Off time

Please forgive me. I just now walked in the door from a wonderful, sleep deprived, dirt-between-my-toes span of days at a Girls' Camp. Yes, it's true that many of you northern hemisphere-ites are at this minute preoccupied with apple picking and pumpkin carving and cinnamon-scented baking (I know this because Pinterest and Facebook tell me so). I get it (and, hey, I miss it); you're hunkering down for the colder months. But here in southeast Australia, we're just perking up to spring. Since the schools are on a two-week spring break around here, our church group headed three hours away to the gorgeous coastal town of Narooma for the yearly Young Women's camp. 

So the only things rattling around in my brain tonight are: (a) how fast I can get myself into a shower, (b) how good my bed will feel tonight, (c) how long will my left eye stay bloodshot and (d) teen girls are pretty fabulous. Please humor me with a few photos as a companion to Sarah's great post on her Girls' Camp experience in Texas (and I echo every one of her lessons learned):

Teen girls + camp = braid fest

Teen girls + camp = braid fest

Quiet time on the beach. (Seriously. Check out that gorgeous beach. It's like Ireland and Hawaii had a love child and called it the Australian south coast.)

Quiet time on the beach. (Seriously. Check out that gorgeous beach. It's like Ireland and Hawaii had a love child and called it the Australian south coast.)

Amazing Race time (Or, really, an 8K hike disguised as a game. Brilliant.)

Amazing Race time (Or, really, an 8K hike disguised as a game. Brilliant.)

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Happy campers.

Happy campers.

Sketching time on the beach.

Sketching time on the beach.

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A ridiculously funny game where one poor member of each team is subjected to shaving cream, thrown cheeto balls, and squirted water. Maddy was a good sport.

A ridiculously funny game where one poor member of each team is subjected to shaving cream, thrown cheeto balls, and squirted water. Maddy was a good sport.

Bless you for sticking around through what is surely the online equivalent of subjecting you to a whole slide carousel of holiday photos. My brain will be up and working in a day or two.

I almost forgot--as a token of my appreciation, here's a fellow mid-stage mom's hilarious post about being the meanest mom on the block and drawing the line on being over invested in how your kids feel about every little thing. "We're on the same team but, dudes, that team has Captains and it's the parents."  I'd love to hear what you think about it.

FHE

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I don't want to go all 'church-lady' on anybody, but I do want to discuss big kid FHE. FHE is this dandy institution (also known as Family Home Evening) suggested way back in 1915 by Joseph F. Smith, president of the LDS Church. It's a Mormon thing, yes, but it's also just a logical, good-sense way to teach your kids and strengthen your family. Everyone wants that, right? 

For those of you unfamiliar with FHE, here's the low-down: FHE is family night. It's a time set aside to connect and enjoy each other's company. Traditionally, FHE is held on Monday evenings. The whole family gathers together for a song, prayer, a short lesson, maybe a game, and some refreshments. The refreshment part is critical to FHE, but all of the other elements are flexible. For us, FHE is sometimes a family walk, a family swim, or a bowling night. Other times we might make homemade ice cream or play board games. And yes, there have been lots and lots of lessons -- where we talk about all kinds of things, from honesty and money management to Bible stories and spiritual enlightenment. 

In the last couple of years we've fallen off of the FHE bandwagon. It's shameful. I'm ashamed.  As the girls got older, the little lessons on 'being a good friend' or 'Noah's Ark' seemed less germane. Although, let's be honest -- the kids were busy and I was lazy, because being a good friend and practicing obedience are probably most needed during teenage years.

Thus, in the spirit of getting back on the proverbial horse, we have taken up the FHE banner once again. Last night I asked Parker to prepare the lesson. I pointed him towards a few websites with FHE ideas and left him to his own devices. After reading around a bit, he asked Becca and I to be prepared to share a talent (he texted these instructions to Sterling).  

Okay. I had exactly one hour to learn how to juggle. (I do like to impress my kids from time to time). 

In the end, the boy gave a nice lesson on developing one's talents through hard work (he told a story and shared a scripture). And then there was the talent portion of the evening.  Here's how that went down: 

  1. Becca sang "The Man Who Can't be Moved" by The Script while accompanying herself on the guitar. It was really good, and I felt compelled to explain that some people's talents are very demonstrable and entertaining, while other's talents are more hidden. Ahem.
  2. Sterling did a silent skit where he completely acted out a scene in a restaurant. I can't even explain it to you here in less than 1,000 words, but Becca and Parker thought it was HILARIOUS.
  3. Failing to learn to juggle for the 273rd time, I fell back on an old talent standby. I did a dramatic recitation of Shel Silverstein's poem "Peanut-Butter Sandwich."  It was no show-stopper, but it was . . . interesting (and short).
  4. Parker displayed and provided commentary on six of his recent lego creations. He showed us hidden compartments and really talked about his interest in building vehicles of war (you know, tanks and the like). 

Guys, it was really fun and Parker took his job of conducting and teaching VERY SERIOUSLY. And then I remembered all of the reasons FHE is so good and needed -- time spent together, lessons shared and learned, responsibility divided, budding teachers encouraged. Big kids need this. Parents of big kids need it maybe even more.


Note: FHE isn't just for traditional families. Madison was recently asked to coordinate a FHE group at BYU. She and a guy are responsible for planning weekly activities (games, outings, acts of service) for a group of eight freshman. I think it's a great way to help students get to know each other and to foster a sense of belonging.

 

 

Georgia on my mind

Like Sarah's daughter, who just left for France, my Lauren is preparing to take a gap year+ from her university studies and go on a volunteer mission for our church, too.  In the weeks leading up to the assignment letter, we invited friends and family to weigh in with their guesses. (This map makes me so happy. And now I have the irrational travel itch to go to all of these places. A flag on our map is like a permission slip to go there, right?) 

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After a month of waiting, Lauren's mission assignment finally arrived here last week. Lauren didn't want a huge hoopla so we just gathered our family here.  A few sleepy people who were still awake in the states (my parents and one of Lauren's friends) joined us via Skype and phone in the middle of their night.

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She opened the envelope and read out the call,  her voice brightening (always a good sign) as she scanned ahead to the mission location:

You are assigned to labor in the Macon, Georgia mission...[reporting on] Wednesday, August 21, 2013.

She's thrilled and delighted. We all are. It feels like just the right place for her. She was entirely willing to go anywhere but, when pressed over the last month or two, she always mentioned the southern US as an area where she would love to go (that, and the Hawaii Visitor's Center and several other islands. And who wouldn't want to go to Hawaii?) 

The mission includes parts of Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina including Savannah, Hilton Head, Macon, and Auburn

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When I was at Tufts I was asked by a professor to do a guest lecture on the cultural sociology/anthropology of Mormonism. The students in the course had been studying different cultures through the lenses of independence and interdependence so I (over)prepared at length to describe how Mormon families & congregations operate in a unique blend of both independence and interdependence. 

It went well and the students were engaged in the topic. (I always found this true at Tufts--openness to and fascination with ideas in general translated to respect and genuine curiosity about my religion in particular.) When it got to question & answer time for this group of 70 undergraduates, however, what they really wanted to hear about was missions. They had seen them around the city, those hard-to-miss missionaries in pairs and nametags. They were fascinated that young adults their age volunteer to go somewhere they're assigned for 18 to 24 months, with a companion you may or may not get along with, phone contact home only twice a year, no dating, and a full-time schedule of teaching and service. 

Are they perfect, these young volunteers? No, not by a long shot. Do they make mistakes? Yes, it's a given. One of the things I appreciate most about missions is that, just as late adolescence hits its most self-centered, we invite young people to give up two of their peak years to service and selflessness. In a similar but non-religious way, the Peace Corps and Americorps and Teach for America invite young adults to give service in the neediest of settings. Whatever the vehicle, I think it's a great bridge to adulthood.

But it still hurts my heart a little. 

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Let the devil-goes-down-to-Georgia + midnight-train-to-Georgia jokes commence!
p.s. Please send Southern food recipes, stat.

 

On letting go

Me, Jordan (16 months) and Madison (2 months) in 1995. 

Me, Jordan (16 months) and Madison (2 months) in 1995. 

On Tuesday I put my oldest daughter on a plane bound for Salt Lake City. She will spend two weeks in Provo and then head off to France for 18 months. For those of you unfamiliar with the protocol of the Mormon mission, here’s the nitty gritty: They can call home twice a year, on Mother’s Day and Christmas.  Needless to say, there is no texting. They can e-mail (or write letters) once a week on their Preparation Day (commonly referred to as P-Day). There is no visiting allowed. So, when I say I sent my baby off. I mean I SENT HER OFF. TO A FOREIGN COUNTRY. WITH VERY LIMITED CONTACT. I’m alternately JUST FINE and weepy, with little cognitive understanding of why I can’t just pick one emotion and stick with it. Moody, I think they call it.

The mission launching is especially dicey given the communication restrictions. But dropping her off for college was difficult as well. Let’s face it. We will all, in some way, launch our children off into the wide world. Without us. I’ve written a number of essays where I’ve bemoaned the lack of shared information on launching one’s children. Heck, that’s a big reason I wanted to create this blog. Everyone talks about their childbirth stories, and toddler antics, and their children’s athletic or academic prowess. But about the leaving? Not so much. I have found some commiseration in the women I speak to day-to-day. I had a number of sweet moms  approach me this week either in person or via text. They spoke softly about how hard it is. They assured me the separation would become less painful. They looked at me very sympathetically.

Jordan 2004

Jordan 2004

And I appreciated those words so very much. Even an acknowledgment is helpful; it eases the loneliness. But what I’d really like is a guide. Some steps. How to get from point A (heartbroken) to point B (okay with my semi-empty nest). Also, am I crazy? Am I  making too big a deal of this? Because I feel both. And also? I WANT MY BABY BACK.

Here’s my offering on 'letting go' – what I’ve felt and observed thus far. It’s sketchy because it’s new and raw. I'd LOVE for other moms to chime in. Teach me in the ways of this new (and sometimes horrible) undertaking.

  1. The anticipation is rough. I’d like to say the anticipation is worse than the actual separation, but I’ll have to get back to you on that. I think we did too much “This is your last . . . swim party, Chipotle burrito, tex mex food, real deodorant.” It was emotionally exhausting for her and us. I think towards the end she was like, “Let’s just get this ball moving already!”
  2. I was really unsure how to balance her feelings about leaving (excited, scared, etc.) with my own feelings. I wanted to buoy her up and certainly didn’t want to burden her, but I also wanted her to know how much she would be missed – how much we love her. Here’s me: “France is going to be so great! You will be awesome! This is the experience of a lifetime! I might shrivel up and die inside!” Just kidding on the last one, but figuring out how to best support her emotionally was tricky.
  3. The preparation part, while daunting, was fun. She won’t have much time for shopping while in France, so we wanted to make sure she had pretty much everything she needed clothing-wise for 18 months. I’m not a big fan of shopping, but working on mission prep together gave us time to talk and envision what her future in France might look like. It made me feel better anyway. [Here’s a packing note: Jordan has a pretty good case of chronic eczema. So, fearing she wouldn’t be able to get her lotion in France, we bought a number of large bottles to tide her over for about six months. When we finally packed her bags and weighed them, we realized she was over the weight limit by 20 pounds!! We pulled out some of the lotion, but still had to pay an arm and a leg for excess baggage.]
  4. Hard work is a great distraction. On Sunday afternoon I found myself feeling particularly low about the impending departure. While the rest of the family napped, I set about straightening up the downstairs. At first I was just going to unload the dishwasher. But once the music was on (the Weepies Pandora station) and I was working, I felt better. As I slowly ordered my physical home, I found that I was also working things out in my head. Yesterday, while I was waiting for her plane to make it to Salt Lake, I weeded the back flowerbeds. On the up side, we might have a very clean house for the next 18 months.
Jordan 2007

Jordan 2007

Mostly, right now, I’m just stunned. I don’t know how this is supposed to feel, how I’m supposed to respond to the leaving. There's not much of a blueprint to follow other than just keep on keeping on. A friend sent me a quote by Erma Bombeck that is a beautiful summation -- beautiful, heartbreaking and true:

I see children as kites. You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground. You run with them until you're both breathless . . . they crash . . . they hit the rooftop . . . you patch and comfort, adjust and teach. 

You watch them lifted by the wind and assure them that someday they'll fly. Finally, they are airborne: they need more string and you keep letting it out. But with each twist of the ball of twine, there is sadness that goes with joy. The kite becomes more distant, and you know that it won't be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that binds you together and will soar as it is meant to soar, free and alone. 

Only then do you know that you did your job. 

So long, farewell

This past weekend was my daughter's farewell. 'Farewell' is a Mormon term for when the soon-to-be-missionary speaks in church. Ideally, the farewell occurs the Sunday before the missionary leaves, but because of a host of scheduling difficulties we held Jordan's farewell a few weeks early. And because I like to celebrate every event with the trump of exhaustive fanfare, we made an entire day of it. Lots of visiting family (and one visiting boyfriend) converged on the church Sunday morning to hear Jordan speak. After the service, we all caravanned to my mom's house where she, my SIL, and my sister put on a brunch for 30. Remember, we are Mormons...that's pretty much just immediate family.

After brunch, my crew headed home to finish our preparations for an Open House to be held in the evening. And by finish, I mean DO A BUNCH OF STUFF. As you may have gathered from my macaron-making posts, I had settled on a French food theme for the Open House. This experience has yielded me an exceedingly close relationship with my pastry bag. The only downside with the French foods was that much of the menu needed last minute finishes, so I was cooking down to the wire. The final hour of prep found all hands on deck in the kitchen. We even put the boyfriend to work. 

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I went with the colors of the French flag and a little gold thrown in for good measure. Coming up with a color scheme early on in the party-planning process really helps streamline procurement of the party goods. I'm not a big fan of the cooking, but I do enjoy considering the presentation. Some of the most time consuming part for me, then, is collecting the supplies -- cups for the fruit, tiny square, plastic shot glasses for the pots de creme, table runners, flowers, teeny, tiny spoons. But it's worth it people! What's a party without tiny plastic shot glasses?

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Here's a blurry pic of the mini strawberry and cream eclairs we made by the dozens. (Seriously, over 100 . . . and not a single leftover). Eclairs are deceptively simple to make. I did all of the shells in under an hour. From here on out, we'll be having eclairs at every family function. Or until I get sick of them. Which will probably be never.

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Tada!!! I went back and forth on the macarons about two dozen times.

I'll make them.
No, they're too hard.
I CAN DO IT.
No, they're too hard.
I can buy them.
I should buy them.
But they are $2 a piece!
I'm definitely buying them.
Nope, making them.

Even though my understanding and expertise of the macaronage did increase with practice, I'd say overall my success rate was only about 50%. I ended up with 150 total: 50 vanilla, 50 strawberry, and 50 chocolate. We flew through those 150 macarons in about 45 minutes. I call this "America and the Macaron: A Love Story."

And just for your planning pleasure, here are the deets:

Macarons: The vanilla and strawberry macarons use an Italian-style meringue. For the strawberry I tinted the shells pink and used strawberry puree in the buttercream filling. For the vanilla I tried Swiss Buttercream, which pretty much changed my life. The chocolate macarons are also an Annie's Eats recipe, although they employ the French method.

Mini eclairs with strawberries and cream: This Martha Stewart recipe is seriously easy and tasty. People were eating these in multiples. Make sure you have real vanilla beans on hand for the filling. I bought mini eclair papers, but found they fit fine on cupcake liners, which ended up taking less space on a platter, (according to my husband who is something of an efficiency expert in these matters).

Baked brie en croute with apple compote: My brother and SIL had made this before for a family dinner and it is delicious. I made the apple compote the day before and used frozen puff pastry, so this took like 7 minutes to put together. The only bummer was I forgot to thaw the puff pastry. If I had it to do again, I'd set a timer on my phone that screamed "TAKE OUT THE PUFF PASTRY." I did two of these...and there was not a bite left.

Bite sized Greek salad: Okay, this isn't exactly French, but I wanted something savory, and Jordan LOVES feta. And I thought they would look pretty. I wish I had a picture of these for you -- lovely little appetizers lined in rows on a square, white porcelain platter. I found feta for the best price at Costco.

Pioneer Woman Pots de creme al'orange: My SIL and brother made these. They did 40 and people were literally fighting over them. We put them in these containers and included tiny spoons, which somehow make eating decadent cups of chocolate even more fun. Like that's possible. 

Pain au chocolate: I originally planned on buying these from Central Market. But when I arrived at Central Market on Saturday, they had all of three on hand. I made a call to Panera, who obliged me with two dozen. I cut them in fourths, dusted them with powdered sugar, and put them in cupcake liners.

Fruit: I've seen these fruit cups on Pinterest any number of times. At first I thought the cups might be too small, but they were the perfect size. I included watermelon, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. We originally put out 40. Then made another 20. We could have easily done 80-100. The cups are super cute and have a shiny coating that make them perfect for fruit. I bought mine here.

I also served Petite Palmiers and truffles coated with cocoa powder -- both from Costco. We still have some leftover truffles, which call to me from time to time from their shelf on the pantry. Do NOT buy these truffles. They are dangerous and evil. And I love them dearly.

And that's it folks. We have a bit more shopping to do, some serious packing (only two suitcases allowed), and then she's off to Lyon via the Provo MTC. If I didn't have an impending high school graduation to consider, I'd probably be bereft. I'm saving bereft for mid-June. Meet me there?