Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Need to Remember

Parenting is hard. Being a stay-at-home parent is particularly hard. I’ve had a hard couple of weeks with two sick kids. To be frank, I feel horribly guilty even mentioning anything that I may be struggling with short of life-threatening illness. Every day I view more images and read more stories about those impacted by the recent terrible natural disaster in Japan. So many have lost everything…loved ones, their homes, their livelihood, their every worldly possession. Some have yet to discover the fate of those they hold most dear. I think about them and pray for them constantly. And those in New Zealand and those in Haiti and those in other parts of the world whose countries are torn apart by war and bloodshed and unspeakable violence. I have a home, I have two normally healthy children, I have a loving spouse who is employed. My body works, my mind (usually) works, and I am healthy. Am I really so self-absorbed as to wallow in the inconvenience of my blessings?

We were not able to grow our family easily. We felt very, very strongly about adoption. In examining our options through adoption, we knew that adopting through the foster care system was the right path for us. So many children need forever families and we so wanted children. We didn’t care what gender or age or race. We just wanted a family. Our journey was a long one filled with endless meetings, heartache, court hearings and finally triumph. The day our boys were declared legally ours will forever be imprinted on my heart. I felt they were mine long before that day. The moment I met them, they responded to something in me that had been empty for a long time. From that first meeting, they were mine and I was theirs. I did not need time to bond with them. They were my loves and we were forever bound together. We hoped for them. We wished for them. We prayed for them. We waited for them.

I need to remember this. I need to remember that they are perfect little miracles in the process of becoming. I find that it is all too easy to get bogged down in the day to day life of parenting—laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, cleaning, gardening, more laundry, more dishes, food prep and constant toddler entertainment, all while imparting necessary truths and the rules of civility and politeness and stoking creativity. And I want our house to feel like our home. And it needs some TLC. So then there’s that.

Having sick kids the last couple of weeks has left me drowning under endless piles of laundry, a house in desperate need of cleaning, empty cupboards, and a general lack of energy to dig in due to my own internal battle of the germs. And the fact that I cried at the end of “Nanny McPhee Returns” the other day leads me to believe that I’m hormonally a bit off as well. Enough said. I feel overwhelmed.

This morning started with Eric (2) crying as he got out of bed (as he has every morning for the past many, many mornings). He had wet through again. As with nearly every morning, I would once more have to wash all of his bedding and his stuffed animals (he insists on sleeping with several “babies” every night) and his pillow before nap time. Once his diaper was removed and set aside, I started to wipe him down with a warm cloth and he started to pee…and pee…and pee. By the time I got him on the potty, 3 rooms had been “sprayed” as well as my clothes and into my hair. Eric’s general dismay at having peed ALL OVER culminated in such heavy sobbing on the potty, that he then threw up…all over me and the floor and the shower curtain. THREE ROOMS of rugs and walls and floors. ONE MAMA fully clothed and complete with too-long, mop-like hair. All covered in pee. And then there was the vomit. I left him sitting on the potty filled with the one tablespoon of pee that had actually made it in (incidentally now the one clean area in all three rooms). I sat back on my knees in front of him and slow, salty tears began the flow.

I was so hoping we could actually leave the house this morning. A walk perhaps? Or maybe a trip to my favorite home improvement store to pick up paint swatches? Or even just a trip to wash the car. I simply wanted to get the boys up, dressed, and fed so that we could actually venture outside. Please can we just all feel well enough to leave the house today? But now there was pee and vomit to clean up, another shower for me, a toddler to console (and his distraught brother in the other room), and bedding, bath rugs, clothes and a shower curtain to wash. My long-anticipated new rug in the hallway, not yet two weeks old, covered in pee. Sigh. BIG sigh.

At the breakfast table, I tried to rally, but I was feeling downtrodden and trapped in a domestic prison of my own making. Please don’t misunderstand. I LOVE being the parent who stays at home with the kids. I LOVE being domestic. I love playing with the kids, I love cleaning and baking and cooking and creating a home for our family. And I usually don’t even mind the laundry. This is my thing. MY THING. But this morning, my thing felt like it had a vice-like grip on my wrists and was holding me back in every way imaginable. Sigh. I was trying to hold back tears as I contemplated another day of two-year-old tears, snotty noses, laundry, cleaning, and seemingly endless patience.

Then Hillary sent this:

To all you awesome Moms (aka Cathedral Builders), please see the note below.

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking, 'Can't you see I'm on the phone?'
Obviously not; no one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I'm invisible. 'The invisible Mom.'
Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this? Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, 'What time is it?' I'm a TV Guide to answer, 'What number is the Disney Channel?' I'm a car to order, 'Pick me up right around 5:30, please.'
I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude - but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She's going, she's going, she's gone!
One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England .
Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, 'I brought you this.'
It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription: 'To Charlotte , with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.'
In the days ahead I would read--no, devour--the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work:

1. No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names.

2. These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished.

3. They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.

4. The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.
A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, 'Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it.' And the workman   replied, 'Because God sees everything.'
I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, 'I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become.'
At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.
I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.
When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, 'My Mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.' That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, 'You're gonna love it there.’ As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.

I know this is probably making the rounds on the Internet. But this is exactly what I needed to today to remind me to truly look at my little ones and their perfect little souls. I needed to remember that my every day is filled with building a strong foundation for them and for our family. I needed the remember that they are masterpieces in the making. I needed to remember they are my loves and we are forever bound together. We hoped for them. We wished for them. We prayed for them. We waited for them. We rejoice in them. They are our dream come true. We are so blessed.

And the new hallway rug is only a rug, pee and all.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I've made two fabulous treats lately, which is a strange thing to do when trying to lose weight. Maybe my willpower will become stronger the more frequently I test it? Probably not. But I do enjoy making treats, and sometimes the occasion calls for it. On Thursday we were invited over to watch the Cougs and were asked to bring the treat. So being died in the wool blue, through and through. We all donned our BYU apparel, and I whipped up some BYU mint brownies. It probably sounds silly to anyone who hasn't attended BYU, but yes, there is an official BYU mint brownie. If you've been to an event catered by BYU then you've probably seen these delicious morsels and most likely devoured them. BYU even has its very own carbonated beverage called Y Sparkle that is also delicious, but the brownies are definitely the shining star. You can find the brownie recipe here. I made it without nuts because there's always someone in every group who hates nuts in brownies or cookies (I was proved right when it turned out our host was himself a nut-hater.) It doesn't include a chocolate frosting recipe, so I used the frosting from this recipe but used less milk. These brownies take a bit of time since you have to wait for then to cool and then frost twice, but they were dih-vine.

Now that I'm teaching the 12 and 13-year-olds in Sunday, I am making treats every Saturday to bring to class. You may say I'm pandering...and you'd be right, but I'm not too worried about it. Every single kid in my class is polite, appreciative, and participates. Seriously. I figured this calling was my turn to receive my comeuppance having been fairly hard on Sunday School teachers in my adolescence, but no! Huzzah! To my credit, I do follow the lesson outline, and to their credit, they're just better kids than I was. So I don't mind in the least rewarding them. This past Sunday, I made toasty coconut macaroons from the fabulous Alton Brown. But Dave has improved his recipe by suggesting we top each cookie with a round of melted chocolate and then allow them to cool. Inspired! As a caviat, I will add that you really do need to use parchment paper or a silicon baking mat because the egg white will stick like crazy even if you use PAM.

Try these recipes out if you dare. You may need to get the surplus out of the house as quickly as possible. Indulgence AND generosity! What a perfect pairing.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Beware My Own "Creativity"

Over here in Idaho we have been struggling in the afternoons. The hours between when the boys come home from school and when Dad comes home have been less than ideal. To be frank, they've been miserable. The walk home has often times been "freezing," or "boiling hot," or "SOOO long!" Battles have already been fought over "Jeff would only walk as slow as a tortoise" and "Ethan ran away and wouldn't wait for me." Even on days when the walk home seems to have passed pleasantly enough, the moment I ask for school things to be picked up and put away, we're off to the races.

Well, after a couple of particularly bad afternoons, I decided No More! I was going to be waiting for the boys with a dance party when they arrived home. We would have a few moments of fun right amid the backpacks and shoes and papers. This would set a wonderful tone for the rest of the afternoon. What a fun Mom I am, I thought. With a little creative thinking, what a fabulous solution I've found. What a success story it will be for the family journal. I even set up the camera on a timer to document my winning mother moment. Well, it was not the victory I had anticipated. In case you're wondering, little boys still like to hit and kick and fight even when music is playing. I simply began shouting over the music for Ethan to put Jeff's boots down (an infuriating affront to Jeff) and for Jeff to stop swinging the ball around and "accidentally" hitting his brothers (producing injuries that may never heal.) Our home was once again a den of contention.

Disappointed, I was prompted to say a prayer with my children to help our afternoon go better. I went into the playroom where my eldest was seething on the couch. I called for Jeff to join us. He was unable to hear me in our sprawling and expansive 1500 sq. ft. house, so I went to retrieve him. I asked the boys if they thought our afternoon was going well. "Of course not, because of YOU!" I pushed on. I asked if they thought we should say a prayer to ask our Heavenly Father to help our afternoon go better. "I guess." A high recommendation indeed. I asked them to kneel with me. No response. I asked again if they would please kneel with me. "I AM!" Once we were all kneeling together, I offered a heartfelt prayer for our family. I asked specifically for the help that each of us needed, including myself. And voila! The rest of the afternoon went great, not perfect, but great.

I think I am often guilty of searching for the creative solution to my problems when the perfect solution has already been given. The answer is not a dance party. The answer is prayer. The answer is not the newest self-improvement fad. The answer is the scriptures and the teachings of our prophets. I've learned this lesson again.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pi Day

Hi Sisters!  This is my first post on our blog.  I'm excited to contribute and hope I can think of interesting things to post about more often.

My sister-in-law, Liz, informed me yesterday that it was national Pi Day.  That's right.  Not "Pie Day" but, rather, "Pi Day."  Pi Day is celebrated by math enthusiasts around the world on March 14th (Pi = 3.1415926535…).  Well, we actually did make it "Pie Day" by eating a homemade pie.  You see, I married into a pie-loving family.  The Munks really, really like pie.  I have adopted that same enthusiasm and love for pie over the past few years.  But, I also feel strongly about eating healthy so we don't eat pie all that often (just when Aunt Liz comes to visit because she is a pie maker master!).  So, I knew Alex would be pretty excited about coming home to a homemade pie last night.  I was right.

Now, I know pie isn't a health food or even remotely close.  But, I decided to make it a touch better for us by making the crust whole wheat.  I used a recipe that I found on the back of a bag of Bob's Red Mill whole wheat pastry flour (I love Bob's Red Mill products... they should be paying me to say this!).  Alex and I both thought it turned out really well.  It was flaky and delicious.  So, I thought I'd share it with you.

Flaky Whole Wheat Pie Crust

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled
5 to 8 Tbsp ice water

Sift flour and salt into a large mixing bowl.  Cut butter into 12 pieces and rub into dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse meal with some pea-size pieces.  Sprinkle water over mixture, one tablespoon at a time and knead lightly just until a dough forms.  Form dough into a ball.  Cut in half and press each into a disc shape.  Wrap each disc in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling.  Yield: 2-9" single pie crusts or 1-9" double pie crust.  Crust will bake alone with the filling for the pie or pre-bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

As you can tell by the pictures, it was an apple pie.  Instead of using a double crust, I covered the top with the same topping I use for apple crisp (oats, flour, brown sugar, spices, and butter mixture).   The pie was a hit with Eliza and Zoie.  Below is a picture of Eliza (yes, her hair is out of control) admiring the pie before her first piece (yes, she had more than one piece).