snow gear, so that’s where we picked up our tubes.  We would ride our snow tubes on the meadow side of the snow bank, the long hill carrying us away from the lodge, probably a quarter of a mile.  One leader would drive on the road side of the bank, pick us up at the bottom of the hill, and drive us back up to the top of the road, where we would hop on our tubes for another ride.  It really was great fun.

Imagine these rolling hills covered in snow and children sledding.
Tangent time! Next to ice skating, flying downhill on an out-of-control piece of plastic was my favorite winter activity.  My parents used to take us sledding at the Mount Ogden Golf Course.  The course crawls up the foothills of Ogden, Utah, becoming a perfect sledding site in the winter.  We used to plant our three-person toboggan at the base of the trees that line the course, load everyone on while one parent held us in place, and then race down the hill into the open, wide space below.  There was plenty of room for dozens of sledders coming down the foothills together.

#5 on a sled run at East Canyon, circa 2015

Sledding, the next generation.
This saucer wasn't built for three people, but it's a step up
from the laundry basket that carried our kids down the hill
the previous year.  I like how #4 is "buckled" in by Dad's leg.

After a few outings, my family became more sledding savvy.  In addition to our plastic toboggan and Flexible Flyer, we started bringing our tubes.  In those early years, we went sliding on the big, black tractor inner tubes that we used for floating canyon rivers in the summer.  One or two of us would climb on, avoiding the giant inflation stem, wrapping our little arms around the sides and around each other, and clinging for dear life as we screamed with exhilaration all the way down the slope until it leveled out somewhere on the tenth fairway. Then I'd call Alfie, our Golden Retriever, who would retrieve my tube's rope and drag the tube to the next sibling waiting at the top of the hill.

The year that we got the yellow waterpark tubes was special, because then we had handles and we could take on the man-made snow bumps that would launch us into the air.  I distinctly remember taking flight like this photo shows.  There was one run where my tube and I became separated in the air, but gravity brought us back together and we continued down the slope.  It was both breathtaking and intoxicating!  

Back to that fateful night with the youth.  As an experienced tuber, I was confident that the ski resort’s lengthy tubing hill would convince my friends that sitting in a plastic doughnut and handing all control over to gravity was obviously superior to racing downhill with poles and skis on which one could supposedly stop and start as desired.  My friends and I made our first tube run with no mishaps--just lots of laughs and shrieks.  Good stuff!  But fate was teasing me.

We piled with our tubes in the back of the pickup truck for our lift to the top.  (For those readers who are worried by the fact that we weren’t buckled safely in the cab, just know that this was a compromise.  Out here in the West, another winter sport, when there aren’t hills around, is to simply hitch trains of toboggans behind a truck and get pulled around icy parking lots.)  This tubing train idea caught in our brains that night, too.  At the top of the road, my friends and I lined up our tubes side-by-side, grabbing each other’s handles to attempt to go down the hill in chain formation.  The natural bulges and depressions in the meadow’s snow forced us apart as we picked up speed.  I must have hit one of those snow bumps exactly the wrong way, because it bounced my tube right to the protective berm that stood between me and the road.  I remember hitting the edge of that berm like it was a surf wave, flying into the air, and hanging onto my tube for dear life.  I did not want to lose that tube!  The tube and I both flipped over in mid air and came down on the road.  We then proceeded to slide along the asphalt for a few yards--upside down. Upside down, aka on my face.  

I don’t remember my first thought, other than being confused about how this had happened.  Why had snow tubing turned on me?  Literally.  Then I noticed that my face burned. I suppose, given my luck, I should be grateful that I didn’t land on my leader’s truck or under its tires.  The adult leader who had been driving alongside us on the road stopped and climbed out as my friends punched holed with their boots across the tubing hill to see if I had survived.  

Everyone was a little concerned, I think, by the blood and sandy gravel covering my face. Back at the ski lodge, I spent the next half hour in the bathroom with wet paper towels, picking bits of road out of my face. Once again, my snow “fun” had turned into another evening alone in the ski lodge.  As dozens of teenage skiers returned, I had the displeasure of telling my tale over and over to all who saw my face and asked, “What happened?”
One of the tamer GPK.
I never liked these cards.

I got to repeat the retelling several times at school the next day, too. It was humbling to face my peers 12 hours later with scabby road rash face. I looked pretty gross. But it turns out that in eighth grade, gross can be good. (Keep in mind, this was in the age of Garbage Pail Kids.) My face earned me a lot of attention that day, including from the boy I then had a crush on. He seemed particularly impressed by my toughness, as evidenced by his compliment at the end of my story: "Cool."  

Go road rash!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Greatest Snow (Mishaps) on Earth: Alpine Skiing

When I was a youth, my church took all the teenagers downhill skiing for one night every winter.  I had never been Alpine skiing before, and not being the adventurous type, I went only because I always went to our weekly activities.  I remember my 13-yr-old self gathering with high schoolers in the parking lot of Nordic Valley Ski Resort. These older, cooler kids pulled me into their circle and offered some “community Carmex” as they talked about how fun this activity would be. I took courage from their interest in me, a lowly seventh grader, and their apparent concern to protect my lips from the harsh wind I would be facing in a few minutes as I swooshed down the mountainside. It’s funny how kids’ brains process friendship.

We rented our gear in the resort’s lodge.  Once I had everything strapped on, and a firm grip on my ski poles, I joined two or three other friends who had never been skiing before.  One of our youth leaders offered to teach us the basics.  I’m sure I don’t remember everything he tried to teach me, but it probably sounded a lot like this sage advice I found on “Skiing Tips for Beginners”.

  1. Helpful tips for avoiding this
    Gravity - This takes you from the top of the mountain to the bottom in the most direct route.
    • My seventh-grade understanding of physics, specifically mechanics and motion, concurred with this assessment.
  2. Balance - snow is slippery! Trying to balance whilst sliding down a mountain isn't easy!
    • Agreed.
    • Also, “whilst” is one of my favorite non-American English words.  I’m going to incorporate that into my verbiage.
  3. Dress Code - Stay warm!
    • Got it.  We hadn’t reached the part in our science class about thermodynamics and heat transfer, but I was pretty sure that winter night temperatures + snow + not being cuddled up in a blanket watching “My Two Dads” = the chance for chilly.
  4. Protect your skin
    • Carmex applied.  Check.
  5. Gear - I'd recommend renting your skis and boots
    • Check.
  6. Skis - All rental shops should give you skis that suit your ability, but their height is the key. Make sure they are 20-30cm shorter than your height.  If you find the front of your skis keep crossing whilst you ski then don't be afraid to take them back to the rental shop and ask for some shorter ones.
    • Check, I think.  The rental shop guy held skis vertically next to me until he was satisfied, and he seemed to know what he was doing.
    • Whilst!
  7. Learning to stand up
    • I reminded myself that I’d been working on that skill all day every day for more than a dozen years.  Confidence boost!
  8. Speed control/Stopping - If you can't control your speed and stop then there is a good chance you will hurt yourself and other people. The snow plough position is perfect for both controlling speed and stopping on gentle slopes! To slow down to a stop, simply turn your toes towards each other slightly more and push your heels further apart - making the snow plough wider at the back but keeping a small gap between the tips (front) of your skis.
    • Got it, at least in theory.
    • And it's farther apart, not further. (I can't tolerate poor grammar on my own blog.)
  9. Getting involved - Strapping planks to your feet and slipping down a mountain may not sound like something worth forking out a few hundred quid for really is. It's a great sport, no matter what standard you are! Skiing is a massive confidence sport though, so take your time learning and don't rush straight up to the top of the mountain, because getting out of control and stacking it at high speed can put people off.
    • Yep.  
    • Notice how he didn’t say “skiing is a massive confidence-building sport”?  Just...yep.
Six-year-olds make it look easy.
We glided out of the lodge and paused, looking down the steep slope towards the ski lift.  Our leader then pointed to the death-defying bunny hill.  He explained we would be using the bunny hill for starters, though I was sure it would be my end.  He showed us how keep to our skis parallel and most importantly, how to make a snowplow V with the ski tips, which is supposed to stop you from going down the mountain too fast.  

I plucked up some courage and went along with my cohorts who said we understood and were ready.  I pointed my skis toward the ski lift and let myself pick up a little bit of momentum.  As my speed increased, I got nervous about my ability to stop.  I remembered the wise words of my leader and pushed my heels away from each other into a deeper snow plow.  My ski tips were close, my heels were far apart, I had my Carmex on...but I couldn’t stop. I started calling ahead of me, “Look out! I can’t stop!”

Tangent 1: I learned years later, as a passenger in a van that malfunctioned and wouldn’t stop accelerating, even with brakes applied, that making noise is my go-to skill for “survival”.  In that instance, all I could think to do as we approached a red light was to honk the horn and find something soft to run into on the other side of the light.  It was good that Kent was driving.  He simply pulled into the left turn lane, turned off the engine, and coasted to a stop at the red light.

Back to the slopes.  There was a group of people gathering around the ski lift, and maybe they didn’t know which way the sound of my voice was coming from, but whatever the reason, no one got out of my way.  So I went into theirs.  I ended up skiing right between a lady’s legs, pulling her down on top of me and pulling her date on top of both of us. It was pretty embarrassing, especially for adolescent me who had not yet learned to laugh at herself.  The lady and her date, who very well may have forked out a few hundred quid to be there that night, were also not laughing.  I gave my apologies and they let me get up and leave in shame.
The only thing that went right that night?
This wasn't me.

I had made it almost all the way to the ski lift. Carefully, I scissor-stepped the rest of the distance and then waited with dread to catch one of the chairs that came around.  At this point I was terrified of 1) catching the lift, and 2) being able to stay on the lift. Thankfully, I did manage both of those parts of the skiing process.  My friend and I disembarked awkwardly at the top of the bunny hill where our leader was now waiting for us.  He reviewed with us again, eyes fixed on me, how to snowplow and how to keep my weight distributed to maintain an upright posture.  Then he smiled (maliciously?) and sent me on my way down the hill.

I fell so many times I stopped counting. Despite the assertion from the Brits that “[skiing] is a great sport no matter what standard you are!”, it actually wasn’t fun getting my limbs twisted beneath me, and tangled up, and stuck with skis and poles...and it was cold...and more than slightly embarrassing.  I was one of those kids who did most things right, so becoming the laughing stock of the evening was not easy. Looking back, based on how my middle-school P.E. classes were going, I probably should have known not to even attempt this Alpine activity in the first place.

Tangent 2: All the way through middle school, my P.E. teacher recognized how bad I was at coordination. I think she felt sorry for me because she would customize physical tests for me to pass to get through her class.  For example, while in the volleyball unit, everyone else had to bump, spike, set, and perform all other sorts of athletic feats.  When I couldn’t set the ball against the wall more than twice in a row, my final came down to just bumping the ball on my own wrists 20 times in a row.  (20 times! Was she serious?)  I remember her standing next to me and counting aloud for me. I would get to eight bumps and I’d drop the ball and start over. Then I’d get to six and drop it and start over. Then I’d get to 13 and drop it...and you get the idea.  I spent the whole class period bumping that ball.  I think eventually I got 18 bumps in a row and she said, “That’s good enough.  We’ll just round up.”  So I got an A in P.E. for doing almost none of the work the others had to do.  I did dress and show up for my daily humiliation in the gym, so I guess my A was for effort.
What my teacher was asking for.
What I delivered.
The bunny hill didn’t seem to care that I had dressed and shown up.  (As I said in my last post, snow is cold through and through.) Halfway down the slope, as I was wrestling myself in the snow, trying to detangle my legs from the poles and skis, I realized, I’m not getting a grade on this. This isn’t fun.  And I don’t like people watching me fall repeatedly. I looked up and noticed the ski lodge directly across the hill from me.  I pressed my pole into my bindings to free my boot from its plank, did the same to the other boot, picked up my skis and my poles, and I stomped across the ski slope to the lodge.  About ten paces in, I became aware of people yelling at me.  Why aren’t they grateful that I am finally getting off their slope? I wondered.  Are they upset that I’m taking away their entertainment at my butt-plants?  One loud, angry voice rang out across the hill to explain it to me: “You’re punching holes in the snow and ruining our slope!”  I did not care.  I could not win.  I finished my trek to the lodge, marched straight to the rental office, and returned my downhill ski gear for the first and last time.

This feels familiar.
Turning 40 this year, I’ve thought about maybe giving skiing another chance.  I do like cross-country skiing, afterall.  The universe must have heard my thoughts because it responded with one of my experienced-skier friends breaking his shoulder and one of #1’s squad concussing on the slopes in the past few weeks.  Two witnesses that I should stay away, and that’s enough for me.  Get well soon, friends. I'm sticking with the ounce of prevention and staying home.

*Thank you internet for providing images of what my adolescent experience was like since my peers didn't have cell phones back then to capture the real thing--thank goodness!