Many years ago I struggled to figure out most nights what I was going to fix for dinner. When I waited to think about it until 5:00 not only was I tired but my children were also tired and usually wanting my attention. Crying, crabby children didn’t make it easy to think clearly about planning dinner. In this situation I could usually think of about 3 or 4 things to fix which night after night didn’t go over so well. Often I wouldn’t have all of the ingredients I needed to make the dinner, which added to the stress. It was then hurry to the store or find something else to fix. Life is stressful enough without increasing it with this nightly dance. So I decided I was going to be really organized and plan menus for each week. That way I wouldn’t be trying to figure out dinner in a stressful situation, and I would always have the food available I needed to make dinner. The first time I sat down to write the menu all I could think of was the same 3 or 4 things. That obviously didn’t work so I came up with a plan. I decided to look through cook books that I often used and made a list of main courses, side dishes, salads and desserts. I put the meal option list in a page protector and on a clip board. This gave me a quick reference list for menu planning. I then photocopied all the recipes on the list and put them in a binder so I would have quick access to them when making dinner. I didn’t want to have to take time to find the recipes because sometimes I only had a short time to pull off the nightly feat of meal prep. I also made a shopping list with categories like produce, can goods, breads, meats, dairy and other similar things. That also went on the clip board along with the menu page. When I plan menus I look over the list, figure out the meals for each night, make out the shopping list and then I’m ready to go to the grocery store. Having everything on a clip board made crossing things off while shopping easier.
All of this took some time to organize but when it was done it was well worth it. Not only did it stop the 5:00 scramble to figure out dinner but it saved money by being organized in shopping and reducing wasted food. It also made it easier when cleaning out the fridge to know how long a particular food item had been in it. Some times if I was running late I would call my husband and have him look on the menu to see what was planned and get it started. There were also times when things didn’t work out for what I had planned for a particular night so I would switch nights around. Being flexible with it helped a lot. My kids also liked being to see the menu and know what was for dinner that night. Of course there were still tired, crying kids and one really tired mom on some nights but having what to fix for dinner already figured out really did help relieve a lot of the stress. There are many different ways to do menu planning and maybe some these ideas will spur your own ideas. For me this was a tool that helped life go a little smoother and reduce some stress in our lives.
My family has been involved in a project called Orange Socks. It’s an initiative of Rise, inc. and its purpose is educate people on the joys and challenges of raising a child with disabilities. Its tag line is “Inspiring Life Despite a Diagnosis” and they work to connect parents with each other to create support systems. Most of the time people associate challenges with raising a child who has disabilities but often don’t know of the joys that come to parents and siblings. The initiative started when statistics showed that most children with Down Syndrome are aborted. The Orange Socks founder realized that most people who are told they are having a child with Down Syndrome only heard the negative things about having a child with this condition. He decided to interview parents of children with Down Syndrome to get the good things as well as the hard about raising a child with this syndrome. It didn’t take long before Orange Socks branched out to include all disabilities and to also interview siblings. The initiative is now celebrating its two year anniversary and has interviewed over 100 families from all over the United States. The interviews can be heard on their website Orangesocks.org. In the last year they have also started doing video interviews.
I have been lucky enough to be involved in some of the interviews. I am amazed to see parents tackling hard situations and more than rising to the occasion. They grow as individuals as they care for their children in some times hard ways. Often other people will say something like “I could never raise a child with disabilities, I’m not strong enough.” What I have learned is that people are stronger than they think. In the interviews I sat in the parents all talked about how they rely on prayer and God to help them. They also talk about how their other children have learned to be more compassionate and kind. People sometimes forget that whatever child they have will have some challenges. In my experience with my daughter who has Down Syndrome I have some challenges that I did not have with my other children. But there are also some challenges that I had with my other children that I will not have with her, and she definitely has taught us a lot.
What really amazes me is that these parents in the interviews focus on the joy their child has brought to their lives and how much they love that child. They also talked about how they feel it is a privilege to “raise an angel.” The Orange Socks founder says there are usually three stages that parents go through when they find out they are having a child with disabilities. The first stage is “Why me,” as they come to terms with it. The second is “Why not me” as they realize life goes on and they are stronger than they thought. Eventually parents get to the third stage which is “Thank God it’s me” when they learn they have the privilege of raising an angel.
When I was a teen I was interested in learning to bottle fruit and I was intrigued by the mystery of canning. My mother didn’t know how to bottle fruit and so I had never seen it done. I was sure it was a hard, mysterious process known to the lucky few. I was also sure that if somehow I ever had the chance to bottle fruit I would do it wrong and poison someone, and so I had a lot of fear about it. But I had eaten bottled peaches at someone’s home and they were so much better than commercially canned peaches, that I decided I wanted to learn to bottle fruit. My grandparents had an apricot tree and when I was in college I asked my grandmother if I could help her bottle apricots. I was hoping that she would teach me how to bottle and that it would be easier to do than I thought. So, one Saturday in the summer I went to her house and helped pick apricots. She showed me how to bottle fruit and it was a lot easier than I thought, much easier. In fact I couldn’t believe the process was so simple. I wrote everything down that she said to do and the instructions were just a few lines. It was really easy and what I had thought was a mysterious process was now something I knew how to do. I just couldn’t believe that something I feared turned out to be so easy. Having learned to do apricots gave me the courage to try peaches and tomatoes, and then jam. My grandmother taught me a skill I have used through out my life and it has blessed my family.
Family History is also another area that seemed to be a mystery. I would hear people talk about doing their family history and feel guilty because I had no clue how to do it. Many people over the years had tried to teach me and somehow it still remained a mystery. It just didn’t click in my brain how to actually do it. I didn’t understand the process and how to know if the record I was looking at was really the record of my family member. I didn’t understand how to record the record and connect it to my family line. I didn’t even know how to access my family line. I was really afraid of making a mistake. One Sunday in church they announced a new family history class for beginners starting the following Sunday. I decided to give it one more try. That Sunday I ended up sick and decided that I would never learn to do family history. The instructors were so nice and dedicated that they came to my house and taught me. Somehow this time it made sense in my dense, computer phobic brain. They taught me over the course of four Sundays and I took the handouts and followed them step by step at home. I knew that if I didn’t practice what they taught me I would forget what I had learned. Turns out Family history is easy, lots easier than I thought. It was really doable and again what I thought was a mysterious process was something I now knew how to do. Again, something I feared turned out to be so easy. I have branched out and done different family lines and have connected several hundred family names together. These family history instructors taught me a skill that I will use throughout my life and has greatly blessed my family.
Bottling fruit and family history have a lot in common. Both seemed mysterious and beyond my reach. Yet both, when I put my fear aside and learned how to do them, became something I was able to do. Sometimes my fear of doing something stops me from doing it, even if it’s something good. I have learned that usually my fears are silly and that I am capable of learning new things, even seemingly hard things. Next step, sky diving!
When my oldest daughter was a toddler she was a hand full at church. To help keep her quiet and entertained, my husband would take his silk handkerchief that matched his tie (an 80’s thing) and roll and fold it in such a way that it looked like a canoe with “babies” in it. He would rock it between his hands and she would sit quietly and play with it. One time at church he forgot to wear his handkerchief and as we were listening to the speaker my daughter started looking through his pockets, moving his tie around and getting in his face. Since she was being quiet we didn’t think too much about it until she loudly shouted, “Where’s that little thing you use to make babies with daddy.” That quickly got our attention, especially as the people in the pews around us started laughing. We immediately put our heads down in deep embarrassment and explained that daddy forgot to bring it. Of course we laugh about it now! When she was a little older, she and her sister opened a 20 lb bag of flour and had a “snow” fight. When I found them, all I could see were two white faces with big eyes looking at me. That was a huge mess to clean up! Another time she and this same sister blocked off the bottom of the door of the bathroom with towels and filled the floor full of water to make an indoor slip and slide. I was downstairs doing laundry when I saw water pouring down from the ceiling. I ran up stairs and found 2 girls having great fun. I was amazed at their creativity but not amused with the damaged ceiling. One time I found my electric skillet in her bath tub with dried up food in it. It turns out that she and her partner in crime (this same sister) would take my electric skillet into their bedroom and cook things when they were supposed to be asleep. All of these things were basically harmless but they kept me really busy because what one daughter didn’t think to do the other one did. Of course there were a few things that weren’t so harmless like when she let her 14 year sister take her car and drive around with some friends. We were really lucky no one was hurt with that escapade. The years have passed and now this same daughter just celebrated her 33rd birthday. She has grown into a compassionate, thoughtful person who champions the underdog (humans and animals alike!). She has this knack for reaching out to others and becoming friends with them, and still keeps in contact with high school friends. When she is your friend you will have a friend for life. She will always have your back and she tries harder than anyone else I know to improve herself. She cares about her family and reaches out to build relationships. She is an amazing person who brightens our lives. In spite of all of her antics, I am glad she’s my daughter. Happy Birthday!
Recently I heard a delightful story in a talk at church. The story told of a woman who awoke one morning and only had three hairs. She looked into the mirror and said, “I think I’ll braid my hair today,” and went happily on her way. The following morning she awoke and only had two hairs. “Today I will part my hair,” she stated and again went happily on her way. The next morning she awoke and only had one hair left. “I think I will wear my hair in a pony tail today,” she said and of course went happily on her way. The fourth morning she awoke and had no hair at all on her head. “How lucky am I,” she said. “I don’t have to do my hair today.” Needless to say, she went happily on her way.
What a great illustration of looking someone looking at what she has instead of dwelling on what she didn’t have, and of making the best of a not-so-good situation. Each of us have not-so-good situations in life. Some of them easy so we can be like the woman in this story, although being bald would not be easy! Other times our challenges can be very difficult and it’s hard to focus on the positive. In the Book of Mormon we read of a group of people who were being persecuted and having difficulty bearing their afflictions. Through prayer they received help. The burdens weren’t removed but the people were strengthened to bear them with ease. In Mosiah 24:15 we read that they did “bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.” I think being cheerful, especially in difficulties, is another way of expressing faith and something I need to do better in. When I’m in the midst of a terrible migraine I find it difficult to be cheerful and sometimes I settle for pleasant. Often I’m not even close to pleasant and just have to grit my teeth and endure. Sometimes I find it hard not to be frantic with pain wondering how I’m going to survive. Even though I know the pain will eventually end it’s so hard to be patient and endure it. I truly admire people who are cheerful and look at what they have without dwelling on what’s not right in their lives. The story in Mosiah gives me something to shoot for: patiently and cheerfully submitting to the will of the Lord and looking for ways that He has strengthened me to endure this affliction easier. I hope that a year from now I can say that I have increased my ability to be cheerful, despite my circumstances, and thus more faithful. It should be easy. After all, I have more than three hairs on my head.