Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Top 5 moments of being 26, plus several more

{Turning 26}

{Turning 27}
We sat at Brio, the best restaurant in Vegas (in our as-yet limited experience) to celebrate my 27th birthday with Kara and Clay, Chris and Stacey. As I devoured the best dish in the world, Artichoke-Crusted Beef Medallions, Clay turned to me and asked me my TOP 5 best things during my year of being 26.

I am ashamed to say how slow I was to think of even ONE. I hemmed and hawed and searched my mind. Dean's birth was a given, but that was also a top 5 bad in many ways. I looked to Andrew for help, and he pointed out a few. I realized yet again how 2010 wasn't an awesome year for me. Clay's question got me thinking and I couldn't stop wishing I had answered differently. So here is my new and improved (and way expanded) answer, for Clay and everyone else, but mostly for me.

Best Moments of Age 26

1. The Skagit Valley tulip festival. It should be one of the 7 wonders of the world - it was breathtaking.

2. Watching the kids play in the snow at Grandpa's house over Thanksgiving.

3. Going to the airshow at Nellis and going inside Andrew's good old C-17. Also the day I successfully wore a hat publicly for one of the first times in my life.

4. Watching my Dad meet Dean for the first time, and having him stand in the circle to bless Dean.

5. Having my family come visit at Christmas - best Christmas gift ever.

6. Joining my boxing gym! The rush of going for the first time after so long literally brought me to tears. I love me some punching.

7. Going to St. George spontaneously for a fun trip with the Culvers and Noyeses.

8. Getting a yard put in and watching the kids play "lion hunt" in the bushes.

9. Going to Mt. Charleston in August and feeling the cool breeze and smelling the trees. It was the first time I felt content (weather-wise) since moving here.

10. Riding 4-wheelers in Mancos while camping with the Webbs.

11. Eating yummy seafood and playing on the rainy beach with the Schmeils, Minettos, and Smurthwaites right before moving from WA. Eva found a snail in the sand and brought it home. (Unfortunately, it was lost in the car and never found again.)

12. Our trip to the Oregon coast over Eva's 3rd birthday.

13. Making my first quilt.

14. Going on a cruise with Linds and Kenny. A perfect week! (Linds, we're about due for another cruise, don't you think?)

15. Watching Eva and Leighton learn so much during preschool.

16. Getting to touch Dean's soft little cheek for the first time, and then later getting to hold him. Actually, the first 2 weeks of his life were magical. (Thanks in part to pain pills and my sisters and Mom!)

And just for the record, because a few of these cropped up in remembering events, here are a few of my worst memories of last year.

Worst Moments of Age 26:

1. The Sunday where we were living in a hotel and I prayed so hard someone would invite us over for dinner and nobody did. I bawled on the way home from church and then we ate dinner at Chili's.

2. Every time I had to go outside in June, July, and August.

3. Thinking I was going to be murdered in my own home Andrew sent me emails from my own account that Google was going to kill me. (Long story that I wish I could forget but I probably never will. I truly believe that is when my heart problem was born.)

4. Having to drive 12 hours home to NV from CO 24 hours after getting there and stopping every 2 hours to give Leighton a breathing treatment.

5. Saying good-bye to our home in WA and living homeless for 2 months. Those were REALLY bad months.

So I'm not as pessimistic as I first felt when trying to answer Clay's question. It just took me a little longer than it should have. :) Looking back, I did remember a lot of lame things that happened, but I thought of WAY more than 5 things that made me cry from happiness. Actually, probably everything on my good list either made me cry or almost cry from my heart being so full and grateful and happy. I know being 27 will be even better than 26 in so many ways, and I can't wait to make my list next year!

P.S. Thanks to all of you who sent kind birthday messages! It meant so much to me to have you all think of me.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Learning to like Vegas

I sat outside on the bench playing with Dean on my lap and watching Eva and Leighton running around. They picked flowers from a nearby flower pot for me, forgetting that some flowers are not for picking. I told them not to pick anymore, but I was secretly pleased with their stolen gift. The music speaker was just behind us, playing upbeat songs, and I danced Dean and kissed him to the beat. He laughed and grinned his big smile that shows such pure joy it makes my heart stop every time. (I do have a heart condition, you know, so it's dangerous to see that smile too many times in a day.)

As we sat out, basking in the sunshine and the blissfully perfect weather, it hit me: I like it here. I like Las Vegas. I like having springtime weather in January. I like this very moment, at this very mall, waiting for my mother-in-law outside a darling children's boutique. (Where, I can't resist sharing, she got this and these for Eva's birthday! Cutest suit I've ever laid eyes on in my life. She'll be a little Audrey Hepburn at the pool.)

It was a landmark realization. Because although I knew I didn't mind it here and it wasn't as bad as it used to be, at some point I turned a corner and started being happy here. I'm not exactly sure when it happened. But this is big for me.

My tune may very well change come summertime. I told my mother-in-law that I think I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, except in the summer. I detest the heat. (Maybe a cute swimsuit of my own would help?) But for now, I'm so glad to know I have finally really settled in to my life here.

Life is so very good. Even in Sin City.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dinner Party

{Clay is missing from this picture because he had to leave early for a basketball game. Andrew was just on his way out to a meeting when we took the picture - hence the white shirt and tie.}
I love serving big meals to people. It's one of my greatest passions. Special occasions (holidays, birthdays, having people over for dinner) and their accompanying "big deal meals" just make me happy. In the spirit of my Happiness Project, I thought I would record and share my typical process for planning a dinner party.

It starts several days before the big event, when I start planning the menu. Much to Andrew's annoyance, this takes even longer than the actual preparation of the food. Every dish has to be just right and have a special purpose. This week, for example, I was planning a party to welcome Chris Culver home from deployment. Well do I remember what a HUGE deal Andrew's homecoming was to me, so I wanted to let Stacey know how happy and excited we were for their family. Plus, good food always makes a get-together more enjoyable.

Knowing the party would be on Tuesday, I started brainstorming about main courses on Friday. In a moment of inspiration, I decided on my great-grandmother's recipe for BBQ ribs. Always a hit, and significant emotional attachment for me as well - perfect for the occasion. Naturally, you need potatoes to go with ribs. I considered normal baked potatoes, but then remembered a few weeks ago, when we had these same friends (sans Chris, of course) over for a post-Christmas dinner. I had served my Christmas-traditional twice-baked bleu-cheese potatoes. Clay had fallen in love with them and declared, "These are my new favorite food." So for Clay's sake (and mine, because I adore those potatoes more than any other form of potatoes - which is saying a lot), I decided on those again. Plus, I had bleu cheese left that needed to be used! See, I'm also very resourceful.
Rolls are also a necessity with almost any meal. Knowing myself and my tendencies to let WAY too much of my emotional well-being ride on the way my rolls turn out, I opted for frozen, yet delicious, Rhodes rolls. With Kara helping to put on the event, and knowing her natural ability to create amazing salads, I put her in charge of salad, drink, and ice cream.

That left me with a dessert - the hardest part every time. It has to be just the right level of fanciness, uniqueness, and still appropriate for the celebration. (By the way, Thanksgiving is always a White Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake with Pecan-Gingersnap Crust - a perfect holiday food. Just to throw out an amazing recipe that you have to make sometime.) With our occasion - Chris's return - I thought a cake would be good. Cakes are celebratory. I briefly considered a store-bought Costco cake, and then this amazing, incredible Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze (I made that in WA with our friends the Willises), but opted for something a little less time-intensive. I found this and this, but ultimately decided on a Hot Fudge Peanut Butter Pudding cake the CROCK POT. Perfect.

The menu was set. The countdown was on. The morning of the party (Tuesday), I woke up thinking about the food, as I always do on mornings like that. My mind was racing with things to do to get everything just right.
First step was to brown the ribs, make the sauce, and put it all in the crockpot (which always takes longer than I think!). Then I made my schedule for the day. This is one of my favorite parts of big meals (pathetic, I know). I work backwards from the time we will eat and figure out how much time each step will take - cooking and preparation - and write it on my chalkboard. That way I know I have to get the rolls out of the freezer to thaw at 12:30, turn the crock pot down to low at 2pm, and get the cake on high no later than 2:30pm. Since I am a list-lover, this method works well for me. And it makes it almost fool-proof when planning multiple dishes. (Note: I did say almost.)

Chris's dinner was one of the few "big deal meals" where nothing went terribly wrong. Nothing was burnt, I didn't run out of any ingredients in the middle of cooking, I didn't forget any crucial dishes. (Like the time I forgot to make a starch to go with a roast for a dinner party in WA - EMBARASSING.) I did forget to make the corn, but then I decided we didn't need it after all - it had been a last-minute and unnecessary addition to the menu.

Our friends arrived at 4:30, and I finished what little was left to do - crumble the bacon for the potatoes and make sure everything was warm.

Then comes the all-time best part of the whole ordeal - the part that makes being on my feet for 8 hours straight worth every minute - the sounds of "mmm!" and seeing people go back for seconds. It's not that I want people to compliment me, but that I want my food to make them happy. Even if it's just for a minute, it just thrills me to give someone the gift of a good meal. I'm not sure why I'm like this, but even before I loved to cook (or before I knew how to cook pasta without directions) I have always found joy in making food for people.

So I'll report that Tuesday night was an utter success. We had a grand time all being together again, and the food wasn't too shabby. Even if I do say so myself.

Here's the recipe for my great-grandma's ribs. Perfect for a crowd and delicious every time!

Grandma's BBQ Ribs
Boneless pork ribs (however many you need to feed your group - the sauce makes plenty for a pack of ribs from Costco)
3 c. water
4 c. ketchup
1/2 c. lemon juice
3/4 c. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 c. vinegar
1/2 c. butter
2 c. celery, diced
3/4 tsp. cayenne
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 med. onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. ground mustard
1/2 c. brown sugar

Brown ribs on all sides and set aside in crock pot or large pot. Combine all remaining ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Pour over ribs. (If they don't all fit in one pot, split them up and put another pot on the stove or in the oven.) Cover with lid; cook on high for 4 hours and low for at least 4 more hours. In the oven, cook at 325 for at least 4 hours. On the stove, put over low heat for at least 4 hours. (The longer you cook them they softer they get!)

Serve with twice-baked bleu cheese potatoes! AMAZING!!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Calm after the storm. Or rather, after the volcano eruption.

{ This picture is totally irrelevant to this post. I just wanted to show you the monstrosity I had for lunch today. We went on a date to Hash House a-Go-Go, and I've never seen food stacked so high. No, I didn't finish it. But pretty dang close...}

Last night: My stress level was high. After a disappointing call from Andrew at work cancelling a plan I had made and throwing a kink in our dinner party next week, I was annoyed. The kids were ornery and snippy, Dean was whiny and fussy. At dinner, Leighton pretended his couscous were "sprinkles" and threw them all over the floor and table like confetti. Dean screamed and wouldn't be comforted by anything. In the tub, Eva and Leighton got in a huge, screaming fight that resulted on claw marks on both their bodies. (When I forget to cut their nails, it's like handing them a weapon and tell them to have at each other.) That was the last straw. I snapped inside. I grabbed the recorder from the play room floor and started yelling - in an ugly voice I hardly recognized as my own - and slammed the recorder on the counter. I grabbed them out of the tub, wrapped them in their towels, and threw them on their own beds, slamming the doors behind me. Then I put Dean in his crib and, to the terrible chorus of all three children screaming at the top of their lungs, I marched downstairs to the garage. I sat there panting and gulping in the cool air. I was scared of how angry I felt. I was scared that I didn't even feel sorry for losing it. I said a prayer - because the Spirit was nowhere near me by that point - asking for help in feeling sorry. I asked that my anger be taken away because I didn't know what to do with it. It was a very dark moment. I took a deep breath, then went back upstairs.

I found naked Leighton with a key trying to open Eva's door. He looked at me sweetly, as if nothing had happened, and said, "I got a key." I helped him open the door (although it wasn't locked, he was proud of his key that had fallen off the door post when I slammed it) and saw Eva curled up in a ball in her towel under her covers, her wet hair matted to her pillow and her face streaked with tears. In that moment, my prayer was answered, and all my anger disappeared. I felt the full weight of shame - self-loathing, even - at how I had treated my babies. I bent over her and told her how sorry I was. I asked her to fogive me, and my tears fell on her little cheeks. She gave me a hug, and all was well.

All night, I thought about how I had let my emotions run out of control. What kind of a mother was I? Not the kind I wanted to be. I thought about my goals for happiness and how my total lack of self-control was making it hard to make myself or my kids happy. This morning, after studying "self-control" in the scriptures for a half hour, I resolved to NEVER act like that again.

Tonight: All three kids were in the tub at once. Dean was joyfully kicking his feet and flailing his arms, his fat rolls jiggling. Leighton played Legos and built an airplane, then repeatedly crashed it and laughed hysterically. Eva leaned over Dean and cooed at him and let him pull her hair, laughing at his funny baby sounds. I watched it all and sang, "Boom boom, ain't it great to be crazy" and clapped. It was idyllic and peaceful and happy. The utter and complete opposite of exactly 24 hours earlier. After I got them all dressed, I put them in Eva's room to play dollhouse and went to drain the tub and hang up towels. I heard Dean start to fuss (I had put him on his stomach on the floor, and he hates that) and then quickly stop. I finished what I was doing and peeked around the corner to find Leighton showing Dean some little toys to play with. They all sat happily, playing together. It was perfection.

As I sat in Dean's room and fed him before bed, Leighton kept bringing us pieces of the dollhouse things, saying "Deanie needs these stairs." "Deanie needs flowers." Dean fell asleep despite the intteruptions and went down effortlessly (as he normally does, thankfully). Leighton had a bit of a hard time going to bed as he had fallen asleep earlier for a few minutes, so I went in his room to read him a story. He was so sweet during the story, asking me things about the numbers (it was a counting book) and understanding the story line. Afterwards, he was making jokes - genuinely funny ones - and we lay there laughing for a while. Then I sang him a song and rubbed his arm. He said, "Sing me another one, Mommy." So I did. He said, "Sing me another one, Mommy." I said, "I have to go back downstairs." He said, "Sing popcone popping on a a-ticot tee." So I did, and he sang with me, and did the actions with his adorable little hands. Then he said, "Mommy, go downstairs now." I kissed him and said I love you, and he said I love you a couple times, even after I closed the door. There was a happy glow around me, and I felt so content with my life as I came back downstairs.

What made the difference? Lots of things. Some nights, I let everything get to me until I reach boiling point, and some nights nothing bothers me. I don't know why. Why can't I always be positive? Why can't every night be like tonight?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My Happiness Project: January

A couple days after Christmas, I went to the bookstore in search of a book recommended to me by my sister Cami. The Happiness Project. I found it, bought it (despite the steep hardback pricetag), and read it in a little over 24 hours, as I am apt to do with books I love.

This book changed my life in many ways. The biggest way was to direct me in my New Year's Resolutions. I had been in search of an idea for a 12-month system that changed monthly rather than a do-or-die-all-or-nothing-all-year-long approach. I found what I was looking for in the H. For someone change-oriented like me, whose motivation ebbs and flows from day to day (or is that everyone?) this was a perfect approach. For someone who thrives on charts and lists and checkmarks and visual proof of progress, this was just the thing.

So go read the book. (I have a copy that I'm happy to lend out.) Get it from the library if you don't have $30 to spare. Or get it on Amazon if you are more patience-oriented and spend $12. And don't be one of those lame-oes who hates on New Year's Resolutions, okay? Resolutions rock.

Here are mine for the month of January.

~Wake up at 6:15am (this is a work in progress - I'm gradually getting there. Today was 6:40am.)

~Study scriptures for 30 minutes

~Write something every day

~Exercise 5 times a week

~Go to gym (boxing) 3 times a week

~Take a picture (I am doing Becky Higgins' Project Life this year and I LOVE it!)

~15 minutes of housework (put the house to bed)

~Veggie up! (This one is thanks to Cooking Light magazine's awesome 12HH program - check it out!)

So far, so good. I haven't been perfect every day, but I'm not expecting that. I feel so good about the efforts I'm making, and that's enough for me.