Friday, August 31, 2012

Eliza for President, new instruments, art, and a serious sock problem

Eliza decided to run for president of the elementary school. 
She made posters with help from friends and family.

She wrote a great speech. She did a really excellent job presenting her speech in front of the whole school without even looking at her notes.

And she didn't win.

She was up against some pretty stiff competition. Ten people ran for president (only 4 for VP, 2 for Secretary and 2 for Historian - I suggested she might want to run in an area with less competition but this is a girl who knows what she wants and I respect that.) They got her name wrong on the ballot which probably didn't really help (it said "Eliza Harris" instead of "Eliza Loosli" because the lady making up the ballots knew an Eliza Harris from way back when and that stuck in her mind).

But she was a great sport about not winning. She was pretty sure she'd win and it really did hurt not to win. But she congratulated those who won and decided to apply to be on Year Book staff instead. And I promised to steal her away from school today to take her out for a special lunch - that always seems to make everything better.

Eliza's just experienced her first big life lesson on winning and loosing. And she's sailing through quite nicely.

In other news. The kids and I were shopping at Costco on Saturday and Ashton started jamming out with an electric guitar they had on display. He got the hugest smile I've seen in a long long time when he applied his guitar knowledge to that electric guitar and heard such pleasing results. He decided he wanted to use the money he's been saving towards the new Google Tablet to buy the guitar instead. It was really a great deal and came with the amp, strap, case, picks, DVD, everything. Since he's already attached to the old Droid phone he bought from his dad that he uses like an ipod touch and the Kindle Fire we've got and the computer, I was quite pleased for him to use his money for something that was his idea but that didn't involved another screen to suck him in. (I have a great video of him playing but I need Ashton to get home from school and show me how to put it up - check back later for that...)

While Ashton jammed out, I fell in love with the ukelele next to the guitar. It was beautiful, made of native Hawaiian wood with mother-of-pearl trim. It made a lovely sound when I strummed it. I've had this thing for ukele music for years now and I've been itching to bring music back into my life. I wanted it. I needed it. And I haven't bought anything fun and exciting just for me since - well, I can't even remember the last time...

The kids danced around in the aisle when I told them I was going to buy that ukelele.

I came home and taught myself some chords (thank you internet) while Ashton and the other kids rocked out with the new guitar. After several short practicing sessions, I can now play my favorite ukelele rendition of "Over the Rainbow" pretty decently. My fingers are sore but I'm happy to have something new to work on after essentially abandoning music for many many years after being brought up playing the violin and piano. Practicing something and getting better at something feels great (especially something like the ukelele which is relatively easy if you've got some music training already). I'll have the kids video me playing something when I get a bit better and I'll put it up on this blog.

Another fun thing we did last weekend was visit this amazing "Art in Bloom" exhibit at the art gallery down the street. They invited florists to create interpretations of award-winning paintings and it was fascinating to see what they came up with. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts did an "Art in Bloom" exhibit while I was at Wellesley College and my mom and I got to go to it one year when she was visiting. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. It was wonderful to have a similarly gorgeous and interesting exhibit go on right down the street from me and be able to experience it with my kids. As we looked at the art and flowers together, it made us notice details and look for themes and connections and really analyze the art in a new way. Yeah art!

And finally, something totally unrelated.

I really really really dislike socks (we try not to use the "H" word in our house).

After a summer of blissful non-sock wearing thanks to flip flops and sandals, we're back to socks and I'm not happy about it. I don't like how they're always looking their mates. I don't like how they always seem to be in short supply even when I seem to be constantly buying them and constantly doing laundry. I don't like how they always get left everywhere! I'm not sure why socks would need to be left in the car like this. Did they inexplicably need to take their socks off before heading into school or the house or what?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

External vs. Internal Change

My sister Charity is working on something I'm always working on. She's figuring out how to change her life without changing the external aspects of it. There's so much we can't or shouldn't change about our external lives - but there's so much we CAN and SHOULD change about our attitudes, our actions and reactions, our gratitude, our words. I love this quote from Charity: "isn’t it way more powerful to create a blank slate out of willpower rather than circumstance?"

Charity made a list of resolutions (many of which I'll have to add to my own list of resolutions here).

I'm going to see if she wants to follow up on each other about our resolutions. It's so easy to see what you need to change but then forget what you realized you were supposed to be doing or not doing. Having someone check up on me always helps.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Beans are Awesome

We love beans in our family. They're cheap. They're tasty. They're easy. And they're super good for you. What's not to like?

sort beans

I hear from a lot of people that they simply don't know what to do with beans.

Here's what I do with them:

1. STEP ONE: I make a big crock pot full of black or pinto beans every other week or so. I just throw dry beans and about 3x as much water as beans into the crock pot and cook on high for like 6 hours (or until they're tender - all crock pots are a bit different). No soaking is really required for black beans or pinto beans or white beans - the only ones I make. I've heard beans are supposed to give you more gas if you don't soak them first but I've never found any difference whether I soak them first or not and after the first few times we had beans, our systems seemed to get used to the beans and voila! no more gassiness.... I hear you are supposed to soak kidney beans and some other types of beans to reduce toxins or something like that but I just stick with the beans I know.... Here's a great post with step-by-step instructions and photos to make it ultra-easy to make beans in a crock pot (dry beans are easier to store, don't involve cans that need to be recycled, so much cheaper, more tasty, and really not much harder than canned beans and just as easy as canned).  I have a big crock pot so I usually make about 2 lbs of dry beans at a time (double the recipes offered on this blog I've linked to). Sometimes I make the beans plain so I can use them in a bunch of different recipes just as I would canned beans. Mostly though, I make them seasoned as explained here: Not Refried Beans (my kids LOVE them like that). Sometimes I mash them like the recipe says. Sometimes I don't mash them, just make them as seasoned whole beans. Often I drain the water when they're cooked and add a big can of crushed or diced tomatoes plus a bit more chili powder (about 2 more tsps or more - to taste). I usually skip the peppers since they add work and too much spice for my kids' taste (my husband and I add hot sauce to our'll want to experiment a bit to get the seasoning just right for your taste).

In both of the posts linked above, she says to lay out the beans on a cookie sheet and make sure there are no rocks and wash them carefully. I buy the triple-washed beans and check for stones as I pour them somewhat slowly into the crock pot - have yet to find any stones...

Here's how the cooked pinto beans look:
extra liquid

Here's how the cooked black beans look:
cooked black beans

2. STEP TWO: I freeze half the beans once they're cooked and cooled (just throw them in a zip lock freezer bag and use a sharpie to right "plain" or "seasoned" right on the bag) so they're ready to use on days I don't have 6 hours of crock pot time. Over time, I end up with a nice variety of beans in my freezer, plain black beans, plain pinto beans, seasoned pintos, seasoned pintos in crushed tomatoes...  On a night when I don't have much time to cook, I grab a bag of seasoned pintos and tomatoes out of the freezer, cook up some rice, and voila, easy, healthy and tasty beans and rice meal, ready to go.

3. STEP THREE: I use the other half for 2-3 meals that week. I then use these seasoned beans the night I've made them for one of these favorite family meals and save the rest in the fridge to use for another couple meals that week, warming them up as needed.

Here are EIGHT favorite recipes/meals using beans:


Just serve the nicely seasoned beans on top of rice with a choice of toppings. When serving over rice, the beans are best if you mix in some canned diced or crushed tomatoes and some extra chili powder, in my opinion. My family's favorite toppings are shredded cheese, chopped cilantro, chopped tomatoes, chopped green onions, chopped romaine, guacamole, sour cream, spicy salsa (me and Jared like it a bit spicier). Often the toppings are just some cheese and a bit of sour cream. We just use what we've got.


Burrito night is always a fiesta around here - the kids LOVE it. I have the kids cook up a bunch of the great uncooked tortillas (sold in bulk at Costco) and then everyone puts what they like in their burritos -  the seasoned bean mixture (with added canned tomatoes or without) plus usually cheese and a bit of sour cream plus whatever else we've got (often leftovers from rice-and-beans night). I like to coat my tortilla with baby spinach before putting on the hot beans that sort of cook the spinach a bit then I add a little cheese, a little sour cream or plain yogurt, a little hot sauce, a little cilantro, wrap it up and dip it in guacamole as I eat it (see photo of burrito before wrapping above). Makes my mouth water to think about it.

This lasagne-style enchilada dish is super easy and super tasty. Here are the directions (takes about 15 minutes to assemble and 45 to bake in the oven - can assemble ahead of time and then put it in the oven while you're helping with homework or whatever...)
  • Get a big can (28 oz) of enchilada sauce (mild or medium, depends on what your family likes, try different ones to see what people like best. My favorite is Las Palmas medium green chile enchilada sauce). 
  • Spread a 1/2 cup in the bottom of a 9x13 baking pan then line the bottom with 6 little corn tortillas. I spread a layer of beans (seasoned or not seasoned - I usually use the seasoned ones, often even the seasoned ones with crushed tomatoes mixed in) on top of the tortillas, then about a 1/2 cup shredded cheese (or crumbled queso fresca - my favorite), then a 1/2 cup of sauce. 
  • Repeat the tortillas, beans, cheese, and sauce two more times, ending with about a cup (instead of a 1/2 cup) of enchilada sauce and cheese on the top layer of beans. 
  • Cover with tin foil and cook at 350 for about 45 minutes (take foil off for the last 10 minutes or so if you want the top to be nicely browned)
  • Serve in squares topped with chopped tomatoes, cilantro and a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt if you want. 

Sweet potatoes with black beans - SO yummy.
My whole family loves this unique and tasty recipe -

This is a favorite of everyone who's tried it - easy and oh-so-yummy. Scroll down in this post for the recipe -

Louisiana Red Beans and Rice
This calls for red beans but I just use the unseasoned pinto beans I've got in my fridge or freezer:

Super easy tomatillo chicken chili - crock pot, 5 minutes to assemble, awesome stuff
This recipe I posted about a while back uses dry white beans. You just put the beans, chicken and everything else together in the crock pot to cook all day - no pre-cooked beans necessary here.

Use the cooked pinto beans you've frozen or just made in your favorite chili recipe.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Scripture Challenge - Week 4 - Real Rejoicing

It rained. Finally. I can't even remember when it last rained.

I've got all my windows open and I can smell the rain and feel a soft cool humid breeze. It makes me happy.

I've been focusing on rejoicing this week and wow, there are plenty of things to rejoice about.

I read Mosiah 9-15 this week - all about wicked King Noah and Abinadi. When Abinadi pointed out their iniquities and called them to repentance(they were living lavishly on the backs of their people, enjoying the company of harlots, that sort of thing), King Noah's priests responded by quoting some beautiful passages in Isaiah. "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringing good tidings, that publisheth peace, that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation...Break forth into joy, sing together ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem." By quoting these scripture passages, the priests were chastising Abinadi for calling them to repentance rather than bringing good tidings. They felt justified in living lives of what they likely considered to be joy and felt they'd been redeemed so all was well.

Abinadi spoke boldly, even after being threatened with death. He laid out the commandments and quoted Isaiah right back at them he explained the Atonement and talked about what redemption really means. He explained that he WAS publishing peace, as have all the prophets, by helping people understand and live the commandments that can bring them joy in their lives while helping them understand the love of God and the beauty of the Atonement of Christ.

Anyway, along with gaining a greater appreciation for Abinadi's amazing courage and power as a teacher and a deeper understanding of the Atonement, this passage made me think about how scripture can be used in so many ways. The same passage can be used to condone and condemn at the same time. We ARE supposed to rejoice - but we're supposed to strive and strain and stretch at the same time.

God loves us and Jesus paid for our sins, most definitely, but that doesn't mean we can sit back, do whatever is easy and fun, and things will work out fine in the end. God's love is free and fully available to all of us and He's given us commandments we can use to help us make wise decisions. But when we mess up, it's up to us to reach out and draw close to Him and use the Atonement so we can get back to a place where we can honestly rejoice again. Real rejoicing comes from understanding and work and gratitude and repenting and moving forward armed with what we have learned. Real rejoicing comes from figuring out God's will and aligning our will with His and then feeling the joy of knowing we're doing the right thing (I'd like to feel this joy more often - guess I'd better be more prayerful about my day-to-day decisions). Real rejoicing doesn't come easy and often comes in scattered moments that can be hard to prolong as we have a hard time sustaining a prayerful closeness to God, doing the good things we know we're supposed to do, and staying away from sin...

And one other thing, after all Abinadi's work and sacrifice, he was mocked and put to death and perhaps died thinking nothing he said had made a difference. But one of the priests was really listening and really understanding. Abinadi's words entered Alma's heart and Alma went on to become a great prophet and leader and the father of another great prophet and leader.

I love the reminder that even when I sure can't tell if the things I'm working so hard to do are actually making a difference, if I do what I feel must be done, the right things will result. So often, I feel like what I can do for my kids, for my husband, for my extended family, and for the other moms in the world via Power of Moms is such a lot of work and is just a drop in the bucket. But drops create ripples. And ripples go on and on and on. I think my greatest moments of rejoicing come when I get a chance to glimpse the effects of one of those ripples...

OK, so that got a little deep and I'm not sure I've fully got all this. But there are some of my thoughts from this past week...

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sweet Grandma turns 90

Last week my wonderful grandma turned 90.

And she wasn't very happy about it - at least when she could remember it was her birthday. She's very anxious to be done with this life - especially when she briefly remembers how old she is and how frustrating life is these days.

She's had dementia for the past five years or so and it's been very hard to see this vibrant strong women - a little 5-foot-tall powerhouse - decline into a feeble sweet old lady who can't remember who anyone is, can hardly see and doesn't hear very well either.

She organized a brilliant volunteer program at the hospital while working to support her five young children (ages 3-15) after her dear husband died of cancer. She somehow saved up enough money to send all five children on missions and went on her own mission plus helped put all her kids through college. She took care of all the older widows in her area while fulfilling a "calling" to serve as the Relief Society president at church. She ran her own preschool for over 30 years and could whip a group of 20 preschoolers into shape with kindness and firm rules in no time. She taught her grandkids so much about cleaning up after themselves and doing their duty and teaching kids important principles with fun and firmness (she left a posterity full of people who are serious "kid magnets").

These days, Grandma is surprised, and actually quite delighted, every time I tell her that she has raised 5 wonderful children, was an important influence in raising her 23 grandchildren, is adored by more great grandkids than I have the energy to count up right now, wrote all the original lesson plans for the Joy School program that have been used by hundreds of thousands of families to conduct their own co-op preschools and ran the original Joy School preschool for 30 years. Grandma has been a huge force for good in this world.

Now she just wants to be done and to go be with her husband who she's been missing for over 50 years now. But she's in excellent physical health so she may have to wait a while.

Every time we go visit her, I ask "How are you, Grandma?" and she says, "Well, I'm still here." One time I asked her if there was anything I could do for her and she said, only half-joking, "Well, you could shoot me!" But mostly she has a great attitude and she is so sweet to me and the kids - even though she can't remember our names. I love how she speaks to us in her always-soft voice that I will always love, asking us questions about our lives (and usually asking the same question again and again and again - it's so cute to see how patient and loving the kids are with her). She doesn't remember exactly who they are. But she remembers to ask questions and really listen to the answers. And she never forgets to tell them that she loves them.

Plus she's still so beautiful, don't you think?

For her birthday, we went to visit the original Joy School, the one Grandma ran for 30 years but then sold when she was ready to retire. I remember going there with Grandma SO many times during my growing up years - first to participate in Joy School on rare occasions when we were in town on a school day, then to dance and play with the toys when we visited Grandma's house, then to help my grandma clean and set things up as a little summer job. Now it's in some disrepair here and there but it's still run as a Joy School and so many things are still the same.

Every time I've visited Grandma lately, the one thing she seems to remember well and smile about is Joy School. She always says, "I wish I could go there. I wish I could be a little mouse in the corner and watch it in action again."

So we decided to make her dream come true and take a bunch of her great-grandkids to re-enact some Joy School stuff at the old Joy School (thanks to the kind new owner for letting us in!). She sang right along with the kids as they sat up on the big steps where generations of Joy School kids have sat for lesson time and singing time and sang Joy School songs (she said she couldn't remember the words but they all came right back to her). She smiled beautiful smiles. She didn't remember she'd been at the Joy School at all after we got her back home but at least she was happy in the time we were there together!

Here's a little video of the kids singing and then her singing along and demonstrating the actions.

Here's one of the wall murals at the Joy School that I remember my mom helping to paint on the walls when I was a little kid:

I love Joy School. It's this co-op preschool program where you get minute-by-minute lesson plans on line (including stories, songs and simple activities that teach kids important social skills and pre-academic skills) and you trade off teaching a group of kids including your child and your friends' children (groups are usually 4-8 kids - I recommend 5 or 6 kids - more gets less fun for everyone). I've taught Joy School to all my kids for two years of preschool each, putting them in regular preschool plus doing a day or two a week of Joy School with some of my kids the year before they start kindergarten so they can get used to a more formal school program. I love how Joy School has helped ensure that I do fun and meaningful stuff with my kids, get to know their friends, and work with some great friends as my co-teachers. The moms I taught Joy School with will always have a special spot in my heart. We always knew we could count on each other to help out when we needed babysitting or a shoulder to cry on - and helping out with each other's kids was extra easy when we already knew each other's kids quite well. And my kids are still friends with a lot of their special Joy School friends. Plus those Joy School songs still come to mind when needed ("When a thing is hard to do, I don't sit and cry, I just sing a happy tune and try, try, try" or "Everyone is different...that's what makes us special..." or "Here comes Gunny Bag - he eats leftover toys and keeps them in his tummy...")

Anyway, if anyone wants to check out more info on Joy School, click that Joy School link on the right in the side bar.

And here's my mom's great post with lots of photos, details and videos about grandma's birthday:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Big Race - Grand Teton Relay 2012

We did it. It was hot and we were beyond tired and sometimes it felt pretty awful. But Team Loosli finished the Grand Teton Relay for the second year in a row and I was a proud (but somewhat slow) member of that team. We actually finished an hour faster that last year and felt quite accomplished.

The scenery was gorgeous. The company was excellent. The support of every team member for each other was impressive. And some of our team members were pretty darn amazing runners (some 6-minute miles happened - wow - and we had some amazing runners who ran up the Teton Pass and up the road to Grand Targhee ski resort - steep, steep stuff).

The hardest parts for me were the heat and the lack of sleep. I ran two of my three legs in the heat of the day which sort of killed me. I realized yet again that I'm not good at sweating. I get so hot I think I'm going to die before I finally start sweating and then I start to feel much better. I also realized that I've somehow lost the ability I once had to sleep anytime, anywhere. I had such a hard time catching any sleep in the van and during the precious couple of hours we had to sleep while the other van was doing their legs, I just couldn't sleep. Every little noise woke me up. And the more times I sort of fell asleep and then got woken up, the less my body could relax and let me fall asleep the next time there was an opportunity. By those last legs I was SO tired it was painful. And I had a tummy ache pretty much the whole race which wasn't fun.

But I was stronger and faster than last year which made me happy. And my hip and knee gave me very little trouble (they'd been hurting a lot on runs leading up to the race so I was worried...). I had longer and more hilly legs than last year which scared me at first but I ended up really liking the legs I had - loved running through beautiful farmland and down the final incline of the Grand Targhee hill plus really enjoyed running my 1am run - deliciously cool, bright and beautiful stars, something sort of crazy and fun about running up and down hills in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere...

Here we are at the starting line in Ashton, Idaho.

Fun to have the kids there to cheer us on (so grateful to Grandma and Brian and Karen and everyone else who pitched in to help out with the kids while Jared and I were running)

Here I am ready to run my first leg of the race. Eliza, Isaac and Jared ran with me for part of the way. That really helped. (I have to admit I was pretty whiney to Jared during the hard parts of that first leg - he was pretty darn nice to stick with me when I was being so unpleasant.)

The hand-off after my first leg:

Awesome van one team after we'd all finished our first legs and passed off to van 2. Left to right: Jared's sister Jayne, nieces Allison, Portia and Rebecca, and nephew Mark

 Here's Jared doing his hardest leg - a long uphill grueling run in the heat of the day to the Idaho/Wyoming border. He was very impressive.

Here's Jared handing off to Nick - so glad to be done with that long hot run:

 What a tough guy!

Here's our team and supporters at the border. What wonderful people.

The hand-off after my last leg (love that I actually look sort of fast here...and the wheat fields were gorgeous).

Our van at the end of the race (so glad to be done!)

Here's how the van we lived in for 30 hours looked at the end (the driver's door sort of fell apart and we can't roll up the window anymore - but hey, as long as it doesn't rain, we're good!). Thanks for whipping up these beautiful vinyl stickers, Michelle. (All the race material said to be prepared for bears and if we encountered one, we were supposed to play dead unless it started to feed on us, then we should fight back. So our theme this year was about being tough enough to fight off any bears we encountered and we had stuffed bears that the gleefully beat up and stuck bandaids on decorating our vans. Luckily the only bears we encountered were the stuffed ones...)

("Kills" means the number of people someone in our van passed while running. We were pretty proud of our 15 "kills")

Here we are in Jackson Hole at the finish line (it says start but the other side said finish and the lighting was bad if we turned around...). What a team!

(I did get a medal - really! I just let one of the kids wear it for a while. It was HEAVY!)

Now I'm back to my nice little 3-mile runs 3 times a week. I'm not sure I'll want to do another relay. Maybe  I'll stick with 1/2 marathons and 10K's for a while. But this was totally worthwhile and so fun to have so many great times and build great memories with Jared's great family members.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The First Day of School - 2012

Ashton started 7th grade at the middle school and Isaac started 6th grade at the intermediate school (the two schools are right by each other). They start at 8am.

 Eliza's first day of 4th grade and Oliver and Silas's first day of 2nd grade (these three go to the K-4 school which starts at 8:30am)

 Heading into school (this'll be the last year in this school building - they're building a new school behind this one and then this old school with no air conditioning and a serious lack of space but considerable charm will be torn down)

Everyone was pleased as punch about the new school year.

The first day of school was a big hit for everyone and so far so good on upholding my new resolutions (from this post). I got up on time this morning, made a nice breakfast for the kids, and we got out the door very nearly on time and made it to school pretty much on time (getting through the crowds to actually get the little kids into their classrooms took longer than I thought - so fun to see them so excited to see friends they haven't seen all summer and fun to get some hugs from some of their cute friends myself). Ashton wanted to ride his bike to school by himself. He's done that a lot but I thought on his first day of middle school, he might want me to drive him and felt a little sad when he insisted he wanted to go alone. But that's OK. I'm supposed to be working myself out of a job bit by bit, right?

After getting the kids to school, I enjoyed a quiet grocery store trip by myself (every grocery store run over the summer seemed to be a good time for a "mommy date" with one of the kids which was great but wow, I'm sure a lot faster at the grocery store when I go by myself!). I came home to finish my blog post on resolutions that has been half-written and on my mind forever. It felt great to finalize and declare my "do's" and "don't's" for the upcoming school year and caught up on piles of timely emails. Then I took a break from work to make cookies for the kids so we could have a special after school snack and talk.

When I got to the school, the kids' hugs and smiles were extra wonderful after being apart from them for more hours than I've been apart from them in a long, long time. At home, we talked about teachers and friends and events of the day while we enjoyed a pretty darn good batch of cookies, if I do say so myself (my favorite recipe is HERE). I stayed pretty calm and kind when the kids kept interrupting each other and getting off track as I tried to get kids to share their back-to-school news in a somewhat orderly fashion. But in the end everyone got to talk and every listened a bit and it was a good little party.

Then I sat down individually with each kid to go through all the info they brought home and sign a bunch of disclosures about what would be expected in each class. Of course there was plenty of interrupting from one kid while I was trying to help someone else, but hey, that's life with 5 kids and I politely asked interrupters to wait their turn and they were pretty good about it.

All in all, this afternoon went great and at least right now, I'm feeling like I'm the mother I mean to be. I love it when I feel like this. I'm really in-the-know about each teacher and class the kids will be in this year after thoroughly going through all their stuff rather than putting it in a pile to look at later or just skimming and signing the stuff that's supposed to go back. I planned well, prioritized well, and felt calm and happy throughout the tricky parts of the day. This is good.

We are going to be prepared for things this year. We are going to enjoy things this year. We're off to a good start with our new motto "be prepared, slow down, and enjoy"!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Scripture Challenge - Week 3

So I'm a day late on my scripture report. I was running the Grand Teton Relay all weekend (literally all weekend - over 30 hours of running or supporting the other runners on our 12-person team - photos and more info later...). Then we had church in Ashton, quick pack-up and family dinner at Jared's mom's house, drove home, went straight to a neighborhood back-to-school potluck last night, rushed to get the kids to bed and the uniforms laid out and the backpacks and lunches packed since they started school this morning (more on that later too) and then fell into bed for a night that felt too short even though we had almost 8 hours to sleep...Despite my resolutions to slow down, some days are still going to have to be crazy. I can minimize but I can't totally get rid of busy days where things fit together like a sloppily done jigsaw puzzle.

Anyway, I read Mosiah 6-9 this week and here's what really stood out to me:

Mosiah 7:29: Lift up your heads and rejoice and put your trust in God. 7:33: But if ye will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart and put your trust in him and serve him with all diligence of mind, if you do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage.

I need to focus more on really turning to the Lord, asking myself daily what I can do to serve Him best, and trusting that His way is the best way. I need to more fully realize that I'm not in charge, that He has a plan, and that His plan, although it sometimes seems convoluted when I can't see the bigger picture and times are tough, is really the best plan. He has always delivered me from my burdens. Not usually quickly. Not usually in a manner that I hope for or expect. But according to God's wise will, I am delivered at the right time in the right way. And when I plow through the hard stuff with trust and obedience and all the rejoicing I can muster up, it's not easy but it's sure a lot more pleasant than wallowing in the hard stuff and wishing things were different and bemoaning the way things are.

Rejoice and trust. Two commandments I need to more fully embrace.

Doing it all - or not...

I'm constantly evaluating and re-evaluating what I'm doing and what I should be doing with my time. And I keep thinking I've got things figured out but then I get off-track time and time again as I say yes to too many things and that forces me to say no to things that matter more.

This school year is going to be different. I think I've finally really learned to accept that I simply must have margins and boundaries in my life in order to be the mom and person I want to be. I've always known, logically, that no one can do everything their heart yearns to do and that we have to say no to a lot of things. But I've allowed myself to think that I can somehow sneak a whole lot more onto my plate than most people and it'll somehow work out.

And you know what? Sometimes it does work out - sort of. Sometimes, like last year, I can squeeze in planning and conducting TEN Power of Moms Retreats across the country and in Australia, creating and revising several major programs on Power of Moms, editing our new Power of Moms book, overseeing the work of our great volunteer board members, and tons more Power of Moms work alongside helping five kids with their homework, keeping a home relatively clean and stocked with food, having a somewhat decent amount of quality time with my kids reading books and telling stories and going on little dates one-on-one as well as some big family trips, cooking pretty solid and tasty made-from-scratch meals daily, exercising three times a week... But you know what got squeezed out? Time to relax and enjoy life. Accomplishment after accomplishment doesn't stack up to much when you never have time to enjoy any of it. Hurrying through everything you do sucks the fun out of everything. Anticipation and reflection bring great joy but when you're so busy you don't have time to anticipate or reflect, much of that joy is lost. And I'm feeling old and worn out after such a packed year. I don't like feeling so used up.

So this year, I'm slowing things down - for real. I'm going to schedule better and add in extra time to get ready for things and to record and reflect on things. Our family theme for this year is "be prepared and enjoy." We're going to be ready early for things because we're going to plan better. We're going to enjoy things more because we're going to spread things out more. And we're going to embrace the idea that less is more.

So here's our plan of what we're going to do and not do this coming school year:
  • Wake-up time: I hate getting up early. I've struggled with it and tried to change my mindset and become a morning person all my life. I've finally come to terms with the fact that I don't like getting up early and I never will but I LOVE having time to get myself ready (exercise, get dressed) before the kids need me, having time to help the kids get ready, and being on time for things in the morning without rushing people along so much (often in a not-so-nice way). So I'm going to get up early. When that alarm rings, I am not going to waste time thinking about how tired I am or whether I may actually have a few more minutes to sleep if I streamline things a bit for that morning. I'm just going to get up and get going on the morning routine that I've spelled out to the kids again and again but that I haven't been that good at following myself... (more about morning routines here: The Beauty of Routines)
  • Bed time: I'm going to get dinner on the table on time (6pm) so we can get kids to bed on time (8pm) so I can have time to enjoy story time for the younger kids and talking with the big kids more (they always seem most keen to talk just when I'm most keen to be done for the day so we need to pad bedtime a bit more to allow for this). Then the little ones will be ready to go to sleep at 8:30 and  and doing stories when I tuck them in and they can be going to sleep or 
  • Music: I'm going to turn on music in the mornings to get us all going and after dinner to help people get their after-dinner jobs done in a fun way. Music really helps at specific points in the day (but I like quiet too). We don't have enough music around here. (whole post about this lesson I learned a while back but obviously didn't fully take to heart here: The Power of Music)
  • Protected time for mothering and being the wife I want to be: Last year I worked on Power of Moms stuff pretty much the entire time my kids were in school and tried not to work when they got home but there was always some pressing project and I was always falling into the trap of thinking I could get a little more work done once I got them settled and doing their homework. But it was silly to think they could just do their homework on their own while I took care of a few emails here and there. It ended up being "wait just a minute" whenever they needed help - and those minutes got way too long. I need to be fully available from 3pm until bedtime and I'm not going to let other stuff creep in so much.  I plan to belong entirely to my family before and after school and my later evenings will be reserved for time with Jared. One night a week, when Jared has other stuff going on, I'll catch up on some Power of Moms stuff. But I'm protecting time to just hang out together when the kids are in bed. It's so important - and has been so neglected. I'm also protecting - and calendaring - weekly date nights - something we really haven't been good about and something that makes a real difference when we do it regularly.
  • Time for myself and for non-POM projects: Rather than giving all my school-time hours to Power of Moms, I'm going to grant myself a lunch hour to read a book, go for a walk, do things that fill me up and energize me and make the rest of my day more productive. And I'm going to have regular errand time and house-project time each week while the kids are at school as well. I'm going to have specific Power of Moms "office hours" and whatever can't get done during my "office hours"will just have to wait. I plan to belong entirely to myself for small chunks of every day as I take the time to read, eat, think - stuff that has been crammed into the cracks for too many years. To allow myself more family time and more me-time, I'm going to have to get better at letting projects wait and pushing back deadlines and I'm learning to be much less of a perfectionist. 
  • School Involvement: I'm continuing to serve on the board of the parent organization at my kids' school. This means I'll go to one parent meeting a month, offer ideas and help with basic stuff at major school events in a minimal way. I will continue to decline getting involved on committees for events and that sort of thing (I've learned my lesson on that - I was putting in way too many hours at my kids' old school and it was causing too much stress on my family). I'll do a monthly story time in Liza and the twins' classes. I've been doing this for years and my kids LOVE it and I love it. It's so great to know their friends and see how they interact in school. And there's nothing like the huge smiles they get on their faces when I walk into their classrooms. 
  • Church work: I have a "calling" to help run our children's program at church. I work with great ladies, enjoy our weekly planning meetings, and love being with my kids every Sunday, teaching some of the lessons, hearing the great comments from the kids, seeing my kids in action, etc. I'm going to plan the lessons I need to give earlier in the week rather than cramming the planning into late Saturday night like I usually do. I'm going to be much better at my visiting teaching (we're all assigned a few other women we're supposed to visit monthly to see how they're doing and give them a little lesson - such a great way to uplift each other and watch out for each other and I feel so great when I get my visits done but I'm a terrible procrastinator a lot of months on this one...)
  • Extracurriculars: Eliza's continuing to do a creative dance class at the art center 4 doors down from our house. She LOVES it. It requires no carpooling or driving from me and just an hour a week from her. Isaac and Eliza were doing swim team 3 afternoons a week last year. It was great exercise to get them through the winter and we had a carpool so I was just driving and watching them swim one time a week. But as soon as it got warmer and the kids could play outside and the kids were sick of swimming, we quit. Homework got done better. Life was calmer. I'm not sure if we'll do it again this year. Ashton and Isaac both do scouts one night a week. Ashton also has a youth group meeting one night a week at church. Isaac and Eliza both want to do soccer this year but oops, I didn't look up info on how to sign up until it was too late. I found out Isaac can play on the school team this year so he's happy and that'll likely involve practices right at the end of the school day which is much less invasive to family time than evening practices are. Eliza's OK to wait until spring for soccer. Ashton wanted to do tackle football this fall but we missed the deadline on that. And tackle football scares me a little. Plus I've heard the football around here isn't that great and we've realized that we've wasted way too much of our precious time being involved in sports teams that weren't stellar. I'm not going to waste any more of my time or my kids' time participating in sports teams that are poorly organized and poorly coached. It's just not worth it. Once hearing that football was out, Ashton got excited about playing with Isaac on the school soccer team. The twins just do their small amount of homework and build forts in the backyard and read and play with the neighbor's dog plus I do special reading time with them most days. I love having them around and don't think they need much as far as extracurricular activities. They did basketball on a fun little team right up the street last year and want to do the same this year for a nice short basketball season.
  • Cooking: I'm going to keep prioritizing cooking time because I really believe in good food for my family and I like to cook on my own and with my kids. Some of that cooking takes place while the kids are at school but mostly I like to have a "chef of the day" and have one of the kids help me make dinner - great one-on-one time together and they learn important things.
  • Individuals and Relationships: I'm going to make more time for the "trees" this year and focus less on the "forest." I'm going to focus more on individuals who need help and relationships that are fun and mutually beneficial rather than devoting such a huge percentage of my time to the "forest" of moms involved in Power of Moms.
My big goal this year is keeping my priorities in order and making sure that how I spend my day-to-day time better matches what matters most to me. I know I'll continue to struggle with drawing boundaries around my POM work and being fully present with my kids when I have so many other things on my mind. But as I look back at several near-misses with nervous breakdowns last year as I tried to survive with no down time, and think about how precious my time is with my kids who are growing so fast and with my good husband who never asks for much and ends up getting neglected, I know I must focus on slowing things down, spreading things out, being prepared and enjoying this beautiful life I've been blessed with.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Thoughts on Running and Solid Foundations

This weekend is the Grand Teton Relay. Jared and I did it last year with Jared's family and we're doing it again this year. I'm a 3-5 miler (mostly 3) and today my 3-mile run felt pretty bad. My knees hurt. My breathing was off. I felt old. This weekend I get to run about 18 miles over the course of 36 hours (a 7 mile leg, a 4 mile leg, then another almost 7-mile leg), lots of it during the heat of the day. I'll do it but there may be some walking involved. Oh well. I'm excited for the good times in the van with great people from Jared's family. But I can't say I'm excited for the running part. At least I know what to expect this year so there's not so much anxiety involved. I know I can do this. But I also know I probably won't do it with flying colors. How in the heck do good runners do it?

On another note, a restoration brick specialist come today to give us a bid on getting some cracked bricks taken care of, fixing missing mortar in our foundation rocks, and getting all the paint taken off our beautiful old bricks (why would anyone ever paint these bricks???). It's going to be expensive and we'll probably have to do it incrementally. But as I walked around the house with this masonry guy and he pointed out the issues that needed to be fixed, he also pointed out how amazing it is that this 125-year-old house is still so very solid thanks to the 2-foot thick rock foundation and the three layers of brick the original builders used. We marveled together at the nice brick details and lovely workmanship. They just don't build houses like this anymore. 

And that made me think about how grateful I am that my parents offered me a really firm foundation and that I've got the equivalent of three layers of brick going on thanks to my upbringing with solid values and clear rules with lots of explanations followed up with ample freedom and ongoing support and guidance. Sure, there are cracks and missing bricks here and there and sure, there's been some tough weathering at times and repairs need to be done periodically. But all in all, I'm pretty solid thanks to the gospel and to my parents. 

I'm working hard to build a similar foundation for my kids.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Scripture Challenge - Week 2

This week I read Mosiah 1-4. I'm loving reading along slowly and really delving into the questions I think of and answers I receive as I read prayerfully and look for the messages the Lord wants to send my way each day. (For more about these weekly scripture posts and the scripture challenge I'm doing with my sisters, click here.)

Here are the things that really stood out to me this past week (these chapters are PACKED with important stuff and messages that totally hit me):
  • Faith in Christ and understanding of His character, actions and sacrifice is the key to everything. I want to get to know Christ better through reading and prayer and through thinking daily about how my actions and thoughts can be more Christ-centered (I've been thinking about my mom's story of her converstion to Christ that she shared with us this summer - she's shared it before but it really hit me this time. And my sister Shawni has obviously been thinking about it as well since she did a beautiful blog post about it here.) I love how Mosiah points out that when we truly believe in Christ and believe Christ, so many good things follow including that we are able to teach our children to love and serve one another and to be faithful themselves. 
  • Loving and full obedience to Christ's teachings should result from true faith. This week, I was led to really examine how obedient I am and I found some important areas I need to focus on more. I asked the Lord, "what do I need to work on?" and as I read, these answers came to my mind. I need to be a better follower and a better listener. I need to be more open-minded and open-hearted (especially towards those who seem to lack in open-mindedness). I need to love more and praise more. I need to be more like my kids in many ways (and I have on my list for this upcoming week to write out what characteristics in each of my kids I should emulate more). I need to pray more throughout the day rather than just at the regular times. I need to be more in awe of God so that I can be more full of the joy that comes from gratitude and the softness that comes from humility.  
  • Do all things in wisdom and order (Mosiah 4:27). I don't need to do everything. I just need to do the right things in the right order. And that takes some stopping and thinking as well as some trial and error (I think wisdom is something gathered from looking back and seeing what you've done right and wrong. We gain wisdom as we take the time to analyze and gain perspective.) I need to apply more wisdom and order to my life. The question came to mind: What order should I do things in? And the obvious answer came: Jared and the kids come first alongside my personal development and progression. Then comes my extended family. Then my church callings (Primary presidency and visiting teaching) and personal callings (friendships, community involvement, and Power of Moms). So I've really worked this last few days to order my days based on what my true priorities are by spending a few minutes each evening to prayerfully choose just a few simple actions I'll do first thing the next day ahead of everything else on my "to-do" list. It's helping. 
As I think about coming to know and understand Christ better, I remembered a practice my parents used to do when we were growing up. They had a bunch of different framed photos of Jesus and every Sunday we'd rotate which picture would hang on the wall of which bedroom. The changing of the pictures helped keep them from just blending into the wall for us and also helped us become familiar with a lot of different renditions of Christ as we thought about what we imagined He might really look like. I think an underlying message was that just as we all imagine something a bit different when we try to picture Christ, everyone's experience with Christ can be different - and that's not only OK, it's beautiful.

I don't know if I'll ever find any one picture of Christ that will fully resonate with me. But I can find bits of many pictures that do resonate and looking at the pictures is beneficial to me, even if none of them feels just right to me. Similarly, I love learning from the way that different people emulate Jesus (many of them without really realizing they are emulating Him) and putting together my testimony and practices using many sources.

Here are some pictures we had on our walls growing up and some others I like for various reasons. But I like the picture in my mind best and even if I were a great artist, I doubt I could capture it.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The truth about my life right now

I've shared a lot of happy times on this blog here lately because there really have been a lot of happy times. After a lot of REALLY hard things this past year (many of which didn't make this blog because they're pretty personal to me or others involved), it's been great to have so much good stuff to blog about.

Bear Lake was a huge highlight of the year, as always. Jared has a new job that he's really enjoying and that is so good for him and for all of us on many levels. Power of Moms is humming along nicely even though the number of hours I've devoted to it lately have been quite reduced. We have kids who are blessed with good health and we have so many great relatives we love to be with. We love our old house and our neighborhood and community (yesterday the Tour of Utah bike race inspired a fun day of booths and super fun free kids' activities like bounce houses and rock climbing walls plus a community bike race with the mayor that we all loved then there was an international festival with dancers and food from all over the world yesterday evening - just a few blocks down the street - love that). So yes, life is good and we have so very many reasons to feel blessed and be happy.

But even in the midst of good times and good situations, there's plenty of hard stuff and I while I don't like to dwell on the hard parts of my life on this blog (since I often dwell too much on the hard stuff in my mind), I do want to record the stuff I'm struggling with (that isn't super personal) here alongside the good stuff.

While I'm so grateful for kids who are at relatively easy ages and who are generally pretty easy to work with, they aren't little angels all the time. They know just how to push my buttons and a couple of them are going through stages that just about drive me crazy quite a bit lately. As far as non-personal stuff I can share, here are a few things that are hard about my great kids. Often, they whine and drag their feet when it's time to stop doing something super fun that I've allowed them to indulge in for several hours (like when I said it was time to go home after 4 hours at the Tour of Utah Kids' Zone yesterday and it was HOT and I had terrible cramps...). And it's quite annoying when they complain about something I worked hard to make for dinner or some activity I worked hard to plan for them and that I thought would be super fun. When they think I'm the meanest mom in the world for asking them to take a break from their fun to do their reading or writing or a simple 10-minute job around the house, that's pretty frustrating. And getting kids to bed when they always want one more thing and I'm just so tired gets pretty old. There are times every single day (often many times a day) when my patience gets very thin and I'm not the mom I mean to be.

The house is always needing attention. The kids are always needing attention. The fridge is always being emptied. The laundry is always piling up. Emails are always coming in. Power of Moms programs are always needing tweaking and new project possibilities are always coming up. Few things are ever really "done" around here and that's harder some days than others. I'm trying to accept that moving processes along is a worthy thing and that "done" is overrated. But I crave that "done" feeling.

I'm always trying to do too many things in too little time and I'm always hurrying but seldom am I on time for anything. My view of what is realistic to accomplish in an hour or in a day would probably make most people laugh. One of my big resolutions this year is to have more margin in my life and to be on time or even early for things (I've had this resolution for several years running but this year I'm SERIOUS about it - and the last few years, circumstances were really not very good for allowing margins, now that I look back).

I'm critical and impatient too often. My expectations are often too high. I dive into lots of things without really praying and thinking them through first - then stress myself out completely when I realize I have to back out or slow down on something I said I'd do (I HATE being flaky). I set myself and my kids up for failure too often. And I have major breakdowns sometimes and things just look very black.

But you know what? I keep trying and I keep making course corrections. I tell my kids and husband how much I love them every day and I'm getting better at setting aside my work and really focusing on them when they need me (learning to accomplish things while still allowing and even welcoming interruptions is my ongoing challenge).  I make a list of top priorities for the next day most evenings (more about that HERE) and that helps keep me somewhat balanced in a manageable way. And I plan out my week most Sundays, cutting things out that need to be cut out and gearing up for the times and days that will be tight and difficult.

So life IS good. But life is still hard. But hard and good generally go hand in hand. That's just how it is.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Happy 43rd Anniversary, Mom and Dad

43 years ago (as of July 30th), this was my parent's family:

14 years later, their family looked like this:

And today, 43 years later, here's my parent's family. There are 43 of us (counting a baby coming in a few months). Click to make the photo bigger if you want.

(For some reason no one quite understood, my dad was determined that we should take our family photo this year in front of an old house that's near the church we attend in Dingle, ID. It's a cool old house that we used to think was haunted when we were little kids. But just so you know, the backdrop has no real significance so no need to wonder...But thanks to Shawni and Saydi's skills as professional photographers we got some pretty good photos in the end.) 

Here's how Jared and I started out almost 14 years ago:

Fast forward 14 years and here's our family today.

I wonder what we'll look like in another 29 years as we reach our 43rd anniversary.

I realize more every year how amazing my parents are as I take on each new parenting challenge and life challenge of my own. I'm so grateful for all that they taught me about parenting through their examples. Jared and I are working and trying and changing and growing and trying some more. I hope and pray that we're building a foundation for our kids and our posterity that is strong and can lead to the great relationships and support and happiness Jared and I both enjoy from our birth families.

I won't even venture to guess how many people might be in a photo taken of our family when we reach 43 years of marriage. But I hope they'll like each other enough to actually be together so they could be in such a photo. I hope they'll pray for each other and take care of each other and find joy in being together. And I dearly hope that everyone in that photo will feel deeply loved and understood and appreciated by me and Jared.


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