Aug 30, 2013

Our Dream Project--we're doing it!

Do you all remember when I posted about our confusing, scary and often strange journey to finding our home?

I talked briefly about how we've dreamed of building an attached greenhouse onto our home, and how this house provides the perfect structure for that. Well, we thought of it as a long-ways-off project, because even estimating using the cheapest materials (polycarbonate sheeting, and the thought of doing it that way, attached to the house, makes me shudder) we estimated the project would cost around 15,000. Well, again, I feel like some prayers have been answered. Glassing in our east/south porch would provide two sources of financial relief for us. One is, we eat a lot of vegetables, and up here, they're expensive. If we grow our own all the way through winter, we'd take a large chunk out of our grocery budget *and* more importantly, be self-sufficient.

The other benefit to an attached greenhouse is heat. Our home is not what they call passive; able to operate without electricity to heat and cool. But we'd like to take it closer to that. Our floor is heated by hot water in tubes connected to a boiler that can be fed by either electricity or wood. We love that. But... heating our house in winter still costs a lot. Having an attached greenhouse, and the stored heat that this would bring to our walls, would make a big difference.

I've been saying prayers now and then that we can get this project off the ground sooner rather than later. Our budgets are pretty tight, and there are a lot of things we'd like to do. Get a real lawn going, for instance.

The other day, Jeff drove by a glass store in town and saw they had glass windows at a steep discount. 4'X4', 2'X4', 2'X6', all for ten dollars each. Most of them are sliders, so they can be opened. It was an *amazing* deal, and Jeff quickly got out our sketchup models of the house and designed and moved things around until he came up with a plan using those window sizes. We estimated the other materials we'd need--cement, ciderblocks, lumber & plywood. And then we went on down and picked up 32 windows. For 10 dollars each.

They were salvaged from a complex that had been remodeled in a town a ways north of us. They're not perfect, but they're perfect for our purposes.

We estimate that our cost for the structure is going to be around 1,000. That's a much better number for us. Doable, in fact. IN fact, we are going to try to get it done before the ground freezes this winter. That means a busy few saturdays for us. But in the end... we'll have our greenhouse!

(it's not going to end up looking as nice as this, I don't think. And it won't be a stand-alone building, it will be framed by our porch. But that's the general idea we're working with.)

I'm excited because this is also a project that has been a source of joy and exhilaration for Jeff and me to plan. We love growing stuff. Love plants. We're planning on square-foot garden boxes all along the south side containing things like lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, celery, cabbage, onions, squash etc...

all the stuff we use. But we are also planning on hanging some awesome strawberry planters on the posts from hooks we'll install. I have a seed packet of alpine strawberries I've been saving for a long time.

We also have big plans for other sorts of things.

We actually already have 2 avacado trees. We grew them from pits starting about 6 years ago. ... they need to be planted somewhere.

Our other plans are to create these garden boxes/other fixtures and planting devices so they are close to the south/east walls of glass away from the house walls, put in a mist/drip irrigation system, and then on the side closest to the house, we'll put sand down and do a path of black or dark flagstone, which will soak in the heat. We're also considering stripping the isulation on the wall until about 2 feet up and painting it either black or another dark color, so we have a wall that brings the heat more into the house.

I'd like to grow some plants to fill in the cracks of the flagstones as well. One possibility is irish moss, which is edible and a good thickener for raw food dishes--gels and puddings and such.

Another is elfin thyme, which grew in the flagstones of our front yard where I grew up. I love it.

I also want to put a small nest of orchard mason bees inside. They are known not to sting. They don't produce consumable honey... they're just for pollination.

Jeff plans to grow some dandelions in our lettuce garden, so even during the times of year where there aren't enough tree or vegetable flowers, we'll have dandelions for them to use as nectar. At least that's the plan. Grandiose, perhaps. And the outside structure might go up fast, but the inside stuff will probably come around 2 things at a time... probably we won't finish it all inside for a couple years. But in the meantime, we're excited to finally be building it. Hooray for not deciding things are improbable, and for asking for help and getting it.

I feel pretty blessed.

Aug 28, 2013

Our Controversial Decision... I'm Sticking To It.

Last night, I was at a youth activity for my church. I was talking to a friend who is homeschooled. She seemed a little aghast when I told her I'm putting my girls back in public school this year. I talked to her about why--that MayMay benefits from all the intervention, which I cannot give her if I'm teaching all of my children. That Bella also benefits, because there are control issues she struggles with. My teaching her at home was triggering and tapping into those. We basically spent each day dealing with a day-long tantrum over 3 math pages. She is so much more peaceful with the structure of school, and having teachers that are not me, who she is still struggling to work through trust/abandonment/acceptance issues with.

I went on to say that I'm keeping Loli in as well, because it wouldn't be fair to have her two sisters in and not her, and she'd be pretty jealous. My friend was incredulous. "She likes public school?" She said.

And I said, yes. She does.

The thing is, I did, too. I had struggles... mean girls in Jr. High, not-well-taught subjects, learning the pointless (I think... I know not everything thinks so) skill of ingest-and-regurgitate-sometimes-by-filling-in-bubbles-in-no.2-pencil. But there was something I really enjoyed espcially about starting a new year of school. There's something about going through things together with peers, about learning to respect and even love authority figures outside my home, of being parented and loved by lots of people. The school system we attend is unique in that at least half the teachers are in our stake, if not in our ward. I trust these teachers to love my kids. And they need (especially my adopted kids) to be loved by lots of people. They need to have connections with friends...and you can have those when you homeschool, but when you're in a sunday school class full of kids who all attend the same grade in school and you don't, there's going to be talk you aren't in on, plans you don't get wind of... friends you aren't quite as close to as your friends who go to school with them are.

My adopted girls, especially, need to feel like they're a part of things. My heart knows this instinctively.

Lately I've had a lot of heartache over the homeschool-vs-conventional school issue. I am very glad I homeschooled my girls entirely for 3 years. They needed that time with me. And now... they need some time without me.

I know some people (even dear friends) are going to disagree with me on this. I know I could, in posting this, get all kinds of comments about common core, about the evils of our educational system, about the liberalization of curriculum, about all kinds of stuff, some of which I agree with and some of which I have kept my mouth shut about for three years when it's been discussed among my homeschooling friends because I have never really agreed with it. The thing is, I homeschool my kids because I feel they need me. And because i feel like a child shouldn't be forced to sit for 8 hours in a desk when they can learn just as well in 2 or 3 hours, and then spend the rest of their day playing, as children should.

But I have realized, through many recent and salient experiences, that there are things that my kids also need to learn by going to school.

I think there are good and not so good things about both public and homeschool. And in the results I've seen (and I've seen a lot... skywalker's entire family was homeschooled until college, and I have a few different families who are friends who were homeschooled all the way through 12th grade, and I've been in multiple homeschooling groups and met many different families and have taught, in co-ops, lots and lots of different kids).... have shown me some interesting stuff. I feel like the challenges I'd deal with in public-schooling my children, the behaviors and problems that might develop, are not less worrisome than the ones that could develop and emerge if I homeschooled my children through the twelfth grade. They're different, but equally potentially difficult.

Public schooled kids, any homeschool mom would say, tend to be taught to learn and think in a certain, standardized way. They learn obedience, and routine, and convention and conformity.

Well, Homeschooled kids don't learn these things, but I have noticed that a lot of my friends and relatives also haven't learned some things that are important to me. I won't list them here, because I don't want to get too controversial or preachy.

What I have learned is that, while public school is by no means perfect, it is important to me for my kids to learn some of the skills that only a public school experience (I have come to realize, though some may argue) will teach.

And.... it is important, to me, for my kids to not be intimidated by the "system," to learn how to exist inside it, while still questioning it. I can provide the impetus for questioning, and Jeff will certainly provide a bunch of that, too. But what service am I doing my children, if they do not learn how to excel in a classroom before I send them off to college?

I know a lot of only-homeschooled kids. Watching them go on to college, I have seen a lot of them succeed amazingly. And others have struggled. I have decided that my opinions don't matter. What matters to me is what feels right to me, for my kids. My two adopted girls need to know how to do this school thing. MayMay in particular tends to perform very poorly in unfamiliar situations. If she never learns how to be a kid in the classroom, she's going to struggle when she gets to college.

Bella needs to understand that, while what she wants is important, she needs to respect those with authority over her. Having just a mom has not taught her that. Sometime during the first week of school last year, she began being mean and controlling and angry and slightly abusive to me while she was doing her math homework. I just looked at her and said, "Well, I'm not going to help you if you're not nice to me." She panicked. "But I'll get them all wrong," she wailed. "Maybe," I replied. "But if you want help, you need to be nice to me and to trust me. In the end, it's your responsibility to do your math. And how well you do is now between you and your teacher. It's up to you... I'd love to help you whenever you need it, but not if you're going to say mean things to me and act this way."

We never had a problem after that.

She needed to understand that.

Sending Loli off to sixth grade today was terrifying. But she'll do OK. She's a strong kid. She'll be a good friend, a good student, and a good daughter no matter which arena I put her into... and in giving her a chance right now to learn away from me, we've got an opportunity for her to learn about how to navigate the world away from me and Jeff and our direct influence, but with us still here all the time to support her. I think that is an important stage in parenting and growing that if we only homeschooled, we would not have.

My Husband and his siblings all found themselves pretty late in comparison to their peers and even extended family members. Jeff married me at 30. His sister married at 27. His brothers married at 26 (young for their family) and 32. I have always had a bit of a feeling that for them, college was high school. They grew up after they left home.

I want my kids to do some growing up while I can still help them do it.

And that, my friends. Is why.

Aug 23, 2013

Being a Pretend Extrovert

Writing is an interesting thing. Generally writers (I think) are people-watchers. Because we aren't all that social, we watch people. I have friends who regularly post things about how to know if you are an introvert, how to care for an introvert, why being introverted is the new awesome. Introversion is like, a fad right now. And I find it kind of embarrassing and self-indulgent. But it doesn't make things any less true... perhaps part of the reason the fad took off so spectacularly is us Introverts (see my self-indulgent capitalization there) have spent most of our lives wondering what's wrong with us, or feeling like we're somehow missing or lacking in some strength or quality, that we don't enjoy large, loud parties or run for class president or make friends with everybody.

As a writer, we all run into this at some point, too. Why do I struggle to hand out bookmarks at book signings? Why do I have a problem selling my story, even though I love it and really do think other people will love it? Why don't I schedule a dozen book signings per year and walk out of the bookstore completely unfazed I've sold less than half-dozen copies because the experience of talking with and meeting scores of people was fulfilling enough?

There are writers who love that kind of thing. Who are that magical blend of creative/introspective and extrovert. I'm not one of those. I think most of us writers aren't, in fact.

I'm dreading this whole book launch thing at the same time as I enjoy planning it, enjoy collecting reviewers over the internet, (written conversations = so much easier with strangers than face to face)I actually dread the actual thing.

I've realized that one thing that is expected of me is to gain a "following" online. In fact, one article I read actually said that I'm supposed to gain "stalkers," people who get addicted to my life and follow it like some kind of lurid TV series or soap opera or something. Well, unfortunately, I'm not really that exciting. With this blog, my purpose has never been to gain a "following" but to express things and have real conversations with others. I can think of it that way on this blog, on twitter, on Facebook and feel more OK about things.

The other day, my Father-in-Law said something that stung a bit. I mentioned I'd said something on Facebook that I had forgotten to pass on to family by word-of-mouth, and apologized. My father-in-law then said, "well, we all know how much you LOVE facebook." Like i'm some kind of teenager who posts statuses about what she eats for lunch and if I get enough likes I'll tell you whether I'm in love with you or not, and post self-portraits constantly with self-obsessed or manipulative captions.

Oh sigh.

Well, I love you guys, anyway. The people who tend to read my stuff and comment tend to be people I'd be friends with in real life. So.... I can handle it.

Aug 21, 2013

How This Mother Loses It.

This has been a grueling ten days or so. Last weekend I traveled down to see my sister & sing with her in the Assembly Hall in Salt Lake City. I was tired every night because we kept making 30-45 minute trips in the car after making a day-long trip in the car. Each night I was so tired, I felt kinda sick. I came home feeling the same way.

The week after, I kind of didn't get a break at all. It was full of trips to the lake with my kids, extremely hyper Young Women activities & ice cream afterwards later into the evening, back to school shopping, a long temple date-night friday night including going out to dinner (which was fun, but by the end of the meal I was leaning my head on the table wishing I could sleep right there as Jeff finished up and paid the check) and my birthday, which I spent all day cooking for (that's my birthday present to me. Sushi & my favorite casserole, Chicken Devine, & my favorite pound cake. Which was delicious. But maybe I shouldn't have over-reached so much.... saved it for next week... something). That Saturday night I attended the wedding reception of some dear friends with my children. And then when we came home, I finally flipped to the Young Women lesson I was supposed to prepare for Sunday and found it was on Dating & Standards (touching on chastity). I figured Heavenly Father knew I'd not had a spare moment all week, and that I was exhausted... I prepared the best I could, asked if one of the bishopric members could sit in since that's kind of an important lesson, and prayed hard for inspiration. It went well, I think. The bishop touched on it during BYC and bore his testimony about how glad he was we talk about these things in YM/YW. And I came home kind of on a spiritual high--what a great experience it was to teach something so important to the YW and feel the right words came out & they understood.

And when I woke up the next morning, I could not bring myself to get out of bed. I was so tired. I felt sick. I'd had a cold slowly coming on all week, I felt it in my head and chest, and I... was so tired. I did go downstairs to help with breakfast and ended up snapping irritably at 2 children, and realized I really did need a time out. I was not adding anything good to the situation in my exhausted state.

Forgot to mention (on here) I'm 19 weeks pregnant.

I spent the day mostly in bed. I got up to prepare snack & lunch, to moderate & mediate loud arguments, to direct children to do their chores, to come down once in a while to make sure people were happy. I left my door open. But I stayed in bed. Toward the evening I started feeling a little better, but still too tired and irritable to venture into the noisy, popcorn-strewn living room for FHE where they were watching Shrek Four. I just needed to sleep. I lay on my side and edited my manuscript until Jeff came to bed, instead.

The next morning I woke up feeling more refreshed, still tired, but capable of doing stuff again. Also feeling guilty (of course) for spending the previous day in bed. I walked into the living room, smiled at my kids who were shrieking and laughing and dancing to the demo music on our electronic keyboard turned all the way up, and called, "OK guys! Time to do your morning chores!"

One of my children who shall remain nameless pouted theatrically. "Whyyyyy," she moaned.

"Well, what would happen if I said that?" I told her jokingly. "If I got up and just said, "whyyyy do I have to do all my jobs?"

her response: "You don't very much at work at all, Mom."

I think I could have let it go... brushed it aside, if weren't still so tired. And if it weren't for the smirk.

You know. That smirk.

I waited ten seconds, then walked up to the child, took her firmly by the arm, and lead her to my bedroom, where a giant pile of the kids' clothes resided in the middle of the floor. "You can sort these," I told her. "By yourself." And then I shut the door behind her.

The rest of the kids quietly and obediently filed downstairs and went about their morning chores (tidying up the dining room, dishes in the sink, table wiped & cleared & floor swept) while I unloaded the dishwasher and started on the morning dishes.

About half an hour later, errant child ventures downstairs. "We left your job for you," I informed her, pointing to the table & counters strewn with remnants of breakfast. "Do not wipe them on the foor or you will be responsible for picking them up off the floor."

When errant child announced she had finished, and I observed to my satisfaction the counters & table were gleaming, I nodded & pointed down the hall. "Go and tidy the library now," I said.

Child's lip was trembling a bit at this point. But she walked into the library without complaint.

When she came back into the kitchen saying she had finished the library, I had a paper ready for her, with a heading, numbered from one through twenty five.

"Now sit down and fill out this list," I said, setting it on the clean surface of the dining room table and sliding a chair over.

Wordlessly, child sat and filled out the paper.

About 20 minutes later, child showed me her list and threw away about five crumpled kleenexes.

And that, folks, is how this mom loses it.

(afterward we had a long, serious talk & I gave her a hug. But you'd better believe i'm saving the list for next time.)

Aug 16, 2013

Yes, we do Kayak.

Jeff and I never go anywhere, because in our giant black mafia van we get around 14 miles per gallon if we're lucky. So any trip anywhere's going to cost roughly the same amount it would take to bring our family to the local waterpark. So we might as well go there, right?

It actually makes me ache inside. I love taking trips. I love nature. I love hiking and outdoorsy stuff. So when family or friends come to visit, I tend to push to go do stuff. It's an excuse... we need to show them around, right? And it's even better when Uncle Anthony and Aunt Jessica come, because they're the same way. They love adventure and the outdoors! SO yesterday, we spent the whole entire day going places and seeing things and doing things. It was wonderful.

And I am exhausted.

My kids looking down into amazingly clear water which springs out of the ground--the origin of the river that runs through our town. There are some magnificent trout there. Not for fishing however, just for looking.

I admit I tasted some. The most delicious water I have tasted, I think. I was tempted to fill my waterbottle, but I think that's probably illegal.

Aug 12, 2013

We have a winner!

Thank you all for tweeting and liking my book, Lightning Tree! For those of you who didn't win, take heart. I will be doing other giveaways, and I'm keeping your names in the pot for next time. But today's winner is...

Michal Asay! Thank you, Michael! Email me, please, at thedunsters at gmail dot com and we'll arrange delivery.

You all are awesome!

Aug 7, 2013

The right way to fall apart

Primarily this has been a venting blog. When I started it in 2005, that's what I called it. I had in big, bold letters across: Warning. This is a venting blog. I took it down soon after when I realized that it was a pretty cheesy thing to put on a blog header and that all blogs (or at least, back then, when blogging first started, and they were all more like online journals instead of family scrapbooks or promotional fronts for business) were venting blogs.

I have avoided this blog for a while I think partly because now my family reads my stuff :) Nobody read this blog for a long time. Also, I'm a published author. How much of my personal life/feelings do I really want the world to pay attention to?

I've realized lately that I just need to keep being myself. If people find that odd or unprofessional, that's something I've decided not to worry about.

My challenges have been hard ones to get through. I went through a really terrible and frightening situation when I was a young adult, which left me a single parent, scrambling to manage being a full-time employee, full time parent, preparing frenetically and ambitiously for the future. I did not think very much at the time... I just did stuff. Hard stuff. And I was constantly on the edge. My head was so full of worries and impending problems I couldn't solve that I just had to pray a lot, not think... just do.

Then I met Jeff and we got married, and life seemed (and was, and is) miraculously wonderful. How strange and miraculous to have someone who really thought I was a good person. Who really loved me. Who supported me. Not something I've had a lot of in my life.

Together, Jeff and I weathered a lot of (now that I look back on them) very difficult challenges. We blended a family--twice. We went through getting him through school and underemployment, and unemployment. We went through a long, stressful, arduous process (both emotionally and financially) to bring two daughters home from Ethiopia. We went through Jeff having a difficult, not-very-rewarding-or-encouraging work situation.

And then we moved. Picked up roots and started over. Started a new job that was so much better but also very stressful because of more responsibility and visibility. We rented for several months while looking for a house--the first time we've done that. It's not as fun as you think it will be. We moved, and adjusted--it takes me about six months to not be horrified at any big change in my life--

and then life slowed down for us, finally. About a year ago we looked around, looked at each other and realized, "wow. Is this what it feels like to have a normal level of stress?"

And I promptly fell apart.

OK, I don't mean dysfunctional falling apart, like not being a good wife or mom or author or church member or whatever. BUt it's like Heavenly Father was keeping all these feelings and stress I've had sort of harboring somewhere in the deep freeze of my subconscious, and then He allowed everything to thaw.

My whole life, people have expected me to be strong, and capable, and independent. When I went through all the stuff with my previous marriage, my bishop was like "she's doing great." My parents were like "Sarah's so strong." My friends were like "Wow, your'e so awesome." But what was really going on was, Heavenly Father was helping me stay together by having me not deal with it all just yet.

How do you fall apart gracefully? How do you do it compassionately and charitably, so you don't hurt others around you with your emotional difficulty? How do you examine and challenge ugly, ugly feelings and worries and irrational thoughts and frightened, distorted realities while keeping the world safe for your children?

I have seen people fall apart in lots of ways. I worked at a residential treatment facility for two years. I've seen all sorts of destructive ways to fall apart.

But the thing is, those people get the attention they need when they collapse so spectacularly. It is a lot harder to just walk up to someone (say your bishop, or a therapist, or someone like that) and say, "hey. I'm really struggling. I need help," and have them believe you when you're saying it so rationally. And calmly.

How do you ask for help?

Lately, I have felt a bit of resentment toward those around me who are "falling apart" destructively but get so much attention for it. I want yell, "Hey, it's really, really hard for me, too! BUt i'm not doing these destructive things! Does that make me less worthy of nurturing, of being given slack, of the benefit of the doubt? Does it make me less likeable, that I'm trying to do it *right?*"

And then the other day, I was lying in bed with Jeff and we were watching Buffy or something else fun and I realized something. I looked up at our 10-foot ceiling, out our balcony window at our five acres of land, and I suddenly remembered how very, very, very blessed I've been.

Heavenly Father is aware of me. He is nurturing me. He has seen the difficulty Jeff & I have dealt with and he's lightened our load, given us miracles, given us everything we could possibly want. We have been blessed for falling apart, and putting ourselves back together, gracefully.

In the end, I really am very independent. I don't want people fawning all over me or discussing me in ward counsel or acting all solicitous and worried. What I want are a few good, supportive friends. People I can love who love me back, who understand, who can handle the good, bad & ugly and love me more for it. And who will give me a chance to do the same for them. And this last year, Heavenly Father has blessed me with this as well. Jeff has become one of those people. He was before, but not entirely, because I wasn't in that place yet. Now he is. And I've made some friends who are, actually, more family than friends. I find that blessing far more precious than any other I've been given.

I'm doing my best. It's really hard. I'm tempted to do so many stupid things. I don't have fifty people patting me on the back for it not doing them. But I have realized I only need a few, the ones who matter. And I have those. And people who might judge me or think I should be doing more or doing things better--in the end, Heavenly Father knows my heart and he's the one who matters.

But I still wonder lately--what's the right way to fall apart?

A question for you readers.

Aug 5, 2013

Lightning Tree Giveaway :)

OK. I have good news for whichever of y'all haven't had the opportunity to read my novel, Lightning Tree, either because you don't have money for books (which I understand) or you tried to check it out of the library and there was a giant long waiting list you just didn't have time to worry about:

I'm giving away a copy FREE.
And guess what? Not that many people are going to know about this, because this is the first giveaway I have ever done. So you have a great chance of getting a free copy. Here's the plan. You have the chance of getting your name entered into the pot 5 times. You can get an entry for doing each of these things:

1) Share Lightning Tree on twitter.

2) Share Lightning Tree on facebook.

3) Like the Lightning Tree Facebook Page.

4) Like Lightning Tree on Goodreads.

5) Share and like my book trailer.

Once you've done one or more of these things, leave me a comment letting me know how many entries you get. Next Monday I'll do a drawing (or if I get a lot of entries, I'll use a web device that randomizes & chooses) and announce who won. And you'll get a free (signed, if you want) copy of my book! If you win and you have a copy already, you'll have one to give as a gift. And if you've done any of these things already, let me know in the comments, because it counts!

Thank you guys! Excited to see who wins! If I get a ton of entries, I'll give away two free copies just to keep the chances good :)

Aug 2, 2013

A Photo Essay to Catch you all Up.

I have been a terrible blogger.

I have made promises and reneged on promises.

But anyway. Just so you know, my heart's still in it. LIfe has just caught up with me. To Life! Le-Something!

Rather than try and TELL you everything I've been doing lately (if you are not my facebook friend and already know) (Dave) I will create a photo essay. A picture's worth a thousand words and I think I owe you followers of my blog approximately... several thousand. At least.

There. That should hold you for a while, right? Putz?

If you have any questions (and I don't blame you if you do) comment & I will answer.