Wednesday, December 29, 2010

No, is too much. I sum up.

Actually I'm not even summing up, just highlighting.

We spent the last 2 days in Oregon with cousins. It was great fun and we stayed up very late each night playing games. Yay!

Prior to that, I lost my voice again. Just in time to not be able to sing and record our Christmas poem/song to post on youtube. (if you haven't gotten our newsletter yet, don't despair. We're still getting to most of them. It may expedite the process if you email me your address. Otherwise I will try to find it. If you don't ever get one, assume I never found your address, rather than that I didn't think to send you one, please.

And lastly for today--a thought I had while again trying to parent with no voice: (and I think that sharing a spiritual insight automatically counts as a recognition of the Hand of the Lord in my life, because I know that is from whence they come) It is really hard to instruct children when you have no voice and sign language is not fluently spoken in you home. It wasn't so much that I couldn't get my voice to make any sound, it was just that I knew my voice would not heal until I stopped using it almost completely for a day or so. So there was a lot of the time when I wanted to say something to my children and just couldn't, or rather, didn't. I often tried to communicate in other ways, with expressions, clapping, and seldom understood hand motions. And when I finally did have something important enough either to me or to them that I was going to do what it took to communicate it explicitly, I had to go to the child (usually Willow) and put my mouth right up against her ear and whisper very softly.

Spending so much time actively not talking inspired more thinking, and some thoughts that I had revolved on how much more my parenting during this period looked to me like how I see Heavenly Father parenting us. Most of the time, he does not speak to us directly. He relies on other clues and cues--scriptures, the order of nature, prophets, to let us know what we should (and should not) be doing, and leaves us to do it. When something is important enough to explicitly communicate, it still comes by small, quiet whispers--ones we have to still ourselves and pay attention to to hear.

I don't think that the Lord lacks power to communicate with us directly, at any point, and with utter clarity, but I do think that the physical world is very, very loud and easily drowns out the voices to be heard by our spirits. Hopefully, these reflections will inspire me to seek stillness in my life more regularly, so I may listen and hear the whispers of my Heavenly Parent.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Yuck Thing

Tonight Kevin had a short meeting to go to at about 6:30. We had dinner about 6 and he said he should be home in time to help put the kids to bed. So at around 6:40 when we were finishing dinner I thought to myself, "What would be the easiest way for me to keep the kids occupied and out of the way so I can keep working on Christmas presents until Daddy comes home?" And I figured it out: a bath! My kids are always begging for a bath. And as long as I keep them within earshot and can hear two happy voices and not too much splashing, I figure I'm OK.

After Rhys' initial protests, I get them both in the tub and fill it while Rhys is periodically sticking his mouth in the water and coming up coughing. As long as he's coughing, I know he's breathing. So I go upstairs to catch up on my blogging for a few minutes before starting to sew again. Then I hear Willow say, "Yucky! Hee, hee, hee." I figure Rhys is sticking his mouth in the water again. Then a moment later, slightly more concerned, "Mommy! We found a yuck thing!" So, now a little concerned myself, but more for missing out on my child-free work time than for their safety or comfort, I hasten to the bathroom to find...Yuck.

Someone, I'm guessing Rhys, relieved himself with great fluidity in the tub. Yuck. Unplug the drain. No hope of scooping any out to contain it, So I just let it drain as I start to pull toys out and wipe them with disinfectant. The kids have to stand there in the water as I let it all drain because I don't want them dripping poo water all over. After the toys are out and the tub is drained (and rinsed, thanks to Willow's industrious efforts with the bathtub cup), I wipe down the tub then suds up the kids. Rinse the kids with the bathtub cup and let the water drain again. Refill the tub and call Kevin, "When are you supposed to be coming home again?" "Soon." I wait. He can take it from here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

14 ½ hours later

The Hand of the Lord: Tonight Willow got in big trouble. She intentionally hurt her little brother for fun while simultaneously breaking rules and Christmas decorations. The particular decoration, I was not too upset that it was broken. I was really upset by how unphazed she seemed to be by what she had done. It was just a funny thing, “Oops, hee, hee, hee.” I collected myself enough to refrain from spouting whatever came into my head as a properly intense punishment and just told her that I would have to talk to Daddy before I knew what the consequence would be.

As I was discussing it with Kevin, I explained that I really don’t want her to just forget this ever happened. But I was utterly blocked as to how to accomplish this. I wanted her to remember how bad what she did was so she will never do it again. It was while I was explaining this to Kevin that I realized that I sounded to myself like I was reacting very emotionally—from my frustration rather than her improvement.. “I want her to remember how bad this is,” sounded vindictive, even though what I meant was that I wanted to create in her an emotional recognition of bad behavior. And at that point I stopped to re-evaluate my thought process.

I realized that what I really wanted was for Willow to have a soft heart that recognizes others’ feelings. As I saw this, my heart softened. I recognized that there was no way I could force that on Willow, no matter what I might do to her. This helped me to see that the consequence of this action did not have to be a life shaking event. It was only going to be one drop in a continual bucket of reinforcement throughout her life. It didn’t make it suddenly easy, but after that point I finally could start to see appropriate consequences in this case.

And that moment of pause and reflection that turned the focus of my deliberations to Willow right now and gave me a little better perspective on this moment in her life, I credit to the Lord’s intervention in my thoughts. I am grateful I took the moment to acknowledge it and let it guide my conclusions.

New Babies—Not Mine

I made bread last night and I forgot to bag it and freeze it before I went to bed. Oops. I’ll have to do that after this.

Friends came into town last night. One of my old roommates (but a good friend before and after that, too) and her husband and 3 kids. They were about 3.5 hours later than they thought they would be, so my kids had to go to bed before they got here, which bummed them out. But they got here safely, after fixing a flat tire on the pass. They were coming from Salt Lake City, and frankly I’m amazed they made it as early as they did, even without a flat tire.

I just looked down to discover spit-up on my nightgown. I am up by choice right now so I can blog before the rest of my day starts. My friend is up by compulsion right now because her 6 month old is teething. I held the baby while she went out to the car to find the baby Tylenol. And the baby gave me that little momento I failed to notice until just now.

Admittedly, spit-up and milk-fed baby poo are not in and of themselves necessarily wonderful smells, but it is amazing how nostalgic they are for a mom who no longer has an exclusively breast-feeding baby and is already baby hungry anyway. I’d like one of those soon. In any case, we will have a baby in the house come February. It will be so strange for my sister to have a baby and me not. I don’t know how to handle it. But I guess I’ll get used to it soon enough.

Well, I have to get to scriptures, so I guess sharing the Hand of the Lord will have to wait (which it did anyway, at least until I thought of something to share).

Monday, December 20, 2010

This is NOT What Christmas is All About

I've had such dreams this year. Mostly of gifts for my kids. I think most parents do this, but it's just beginning for me, so I'm a little unsteady in my handling of it. I'm waffle-y and grandiose in my visions of what we will give our kids. There are so many things I want to make for them, but there is not enough time for all of it, and besides that, I don't think it's good for them to have a glut of presents on Christmas. But where the issue really hinges is on the fact that in pursuit of these grandiose visions I have been staying up hours past my bed time and unable to get up on time in the morning every day. This leads almost inevitably to delayed if not entirely dismissed personal devotions because I lose my focused kid-free time in the morning.

I've been letting it slide because I actually have more time to work on things in the evening than I do in the morning because I always remember to put studies first in the morning and sometimes that leaves me with no time before the kids are up, whereas I know once the kids are down they won't be up for as long as I am working before I go to bed. But I also don't usually make myself have my studies before I start working in the evening and at least 2 different days over the past week I have put it off until I passed out and never did it at all. This is a problem. And finally yesterday morning I decided it has to change.

I determined sometime as a teenager that the way to give gifts to Christ was to make improvements in yourself. Since what He wants most is for us to live with Him and Heavenly Father again, then the most loving thing we can do for them is progress along that path. I think I can also agree with the idea that serving others is also a way to give gifts to Christ--the least of these, and all that--and I want to include that as an integral part of our Christmas celebrations, but that is a different topic. It still remains that letting good habits that I have been cultivating slide because of distractions by gifts during the Christmas season (even if it is about giving to others) is like and anti-gift for the very One whose birth we are celebrating. This should not be.

(An entirely side note. Willow is looking at a book with Rhys right now and said, "It's a zebra. It's like BRA. It has that word in it: ze-BRA.)

So I made a commitment yesterday. I will not let any planning or crafting or working keep me up past the appointed bed time and I will get up at my determined wake up time and start my day with the studies I know are most important to my personal improvement. The coolest thing about decisions like this are that even though I can trick myself into feeling selfless about it, at the same time it gives me access to promised blessings that make it entirely worth while, even if it wasn't done for a gift to Christ--I know that as I work to improve my habits and correctly order my priorities each day I will be blessed with abilities beyond that which I can know foresee. I know that I will still be able to accomplish all things that are important or requisite. I have faith that He will bless me, even as I am trying to bless Him.

I am very grateful for the gentle reminders from the Hand of the Lord that bring me to a place in which I can see the need and commit to change before it is too late for this Christmas time.

And now for reality--it's not even 6 am and my children are both awake and kicking. Why? Why do this to me on my first day of new determination? They were knocking on our door at the same time my alarm was first going off. Why? They surely have not had enough sleep. Sigh. Well, if I can pass this test, all should be well. I told them, even as I brought them upstairs with me, that Momma and Daddy have some things they need to do without children for a couple of hours in the morning, so they have to play by themselves until we are ready to play with them. It's worked alright so far--I got to blog--but then, Kevin is lying in the middle of the floor asleep with the kids climbing on top of him right now. We'll see what happens when I have to engage Kevin for couple study, too.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Nocturnal Habits of the Juvenile Vezzani

This post was originally composed on November 12th, but I did not publish it because I could not get the video to upload. I've finally put the video on youtube, so here it is. Since this was put together, Rhys and Willow share a bed almost every night. And the kids will be getting a big bed for Christmas.

I almost quailed, but in the end I determined to risk it. Even at the risk of losing my solitude for the entire morning, I had to try to capture on film the potential adorableness of my chillun. Based on the data collected at the last observation, I had absolutely no idea what I would find.

Notice how I turn the video on before opening the door, and don't turn it off until after it is closed. It is great danger to enter my children's room in the morning unless I want them to be awake because they always seem to be in a lighter phase of sleep then, and even just the light from the open doorway is often enough to wake up Rhys. But, abandoning my better judgement, I forged on, what ever the cost might be.

Here is the raw footage:



Look at those two little bums in the air. Perfect examples of juvenile recumbent posture, or "Child's Pose."

A couple of nights ago Willow decided to sleep on the floor instead of in her bed and Rhys wanted to lay down with her. So I let him, and they both slept there on the floor. Last night, Rhys wanted to climb in Willow's bed instead of his crib, and she agreed, so I let him then, too. But Willow's bed is a lot narrower than the floor, so they were a lot cozier.

When I put the kids to bed I read stories and sing songs and then I leave the light on slightly dimmed and let Willow and Rhys look at books til they fall asleep. This has virtually eliminated all complaints about bed time and getting up when she should be in bed. Then I come in a couple of hours later when I go to bed when they are invariably fast asleep (except for once, and Willow and I had a discussion about that), put the books in a safe place, make sure their covers are on, and turn out the light.

Last night I went in to find Willow partially dangling off the side (thank goodness for the rails on toddler beds) with Rhys crowded up against her and almost half of the bed (which is as narrow as a crib) bare of children. As I bent over her to pull up her blankets, Willow's eye popped open, but I don't think she was really awake. I did take the opportunity to ask her if she wanted Rhys to go back in his own bed. It took a while to get my question through to her, but she said no, she wanted him there.

The whole time I was talking to Willow, Rhys had been wriggling like a sleeping puppy over the pillow and Willow's side. I don't think Rhys has REM sleep. I think he only has RLM sleep--Rapid Limb Movement. I covered them both with the blanket and went to sleep myself.

And as I was laying in my own big, empty bed all I could think about was how I wish I could fit on that toddler bed with them. I've been thinking for a while about moving Willow to a big bed, and if I did that, it made more sense to me to put Rhys in the same bed with her rather than a second bed in the room because she wouldn't even take up half of it. And I think I have become even more stuck on this idea because I am a snuggle sleeper and in the absence of my husband, my kids get elected to fill that need. I finally realized that it would be a lot easier to have a bed I fit in in the kids room than to try to make my room entirely unsupervised-kid-proof. So I think Willow will be getting a big bed for Christmas, and that means Rhys, too. And me, I will be getting a bed to snuggle my chillun in all night long.

Good Parenting

Does anyone else parent by ignoring? I don't mean the active "you're trying to get my attention but I am not going to give it to you" kind of ignoring, but rather the passive "if I can let you do your thing while I do my thing then I'm OK, you're OK" kind of ignoring. Of course, not all day can be spent like this. Sometimes kids need attention, and I will give it to them, but largely encourage them to play on their own, even out of my line of sight (in another room, in the fenced backyard). Right now we have a friend visiting and I can hear that he, Willow, and Rhys are in an upstairs bedroom 2 half-stories above me. And I'm not worried. No one is crying, but they aren't silent either. And this is my measure of whether things are going fine--we're right in the middle. If it was absolute silence, I would get suspicious (after I noticed), and if they fussing got too severe (a little fussing/crying to work out on their own is pretty healthy, I think) I would intervene. But for now, I ignore them and do my own thing. I think this is good parenting. What do you think?

There is so much of our day that I do and must interact with the children--meal times, prayer times, family night, scripture study, bath times, church, running errands, transitions (getting up, going out, going to bed)--and then times when I play with them because I want to--they are incredibly cute after all--that I don't feel bad leaving them to themselves in the in between time. They demand attention often enough.

Maybe that's how God parents us, too. Not that he's ever truly ignoring us, but maybe not always actively engaged in our day-to-day life. When we're doing well, in the in between times, he just lets us take care of ourselves--but is always within earshot for when we find ourselves so distressed we need help. And he may not always come right away, even when we think we are stuck, because he knows our abilities better than we do and sometimes a little struggle is the best way for us to grow and learn. And the more capable and mature we become, the more he ignores us. He also knows that when he has heard absolutely nothing from us for a while, we're probably getting into trouble, and He will come look for us.

Not being actively engaged, however, does not mean a lack of perceptible presence. Even when my Daughter is in a different corner of the house she can see my influence in the nature of the home--the decoration, the toys and things she has to play with, the clothing she has to choose from, and even her own ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, have been largely developed in the image of mine (I do pray that mine are correct ones!). Thus she can see my hand every moment, if she just looks around, even when she does not see my direct physical presence.

On that note, I see the Hand of the Lord in the way even a seemingly flippant reflection can ultimately turn to a serious meditation on a spiritually enlightening level. I am grateful for His influence all over my life, even when He's ignoring me.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Instrumentality

Today's notice of the Hand of the Lord is not directly in my life, but rather an instance of how I see the Lord use us as instruments in His Hands.

Kevin had a meeting this morning and received notice that it was canceled just as he was about to leave due to the fact that the basement of the man who was supposed to lead the meeting was flooding. (It's been raining quite a bit here.) Instead of taking it easy thanks to the unexpected free time he and my brother-in-law, who was also supposed to go to that meeting, headed right over to the man's house. They, along with some other brethren from church were there all afternoon and into the evening helping to get out the water and set up a way to keep it from flooding back in. That kind of immediate selfless service is nothing less than allowing yourself to be an instrument in the Lord's hands to bless the lives of others. I love my man.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Quote of the (Other) Day

I have been watching episodes of "Get Smart" because I got them from the library. Because of the way you check them out, you have to watch an entire season in one week or else miss seeing some before you have to return it (and get back on the waiting list for it). So there has been a lot of smarting going on around here. There are a lot of guns and shooting, but no blood, so I let my kids watch it. But it makes for interesting scenarios to explain that make me re-think this decision sometimes.

Willow, while watching Maxwell Smart load a gun: He's putting batteries in it!

Me: Yep.

Freecycle Karma

I like Freecycle, and those of you who are cheap and thrifty and hate to see good, useful things go out into the world without knowing that someone will love them (As much as we all love thrift stores, we all know that too many poor textilular souls pass through their doors unwanted and eventually leave, unloved, to languish forever, stubbornly refusing to biodegrade, in a un-environmentally friendly landfill.), should check out Freecycle, too. It mostly exists as individual Yahoo groups for different locations. I belong to 4--Freecycle Woodinville, King County, Central King County, and Snohomish County. It is a forum where people post things that they have to give away and people can respond and then come get them. I have received a couple of things and given a couple of things away so far.

Today I posted about 5 things that have been sitting in the garage forever hoping to clean some of them out without even having to leave the house. One listing was a set of 2 samurai-style swords. They are decorative pieces, and kind of cheap. They were given to us for free and they aren't really anything that I particularly want. I realized after I received 5 requests for them within the first 20 minutes, followed by 9 more over the next couple of hours before I finally posted that they were taken, that I probably could have sold them on ebay or craigslist and made enough money to have been worthwhile. I could have simply retracted my offer and said that they were taken (by me) and then sold them, but it just didn't feel like it would be worth the effort when I could just say "yes" to any one of these and they would come take them from me. And besides, I liked the idea of storing up some good Freecycle Karma.

I figure if I really show my commitment to generosity and sharing what I have, eventually I will be able to cosmically cash it in and someone will offer something very valuable that I really need or want. Right now I have a specific Christmas present in mind for Willow and am hoping I can get it for free. Though I think I may be using up some of the Karma already simply by the fact that multiple people have responded to my offer for every single item, potentially getting all of these things off my hands without lifting a finger higher than from keyboard to mouse. This is pretty exciting. I'm especially attracted to those who respond saying they would like what I have to give someone for a Christmas present--like that will help narrow down the scope of the Karma to the exact category I want it in--free Christmas presents.

I like the stage of life where time is not actually money because there's not really anything I could be doing instead of what I am doing at this point that I could be paid for, so I can take time to do things like hand-rinse and line-dry diapers, make meals from scratch and put them in the freezer, scour garage sales in July for gifts in December, and haunt internet posting sites for cool free stuff to give away instead of buy to give away. This is a nice life. And I credit the Hand of the Lord with bringing me a husband who does not ask me to work outside the home and is excited about the efforts I make to live thriftily.

Good night.

Rad-tastic Body Love

This is a shout-out to my little brother (can you say, "back and forth"?). (By the way, how's that for punctuational overload? Don't often get to see "?). all in a row, do you?)

I fully agree (if you don't read the comments on previous posts, he is the one who there posited) that it is easier (often) to generate hilarity when two exchange words than only one in a monologue. So please feel free to exchange with me. I will try to better address your comments in future. Thank you to those who responded correctly to my self-depreciatingly named post with ego stroking affirmations of my awesomeness. (Special note to my slave-for-life: Your duty for life is to read my blog and make me feel good about myself with occasional murmurs of awe and wonder and love. P.S. I think you are awesome-rad, too and am way excited for your two baby boys, and also the fact of your whole family, even though I never told you before.) (And special note to my self-designated most favorite roommate ever--she might just be right--I'm so excited you found me and I need to seek out and catch up on your life sometime soon! I like you.)

And as a final note to my little brother--actually, as fun as it is that you can make my back pop, usually the "Aaaahhhhhh." is more like an "AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!" of "Oh, no. I know my brother loves to do that but I can already feel it starting to give me a headache." Unfortunately, my back doesn't like being vigorously popped any more now that I am an old lady. But feel free to give me a massage any time and then ease pressure onto my back and see if it wants to pop a little then--that is always welcome. And I love you.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

15 Crafting Days Left Til Christmas!

We went to the Temple last night. We didn't spend a long time there, but enough. Then Kevin and I did some Christmas shopping--just Dollar Store stuff, but it was fun. I like Kevin. I'm mostly done with Christmas shopping for my kids. But there are still the siblings we are giving gifts to this year and I don't feel satisfied with what I have for Kevin. But I have a whole load of Christmas present projects in the works (mentally at least). I'm pretty sure I won't get to them all, but I still cling to them and try to make a little progress every day. But it is a very little, because I have very little children. sigh. But I wouldn't trade them. I guess they're worth it.

The Hand of the Lord: He gave me a husband who is so gentle. While we were driving, Kevin brought up something. It was a concern he had had that I thought we had addressed. He was seeing a potential problem with the solution I thought we had come up with. My reaction was initially very hostile to the whole topic and instead of figuring out why I felt that way, I let it all vent onto him. My wonderful, gentle husband just let me for a minute, then explained that he was just wanting to have a discussion about it, not a "what are you thinking?!" explosion. And I was immediately disarmed, realizing what I had done. When I apologized, he didn't hold it over me, he just helped me over it. How sweet is he? I love him. I don't know why I have been blessed with this even tempered man, but I sure am glad.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Analog* Fail

I hadn't recorded anything until it was bed time last night so I brought my journal to bed with me to jot a few lines before going to sleep. It didn't work very well. It ended up as one of those few words, random lines, blotches and unrelated thoughts kind of entries that didn't even have an end to the forst sentence before I gave up on trying to wake back up after I dozed off and I put it to the side.

So here I am back, and I hope you will forgive the everyday overload, because it helps me to actually finish my thoughts when I can be excited that someone out there in the ether may read them.

The Hand of the Lord: OK, here as really simple one--For the ward Christmas party the person in charge of decorating had different people each bring unique center pieces for the tables. There was some concern in the couple of days before that there would be more tables than centerpieces coming, so I put together about 6 possibilities from my Christmas decorations and brought them all with me. When I got there to help with the decorating on the day of, all of the tables were already set. So I had 3 boxes of decoration and no table to put them on. But over the course of setting up for the evening I discovered other places that needed decorating (like on top of the piano) that I simply had not thought of before, and it was super easy to re-arrange some of my decorations to fit there. Sometimes little blessings like that--mini-crisis averted quickly and smoothly--are easy to miss. But I know I would have remembered it if I didn't have anything there to fill the gaps. I am grateful for a Father that helps me be prepared, even if what I think I'm preparing for is not what I end up needing, it just made me also prepared for what actually ended up happening.

*I know that "analog" is not technically an accurate word to describe writing by hand, but I couldn't think of a better one, and I thought perhaps the pressure of pen on paper as recorded by the presence/absence and thickness of ink line left by the trailing ball point might satisfy the "mechanism that represents data by measurement of a continuous physical variable, as voltage or pressure" that the definition calls for the word to be "of or pertaining to."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

In a Mysterious Way

Sometimes it is very easy and obvious to see the Hand of the Lord at work directly in my life and it is only a matter of moments to capture it in words. Other times it takes forever of sitting and really thinking hard to figure out a specific and unique instance for the day. Sometimes what finally makes itself visible to me is such a twisting history of tenuously related events that I would never have seen it if I hadn't spent the time in intense meditation. So I guess those periods of reflection are good, because they expand my view of the Lord's Hand at work in my life.

Last week our ward Choir director was sick and emailed to cancel choir practice that day. I called and offered to lead the choir practice and so it was back on. My daughter has been coming with me to practice and loves the special with Mommy time. Because Kevin was also home, he kept Rhys with us at practice as well instead of sending him home with Neoma like I have usually done.

At practice I was up in the front and Kevin let the kids run around. Spurred on by Rhys (usually she would sit next to me most of the time) Willow joined him sneaking snacks from the table in the front and using the music stand for a Maypole. I mostly ignored them, and I thought everyone else was fine with it too, but a couple of days later I got a phone call. The caller was very kind and had no word of hostility or condemnation, but just wanted to sympathise with the difficulty of handling hungry little children who have just been at church for three hours, emphasize that both my and my husbands voices were needed in the choir, and suggest that perhaps we can find a way to occupy the kids elsewhere during rehearsals in the future.

A couple of days later this same Sister called again to tell me about the wonderful idea she just had--she would take our children to a different room and give them a snack, freeing up both my husband and me and if my sister and her husband would only come also, she could take their children as well and trade her one voice for all four of us.

I love this sweet woman. Neoma and Jason have not come to choir for quite a while specifically because it is just too difficult to take care of the kids at the same time. I was finding a way to work around it by sending my kids home with Neoma (except when Willow promised to be very well behaved she got to stay with me). It was (I think) just one week of misbehaviour because of me being unable to corral kids due to conducting and Daddy being distracted with music he was seeing for the first time. But because of that week and the stir it caused, a need was seen and acknowledged that applies to more than just me. And so now Neoma can come back to choir, which I know she enjoys, but not when it is filled with the stress of unwelcomely rampaging children. And that is a strange and mysterious working of the the Lord.

I'm glad I didn't feel inclined to be offended when someone told me (however nicely) that what I let my children do was not acceptable. In fact, the better I am coming to know this woman, the more I want to be like her when I grow up. She is a widow, I think, and I'm sure she is older than my mom, but I have no idea how much. She is still bright and witty and funny and helpful and lively. I want to be like that when I am a grandma or great grandma, or whatever she is. And I hope I find the opportunity to tell her how much she is my hero.

I Think I Must Be Boring

A post of self-pity, and hypocrisy. But not too sincere, never fear.

I bluster and brag about how I don't care what people think of my blog, but I secretly do want to entertain, enlighten, and inform people I know and care about. And the only way I know it's working is through comments. So I always feel depressed when there are no new comments, even though I've put up 5 new posts. And I persist in stalwartly refusing to do anything specifically to generate popularity. I just want people to love me spontaneously for my show of not caring whether anyone cares. sigh. Why is that so hard to achieve?

But I guess, because I'm stubborn, I will continue to persist in not attempting to cater to my target audience or even admit I have a target audience. And privately wallow in illegal self-pity. Because self-pity would be stupid. Because I'm the only one imposing arbitrary rules on myself. If I want to change them, I can. But I won't. Because then I will have to change the name of my blog and that will basically negate all the coolness I have sought to establish in having it up to this point and that is not allowed, even though I negate it every time I make a metablogically ridiculous post like this.

The End

Friday, December 3, 2010

I'm a Free Woman Again! Let Christmas Begin!

It's done! The ward Christmas party happened and was well received. I'm so happy.

This year we did a celebration of Christmas music. We started with Hors 'Devours then had the first half of the Program: secular Christmas music. Then we had Desserts and the second half: sacred Christmas music. I was a little worried that the program would be too long. I tried to be generous on my estimates of time and I figured we would end around 8:15 or 8:20 (we started at 6:30). We ended up finishing the program at 8:00. Yay! I'm always concerned about not going too long on programs. I hate making people sit, especially children, and I want ward parties to be very family-friendly. We had people sing and play the piano, violin, and guitars, even a banjo and bells. And one poem, and one dance. We had a few congregational (audience) numbers and for 3 of the songs we had a Mary and Baby Jesus come sit on the stage.

The numbers were all chosen by the individuals who performed them. I was initially planning to weave the songs together into a telling of the a story, but it didn't work out very well, so mostly people just performed them. The problem that I ran into in that department was that I wanted to have a progression through the songs through the Christmas story, but the songs that were chosen mostly had a sort of progression of their own and most of them repeated what others already said. And then there were some random ones that didn't really match with anything. So I gave up on telling a complete story with them and just let them bring the Spirit how they were.

At some future point I think it might be cool to work out the nativity story in song and have people dress up and stage the performing of them, but this time the way it worked out was just right. And I am grateful that it all went well and that it is now done because that means I can concentrate on my own family's celebrations and gift making and decorating (my decorations got torn apart to bring to decorate the church).

The Hand of the Lord: Not so much in my life specifically, but in the church, specifically the youth of the church. Tell me if this sounds like what you hear of most "young people these days": several times during the course of the evening I called to a group of teenagers that was chatting together halfway across the gymnasium and said, "could you do this for me?" Sometimes it was sweeping, or moving things, or carrying boxes to my car. I don't actually know these kids very well. Some I have interacted with more than others, some I've never actually seen before in my life that I know of. Every single time, every one of them dropped what they were doing and with smiling faces and helpful hearts jumped to what ever it was I asked them to do. Every time, every one, whatever it was. I never got a surly look or a "who do you think you are to ask me to do something?" scoff. We truly have wonderful youth in our church. And I know it is not happenstance or luck. It is because of the lifting and refining influence of the Spirit of the Lord--His hand stretched out over His children as they try their best to follow Him.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Skills I Lack

Willow has been experimenting with locking the door to her room. For some reason the locks on the downstairs bedroom doors require keys. Unfortunately, there are no keys for them. Usually it has been when she is playing in the room and I always make her open it when I discover the door is locked and tell her she is not allowed to lock the door when she is playing in there. Yesterday she locked the door when I sent her down for her rest time, but apparently she didn't close it (you can't turn the handle from the inside when it is locked) until she came out a few minutes later. Rhys was still inside. Luckily, Rhys was sleeping soundly and never knew that for an hour we were frantically working on the door to his room.

I learned 2 things from this experience: (1) there are a million videos about how to pick locks on the internet and (2) they all make it look eaiser than it actually is. Some of the videos said you could do it with a bobby pin or a paper clip, but they all also required a "tension wrench," which I've never even heard of before and which, apparently, you get in a lockpicking kit, which if you have, I don't know why you would need a bobby pin or a paper clip in the first place. Since we didn't have a lock picking kit or a tension wrench, we tried using a screwdriver and a knife in place of the tension wrench. If you sear picking locks on youtube, you will see what a tension wrench is and why a screwdriver or a knife is much less effective in the roll.

I felt pretty calm about the whole thing, but I guess my even bloodpressure belied how upset I actually was because when Willow kept asking questions and getting in the middle of things, I sent her to time out. I know she didn't know she had done anything wrong so I tried to explain how serious what she did was, that Rhys was locked in the bedroom and we couldn't get to him, but she just kept asking why. Finally I told her that even when we don't do something on purpose, sometimes there are consequences, and her concequence was that she had to go sit in time out.

So I have come to the conclusion that lockpicking is a skill, and one that it takes more than 60 minutes to learn. The moral of the story is: Start picking locks now. By the time you need the skill, it will be too late.

And the Hand of the Lord is: I have a husband who knows how to remove a door frame and bypass the handle to get a door open without causing permanent damage.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy Family Birthday! and my very intelligent girl

Kevin and I decided when we got married that we wanted to make our Anniversary a family celebration because it is not just when we got married, but it was the birth of our family. We decided it would be a good time to plan an annual fancy dinner out for the whole family. Although we dress up and practice our good manners, however, so far we've still gone to family restaurants. This year we went to Sheri's. The waitress took this picture for us.

Happy 7 years!

When we got home Neoma took some more pictures for us. I love my little family.

Willow took this picture for us.

And since I was finally dressed up in something flattering, I had Neoma take some skinny pictures of me, too. I haven't done that yet, and it was fun.
For the record, this was the dress I wore to my high school prom 10 years ago. It fits me better now than it did then.
My little Willow is learning to read. It's still shaky, but it's coming. We read scriptures as a family every morning, and usually for a verse or two I will say it to Willow and she will repeat it. The other morning I helped her sound out the first two words: And it. I had to work with her to string the sounds of the letters into a recognizable word. She can get every letter sound, but has trouble blending them together accurately. (It will often go, "/a/-/n/-/d/, nad!" or, "/i/-/t/, tit!") But after getting those two we went back over them and she said them, then I pointed to the next and without even saying a letter or a single sound she said, "came," which was correct, then "to" and "pass." She stumbled on "after" and guessed it said "Ammon" (whom we are reading about), but she is beginning to recognize patterns and some words by sight. I am very excited and a very pleased Momma.
The Hand of the Lord: OK, here's a roundabout blessing. On black Friday my brother-in-law and little brother went to Target for their super sale. I had seen some plush blankets on sale there the night before and my little brother knew I wanted them, so he called me to see if he wanted me to pick any up while they were there. I was in the shower while he called and so Kevin talked to him for me and couldn't think of why we would need them (I particularly wanted one to use in making Christmas presents) so he told my brother not to get any. Kevin thought, if I really wanted some, we could go later in the day ourselves. So we did go later in the day, in the afternoon, but by the time we got there they were entirely out of the size and color that I wanted for the sale, which saved about 30%. I picked 2 other blankets in colors that would work just as blankets to have and went to check out. They rang up as full price and when I mentioned the problem to the clerk and explained the sign she checked and told me that that was a "door buster" sale that was only on until 10:00. But while I was figuring out if I should just put them back and go home the manager came over and let us have them for the sale price and dispatched someone to go take down the faulty price sign. I realized as we were on the way home that at the point my little brother was there the sale had already ended, and it is very probable that since he was not the one who wanted them for that price he may very likely have either just put them back or bought them full price and they would have taken the sign down and I would not have been able to get them later. So even though I didn't get the color I wanted initially (Kevin found me some later at a different store), I did get the extremely good price. And it was a blessing.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

12 Hours, Two Good Hands

At least, that's how it goes in my mind. I know this time around that I will still have a bandage on my hand for the rest of the week even after I get my splint off tomorrow morning, but it will be a bendy bandage and I will be able to take it off to shower and re-dress it myself. I am looking forward to this. And on Friday I can even take that dressing off. I'm very excited.

As with everything, recovery of my second hand has seemed to go by quicker and more easily. I have felt less incapable and even feel slightly surprized that the time is up already. But I'm glad. I want it to come off.

I am continually amazed at the peace I feel from the Lord. I can look at some situations logically and think, "This should worry me," or, "I have so much to do that I haven't planned that I should be going crazy right now." And then reflect and say, "But actually I feel fine. I'm not anxious in the least. Weird." And I know that this peace of mind comes from the Lord, and is only available to me when I am doing what I should be doing and doing my best. It is not a feeling that I could create simply by wishing it, and I know because of the times in my life when I am not doing the things I should be doing and so am left to my own abilities. It's horrible. I feel anxious and upset all the time, even without knowing why. I acknowledge and express my gratitude to my Heavenly Father for peace. May you each know a measure of it in your lives also, every day.

And I appologize in advance if the posting gets a little terse for a few days, I'm going to channeling my creative reporting skills into a family newsletter we're determined to get sent this month! Wish me luck!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving Daze

I have been barely able to supress my excitement for the Christmas season that I caught myself several times talking to others about Christmas plans as if I was already in December and had to do a quick reigning myself in and reminder that it wasn't after Thanksgiving yet. I've been so excited about Christmas that I was having a hard time giving Thanksgiving its due excitement. Even Thanksgiving morning I just sort of sat around doing other things instead of incessantly planning and figuring what needs to be made and when does it need to be started and what can we set up to be ready, etc, etc.

And then it passed, and, I think because I didn't experience the whole rollercoaster of emotion about it, it sort of feels like it never happened, so I'm still feeling guilty getting out the Christmas things. I feel like I'm forcing it, and that just doesn't seem right. I love Christmas decorating! But I'm not feeling it right now. Sigh. However, I will persevere. We will have decorations up this week! (OK, we actually already have half of them up. We will decorate our tree! That's not up all the way)

The Hand of the Lord: I have 3 older siblings who have all had carpel tunnel surgery before me. It is so comforting and helpful to have them to turn to and advise me as I am recovering from mine. My sister sat down and massaged my scar on Thanksgiving day. It was wonderful. I am grateful for the advice on resting enough and not resting too much, on desensitizing and strengthening. I love my family. And I love the the Lord put me right where I am in my family with so many older siblings to love, support, and guide me.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

At Last! Book Review Time--Leven Thumps*

*an additional comment was added to this post near the bottom. Also, just so you know, this review contains no sort of spoilers. So read in security.


So, as I have been asked and as I was intending to say all along (I just ran out of time), the books that I have been reading/listening to are the Leven Thumps series by Obert Skye.

There are 5 books in the series:

Leven Thumps and the Gateway of Foo
Leven Thumps and the Whispered Secret
Leven Thumps and the Eyes of the Want
Leven Thumps and the Wrath of Ezra
Leven Thumps and the Ruins of Alder.

and a companion book: Professor Winsnicker’s Book of Proper Etiquette for Well-mannered Sycophants

I'm reviewing them all together because it is really one continuous story. None but the first book really opens--they just start, and none but the last book really concludes--they just end. So expect to read them all sequentially in rapid succession. I'm glad I didn't start them until they were all published. They are pretty quick reading. I recommend reading the companion book after you have started but before you are about halfway through. Then you have a frame of reference for it but have not gotten so far that the fun surprises and hints have become largely irrelevant.

It is a really interesting series. It revolves around a boy named Leven Thumps and a realm called Foo. Foo is described as existing in the space between the folds of your mind--the place where dreams go to be enhanced and made beautiful. But it is nevertheless a real and substantial world with inhabitants of 3 sorts: those native to Foo, who's kind were created in the beginning and have a job in keeping Foo serving it's purpose, creatures born of dreams who don't really have their own grand purpose but are just sort of happenstance, and those who have been snatched from Reality into Foo (and their occasional descendants) who are expected to join the natives in maintaining the purposes of Foo.

The driving conflict of the book is that evil has been building in Foo in the form of beings of all sorts who are not contented with their lot of dream enhancement for the rest of their lives and so bend dreams to their own selfish and evil ends with the ultimate goal of finding a way out of Foo and into reality (which they think will make them the rulers of everything, but those loyal to Foo believe it will mean the end of dreams and therefore the end of all mankind).The entire series takes place over the course of a few weeks, but an interesting trait of Foo is that people there age by experience, rather than time, so in these few weeks Leven progresses from a 14-year-old boy to a 20-something-ish young man. Ditto for Winter, the 13-year-old girl who accompanies him to Foo.

The author is LDS, but it is not an LDS book. That being said, however, I was very, very happy to find that, unlike some other LDS authors I could name, Obert Skye keeps his writing incredibly non-offensive. On rare occasions he will say that a character (usually uncharacteristically) swore, but that is actually what he writes, not the word, or even a description of what the word is. For example, something along the lines of, "Tim always told his boys that use of foul language belied a lack of creativity or intelligence. Apparently the sight of X drained him of all intellect. 'Wow! That was a colorful word!' exclaims another, very naive character. 'What does it mean?'" Occasionally the author will use terms that the LDS reader will recognize as common, of not entirely exclusive LDS phrasology, but they are innocuous enough, and myself having run up against the difficulty of trying to use other wordings just for the sake of avoiding commonly LDS terms even though they would be easily understood by any audience, I can readily forgive that.

One thing that I unexpectedly enjoyed a whole lot was the life truths from an LDS perspective woven into this secular fantasy story--echoes of what resonates so deeply with what I know popping out of a story that is wrapped up in entirely other unreality. I wanted to use a quote from C. S. Lewis here, but I can't find it. And now I am beginning to wonder where I even heard it from in the first place. So this is an explanation of what I think is a C. S. Lewis Quote but I cannot definitely confirm (if someone can, please help me!): In fantasy we strip away every physical thing familiar in our comfortable reality--even the very laws of physics no longer apply. And in this way we highlight the things, non-physical, which must remain constant--the struggle between good and evil, the universality of morality and kindness. When what is unimportant to moral understanding is removed and replaced by something entirely different--an etirely different world--what remains consistent is brought to the forefront and more easily becomes a focus in a way that is difficult when the mundane trappings of reality cumber the way. Thus good fantasy re-affirms the deepest, most valuable truths of goodness and morality in a clear and beautiful way. I think this must be the big reason why I dislike immoral fantasy so much. I am actually disgusted when I come across fantasy that uses it's re-versioning of reality to negate moral laws--consequences of sexual immorality don't exist (magic amulets provide 100% birth control and STD's don't exist), wanton violence doesn't count if it is against things that don't look human and have green blood, things like that. But I digress.

What I was saying is that I really enjoyed seeing glimpses of not only rather universal moral truths, but some concepts and aspects of the plan of salvation that are uniquely LDS being woven into a different story--the salvation story of a different world. Things like a character who lived in a place and had the life experience of an adult agreeing to come to be transformed into an infant and have all memory of her former life erased, to grow up in a harsh and difficult world, but only with the promise that she could, in the end, return to her former home. The heavy reliance of the "good" characters on what they call "Fate" (what I would call faith) that basically means that all things will eventually be worked out for the ultimate good, so when you come to a place where you don't know what to do, after you have done all you can do, you can still have peace while waiting to see what happens next because it will all be alright in the end (even if it means sad things and pain come before the end). There were other things, too, but I can't think of them all right now. I really, really liked that aspect.

The only deficiencies in the story for me are 1) It does fall into a common trap of teen fantasy--(almost) every adult is either evil or powerless (which is why kids have to save the day in the first place). This is often accompanied by abysmal family relationships. I was able to get over it enough to enjoy the story, but I think it would have made the story a little stronger if it didn't seem so heavily kids vs. adults. 2) There are some possibly disturbing or frightening mental images presented. It is not heavy on gore and the occasional violence is not disgustingly detailed, but some occurances and images could be alarming or gross, depending on how you see them in your mind--an oozingly and festeringly infected ear, black skeletons being dashed to bits and continuing to bite, the guise of a kindly old man being blasted off of what is really an amorphously human-shaped ooze of blackness--things like that.

*additional comment*
Something I liked, but others might find annoying was the voice of the narrator. It often digressed into seemingly unrelated details or side tracks, but it kept the whole story funny and lighthearted. I really enjoyed it. It reminded me of the narrator in "A Series of Unfortunate Events," although the story in itself was not nearly so dismal.
*end additional comment*

I have heard this series compared to Harry Potter, but the similarities are more superficial than substantive--in both the protagonist is an orphan boy who is raised by unkind and unloving relatives and then in his young teens-ish years is caught up into a fantastical adventure to which he has unknowingly been destined his whole life. But lets face it, that's more a standard modern-world fantasy plot than a glaring duplication of storyline exclusive to these two series. The stories themselves are very different.

Overall, I would give this series a 4 out of 5 stars. I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone over 10. Possibly down to 8 for a mature child. For the most part I didn't have a problem playing it in the background with my 3 year old around, but I don't think she would have understood or enjoyed it a lot if I was trying to read it to her.

I would love to hear from anyone else who has read these books--what did you think?

Dreams and Other Things

I didn't get to writing yesterday because my hands were over-worked. They are a little tired today, too, so I don't know how far I'll get. So we'll take care of the important stuff first: Monday night I got a huge headache. I've never had anything I've known as a migraine before, but occasionally I have gotten really splitting, don't-want-to-deal-with-the-world headaches--most notably before I learned how much water I need to drink and then again after my very minor car accident. I haven't really had a problem with them since then.

But on Monday night, wow. It was a doozy. I'm fairly certain that it was brought on by a prolonged period of time not drinking enough water. I have been really lax about it for the last several months and my body is starting to feel the effects--continually dry lips, um, actually that's mostly the only sign. Except this headache. And here is the Lord's care and mercy--the recurrence of dehydration-induced headaches, did not happen until after Kevin got home. Even though I was just as bad the entire time he was gone and even before, I wasn't laid low by headache even once (other things laid me low occasionally--like surgery--but either not as completely, or not without planning). As it was, I went to bed at about 7:00 and Kevin took care of Rhys (Willow was with Neoma). I didn't even have to find someone to watch the kids. I just told Kevin how I was feeling and went to bed. I love having 2 parents in my family.

Now for the dreams. I think I've always had really vivid dreams, and I know I've thought about them sometimes, but never as much as when I was roommates with Thora, who had to lay in bed every morning and tell me about what she just dreamed. I loved it, and I started telling her my dreams, too. And I found that when you tell a dream right away, you remember it better. I had some interesting dreams and thoughts about them recently that I wanted to share.

Sometimes dreams are so mundane it's hard to remember whether or not they really happened. I remember dreaming once that my sister announced she was pregnant. You'd think this would be memorable enough I would know the difference. Nope. And then a while later I finally asked someone about it. She actually was pregnant. But I still don't remember whether it had been announced yet. The point is, if it was a dream, it was so unremarkable that I didn't know it was a dream or just a faded memory. Then 2 nights ago I had an entirely unremarkable dream--I was using my sister's silicone pastry brush to brush something yummy, like, glaze or something. Afterward I was sucking off the yumminess and several of the silicone bristles came off in my mouth. I remembered that these bristles had been falling off for a while and I just said, "Oh, well, I guess this one's no good any more." and I threw it away. Then yesterday morning I was grinding wheat for pancakes and thought it would be good to get that brush that I always use to brush the flour down and my first reaction to that thought was, "Oh, yeah. I threw that away." And it was several minutes before I suddenly realized--no I didn't! That was a dream. And there it was in the drawer. Even the dream-remembrance I had that the bristles had been falling out for a while was false--it has maybe had one or two accidentally pulled off, but it was definitely not wearing out.

Dreams can be so weird. Last night in the middle of an otherwise really weird dream--there was fire in a corn field right outside the house and my super powers of fire suppression weren't working correctly--there was a movie on the TV where someone was putting out little bits of fire, and they missed one and as the camera angle shifted, it looked like that little missed bit of fire was coming toward the screen and as it got to the point where it disappeared off the bottom edge, but seemed like if it followed its trajectory it would now be coming into the middle of the room I turned and blew to put out the fire, like blowing out a candle, right on the spot like it seemed it should be before realizing that it was actually only on the TV. But the funny part about it was as I turned, I saw that my Aunt (one I have not thought of in a while) was there in the room on the other side of where it looked like the fire would have been and she turned and blew on it exactly the same as I did at the same time, and then we both looked at each other and laughed at our mutual silliness.

It wasn't until I started writing that paragraph about last night's dream that I realized how full of fire it was. But I guess that's not surprising since we moved the TV out of the fireplace for the first time since my Sophomore year of college--if I have had a fireplace, my TV named Kevin has been in it everywhere I lived--and put the gas fireplace guts back in it so we could have a fire and be a little warmer in our freezing weather conditions. Kevin and I even slept in front of the fire last night (our sheets were still in the dryer). But then, after the whole fire dreams, I know I went on to dream more, because I was in a different house and there was at least one movie that someone was watching in the background and suddenly I realized that 2 of the stars were people that I know. He was playing a recent convert to the LDS church who was going on a mission and she was playing the girl who wanted to wait for him while he was gone, even though they weren't actually dating or anything before he left. Neither of these people is a particularly close friend, but the guy is nearly 30 and has recently gone back to school while the girl I haven't seen in years but I know she got married and my sister recently told me she just had a baby. And then in that house there started to be a big storm like a hurricane or a tornado and we had an argument about whether or not we were supposed to open the windows. I think the strangest thing about dreams is how mundane they can feel, even when the things that are happening in them are not normal.

And then there are the inspiration dreams. I'm sure someone has dreamed a really good idea before. I dream ideas, and they seem really, really good at the time, and then I wake up and they make no sense. Or they make sense, they are just dumb. The other night I dreamt a song, or lines of poetry, or something. I think as I was formulating it the rhythm came out sounding more like a rap. I remember being so excited about it in my dream because it was sooooooooo good. And it all started with a single line of imagery, "you're brushing me off like a non-stick friend." I still like the way that sounds and I think the metaphor is sort of cool, but it seems a lot less accessible and readily comprehensible now than when I was dreaming it.

And then there are the epic dreams. These are a lot less frequent, and only one comes to mind. The strangest thing about this dream is that it actually ended. Most dreams I just wake up before there is any resolution. But this one was totally complete. I've told it several times, and gone over it in my mind innumerable more times, but I haven't written it down yet. It was just too long. I even wrote in my journal at the time (it was my senior year of high school) that I knew I needed to record it, and I would some day, but it was just too long to do it now. Maybe now is the time. It will probably be one of those posts I work on for a long time before it gets published, but rest assured--it is coming. It was like a cold war communist China movie. It was intense.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Small Blessings, Big Blessings, and Snow

If you live here in the Seattle area, I don't even have to tell you about the snow. For those of you who don't live here, I will just give you a summary of how they explained it on the radio this morning--Don't leave your house. They said since the horrible snow-in power outage catastrophe of 2008 the city of Seattle was prepared with a new plan--attack the road with ice preventers and snow melters (read: salt) before they even start to get slick so roads can stay clear. Apparently they were a little late getting started because overnight, when most of the work was supposed to be happenning, they couldn't get out on the roads to clear them because they were too backed up with abandoned and cars and accidents.

I'm thankful that the only thing I had wanted to leave the house for today (besides sledding) was to visit my new niece. And as much as I want to do that, it is not necessary for today and we can stay bundled up at home cozy and content.

Yesterday, however, my mom flew in from Denver in order to stay and help with said new niece. My sister Neoma was elected to pick her up from the airport and bring her to our other sister's house. She was supposed to be at the airport for a 4:20 flight and she left here sometime around 3:00. She took the 2 3-year-olds with her because they like to ride in the car and see Grandma and it is easy to watch them when they are so contained. She didn't get to the airport until after 6 and didn't get home until after 10. Small blessing--there were no accidents in the car from the fragilely potty trianed children. This was due in part to her ingenious deployment of emergency diapers in the middle of the 3 mph creeping freeway. The big blessing--they made it home at all. We really didn't know if they were going to. I am so grateful for the safe care of the Lord that meant they did not have to spend the night in the car. There were people who did last night, and Neoma drove far enough on the roads to up her odds significantly of ending up as one of them.

As it is, the most immediate thing on my mind this morning is looking forward to playing with my kids in the snow!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Unsuccess Unsuccess

So I got a bug to google my blogs and see if they come up (Thanks to my brother's dilema and facebook cry for help). Instead I found several articles with instructions of how to have an unsuccessful blog and guess what I discovered--I'm doing it wrong. I did get some things right--mile long posts, extended breaks, rambling--but apparently I don't swear enough, I'm not abusive enough to people who comment, and I shouldn't have said anything about my blog on facebook. Oh, well. I guess I can live with that.

I have a wonderful husband who makes breakfast for our family and does diapers and every thing without complaint while my hand is bandaged, and even when it is not. I know I marvel and thank the Hand of the Lord for guiding me to him a lot, but it's just so true. I'm a lucky, lucky girl.

It's Christmas!

It snowed a bit today--nothing stuck, but when my sister noticed and pointed it out to the children, my daughter looked out the window then exclaimed to me, "Mom! It's Christmas!" I love my little girl.

Tonight we went to an interfaith Thanksgiving service. It was held in a Catholic church and was attended by members of the LDS church, a local Jewish temple, and about 7 other Christian denominations or non-denominations. One of the men signalling people where to park had long white hair and a long white beard. As we were pulling in Willow asked, inevitably, "Is that Santa Claus?" I answered that it was not, but he probably dressed up like Santa sometimes for fun for little kids. (I could just tell he was a Santa.) Apparently he heard our conversation and he goodnaturedly told Willow that he was one of Santa's helpers. We spoke with him several more times throughout the evening. I hope someday Kevin can grow a long white beard. I would love to be Mrs. Claus every December. I would refrain from dying my old lady hair just to do that. And make myself a red, fur trimmed dress with a white frilly apron and a mob cap. But I digress.

It is a sweet experience to join with other that you know don't share all your beliefs and yet are still able to rejoice with you in the beliefs that you do share--in a loving Heavenly Father who blesses us with an overabundance of all things we need, and even more, just to bring us joy. I see the Hand of the Lord in such gatherings. Even though they occur at least once a year, and usually more often in our community, this is the first one I have actually gotten myself and my family together to go to and I see in it the way God touches the lives of all His Children who seek Him, even if they do not have all the light of the restored gospel yet.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Luxury of Washing my Hands

I promise, I am working on that book review. I’m just not able to write a lot each day, so it’s coming incrementally.

So, I had my 2nd hand surgery yesterday. On Monday I had the splint and bandage removed and the stitches taken out from my right hand. There were still steri-strips over the incision and the doctor recommended that I encourage them to stay on until Friday (yesterday). To facilitate this he wrapped my wrist in a new bandage. The advantages were that the dressing was much smaller, being only one strip around my wrist and up over my hand between the thumb and first finger holding a gauze pad on the inside of my wrist; there was no splint so I could bend my wrist; and I was cleared to get it wet and change the dressing myself, so I could shower with relative normalcy.

This was great. I showered 3 days in a row! (I would ask you to be impressed except that I did it because I was instructed to shower with special soap for each of the 3 days leading up to my surgery yesterday.) Then, after showering early Friday morning to prepare for my 8:15 am surgery, I left the dressing off and removed the steri-strips. I was at the surgery center by 7:15 am for my surgery and it wasn’t too long before I was (un and re)dressed and just waiting for my name to be called. Kevin was able to come with me this time, which was wonderful. After quite a while of waiting I finally decided that it would be easier to go potty now than right after surgery so I excused myself to the bathroom.

It wasn’t until I stood in front of the sink and put my hands—plural—under the water that I realized that this was the first time in 2 weeks that I had been able to rub and wash both of my hands together. I had had a bandage on my right hand the entire time so it had always been either awkward solo left hand self-washing or awkward left hand and right fingertip washing. And I also realized it would be the last time for the next two weeks that I would have that opportunity. Within the next hour my left hand was going to be put in a splint. I savored the feeling of rubbing the skin of my two hands together and stepped out of the bathroom just in time to answer the questioning of the nurse who had come to find me to take me to the OR.

I am very grateful and recognize the Hand of the Lord in helping me find that one opportunity to experience what I didn’t know was such a missed simple pleasure.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Another Reason to Learn Baby Signs

I lost my voice again. It seems to happen every year while I am trying to coordinate the ward Christmas party. Except last year. I don't think I lost my voice, but I did sprain my foot the day before the event and had to do all my set-up and event directing on crutches. But I know I lost my voice the year before that. So now I have to rest up really hard because bI am supposed to sing at the party, oh, and in the chior on Sunday for the Thanksgiving program. Shoot. Ah, well.

It is really hard for me to stop talking, because it is pretty much impossible for me to stop communicating, unless I lock myself in my room, and even then I would probably bring my computer and still blog which is communicating, too. (Sorry for any typos--I'm one-handed typing again.) I actually started thinling this time, seeing as laryngitis seem to be at least a semi-annual occurance for me, that it would be extremely benificial for my whole family to learn sign language. And then I realized that I already do know enough to communicate basic needs--I've been teaching my children since birth! Unfortunately, my kids have become verbal so early that the signing loses effectiveness before they are able to figure out more than a couple signs. But I know th,em! Unfortunately, I found the glaring flaw in this plan when I tried to sign "Rhys diaper change," to my husband: I'm the only one who knows a lot of these baby signs (that, and the signs came off a little half-cocked with one hand in a brand new splint. It even still smells like a hospital). My husband does have a limited ASL vocabulary--he got the finger spelling of Rhys' name--but he doesn't know the baby exclusives, like "diaper." I finally got my point accross by holding my nose then waving my hand in front of it and making a face. We do what works.

The Hand of the Lord: I married a man who mirrors my methods and mindframes on child discipline. We don't use violence, but see the value of occasional physical shock like being quickly snatched from a disobedient or dangerous situation. We both favor a gentle reminder, but know that it must be followed with swift and decisive enforcement to be effective. I am typing this as I watch my husband handling our 21 month old son who was at a distance, repeatedly disobeying. After a warning and a statement of expectation and consequence, he went and got him and put him in time out. Afterward he talked with him about why he was there. (Rhys knew exactly why--"I do ce-ing [ceiling] a dis [this]" and reached up a finger to demonstrate how he had been picking popcorn texture off the ceiling while standing at the top of the slide.) We both believe in strict and consequence driven discipline for things we feel are essential and a "don't start a direction you don't intend to follow through with" (similar to "pick your battles" but with a lot more emphasis on anticipating and not even giving children an opening to suggest a battle for you to decline) for pretty much everything else. Above all, we both agree implicitely that parenting disagreements (which we do still have) should be resolved privately, not in front of children. We have no problem disagreeing on other things in front of the kids--we both think it is very valuable for children to see how differences of opinion can be handled respectfully, if occasionally heatedly--but on matters reguarding thier upbringing, to the whole world, especially our children, we should be united.

I'm not bringing this up or detailing it to extoll the virtures of our parenting style, or to suggest that in all cases and for all people it is the only way that works, but only to explain the miracle of not having sustantive child-rearing disputes with my spouse. I feel so blessed. I have no qualms whatsoever about leaving our cjildren in his care for extended periods, even days at a time. I don't worry they will become spoiled because of him being too lax, or that they will become despirited because of crushingly harsh punishment. I love my husband. I love this blessing the Lord has given me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Not Enough Time

I started the book review I was going to post, but finishing it will have to wait for another day--I'm going to DUP!


The Hand of the Lord: We have a new car. Well, a 12-year-old new car. The Lord has provided for me so well. When Kevin and I got married, his parents had a car they didn't need any more and they were happy to let us buy it from them at a generous discount, and pay them only as we had money available. It has been a great car for us--it fits really well with cargo room to spare (which doesn't mean I don't use every inch when we go on trips, it just means that we could have leftover room if we really wanted to). It has decent gas mileage and has provided wonderful opportunities for Kevin to learn auto mechanics. But it's starting to have a few problems that make Kevin very leery of taking it on long trips and we hope that sometime in the next year our family will be growing a little, which would make our current vehicle no longer roomy for long trips. When just at this time that we are seriously considering the need of a new, larger car, my sister suddenly and seriously need a larger car too--with the pending birth of her 7th child, she needs to upgrade to a full-sized van from her current minivan. And she wanted to give her minivan to us. Just give. She doesn't want us to pay her for it. I love the way the Lord takes care of us.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I had the greatest dream last night

I dreamt that Kevin came home without telling me his flight information and just suddenly showed up in the middle of the night. Mmm. I liked that dream.

And then I woke up...

And it wasn't a dream. Kevin got home last night! Yay! We have had a fun family day together, including walking to downtown Woodinville, having lunch at Pallino's--a fastish Italian food place, exceedingly fun and exceedingly yum, and we found out after we got there that Wednesday is Kids Eat Free day. Yay! It was a little more expensive than Fast Food, but not much, and the food was way, way, way, way better! Just stop by for a dish of gelato sometime. It really is worth it--and some window shopping at Target, or more accurately, some Kevin-walk-around-the-store-with-the-kids-while-I-scan-the-dollar-items-for-Christmas-presents. It was a lovely day.

Here is another example of little nudges by the Hand of the Lord that continually lead our lives in the best direction: Kevin came home with a full dufflebag of dirty laundry. He apologized and said that he had it all together in the morning to set outside his door on the ship to be taken by the laundry people who would wash it and return it. But for some reason he just never put it outside his door. He couldn't say why. He had every intention of doing it, he just didn't. But if he had, there is no way that it would have been returned in time for him to leave the ship to make it to the airport for the flight he was going to be scheduled on to come home. He did not know at the time when the flight would be and it was sheer luck--Providence?--that he was able to pick up and leave so quickly because his clothes weren't stuck in the ship's laundry.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

First, the Spiritual Thought, then more if I have time.

I decided I need limit my blogging time each day. This will help you so you don't have volumes to read, and also help me to do more things during the day. This will probably mean that some posts take longer to write than they already do, and probably more posts will be just spiritual as I still want to actually get those posted each day as I blog in place of journaling, even if I don't finish whatever other blog post I am working on. That is why I am starting with it first today.

I just finished reading/listening to a series of books (whereof the balance of this post in intended to be a review, however I do not yet know whether I will get to that completely today, so it might be in a later post). They ended with the not unfamiliar scenario of only seconds left to save the world from utter destruction and one person alone who could do it, facing seemingly insurmountable odds requiring the sacrifice of everything he had as well as snap judgements and hurry, hurry, hurry to make it in time. It makes for great and exciting reading, but as I was reflecting on it, and also some of the great spiritual overtones in the book in general, comparisons inevitably rose in my mind between this protagonist and the one and true Savior of the World, Jesus Christ.

I realized that as exciting as it is to read these stories of universal rescue from the brink of disaster with an immediate and literal deadline, they are fundamentally different from the true story of the saving of the world. The life of and atonement performed by the Lord Jesus Christ did not come at a time of immediate or impending global catastrophe. Although there were political struggles within the society into which He was born, it was a time, though oppressed, of relative peace. There was no looming deadline of disaster against which He was forced to hasten. He lived a normally-paced life and was able to grow from a child all the way to full manhood without being snatched up into a rollicking adventure of doom.

He lived quietly, and when notoriety did begin to come, it was still on a very small scale, considering the whole world. And when the moment of crisis arrived, it was faced alone, quietly, without the eyes of the world and without any outside time frame except a personal determination between Him and his Father. It is true that it was immediately followed by arrest and imprisonment, the coming of which was already set in motion before His prayer in the Garden, but the Intercession was not performed with Soldiers looming on the horizon, requiring hurry and haste. It was all done in order and solitude, without rush.

There was a time schedule to the rest of the events as well: arrest, crucifixion, Resurrection. But there is never any indication of fighting against that clock. There was no buzzer to beat.

As I reflected on these thoughts, I realized that the unfolding of the actual salvation of the world is much more relevant to my life than any nail-biter of impending, immediate disaster. For most of us, we will not be brought to face a moment of now or never on which the world will hang, or even our own entire, immortal life will hang. But each of us is asked to live fully, without hurry, making small choices daily and constantly, forever, that lead to the salvation of our own souls. When the moments of conversion and conviction do come, they are most often not moments outside crisis. They are moments of quiet, solitude, reflection with the world progressing steadily, normally, leading up to it and continuing on, outwardly unchanged following it.

How grateful I am for the example of our Savior who lived in the real world, a real and very human life with ups and downs, but above all, normalcy. That is an example I know I can follow, and it makes his supreme achievement all the more impressive, because the decision points were intentionally created, rather than fantastically forced upon him. I am so glad for a Savior I can relate to, with an accessible life. And I am grateful to see the Lord's Hand in my life, daily, quietly sharing insights that build my testimony and increase my devotion to His Plan.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Half-Way Hand

So, the splint is off, but I have a new bandage on. However, it is one that I can change myself and I am cleared to get it wet. I can also bend my wrist now, but I only have about 75% range of motion, and a lot of weakness. I'm confident it will slowly come back. I am supposed to still take it easy on my wrist and hand over the next week because the inscision site is still really tender and could possibly re-open if too agrivated. Also, too vigorous of activity could cause swelling of the tissue surrounding and even the nerve itself, and that could cause increased scar tissue which would crowd the nerve and basically negate the effects of the surgery. So, taking it easy. I know there are a lot of things I will have to ease into doing again, but one thing I am definitely starting today: Shower! I may still wear a rubber glove just so I don't soak the steri-strips I am supposed to leave on til Friday.

At the doctor's office, I was brought back to the exam room and the nurse removed the dressing. It was the first look I got at the incision site. There were 4 steri-strips running crossways over a small incision parallel to and a little under the creases of my wrist. I couldn't see much of the incision site through the steri-strips. It was slightly swollen and it looked like some faint black lines were running through it. And in a big square all around it the skin was still tainted orange-brown from the site-preparation iodine. But the weirdest part was about 1/2 inch from either end of the incision there was a bright blue thread sticking out of my skin about 1 1/2 inches. Soooooo Weeeiiiiird!


I had not brought a book to read, so I had nothing to do for the 10 minutes I waited for the doctor except stair at these blue antenae sticking out of my wrist. It was bizzare. I felt the end of one of the strings. It was suprizingly stiff. I don't know what I was expecting, but that wasn't it. When the doctor finally came in, he didn't even need to remove the steri-strips to take out the stitch. He just clipped one end and pulled it out by the other. It felt funny and there was a little twinge of pain, but it was over quickly.

I may be having my left hand done sooner than later--all dependant on if Kevin comes home sometime this week. I hope, I hope! He can be my hands. I love my Kevin. And I'm grateful to have my hand back, even if it is not 100%

And now I'm falling asleep as I try to think of an evidence of the Hand of the Lord in my life today. It's not that it's so boring, it's just that, while going to bed leaves me feeling refreshed and able to get up without too much difficulty at 5 am, it also makes me crash at about 10-11 and desperately want a nap. I see the Lord arranging for Kevin to work for a few more days before coming home without working for weeks longer. (The job he was on ended a couple of days ago and they sailed in, but at the last moment were inexplicably asked to stay on for a few more days. So there they sat as the boat travelled from in port in LA to Tampa, FL. Who knows what he will do from there.

I just fell asleep sitting here typing and I woke up to 1500 "e"s on the end of "there." (yes, I kept a rough count of them as I deleted them.) I realize now that I was also mentally asleep as I was formulating that sentence. I don't actually remember typing it, but it's not actually what I meant to say. I meant to say that he may well fly home from Tampa, or else fly home as soon as they get back to LA in a few days. I hope I hope. He will have had almost a week more of work after finishing the initial job but still be completed with an assignment instead of having an assignment that goes on through when I want him home to help me with surgery recovery. If I have the surgery this Friday, though, it does put me at the day after surgery traveling to eastern washington for a wedding. Oh, well. Better than surgery the same day of the ward Christmas party I am in charge of.

I think it's time for me to be done. Even though that brief naps seems to have weirdly refreshed me. Perhaps I can do some good around the house before Neoma gets back from the YMCA with the kids.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Crockpot Yogurt--More than you ever wanted to know

It's my turn to join the chorus of blogs about making yogurt in your crockpot all referencing this blog. It was really funny. I started out to look up making yogurt in your crockpot because I heard about it somewhere and that was the top of the Google list. I checked it out and even tried it. Then I went back to the internet to find more information and the next 5 links I looked at were all someone else's blog pretty much directing you to the first one. I did finally find some helpful notes on how it actually worked for someone else on this blog, and then I found this non-blog article with some more technical information which really helped my yogurt making skills.

Some people are afraid of plain yogurt because it is not actually yummy all by itself. But just mix in a spoonful of your favorite jam, or some frozen berries and a little sugar, or just have it with fresh fruit and it is delicious. You can also use it as a substitute for sour cream or to give something you would normally put milk in a little zip. It is versitile and healthful. For my figuring of the nutrition information and cost comparison of home made yogurt, see the bottom of this post.

Without further ado, here are my chronicles (and ultimate triumph) of home made yogurt (and also I've been wanting to make bulleted lists on my blog for a while, so I am seizing the opportunity):

Attempt # 1:
I was so excited to try this when I finally got around to looking it up and it looked so simple that I was impatient and didn't want to wait til we went to the store and I could buy some plain yogurt. I tried to talk myself out of it, but I finally succumbed and decided to use what I could scrape off the top of the one last fruit-on-bottom Greek yogurt cup my sister had bought from Costco.

The Procedure:

  • 2 quarts (Costco) non-fat milk, heated it in the crockpot on low for 2.5 hours.
  • Turned off the crock pot and let it sit, covered, for 3 hours.
  • Stirred 2 packets of Knox unflavored gelatin into cold yogurt scrapings.
  • Stirred 2 c. lukewarm milk into yogurt.
  • Stirred yogurt mixture into the rest of the lukewarm milk.
  • Wrapped the crock in a thick towel and let it sit overnight.

The Results:
It was minimally successful and I have since learned that my milk did not get hot enough to start with and didn't stay warm enough during the culture process and so it was very thin and sort of gloopy. After refrigerating, the gelatin congealed and it was a little bit disturbingly like goopy milk-jello (2 packets for 2 quarts is too much). This would have lead my sister to completely bag the idea of homemade yogurt, but I persevered. Attempt #2:
I looked up other blogs to see if I could find more tips. I decided to try full fat yogurt, as I was sure it would be easier to get it thick without added ingredients. I figured the cultures in the yogurt I made would still be good, even if the yogurt was gross, so I used it as starter for my next attempt.

The Procedure:

  • 2 quarts whole (Costco) milk, heated in the crockpot for 2.5 hours
  • Turned off crockpot, cooled, covered, for 3 hours.
  • Stirred about 1.5 c. milk into about 3/4 c. funky homemade yogurt-jello-gloop.
  • Stirred back into milk.
  • Put into an oven heated at 145 deg. for 15 minutes then turned off.
  • Left the light on in the oven for a little added warmth during the night.
  • Left in the closed oven til morning.

The Results:

OK. It was thicker and richer, but still not incredibly thick. We ate it. The kids loved it, and I saved 1 c. for starter next time.

Attempt # 3

This was the point where I learned about the actual temperatures that the milk is supposed to get to. This made a huge difference. I used a meat-probe type thermometer, the kind you are supposed to jab deep into your roast, or turkey, or what-have-you. I dangled it in the milk covering as much of the shaft as I could to get the reading. I discovered that 2.5 hours on low was way not enough to get the milk up to the 180 degrees it is supposed to get to to begin with. Also that it can cold down to the 110 degrees it needs to be not to kill the yogurt cultures a lot faster than 3 hours. So I made some adjustments to the original method.

The Procedure:

  • 2 quarts fat-free milk heated in crockpot on high for 4 hours to 180 degrees
  • Removed crock from cradle, cooled, uncovered, 1 hour to 110 degrees
  • Made the mistake of trying to mix the skin that had formed back in.
  • Forgot and mixed 1 c. starter yogurt directly into the milk without tempering it.
  • Heated the oven to the lowest setting of warm--145 degrees--for about 15 minutes.
  • Checked the temp. of the milk--about 100 degrees
  • Turned off the oven and put the crockpot, covered, in side
  • After 1 hour, checked the temp of culturing milk--less than 110 degrees
  • Turned on the oven to 145 again for 15 minutes (with the crock inside)
  • Turned off the oven, checked temp--about 120 degrees
  • Waited 1 hour, checked yogurt temp--I can't remember what it was.
  • Noticed that the yogurt definitely looked like it was congealing in the middle with clear-ish liquid around it. When I stuck the thermometer in, I was definitely sticking it into something--I couldn't swish it around easily.
  • Let it sit one more hour, checked temp.
  • Reheated oven for 15 minutes, then turned off
  • Let sit another 2 hours

The Results:

This was the most set up I had yet achieved. In my checking of the temperature I remember it being as low as 100 and as high as 135, mostly in the higher range. I decided to drain the yogurt through a coffee-filter lined wire mesh strainer (actually several strainers--you can't fill any of them too full or they don't drain completely). about 5 cups drained out in whey--a clear, thickish, yellowish liquid that is as sour as yogurt. 3 cups was left of thick, creamy, beautiful, delicious fat free yogurt. It was very sour and I realized that the yogurt was probably done at least 2 hours before I took it out. It cultured very quickly when it was kept warm enough. There were also small papery pieces throught it, I believed to be remnants of the skin formed while cooling that I tried to mix back in. I have not had this problem since I started removing the skin.

Attempt #4:

I wanted to see if, having successfully kept it warm in the oven, I could actually just leave the oven on warm and it would culture just as well.

The Proceedure:

  • 1 quart fat free milk, heated in crockpot 4 hours to 180 degrees
  • Removed crock, cooled 1 hour, uncovered, to 110 degrees
  • Removed the skin from the top and discarded.
  • Mixed 1/2 c starter yogurt into the milk.
  • Preheated the oven to 145 degrees
  • Put in the crock, left the oven on
  • Periodically checked temp. It got to 145 degrees after maybe 45 minutes.
  • Cultured for 3 hours--the length of time it was actually done in last time
  • Removed from the yogurt from the oven, spooned it into coffee filters to drain
  • Noticed the yogurt was not smooth--sort of grainy.
  • Thought, "Oops. I think I cooked it."
  • Lots of whey drained off.
  • Transfered the "yogurt" to cheesecloth instead of coffee filter so I could press it out.

The Results:

What was left was sort of rubbery and squeaky, like new cheese. It was a little sour, but not as sour as yogurt usually is. But since it was not salted, it wasn't very tasty. It may be worth experimenting with in the future to make cheese on purpose. It was not good yogurt. Luckily, I still had some starter yogurt left.

Attempt #5:

I was fairly confident in my yogurt making skills by this point, even though the last time was a fail. I decided to go for mass production so I wouldn't have to make it so often.

The Procedure:

  • 1 gallon fat free milk, heated in the crock pot for 4.5 hours
  • Cooled for about 1 hour
  • Mixed in about 1 c. yogurt
  • Heated oven for 15 minutes, turned off and put in crock
  • After 1 hour, turned on oven for 15 minutes.
  • Let culture for 2 more hours, then--done!
  • Drained the yogurt through coffee filters in strainers and collanders.

The Results:

After draining for a couple of hours, I was ultimately left with 10 c of whey and 6 c of Greek-style (thick) yogurt. It was perfect and wonderful and now I am a yogurt making master. Thank you.

Attempt # 6:

This was made exactly like #5 except that I ended up using cheese cloth to drain it instead of coffee filters and I was able to put it all in one strainer instead of lots of them and it drained just fine. I was tired of the counter full of bowls and strainers and all of the used up coffee filters that got thrown away. I tiny amount of yogurt was lost in being stuck in the cloth, but not much more than stuck to the filters. I rinced the cloth and it dried very quickly. It should be able to use it over and over again. I like this plan.

I found lots of advice on what to do with the whey. I haven't actually tried any of these except using it in a little bit of baking:

  • Use it to culture your next batch of yogurt instead of the yogurt itself.
  • Put in a little sugar and drink it (like lemondade).
  • Water your plants with it.
  • Feed it to your pets.
  • Use it in place of buttermilk in recipes (or in place of milk+vinegar in recipes, but not in place of fresh milk alone--it will make things sour).
  • Wash your face with it--like a yogurt scrub spa treatment.
  • Make bread with it (because of the sugars in it, you might be able to cut down on the sugar you add to feed the yeast).

For most of the suggestions that use it as a replacement for milk, I personally wouldn't want to because it is lower in protein than regular milk but has the same amount of carbohydrates. But that's just me. Others may not care.

Summary of tips:

  • In figuring out how to make it in your crock pot, go off of temperature, not time--your individual crock as well as the volume of milk will all make a difference in how long it takes.
  • If you don't have a thermometer, 180 degrees is when it starts to look frothy and like it is moving without being stirred, but not boiling. It has a distinct "cooked milk" smell that fresh milk does not have. 110 degrees feels like a hot tub--initially very hot, but you get used to it. You would not put a baby in it.
  • The starter yogurt does not actually need to be tempered by mixing a little hot milk into it before mixing it back into the whole body of milk. If it is hot enough to kill the yogurt it is too hot period. If it is not, tempering it won't make a difference. I don't temper any more.
  • The more starter you use the faster it will culture.
  • The warmer the better (faster) for culturing, as long as it does not exceed 140 degrees.
  • If you want a thinner, drink style yogurt, check periodically during the culture process and stop (refrigerate it) once the desired consistency is achieved. It is not necessary to culutre it completely if you don't want to.
  • There is no need to continue culturing it once it is gelled. It will only get more sour and not less watery.
  • The more fat in the milk, the thicker the yogurt will naturally be.
  • You can add thickeners to low or fat free yogurt if you don't want to drain it. Some suggestions are unflavored gelatin, powdered milk
  • The yogurt will thicken in the refrigerater, so don't despair if you don't want to drain it and it isn't quite thick enough for you to begin with.
  • I started taking out the starter before I drain it and putting it in a separate container in the fridge so it doesn't get used by accident--1 cup per gallon.
  • If draining off the whey with coffee filters, only do a thin layer at a time. Otherwise what is next to the filter thickens and creates a barrier so the whey on the top/in the middle is blocked in and won't drain out no matter how long you let it sit. This doesn't seem to be a problem when using cheesecloth.
  • If you still like the flavor variety available in commercial yogurt, try mixing commercial yogurt half and half with homemade plain yogurt. The commercial stuff is so extra sweet that I actually like it better once it is dilluted, and it makes the more expensive stuff last twice as long!

Funny story for those of you who persevered all the way to the end:

While this last batch I made was left to cool uncovered, my brother in law stopped by to look at it. "Um, Carol? Your milk is breathing." I came over to look and sure enough, it had formed a skin on top, but was still hot enough that the milk underneath was swirling and roiling and making the skin wave and pucker and shimmy. It was really facinating to watch.

And now the promised nutrition info:

Undrained: The nutrition info for 1 cup is the same as for 1 cup of whatever milk you used. This will vary with the fat content, but for fat free milk is 0 grams fat, 13 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams protein.

Drained (removing 2 quarts from 1 gallon): I read that the nutrition content of the whey is o grams fat, 13 grams carbs, and 2 grams protein. If draining off the whey you are losing the entire amount of carbohydrates for every cup of whey drained off, but only 2 of the 9 grams of protein, which means 7 grams of protein are left for each cup of whey drained off. This means each remaining cup of Greek-style thickened fat free yogurt has 13 grams carbohydrates and about 20 grams of protein.

Cost Comparison:

The other blogs I read all used expensive products for price comparisons. I buy cheap stuff (not organic milk or yo-baby), so that's what my price comparison reflects. About the absolute cheapest you can find yogurt is $1.50 for 1 quart--$0.375 per cup, when it is on super sale. One gallon of fat free milk regularly costs about $1.90 at Costco, which is what we always get. This works out to $0.119 per cup of undrained yogurt (disregarding the cost of starter, which fades out after the first couple batches and any thickener you may choose to put in it), or $0.473 per quart. Even when drained, it comes out to $0.317 per cup of Greek style yogurt. That's crazy savings, especially when you figure that greek style yogurt actually sells for at least $1 for 6 oz, even on sale.

So the moral of the story is: Everyone should make their own yogurt. It is easy and so, so cheap.

(For additional insight, some of which supercedes what I thought I knew at the time of this writing, please see An Addendum on Yogurt and More (Concrete) Yogurt Insights.)