Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Happy Halloween!

I've been meaning to make these Halloween collages for years and years. I finally gathered together favorite photos from the past 10 years and made these collages to hang up in my house every Halloween (bought some cheap black 11x14 frames and maybe next year I'll get around to having the kids help me decorate the frames with pumpkins and spiders and the like.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Scripture Challenge Week 14: Sucked into Cycles

This week's scripture update isn't based in any specific scriptural passage I read this past week. Instead, it's spurred by the patterns of events in the scriptures and unfortunate similar patterns I'm seeing in my own life.

As I read the scriptures or see what others are going through, it's often quite easy to see some patterns of poor choices that lead people into not-so-good places in their lives. The Book of Mormon offers the same pattern again and again - people are righteous and happy, people get prideful and forget the Lord, people get in trouble and wind up pretty miserable, in the humbled state, they turn back to the Lord, they get righteous and happy again and the cycle begins again. In movies and books people do things that we, the outsiders who can see the bigger picture, recognize as really bad moves.

In my own life, I can see my own silly cycles and ill-fated decisions that must look so obvious to the Lord or to anyone else who could see the details of my life:
  • I sit down at my computer after the kids are in bed to check a couple things and then I'm still sitting here, hours later, my back hurting, thirsty, tired, but sucked into something I started that I think I should finish so the next day might be less packed - but I don't work efficiently when I'm tired so it's really not smart to do this.
  • I wake up to my alarm in the morning and lay there for a few minutes, rationalizing that I'm prepping my mind for the day and that 10 minutes of wake-up transition will work out fine. It doesn't. We're rushed and late again and again. If I need 10 minutes of wake-up time, I have to set my alarm 10 minutes earlier. So I do. Then my morning brain suggests that I've woken up 10 minutes extra early so I have extra time to doze off before I really have to get up. I need to stop listening to my morning brain.
  • I often say I'll do something and then realize I spoke too soon and my schedule and brain is just going to be too full but I'm not sure how to get out of what I said I'd do and saying no feels more stressful than just plowing through and doing what I said yes to. I am getting better at saying "Let me check my calendar" or "Let me think about it" but I've still got a ways to go.
  • I put in too many hours on Power of Moms for a couple weeks and start to feel the sad irony of spending so much time trying to help other moms be great moms that I may be compromising my own mothering (or my own sanity). Then I promise myself I'll be more in balance the next week and won't let myself get so out of balance again and I do draw better boundaries things are better for a while. But then I find I've created too tight a deadline again for myself and end up putting in too many hours again on Power of Moms. 
  • I put on my running clothes first thing in the morning and head to my favorite running trail after dropping the kids off at school and then sit there in my car for a bit, trying to get myself to get out there and run when it's cold and I really don't want to and I ultimately do go running every time and it feels great but why do I waste time and emotional energy on thinking about how I don't want to do things that I know I need to do and that I'll always wind up doing...
  • I try to change things that aren't really very changeable in other people far too often and re-learn the need to let go of certain hopes or expectations repeatedly.
  • I go for several days or several weeks reading scriptures with real intent, praying before reading, finding great insights and bits of personal revelation. Then I get a bit lazy and start rationalizing and my scripture reading gets shorter and more shallow. Then many things in my life seem to suffer. Then I get going again on higher-quality scripture study and the cycle starts again. But at least with this scripture challenge I'm doing with my sisters, I'm reading at least SOMETHING daily and writing these weekly updates so it keeps the cycle on higher ground...
I know what I'm doing wrong in the case of a lot of things that aren't going particularly well in my life. But I allow myself to fall into the same old traps time and time again. It gets old learning the same lessons again and again. 

Perhaps it all comes down to getting my lowering some of my expectations of myself and of others (and not just theoretically realizing I should lower them but figuring out how to actually lower them for real) and raising my will power.

P.S. I've been watching General Conference Highlights which are 2-minute nuggets from the apostle's talks in the most recent General Conference - love these bite-sized gems of inspiration that I can enjoy so quickly and easily. Check them out if you want!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Happy Birthday Dad!

Today is my dad's birthday.

When we were little, my parents decided to help us each create a special tradition that we would do together each year on our birthday. We went to the beach for my birthday in July, built a snowman for Shawni's birthday in January, went bowling for Noah's November birthday. You get the idea. Some traditions "stuck" more than others. My dad's birthday tradition was one that really stuck and has ended up helping us feel bonded to each other as it's been celebrated by each of us wherever we've each been throughout the world every October 28th for well over 60 years now.

My dad's birthday tradition is to jump in the leaves. For as long as I can remember, we've hiked into the mountains or found a park with lots of fallen leaves, raked then up, play in them, jump in big piles of them, stuff them down each other's shirts, jump out of trees into them, that sort of thing. This tradition is perfect for my dad since he absolutely adores fall and has taught all of us to be somewhat obsessed with fall folliage and pumpkins and the smell and crunch of fallen leaves and the crispness in the air and everything else about fall.

I think this might have been the first year we made fall leaves a focus of my dad's birthday. This is Josh, Dad, me, Shawni, baby Saydi and Mom up the canyon near Salt Lake City.

When we moved to England for three years, we found great leaves to jump in on Box Hill (looks like I was being sort of bratty here. Sorry dad. Love Josh's coat and my dad's Sherlock Holmes hat...)

Noah, Saydi, Shawni and Talmadge in the leaves up the canyon back in Utah.

Jumping in the leaves at Liberty Park in Salt Lake (Shawni, Josh, Talmadge, me randomly in a pioneer hat, Jonah and Saydi

Me, a random neighbor?, Shawni, Saydi, Jonah and Josh (back to the camera) in the backyard of our house in Virginia (Dad's beloved hammock in the background)

Back in Utah my 7th grade year, enjoying Dad's birthday up the canyon
left side from back: mom, Shawni, me, Talmadge
right side from back: Noah, Dad, Saydi, Jonah, Josh
The leaf jumping kept going even when we got older and started leaving home.

This is the photo my mom sent me of leaf-jumping that happened one year after Shawni, Saydi and I had left home (Josh, Dad, Jonah, Charity, Noah, Eli - Josh must have come home from BYU for dad's birthday and Tal was gone somewhere...)

One year, when I was in Bulgaria on a mission, Shawni was in Romania on a mission and Josh was in England on a mission, my dad was excited open the birthday cards we each sent to him. He found that each card contained pressed autumn leaves and a story about where and how we had each jumped in the leaves to honor his birthday tradition. We'd each independently thought of sending leaves in a card to Dad for his birthday. My mom framed some of the leaves we sent from across the world:

And there was the year Shawni and I got home from our missions and were able to join in the leaf jumping with dad again after many years of being away from home (even my dad's mom, Grandma Ruthie, joined in - but Josh was still on his mission). Clockwise from Grandma: me, Eli, Charity, Shawni, dad in the middle, Noah, Tal, Saydi

Back row: Noah, Mom, Charity, me, Tal; Front row: Shawni, Saydi, Dad, Eli, Jonah

And now my kids get to jump in the leaves with me and my dad on his birthday since we live close to them.

So this afternoon, we'll be jumping in the leaves in the park right down the street and adding to this legacy of fall fun.

And the kids will give Grandfather the very special leaf creations and cards that they've lovingly made for him.

Somehow the beauty of fall and the raking of leaves help all 42 member of my parents' family feel a special bond to each other and to my dear dad wherever we are around the word on October 28th each year. I dearly hope the there will be some traditions that really stick for my own kids and that there will be special little quirky traditions that they'll want to share long into the future, traditions that will remind them of their love for each other and of the family culture and sense of belonging that they grew up with.

I'm so grateful for the love of traditions and beauty that my dad instilled in all of us. He filled our lives with fun and love and meaning and striving. He taught us to enjoy deeply and work hard and be loyal and make the world a better place.

Here are a few of the quotes my dad had us memorize as kids that I still think of all the time and that I can type out off the top of my head:

"See how the masses of men worry themselves into nameless graves while here and there, a great unselfish soul forgets himself into immortality."

"True joy comes of the capacity to feel deeply, to think freely, to enjoy simple, to risk life, to be needed."

"Good is the enemy of best."

"You wouldn't worry so much about what other people thought of you if you realized how seldom they did."

"Some people look at things that are and ask 'why?' I dream of things that never were and ask, 'why not?'"

Cast aside the old phrase "If a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing well" and replace it with "If a thing is just barely worth doing, then just barely do it."

"We don't own anything. We are mere stewards. An attitude of stewardship creates gratitude and generosity while an attitude of ownership can make us selfish or prideful."

"Live with an attitude of serendipity. Serendipity means 'when, through sagacity and awareness, we see and act upon something better than that which we were originally seeking.'" (My name comes from the word "serendipity," my parents' favorite word at the time I was born.)

And I'll end with a few shots of my dad that capture a bit of the amazing dad and grandfather he is: 

 Dad dressed up as a clown and did all sorts of fun magic tricks at all our birthday parties. This is Shawni's 7th birthday party - she's in the middle on the back row.

Josh made dad some cucumber glasses and he wore them with pride.

Here we are with Dad one birthday (Saydi, Josh, Jonah on the ground, Dad, Talmadge, me, our dog Canie, Shawni). Can you see the mutual adoration going on?

My kids similarly think their beloved Grandfather is about the coolest and most fun guy in the whole world and I'm so grateful we live near my parents now and relationships have been able to deepen. Here the kids are with Grandfather last weekend. Again, the great relationships are pretty apparent in the photos.

Happy birthday to the best dad ever!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hearty Tortilla Soup

Here's another favorite soup. It's our tradition to have soup every Monday night through fall and winter. Soup is so easy and so pleasing.

You can make this in about 15 minutes. It's really healthy and it's always a big pleaser. This is my go-to recipe when we're out of a lot of things in the house (mostly just requires canned stuff you'd have on hand) or when I need to make a quick meal to bring to someone else (it seems people old and young with all different taste buds like this).

Creamy Tortilla Soup

2 cups of your favorite salsa - mild or medium (Best if you use the chunky kind with chunks of onions, green chilis and tomatoes. Instead of the 2 c. salsa, you can use a diced onion, a small can of mild green chilis, a small can of diced tomatoes and an extra 1 tsp of chili powder)
1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
6 cups of chicken broth (about 4 14.5 oz cans of chicken broth or use boullion to make the broth)
1 large can (31 oz) no-fat refried beans (or about 3 ½ cups) - this makes it nice and thick
1 tbsp chili powder 
1 tsp granulated garlic or 1-2 cloves fresh crushed garlic
4 cups frozen whole kernel corn
3-4 cups cooked shredded or cubed cooked chicken (3-4 chicken breasts. You can put chicken in a crock pot with the salsa, chili, powder and salsa and let it cook all day, then shred the chicken and stir in all the other ingredients close to dinner time - or you can skip the chicken - good with or without!)

Topping ideas: shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped green onions, chopped cilantro, crumbled tortilla chips, lime

Over low heat, mix salsa and canned tomatoes, refried beans and chili powder in large soup pot until bean lumps are mostly integrated, then stir in chicken broth slowly. Fold in corn and chicken. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with toppings of your choice.

Serves 12. Keeps in the fridge for a week or two. Freezes well.

Friday, October 26, 2012

SUPER EASY Black Bean Soup

This is one of the easiest, yummiest things we make. We have it for Halloween dinner every year - and lots of other nights as well.

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

5 16 oz cans of black beans (or 8 cups cooked-from-dry black beans - see how to do this here)
2 cups chicken broth or vegetable 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 2 cans of beans with liquid from can (or 3 cups of cooked beans and 3/4c of the liquid they cooked in) as well as the 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 mixture, 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 tortilla chips.
Makes 8-10 servings

Old and frumpy?

I looked in the mirror this morning at my somewhat saggy morning face and felt sort of sad. My skin seems to be loosing some of that youthful elasticity. The wrinkles really seem to be coming out.

For years there, I thought I was somehow escaping any aging. People often thought I was younger than many of my younger siblings and everyone thought I was younger than my husband (who's actually younger than me) thanks to his rapidly graying hair. I'd look in the mirror and think, hey, I still look pretty young - I'm not changing much, yeah me!

But it seems like in the past few months my wrinkles have dramatically multiplied and my skin looks so much older (stress? too much sun all summer?). Plus I found my first obviously gray hair the other day. And my knees and hips are feeling creaky when I run lately. Then the other day, to try to cover my wrinkly forehead and fix the bad haircut I got last month, I decided to cut myself some bangs but chickened out and ended up cutting some very long bangs which are now always falling in my face and driving me crazy.

I think I'm having a style crisis as well. I haven't really thought about it for a while but as I looked at my wardrobe (well, my very small closet, I should say), trying to find warmer clothes to wear as the weather changes, I realized I didn't have any options that I felt very secure about. I hate shopping so I try to buy things that are classic and well-made and pretty neutral so they'll last. But do these "classic" clothes make me look boring and frumpy and old-looking? And are they even "classic"?

I know that looking in the mirror and not being thrilled about what you see is a pretty darn normal part of most women's lives. I don't know about you, but I don't actually think much about how other people look. If I do think about the women I see at the school, at the grocery store or wherever, I'd put the vast majority of them somewhere in the spectrum between looking just fine and looking just great. So I guess I can hope that others see me on that same spectrum - if they think about how I look at all.

And really, why does it matter? Should it matter how we look to others? Should it matter how we look to ourselves?

Whether or not it SHOULD matter, it does matter - a lot to some, a little to others. I think how I look matters a medium amount to me. A lot of the time, I'm too busy to really think about how I look and that's generally OK with me and seems totally fine with my husband and kids as well.

But on a day like today, when I've finished a bunch of big projects for Power of Moms* (did an interview with the Great Parenting Show yesterday where I launched our new POM Teaching Kids About Work and Money program - , the kids are at school, and I've got time to think about it, I'm headed to the store to see if I can find any winter clothes that might make me feel a bit more excited about my appearance. And I'm going to set up a hair appointment to get those bangs done by someone other than myself (but it's scary! I haven't had bangs since the 80's and didn't like them then!). And maybe I'll see if I can find some sort of miracle wrinkle cream.

If I come home empty-handed or end up with another bad haircut, oh well. I only care a medium amount about how I look so I'll just give it medium effort and be OK with medium results.

* The big project I finished yesterday was our new "Teaching Kids About Work and Money Program" that I launched on the Great Parenting Show yesterday - replay is here until tomorrow night if you happen to be interested). I hope the interview wasn't too disjointed - Isaac tried to call SEVEN times during the call because he wanted me to bring him a homework sheet he left at home and all the beeping from call waiting make it pretty hard to stay focused on what I was trying to say! It's hard to know what to do when you get a call waiting beep again and again while on a live radio show. I saw that it was the school calling and knew whichever kid was calling would call Jared if it were a real emergency but it was pretty hard to keep my train of thought!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fall Break Excursion - serious fun

A couple weeks ago at my Learning Circle, we talked about the importance of having fun with our family (The Power of Fun is the theme for this month at Power of Moms). Our Learning Circle assignment for the month was to do three fun things this month with our kids - one planned fun thing like a special field trip, one simple at-home fun thing (like making a favorite treat or playing a game), and one spontaneous fun thing (where we look for a fun idea that pops up or that our kids suggest and act on it, spur-of-the-moment).

I've been meaning to take the kids to some newer museums in Salt Lake City for quite a while so I decided fall break (last weekend) would be the perfect time to fulfill my "one planned activity" assignment and do a special field trip. And the idea grew into something bigger and better than I imagined initially as things got rolling.

The kids and I got so excited as we looked at all the possibilities of places to visit (we never really spend time in SLC unless it's for family stuff). We decided on the Leonoardo museum and the Living Planet Aquarium. Then I had the idea to surprise the kids and made Jared really happy by booking a cheap hotel room in SLC for Thursday night - so while everyone was sleeping, I searched for and booked the cheapest decent place with an indoor swimming pool and free breakfast. The kids LOVE swimming pools and can eat their weight in free breakfasts and think staying at any sort of hotel is simply amazingly fun. And it was so nice for Jared to not have to make the 1-hour commute to work on Thursday night or Friday morning.

Thursday morning, I packed up PJ's and swimming suits while the kids were at school, hid the bag in the back of the car, picked the kids up from their half day at school and we headed straight to the Living Planet Aquarium. The kids absolutely loved it - the otter show, the penguin feeding, learning about baby sharks, watching the amazing jelly fish and octopus. We were there 4 hours and the kids just drank it all in and loved it so much.

I think God had a lot of fun designing fish. Wow are there a lot of amazing things under the sea!

Lion fish are crazy beautiful.

The otter feeding and otter talk was a big highlight. Those guys are so fun to watch (my kids and the otters). Wish some of those otters would have held still for a photo but no luck.
Jelly fish are so very beautiful. I love watching them - it's so restful and mesmerizing. The kids were great about watching them with me for quite a while. 

The twins are SO into penguins. We watched the penguin feeding and the penguin talk and learned a lot about these very cute little guys. The twins could have watched them all day and kept saying "cuuuute!" and when they saw me typing this they absolutely insisted that in put a link in here to the live feed of the camera in the penguin enclosure so you could all see how cute and awesome the penguins are too. Here's the link: http://www.thelivingplanet.com/index.php/animals-and-activities/videos

LOVED this quote on the wall of the aquarium - went so perfectly with our day.

When the aquarium closed, we picked up Jared at work and headed to the Training Table restaurant for dinner (the kids think ordering on the phones they have there is super cool and they're all for burgers and fries) where they were pleasantly surprised to find that their cousins and aunt and uncle came to join us.

At the end of dinner, we made the kids say their sad farewells to their cousins and told them we really needed to get on the road since we had to drive an hour to get home. But instead of turning north on 1-15, we drove into a hotel parking lot and I said, "this looks like a pretty nice place. Maybe we should just stay here tonight. Maybe they'll even have a swimming pool and free breakfast." The kids were SO excited about the idea and when Jared and I said we'd go ahead and stay, they were over the moon! Then when their cousins joined us at the pool for a night of swimming fun, it was the icing on the cake.
no one wanted to pose for a photo - oh well
We swam until 11pm when the pool shut down and the kids fell asleep super quick in our room then had a glorious time enjoying all the stuff we never have for breakfast at the breakfast buffet the next morning - waffles, sugared cereals, pastries, you name it. I can't believe how much they can eat! They kept saying "this is the BEST!" and "thanks SO much for bringing us here!"

We spent all day Friday at the Leonardo Museum (I really mean ALL DAY - we were there at 10 am when it opened and left at 6:30pm with a couple hours break for lunch and to explore the beautiful gardens between the museum and the really cool library next door). It was the perfect museum for our kids - a step beyond the Treehouse or Discovery Gateway as far as age-range, totally hands on, totally interesting to me as well as to them. They loved this "tinkering garage" place where they could build all sorts of really cool things out of cardboard and rubber bands and electric wires and other random things. They learned all about how water impacts us in so many ways in this beautiful photography exhibit on water. They made little animated movies. They learned about prosthetic limbs. They learned about genes and DNA.

We had fun to get this "reactive art" to react to us - it had all these sensors and lights and moving parts that would change based on light, movement and noise.

Here are some photos from the water exhibit which taught us all a lot about how water is so precious for both religious and practical reasons. We all came away really really grateful for the clean water that miraculously comes out of our taps whenever we want it.
The three gallons of water glowing on the pedestals represent the three gallons of water needed each day for necessary drinking, washing and cooking. But the typical person in our country uses over 200 gallons a day (represented by all the plastic gallon jugs).

Isaac wanted this picture. These kids pick through garbage to find things that might be worth something. They burn the plastic off old wires to get the copper out to sell it. They bathe in and drink from this filthy river full of raw sewage.
Silas wanted this picture. 100's of families live in make-shift homes next to these pipes that carry nice clean water into the city in the distance. These families don't have any access to clean water.

We learned about prosthetic limbs and were amazed at the strides that have been made. But we felt pretty grateful we don't need man-made limbs right now.

The kids LOVED all the materials and ideas offered in the "Tinkering Garage" where they could endlessly make cool things out of cardboard, rubber bands, wires, batteries, bits of cloth, you name it. They had samples of cool inventions made with the supplies available to give the kids ideas and some great staff members there to help make the kids' ideas into reality. We're thinking we'd better turn our basement into a "Tinkering Basement."

Here we are with all our "creations" (and that cool thing behind us tells the weather and the wind pressure and lots of other stuff based on what color and speed the lights on it are going...)

My parents joined us for a while and we had a lot of fun exploring the beautiful museum and library grounds and going up to the beautiful roof gardens on top of the library then the kids showed my parents all the most awesome parts of the museum and all the things they'd made in the tinkering garage.
 Can you tell how much they love their Grammie?

 The kids loved frolicing with the statues in the gardens.

My dad took the kids up and down and up and down in the super cool glass elevator in the library.
Can you tell how much they adore their grandfather? (or Grandfadder as the twins have always called him)

Oh, how I love these kids of mine. And my parents are pretty darn fun too.

One of the best and cheapest family vacations ever!


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