Monday, October 31, 2011

A Balanced Halloween Season

I think this year we've got the balance of Halloween/sugar/dress-up activities quite nicely balanced with fall/harvest/family fun activities. Finally!

We had a great time on Friday celebrating my dear dad's birthday with him. I don't think I've actually been with him for his birthday for about 20 years so this was extra fun. We did his birthday tradition of jumping in the leaves in the park right by our house (this has been a tradition all of us kids have honored wherever we've been throughout the world every October 28th - I've jumped in the leaves with orphans in Bulgaria, with roommates at Wellesley, with students when I used to teach, you name it).

We set off in search of great leaves
We raked them up

We buried Grandfather

We jumped over Grandfather
We threw leaves over and at Grandfather
We sure love that Grandfather
After leaf-jumping, we did cake and ice cream.
The kids all gave him the special cards and poems they made for him
Then we carved pumpkins with my parents and it brought back great memories of when all nine of us kids would carefully pick out and carve our pumpkins together growing up - only as a mom do I now realize how much work that was for my parents to oversee the choosing and carving of NINE pumpkins! It was awesome this year -all the kid are big enough to clean out, design and carve their own pumpkins with minimal adult help (love those little pumpkin saws that make the carving safe and easy). Hallelujah! My dad gave each pumpkin an award like he always did for us growing up - the most spikey (Oliver's),  the happiest (Silas's), the most original (Isaac's), the most mythologically-based (Ashton's cyclops pumpkin), the cutest (Eliza's).
Then Jared, my parents and I finished celebrating the big day with gorgeous sushi (Tona's on 25th in Ogden is our new favorite) and a wonderful concert - the King's Singers at Symphony Hall in SLC.
since we had our cake before dinner, we had this amazing avacado, tuna, crab creation for "dessert" for dinner
Saturday we went for a gorgeous hike up to a waterfall near here and collected amazing leaves. I'm LOVING fall. I've sort of skipped it for a lot of years living in places where seasons don't change so much.  As much as I LOVE New England in the fall, I've got to say the mountains of Utah can definitely hold their own as far as fall foliage goes.

We found our first spot of snow and had our first snowball fight of the season at the base of the waterfall!

Heading back down with the light turning golden

Then yesterday (Sunday) we went with friends to explore the Spiral Jetty - did a separate post on this one HERE.

Today, Halloween, we had delicious pumpkin pancakes for breakfast (I'll post the recipe later) and this afternoon we're having a neighborhood Halloween costume parade, our traditional black bean soup (again, recipe next post - very "Halloweeny" when you get that yummy black soup combined with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of orange cheese for all the Halloween colors - plus it's nice to get something healthy in the kids' tummies before they head out for candy), our church trunk-or-treat, a little neighborhood trick-or-treating and then we'll come back home to sort and trade all our candy and watch a somewhat scary movie.

In past years, it's seemed like we've had to get the kids dressed up like 10 times for different Halloween activities that started to feel pretty redundant. This year is much more mellow and much more focused on enjoying the beauty of fall - but we're still doing up Halloween right today. This is feeling good.

Our Spiral Jetty Adventure

Yesterday (Sunday) we went with friends to explore the Spiral Jetty. I studied it at Wellesley College in art history way back when and it was fun to actually see it. Plus I loved learning about the artist and his work with the kids before heading out there (thanks, Wikipedia). I love how art makes you think. I love creativity. I love that the artist, Smithson, got this crazy idea of building a spiral jetty and actually made his idea into reality.

Here's how the Spiral Jetty looks when it's fully exposed (with salt crust all around)
The Jetty was partially submerged thanks to all the snow runoff from our crazy wet winter but it was still quite remarkable and there's something other-worldly about the silvery stillness of the Great Salt Lake. After having people ask me all my life about the Great Salt Lake when I said I was from Salt Lake City (it seems most people around the world learn about this lake in geography at some point...) and having no personal experience to share, I've got a couple now (yesterday's Spiral Jetty and a great trip to Antelope Island last May that I really should blog about someday...).

Here's how it looked yesterday
It was a beautiful day. There's nothing like the sun in the fall when there's enough coolness in the air that the sun us always so welcome.

We all headed out to explore.

Some people (my boys) got WAY out there!

Sometimes it looked like we were walking on water.

Oliver tripped as he waded and ended up with a bunch of nasty super-salt water mixed with dead brine shrimp in his mouth and nose. He declared that he felt like he was going to die. But after a lot of spitting and nose-blowing and some nice hot chocolate one we reached the shore, he did survive.

I didn't pack well for the outing. The water would be freezing and I thought the kids would just wade so I had them wear shorts and sandals and didn't bring extra clothes. Silly me. Of course they were going to insist on getting all the way out to the end of the jetty and end up getting totally wet. But they stripped down to their undies and put on the sweatshirts I brought with towels around their waists (or an attractive mini-skirt look in the case of the twins) and all was well.  All was especially good when our friends pulled out a little camp stove and whipped up some hot chocolate for everyone.
See that nice salt crust on their faces and their lovely mini skirts?

We all ended up crusted with salt - at first, it made our skin glisten like we were covered with glitter - then it turned into piles of salt in ears and solidified on legs.  So interesting.

this was after I wiped off the hot chocolate all over his chin - there was way more salt!

for once, we remembered to have someone take a photo of the photographers!
 (plus our fearless hot chocolate maker and Kaleigh who was wandering by
- when you have kids take photos for you, you never know what'll end up in the photo!)
I'm so grateful for friends who plan great outings like this and who are up for some wild adventures!

We left as the sun was starting to dip and everything was going golden.

Friday, October 28, 2011

More on Boston

While the Retreat was the centerpiece of my time in the Boston area, I also had SO much fun with my sister Saydi and her wonderful family plus with my dear friend from my mission to Bulgaria, Eva.  Some of my favorite things:

  • Spending time with Saydi. I get Saydi and she gets me in unique ways. The choices we've made, the things we focus on, the stuff we worry about, the words we use with our kids - it's all strikingly the same. Saydi's done so many of the same things I've done in my life - but she's done them all a bit better than me. I like to think that's because I offered her some tips that I learned the hard way about things I did. But quite honestly, it's because she's got the edge on me in quite a few areas - and I'm so glad - I'm always learning from her, even if she is my little sister.
  • Spending time with Jeff (Saydi's husband). Jeff knows tons of stuff and has thoughtful ideas about so many things. I loved hearing about his work and getting his advice on things I'm working on.
  • Spending time with Hazel, Charlie, Emmaline and Peter (Saydi's kids). There's something quite wonderful about being with your nieces and nephews when you don't have your own kids in tow so you can really focus on them. I feel like I got to know each of them in a deeper way. And I'm going through Peter withdrawals - that baby is so darn cute and happy and makes the sweetest baby noises all the time!
  • Spending some time with Eva.  I loved speaking a little Bulgarian with her (I'm sure rusty) and seeing her beautiful children and wonderful husband in a place that brought joy to us all (Crane Castle - see photos below).  Eva loves life and adores nature in such a contagious way.  I'll never forget meeting her as a teenager in Bulgaria - she practically glowed with enthusiasm for everything and everyone and was like a sponge, learning every English phrase she could from the missionaries and jumping in to help with anything and everything.  We talked about the "joy-suckers" in our lives at the Retreat.  Well, Eva is a "joy-pourer" - you can't NOT feel joy when you're with Eva. 
  • Wandering through Harvard Square and showing Saydi's kids some of my favorite spots where I liked to study and hang out while doing grad school there. I love the weathered brick everywhere - sidewalks, buildings, walls, you name it. I love the great mix of people all around. I love the warm crusty rolls at Bertucci's. I love the street musicians. I loved seeing the church building right off the Square that was such an important part of my life for so many years and that burned down a couple years ago all rebuilt and restored. I remember first visiting there with my dad while on a college tour over 20 years ago and thinking it seemed such a grungy random place - plus it was much more of a triangle than a square. I was used to the manicured lawns and quiet orderly feel of the campuses I'd seen in Utah. Now Harvard Square feels like home to me in so many ways.
  • Visiting Longfellow's House and learning about it's amazing history both as Washington's headquarters at the beginning of the Revolutionary War and as the home of one of the foremost American poets.  Loved seeing the gorgeous original antiques and learning about the remarkable people who lived there plus seeing it all through Saydi's kids eyes.
  • Going for a beautiful run through the ancient cemetery and beautiful hills near Saydi's house - the leaves were SO beautiful and it was so fun to have someone wonderful to chat with while running.
  • Visiting Crane Castle.  So fun to go somewhere I've never been before (after 10 years off and on in New England, I've seen a lot).  LOVED the setting atop a hill with views of the sea all around.  The pictures will say more than I can properly say here.

 Here's a quick overview in photos.
The restored Longfellow Park Chapel where I spent every Sunday and
went to tons of social activities for so many years.
A cool clock on one of the Harvard dorms that I've always liked.

Harvard Yard
view from Harvard Yard to Harvard Square (w/Sayid and kids)

So Charlie wasn't thrilled.  But Hazel had to rub John Harvard's foot for good luck academically.
See that shiny toe?  Lots of people are hoping good old John will help pull them through.

Good old Widener Library in Harvard Yard 

Memorial Chapel - my graduation was in the Yard right here
Eva  and I at the Crane Estate ("Crane Castle") 

Saydi and I at the back of the castle 

Saydi's daughters and Eva's daughter on the gorgeous lawn that connects the house to the sea
View of the sea and sunset from the back of the castle
View of the changing colors and valley from the front of the castle
One of the castle's many sculptures
Ah, New England.  Ah, good friends and family.  It was a great trip.

But it sure is nice to be home and to be gearing up for all the fun of Halloween with my cute kids.  I spent the last two bedtimes telling my kids the story of the book I read on my long flights (it was Whistling in the Dark - a good read). I love telling them the story of whatever book I'm reading - editing it and embellishing it to fit their interests and needs. It was sort of a scary story and I loved seeing their eyes get big and the concern show on their faces as I told them the story. And it was perfect when Jared happened to yell out while watching the World Series at just the right scary part in the story!  We all jumped!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Heading Home (and photos from the New England Retreat)

I'm sitting here in the Dallas airport. I'm not quite sure why I had to fly through Dallas when I was trying to get from Chicago to Salt Lake City – but somehow I couldn't find a direct flight. I'm also not sure why I have a nearly 3-hour layover when there was an earlier SLC flight that lined up perfectly with my flight from Chicago.  I saw that earlier flight on the monitor and got excited about the possibility of getting home in time to see my cute kids before bedtime. I asked about that flight and they said there were seats available. But they wanted me to pay a bunch of money to make the switch. Oh, well, I tried. So here I am, listening to elevator music and trying to get caught up on a few things so I can be a little less behind when I get home after being gone for a week. I found a seat here in the airport with a built-in footstool thing. Feels really really good to put my feet up.

It's been a wonderful week of sharing and learning and growing with other wonderful moms at the New Hampshire and Chicago Retreats. But it's also been a long week involving lots of work and travel with precious little sleep. I sure miss my family. I'm so excited to melt into my husband's arms when he comes to get me at the airport in a few hours. I can't wait to give my sleeping kids a hug and kiss when I finally get home tonight. Spending the past week at two different Retreats sharing ideas with other moms makes me think about how blessed I am to be a mom. And sharing stories about my kids and family in all my presentations sure makes me miss my kids and family.

At the close of these Retreats, I encouraged everyone to pick ONE THING they're going to do differently or add to their lives when they get home. They've got whole notebooks-full of notes to implements bit by bit as they move forward – but starting with ONE thing is manageable. My one thing that I'm going to start with is this: I'm going to get the word "hurry" out of my vocabulary. We talked about what the "joy-suckers" are in our lives and I realized one of the biggest ones for me is hurrying.

I usually think I can do more than anyone could really do during most hours and minutes of the day. And I need to be way more realistic and less rushed. I'm always leaving too little time for transitions like getting in the car in the morning and getting ready for bed at night. And the resulting hurrying just doesn't make anyone happy. I need to spend more time helping kids get things together in the mornings and I really need to spend more time on bedtimes. I'm always rushing the kids to bed because I'm usually feeling spent and I got dinner on the table a bit late and we're right up against bedtimes when I start the bedtime routines. Then when the kids want to talk and are betting for a song and a story, I'm always saying it's too late. I need to start the bedtime routines earlier to make more time for talking (somehow bedtime is always when they want to open up), for reading, for snuggling, for singing lullabies (used to do lullabies all the time and they still ask for them – but “too late” gets in the way too much when really, a song takes what, a minute or so?).

Every time we have a Retreat, I think, wow, this is SUCH an amazing group of moms and I wish I could sit individually with each of them and just talk talk talk so much more. These Retreats were no exception. And I loved that they were a little smaller and more intimate than the 80-100 person Retreats we've been doing lately. I felt like I learned so much from the diverse group of deliberate moms I got to spend time with - most of whom didn't know each other at all before they arrived at the Retreat. Wow, there are some wonderful moms in this world! 

And wow, I'm seeing more and more that EVERY mom has her hard hard stuff to deal with. Some people's lives look all lovely and nice and we get that “grass is greener” thing going on – but dig a little deepers and it seems you'll always find there's plenty of hard stuff going on – kids with disabilities, divorce, depression, cancer, you name it. I find new heroes at each Retreat.

Moms are such amazingly resilient and compassionate people. And they're always so darn helpful.  At every Retreat, they're always pitching in to help prep and clean up food – even when we tell them this is their time to relax. 

I like moms. A lot. And I'm so proud to be one of them.

Another really cool thing about moms is that they are really good at posing for pictures. You can take one or two pictures and get a pretty darn good one (as opposed to taking like 500 and maybe getting a couple half-decent ones when you're dealing with kids!). Here's our wonderful New Hampshire group: 

Here's a discussion group in New Hampshire: 

And here's a tiny taste of the gorgeous scenery that surrounded us at the Retreat - we went on some lovely walks and that crisp air and crunch of leaves underfoot with the lake glistening and the leaves showing off their best stuff - ahhhhhh, it was perfect.  I just wish I'd been able to spend a whole extra day wandering in that New England fall splendor! 

We've got another wonderful Retreat coming up in Phoenix in just three weeks - it's filling right up so if you want to be there (or want to share the word with others), you might want to sign up soon. I get to do this Retreat with my sister Shawni and my partner April plus the organization, American Mothers, is co-sponsoring. Click here for all the info: Phoenix Retreat November 19th.
I'll blog about Chicago and the adventures I had with Saydi's family while in Boston a bit later. It's almost time for my plane – finally!


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