Thursday, April 26, 2007


In a previous post I introduced you to one of the many hats I wear from time to time. That got me thinking and wondering... just how many hats are in my closet anyway?

Domestic Engineer
Chef/Short order cook
Cleaning lady/supervisor
Slave driver
Lawn Lady
Farmer Joe (Jessica's nickname for me when I'm wearing my wonderful holey overalls and straw hat)
Bicycle mechanic
Emergency Preparedness Facilitator
CFO - this means that I spend all the money
Computer SysOp
Cat Doctor
Keeper of all knowledge
Finder of lost things

What hats do you wear?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Book review: Anatomy of Peace

My latest favorite non-fiction book is The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict by The Arbinger Institute. The Arbinger Institute was founded by C. Terry Warner, an emeritus professor of philosophy at Brigham Young University and author of The Bonds that Make Us Free (another favorite of mine).

Anatomy of Peace is a fascinating look at the dynamics of interpersonal relationships and self deception. My interest in the concept of self deception was renewed recently by an article published at Meridian Magazine: Letting Go of Self Deception. This excellent essay caused me to reflect on some of the ways that I lie to myself in an effort to justify my behavior when I know I've done wrong. I expect that all mortals do it to one extent or another. Those that don't are either in denial or deluded. :)

I began to search for more information about this phenomenon, and found The Anatomy of Peace at my local library. It was also published in serialized form on Meridian Magazine. You can access the index of chapters from this page. It is written as a story, which makes for very easy reading and learning of the concepts. It explores the idea that individuals are responsible for their own actions, including their own feelings, and therefore have the power to free their relationships with others from negativity.

I saw myself in the pages of this book. It was uncomfortable to realize how pervasive self-deception is in my life. It affects thoughts, feelings, and interactions with everyone I come in contact with, most particularly my family. By reading this book, I learned not only what I was doing wrong, but practical, usable methods for improving. It gave me a lot of hope. When I am able to remember and apply the methods, things go smoother, and most importantly, I feel much more at peace.

We all have heard that it is futile to change someone else; the only person we can change is ourself (ourselves? any grammar gurus please help me out here). While I agree with that sentiment, I have always struggled to apply it in a practical way. This book showed me how.

I wish everyone would read this book. When I remember to apply the principles, things seem to go more smoothly at home and in public. I feel much more peaceful and charitable toward others. It has literally been an epiphany for me. If anyone has or does read this, I would love to discuss it!

Computer Conundrum

It is 3:55am. After three hours of sleep, I am up again. My eyes popped open at 3:20am, after a few hours of jaw clenching, fitful sleep. I tried to shake off the bizarre dream I had been wrestling with for what seemed the entire REM phase preceding my premature waking, swigged a mouthful of water from my water bottle, and lay back down, hoping to return to a semblance of slumber.

But no. My brain was fully awake. I had two choices; I could fight it and lay there growing increasingly angry, tossing and turning, which would eventually wake Tom up, or I could just accept that I would have no more sleep this night and get up and do something productive.

The cause of this night's insomnia: The office computer crash for which I have not yet been able to conjure a solution.

When thinking about whether to get up or not, I considered working on my blog. I planned an entry about spring, complete with photos of the blossoms and flowers in our yard. And then I remembered that this was impossible, because my computer is ill. Hence, I am composing this particular post from the kitchen computer, which (cross my fingers and knock on wood) is still running smoothly. Alas, I have no pictures stored on this computer, and so my blossoms will have to wait for their 15 minutes of fame.

Being the senior domestic engineer of the Nelson family, one of my many hats is that of de facto computer system administrator. It is a crimson hat with a peaked top and wide brim, which is fitting, considering the witchy mood that usually overcomes me while wearing it. I must remember to cut some slits in the top, to vent the steam the inevitably builds up inside, thus ruining my wash and wear hairdo. I am considering adding a skull and crossbones with a black sharpie... but I digress.

Unfortunately for our limited LAN of four aging computers, I am not a completely competent SysOp. I have no formal training; everything I know I have learned by trial and error in the ongoing process of trying to keep the @$#*&! machines running smoothly.

Our five computers have names from Disney's Hercules. The two oldest desktops, which reside in the basement office, are dubbed Pain and Panic, Hades' demon sidekicks. Hercules is Tom's 2005 Dell laptop, for which I thankfully am not responsible, and Hades is the kitchen desktop. Acquired in 2001, Panic has been the "main" computer for six years, and has performed the vast majority of "productive" computer functions carried out by the family CFO, historian, clerk, tutor, and PR specialist (me, me me, me and me). All photos, music, documents, and financial records reside on Panic. If there is a computer that I could call "mine", this is it. And, of course, this is the computer that suffered an apparent aneurysm Thursday afternoon.

I like alliteration. Can you tell?

While I am an admittedly amateur admin, I have been around the block a few times. If you are unfortunate enough to own or use a PC, you are probably aware that Microsoft Corp. was inspired by Satan and is run by his mortal minions, who periodically turn out sadly substandard software which dominates the PC market. Windows tends to bog down over time and needs periodic maintenance to run at peak efficiency. I hold a particular loathing toward sluggish computers. I am impatient by nature, and I detest waiting unnecessarily for applications to open/function/run/crash or otherwise waste my time. Hades, Panic, and Hercules run WindowsXP Pro, which is much more robust than the earlier iterations of Windows, and need cleaning up every 18 to 24 months, depending on how many games are installed. Pain runs Windows98, which seems to need a complete restoring about every six months or so.

Approximately two months ago, I undertook the major task of killing and then resurrecting Panic and Hades, which involves backing up all important data, wiping the hard drive to remove any lingering viruses or other baddies, and then doing a complete reinstall of the operating system and all applications. It takes about 5 hours to do each computer. When finished, I thought I was set. All three of the computers under my dominion were newly refreshed; I lovingly placed my red hat in its box on an upper closet shelf, waved goodbye, and closed the door.

But it was not to be. Panic began having problems within a month of the reinstallation. A few weeks ago, it began to reboot without warning. Panicked, I backed up the few new documents and photos and Quicken files, in preparation for a crash. But the problem was mysteriously solved. I suspect it had something to do with Windows automatic updates... but rather than dig for the solution, I breathed a sigh of relief and promptly forgot about it. Until yesterday, when applications ceased to run. Every program that I opened had a fatal error and needed to close and did I want to report the problem to Microsoft? Um no, thank you, I clicked.

I restarted the computer and logged in. It promptly rebooted. This repeated three times. At this point I resisted uttering the choice words that came to mind and took a time out, during which I cleaned the kitchen, fed people, cleaned the kitchen again, talked with a friend, blogged, and finally went to bed. Just before retiring, I made a few more half-hearted attempts to discover the solution to my computer's illness at midnight, but gave up due to frustration and fatigue. And this is why I am up at 5:30 am after laboring over this entry for over 1 1/2 hours. Wish me luck -- I am about to re-engage the enemy.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Word to the Wise

Never take five children with you to any retail venue. Trust me--you'll regret it.

Take Wednesday, for example. Megan had earned one of those insidious little Pizza Hut coupons from school for achieving her reading goal for March. You know the ones -- "bring this to any participating Pizza Hut location for your free Personal Pan Pizza". It sounds innocent, but it's a sinister conspiracy to sell pizza. I guess I left my brain in bed that morning, because I took all four kids plus an extra teenager with me to redeem that little scrap of consumerist propaganda. Of course, it wouldn't be fair to make all the other kids watch Megan eat her little fried disk of dough covered with extra cheese; I ended up buying four additional PPP's. But it would be 15 minutes until they were ready, so we went for a walk. Past the bakery where I dropped $4.20 for six orange rolls. Then on down to Payless Shoes, where it just happened to be BOGO week, so of course we couldn't just buy one pair of shoes for Susan's birthday. Nooooooooo we must buy two, to get our money's worth!

Pizzas consumed, we entered Wal-Mart. Walmart was inspired, I believe, by the devil. Not because of it's labor issues or market manipulation, but because I somehow cannot walk out of that store without having spent at least $50, even if I only had two small items on my list. On this day, the damage was far worse, because I had five adorable little and big helpers to fill the cart for me.

I've got to figure out a better strategy before April's Pizza Hut Reading Coupon comes home.

Crack in the Dam

As I shared a few weeks ago (has it been that long already? No wonder I can't keep houseplants alive!), Tom will start a "Real Job" in mid June at L3 Communications in Salt Lake City. The anticipation of a much larger income for the last half of this year is having a strange effect on me. We've long had a "wish list" that we write down the things we would like to own, replace, or repair, and note an estimated date for acquiring/doing that thing. For the last 4 1/2 years of limited student income (which has been adequate for our needs but didn't allow a lot of extras), we've amassed quite a long list.

The first item on the list: a commuting car. Tom's 1997 Ford Ranger pickup has 90,000 miles on it, and driving 100 miles round trip per day will drive that trusty little truck into the ground pretty quick. And since this gardener needs a way to haul her manure, that just cannot be allowed to happen. So, last weekend, we went car shopping. At a Toyota dealership. Because Tom has his heart set on a Prius - Toyota's sexy little enviro-hybrid car that gets 50-60 mpg. Since he'll be driving 100 miles round trip, it seems justifiable. Having the analysts mind that he does, he spent hours entering data into a spreadsheet comparing several vehicles as to purchase price, miles/gallon, an other costs.

Now I really detest new car shopping. I don't know many people who enjoy it. So for Friday's date we went to test drive a Prius. We walked in the sparkling glass doors, and no less than five 20-something heads turned and looked at hungrily at us, like jackals stalking a lame wildebeest. There was a bit of a rugby-like tussle as they contested for the honor of serving us. The winner had dollar signs in his eyes as he walked over with arm outstretched, smiling stupidly while welcoming us. We asked for a test drive, and he all but skipped as he went off to fetch the car.

We managed to escape Prius-less. Since we don't actually have any money to make payments just now, it was easy to withstand the hard sell. It was actually kind of fun to watch the poor boy deflate when we told him we didn't have any money and wouldn't until July. Hee hee! We've decided to make test driving new cars one of our date options. I think we'll try a Hummer next.

Also on the list is an upright piano, water softener system, water heater, new sofa set, upgrade the computer, upgrade & redecorate bathrooms, fix house siding, replace the broken garage door opener... you get the idea.

Now, none of these things is a "need". We have an okay electronic casio keyboard. The kids have learned to play on it, haven't they? We've lived without a functioning garage door opener for 10 months now. It's no big deal when I have one of the kids with me. Whoever sits shotgun gets the honor of opening and closing the door. They think it's fun. (At least some of them do.) We've made do with the ugly circa 1970 hide-a-bed couch given to us by my parents for the family room; it is so uncomfortable that it is actually a disincentive to television watching, which I think is a good thing. I worry that once we replace it with some overstuffed recliner capable sectional that we'll all turn into couch potatoes or some other brainless vegetable. Besides, I hate furniture shopping almost as much as I hate car shopping. And the water softener -- how important is it, really, to have baby soft clothes and uber-white socks? Soap scum comes off with a little vinegar and elbow grease, doesn't it?

So why are these things on the list? Wouldn't it be prudent to save that money rather than sink it into "stuff"? After nearly five years of pinching pennies, it's kinda hard to stop clutching the purse, you know?

I think I'm afraid to start spending money, because I may never stop. Already, just knowing that more income is on the horizon, the purse strings have loosened. I don't check prices as closely as I used to. If the kids want cookies at the store I'm more likely to say yes. I worry that I'll spend up a big chunk of the "extra" income and we won't have much left over after I'm done. It's a balancing act, and I'm not real confident in my equilibrium just yet.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Blogger's Block

I think I may be a flash in the pan blogger. Six measly posts and I'm already out of ideas. Even when I get an idea of something to write about, it comes out flat and boring. I have four posts in draft... waiting for me to get inspired. I have nothing to say just now. Weird.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Psychic Susan

My second daughter, Susan, is turning thirteen this month. This child has an interesting gift: she has an extra sense of things unseen. It was particularly noticeable when she was small. As an infant, she was very tuned in to my thoughts, it seemed. Sometimes I would wake up briefly in the middle of the night; if I went back to sleep quickly, all was quiet. But if I even thought about Susan, almost immediately she would cry out. This happened over and over and over until I finally learned to think of anything but her during my brief nocturnal wakings. If I was successful, she slept on. If I slipped and even thought of not thinking about her, she woke up. It was very strange -- and sometimes frustrating, to have a child that could seemingly read my mind.

As Susan grew, it became apparent that she was very sensitive physically as well. She had the most sensitive skin, and had more diaper rashes than any of my other babies. She was very sensitive to the temperature of food, bathwater, and weather. She would wrinkle her nose at the faintest smell that even my pregnant nose didn't detect, and most foods were too strong tasting for her particular palate. Her emotions were also sensitive; as a little girl, she seemed to vacillate between bitter disappointment and ecstatic euphoria at the flip of a switch. In Susan's world, when life was good, it was very very good, but when it was bad, it was horrid. To be honest, I worried about her more than a little; if she was this temperamental as a four year old, what would the teenage years be like?

As she got older, she continued to demonstrate her uncanny ability to see beyond what most others could. Her older sister soon learned that it was no fun to play Memory with Susan, because not only was Susan's visual memory formidable, but she would often guess matches from cards that had not yet been turned over. When I mediated disputes with the "pick a number between 1 and 100 method" Susan would win much more often than her share, many times guessing the exact number I was thinking of! I must admit that there were a few times that I cheated and changed the number after she guessed, to try to make it a little more fair for the other kids. (Sorry Susan)

I am happy to report that as Susan has grown, that she has developed much more self-control than she had at the age of four. :) Poised to enter her teenage years, she is a beautiful, intelligent, talented young lady with a really fun sense of humor, and has an entertaining knack for silly song lyrics and clever quips that keep us laughing. She is known among her peers as a very kind and loyal friend, with an independence of will that leads her to do what she thinks is right irregardless of what "the crowd" says.

Now on the brink of womanhood, Susan continues to exhibit an unusual level of awareness for things unseen, including a valuable sensitivity to the Holy Ghost. On the surface, she is often quite placid, and usually keeps her own counsel, but I believe that underneath that calm exterior is a young lady that thinks and feels things very deeply. It has been fascinating to watch her grow up and begin to mature into such an amazing person. I am enjoying every minute of it.

Susan, I love you very much. You are an important part of our family, and I am very honored to be your mother.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Mountains and molehills

I'm feeling a fair amount of apprehension today. My chest feels tight and fluttery, like it does right before a piano recital or big game. I'm nervous, and I think I may know why.

My mother is scheduled for major surgery tomorrow (Tuesday). She needs heart bypass surgery, and the doctors have been in a dither what to do about her. Apparently she's a special case, with higher risk factors than most. I get the feeling that her doctor is afraid to operate. The surgery has been rescheduled three times. It's been a bit of a roller-coaster ride, gearing up emotionally for the event each time, and then the letdown of disappointment/relief when it was canceled. Oddly, the other three times I haven't felt quite this way, however. I have had a calm feeling as we approached the other dates. This time it's different, but I don't know why.

I'm also rather concerned about my son Nathan. He has just recovered from a week long bout with campylobacter, a food borne digestive infection. He was down for a solid week, and was left quite weak even after the infection had passed. He was already skinny when he got sick, and not eating for a week turned him into a bag of bones. He was very discouraged about being sick for so long, but his emotional health hasn't seemed to bounce back once his physical health was regained. It pains me to see him so sad and negative all the time. I'm at a loss what to do for him. It's a worry.

I find it ironic that loving people hurts so much.

Sunday, April 1, 2007


After four and one-half years of graduate school, Tom is in the homestretch. If everything goes according to schedule, he will finish his dissertation in June, defend in July, and graduate in August with a PhD in Electrical Engineering.

In February he began looking into employment possibilities, and applied with several firms, including L3 Communications in SLC; Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts; Rincon Technologies in Tuscon, AZ; and Sandia Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

There were pros and cons for each company, and we considered them all during the month of March. In the end, the choice was an obvious one: L3 Communications. All the kids are relieved that they don't have to leave their friends, and I am thrilled not to have to move. Life for five of us will go on pretty much as usual; Tom, however, will adjust from a 20 minute drive to BYU to 45+ minutes to L3, which is located near the Salt Lake Airport. He is scheduled to start working in June.

Perhaps it is because the change is far enough away, or because I have lived in limbo for so long that I am skeptical that this is for real, but I keep forgetting about it. I thought I would be overjoyed and excited about Tom finishing and finding a great job, especially one that lets us stay in the home and community that we love. Make no mistake -- I am very happy about it, and exceedingly thankful to the Lord for His many blessings. It just doesn't seem real yet. Maybe in May I'll begin to get hyped up. Stay tuned...

You Can't Fool Mother Nature

The Grumpy Gardener had a dilemma: two weeks of 60+ degree temperatures had fooled the peach trees into breaking dormancy early. Buds all over the trees showed pink, and some blooms had already opened. The beauty of this hopeful sign of spring was spoiled by the weatherman, whose forecast predicted a late winter storm bringing snow and nightly temperatures as low as 27 degrees. Twenty-seven degrees! Temps that cold would freeze the swelling and newly opened buds, and potentially wipe out this year's peach crop.

What to do?

The Gardener pondered and paced as the temperature dropped. She worried and watched as the clouds darkened. Then it began to rain, and the drops striking the window were not rain, but slush. She hung her head in despair, resigned to a September without peaches. And then, her chin lifted in triumph, for suddenly the solution crystalized like honey left too long in the pantry: Christmas Lights! Down to the storage room she raced to dig out strings of large bulb outdoor lights and several commercial grade extension cords.

Within minutes the lights were strung and lit. She stood back, hands on ample hips, to examine her work. Would it be enough? Some insurance was required before the gardener would sleep that night. Some way was needed to hold the heat from the lights near the blossoms. Another half-baked idea formed, and the hapless husband was recruited. They labored mightily in the cold with numb fingers, and at last it was done.

The Grumpy Gardener smiled beatifically and gave her very best beauty pageant wave to the neighbors who slowed and gazed in awe at her ingenuity.

Mother Nature laughed. And froze the peach blossoms anyway.

Hold on to Your Hat

Well, here we go. Peer pressure at last has induced my leap into the world of blogging. I've resisted for a number of reasons, one being that I don't have anything interesting to say. Also, why give myself yet another reason to sit at the computer when I have so many other things I should be doing?

Should. There's that word again. I thought I had purged it from my vocabulary, but it just keeps sneaking back in when I'm not watching. Should, that root of guilt, that self-defeating four-letter word plus two that keeps me from really enjoying life. Once upon a time I thought that "shoulding" myself would motivate me to do all the things I wasn't doing. But it didn't. "Should" only made me feel more of a failure for not doing them. I was slow to learn that guilt is not an effective motivator.

Let's try an experiment. In the place of should, I will henceforth substitute the word "want". As in: "I want to mow the lawn tomorrow," and "I want to go jogging after dropping Megan off at kindergarten," and "I want to clean the kitchen and mop the floor." By saying "want" instead of "should" perhaps I can trick my subconscious into actually wanting to do all the things I procrastinate in favor of more leisurely pursuits (like blogging).

Check back later for the results of this psychotic, er, I mean, psychology experiment.