Happy Birthday to My Brother

James in canoe

My brother would have been 32 today.

He was a handsome guy.

He was a pretty fantastic brother.

People were drawn to his smile.

I wish he were a part of my boys’ lives.

 

I miss him.

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Keeping My Internet Under Control

We’ve never found a great internet filter for our family. Everything we tried wasn’t compatible with our operating system, blocked too much, let too much through, or just didn’t give us enough control.

I’m all about control. At least where it comes to my children and what they’re allowed to watch, search, and play online.

Just before Christmas we had an internet search problem and I went back on the hunt for something that would work for us.

I saw a little write-up for a device called Circle, and had finalized the purchase within 5 minutes.

The control it gives is amazing!

Not only can I set a filter level for the wifi in our whole house, I can control the individual (too many) devices in our home. All the images here are from the phone app I control the Circle with. Password protected, of course. Constant vigilance, you know.

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Here’s the home screen. Each circle corresponds with someone in our family, and a device or two is assigned to their profile. The shaded circles are currently paused. Or I could hit that pause circle and pause the internet in the entire house.

Magical.

Let’s tap that house circle.

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It takes me here, with a run-down of what the overall stats are for the whole house. Also, see where it says devices? There are 16 devices in my house that can access the internet. 16!!!!! I was baffled!

Let’s take a closer look at those devices.

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Too many. But what can you do when your husband is tech nerd? In addition to the things I would normally think of (tablets, PCs, phones), I can also control my TV! I love smart TVs. And our PS4. And so many more things I had no idea had access.

Filter Settings is where you set an overall filter for your house. And then, you can choose access to some individual sites and categories. I personally have the app store turned off because that is a place I don’t feel like I have enough control over. There’s a control for blogs, email, social media, and a long list more.

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At the bottom of this particular screen, there is a privacy and safety menu. Yes, absolutely, to ad blocking. Lots in inappropriate stuff pops up in those side bars that I might not notice, but my sweet, curious boys sure notice an ad of a girl in a pair of underwear you read about that are serving a great good in other countries.

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That last little orange bar is where you can go in and make exceptions for specific websites you know and trust that are blocked by Circle. Like your (or my) husband’s Fantasy Baseball and Football. (Gambling sites, you know.)

This is what an individuals screen looks like.
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This is my littlest guys screen. His filter level is set to kid. He has the Nintendo DS assigned to him, which also has internet access. Call me stupid, but I didn’t realize that until this year. We’ve had that thing for about 6 years.

He is currently paused because he hasn’t earned screen time today. Since the DS is really more about playing game cartridges that don’t require internet access, I don’t have a time limit set for him, but the bigger boys have some Kindles that I certainly set a limit for. Otherwise, they could play Star Wars Commander for hours.

I can also pause and unpause the internet while I’m away from the house, so if I leave the boys with a babysitter and they get their tasks done, the sitter can just text me and I can turn the internet on and they can play.

I’ve talked to some parents who have kind of looked at me like I’m a little overbearing because of this, but let me tell you, nothing is more terrifying to me for my boys than unlimited access to the internet. It used to be you had to go to the convenience store and pick up a magazine, or go into a curtained off room at the video store, to get porn. Now, you can do an Amazon search for boobs and see aaaaalllllllll kinds of inappropriate book covers. (Ignorance was not my friend, and my children are smarter than I. Also, more curious.)

I’m not getting paid for this (although that wouldn’t be too bad). I’ve just come across a product that works for us. Not just works, it has been a life changer.

Well worth the $99 for a little peace of mind.

https://meetcircle.com/

 

 

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Goodbye to 35

My birthday was yesterday, and at the risk of sounding cynical, I keep my birthday expectations really low. Like, non-existent. That way I’m always surprised that anything at all gets done to celebrate it. I’m a real kill-joy, I know.

And I kind of buck against the idea of adult birthday parties. I don’t want to invite you to a social event where you feel obligated to bring me a gift. Maybe you would have brought a gift out of the goodness of your heart, but, still, the idea is a little awkward to me.

But, yesterday may have changed how I will celebrate others’ birthdays forever.

It really was a normal day. So normal, in fact, I had to be up and ready to take one of my kids to the dentist at 7:30. But my sweet husband remembered and wished me a happy birthday while I was getting ready. Truthfully, I had totally forgotten.

Then, that cute boy I was taking to the dentist gave me a bag of m&m’s in the car. A big deal for him, since, you know, candy.

Before I even got that boy dropped off at school, a friend called to wish me a happy day. And she’s not even on Facebook! That means she has it written in her calendar!

I got home and got a text invitation to lunch, picked up the boys from school where another friend gave me a small cake, went to said delicious lunch complete with brownie for dessert, and came home to flowers from my husband.

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But, wait, there’s more! My doorbell rang with flowers from a dear friend who lives in Idaho, and when I walked out the door to take some books back to the library, another friend had put a “Happy Birthday” banner on my garage door.

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I came back from the library to a beautiful handmade card from the sweet friend who took me to lunch, my visiting teachers stopped by with a gift, brownies, and hugs, another friend stopped in to give me a hug, my mom made me a delicious angel food cake with strawberries and bananas, and I got a few gifts from my family.

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The true highlight, though, was a simple text from someone I’m trying to rebuild a relationship with. The fact that that person, who also isn’t on Facebook, remembered and acknowledged my birthday was truly the best of all.

Now, I’m not telling you all about this to show how spoiled I was (I really was), but to let you know that I truly was surprised and amazed. Writing this blog has caused me to shed tears about things that haven’t really been thought too much about in a while, and it was such a true gift to be reminded that I have some very dear friends who care about me.

It also showed me that I need to be a better friend and let other people know they are important to me and I love them. All of these people went out of their way to show me they loved me. I can do that, too.

36 is the year of being a better friend.

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Thrifted Winter Porch

As promised, I did a little sewing and made some new pillow covers for my front porch.

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I went from this terrible photo of my very Christmas porch (which I loved! The porch, not the photo.)…

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to this (hopefully) more winter looking porch. The stack of shirts and a blazer turned into some nice pillows. I also switched the wool blanket of my Grandma’s with some wool that I inherited when she downsized to live with us. Now the blanket can actually be used as a blanket!

The tree got a little makeover, too, with some sleds, mittens, gloves, and stockings. I threw a grapevine garland on there for good measure. Pathetically enough, I had all that in my attic. I still hold that I don’t have a Christmas problem.

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The corner by the door got an addition of a doll-sized sled (my mom’s) and some twigs cut from the trees in our backyard. The lantern and turned post were thrifted, the square wreath with the red berries I’ve had for a looooong time, and the greens are from an artificial tree.

That’s one of my favorite cheap-skate tricks. Any greenery found around my house is from a Goodwill tree left over from our December wedding reception 14 years ago. It’s the kind that you have to insert the individual branches. I had used some of the branches in a porch decoration in our old house where we had an opossum that felt the need to mark his territory. Those got thrown away (obviously) and the rest get used as loose greenery on the mantle, piano, top of the fridge, table, porch, put in vases, … basically wherever needs a little green. You can find thrifted trees for about $10, at least in my experience.

OK, so maybe the fact that I’ve been carrying around the remnants of a Christmas tree for that long is a sign of a problem.

But! I used the base pole of that tree to put together the tree for the porch this year, since the pole of the tree that was my Grandma’s that is the porch tree was too tall, so I used the old pole and her branches!

Yeah, I see the problem.

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My Experience Concerning Mental Illness and Guns

I hope it’s pretty obvious that I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I believe in the importance and power of prayer, and since I pray about pretty much every aspect of my life, I also pray for guidance about what I should write about here.

I was praying about it this morning and felt like I needed to share my personal experiences about guns and mental illness. Please know that this is something close to my heart. I am in no way trying to start a debate. I’m not a fan of confrontation. I’m happy to have a civil discussion, but the moment it gets unkind, hurtful, attacking, or unintelligent, the conversation will end.

My dad was diagnosed as a manic-depressive in the 80s. I’m pretty sure today he would be called bi-polar. I remember him going to a place to get better, which I can now only assume was some sort of mental health facility. He came home and I remember him not having sugar because it helped him not lose his temper or something. I was young and don’t know full details, and don’t really care to make my mom dig up what must be very painful memories.

He was great to me. I have memories of him carrying me up to bed, I snuggled with him in his big recliner, and he took me hunting, fishing, camping, and for rides on his motorcycle. I idolized him.

What I didn’t see or chose not to see or have repressed somewhere is the angry side of him. He would lash out irrationally at my older siblings and mom. There was abuse in many forms. But I wasn’t old enough to have it directed at me.

He was transferred to Washington state for his job in 1989 and was shortly thereafter in a serious motorcycle accident which caused some severe head damage, both physical and mental.

We owned guns. Prior to our move to Washington, we lived in Wyoming and every fall included getting an antelope to put in the freezer for winter. We would practice shooting pistols and I remember being a pretty good shot. I’ve shot rifles that knocked me on my butt. Guns were a part of our life.

But guns should not have been in our home. My father should never have been allowed to purchase a firearm.

He was physically abusive and had been diagnosed with a mental illness. There was no way he should have been allowed that right.

And he did use them to do harm.

The most horrific time I can remember him using a gun as a threat was when he and one of my older siblings got into an argument. I have no idea what it would take a child doing to feel you needed to threaten them with a firearm, but he got out a shotgun and chased that sibling through the yard with it. Fortunately, that sibling was smart and fast and ran into the woods and my dad was practically blind and disabled and couldn’t follow.

The last time he used a gun to do harm was when he ended his life. My mother had finally filed for divorce or was on her way to file after a what must have been an ugly fight. I remember being mad at him that morning and didn’t give him a kiss when I left for school. I’m sure the argument continued until my mom finally left to go to the grocery store. When she got home, he went out behind her car that she had just taken a load of groceries into the house from and blew out the back of his head. In the driveway. Right where she was coming back to get another load. You can’t tell me that wasn’t done out of anger and spite. I’d like to say fortunately he only hurt himself, but anyone who has had someone close to them commit suicide will tell you that the mental anguish and blame they have gone through is truly like a hell.

On top of all that, my youngest brother got off the school bus to paramedics and ambulances and brains in the driveway.

He never recovered from that.

Yes, you could argue that my father could have killed himself in a variety of ways, but there are all sorts of studies about ways people commit suicide and what their chosen method says about the psychological state they were in when they did it.

He wanted my mom to suffer.

So, I support gun control. I support Obama’s attempt to close the loopholes about reporting mental health statuses to the NICS database. And if that means that the government has access to my medical records, then so be it. I have nothing to hide. And if I can’t get a gun because my father was bipolar and it can be passed on hereditarily, I’m OK with that also.

I also support guns rights. I totally support hunting and understand shooting for sport. I acknowledge that people own weapons to protect their homes and families. I just don’t want to be a part of it.

 

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A Savior is Born

Merry Christmas from that Mormon family!

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My feelings about the birth of my Lord and Savior are deep and bring many emotions that make my boys wonder why I’m sobbing, so I’ll save those for another time when they are not all home.

And if you haven’t seen this, you should.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

Wishing you all peace from the Only True Source,

Sarah

 

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Christmas Trees!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,

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Your beauty green will teach me

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That hope and love will ever be

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The way to joy and peace for me.

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O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,

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Your beauty green will teach me.

(From an English version of the song)

 

No, I don’t have a Christmas problem. Why do you ask?

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Thrift Store Frames

I knew when I started tackling the boys’ bathroom I wanted a collage of uplifting, spirit-prompting quotes on the wall. I mean, sometimes they’re in there for a while and … you know, they need something to read. I’m just providing a needed service here!

I wanted the frames to be white because what was going in them was going to be colorful and the blue I chose for the walls is pretty bold, so white would keep it calm. I looked at frames whenever I thought about it if I happened to be at a store, but $10-$15 a piece for at least 8 frames added up quickly. I wanted real wood frames at rock-bottom prices.

Then one day I was driving past my local thrift-store and decided to stop and see what they had. Um, score! The first stop in I got 6 wood frames all for under $1 each!

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I sanded and primed (Zinsser 1-2-3) and painted (Sherwin-Williams ProClassic in Extra White Semi-Gloss. Only ever buy S-W paint when it’s on sale) them along with a few other small projects for that bathroom and decided I needed six more to fill the wall space.

(Look! That’s the pew I used the PolyShades on! That’s a more accurate look at the shade of the vanity.)

I made another stop into the thrift store, picked up six more frames and repeated the painting process.

Then I sat down with a pile of the magazine our church puts out for our teenagers and pulled out all the word art quotes that are printed there, put them in the frames and lined the frames up on the floor how I wanted them on the wall.

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I used a level and a chalk line to mark a straight line on the wall as a guide and blue sticki-tac on the bottom corners so they don’t move.

Cost for frames – about $10

Paint and primer I already had floating around my house.

I like it! And now my boys have something to read if they happen to forget a book.

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Updating a Bathroom Vanity

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Our house was built in the early ’90s. We bought from the original owners, who built it, and then didn’t do anything to it. Every wall was white, every piece of wood is oak (floors, railings, stairs, cupboards) or raw hemlock (trim, windows, doors). The only accent colors were that ’90s hunter green or navy blue. You can see in this picture the accent of blue in this bathroom. The tiles also have flecks of light blue in them and the shower tiles have blue flowers. It’s very true to it’s era.

The amount of oak is overwhelming to me. Between that and the white walls, I had a huge stupor about what to do to anything to make it mine.

Then, one day I was surfing YouTube for how-tos to change the look of the kitchen cupboards and ran across a video on Minwax PolyShades. I had a church pew that we use as seating for our table (that was also raw oak!) and decided to give this stuff a try. I loved using it on the bench so much, I thought I’d try it on the boys’ bathroom vanity. It seemed like a good place to start because, if I hated it, I didn’t have to look at it very often. I’m a nice mom like that.

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I got my little helper, what was left of my can of PolyShades and a couple cheap paintbrushes and got to work.

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The video I watched instructed a light sanding to rough up the old finish so the new finish would take better, and the foam sanding block here is my sander of choice (unless I can use a power sander. That wins every time.) The foam block gets into the grooves of the doors really nicely. I wanted something nice and dark, so I chose a mahogany, and I used cheap chipwood brushes so I could throw them away at the end of the day. (That’s not what’s in the picture.)

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I was still a little nervous about the whole thing, so I started by staining the back of the false drawer front (which had been pulled off long ago. Parentheses, anyone?) This is a VERY thin first coat. I already loved it…

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so I went to town! I taped off the walls and floor, took off all the drawer fronts and doors, gave them a rough sand, and gave everything a thin coat. The hardest part was the side of the vanity because it was such a big, flat piece. I really wanted to make sure the grain showed through and there weren’t obvious brush-strokes. I let that all dry overnight.

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Here is an example of two coats versus one. The left drawers have two coats. The drawers on the right have one. I already loved the first coat and was nervous about a second coat, but I loved it even more! Everything got a second coat and again got left overnight dry.

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I put it all back together and then started worrying about the if it would cure hard enough to stand up to four boys. Especially since I had sprayed some wall texture to patch up some holes and the overspray took the finish off. I touched those spots up and carried on, crossing my fingers. (The walls also got painted Sherwin-Williams Denim during this mess. More pics of that later.)

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The boys used the bathroom as usual that night and everything held up great. After a few days curing, the finish is really hard and the vanity looks amazing. It has given me the confidence in the product to use it in my very oak kitchen!

In all, it took about three days, but that wasn’t three days of work. More like an hour of work and a day of drying. So totally doable in a couple of evenings or something if you’re looking to make a change. Also, I got my PolyShades at my local lumber store. It was about $30 for the quart, plus throw away brushes. I was probably in about $35, but I also got two projects out of the can, so it didn’t even cost me that much. Finally, I would highly recommend putting a dropcloth down over the whole floor. I was lazy and maybe it was the brushes I was using, but there was a lot of floor scrubbing needed when I was done.

Which is all ok, because I love it!

Now it just needs some pretty hardware.

**This is in no way an advertisement for Minwax. I just loved using this product. But, I would gladly accept any products they wanted to send my way!**

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