Saturday, October 31, 2009

This is Halloween

Years ago, I established some rules about Halloween costumes. They were tried and true and always seemed to work. They are basic and simple and meant to avoid frustration and last minute panic.

Here they are:
1. You are not permitted to talk about next year's Halloween costumes until after this year's Halloween is over.
2. You must decide and inform your mother what it is you want to be by Oct 1st.
3. You cannot, under any circumstances change your mind.

Reasonable? I think so. Especially since I make their costumes, it takes some effort, so no changing minds!

Albeit, this Halloween was going to be different from the outset because of the move. Gone were the homemade costumes. This would be the year to explore the store-bought costumes. I figured they would probably be happy. Boy-oh-boy was I wrong. Well, at least I know they appreciate my efforts.

I started with Monterey because she was the most consistent throughout the year: she wanted to be a pumpkin. All year long, she wanted to be a pumpkin. When we got to the store, she fell madly in love with the Pumpkin Spice costume so I bought it with complete confidence.

A week later, we went to Target and Maya picked out a cheerleader costume. She was happy, I was happy. Madison had a little trouble because even though she is eleven, she already has the body of a young woman. She graduated up to the women's sizes. When you go to buy a costume for a woman in a standard costume section, it is all about the hoochy mama. We don't have Cleopatra, we have slutty Cleopatra. (Maybe that IS closer to the historical character.) A cute Dorothy costume is now Dorothy, the most popular showgirl in Oz. We sorted through hooker-witches, Princess Leia showing lots of leg, the stripper/nurse, etc. We finally settler on a flirty Eskimo. Next year, I WILL make her costume.

McKayla graduated to not really caring too much about the whole thing. She put together a cute 50's costume (but would not pose for a photo.)

The movers put the box of Halloween decorations in storage, so no decorations. The rolling pins are in storage, so no sugar cookies.

So let us begin with Friday: School Harvest Festival. Everyone wore their costume. All was good. Here is the cake I made for the cake walk.

Tuesday: Church Party. Monterey no longer wanted to be a pumpkin. ***Violation of Rule #3*** She hated her costume. Maya graciously offered her ballet attire. She accepted. Now her official costume was a ballerina.

Wednesday: Monterey got to wear her costume to her morning class. She continued as a ballerina.

Thursday: School. Maya looked great as a cheerleader. Once again Monterey was the Ballerina, but she wanted the cheerleading outfit and was mean to Maya over it and proclaimed that she wanted to be that for Halloween next year. ***Violation of Rule #1*** It got a little ugly, but we got through the day. Here she is, mad at me, refusing to look at me, standing in-between the mermaid and a fairy.

Friday: we went and sorted out the storage unit. We found our Halloween boxes and went nuts decorating the house for one (and a half) days. No rolling pins. I will buy one this week.

Saturday: Halloween. We carved our pumpkin. We got ready. But wait, someone is planning on going as Eve and we probably would have let her at this point had it not been for a little agency known as Child Protective Services. Monterey refused to put on any costume except the cheerleading costume. ***2nd Violation of Rule#3*** It was that or nothing. We pleaded with Maya. Maya consented to be the Pumpkin Spice. What a trooper. To compensate, we all gushed about how cute she looked. Monterey put on the cheerleading costume and was also quite happy. We took pictures. They went with Ryan to the local outdoor mall for some fun activities. He brought them home and went for our traditional pizza. In the meantime, Monterey decided she didn't want to be a cheerleader anymore, she wanted to be a fairy. ***3rd Violation of Rule #3*** I dug out the old, wrinkled costume from last year. Maya went back to her cheerleading costume. New pictures were taken.

Ryan and McKayla stayed home and passed out candy while I took the other three door-to-door asking for handouts, uhh I mean Trick-Or Treating. We had a good time. Good, well-lit neighborhood, generous neighbors (we got a couple full sized bars) and an all-around good time.

When we got home, I gathered all the candy for inspection and to separate the chocolate from the non-chocolate. It smells funny after a few days if it stays mixed up. It all goes into the same pot - no individual stashes. They will eat all their favorites in a couple of days and the rest will sit around until I toss it out to make space for the Christmas candy. At least that is our tradition.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Moving Out and Moving In

When I had my babies, I felt a deep love for my maternity nurses. To them, I'm sure I was just one of hundreds that they encountered while doing their job. To me, they were my heroes. I loved them each so much. While still in the hospital, I imagined sending them flowers and putting them on the Christmas card/cookie plate list. I knew we would be best friends forever.

Of course, then I went home, the medication wore off, and I became somewhat overwhelmed by all that I had to do. I forgot about all my aspirations and all the bonding I felt. But I remained grateful in my heart.

There is something about intense experiences like giving birth, witnessing a loved one dying, and moving that makes one sooo grateful for any and all acts of service, even paid acts.

My moving team. I think I felt the same way about them as the maternity nurses. They were awesome. They came in and packed and loaded without any questions. Not one of them asked me to justify why I own over two hundred cookie cutters or why I had thirty boxes of cereal or a year supply of dry food or enough water/water containers for a three week supply of water for a family of six (albeit the 15 gallons ones were emptied) or why I have a collection of over sixty pairs of jeans (for the jean quit that I will make someday) or the hundreds of books that I own (although they did comment that we had a lot of books.) Instead, they just simply packed it all up, no questions and loaded it into their truck. What an amazing transformation. What a great team.

My cleaning team. I think I felt the same way about them as my maternity nurses. They were awesome. They came in and cleaned everything. From our carpet/tile cleaner who gave us half price just 'cause he is so nice and we have been so loyal; to our ladies that came in and cleaned all day and then when we went to pay them, they would not accept our money. (I'm not going to mention their names here 'cause I don't want anyone calling them to get the same deal.) They brought me to tears. We appreciate my mother-in-law Diane for coming and patching the picture holes and helping the older girls do touch up painting. Speaking of older girls - they were awesome. Our neighborhood friend came by three or four times to haul away trash. It was truly overwhelming to see the outpouring of love and generosity that came our way.

Then there was my TLC team. From picking up my girls to play dates, they made everything a little less hard and more joyful for the little ones who could not be left underfoot as the movers worked. Our same neighborhood friends (who helped with the trash) fed us dinner Sunday night. Friends gave and attended going away parties organized by friends. Even our elementary school secretary gave me a card and a housewarming gift. We had final lunches, dinners, and sleepovers. It is good to be loved.

I was concerned about two of my daughters' teeth issues (because we were kind of in the middle of some jaw spreading) so I stopped by and the dentist brought us in to do a last minute fix. When we finished with that, he noticed the girls were due for a check up soon. I am sure I gave a look of defeat, because the next thing you know he told his scheduler to get them in the next day. All four got their cleanings, check ups and any repair work right then and there. At least three of the people at the office worked into their lunch hour for us.

Our car battery died just as we were leaving. A phone call to AAA and the problem was solved. Yes, we had to buy a new battery, but we were relieved it did not happen on the road. Looking back, the timing of it was pretty good.

We had our final walk through with our landlord who we became friends with. There were hugs and tears. We had anticipated paying our last month rent, as per our contract, to her that morning. She told us to forget about it. She would not take our money. More hugs and tears.

The movers brought our stuff in and unpacked. This is not a pretty sight. Apparently they do not unpack it the way I would and just take it out of boxes. They filled the cupboards and the counters and the floors with our stuff. Here are some pictures showing the way they left it: ***DISCLAIMER*** These pictures are for informational purposes. They cannot be used in any court of law, particularly divorce court, since this is the first time Ryan really had any idea how much stuff I have.***

So now I am organizing and sorting and filling spaces and unpacking and settling in. Give me a few weeks.

We go to the Middle school to register and I find out lunch costs $3.50. What? At our school in CA it only cost $2.25 - $450 more a year for the two girls. Are they getting a salad bar or is a restaurant catering it? No, it is actually less food than what they got before. I told the counselor that I was told that the cost of living in NV was significantly less than CA. She explained that up until a few years ago, that was the case. But now, Las Vegas is climbing as one of the most expensive places to live. GREAT. I feel a little duped. The prices in the grocery store look the same. Our car insurance is about the same as CA. Outside of Vegas it is dirt cheap, but when people lose all their money in the slots, they steal cars, so insurance is very high. Gas is a little cheaper, maybe .10 to .20 cheaper a gallon. Utilities are the same. Rent is a little higher because of demand, but housing is cheaper ... unless you want to live in a decent neighborhood, then it is only a little bit cheaper. There is no state tax, but sales tax is the same.

We already feel at home. The house has beautiful paint and we got all of our pictures hung. It is amazing how paint and pictures make things feel a little more finished. I think we will be happy in this house. It is about the same size as our last house, but has two stories and a pool. There are design flaws, mainly dealing with storage issues, but overall it is nice. We seem to be in a great area for our church. We even got cookies from a family who lives nearby with five girls - two of which are in the same elementary classes as two of our kids. Cookies are good. Everyone tells us the schools we are in are awesome, but we were at awesome schools in CA so we have not been blown away yet.

As always, it takes time to make the transitions. I am confident that we will soon find lots of things to love and we will feel at home. Everyday it is a little better.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

General Conference: the Calm Before the Storm

Every time we tried to put the move on the calendar, we found conflict. We were willing to miss Conference over the move, but didn't want to. No matter how we looked at it, we were just going to have to watch it later on, thanks to the Internet OR read the talks in the Ensign. We could live with that ... but did not want to. Ryan finally suggested that we start the whole process the day after General Conference. That way we could enjoy watching and listening without the interruptions. All the sudden everything else fell in line and we discovered it solved all the problems and conflicts. Et Voila.

Our normal Conference Weekend is quite the extravaganza. We plan food, activities, in-between session shopping and organizing, etc. I spend the whole week planning the meals, shopping, baking, etc. This one was the opposite: still busy, but totally opposite.

To start with, our goal was to get rid of all our food, not bring more in. I, therefore, completely ignored the food thing. We got up and Ryan ran to McDonald's for our breakfast, which the girls considered quite a treat, so they were unfazed. As the singing by the choir commenced, Madison asked: "Where are the Conference Snacks?" I had to confess that we had none. This was not acceptable to her, so she went in and found some stuff and started whipping up chocolate chip cookies and rice krispy treats. I felt guilty so I washed and de-stemmed some grapes and cut up our last piece of fruit: a cantaloupe. Thanks to Madison's efforts we had a pretty decent offering, all things considered.

We settled down to watch Conference.

Elder Scott spoke about Acquiring Spiritual Guidance. He gave a great example of the difficulty of feeling the spirit when you feel something intensely; "The inspiring influence of the Holy Spirit can be overcome or masked by strong emotions, such as anger, hate, passion, fear, or pride. When such influences are present, it is like trying to savor the delicate flavor of a grape while eating a jalapeño pepper. Both flavors are present, but one completely overpowers the other. In like manner, strong emotions overcome the delicate promptings of the Holy Spirit."

Since we are foodies, a food analogy goes a long way. Seriously though, this is such a challenge: to discern God's will when your emotions are raging. When feeling passion or loneliness or desperation, sometimes it is hard to not just interpret your own desires as the will of God. I thought that was a great way to put it. We still feel the spirit, and are given help, but our ability to discern it is diminished because we have emotions in the mix that are contrary to the spirit. Along with praying to have the spirit, I need to pray to discern the spirit and to be worthy to have the spirit.

Elder Bednar spoke about Living the Gospel in our Homes. He shared this:

"As our sons were growing up, our family did what you have done and what you now do. We had regular family prayer, scripture study, and family home evening. Now, I am sure what I am about to describe has never occurred in your home, but it did in ours.

Sometimes Sister Bednar and I wondered if our efforts to do these spiritually essential things were worthwhile. Now and then verses of scripture were read amid outbursts such as “He’s touching me!” “Make him stop looking at me!” “Mom, he’s breathing my air!” Sincere prayers occasionally were interrupted with giggling and poking. And with active, rambunctious boys, family home evening lessons did not always produce high levels of edification. At times Sister Bednar and I were exasperated because the righteous habits we worked so hard to foster did not seem to yield immediately the spiritual results we wanted and expected.

Today if you could ask our adult sons what they remember about family prayer, scripture study, and family home evening, I believe I know how they would answer. They likely would not identify a particular prayer or a specific instance of scripture study or an especially meaningful family home evening lesson as the defining moment in their spiritual development. What they would say they remember is that as a family we were consistent."

I was encouraged by this. We are pretty good about the consistency, but lack quality at times. Sometimes we just read the scriptures, sometimes we have a discussion or answer a question, rarely do we delve into a discussion that really applies the principles into our daily lives. It does happen, but not as frequently as wanted. I think the real lesson in family scripture study is that we must do it everyday. That is the priority. I want my children to know that I placed a high importance on that. I want them to know that God hears our prayers and we find our answers in the scriptures.

President Uchtdorf spoke about the Love of God. He said: "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is continually growing and becoming better known throughout the world. Although there will always be those who stereotype the Church and its members in a negative way, most people think of us as honest, helpful, and hardworking. Some have images of clean-cut missionaries, loving families, and friendly neighbors who don’t smoke or drink. We might also be known as a people who attend church every Sunday for three hours, in a place where everyone is a brother or a sister, where the children sing songs about streams that talk, trees that produce popcorn, and children who want to become sunbeams.

Brothers and sisters, of all the things we want to be known for, are there attributes above all others that should define us as members of His Church, even as disciples of Jesus Christ?

Because love is the great commandment, it ought to be at the center of all and everything we do in our own family, in our Church callings, and in our livelihood. Love is the healing balm that repairs rifts in personal and family relationships. It is the bond that unites families, communities, and nations. Love is the power that initiates friendship, tolerance, civility, and respect. It is the source that overcomes divisiveness and hate. Love is the fire that warms our lives with unparalleled joy and divine hope. Love should be our walk and our talk."

I want people to think of Mormons as the most loving and generous people on Earth. To bear Christ's name on our church is a responsibility on all of us to be examples of love and righteousness, but not self-righteousness. We should not be known for our abstinence to drinking coffee or as contentious commentators. We should be promoting concern for our fellowman and we should be known for acting on that concern.

In between sessions we organized, dumped trash, delivered stuff to Goodwill, and ran errands. The next session highlight for me was a talk given by Elder Oaks about understanding the relationship between God's love for us and obeying His commandments. He stated: "I have been impressed to speak about God’s love and God’s commandments. My message is that God’s universal and perfect love is shown in all the blessings of His gospel plan, including the fact that His choicest blessings are reserved for those who obey His laws. These are eternal principles that should guide parents in their love and teaching of their children.

Persons disbelieve eternal laws which they consider contrary to their concept of the effect of God’s love. Persons who take this position do not understand the nature of God’s love or the purpose of His laws and commandments. The love of God does not supersede His laws and His commandments, and the effect of God’s laws and commandments does not diminish the purpose and effect of His love. The same should be true of parental love and rules.

Some seem to value God’s love because of their hope that His love is so great and so unconditional that it will mercifully excuse them from obeying His laws. In contrast, those who understand God’s plan for His children know that God’s laws are invariable, which is another great evidence of His love for His children.

We read again and again in the Bible and in modern scriptures of God’s anger with the wicked and of His acting in His wrath against those who violate His laws. How are anger and wrath evidence of His love? Joseph Smith taught that God “institute[d] laws whereby [the spirits that He would send into the world] could have a privilege to advance like himself.” God’s love is so perfect that He lovingly requires us to obey His commandments because He knows that only through obedience to His laws can we become perfect, as He is. For this reason, God’s anger and His wrath are not a contradiction of His love but an evidence of His love. Every parent knows that you can love a child totally and completely while still being creatively angry and disappointed at that child’s self-defeating behavior."

I think we all struggle with the concept of loving the sinner without loving the sin. How do we, especially as parents, draw the line? I believe God is perfect and has perfect love for us. I love my spouse and children with all my heart, but my love is not perfect. No matter how deeply I feel love for them, my love is imperfect. For example, when I am tired or I have a headache, it is a tad more difficult to treat them as precious as I should. I might feel impatient or even anger towards them. My emotions are not always based on pure and perfect love. Discovering how to love my spouse and children is a lifelong process and will even take me into eternity to accomplish. I really like words of wisdom I heard from Janet Lee: "The end result of parenting is not the child, but the parent." As long as I keep getting better, I believe God will bless me with His spirit to teach HOW to love those who I love.

That night, instead of our traditional dinner and shopping with the girls (while Ryan was at the Priesthood Session) I went out with church friends to have a final dinner. Tons of fun and laughs and a few tears.

On to the Sunday session. I loved President Monson's talk about Service. He stated: "I am confident it is the intention of each member of the Church to serve and to help those in need. At baptism we covenanted to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light.” How many times has your heart been touched as you have witnessed the need of another? How often have you intended to be the one to help? And yet how often has day-to-day living interfered and you’ve left it for others to help, feeling that “oh, surely someone will take care of that need.”

We become so caught up in the busyness of our lives. Were we to step back, however, and take a good look at what we’re doing, we may find that we have immersed ourselves in the “thick of thin things.” In other words, too often we spend most of our time taking care of the things which do not really matter much at all in the grand scheme of things, neglecting those more important causes.

My brothers and sisters, we are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support, our comfort, our kindness—be they family members, friends, acquaintances, or strangers. We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift His children. He is dependent upon each of us.

You may lament: I can barely make it through each day, doing all that I need to do. How can I provide service for others? What can I possibly do?"

It is too easy to fill up my day with busyness. I feel like so little of my day is about me. Between being a chauffeur (service for my children) volunteering and serving on the PTO board (service for the community) church callings (service for God and my fellow church members) and then all the other motherly/wifely duties (service for my spouse and children) Isn't that enough??? How about my "me" time? My "me" time is service to others not on my daily list. I actually put a space on my "things to do" list that is a service category. In my last calling, I discovered there was always someone who needed something. If I made a point to find something nice to do for someone everyday, it was more than enough to satisfy my "me" time because those were the most satisfying acts I did the whole day. I felt like I was an answer to a prayer. That was much more satisfying than a pedicure.

The last session highlight for me was Elder Holland's talk about bearing testimony of the Book of Mormon. I think many members felt the same way about his talk. My favorite part was this: "In this I stand with my own great-grandfather, who said simply enough, 'No wicked man could write such a book as this; and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so.”

Wowza. I have never heard that before, but it is so true. His testimony was bold and clear. Reading the Book of Mormon with a pure intent means that we are willing to accept that it is true if God reveals it to us. Our INTENTION is to follow through if it turns out to be true. With this next go around, as I read, I think I will be thinking about the meaning of pure intent.

The last few days I have not felt well. I was building up too much stress dealing with everything involving the move. I sat down and started writing this and found it is a great release of stress. Sharing my feelings and getting my emotions out on my blog is my therapy. I felt immediately better.