Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Imperfect Mama

I've been enjoying some posts at other Bloggernaclers' pads about perfectionism and imperfection in motherhood -- like this one and this one. Right now I'm pretty much embracing my flawed-Mama status. Trying to, anyway. And let's not talk about it next week when we can be pretty sure that my roller-coaster hormones will make me completely unreasonable about any of this.

Anyway, it made me think about the incident I recounted in my comment at Chelsea's blog, and also this one ... thought I'd save it for this page, though I'm not sure why (anybody out there?)

Two weeks ago I was asked to "share my testimony about Family Home Evening'' in Ward Conference. Huh? Testimony about Family Home Evening? Hadn't really thought about that recently. It was just ... what we do.

But here's a rough remembrance of what I said.

I'm not sure why I was asked to share my testimony about Family Home Evening, except that maybe I can give you a real-world perspective on it. We do have FHE in our house, but it's rarely the complete evening you'd think of with a song, prayer, scripture, family council, lesson, game and treat. I think it's more important for us to try to do something for Family Home Evening than to try to do it perfectly.

When we were newlyweds, we got together for FHE with friends or spent some time together reading Church books or magazines. It was good to establish that habit, because when our kids finally joined us, FHE became much harder.

For example, in one FHE when my boys were smaller, we gave the lesson while they were strapped in their car seats on the way to the park. This was one of our most successful FHEs at that time. (This got a laugh ... my ward knows my kids.)

Last week, we realized we had only 10 minutes between the end of dinner and the beginning of bedtime on Monday night. So we did the most important part of FHE -- the treat. We all went to the doughnut shop. (About this point, my 5-year-old joined me on the stand and began to play the piano. My husband came up and got him.)

Most of the time we actually do have a lesson consisting of a story from the Friend or learning the words to a Primary song. It has to be short and simple. But my kids love FHE. They ask for it on Wednesday and Thursday nights. If we miss a week, they call us on it. So my testimony is that even when we don't do FHE "perfectly," our efforts make a difference with our kids.

Then I closed.

I do feel it's so important to keep doing something, and not just for FHE. It's a real temptation for me to give up on the days when things are going badly for me as a mom ... though I 'm not sure what giving up would really mean, and sometimes that's the only thing keeping me from doing it.

(Like the time last summer when the boys and I came home from church early with colds, and I took cold medicine and gave the kids each a dose thinking we'd all go to sleep. Bad idea, Mama. Mama went to sleep. Boys climbed to high shelf to find candle and matches, then set fire to bed. Fortunately I sniffed the smoke and caught it almost immediately. So now, you see why I will never, ever give up the Bad Mama crown to someone who didn't have time to dye the Easter eggs or some silly thing like that. I am IT as far as flawed mama.)

But I don't give up, because imperfect is a damn sight better than alone. We love each other, we learn the gospel, we push on from day to day. Flawed is okay by me, as long as we keep trying.

See how reasonable I can be without PMS? It's amazing.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Link to my story

Here's a link to the PDF version of my story in this month's issue of the Friend.,7779,594-7-1,00.html

Click on the April 2005 issue to open the PDF, then find "Kirsten's Assignment" in the list on the left.

Very fun for me!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

My job, it rocketh

Got a new assignment today. Writing a script for a sound and light show for the campus opening on August 31. I've happily spent the day researching California Native American legends and pioneer stories. My job SO rocks.

Another thing I did was to try to figure out how much script I can fit into the allotted 15-20 minutes. While searching on that, I found this article on about writing with brevity. Loved it. Fascinating theory with great examples.

Writing short pieces is like a game to me. Who can pack the most meaning into the fewest words? Me, I hope.

Good thing I enjoy it. We have a brilliant and classy graphic designer who is forever reminding us that our publications will look better and be more thoroughly read if they are not so text-heavy. Each article for our annual report is about 200 words long. The blurbs I write for the university Web site hover around 350. Press releases are longer, but I begin to think they shouldn't be.

One of my best-ever projects: writing the mouse-over captions for the Web site. Each one had to be 19-21 words long, accurately match a photograph, and communicate a message about our campus. For some reason it was extremely satisfying to me to get those right.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The God of weather

It's a rainy spring in central Cal. The ceiling collapsed in the office of one of our vice chancellors this afternoon, and water poured in. (A funny portent, or maybe a tongue-in-cheek divine retribution; we just heard she's leaving after the campus opens this fall for a job in Portland!) On my drive home from work, I'll likely catch a glimpse of the flooding creek. When I arrive, my children will be bouncing off the walls, having been cooped up in classrooms all day with no outdoor recess.

The weather has seemed to favor the campus lately. Yesterday rain was forecasted, but it held off while we opened the first of the campus' new buildings. Several weeks ago my boss took a photographer from a major California paper out to the campus site and the clouds opened up for some stunning shots. Last Friday we defied the forecast again for an on-site photo session with the chancellor and a photog from the Chronicle of Higher Education. (Watch for coverage in next Monday's issue!)

This reminds me of another phenomenon possibly coming up soon: sunny skies for General Conference. I've always heard stories of skies clearing for Conference, or for temple open houses, or for testimony meeting at Young Women's Camp. These are usually presented as testimony-building experiences -- God approves of an activity when the sun shines on it, or at least when the rain stops. Which seems nice, until it rains on what you know is right.

It rained on my wedding reception in August 1993. In Utah. That's not a time or place when rain should be that common. Yet there it was. I haven't ever been a huge fan of Alanis Morissette, maybe because it always seemed so dumb to me to get all worked up about rain on your wedding day. Sometimes it rains! No biggie!

Besides, I've always kind of liked wet weather. Not being out in it, but being tucked away inside while water pounds the roof. It's especially great in our current house with its wood shingles. On Sunday I listened to that soothing sound while my five-year-old creamed me in five Uno games in a row. We then moved on to Go Fish, where I finally won. We had a blissful day together. I loved it. It was at least as sweet an experience as the sky clearing above Temple Square.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Big day for me -- publication!

So I was opening yesterday's mail over breakfast today, paging through the Friend magazine. They've bought several stories from me, and I had been told the first was slated for publication this July. ("Maggie's Peaches," watch for it!)

When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but ... my story! "Kirsten's Assignment." This story is based on an experience I had teaching 9-12 year-old girls. One had ADHD and a reading disability. I learned after a while that drawing was the key to her attention. She felt pretty good about her work.

I'm so excited ... I have a published story, complete with illustrations. When they get the PDF pages up at the Church Web site, I'll link it. Promise, this time.

Ayisha was supposed to be African-American, not blonde, by the way. But I didn't tell them that, and ... sigh! I would have thought they'd get it from the name! Oh, well!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Watch out if you are a cell phone

So a couple of the buttons on my cell phone weren't working. I decided to pry them off and see if they were dirty or something underneath.

Don't ever do that.

Now they will not go back on and I have to go buy a new key pad.

Sometimes I think I am a little TOO willing to take things apart and try to see what is wrong with them. I end up messing them up.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Some weeks just wear you out

Here's an accounting of our evenings this week:

Monday we had a trip to the doughnut shop for Family Home Evening. We only had 10 minutes after dinner and before bedtime so we did the most important thing ... the treat.

Tuesday I had a temple recommend interview and Young Women, including bringing home a couple of less-active girls so I could give them our old phone. Theirs broke, leaving them with no way to call for rides to school. Their mom is a driver for the nearby prison and works odd hours, so no shopping was not going to be possible until the weekend. By the time I took them home it was 9 PM.

Wednesday I started work at 8 AM and didn't get home from a working reception until 8:30 ... my kids were asleep. This was a sad and tired day.

Yesterday Glenn stayed at work until 8:30 working on a proposal. I had a lovely time watching my kids play in the hose (I love California, have I mentioned?) then warming them up in a nice steamy bath and watching a silly chimpanzee movie before putting them to bed. Then I finished our taxes.

Today I have kiddoes again; we are going to rent movies and make dinner while waiting for Daddy to come home.

It's not that it's so bad. It just wears me out. I want us all home at 5:30, I want dinner done, I want time to chill out in the evenings. I know, it's totally unrealistic.

And the weekend offers no rest, as we are starting to clean and pack to move to a nicer house that I found for us this week. This will be lots of work but well worth it. I'm so excited to live in a place where I will not blush every time my visiting teachers even stop by to drop off a treat. Hasta la vista to the green shag carpet, baby!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Aw heck, it's been too long. Here's some chicken.

Roasted chicken that everyone will eat, with cream gravy

1 whole chicken
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary
2-3 cloves garlic (optional but delicious)
salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp cornstarch
2 c milk

Heat oven to 475. Remove organs and neck from cavity of chicken. Wash chicken and pat dry. Rub olive oil, salt and pepper on the chicken breasts under the skin. Slip rosemary and garlic under skin, and some in the cavity if you like. Lemon would be good, too. Place breast-side up in a small roasting pan. (Do more than one chicken if you want leftovers or if you have more than 4 in your family.) Roast for 1.5 hours.

Meantime, simmer organs and neck in water to cover on low heat. Remove organs and either chop or discard (depending on whether or not you like chunky gravy.) Reserve cooking water.

When chicken is done, remove from pan and allow to rest on cutting board while you add the drippings to your cooking water. Shake together milk and cornstarch in a tightly covered container. Add to drippings and cooking water. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wire whisk, until thickened. Add chopped organ meat back in if you like. Season to taste with salt and pepper. I like a lot of pepper with this.

We had this Sunday with steamed brown rice, salad, and asparagus. And lemon meringue pie for dessert. Even my pickypoo kids ate the chicken. It was loverly!

Monday, March 07, 2005

Watch out for Grandma

My grandma turns 85 (I think) next month. I get to go to Utah for the party, hurray! My uncle is making a book for her containing memories and tributes from all her children and grandchildren. Here's my contribution to the memory book, with the introductory paragraph added for the benefit of an audience not lucky enough to know my grandma:

Grandma Irvine was a working mom in the time of June Cleaver vacuuming in her pearls and heels. Before her marriage, she served a mission in the Central States and earned her degree from the University of Utah. She taught high school home economics and eventually earned her Master's degree and became an instructor at BYU. She reared four wonderful biological kids and a Navajo foster son. She is a grandmother of 17 and great-grandmother of eight. She is truly a role model for me.

I have a lot of memories of Grandma Irvine from when I was very small. I remember waking up to hear her singing when I stayed overnight at her house in Draper. I could then walk into the kitchen to find hot mush, which she served with cream--what a treat! If we were lucky enough to spend the day there, we could count on making peanut butter cookies, feeding the goats, reading stories, and all kinds of fun.

Another thing that still reminds me of Grandma's house: the flowers I remember growing in her garden. A beautiful bed of fragrant iris or a full snowball bush can take me back in time. I remember picking strawberries out in the field and eating more berries than I brought back, and the smell of the dust and the sprinklers blowing in on the breeze and mixing with the ripe-berry flavor in my mouth. We could roll down the grassy hill, which seemed so big to us at the time, but now looking back, I realize it was probably not that huge. We played in Grandpa's sailboat and listened to the birds in the rafters and heard Grandma's rendition of their song: "Draper is a pretty little place!"

When we went to Grandma's for dinner, I remember always checking the white candy dish to see if there was anything inside for us, and how beautiful I thought that light-blue carpet was! I remember at Christmas the tree decorated with little, feathered birds and shiny apples, and the fascinating clock on the living-room mantel. I remember the wonderful playroom at her house with books and toys, and what great games we older cousins had down there while we waited for dinner to be ready, while the adults were upstairs talking. I remember playing "Pollyanna" in the basement family room and of course Grandpa's play houses. When it was time to eat, we all trooped into the bathroom to wash up, and we thought it was so neat because Grandma had little paper Dixie cups in the upstairs bathroom, and we could never resist getting a little drink of water while we were in there.

At dinner, whatever delicious food was being served, there was always a plate of bread and butter to go along with it, and milk to drink in those beautiful goblets, of course. After dinner it seems like we often did some singing or performing of some kind. I remember one elaborate show I dreamed up at age six or seven with costumes and ballet and everything. (Only the precursor, of course, for the famous "Murder at Drum Castle!") For dessert it was homemade ice cream or banana cream pie or strawberry cake or some wonderful thing. We never left Grandma's house hungry, that's for sure. I remember getting half a bottle of pop to drink before we got home (not a whole bottle; our moms didn't want to be changing the sheets in the middle of the night.)

One dinner I really remember is the night before our family left to move to Oklahoma. We had spaghetti, and Grandpa taught Mary Jane how to pull her earlobes and suck the spaghetti into her mouth. I don't think Grandma was too keen on it but we laughed together and had a night to remember.

Grandma was the epitome of good manners for us. Our mom would often ask us whether we would behave a certain way "if Grandma Irvine were watching." She and Grandpa also exemplified high moral standards. We also knew that a movie was truly "lovely, praiseworthy and of good report" if it was a movie we'd feel comfortable watching with Grandma and Grandpa.

Of course for many years I've treasured Grandma's weekly letters, just like everyone else in the family. Through those letters we have learned about her efforts to make a wonderful home, her service in the Church, including her mission to Mexico with Grandpa, her friends and neighbors, her interests and pleasures, and her trials and challenges, especially in Grandpa's last few years. There are probably not many 31-year-olds who can say they really know their grandmothers like I do, and I know what a blessing it is to be able to say that. There have been times when I have been a good correspondent in return, and times when I have not. I hope that Grandma knows that even when our correspondence has been one-sided, it's always been valued.

As an adult, I remember visiting Grandma in Lewiston (that hot room for the family reunion photo!) and in Sun City (driving to Anza-Borrego to see the spring bloom and burning the brakes on the way down the canyon), and especially the day she came to my little pink home in Salt Lake to make jam when Samuel was a baby, a snowy day in 2001. I hope, selfishly, that there are many more happy memories to be made with Grandma here on earth. But when there is no more time for that, I think Grandma will leave a legacy she can be very proud of -- a legacy of family time, of valuing people more than things, of education, of faith and service.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Feeding my children

So I haven't posted a recipe in a while. Maybe soon. But in the meantime I thought I'd do a little list about why I write about food so much on my working mom blog.

1. Preparing food for my family and forcing them to eat is about the only thing I have time to do between work and (the kids') bedtime. Food is a huge part of our family life, even more huge time-wise than it was when I was a mom at home. But at least we have an extended bedtime routine with lots of reading and snuggling and stuff.

2. Personally, I'm kind of food obsessed, probably in an unhealthy way. Eating is comfort, mealtime routines are comfort, etc. There was a time a while back when Oprah and everybody was all into finding the deeper reasons for your poor eating habits. I don't have deeper reasons. I just really, really like good food, and lots of it.

3. At the same time, I'm really interested in healthy and responsible eating. Here's a nice post about vegetarianism. In our family we eat vegetarian dinners almost half the time. We also participate in a food co-op and frequent the wonderful farmers' markets in our area. I love this stuff.

4. Motherhood is inextricably bound with giving nourishment, at least in my mind. I like to think that if I'd given birth to my kids, I'd have been a devoted breastfeeder (my mom was, even when it wasn't so "cool" to be). I know adoptive breastfeeding is possible ... we tried it, briefly though unsuccessfully. Anyway, beyond all that, I love to feed my kids. I love it when they eat well, like my sweet little Abe and his "chili beans" -- any soup with beans, he calls that, and I make bean soups quite a bit. He loves it, and I love him loving it. I love Sam eating three pieces of pizza in a sitting. I love them both stacking up pancakes on their plates. It just makes me happy.

I have three brothers that could be categorized as "rebellious." They've left the Church and two are gay. I remember a time when they seemed to be constantly complaining about how my mom always wants to feed them. One brother in particular, even when he lived at home for an extended period of time, generally preferred to go out to eat rather than accepting the nourishment offered by my mother, who is an outstanding cook and baker and a generous giver. I saw symbolism there.

At the same time, I was reading The Golden Bough, and I found myself fascinated by accounts of "sympathetic magic." The book isn't here at work with me, and it's been a few years since I cracked it open, so you'll have to forgive my selective memory. But I remember accounts of mothers sending bits of themselves or bits of significant matter along with their children, to protect them and sustain them. The magic involved allowed the mother herself to be with her children.

I also remembered a strange conversation with a schizophrenic man in my home ward in Alaska. He told me that mother pelicans pluck feathers from their own breasts, bleed, and feed the blood to their children. Whether that's true or not, I have no idea. But the image struck home. I dreamed of a mother pelican, plucking her feathers, bleeding, then crying when her children would not eat.

So maybe this is why I bang serving forks and threaten to spank when my kids won't eat. And maybe it is why I put recipes on this blog. It's a deeper subject to me than it seems at first glance!

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

It seemed that way yesterday

OK, so yesterday I wrote about how my times with my kids are now mostly happy times ... though they are shorter and fewer. What was I smoking?

Their dad had them at the park yesterday when I got home (I used to get to do that .... wah ...) and I started dinner. They trooped in the door and went straight for the cake in the fridge, completely ignoring my orders that it was for AFTER dinner. I intervened, pretty calmly, but only after my oldest had shoveled in a couple of bites (he's speedy!) Then when I put dinner on, they started whining about how yucky it was.

At this point I had to bang the wooden serving fork on the table and threaten that the next child who said he didn't like the food was going to feel it on his butt.

Miraculously, they both cleaned their plates.

Now that is keeping it real.

I think I slip easily into a misty, lovely perception of home life when I'm at work, and vice versa. I've got to really keep it real. That would be much healthier.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

To keep it real

I am reminded today that co-workers can be just as frustrating as one's children ... possibly even more frustrating, because they are grown-ups and should know better.

I mean, I am pretty honest about the fact that right now I am enjoying work a lot more than I enjoyed staying at home with my kids from 1999 - 2004. Staying home was HARD. The rewards were slim. Part of that was because I was coping with a child with severe ADHD, and of course in our society we don't really address that particular special need until a child hits school. That's problematic, but it's not what I'm talking about here.

Because working outside the home is dang hard too. My time is sucked away into sitting at a computer all day hammering out copy and e-mails and talking on the phone and going to meetings ... this when I could be enjoying my now-stabilized kids and taking better care of my home and running to the fridge every half hour to see how I can soothe my bored and dissatisfied self with some unneeded calories. No, really, it's hard and sad sometimes. I swear. Like when I realized that this summer, it will probably not be me going to swimming lessons with my kids. We will not be having our customary book parties on a big blanket in the back yard. Not too much, anyway.

I know, for a copy writer, I'm easily sidetracked. Let me try to get back to my point.

One of the things that was very frustrating for me about staying home with my kids was having to be extremely vigilant about what they were doing. Anytime I let the discipline slide, even a tiny bit, all hell broke loose. If I wanted to sit for thirty minutes and read a book, I could pretty much count on a federal disaster area in the other room. My kids drove me up a wall sometimes. Almost all the time actually.

Now I don't see them too much ... just from 7-8 AM and from 5-8 PM, and that's on good days. Plus weekends. Man, that sucks! But our times together are happy for the most part. I'm not yelling and screaming. I still have to discipline them, of course, but I'm not emotionally worn out from it like I used to be. When we're together, it's snuggling and reading and doing homework and ... not too bad, to be really honest about it.

Now I have other people to drive me nuts, people who want to swoop in two weeks past copy deadline on a major project and change everything. Today they took my stuff (which, thanks to their perpetual revisions, was late getting to the graphic designer) off the designer's desk into a closed-door meeting for three hours. Can you say sweating bullets? They're nice, don't get me wrong. But they have no concept that this material was supposed to be at the printer last Friday ... they are driving me nuts in a whole new way.

There's no easy life. Somebody will be driving you nuts no matter where you are. That's what I'm learning.