Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Report on Arizona Retreat

I mentioned a few things about the Arizona Retreat during one of my Thanksgiving posts but I wanted to share a little more about the wonderful couple of days I got to share with some of my favorite people in the world - my sister Shawni and her great family, my Power of Moms partner April and about 60 other deliberate, pro-active moms with excellent ideas and powerful energy. I only wish I'd had a chance to individually talk with and learn from each mom who was there. Retreats are always too short and I wish there were time for a lot more small-group interaction and one-on-one learning with these amazing moms who are going through different things but whose hearts are knit together in love from the moment they get together in the same room.

On Friday, we crammed about 30 moms into Shawni's family room for a wonderful session led by April on Mind Organization for Moms. Every time I listen to April do this presentation, I pick up something new and important to help keep my brain more organized and less stressed. April truly is the guru of organization and figuring out how to get things done keeping an eye on what is most important.

It was so fun to be reunited with these great ladies who attended our very first Power of Moms Retreat years ago
Nichole and Denny Barney were kind enough to open their beautiful home to us for our full-day Retreat on Saturday. They not only let us use their home, they and their cute boys moved out all their great room furniture and moved in tons of chairs to set everything up for us. Shawni and I went over there Friday afternoon to check out the lay of the land and figure out where to hold different sessions, setting up a time later that night when we'd come back to move furniture and set up chairs. When we came back, voila! They'd already done it all for us. What amazingly helpful and kind people. Plus Nichole went on to serve on several panels as part of the program on Saturday and she offered great perspective and ideas. I love how old connections can come back to be new blessings. I first met Nichole and Denny over 15 years ago when Nichole was Shawni's roommate at BYU and Denny was a pretty constant fixture in that apartment.

Doing our "Speed Friendshipping" activity as everyone arrived (sort of like speed dating)

Presentation with panel discussion featuring Shawni, Myrna Sheppard (AZ Mother of the Year)
 and  Nichole Barney (our hostess)

One of our small-group discussions
Enjoying an afternoon break with fruit, chocolate, and great conversation
As much of the group as we could squeeze into a photo - what great women!
Another great highlight of this Retreat was the involvement of American Mothers, Inc. (AMI). As the American Mothers National Young Mother of the Year, my sister Shawni has been pretty busy with the American Mothers organization this year. She had the great idea of involving American Mothers in this Retreat. Our beautiful keynote speech was given by the AMI Arizona President, Janeen Wright (April incorporated part of her speech into a great article HERE) and we had Myrna Johnson, the Arizona Mother of the Year on several of our panels. Plus AMI put together a wonderful service project that we all helped with at lunch. We assembled and wrapped supplies for homeless expectant mothers and write encouraging notes to go with each. It was such a meaningful project for a very worthy cause. Assembling the gifts really made us think about our own blessings and writing the notes helped us reflect on what we might tell our former selves as we embarked on motherhood. (Shawni has a great photo of all the speakers including Janeen and Myrna but getting it from her is taking a while...)

Last but not least, we were so very grateful for the huge generosity of Wildflower Bread Company. We'd heard they had wonderful food and asked them if they might want to offer us a discount on lunch catering. They decided to provide us with a beautiful lunch including amazing sandwiches and salads plus drinks and desserts for free. It made my heart so glad to see such an outpouring of support and their contribution made it possible for us to offer reduced-price registrations to mothers who applied for financial help.  Plus the food was the best we've ever had at a Retreat (and it's always pretty darn good so that's saying a lot!).

I go into every Retreat so anxious about everything turning out and everyone getting all they need and hope for at each Retreat. But everything always works out beautifully. How could it not when such wonderful women are involved and when the Lord is in charge?

Our next Retreat will be in Southern California in January and then we're off to Australia in March. We're still trying to firm up our SoCal location (have some good options but want to explore just a bit more before firming things up next week and opening up registration - if you've got good ideas about locations in Southern CA, click HERE to read April's post about details on what we're looking for).  For all Retreat info, click HERE.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I made it - I blogged pretty much every day from November 1st until now about what I'm grateful for and I'm feeling pretty darn blessed. I'm going to keep my gratitude journal up since it's really made a difference in my happiness (seriously gratitude = happiness in my book) but I'll ease off on blogging about it daily.

To finish things with a bang, here's a list of things I'm super grateful for that didn't specifically get blogged about earlier in the month. This list is just in the order they came to mind, not in some carefully-thought-out order. And this is NOT meant to be an exhaustive list - I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot of really important stuff. But this is what came to mind today as we brainstormed thankful things in the car on the way to Logan for Thanksgiving dinner with my parents and my dad's side of the family.
  1. Heavenly Father. I don't know what I'd do without the knowledge that Someone is up there watching and caring all the time.
  2. Jesus. Jesus' example and teachings are at the core of what I believe and who I want to be.
  3. Jared's level head and lack of moodiness - the fact that he's everything I'm not.
  4. My home. I love how after a year, this house really feels like a home. There are memories here - not just ours but somehow also 100 years of memories from all those who've been here before seem to combine to create a good feeling in this house. I love this house's loveable imperfections and quirks. 
  5. The way Oliver walks around with his head in a Magic Treehouse book most of the time these days, SO excited as he finishes each one.
  6. Eliza's big violet-blue eyes and sprinkling of freckles plus her lovely smile.
  7. Isaac's deep dark brown eyes ringed with the most enviable eyelashes - they're especially beautiful when they're full of sympathy or concern (as they often are)
  8. Ashton's amazing computer abilities and how he can help me a lot with POM and help with all my computer issues.
  9. The way Silas sings me this cute song about how he loves me at least 10 times a day.
  10. My amazing parents, 8 uniquely wonderful siblings, their spouses and the fun and great kids that my kids get to call cousins and that I get to call nieces and nephews.
  11. The wonderful family I married into. I learn so much from the examples of all my in-laws and just really enjoy being with all of them. I love that they're mostly further along with their families than we are with ours so we can watch and learn. (I have 8 siblings-in-law plus their spouses and children so I'm very richly blessed with both quantity and quality of family on both sides.)
  12. April. What would I do without April, my Power of Moms partner and dear friend? I email or talk with her daily and she is the most perfect business partner imaginable - she is hard-working, quick-thinking, super bright, full of inspired ideas, and amazingly efficient - not to mention one of the kindest and most wonderful friends I've ever had. 
  13. Fall leaves. I love their colors of gold and burnt red and love crunching through them on the ground. We didn't get much of this in St George. 
  14. Happy, good music that reminds me of what matters. My favorite songs right now are Everybody by Ingrid Michaelson, Good Life by One Republic, and Rhythm of Love by Plain White T's. I always get a burst of energy and happiness when I'm running and one of these songs comes on.
  15. Babies - I got to hold the cutest little baby at the Retreat in Arizona for a while. I love the fuzzy little heads of almost-bald babies (like all of mine) and I love love love when they gift you with a smile.
  16. Grocery stores. How awesome is it that we can drive for a few minutes and walk into a store full of 1000's of choices of food ready for us to pick up and take home?
  17. Cars. I'm so grateful that we have cars (one 7-year-old super reliable one and one 15-year-old that has been perfect until the last two years but is still holding its own). So relatively few people in the world have cars. Cars are a huge blessing.
  18. Mountains. From the red mountains of St George to the craggy granite peaks around here, mountains fill my heart with joy and awe.
  19. Skies. From the azure blues to the threatening grays to the vibrant colors of sunsets, I love the sky. Looking up always makes me smile.
  20. Beds. I love to sleep. I love it so much. I love my warm bed.
  21. Books. There's nothing like reading a book that is beautifully written and that takes you down virtual roads of understanding and adventure and learning. Favorites this year: Half Broke Horses, Whistling in the Dark, 
  22. Animals. I love the simplicity of our pet snake and the joy he brings to the kids. I love that we have neighbors with a very nice dog and a lot of nice cats and that they kids get their animal fixes quite conveniently w/o us having to own our own furry friend. I love the look on my twins' faces whenever they see an animal.
  23. Beauty. A thing of beauty really is a joy forever. I love the golds, reds and greens of leaves on the path. I love beautifully crafted sculpture, paintings and music. I love the old carved doors and staircase and stained glass windows and inlaid wood floor in our house. I love the way beauty makes me smile inside and out. 
  24. Neighbors. About 20 people showed up this morning for our last-minute Turkey Trot (some to participate and some to just cheer on everyone else). We had such a wonderful little run together - bikes, scooters, runners, all different speeds and ability levels. It was a gorgeous morning - golden leaves still above and underfoot, perfect running temperatures. We made it all the way down to the cemetery and back and kind neighbors set up a juice box/water station 1/2 way which was such a thoughtful touch. (see photo below)
  25. Good food. I love love love fresh tasty well-prepared, nicely seasoned food. Especially vegetables. I'm so into vegetables. And bread. Great fresh bread is a beautiful thing. And cookies. Have to admit I have a major soft spot for cookies - homemade ones from certain recipes, that is. 
  26. Hymns. We always sing the first verse of "For the Beauty of the Earth" as a family when we're on top of a mountain or in some other beautiful place. Today we learned the second and third verses in the car on the way to Grandma Great's house (photos below) and I came to love the song even more.  I'll end with the lyrics since it captures a lot of other stuff I'm so grateful for:
For the beauty of the earth, 
for the beauty of the skies, 
for the love which from our birth, 
over and around us lies

For the beauty of each hour
of the day and of the night
hill and vale and tree and flower
sun and moon and stars of light

For the joy of human love
brother, sister, parent child
Friends on earth and friends above (I felt some of them as we sang today...)
For every gentle thought and mild

Lord of all to thee we raise 

this our hymn of thankful praise.

Our First Annual Neighborhood Turkey Trot (some people didn't stick around for the photo). Love these neighbors!

Singing for Grandma Great and relatives at Grandma's house on Thanksgiving

Sharing their thankful lists with Grandfather and Grandma Great

With Grandma and wonderful relatives after eating way too much at Thanksgiving dinner

Lots of stuff

Gratitude Day 23
Today I'm grateful for a whole bunch of stuff. And since tomorrow's Thanksgiving, I'm not going to narrow it down to one main thing like I have been doing so far.

I'm thankful for the bright, warm weather today. It was such a pleasure to walk with the kids down to the Treehouse museum and back. It was a golden day - golden leaves, golden sunshine, golden moments of laughing and talking with my cute kids as we walked. Walking is such a great conduit for good talking.  After the museum, we all worked together on scraping and sanding our front and back porches that are in serious need of new paint. The sun felt so good on our backs and the work was satisfying. Some neighbor kids joined in and we just had a great time working together and enjoying a perfect fall day. Then we made pumpkin cookies and ate chicken noodle soup and it was just such a nice day.

I'm thankful that I was able to finish the video editing that's been hanging over my head for WAY too long last night. I was up until almost 1am but it was SO nice to get my part of that project pretty much done. Once our wonderful video guy uses my edits and works his magic to make the raw video into a beautiful final product, we'll have a "virtual video Retreat" that moms can attend online.

I'm thankful for thankful lists. My kids are sitting at the table next to me working on their thankful lists, asking for a little help here and there, "How do you spell vaccine?" "What do you call that stuff we had for dinner last night?" "Oh! I just thought of a great one - roofs! We would have serious problems without roofs." "You wrote 'everything'? You shouldn't write 'everything' because that would mean you're grateful for cigarettes, bombs, killing, all that and I don't think you mean that." Isaac's up to 400 things and Eliza's almost there. Oliver's up to 120. Silas is just getting going. Ashton's at scouts. They're really excited to show their lists to Grandfather (my dad) tomorrow when we meet up with him for Thanksgiving dinner. He's the one who started this whole thankful list idea more than 30 years ago and he challenged everyone to make masterful lists this year.

I'm thankful for people who are up for anything and who help make things happen. My good neighbor Emily was over here picking up her daughter an hour ago and I mentioned that I'd had grand plans of doing a little neighborhood fun run/Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning but that I hadn't gotten around to organizing it. She said "Let's just do it." And within 10 minutes we'd done a little brainstorming and she had sent a text to all our neighbors and friends inviting them to the first annual neighborhood Turkey Trot tomorrow morning at 10am. We'll meet in front of my house and jog down to the cemetery and back (about 2 miles). Feel free to join in if you're local!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Creativity and cuteness

Gratitude Day 22

The twins and I were looking up the weather on the computer and they started singing a little made up song. I told them I'd like to video them. They were all for that. Here are the two songs they came up with.  I know I'm biased but I think they're pretty darn creative, somewhat musically talented and cute.

I'm so grateful for these beautiful little boys of mine. I was so scared and shocked when I found out there were two where one was feeling overwhelming. But they've added so much love, enthusiasm and fun to our family and when they come flying out of school and into my arms each day, I sometimes think my heart is going to burst. Yet another example of how we get what we need - not what we necessarily want or ask for.

What are you grateful for today?

P.S. My sister Saydi just wrote a great post about gratitude - check it out here if you want:

Monday, November 21, 2011

My Family

Gratitude Day 20

Today I'm so thankful for my husband and kids. Absence sure does make the heart grow fonder.

I got home from Arizona at 7:30 last night. Jared and the kids picked me up at the airport. Seeing those smiling faces as the car pulled up and then hearing the chorus of "Mommy!" as I opened the door was the best moment I've had in a long long time. After kissing my good husband, I sat in the back of the van with the kids on the way home and they told me every little detail about what they did while I was gone. I heard about Eliza and the twins' basketball games. I heard about all the pizza they ate (and found all the veggies and fruit I left for them still in the fridge - but hey, they needed a break from all that healthy food I give them). I heard about the snow. I heard about how Oliver read two chapter books and Silas read one. I heard about the movie they watched for family movie night. I heard about the extremely exciting new printer Daddy researched and bought (the touch screen, the scanner, how it's wireless, the great price, how it prints in color - they were all SO excited - and so was I - we've been doing without a printer for a while...). I loved hearing all the important details of their 31/2 days without me. And interjected between all the information tumbling out were hugs and "I love you's" and "we missed you SO much."  It's good to be missed. It's good to be reunited.

When we got home, I gave them the little treats I got for them from Trader Joes (we miss that store) and showed them the flowers I found and pressed for them (It's my little tradition to get them something from nature  whenever I go on a trip. I got them fall leaves when I went to Boston and lovely pink flowers from Arizona where it's mostly still summer.)

Here they are showing their love for me by posing for a photo w/o a whole lot of fuss. How cute are these kids of mine?  Oh, it was so great to hug them all again.
So I guess Silas wasn't so thrilled about the photo...
Then Ashton gave me this sweet note he'd made (using the new super-exciting printer):

And Eliza gave me this lovely picture (she and I are really into sunsets and art):

I tucked all the kids in bed and we had a nice group prayer where we held hands and each person had a chance to add on to the prayer and say what they were grateful for - "airplanes to bring mom home," "my bed and blankets," "that I have such a nice mommy and daddy," "that we have good food to eat," "that we have a good home," "that I have the best kids and husband in the world." The kids suggested we do a prayer like that every night this week to get ready for Thanksgiving. We will.

Then Jared and I had a chance to catch up. We're not big phone-talkers so we saved most things up to talk about in person and I loved hearing everything about his job interview and more about the whole few days from his perspective.  I have such a good husband.

After being away and hearing and sharing ideas about finding more joy in motherhood and thinking about how to be more deliberate and present as a mom at the Retreat and in talks with April and Shawni for the last few days, I'm feeling such an increased love and excitement and joy as a mom. I'm determined to slow down and enjoy these beautiful moments more, to focus more on relationships and less on accomplishments, to be plan better and pray more so my time can be used more wisely and the first things will get done first, to be less busy and more joyful.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

airplanes, bikes, great food - and moms

Gratitude Day 17: Airplanes

Thursday I flew to Arizona for a Power of Moms Retreat. I hopped on a plane in freezing Salt Lake City and got off just an hour and a half later in sunny Phoenix. How awesome is it that we can get on a plane in one place and show up somewhere far far away just a little bit later? Yes, security is a big pain (juggling your shoes while extracting your lap top and digging out all the liquids in your toiletries is not exactly fun) and sure, packed planes can be rather uncomfortable. And yep, it's a bit annoying that airlines now charge for everything - checking luggage, food, etc.  But you know what? Airplanes are quite miraculous and are a huge blessing.

Gratitude Day 18: Bikes and Warm Weather

It is warm here.  It is gorgeously perfectly warm here. I miss warmness. And I miss my bike. So when Shawni's daughter Grace left her bike at school and we needed to go pick it up, I volunteered to ride it home. Sure, it was a little small for me and it's pink and has a cute basket on the front. But I felt like a bike ride and wanted that outside time.

I was totally laughing at myself as I wrote that little pink bike. And I had a lot of little kids and serious bikers give me some very curious and surprised looks. I took the long way to Shawni's house and enjoyed every minute of my ride. Plus I got a great thigh work out because that seat was so low.

Sometimes doing something pretty darn odd-looking is just fun. It totally reminded me of the time I had to ride a super-slow "Jazzy" scooter into Costco and got some similar quizzical looks. Check out this post about that thrill ride here if you want.

Gratitude Day 19: Awesome moms and wonderful free food

Our Retreat today was wonderful. Totally wonderful. There are such great moms in this world - and I love seeing how they help and lift and learn from each other. I learn a lot at every single Retreat from fellow presenters and attendees and always wish I had longer to bask in the presence and ideas of the great women who attend. It was wonderful presenting with Shawni and with April and I loved having great speakers from American Mothers as well plus Shawni's friend Nichole who was not only a great speaker but also a fabulous and amazingly helpful hostess.

I'm also so grateful to Wildflower Bread Company for sponsoring our lunch at the Retreat. They were SO kind. We just asked for a discounted lunch as a partial sponsorship to help defray our costs but they decided to GIVE us a whole beautiful lunch of seriously delicious sandwiches, salads, drinks and desserts. It was just the nicest thing. And it was the most lovely and tasty lunch we've ever had at a Retreat. I just wish I'd had more time to eat - I was too busy talking.

I'll post photos and more info later but I had to just say this for now before I collapse. It's been a long, full and wonderful couple of days!

What are you grateful for today?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Great Giving Tradition

Gratitude Day 16: A Great Giving Tradition

I'm grateful that many, many years ago, my parents started a great tradition that taught us to focus on caring and giving as part of our Christmas festivities. Every year, they'd help us learn about children around the world who were suffering and we'd choose a group of children we wanted to help. Then they helped us invite all our friends and neighbors to a "Children for Children" concert at our house. All of us kids would perform a little piano piece or do a dance or hold up a picture we'd painted or whatever. The audience (our parents and other friends and neighbors) would "pay" to come to the performance by putting a donation into a box. Then we kids would give all the money we'd "earned" to help the needy children we'd learned about.

I loved those Children for Children concert memories. I have great memories of helping to rearrange all the furniture and round up chairs from neighbors to accommodate a ridiculously large crowd in our not-so-big house. I loved the delicious refreshments. I loved having all my friends and their families there and seeing everyone share their talents. And I loved, loved, loved counting up that money in the donation box at the end and feeling so good that we could help those in need.

In the past few years, my sister Shawni and I have loved doing our own Children for Children concerts with our kids (and I'm sure more siblings will do the same when their kids get old enough). This year will be my family's 5th Annual Children for Children concert. And we're going to make it the biggest and best yet. We've been offered space at a beautiful old church just a block from our house so we can accommodate a great crowd and we're working to spread the word to everyone who might want to come. I'd love to have YOU and your family participate if your local - and if not, please forward the info along to those who are in the SLC/Bountiful/Odgen/Logan area, OK?

Here's the invitation I've been sending out - consider yourself invited and feel free to copy and paste this into an email to send to friends:

Dear friends:

Many of you have participated in the past or have heard about the Children for Children concerts my family does each year to help us all enjoy some meaningful giving alongside some fun and holiday cheer. We've got a date set for our 5th Annual Children for Children concert to benefit One Heart Bulgaria (I served a mission there and have personally worked with the destitute orphans there - one of my friends started this non-profit and all the money goes right towards meeting the kids' needs - it's a great organization that makes donations go a long way). The concert will be held on Monday, December 5th from 6:00-8:00pm. We've secured the use of a beautiful old church/community center a block away from our house here in downtown Ogden for the concert so we can make it an extra big concert this year. We'd love to have you join us!

Here's how the concert works: Children share their talents (I use the word "talent" liberally - we've had everything from poetry recitations to dances to piano pieces to songs sung to chime-playing to holding up a painting they've done) and grown-ups come to watch, "paying" the kids for the concert by putting a donation in the amount of their choice into the donation box (we've received everything from quarters to a check for $1000). The kids then donate the money they've "earned" to help needy orphans in Bulgaria get the food and access to health care and extracurricular activities that they desperately need. We show a brief video of the orphans who'll be benefiting as part of the concert and end with refreshments.

To read about past concerts, you can click on the links below:

Please email me (saren at powerofmoms dot com) by Thanksgiving (or right now if you can!) to let me know:
1. Whether you can most likely attend the Children for Children concert on December 5th. (You don't need to have children participating to attend - in fact we hope a lot of extra people will come an enjoy the kids' performances and support the cause.)
2. Whether your children would like to be on the program (each family can do one-two things totaling no more than 3 minutes per family)
3. Whether your children would like to be part of the simple no-rehearsals-required Nativity play at the close of the program (I have the costumes. Kids can do this in addition to an individual or family talent or they can just participate in the Nativity if they'd prefer to just do the Nativity)

Ashton, my 11-year-old, will be putting all responses into a spreadsheet and confirming details as we move forward. I'm trying to have my kids take this concert from here so it can truly be a "children for children" concert!

Thanks for considering this as part of your holiday festivities for this year! And feel free to forward this email along to those who you think would be interested and whose emails I don't have.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Learning Circle

Gratitude Day 15: An amazing group of women I get to meet with every month

Yeah, I know Learning Circles were my idea so I don't mean to toot my own horn but I'm just so grateful for my own Learning Circle group. We had our monthly meeting tonight and I just sat there and basked in the beauty of 12 women sitting in a circle, sharing all that motherhood is teaching them and talking about the specific ways their mothering contribution is benefiting society. This month's topic was "valuing motherhood" and we all left with an assignment to write down our top 10 things we love about being moms (you'll see a post about that soon) and/or to have our kids and husband each write down (or dictate in the case of little kids) a list of 5 things they appreciate about us.

We ate amazing food (brie apple potato soup is decadently delicious as is pear cake with caramel sauce - thank you Heidi!). We laughed hard. And as usual, there were a few tears.  This is the stuff a really good girls' night out is made of.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Gratitude Day 14

Today I'm grateful for bedtime. Sometimes I'm grateful for bedtime because it means I can "clock out" for the day as the mom and spend some time with Jared and maybe accomplish a few things w/o being interrupted. But today I'm thinking about how grateful I am for the beautiful moments that happen with my kids at bedtime.

I love hearing the kids's sweet prayers. I love it when we have time to read or tell bedtime stories - and I love seeing their eyes go wide or fill with compassion or concern as I tell about something from my childhood or a share a story from a book I'm reading. I love that the twins and Liza still ask me for lullabies. I love that Ashton opens up and tells me stuff if I take the time to sit on his bed for a bit - and that he still readily accepts and seems to like a hug from me - even if he doesn't totally reciprocate. I love Isaac's sleepy smile as I tell him what I appreciated about him that day. I love how both Ollie and Si always beg for "one more hug" (even though sometimes it gets old). I love how Eliza always says "You're the best mom in the world" as I blow her a kiss and close her door and I always say "You're the best girl in the world." I love all these little "I love you rituals" - especially when I get things rolling for bedtime early enough that things aren't rushed and frustrated.

And I love my own bedtime (which I should be more strict about so I'm going to bed in like 2 minutes). I remember one time my uncle was babysitting me when I was a little kid and I was complaining about going to bed. He said "Some day, you'll be SO excited to go to bed. You'll wish you could go to bed even sooner and you'll think bedtime is just great." I remember thinking he was crazy and vowing that would NEVER be me.  Well, he was right. I love bedtime for me. I love praying with Jared, arms linked. I love getting in bed and reading a few verses of scripture. I love snuggling up to my warm husband on a cold night like tonight. And with that, I'm off to bed.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I fell off the gratitude wagon - and it wasn't pretty...

On Friday I had one of those days when nothing seemed to be going right. I was working hard all day - but didn't feel like I was accomplishing much. I never went for my run because I wimped out at the cold and felt really blah. So then I felt stir crazy after being in the house working for so many hours every day all week. Everything on my to-do list led to some other little thing that had to be done and nothing satisfying got accomplished. I made a nice dinner and there were too many complaints. The movie we watched for family movie night was pretty lame. And I never got around to doing my gratitude post.

Then Saturday I was just in a bad mood - one of those days when nothing seems like it can go right. I wanted get a few projects done around the house and have a fun family day since I'll be gone for the AZ retreat next Saturday. Family cleaning was a big pain with lots of whining in the morning. And it started snowing - a lot. I was really sad when I saw that snow. I'm not ready!  Seriously! I need to see the pretty fall leaves a bit longer and I haven't even had a chance to crunch through all the leaves that have fallen rapidly since last Saturday's snowfall. I felt a bit robbed of the tail end of my favorite season.

I tried to snap us all into "fun" mode with a brisk jog in the snow with Eliza and Ashton to to the nearby school where the twins had a basketball game. We caught big flakes on our tongues and it really was fun. Then after the basketball game, we all went to what proved to be a pretty awesome "Science Saturday" series of kids workshops, experiments and planetarium shows at Weber State - those couple of hours were great. Things were looking up. But then on the way home, the kids were being whiny and I allowed myself to get thinking about all the things I didn't accomplish over the past couple days and a few stray comments from various family members didn't help my mood one bit. I realize now that some of it was my darn hormones but seriously, by Saturday night I was a stressed out mess with a woe-is-me attitude about everything and just about drove myself and my dear husband to the brink. 

Maybe these gratitude posts are more important than I realized. Friday and Saturday sure could have used a good shot in the arm of gratitude.

So looking back and focusing on the good, here's my quick gratitude for the past three days:

Gratitude Day 11 - Friday
I'm grateful for good teachers who go the extra mile and really care. We had a good meeting with the teachers of one of our children and they were so loving and helpful. We came away with more understanding on all sides, good solutions, and renewed hope - plus strengthened relationships with these good people who really do care about our child. Things are going better with our other kids who were struggling as well. Our kids' academic futures are definitely looking up (see a few posts ago to know what I'm talking about).

Gratitude Day 12 - Saturday: Great Free Programs
I'm grateful we live by a university that offers a lot of great free stuff to families in our community.  Last Saturday, we went to this great arts-and-crafts day the art department at Weber State put on. The kids made fun Thanksgiving decorations and loved exploring the art studios they had open and the interesting sculptures they had on display plus we went through this fascinating exhibit of photography by Burtinski on the "Industrial Sublime" and had a great time talking about "juxtapositioning" and about how oddly, beauty and ugliness can be joined at the hip.  Then yesterday, the "Science Saturday" was really impressive and fun. The kids got to learn all about different types of rocks, about what smoking does to your lungs (they had pigs' lungs - some nice pink ones and some black ones that had been exposed to second hand smoke), about hovercrafts, about how cavities form on their teeth, about chemical reactions, about theories on what the Star of Bethlehem might have been (a comet? a super nova? two bright planets almost on top of each other as they were recorded to have been back in the year 1 BC?).  They each got a bag to take home with more experiments we could do. And it was all FREE.  Love this stuff!  I'm so grateful for the good people who put in so much effort to provide this great stuff.

Gratitude Day 13 - Sunday: The Atonement
When I stop counting blessings and let down my guard, I can become pretty depressingly pessimistic pretty darn quickly. Sometimes (like last night) I really mess things up and say the wrong things and stress myself and everyone else around me out way too much.

I'm so grateful for the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the chance I have to repent and start fresh. I'm so grateful that when I actually think to do it, I really can "cast my burdens" on the Lord and he'll "make crooked things straight" for me.

I'm also so grateful for the way the Lord lets me know that He's very aware of me and tells me what I need to do. The lessons at church seemed to be written just for me today. And the Sunday email that went out to all Bloom Game players today seemed to be designed for me as well. The subject line was "Mastering the Art of Starting Over."

I'm so grateful I get to start over when I fall down. I'm so grateful there's Someone up there who makes His love for me so obvious when I need it so desperately. I'm so grateful for unconditional love when I don't feel like I deserve it much at all.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Halloween Recipes

Here are the Pumpkin Pancakes and Black Bean Soup recipes I promised on my Halloween post (our family tradition is to have these things for breakfast and dinner on Halloween but we have them a lot of other times too!).

Enjoy! (and if you missed yesterday's post on sisters, click on over - you won't want to miss it)

Pumpkin Pancakes
1 1/2 cups milk (add little more at the end if the batter is too thick)
1 1/4 cup pumpkin puree (cooked mashed pumpkin or canned pumpkin)
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 cups all-purpose flour (or one cup white flour, one cup whole wheat flour)
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
(optional – add chopped walnuts or pecans)

1. In a bowl, mix together the milk, pumpkin, egg, oil and vinegar. Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, allspice, cinnamon, ginger and salt in a separate bowl. Stir into the pumpkin mixture just enough to combine.
2. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot with maple syrup or apple butter.

Makes about 24 pancakes.

Black Bean Soup a.k.a. Ghoul Goulash
(Loosli Traditional Halloween Dinner - and a soup we eat year-round)

4 16 oz cans of black beans (or 8 cups cooked-from-dry black beans - see how to do this here)
2 cups chicken broth
2 small onions or one large one, chopped
2 tsps crushed or minced garlic
2 16 oz jars of chunky salsa (mild, medium or hot – will determine how spicy the soup is – can use 2 15-oz can of petite diced tomatoes and 1-2 cans of diced green chilis instead of salsa if desired, may want to use more onion if not using salsa)
8 tsp lime juice or the juice of 4 limes (optional)
4 tsp ground cumin
½ crushed red pepper (optional – adds heat)

  1. Place 1 can of beans with liquid from can (or 2 cups of cooked beans and ½ c of liquid they cooked in) as well as the chicken broth in a blender. Blend until smooth.
  2. Coat large sauce pan or soup pot with cooking spray or a bit of olive oil. Heat over high heat and saute onion until tender.
  3. Add blended bean mixure, remaining un-blended beans (with liquid), salsa, lime juice, cumin and crushed red pepper (if desired). Mix together.
  4. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Serve garnished with plain yogurt or sour cream, chopped cilantro, shredded cheese, crumbled totilla chips.
Makes 8-10 servings  

Wednesday, November 09, 2011


Gratitude Day 9:
Today I'm thankful for my sisters. I've had them on my mind and in my heart an extra-lot lately since I did a Retreat with Saydi a couple weeks ago in Boston, have a Retreat coming up with Shawni next week in Phoenix, and have been so happy for Charity that she just got a great job after a long, hard job search.

I started this post ages ago and kept thinking I'd find more old photos to fill in some spots but it's not going to happen. It's time to just get this posted!


Starting out, it was always me and Shawni. We were the only ones. We were best friends. We did everything together.

We made messes together.

We posed on top of the car together (there are quite a few photos with this pose from this era - I guess our parents figured it was a good place to put us so we'd be scared of falling off and sit still for a photo...)


We wore ourselves out together.

Apparently, we really did EVERYTHING together.  In fact, Shawni's Kindergarten teacher had to go get me from class to take her to the bathroom because she was scared to go without me.

Our dear mom sewed us coordinating outfits - I think her most ambitious and beloved creations were these Holly Hobby pioneer dresses and bonnets that we wore until they were in shreds.

We made up dances and plays together - and often dragged Josh along although he was mostly content to do his own thing. (I think I wore that purple unitard and green cheerleading skirt every day for a year - the unitard and skirt are in an amazing number of photos and I remember thinking that was such a great outfit!)

We moved to England and went to a British school together (love how the uniforms included matching pants to wear under your jumpers on cold days...).

Then along came Saydi. (Yep, there's that top-of-the-car pose again.)

Saydi was cute and all but she was always messing up our games and trying to tag along when she was too little for what we were doing. She had to go make her own best friend - Amy - a cute girl who lived down the street and who we all consider part of our family.  Saydi was always singing "Annie" songs at the top of her lungs (and forgetting 1/2 the words).

But you know what, Saydi grew on us.  She got a lot more fun as time went on. I really started to like that Saydi.

Saydi got Shawni and I into singing. The three of us sang in a children's performing group together for years plus we had a little trio that performed at every family gathering and some neighborhood and church functions as well (it's sort of telling that the photo below only shows me and Saydi singing - Shawni was never super excited about singing but she was happy to go along).

Couldn't I figure out a better way to do my hair?  Seriously?

Then when I was 16, Shawni was 15 and Saydi was 11, Charity came along.  We were over the moon to get  another sister after FOUR brothers in a row.  She was our baby, our doll, our favorite companion to run errands or even bring with us on dates.  We cherished our little sister with all our hearts.

During my first year at Wellesley College near Boston, my dad sent Saydi out on a plane to visit for a few days. My mom carefully packed all the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies in ziplock bags in Saydi's suitcase and we had quite a time whipping up our favorite family cookie recipe in the dorm kitchen. (sorry I don't have a photo!).  Every vacation home from college was packed with sister time.

When Shawni decided to join me in Boston for college (Boston University), she took the bus out to the idyllic Wellesley campus for sleepovers about twice a week. We went to church together every Sunday.  We knew each others roomates and friends well. We'd cook together to escape dorm food and laugh together and I helped her write all her papers. All was right with the world when we were together. My dad came to visit one time and we put on friends' black lipstick, black leather jackets and got our hair all teased up to go meet him at the airport as full-on Bostonians.  He walked right past us at the airport. (wish I had pictures - digital cameras weren't around yet - someday maybe I'll get around to scanning in all those albums of photos!).

During that year that Shawni and I were both in Boston for school, my parents decided to homeschool the younger kids and live in New England for a month or so.  We loved having Saydi and even little 4-year-old Charity come sleep over in our dorm rooms, meet all our friends, and wander through Boston with us. 

Shawni, Saydi and I worked hard together on my dad's campaign (he ran for governor of Utah in 1992) right after I graduated from college. We had so many bonding experiences blowing up balloons for the state convention until 4am, putting on campaign events, fielding phone calls, you name it - while Charity stuffed envelopes and did what a little 6-year-old could.

When the campaign was over, Shawni and I decided that we wanted to serve missions for our church. We got our mission calls on the same day - to the neighboring countries of Romania and Bulgaria where we'd be working in orphanages as well as helping set up programs for women and children in the brand new congregations there. We went into the Mission Training Center on the same day and wrote each other letters every week. The letters we received from each other were full of amazingly similar experiences and we found we could support each other like no one else could through this crazy and amazing experience.
As Shawni and I finished up our missions in Romania and Bulgaria, it was amazing to share some of our  experiences first-hand with Saydi and Charity who was only 7 at the time. (We're in a Bulgarian orphanage together here).

After our missions, Shawni, Saydi and I lived together in Provo for a while in a little house with some of our best friends. What fun we had! And we got to know Shawni's boyfriend Dave pretty well.  And we arranged for Saydi to get her first kiss.

Then we were there together for Shawni's wedding - seemed crazy that Dave was taking her away from us! (Charity is in the photo but you can only see her cute white dress - getting a little sparse on the photos I can find for this era!)

There's Charity on the left with some cousins at Shawni's wedding.

Then I moved to DC and and worked there for a couple years.  Shawni and Saydi came to visit several times and Saydi was my intern one summer.  Plus I went up to Wellesley (my alma mater that she'd chosen for her college) to visit her quite a bit.

When I moved back to Boston for grad school, Saydi was on a mission to Spain and she asked me to work up a list of eligible bachelors to line her up with when she returned to Boston to finish up her degree at Wellesley. The best guy I could find for her was this wonderful MIT potato farmer named Jared. I did try to set them up on a date - but turned out Jared was already interested in someone else. ME!  So we found other options for Saydi and she was our sidekick on lots of roadtrips and adventures on the East Coast.

My sisters were such an important part of my wedding.
My sisters and I along with some friends at my baby-friendly bachelorette party (Shawni had a newborn)

After Jared and I had been married almost a year, my family including Jared (and sadly excluding Shawni who had a little babies) went to Kenya.  Saydi, Charity, and I loved working with the cute kids there while Jared loved the construction projects and teaching math to the high school kids.

For a long time, like Saydi had been, Charity was too little to be part of most of the stuff Shawni, Saydi and I did. She was cute and fun and we loved doing everything with her.  But there were limitations sometimes based on her age.

But then Charity grew up and completed our sisters group so perfectly.  She's added passion and shine and fresh perspectives to our lives.  She's served as favorite aunt and occasional nanny to all our kids (who practically worship her).  She's helped us keep in touch with our pre-motherhood, pre-wife selves.  She's listened with patience - and often offered great insights - as we've talked at length about breast-feeding, child-rearing, marriage, and life in general.  

Here's Charity helping me take care of the twins and their big siblings for the first two full weeks of the twins' lives while on her winter break from Wellesley (yep, she chose Wellesley as well).  I have no idea what I would have done without her!

Me, Saydi and Charity in Great Hall at Wellesley College near Boston - the alma mater we share
Here are the four of us in NYC together - we all still feel a strong draw to the East Coast and NYC and Boston are magical places for us - we all bring our own experiences with those places but even when we're there separately from each other, the things we notice and blog about are strikingly similar.

Here's me and Char in the city we both love dearly - San Fran was my home for 6 years and now Charity calls it home. Visiting Charity there for spring break last year was magical - so many of the places she suggested we visit together were the very places I'd always loved the most.

And here's Charity with us at a Power of Moms Retreat last April.  She served as a fabulous Retreat Manager at two of our Retreats and is the go-to girl for so many things while she juggles a bunch of part-time jobs and is the favorite temporary nanny for everyone in the family who has to go somewhere without their kids (since writing this, Charity announced that she's landed a great full-time job. Yeah Charity! It's been a long, frustrating job search but I'm so proud of my little sis for handling it with grace and patience).

Shawni, Saydi, Charity and I used to scheme and plan and execute trips together all the time and were able to work out an uncanny bunch of times when we could live in the same city or the same apartment for chunks of time. We used to dream up and push for scenarios where we could all be neighbors somehow, someday.  But we've all realized that the neighbor thing is just not going to work out. So we carefully protect our month together at Bear Lake and jump at every chance to get together to present at conferences or make podcasts (check out our Deliberate Mothering Podcasts if you haven't already).

I better make sure to mention that it's NOT all sweetness and light with my dear sisters. We're all strong-willed and throughout our lives, we've had a plethora of disagreements and some pretty serious fights (Shawni likes to tell people about the time I slammed her with a mixing bowl over the head when we had a difference of opinion - it was a plastic mixing bowl - just a small goose-egg resulted...).  But thankfully our parents taught us from a young age how to resolve disagreements and to forgive and forget.

Sure, there have been times we've felt some envy for what each other was doing or had access to. Shawni was green with envy when Saydi and I went to Kenya while she was home with little babies. I was pretty jealous when Saydi got to do my dream of spending 6 months with her husband building up a non-profit in the Philippines while I was home with little babies. Shawni, Saydi and I are all a bit jealous of Charity's wonderful adventures gallivanting around the world and going on road trips every weekend while we're running car pools and cleaning up our kids' messes. I know we've all gone through hard times where we've felt sad we couldn't do or be what one of our sisters seemed so good at doing or being. But mostly, I think we're really good at being glad for each other, supporting each other, and appreciating our differences and strengths. That's another thing our parents did a great job teaching us - we were brought up believing that we were each special and unique and that someone else's greatness need never subtract from our own individual worth and ability to be great in our own way.

Just when I thought I already had way more than my fair share of amazing sisters, I got MORE stellar sisters thanks to the great women my good brothers found to marry and the excellent sisters and sisters-in-law Jared brought into my life.  I love, love, love, love these ladies!  And I so appreciate my mom for getting us together every year for our beloved "Mothers and Future Mothers of Eyrealm" gatherings.

So other than a capturing great memories and pictures with my sisters in one place, what is the point of this blog post?

Sisters are important. And while I'm so very glad I got my one little princess Eliza, there will always be a part of me that aches for her that she'll never experience what I had with my sisters. I guess she'll never know the difference and we do cherish and try to nurture the great friendships and cousin relationships she's been blessed with. Plus she'll get wonderful sisters-in-law thanks to her brothers one day. But still.  She just won't have some things I've been blessed with.  And it'll be OK. She looks pretty darn happy in these pictures with Shawni and Saydi's daughters who she adores:

If you've got a sister, make the most of your relationship with her. If you've got daughters, cherish and grow the special bonds they can have. Help them appreciate their own unique gifts and to celebrate the accomplishments and talents of each other.  Teach them to nip conflicts in the bud and fix problems between them before they fester.

And really, the main point of this post is that I love my sisters and sisters-in-law so much and I'm so grateful for all we've shared and all we've learned from each other and all we have ahead of us.

P.S. If you want to join me and my sister Shawni for the Power of Moms Phoenix Retreat next week, Shawni's doing a giveaway on her blog today - check it out HERE.


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