Monday, May 14, 2018

Happy Mother's Day

I was born to a really amazing woman.

Me and mom

Mom with me and Shawni enjoying the cherry blossoms in Virginia where we lived

one of many road trips - me in the back seat, Josh, Mom and Shawni
When they were in their late twenties, my mom and dad were asked to lead the England London South mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and oversee the 200 missionaries there. I'm sure this seemed pretty daunting - my dad's fledgling company would surely fold without his presence, they had 4 young children, the oldest of whom was a 5-year-old - me, and they'd never left the United States before. But they packed up and headed out and it proved to be a marvelous experience for everyone. My mom had two more babies (one of them - Jonah - very premature - scary stuff) during their 3-year tenure in England. And somehow she helped all those missionaries and all those babies feel completely loved and cared for.

Here we are in England - Mom is pregnant with #6

At the hospital meeting baby #6, Talmadge

Mom made us these matching British flag pj's for Christmas.
I love that Mom's in her purple quilted  bathrobe here -
I remember her wearing that every morning for years and years!

After our time in England, my mom and dad weren't really interested in settling down in one place.  They  started writing parenting books - and as authors, they could live and work just about anywhere. They loved meeting new people and exploring new places and wanted to raise their children as "citizens of the world. We moved back and forth from Washington DC to Salt Lake City a couple times and spent summers enjoying the simple pleasures of Bear Lake and trying out new things - everything from living in Mexico to building a log cabin in Oregon. 

My parents didn't have any formal education in child development or family sciences - my mom's trained as a musician and my dad had a career as a political consultant. But they had a lot of tried-and-true ideas and knew how to explain them in a way that really resonated. They started a program called Joy School that exploded into 1000's of parent-run co-op preschools around the United States and across the world. They would go on book tour to intoduce their books via TV shows and book signings all over the country. As their parenting books got more and more popular, they started giving speeches all over the place. 

And through all that, they kept having kids until there were nine of us and nine just felt right.

book tour photo in the 80's

Here we are traipsing around Mexico - we lived there for a summer to learn Spanish and experience a different culture. My mom had her "learn Spanish" book with her all the time and worked so hard on it. The rest of us, not so much. I love how mom is always seeking to learn something new.

Here we are in Oregon - spent a summer there building this log cabin - my dad's dream. My mom made camping all summer with 8 kids work somehow - she came up with amazing campfire dinners and somehow kept us all happy and fed and safe while we lived in tents and built this basic cabin and came to appreciate our pioneer ancestors immensely. Mom definitely has the grit of a pioneer woman.
Here we are building a log cabin in Oregon one summer (to get in touch with our pioneer roots, develop grit, and have some serious bonding time and enjoyment of nature

Here we are with mom the day she and dad brought Charity - #9 - home from the hospital. We were all over the moon about our new little sister - especially after 4 little brothers in a row! Mom taught us to adore babies. She was always so in love with her newborns and made us all so excited to be parents some day.

Through all the busyness and book tours and travels, we all knew that being a mom was by far the most important thing to my mom. 

She somehow found time to create beautiful memories with all of us. She shared her passion for nature and literature and art and music and travel with us. Through her example and her "buck up" attitude, she taught us to work hard and be tough. She taught us to embrace adventure. She taught us to notice those in need and reach out to them. She taught us to be interested in everything and everyone. She taught us to always be kind. She taught us to embody our family motto: "Broaden and Contribute."

Here's Mom with me and Saydi making dinner - good thing we had photographers pop
in sometimes or I doubt we'd have any photos of this sort of every-day stuff.
(and good thing I've got a photo of my awesome hair...)

Mom and Noah (#7)

mom and Josh
mom with newborn Noah? Eli? Oh, how Mom loves little babies!
This is a staged story time for a magazine photo shoot - nope, we didn't read as a group like this.But reading was really important in our home. And we did read scriptures together early every morning in the living room - half-asleep, curled up in our blankets on the couch.

Here's another staged photo. My mom did have us all learn instruments - music was so important to her. And the older kids did get up each morning and play string quartet pieces together with my mom and dad. But we didn't all play together like this. And Jonah doesn't play the mandolyn (he played the drums but I guess they were too hard to bring up from the basement). Tal doesn't play the guitar and I don't think Eli or Noah played the violin - I guess too many people on the piano wouldn't work for the photo. But the rest of us are playing what we really did learn to play! You can see my parents' musical instrument collection on the wall - they gathered a new instrument as part of all their travels. Many of us didn't love playing instruments and Mom was wise in not pushing certain people too far. But we all gained a great appreciation for music. And we won "Western musical family of the year" or something like that one year. I'm not sure if it's an award anyone else had ever heard of but my mom was pretty happy to get that plaque and feel that at least a piece of her dream of a family orchestra had come true!

Mom teaching Saydi to play the piano (with Eli's help)
Yep, another magazine photo but this is something we really did every day and I'm so glad it was captured - we had breakfast together every morning and had a serious family dinner together every evening.

But this is what my mom was doing during most dinners - I don't remember her sitting much:

When I was a missionary in Bulgaria, my parents' newest book, Teaching Children Values reached #1 on the NYTimes Bestseller list (being on Oprah with the whole family helped...) and their writing and speaking was elevated to a whole new level.

Since that NYTimes Bestseller boost, Mom and Dad have written a lot more books and travelled the world and speak in just about every industrialized nation plus have hands-on helped with or backed quite a bit of work in the 3rd world.

Here's my mom on a humanitarian service expedition to Bolivia that we went on as a family - Mom somehow made great friends despite the language barrier.

But most importantly, my mom has been an amazing mother to her nine children and anyone else who crosses her path and seems to need a little mothering.

And she wants to help every other mom and grandma in the world to be the best mom or grandma they can be so she's written these awesome books:

My mom is probably the most kind and hardworking woman alive. She plows right into any task and never seems to get tired. She can talk to anyone about anything with genuine interest and concern. She's smart as a whip and kind as a saint. And yep, there were times when she got really mad or didn't handle things quite right. But she's great at apologizing and learning and moving on. And I especially love her for that.


I thought I'd finish by sharing some of my favorite memories with my mom here as well as some of my favorite photos. I'm SO amazingly blessed to have such a mother!

When I was about 4, I yearned for pig tails or braids but my hair was so darn short and just didn't grow. I was always begging mom to do my hair in various ways that I saw on other little girls and that I thought would work for my hair that seemed like it was getting plenty long. Mom kept explaining that my hair just wasn't long enough. But one day when I asked, she dropped everything and did my hair in two miniscule braids. I was over the moon about it. I'm sure it looked ridiculous but I was so so so so happy.

wish I had a photo of the braids - but you can see here how little hair Mom had to work with!

When I turned 5, we had just moved into a new house in a new neighborhood and city. My sweet mom was determined that even though I hadn't had a chance to make any friends yet, I would get to have a really nice birthday party. So she invited all the kids in the neighborhood over - kids ranging in age from 3-10 or so - and made me the most amazing Winnie the Pooh cake. I wish I had a photo of it - but maybe it's good I don't. I don't think it could possibly look as beautiful in a photo as it does in my memories.

this is my 5th birthday party - no Pooh cake in site - but I love the way my mom is looking at me

For every birthday, Mom made us a great cake in the shape of something and that meant so much to us. This photo shows the "little girl" cake I requested for my 6th birthday party right after we moved to London.

Here's a close-up of the cake - work of art, huh?

When I was six, I was shopping with my mom for a new coat and found one that I absolutely fell in love with - gray/blue velvet with fake fur trim - the most beautiful coat I'd ever seen. But it was wasn't exactly cheap and my mom was all about shopping on the sales racks and making due with whatever was a good price. I was thrilled when she agreed to buy me that coat. It was my most cherished piece of clothing for years. And then one day it disappeared from the school cloakroom. That was a sad sad day for me. Here's the coat (and Saydi and Shawni):

On the same note, years later, when I was going to my first formal dance in high school, I showed my mom this dress I thought would be absolutely perfect. I was sheepish about even showing it to her because it was really expensive - and while I'd saved up quite a bit of money (we bought all our own clothes after earning money in our family economy system), I knew I couldn't buy it without some considerable help from my mom. Much to my surprise and delight, my mom said she'd be happy to buy it for me and I didn't even have to use any of my own money. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world and had so much confidence wearing that dress!

When I didn't have any friends my freshman year of high school, Mom would come pick me up at lunch when she could squeeze it in. I loved those days when I got to hang out with Mom rather than wandering the halls and trying not to look lonely and friendless at lunch. I realize now how hard it must have been for her to fit in those lunch visits when she still had preschoolers to take care of as well as SO many other things on her plate! To help me make friends, she arranged for me to be in a violin sextet that performed all over. She had to take me to rehearsals at 5:45am at my violin teacher's house and drive me to performances. But I made great friends. I also made great friends when she totally supported me in being in a play that involved rehearsals every day and she had to drive me to most of those.

My first year at Wellesley College, Mom sent me a lovely postcard with an art print on it EVERY SINGLE DAY. She'd fill up the backs of those postcards with great bits of news about everything going on at home. She'd often start by telling me where she was as she wrote the post card - often the line at the grocery store or the post office, often waiting to pick up a carpool. My roommates and friends were amazed (and jealous) at the postcards I received every day. And those cards were a beautiful lifeline to home during that first hard year away. Plus it was great to have those beautiful postcards - I decorated the back of my dorm room door with postcards of my favorite art prints. I love how mom's postcards helped me feel a bond to her and to everyone at home while strengthening the bond we share through our mutual love of art.

Mom has always been there to help with each of my babies, stocking our fridge, making wonderful gourmet meals, showering love and attention on the older children, taking care of a fussy newborn who had already eaten but couldn't quite settle in the middle of the night so Jared and I could get a little more rest. I wish I had more pictures of that precious post-baby time I had with my mom after each child was born.

Mom was always the #1 supporter of Power of Moms and now of Power of Families. She immediately jumped at the idea of doing Retreats back when the twins were babies and did so much to make those first Retreats possible. She's hosted and been a keynote speaker at several Retreats at her house in Park City and is doing another one next month. She's always willing to do absolutely anything I ask and has great ideas. Plus pretty much all the best stuff I can offer other moms through Power of Moms and Power of Families is directly thanks to her example and writing and ideas!

Here's Mom, me, Shawni, Saydi and Charity at the first Power of Moms Retreat we did at my parents' house:

Thanks for everything, mom. This would be the longest blog post in the world if I were to try to include all the big and little things you've done for me and for countless others. I love you with all my heart. Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Chicken Marsala

This is a big favorite at our house. I adapted it from a recipe someone gave me ages ago and I've continued to tweak it over the years. It is fairly quick to prepare, low in fat, high in protein and flavor. The original recipe called for marsala wine but given that we don't usually have that on hand, I found that basalmic vinegar works beautifully and gives it a very nice flavor. I love it with mushrooms but the kids aren't big mushroom fans and I often don't have mushrooms on hand so I usually leave them out.

1 onion, chopped
2 tbsp minced bottled garlic (or about 5 crushed cloves of garlic)
4-5 large chicken breasts chopped into chunks
1 tbs olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
(or substitute the basil and oregano with 1tsp italian seasoning)
1/3 cup basalmic vinegar (or marsala wine)
2 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp corn starch
1/2 lb sliced mushrooms - white ones work fine, portobello is really tasty, pretty much any type of mushroom works (or two small cans of mushrooms)
1 package penne, fettuccini or farfalle pasta, cooked al-dente in well-salted water
about a cup of grated parmesean or mozzerella cheese (to be added as a topping as desired)

On medium-high heat, saute chicken, onions, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, basil and oregano together in a large skillet until chicken is no longer pink. Then stir in basalmic vinegar. Simmer for 3-4 minutes while you prepare the chicken broth. Add the chicken broth and allow that to simmer for a few minutes while you mix the corn starch with 1/4 cup cold water until it forms a paste. Mix the cornstarch paste into the chicken mixture in the pan and bring to a boil. After boiling one minute, reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes or until thickened to a sauce.

Serve over pasta and top with cheese and some fresh ground pepper.

Serves 6-8.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Europe Part 4 - Paris



Here are some of my highlights from our short but very sweet time in Paris:

- Actually getting on the plane to Paris and actually arriving in Paris - after wondering if it would ever actually be able to happen!

- Riding from the airport to our Airbnb apartment in a super nice Mercedes van that just happened to be available when we walked out of customs at midnight - the driver had just dropped off a client and wanted a group to take back into the city. He was so typically French with his longish neatly coifed hair, his jeans and blazer, his small wiry frame, his fancy slightly pointy shoes, his accent.

- Seeing the kids' excitement when we walked into the apartment I'd so carefully picked out on Airbnb - wonderfully French in an over-the-top way with crystal chandeliers, fancy Louis XIV style dressers and desks, skylight windows with a slight view of Sacre Coure, a funky staircase down to a lovely kitchen, so many interesting decorations, all tucked into the rafters of this great old Parisian building. It was one of my "treasure hunt" finds on this trip - I looked long and hard for something cool that would fit in our budget and was so pleased to find this!

- Choosing and eating pastries at a wonderful little bakery right near our Airbnb first thing the next morning, finding the perfect pain au chocolate a couple days later at a bakery the other way down the street

- Walking through Paris and noticing the fashions and the restaurants and the creperies and the bakeries and the buildings - everyone remarking on how totally French everything was, having such perfect weather for walking.

- Showing the kids Notre Dame and the wonder of engineering that it is plus talking about the devotion and faith required to build such a thing - feeling good that I got it right - just a few of the most interesting facts and a pretty quick walk-around (as opposed to some earlier times this trip when I'd tried to show the kids too much and to tell them too much and it just didn't work so well).

- Seeing that the stained glass in the Sainte Chappelle is every bit as beautiful as I remembered it to be (and trying to tune out complaints from my kids while trying to help them see how amazing it was)

- Finally seeing that Eiffel Tower that we'd so wanted to see when we were stuck at the Paris airport for 12 hours last time we were in Europe!

- Eating bread and cheese and laying on the grass beside the Eiffel Tower, random people from all walks of life picnicking around us, while Ashton went on a little treasure hunt to search for something a certain young lady had hidden for him when she was in Paris two days before (as part of a choir trip she was on).

- Sitting on the steps of Sacre Coeur with a huge harvest moon appearing and great music going on, then going inside the church and seeing a sign - "Someone is praying here 24/7 year round." It warmed my heart to think about prayers going up from that lovely place always.

Here's Ashton's video about our time in Paris - it shows pretty much all that I talked about above!

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Europe Trip Part 3 - England

at Tower Bridge

National Gallery/Trafalgar Square

Here are some favorite moments from our time in England:

Seeing so many places that feel like dear old friends to me - walking around a corner and seeing these iconic places feels to me like walking around a corner and seeing a friend I've missed and I'm so excited to see again. Sharing these dear friends with my family was such a long-awaited pleasure!

Walking into London for the first time and seeing the Houses of Parliament then Big Ben - seeing the kids so excited to see that familiar icon with their very own eyes.

Meeting up with Charity and Moses at Trafalgar Square and seeing the kids so delighted to be with their adorable, happy, sweet little cousin and their wonderful aunt (their favorite aunt as they've been instructed to say by Charity)

Entering Trafalgar Square and seeing Nelson's column and seeing the twins climb on the lions that I used to climb on when I was little, seeing the twins SO excited about the column and the lions since they had built them out of paper with their "Paper London" set before our trip.

Walking down the Mall and seeing Buckingham Palace.

Coming around another corner and seeing St Paul's cathedral and setting on the steps to eat dinner while the bells were pealing like crazy for like half an hour.

Riding around on the tube and the double decker buses - navigating together and getting pretty good at the system. The kids said that by the end, they felt like they could find their way around London on their own via walking or the tube or buses pretty darn well if they needed to.

Introducing the kids to digestive biscuits and Pret a Manger and Marks and Spencers treats (the fruit jelly candies are so good and the kids love the tubs of yogurt and rocky road treats)

Seeing my dear friend Irene (went to Wellesley with her) after so many years and sharing Jared and the kids with her and catching up on our lives. She is such a fine person and so fun to talk with.

Watching storm clouds roll in as we stood on the ramparts at the Tower of London and looked out at Tower Bridge - such beautiful light and so few visitors at the Tower.

The Tower of London

Visiting some of my old favorite paintings at the National Gallery and the Tate Britain - paintings I studied, sharing a few tidbits of information with my kids to share my love of art without making them hate it with too much information...

a replica of this painting hangs in my parents' great room so this was fun for the kids to see

Eliza has a print of this painting hanging in her bedroom

Showing these guys the lovely old row-house where I went to school for 6 months when I was on study abroad in London - the housekeeper even let us inside and it was so cool be inside, the memories rushing back, and maybe plant some seeds for great learning experiences the kids may want to work towards in their futures.

Seeing our great cousin Aubrey who's studying at Oxford right now, hanging out on the grass on a perfect evening outside Wesminister Abbey then taking this photo together right around the corner.

Going to Evensong at Westminster Abbey, the choir music seeming to come from the vaulted ceiling, the names of famous poets all around us where we sat, feeling such a sense of history imagining all the royal weddings and coronations there plus all the regular people who have offered up their prayers there for over 800 years.

Loved Evensong at Kings College Chapel as well - nothing like sacred music echoing through a gorgeous building with it's architecture pointing to Heaven and speaking of sacrifice and ingenuity so many centuries old.

Wandering through Cambridge with the wonderful Schwartz family and a couple friends on the most perfect sunny but cool day, going on a boat down the River Cam with so many happy teenagers and such great views and SO many other boats.

Hanging out with and having great talks with the Schwartz family who are some of our very favorite people in the world, seeing our kids get to be such good friends. (sad that I don't have more pictures with the parents, mostly kid photos...)

Church with the Schwartz family, seeing British saints all dressed up, good families, great testimonies starting with Rob's (as the bishop he got to start out), so grateful for all the goodness in the world in sharp contrast with the news of terrorist attacks in London the day before.

Visiting Hampton Court, some complaints and surliness from one of our children ("I'm just not into old stuff" to which I just had to reply "what did  you think England would be about?"...) that made my heart sink for a while but then it was OK and I relaxed a bit about trying to make sure everyone saw and learned about everything. Loved wandering the gardens and having the place almost to ourselves as Ashton got some great drone footage then finding we had it too much to ourselves and were locked in along with about 5 other people - finally we found a gate we could get out of.

Hampton Court gardens and palace

Tudor section of Hampton Court

Georgian section of Hampton Court

Visiting Epsom - so many memories rushed back. As we sat in front of 12 the Ridings in the rain, I told the kids about the Christmas when it snowed and we made tiny snowmen to keep in the freezer, about Claire who lived next door and I thought her mom was getting orange drink right out of the tap the first time she made me a drink of orange squash, how Josh used to climb out on the roof and climb the tree at the house next door, about how Shawni and I would sneak food into our room so we could have a little post-bedtime party many nights (gross warm milk...crumbs everywhere....). Then we went to St Martins school and amazingly the caretaker happened to be there and let us in - so so so many memories flooded back as I walked through those halls and saw my old classrooms and remembered mean Ms Sharman and kind Ms Christy, doing gymnastics in our underwear for PE, saying the Lord's Prayer and learning cute Bible songs at assembly every morning where we all sat on the floor in the gym/cafeteria which seemed to have seriously shrunk, taking Shawni to the bathroom when she was in her first year of school because she thought there were monsters in the bathroom and wouldn't go without me, wetting my pants a time or two in my first year of school there and needing fresh underwear from the huge stash the head mistress kept in a closet in her room, making daisy chains and playing in the trees and on the huge stumps in the grass by the asphalt playground whenever it was dry enough to go on the grass which seemed like it wasn't nearly often enough, doing serious sports for field day on the big field and being so pleasantly surprised when I won third place at something (can't remember what). Finished our time with a cold rainy walk through downtown Epsom to see Little Ben and get fish and chips for dinner.

The house where we lived in Epsom
St Martin's School
The gym at St Martin's Infant School where we ate lunch (or dinner as they called it) and did gymnastics in our underwear for PE

Dover castle - seeing the kids so enjoy exploring such a great castle where they've set things up like they were in the 13th century and the walls are so thick and the ramparts and staircases are so cool and you can go down into the medieval tunnels as well as the tunnels where they managed the front line in World War II - imagination can run wild there. It was so blustery and a bit rainy but felt sort of right for a medieval castle on the coast.


Sweeping beauty walking along the white cliffs in hold-you-up wind and looking out towards France across the steel gray sea. Freak 3-minute pelting rainstorm then sun.

Visiting Little Baddow where my great great great grandmother Elizabeth Gower was born and raised. She and her husband joined the Mormon church and emigrated to America. Her son Arthur had a son named Arthur who had a little girl named Hazel who was my beloved grandmother (my mom's mom). An older gentleman and lady showed up to water the flowers inside the church right when we were there and let us in - such a cool old 12th century church where surely my grandmother spent quite a bit of time.

Seeing the twins climb on everything - they NEVER get tired and ALWAYS find something to climb on - even this skinny little fence thing at Regent's Park:

Finally getting out of that hospital with Eliza all fixed up and finding dear Amy waiting for us in her car with hugs and a wonderful dinner at her house, seeing how much our kids have bonded with her kids and feeling so grateful for such good, kind friends.

Meeting up with Charity, Ian, Moses and my brother Josh at Regent's Park - so fun to be with two of my siblings in a place we all hold dear. Gorgeous roses, wonderful company, mellow and sweet evening after a crazy time with half our family missing the Eurostar back to London. Glad to all be safely back in London and to be with people we love, perfect weather, perfectly lovely restful place.

Seeing the Trooping the Colors procession in celebration of the Queen's birthday. We were so lucky to happen to be in London that day! We saw all the queens horses and all the queen's men, bands, bagpipes, brilliant pageantry followed by the whole royal family in carriages. It was just such a perfect send-off (our plane left London to bring us home that afternoon).

Here's the queen and Prince Phillip in their carriage
Here's a great video Ashton made about our time in London - sums things off nicely and shows off his excellent videography and editing skills.
And here's Ashton's video about our non-London time in England (including Eliza's accident)


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