Friday, November 30, 2007

The Votes are In

Everyone's in favor of the advent idea, huh? Well, okay! The committee has spoken. I will be hanging up the calendar today, stuffed full of good Christmas cheer. Now if I could just get started on those Christmas cards...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Is It Crazy in the Making?

I have come up with a new idea, and I can't tell if it is brilliant or insane. Give me your opinion because I've still got a couple of days to back out. Here's the thing:

A couple of years ago my clever sister-in-law Erin made me this great advent calendar. It has little pockets, like 1 inch by 1.5 inches, along the bottom where little treats can be stored, I presume. Well this year, instead of the regular treats, I am going to put in activity prompts, so that everyday we do something together as a family that will help us celebrate the season.

Here are some examples:
1. Sing Christmas carols around the piano.
2. Make snowflakes.
3. Learn about Christmas in another country.
4. Go iceblocking.
5. Send Grandma's and Grandpa homemade Christmas cards.
6. Take treats to our neighbors.
7. Make doughnuts.
8. Drink hot cocoa out of our Santa mugs.
9. Make red and green paper chains.
10. Read a Christmas story.
11. Watch the movie The Nativity.
12. Watch the movie Elf.
13. Buy candy canes and eat them.
14. Drive around and look at Christmas lights.
15. Play a game together.
16. Do something nice for somebody else.
17. Look at the temple lights.
18. Gather around the tree and read the scriptural account of Jesus' birth.
19. Write an entry for our Christmas journal.
20. Make Christmas angels.

So you can see, some of them are simple and some a little more elaborate, but here's the thing: Is it going to make us happy or overwhelmed? I can't tell.

The problem with me is that I am an eternal optimist. In my mind this adventure is going to be amazingly warm and memorable, something that will turn into a tradition to be repeated for years to come, but I've become familiar enough with real life to know nothing works out in reality the way I picture it in my head. Two words spring to mind: Miniature golfing.

What do you think? December 1 is eminent. To advent or not to advent, that is the question.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

How I Know I'm Getting Older

Warning: Grossly honest material ahead. Not intended for the faint of heart.

1. I've grown a small but disturbing cyst on my nose. If you know me, please don't look at it. Or don't let me catch you looking at it.

2. I've grown a not so small and more disturbing mole on my left forearm. I know it is noticeable because a 3 year old who does not belong to me was rubbing it the other day.

3. Parts of my body just "go out" for no reason at all and refuse to take me with them. Particularly my neck and hip.

4. I now have to trim my eyebrows and my nose hairs religiously.

5. And if I did not remove the blond but thick hair on my upper lip, I am sure I could grow a fu-man-shu...but apparently I can not spell it.

6. But here's how I really know I'm getting old:

Logan: (looking in the mirror while I am getting ready in the morning.) I'm lucky. I have pretty youngish skin. (Then looking up at me and pausing for just for a moment before saying...) Yours is kind of oldish.

Friday, November 23, 2007

It's All Good!

I have turkey hangover. But yesterday was oh, so good! All the way around. The people--good! The food--good. The conversation--good. The kids--good. The pie, and more pie--gooooood. At one point in the day, while I was cooking, and the children were playing, and the holiday music was on, and family and friends were mingling, I was so contentedly happy that I could have burst. Really. I experienced one of those brilliantly bright moments of absolute joy that confirm the goodness of life. So good!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Gratitude Continued...Again

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”--William Arthur Ward

12. The last 8 years we spent in Irvine, CA. I grew a lot there and came away with profound relationships that continue to bless and shape me. Truly, I felt we were guided to that good place, and it was a great gift.

13. All good food. Some may eat to live, but I've never understood it.

14. Modern technology that makes life so convenient. I can't comprehend the sheer difficulty of my grandmother's existence.

15. Education. I love learning! If there is a fountain of youth, life-long learning is probably it.

16. My creative nature. I love all things that spark the imagination.

17. That said, I appreciate more than ever those people who possess a totally different skill set because they can do all the stuff I'd be miserable at. Here here to all the accountants, mathematicians, and scientists of the world. I need you!

Love at First Sight According to a 4 Year Old

As the children and I were leaving McDonald's today (Hey! We're on Thanksgiving vacation!) a car with two teenage girls pulled up. I wouldn't have even noticed them except they swerved in there pretty fast, and I was tempted to say, "Slow down!" like the old person that I have turned into all of a sudden. I practiced some self control, however, and was quickly occupied by trying to get my kids in the car and breaking up the "He's copying me!" argument that is currently a staple in our home when suddenly this takes place:

Griffin: I'm going to marry her when I get older. (All said with lisping S's and incorrect R's.)
Me: Huh? What?
Griffin: I'm going to marry her when I get older.
Me: What? Who?
Griffin: That girl right there.
Me: Which one?
Griffin: That girl, right there, in the, the, the... white shirt. I'm going to marry her when I get older.
Me: Her? Why?
Griffin: How old do I have to be?
Me: At least 23. Why her?
Griffin: Because I love her.
Me: What?
Griffin: I love her.
Me: No, I heard that. Why her?
Griffin: How old is she?
Me: A lot older than you.
Griffin: Well, I'm going to marry her.
Me: Yeah, but why do you love her?
Griffin: Because.

That's all I could get out of him on the topic. He may be in love, but he still has a very short attention span.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Gratitude Continued

"The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving."--H. U. Westermayer

Following their tradition, I continue the list of all the good things in my life:

7. My two amazing, beautiful, strong-willed, and smart kids who are the biggest miracles to ever happen to me!

8. Two incredible birthmoms and birthfamilies who love those kids, too.

9. A break in the hot weather. Fall at last is coming to Arizona, and the temperatures are supposed to drop into the 70's. Thank you!

10. All things related to sleep. The more people I meet who struggle with insomnia, the more grateful I am that I can fall asleep almost on cue. The thought of tossing and turning strikes fear into my soul.

11. My six siblings who are some of my favorite people in the world. I'm glad we're related. They make me proud, and they make me laugh, really hard.

More gratitude coming tomorrow.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

My Gratitude List

My first blogging award! Very kind of Madame Queen, don't ya' think? I'll be passing it on in the next few days. But until then...

It seems appropriate this week to jot down some of the things for which I am grateful. I will post just a few items per day until Thanksgiving in honor of the holiday, and besides I am too busy cleaning and cooking to be much more creative than that. So here goes...don't pay attention to the order. They'd all be number one if it were possible.

1. My good spouse who has hung in there with me through thick and thin and somehow found a way to love me the entire way. He is my safe harbor and gives me wings to fly. His pure intent, kindness, and curious mind inspire me.

2. A set of parents who don't know how to be anything but good, honest, and decent. They gave me a Normal Rockwell childhood and a steady diet of unconditional love. I will be forever grateful.

3. A native faith in my Savior Jesus Christ gives meaning, purpose and direction to my life. Any goodness I enjoy flows directly from Him.

4. Baths. I wish I could give whoever invented the tub and indoor plumbing a giant kiss. And I don't care if I live in Arizona. I like my baths hot, hot, hot.

5. Amazing friends who make me better, who brighten my days, and lighten my load. If laughter is the best medicine, and I believe it is, I am well-immunized.

6. A body that is healthy and responsive. I am sorry for those years where I was dissatisfied and looked only to see imperfection in this loyal companion. It has taken me where I've wanted to go and never put up a fuss.

to be continued...and I've saved some good ones for tomorrow!

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Art of The Float

I accidentally happened upon The Float when I was a freshman at Ricks College. I didn't have a good year at Ricks. Nothing against it. A lot of people I know loved it. Me? I just never found my stride there. After one particularly bad week, I spontaneously packed a bag at 1:30 am and started the long 10 hour drive home.

It wasn't entirely smart, I'll admit, but I just felt drawn to spend a couple of days in the bosom of my family. The drive started out fine, but by 5:00 in the morning, I was beat. I pulled into a motel and thought I'd catch a little sleep before heading out again. Hours later I awoke a little more clear headed than when I had begun and realized my folly. Driving 20 hours to visit for one day? What had I been thinking?

I called my Dad, which was a good thing. Not knowing where I was, my roommates had phoned. I assured my parents I was fine, but Dad could tell I wasn't quite myself. Together we decided that driving the rest of the way would be a mistake, but Dad encouraged me to just stay where I was, rest and get my head together. He even let me put the room on his credit card. Boy,I miss those days.

For the next 48 hours I slept. And slept, and slept some more. During my brief alert spells I flipped through the TV channels and watched anything that caught my eye. I didn't even leave my little cocoon for food. I ran to the store once and bought my favorite treats to eat in bed. And then I slept some more. At the end of the two days, I was ready to face the world again. I was physically rested for one, but my mind was clearer, too. I returned to Ricks and dropped all my interior design classes and made the decision to transfer after the block. My dad may have initially regretted footing the bill after that, but in the end it was the best decision I ever made.

The next float day I remember was at the University of Wyoming. One Saturday I declared a "nothing day," meaning that we would do nothing important or taxing. My boyfriend at the time helped me pull my mattress out into the living room, we rented a stack of movies, made sure our favorite foods were available, and spent the day in our sweats watching TV.

Now my husband, Mr. Wicke, is horrible at doing nothing. I mean he is really bad at it. I'm working on converting him, but he is a tough nut to crack. However, he has come to understand my need for these little respites from real life. One spring after the already long haul that is the end of teaching Jr. High, I ran a week-long music camp because we needed the extra money. By the end of that week I was done, burned-out, and sick of people, kids particularly. I didn't want to hear anyone speak. If I got Mrs. Wicke-ed one more time, so help me...My fraying end may have been detectable because my sweet husband was suddenly dropping me off at a beautiful hotel, handing me a key, and saying "Have a great time." In a bag was bubble bath, a novel, peanut butter M&M's and diet Pepsi. I read, slept, took a long bath, watched a scary movie, and ordered room service. When I finally came home, I was pleasant again.

In our fourteen years together, he has done this a handful of times, just sent me out on my own to recover my sanity. The last time I am pretty certain he saved me from what was shaping up to be a nervous breakdown. We had moved, which meant that in addition to the normal upkeep of the household I was also trying to organize and conquer the disarray and upset that moving causes. Moreover his brothers lived with us for a couple of months each, back to back. Don't get me wrong, I love his brothers, but there were a couple of days at the end there where dog hair set me crying. I couldn't stop. I cried over laundry and dirty bathtubs, too. Maybe that was his cue, because it wasn't long before I was put in the car with the directions to a hotel.

Leaving isn't the only option either. The Float can be accomplished at home, though it is harder because regular life kind of gets in the way. Kids can be be problematic as well, but both can be overcome with just a little laziness. When it comes down to it, that is what The Float is: The stamp of approval for laziness for just a day or two.

Last year on the day after all of our company left following Christmas, the whole family floated. We all stayed in our pj's; we didn't worry about the house; we ate anything we wanted--kids included; we just put the rules away for the day and watched Star Wars. It was fantastic...until my aunt and uncle brought my cousin, whom I haven't seen in years, over for the visit they had scheduled weeks prior. In all the craziness I had just forgotten, and there I was in my pajamas, braless, ushering them into my messy living room, and introducing them to my children who had bedhead and Oreo rings around their mouths. Not my best and brightest moment.

You know, on second thought, the hotel is better.

Despite the last example, I am a huge fan of The Float be it at home or away. Swimming upstream can be exhausting, especially if you're like me and have no sense of balance. The Float is a way to recover my equilibrium after having depleted my reserves of spirit. The last time Mr. Wicke sent me off on my own he said, "Go do whatever you want for a while." As I started to drive down the freeway, I remember thinking, "Whatever I want? Wow...what would that even be?" I hadn't thought about what I wanted in such a long time. Then I just felt giddy; like a kid again with endless amounts of time to do nothing in particular at all. That, my friends, is the art of The Float.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An Experience of Gratitude

As our national day of giving thanks approaches, I thought I would share an experience of gratitude. In 1977 a woman named Ardeth Greene Kapp wrote a book called Miracles in Pinafores and Bluejeans. In the preface Sister Kapp writes:

"I believe miracles are constantly in the making, but often they go unnoticed because they come in bits and pieces, here and there, and we fail to put them together by removing the time and space that obscures their reality."

But once in a while, Heaven gives us a glimpse of how His handiwork is all over our lives. That happened for me just recently.

I was just a seven year old girl when this book was published, but a few years later, while in my early teens, it somehow fell into my hands. I don't know who gave it to me, but I've had it ever since. One can't forget it after having seen its memorable pink cover and fantastic 70's artwork.

One story from the book especially stood out to me. Sister Kapp was never able to bear children, and she writes about this experience with honesty in one chapter entitled "You're Like a Mother." What I have always remembered is how she had a "cookie drawer" in her house, and the neighborhood children would come and go on a regular basis always free to check its contents.

Why that struck me as a girl, I do not know. But many years later, as I struggled with our own infertility for an emotionally exhausting number of years, I read it again and that image moved and inspired me. I wasn't perfect, not by any stretch, but I was happier because of her example.

Fast forward to just a week ago. I was able to attend an event where Sister Kapp gave a workshop for women. I was excited to see her, having never before been in her presence, but I didn't expect what followed. Prior to the beginning of the event, I was visiting with a group of friends when I noticed two women enter and begin to mingle with the some of the other attendees. Sure enough one of them was Sister Kapp, and she moved toward us introducing herself and saying hello. She's in her 70's I presume now but still full of life and light. I immediately stood and said, "I have a book of yours..."

"It must be Pinafores and Bluejeans."


"Well, that makes you one of my girls then." And I found myself warmly wrapped up in her arms.

As she walked away, I began to be amazed at the gift she had given me. Here was a person I had never known, but who had pioneered the roughhewn path and left markers for me to follow. She showed me a better way, and rather than wallowing in my own sorrow, I had been lifted up by her example to love and give where I could. It didn't erase the pain during that time, but it certainly made it easier to bear. I found myself wishing that I had thanked her properly.

I watched her across the plaza, and then saw her break from the group and exit alone. I had my chance. I quietly got up and shot toward her.

"Sister Kapp, what I didn't say before was that for the first 10 years of my marriage I was unable to have children of my own. We've since adopted two beautiful children, but during that difficult time I remembered your story about the cookie drawer and how you..." The tears were coming and making it difficult to continue. " changed my life." The lump in my throat only allowed me to squeak the words, "Thank you."

She hugged me again and whispered in my ear, "That made it worth coming today."

Yes...Sister Kapp, it made it worth it for me.

One of my favorite quotes regarding gratitude comes from a man named John Wanamaker. He says, "Gratitude takes three forms: a feeling in the heart, an expression in words, and a giving in return."

As I've pondered this, I have come to believe that gratitude is only complete when it inspires all three, culminating in our desire to behave differently, to give back. I am still humbled by my experience with Sister Kapp. I have carried admiration and gratitude for her for many years, and to express thanks to a stranger who had such an important impact on my life is a unique and glorious opportunity. Now, I hope to find a way to help another as she has helped me. I don't know how that will happen, but I trust that as I look for opportunities they will come.

God does work in bits and pieces, here and there. That little piece of handiwork took 25 years, and who knows where the circle of good will end. What is even more miraculous than the miracles of our lives is that He allows us to participate in them, to bless and lift others in ways that are often unknown but for the rare glimpse of Heaven's work that inspires us to look closer, to see beyond the bits and pieces and gratefully acknowledge His grand design.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Price of Peace

A few days ago I read an article in the East Valley Tribune about a church's youth group who provided a service to our community by painting over graffiti. What they did was creative and positive, changing swastikas into signs of peace. I love kids who are willing to be proactive and positive, so the story caught my eye, but so did something else. Something a bit troubling that I can't get off my mind.

The story ended with this:
Church spokeswoman Sue Nee said graffiti itself is so commonplace. She said gangs have been hanging out in the area and police have been involved in curbing that.

The Rev. Julianne Lewis, senior pastor, explained that reporting it to police “wouldn’t be something we would do. That is not an action we would take for something like that because the important thing is to have peace.”

"The important thing is to have peace." Wow. That sounds really terrifically Christian on the surface. I mean who can argue with peace? Christ did say, "Blessed are the peacemakers," but in doing so did He condone lawlessness? Did He approve of criminal activity?

If "the important thing is to have peace," I have to ask: At what cost? Is our society to turn a blind eye to social depravity in the name of peace?

And there is the part that troubles me most. In this age, where religion may very well be the last bastion of moral education, please tell me that our churches are not teaching our children to accept evil, turn a blind eye, or just cover it up because "the important thing is to have peace." That would be a terrible misunderstanding of Christ's mission. The important thing is to do what is right though it may cause agitation.

Do I believe that I should be an example of peace? Absolutely. And I believe that a phone call to the authorities could have been a step in bringing a lot of peace to that neighborhood. We send His peace out into the world when we speak out for what is right, when we recognize evil for what it is and refuse to accept it.

What do you think? Should peace be all important? Or is the standard of keeping the peace no standard at all? Is it a moving line that will ultimately serve to let wickedness infringe upon our lives?

Friday, November 9, 2007

A Play By Play of My Swim Upstream

Hallelujah! I did it! I made it through one crazy, busy week. I knew going into it Sunday night that it would be a long haul, and I prayed for the ability to just hold up. Check. Prayer answered.

Here how it played out:
Monday-Work out. Clean house like a mad woman because it was the only day it was going to happen. As it turned out it was my only work out this week as well. Something's got to give.

Tuesday-Teach pre-school. Make 34 cupcakes and take to school for Logan's birthday. Take Logan to singing class while somehow cooking dinner early so we can open presents and take her to the Bee Movie. (No more miniature golfing.)

Wednesday-Plan and then teach my weekly mommy and me music class. Go to the grocery store to shop for Thursday's pie making class. Spend the rest of that evening making a plethora of pies.

Thursday-Wake up early to finish preparation for pie-making class and still get Logan out the door for school. Print and copy recipes for attendees. Go back to the store for the items I forgot the day before. Teach the class. Come home and clean up my mess. Then start planning Logan's birthday party. Run to the party store and shop wildly. Pick up the house and clean floors so I at least appear together to guest's moms.

Friday-Finish (that is just never the appropriate word for housework) cleaning, run to the store for last minute items, pick up the cake (no--I'm not baking anymore this week!) and ice cream. Come home and put together the goody bags, games, and treasure hunt. (No pirate party is complete without one.) And then let the crazy begin.

Now-I've put the kids to bed early and we are joining our friends for games and dinner. I have no plans for tomorrow, and I am thrilled. We are going to sleep late and stay in our pj's as long as we want. The race is over, and it's like my mom always says: You can't swim upstream every day. Some days you just have to float. Tomorrow we float!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Fat Thursday, and I Can't Wait!

I'm loosening my belt girls, cause I'm eating today!!! Melissa and I are teaching a cooking class. She's making her yummy cinnamon rolls, and I'm making pies. My mouth is watering just thinking about all the taste testing. In preparation, I tried a couple of new recipes and this one's a winner! And I'm not even kidding when I say you should make this today. It's flat out delicious. And if not today, then for sure on Thanksgiving. You won't regret it. No, really.

Adrienne’s Fruit Pie

2 9-inch unbaked pie crust (double crust pie)
4-5 tart apples, peeled and sliced
1 can blueberry pie filling
1 C sugar
1 T flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg

In a small bowl, mix sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Line pie tin with bottom pastry. Brush pastry with butter. Fill with half the apple slices, then 1/3 of sugar mixture, then half of the pie filling. Repeat. End with the last of the sugar mixture and top with small chunks butter. Finish with top pastry. Cover the edges with tinfoil or a pie shield. Cook at 425 degrees F. for 20 minutes. Turn down heat to 375 degrees F. Remove tinfoil or shield and cook for another 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Gift of the Abundant Heart

I have certainly appreciated every one's thoughts on the topic of gossip. Clearly there are many particulars of the topic that deserve thought and reflection. My reflection on gossip these past few weeks has been surrounding this scripture in the New Testament:

Luke 6:45
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil; for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

The last part, regarding the abundance of heart, is what really got me thinking.

I am not a fan of gossip, and the best lesson I learned about gossip came when I had the privilege of meeting and becoming friends with a couple of women with whom it is impossible to gossip. They just won't take the bait. They have an amazing way of turning the conversation to something more positive or relevant without ever calling out the offender. Wow! I so want to be them when I grow up; therefore, I have been watching them carefully.

What I have learned is that they have something else to say. Something positive and edifying. That doesn't happen accidentally. In fact just the other day I heard about a study that put men and women in rooms alone for long periods of time with nothing to occupy them. Unlike most men, most women reported having spent the time recalling and reliving conversations.

What this reaffirms to me is that a major portion of our nature is this heavy importance on relationships. That is not all bad, but it is not all good either, and I think we need to channel that tendency in a positive direction. That is the process of the abundance of the heart on which I have been reflecting.

Sometimes our lives as women becomes relatively small, and I don't mean that in sense of importance. Mothering, in my book, is the most important job in the world. I mean small in the sense that we spend a lot of time at home, doing a lot of mundane chores, surrounded by a lot of little people who, as much as we love them, aren't intellectually stimulating yet. We see the same people, do the same things; am I the only one who has experienced cabin fever? Or am I the only one to find myself living in a deep, deep rut?

Perhaps it is that routine that makes it so easy for gossip to slip into our dialogue. What else do we have to say? Where is the abundance of our heart?

If nothing else, this scripture encourages me to fill my heart with edifying and intellectually stimulating thoughts and information, and then when I converse I have something relevant and thought-provoking to share.

I have found that it can be done relatively easily. Even when our lives don't give us a lot of alone time, we can find a few moments here and there: A good magazine in the bathroom--no joke; it may be the only quiet moments I enjoy all day. A podcast to listen to as I clean. Reading the paper over breakfast. Scripture study before bed. Joining a book club. These few activities give me something to think about during my day besides "She said what?" and "Who did that?"

They help me lift my head out of the mundane and see something with a bigger purpose or higher meaning. Hopefully, it is filling my heart with a positive abundance, and I am becoming convinced that an abundant heart may be the best gift we can give our family, our friends, and our little corner of the world.