Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Real-Life Heroes

Heroes--Hercules, Michael Jordan, Thomas Edison, Malala Yousafzai.

Very few times in life do you have the opportunity to meet one of your heroes.

Micah loves to read. He reads for hours, feverishly devouring multiple books a week. His favorites are fantasy--trips to other worlds with mystical creatures, unbelievable odds, and superhuman powers. He has an adventurer's heart, growing up in adventureless suburban Mesa, Arizona. Recently, his focus has been the Five Kingdoms series by Brandon Mull, a story that begins with an ordinary boy growing up in . . . Mesa, Arizona. Pretty cool, right?

When I found out that Brandon Mull would be signing books at our Barnes and Noble to celebrate the release of the second book in the series, I knew Micah needed to be there. It just so happened that it was an extremely busy Wednesday night, but I thought we should be able to squeeze it in between Hyrum's piano lesson and Lily's Young Women's activity that night. We own most of Mull's books (maybe even all of them, including both of his Pingo picture books--love them), but Micah only brought the two from the current series for Brandon to sign.
We got to the bookstore about five minutes before the signing was scheduled to begin, and I was a little surprised to see all of the cars in the parking lot. The store was packed with families, their arms stacked high with multiple copies of Brandon's books, waiting not so patiently for the author to appear. We walked to the service desk where an employee explained how the signing would work. Brandon would come out and talk for a little while, then fans would line up according to their assigned group. She handed me a yellow ticket that had a depressing letter D in the center and moved on to the next customer.

I tried to hide my own disappointment as I explained to him that this yellow paper probably meant that we would be unable to get his book signed before I had to leave for Lily's meeting. Right at that moment, a wave of chatter began as Brandon Mull--in the flesh!--approached the signing table. Micah didn't have time to be disappointed.

We were so far back in the crowd that Micah's height-challenged self couldn't see. He kept vying for a better spot, but we were just too far back. One kind lady and her teenage daughter next to me moved out of the way and pointed in front of them. "You can stand there to see better." As Micah moved to the indicated spot, I thanked the stranger. "This may be as close as he gets to Brandon. We have to leave very soon, and with so many questions, I don't think they will get to the D passes." Without even thinking, the daughter said, "You can trade us passes. We have an A." Mom added, "I don't think we need to trade. Just be our best friends for the night, and you can go to the front with us." I didn't know what to say, I was so surprised. "Thank you so much. That will mean a lot to him."

Brandon Mull gets kids. He fielded as many questions as he could (including one from Micah, who asked if Patton would be brought back in the Fablehaven sequel. To Micah's delight, the answer was yes--Patton had been named after Brandon's grandfather and is one of his favorite characters.), even though it took over 30 minutes. I loved how he explained to the kids what it takes to be a published author--how hard it is to get your first book published, how hard it is to work 8-10 hours every day on the computer, and how hard it is to be by yourself a lot so that the stories can come out of your brain. Micah listened closely, and I could see the cogs moving in his brain--"Do I have what it takes to be an author? Hmmmmm......."

By the time he passed the mic off, we had less than ten minutes before we had to leave. Even with our new-found friends' A pass, we were many, many people back in line. There was no way Micah would get his book signed. With nothing to lose, I maneuvered my way to the front of the line, bent close to the nearest harried employee and whispered, "My son has been so excited to have his books signed, but we have to leave in five minutes. There is no way we will make it to the table before then. Is there any way he can . . . "

The kind employee looked at me and said, "It's not really up to me. Well, that should be fine. Well, these people have been waiting, too. Well, it can't hurt to ask them." She then turned to the mom of three tween kids who was second in line and explained our situation quietly, as I waited and hoped. She looked over at me and kindly nodded. Maneuvering back through the crowd, I found Micah next to our new (and never to be seen again) best friends, and thanking them for their kindness, I told them that people had made a place for him at the front of the line.

I felt really bad about taking too much advantage of the strangers' kindness, so I told Micah that he could only have one of his books signed. He didn't react--he had 23 pages left of the second book, and he was determined to finish it before he got to the desk.

He didn't. And he didn't care.
A quick greeting. A quick name check for correct spelling. A quick photo.

And we were back in the Suburban, headed home with a few minutes to spare.

Micah may never forget the time he met one of his heroes. He may treasure that signed volume for years. Who knows? Maybe that 53 minutes in a Barnes and Noble on a warm November night in Mesa, Arizona, may have launched a chain of events that lead to Micah becoming a famous author one day.

Although I couldn't ever pick them out of a crowd again, I know I will never forget the strangers in that noisy bookstore that night. Strangers whose kindness made this meeting possible. Micah wasn't the only one who met heroes that night. Heroes don't need to possess superpowers or develop the incandescent lightbulb. As Brandon Mull's Five Kingdoms illustrates, heroes can and do live here in Mesa, Arizona. To those unnamed faces who allowed my boy to meet his hero--you were one mom's heroes that night. Thank you.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Eyes Are the Windows to the Soul . . .

. . . and windows are the eyes of a home.

The cabin received its sight this week, and they're a bit of a surprise.
A friend of mine made the 90-minute drive from the valley with me, and as we rounded the corner of the driveway, she let out a small gasp and asked, "Are they going to stay that color?"

My answer was yes.

Her reaction made me so happy. She said, "I love the color. It makes me smile and makes the cabin look like a happy place."

I couldn't agree more.

I stewed about this decision, weighing the pros and cons of such a bold choice for a feature of the home that will never be changed. In the end, I followed my heart. And it makes me smile, too.

We wandered around the construction zone for a while, me showing her where the kitchen table will be and measuring out the size of the island, her asking questions and sharing my excitement.

When we were about to leave, she turned to me and said, "I can see you and Brad on a swing right here, with all of your grandkids on these steps. This will be such a happy place."
The soul of this place is already speaking to me. 

Soon. Very soon.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Kale Experiment

Self-confessed carb addict here.

I love them all. French fries, crackers of every kind, buttery popcorn, chips, Goldfish (Brad thinks I'm weird about this one, but I can eat a whole box in one sitting), you name it. I'm especially bad while sitting at the computer for hours on end surfing Pinterest doing homework.

For the past few weeks, I've been trying to limit my carbs by replacing them with healthier alternatives. I'm not usually one to venture out very far when it comes to cooking. I don't like to do it, and it takes time I'd rather devote to other more interesting things (see above--but my recipe pins are scarce). One thing I have heard about is kale chips, and I thought it might be something worth trying.

After finding this recipe, I threw caution to the wind and decided to try it a few times.
I followed the directions, removed the big stem pieces, poured some (a very scientific measurement) olive oil on the tray, tossed the kale pieces, lightly salted them, and put them in the oven.

Here is where my own experimenting comes in. The recipe warned about burned chips and also advised turning the tray halfway through the 25 minute baking time. I have a convection oven, so I shortened the baking time and set the timer to remind me to turn the tray at 10 minutes. At ten minutes, the kale looked pretty chippy, so I took the sheet out. They were done--and a few had that burned taste that she had warned about. Also, I was surprised how "some" was too much oil.
For my second batch the next day, I once again removed the stems, added "a little" (much less than some") oil to the tray, tossed and salted the pieces, and placed them in the 300* convection oven. In 9 minutes, they were done. Much less oily this time.

My review:

Hmmmm. Well, I figure that an entire tray of kale chips only has about 180 calories, so that's pretty good. It's two servings of veggies, so if you're trying to cram a few more greens into your day, this is a good way to do it. Also, it takes no time to make this snack--just the time to warm up the oven and 9 minutes to bake. They are ready to eat almost straight out of the oven.

As far as taste goes--well . . . in all honesty, they taste like salted parsley flakes. The blog site gives options for flavor, and I might try them, but . . . probably not. I would much rather drink a V8 for my veggies.

All in all, not really a failed experiment, but I don't know if I'll do this again. In a moment of carb-induced delirium I may be forced into this corner again. I'll let you know.

If any of you have tried and loved kale chips and have any suggestions I should try, I'd love to hear.

And just a quick housekeeping note:
I've been receiving 30-50 spam comments every day this week, and as much as I hate to do it, I'm changing my comment settings to require a password. Hope it's not too much trouble for the four of you that routinely comment. Thanks.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Down By the Bay

Brad and I took a short trip to San Francisco over the weekend. We did the touristy things . . .
. . . the cable cars and shopping in Union Square . . .
. . . and the famous Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building.
They had the most beautiful fruit and vegetables I've seen anywhere.
 The real Zuckerman's Farm! Remember Fern and Avery and Wilbur and Charlotte . . .
 Views of San Francisco Bay stretched in every direction.
Although I have a notorious hate for sand, I love the ocean. I love listening to the waves and smelling the fishy aromas and feeling the salty air.

We rented bikes on Saturday and rode all over the city, finishing with a ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. The battery on my big camera died as we got on the bike trail. Luckily, Brad had his phone.
It was the most glorious mid-November day possible in northern California--clear, cool, blue. The most spectacular weather ever to bike across the bridge. You could see for miles.
I'm a Valley of the Sun biker--that means a hill is going up the curb onto the sidewalk. The hilly ride was my friend/enemy. I didn't change gears at the right time, and I suddenly lost all momentum and had to walk the bike up this hill.  That wasn't the worst of it. As we were descending on the Sausalito side, my jacket started to unwind from my waist and I reached down to secure it, just as a group of pedestrians crossed my path. I squeezed the front brake a little too hard, the bike lurched to a complete stop, and I toppled headfirst over the handlebars, landing on both of my hands. I still don't know exactly how it happened, but I walked away from that fall without a single scratch when I should have landed right on my head. After that, the ride lost most of its joy for me. Ten minutes later, we were on the ferry headed back to the city, admiring the beautiful beach houses and bridges that frame the bay.

The motivation for our trip was a friend's son's wedding. Along with another couple from Mesa, we attended the ceremony and reception. The view out that window was a perfect frame for the short, sweet ceremony.

Brad tried to get a good picture of us at the reception. Wish they weren't so blurry, because for the first time since a devastating cut in September, I liked how my hair looked that night.
You can see one of the centerpieces in the background here. It was such a beautiful room at the Golden Gate Club (I think?) at the Presidio.
Shopping, biking, eating, and time with Brad--it was about as perfect as a trip could be.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bonus Ben Post

I got a few bonus pictures of my missionary this week. Ben's buddy Seth was in the MTC with him, and Seth sent these first two images home. They're blurry and pixelated, but there are still my boy.
Seth is currently serving in the boonies of Honduras. Godspeed, Elder.
Ben left for Peru yesterday afternoon. I was kind of hoping he would call home from the Mexico City airport, but he didn't. Then, around 1 pm, I got a call from his bank, saying that two charges of $70 had been attempted and denied for a phone card company based out of Luxembourg. I asked if the charges originated in Mexico, and when they said yes, I KNEW he'd tried to call but couldn't. At least it was something--admittedly it made me a little teary.

Just as I was plugging in my phone before bed last night, I got an email from a lady named Yissel. This is what she said:

Hello all, 

We were visiting family in Mexico City, and we had a chance to meet your missionary at the Mexico airport. The phones were not working so they were not able to call home. We took a few pictures of them and had a chance to visit with them briefly. There were 19 of them traveling together. What a great sight! They looked well fed, safe, excited and anxious to arrive in Peru. 

They send the following messages, "mom I love you", "the Mexican mafia didn't get us, JK", "I'm okay", "dad I love you", "I'm not home sick yet." They will arrive in Peru this evening and may have a chance to call/email you tonight or tomorrow. It sounded as if they would stay with the mission president tonight.

Our visit was brief but we were excited to meet them. They were eager to send a message home.

Thanks for your sacrifice. Time will go quickly. Your children were a great example for my son and daughter.

Take care,

Yissel & Matt

Dallas, Texas
She had forwarded the pictures to all of these missionaries' parents. It was so thoughtful of her. Ben is still the same crazy guy--just in a grey suit now.
And finally, this morning I received another email from Elder and Sister Jones in Mexico City.

She said:
My husband and I are Senior Missionaries at the Mexico MTC.  We have enjoyed getting to know and love your wonderful son.  He is a wonderful missionary.  We will miss him!

I'm attaching his district picture and Departure Power Point Tribute.  I thought you would enjoy seeing his smile :)

She was right.

Although I couldn't figure out how to embed the PowerPoint (if anyone knows how, let me know, please!), here is the picture of Elder Denton, just before he left.
The PowerPoint was set to the "As Sisters in Zion/Army of Helaman" song, all sung in Spanish. That made me really teary.

I'm still waiting to hear if he got to Peru or not, but I'm sure all is well, and he's ready to begin this great experience. I can't wait to hear!

P.S. Ben told me that a missionary either in his district or there at the CCM has a mom who reads my blog. If you're reading this--email me! I'd love to hear from you and hear how your missionary is doing!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Feeding the Birds

As we relaxed at a small cafe in San Francisco this past weekend (more on that tomorrow), Brad informed me that he could see himself in the future.
An old man who saves his bread scraps.
An old man with glasses parked on the top of his head.
An old man who schedules time each day at a park.
An old man with a newspaper under one arm and a baguette and cheese under the other.
An old man with nothing to do in the morning . . . 
. . . nothing to do but spend time feeding the birds.
These little guys loved his chocolate crossaint almost as much as he loved feeding it to them.
I saw myself in the future, too.
And I'm still just as impatient to do stuff and see stuff and not sit still as I am today. This may be a problem for my bird-feeding husband of the future.