Thursday, November 29, 2012

A very short hike

I planned to go on a big hard hike straight up a mountain this morning with my friend. I looked forward to the good talks we'd have, the fresh air on a beautiful day (somehow it's been in the 50's all week - lovely), the scenery, and two hours of serious exercise. I'd had three long long days of sitting at my computer doing Power of Moms work for 6 hours straight while the kids were at school (trying to finish some big projects before the kids are out for Christmas on the 14th) and really needed some social time and some time outside. This was going to be perfect!

I was only 5 minutes late to meet my friend (I always think things will take a little less time than they do - I know this about myself - but yet I keep thinking things will take a little less they do - does that make me an optimist or just a poor planner?). We started out up the trail and started catching up on each other's lives. The sun was out. It was perfect just like I'd hoped.

Then my phone rang. It was Ashton. He wanted to know if I'd come pick him up from school. When I asked why, he said he'd just thrown up. Great news.

I told him I'd be there in a half hour and we headed back to our cars, me apologizing to my friend, her being very understanding.

At the school, Ashton told me that he threw up right after they had to put some hydrogen peroxide on a liver from an animal in science class. Hmmm. But he still felt sick a half hour after throwing up so his teacher had him call me.

Oh, the joys of some motherhood moments! In the grand scheme of things, missing out on a hike was no big deal at all. But sometimes I just want to do what I want to do and have it just work out perfectly . . .

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Favorite toys, games and books?

Last November, I put together all my favorite toys, games and books into an Amazon Store at The Power of Moms. Since then, moms from all over the world have sent in other great ideas that I've added to the store. So if you're looking for tried-and-true gift ideas, here's a link that might really help:

Power of Moms Amazon Store

Sneak peek:
Our favorite family games this year (all can be found quickly and easily at the link above):

  • Blink (you can play a round in about 2 minutes and it's great for all ages)
  • Ticket to Ride (really gets you thinking and strategizing - kids love it - you get to build trains! ages 7 and up)
  • New World Carrcassone (quick turns and all my kids really enjoy it - engages my brain too...)
  • Reverse Charades (FAVORITE game at family reunions and when we get together with friends)
  • Pass the Pigs (this fun, silly game is great for just our family or a larger group - no skill required, all luck)

Our favorite read-aloud chapter books this year:

  • The Magician's Elephant (beautiful book - just finished reading it to the kids - great chances to talk about the importance of love and family and many other great themes)
  • Miss Spitfire (all about Helen Keller from the point of view of her amazing teacher, Annie Sullivan)
  • The Midwife's Apprentice (really made us grateful for all we've got in this day and age!)
  • Hunger Games (Jared read the first book aloud to the older kids so they could really talk about it while reading it - then we saw the movie together)

Our favorite toys this year:

  • K'nex and Legos (about 100,000 creations were made by Oliver and Silas this year using these toys we've had for years and years now)
  • Madame Alexander Dolls (Eliza never tires of her dolls and their different outfits - these dolls are very cute and much much cheaper than American Girl dolls)
  • Rip stick (Isaac has put many many miles on his rip stick, riding it to and from school many days
  • Roller blades (Ashton rode his roller blades to and from school every day until very recently - he's GOOD on those things! Oliver and Silas are working hard to master their too-big hand-me-down roller blades)
  • Scooters and bikes (the kids are out there on their scooters and bikes riding up and down the driveway and up and down the street every chance they get. plus we've done a lot of family bike rides this year)
  • Origami and Paper Airplanes (the kids have done tons of origami and built some amazing paper airplanes this year - can't get enough of it. Great Origami and paper airplane books/sets are in the Amazon Store)

What are your family's favorite books, toys and games? I bet you've got some great ideas of things we should add to the store. If so, please make a comment on this post below or enter your suggestions HERE.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Couples "Date Night" Retreat

Jared and I spent Friday night (November 19th) with about 20 other couples, talking about building strong parenting partnerships and creating or enhancing three strong family systems in our homes:
  • a family legal system (system of rules and consequences and a positive environment where kids will want to behave well)
  • a family economic system (how we teach our kids about work and money in our homes through chores, allowances, work-for-pay or whatever feels best for our family)
  • a family culture (building a positive and fun family identity through discussions of what we're all about as a family, family traditions, family fun...)
We present this stuff at Power of Moms Retreats and have great discussions with all the wonderful moms who attend. But we much prefer to present this "Family Systems" curriculum when BOTH parents can be present. So we've started doing these little "date night" retreats and it's been wonderful to see that the dads get into this just as much (if not more) than the moms. It's wonderful to see all these great couples sharing and learning and asking each other questions and coming away with fresh ideas to help them build the unique family systems that their family needs.

I loved being able to have Jared with me for this Couples Retreat. He has so many great thoughts and ideas and really helped lead the discussions. I loved having him right there with me as we both shared what we've learned and learned from the many ideas shared by others that we needed to hear - together.

I loved presenting with Tiffany (Sowby) who has so many great ideas of her own to share and who's been presenting her own Couples Retreats quite a bit in the past year. She and her husband Mike really get this stuff and bring so many fun and fresh ideas to the table. It's great to see how the universal principles included in our Family Systems curriculum can play out with so many different methods. Also, Tiffany took care of registration and all the logistics - it was heavenly to just show up and present and not have to do everything else as well!
I loved that this Retreat brought me together with one of my oldest, dearest friends who I'd lost track of for way too long. I grew up with Chaunntel Sparks (now Petit) at Bear Lake. With my sisters and her sisters, we traded off sleeping over at each other's houses and had so many adventures together, riding the Sparks' horses, sleeping out on their trampoline, playing "shipwrecked" on an old surf board on the lake, putting on a summer production of "Annie" together, and much more. When we put an announcement on Facebook asking for someone to volunteer their home for a couples' Retreat, Chaunntel volunteered her beautiful home in Bountiful. I had no idea she lived so close to me and was so grateful for the lovely place to hold the Retreat (her home was just perfect). But I was even more grateful for the chance to be re-connected with such a great friend.
Here I am with Tiffany (left) and Chaunntel (middle)

No matter how many times I help present this Family Systems stuff, I always come away with something important that I really needed to hear. This time, these were my big take-aways:
  • It's OK - and to be expected - to change your systems and switch things up every so often. No one comes up with one great system that will work forever. As kids get older, as needs change, as we learn and change as parents, systems need to be adjusted, tweaked or completely overhauled. Jared and I just changed our Family Economy and added in some new elements that are really helping. Change is good. Consistency if something isn't working well is not good.
  • I've got to re-remember the vital importance of praise. Raise the Praise. Minimize the Criticize. I'm going to refresh my efforts to say something I really appreciate about each of my children as I tuck then in bed at night and I'm going to focus on pointing out all the good things they do every single day and reserve criticism for much more rare occasions (and embed necessary criticism in praise). 
  • Fun is important. It's not just nice. It's vital. If things get done more slowly (or not at all) to make room for fun, that's OK. I'm too serious too much. My kids need a fun mom and my husband needs a fun wife and I've got to let go of my striving for perfection and excellence in some areas in order to make way for excellent fun and all the good it brings.
  • The 76 kids represented by the 40 there last Friday night are such lucky kids. Wow, there were some stellar parents there! I wish we'd had hours more to keep talking and learning from the collective wisdom and ideas in that room! Sometimes the world seems like a pretty scary place - but as I sensed the POWER of POSITIVE PARENTING there in that room on Friday, I saw the beautiful potential of ripple effects that can offer a lot of light and hope for the future. Good parents striving to be even better parents can make all the difference when we look down the road at what the future may bring.
*** Thanks to Holly from the lovely blog, Bits of Everything, for the great photography - and all the great ideas and comments that she and her husband contributed! You can see Holly's post about the Retreat HERE.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Managing Holiday Giving

I posted this last year - but after receiving some questions on this subject, I thought a re-post might be in order!

Here's one of the questions I've received: "How do you handle the commercialism and over-giving that Christmas seems to be about in our society? I love giving fun things to my children but feel like my kids always want and get more than is really good for them. I don't know where to draw the line."

Jared and I love seeing the looks of delight on our kids' faces as they open exciting gifts. But we've realized over the years that we really don't need to buy much for our kids in order for them to have what feels like a very abundant Christmas. They get a present from Grandma, one from Grammie and Grandfather, one from one of their Loosli cousins (the cousins all draw names), and a small gift from each other (often a dollar store gift but this year, the older kids have more money and have decided to give nicer gifts - read more about kids giving to each other HERE). Plus of course, they get a gift from Santa (we explain that Santa has a LOT of kids to give gifts to and many of those kids don't have other people giving them gifts so it's nice to request a pretty modest gift worth about $50 from Santa to enable him to have enough time and materials to make higher quality and quantity toys for kids who need them more - and they've been great about embracing this philosophy).  So that's 8 presents they get each year without us giving them anything at all.

I used to do the tradition a lot of families do and get the kids "something to wear, something they need, something they want, something to read." Plus I'd end up buying several games or group gifts for all the kids. That was adding up to way too many presents. As we like to open the presents one at a time on Christmas and play with each thing for a while before opening the next round of presents, we found that each year, we were running out of time to open everything on Christmas. It was just too much and we felt rushed to get to everything. Plus I found that the effort involved in wrapping up clothes and other basic needs was just silly. My boys didn't view clothes or underwear or socks as a special gift no matter how beautifully they were wrapped and Eliza didn't care much either. So I gave up on wrapping up things that they needed and that I was going to buy them anyway as we had too much to unwrap as it was.

So now this is all we buy our kids for Christmas:
  • new winter Sunday clothes - we give them the clothes (unwrapped) to wear on the first Sunday of December (plus we do Christmas photos that day usually - not my kids' favorite thing but it the photos are worth it...).
  • new pj's that I do wrap and that they're excited to open as the one gift they can open on Christmas Eve night. 
  • a fun new family game or activity
  • we help Santa with the special toy each child requests from him and stocking simple stocking stuffers.  
For the past few years, both our budget and our time and what feels right has limited us to these things and it's worked out great. We've opened presents round after round all day on Christmas and everyone has been delighted. I don't miss the feeling of over-indulgence I used to get when the kids had stacks of stuff to open and they just wanted to play with what they'd received but everyone was urging them on to the next present. 

With less presents, we can really savor and enjoy each gift and focus on the joy of giving and receiving. And I've found that my kids - especially my younger ones - actually enjoy presents more when there are less gifts and more pomp and ceremony around opening them plus more time to actually open and play with the gifts.

Last year, we added one more special family gift that we gave our kids - a Family Activity Jar.  I got the idea from my friend Becky. On Christmas afternoon, we brainstormed all the activities that would be fun to do together as a family during the upcoming year - sledding, bowling, ice skating, swimming, arcade games, game night, camping, hiking, bike rides, all sorts of possibilities. Then each child wrote down one activity they'd most love to do as a family on a slip of paper. We each read what was on our slips of paper and came up with a new choice in the case of a repeat. We all folded up our slips of paper and put them in a jar then decided on a few extra activities we were all excited about that hadn't made the jar. In all, we put 10 activities in the jar. We explained that our big gift to our kids for this year is that we'll draw out one activity from the jar at the beginning of each month and put that activity on the calendar for that month (of course, if we draw "camping" in January, we'll put it back for another month and draw something else).  We only did activities for 10 months in the jar because we've already got several major family activities we do in December and we're always at Bear Lake for July. 

The kids were SO excited about this gift that will keep on giving all year long and give them the chance to do a lot of activities they love but that we often don't make time for. It's nice that the expenses involved in these activities will be spread out over the course of the year and we can find coupons and save up to make everything quite affordable - plus they picked stuff that was pretty cheap or free - hiking, picnic in a park, bike ride...

So the Family Activity Jar was a hit and I think it'll be something we do every year.

*** For more thoughts on managing holiday giving, check out my sister Shawni's blog post on the subject HERE.

*** To learn about our favorite holiday tradition that gets kids focused on giving to those who need rather than focusing on their personal desires, read about our Children for Children Christmas Concert HERE.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Scripture Challenge Week 18: Ammon and Great Women

This week I read the great story of Ammon (Alma 17-21). I've read it about 100 times but I'm always impressed by the humility and diligence of Ammon which wins him the king's trust and ultimately leads to an entire kingdom being converted to the gospel.

A couple things stood out to me this time:

1. Through love, humility and hard work, Ammon was able to bring truth and light to 1000's of people. When he was roughly brought before the king as an "illegal alien" in the land, he wasn't annoyed at his rough treatment nor did he launch into preaching. Instead, he said he was there because he'd simply like to live in that land - "perhaps until the day I die" (Alma 17:23). Impressed by Ammon, the king offered him his daughter's hand in marriage - surely a great honor. But Ammon very politely declined the honor (I assume he might have been concerned about marrying someone he didn't know and who didn't share his faith) and said he'd simply like to serve the king (Alma 17:25). He didn't need glory or honor. He clearly wasn't just there to get some "baptism notches" on his belt. He was in this for the long haul and truly wanted to come to understand these people, to provide whatever help they wanted, and just live what he believed. Perhaps his example would be helpful to others and that was enough. Sure, when he saved the king's flocks through miraculously cutting off the arms of all the assailants who raised a hand against him and the other servants who were trying to save the sheep, that was pretty flashy. But he didn't do it to be flashy. He did it because it was what needed to be done in order to fulfill his obligation to the king. And when he got back to the king's palace after performing such a feat, he went on to the next task the king had assigned to him, preparing his horses for an upcoming trip the king was going on.

Ammon wasn't easily offended and he didn't let proposed honors or success go to his head. He just stuck with humility, duty, loyalty, kindness and love. And it worked wonders.

2. I love how we get to know some valiant ladies as the story goes on (Chapter 19). The faith of the king's wife is beautiful. And I love how the queen's servant, Abish, takes action to save the day. We hear so little about specific women - or women at all - in the scriptures. But here, in one story, two specific women are celebrated for their faith, their initiative to speak up and go against the grain, and their instrumental involvement in events that altered the course of the history of their people. Strong stuff indeed.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Baked Cranberry Brie (Favorite Holiday Appetizer)

This has become a "must" at our Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations.

3 cups fresh cranberries (about 1 12-oz bag)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1/8 tsp dry mustard
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cardamon (can be hard to find - works fine w/o this - but really good with!)
1 8-inch wheel of Brie
baguette slices, toasted pita slices, crackers and/or apple wedges for dipping

Put everything except the Brie and bread and apples into small pot. Stir together over medium heat until the cranberries and popped and liquid thickens a bit. Set aside (or refrigerate until you're about ready to serve the appetizer).

When almost time to serve the appetizer, skim off the top white rind on the Brie (leaving about a 1/4 inch border around the edges on the top - this way the remaining rind can keep the Brie from oozing all over the place when you bake it but the cranberry topping can bake into the Brie somewhat). Put Brie on foil-covered baking sheet and put cranberry topping on the Brie.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 12-15 minutes until cheese is soft and warm. Serve with baguette slices or toasted pita slices, and apple wedges.

Makes enough for 15 hungry people or for 20-30 if you're serving this along with other appetizers.

(This is an adjusted version of a recipe I found years ago in "Always in Season: A Collection of Recipes from the Junior League of Salt Lake City)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving - with a surprise ending

We started the day with the "2nd Annual Jefferson Turkey Trot" with about 5 other families in our neighborhood. Isaac came in first place - he's a fast one - then I won for the adults (because I was the only adult not carrying or urging a small child along - or pushing a stroller - but hey, I'll take a win where I can get it).

Here are the Turkey Trot participants (minus a kid or two - somehow standing still for photos isn't a favorite thing for lots of kids...)

Then we headed to Park City for our Thanksgiving feast with my mom, her sister, and a bunch of my cousins and their kids along with the cute couple and their two little girls who live near my parents and help them with keeping their place up. The table was gorgeous. The dinner was super tasty. My mom sure knows how to do up Thanksgiving right. It was fun to do the final cooking and prepping with my mom and my Aunt Lena and to have great time with my cousins while our kids played so happily together. As well as stuffing ourselves with wonderful food, we sang around the piano and talked and shared the things we're most grateful for in our lives right now.

Eliza got up early on Thanksgiving and started her list of things she's thankful for, determined to be this year's thankful champion. She had 300 things on her list before we even woke up. Then in the car on the way to Park City, she got another 200 things on her list while the rest of the family worked on their lists. We ended up with a combined total of over 1100 things listed by the time we got to Park City. And while Liza won the title of thankful champion, making lists make us all pretty darn happy and the kids were really excited to show their lists to Grandfather and Grammie when we arrived at their house (since they're the inventors of this thankful thing list idea from way back when I was little).

Eliza was pretty proud of her list - and I loved the glimpse into her brain that it offered me...

Jared was in charge of the potatoes. Wow, he makes some amazingly tasty potatoes. My dad was his trusty assistant. (And Jared's doing No Shave November. Quite a beard, huh?)

Pretty table, huh? My mom always makes things look so nice.
My kids in their matching Thanksgiving clothes (some were more thrilled about the idea than others - but I thought the twins' sweaters were pretty darn cute and couldn't pass them up when they were 50% off and figured we might as well all dress in brown and orange...)

The kids' table:

Ashton got to join the adult table this year (and ate more than any of the adults)

The adult table:

Yummy pie

Singing around the piano (fun to see our kids sing together at a family gathering since my Grandma used to always have us - their moms - come sing together at family gatherings at her house). My mom and Aunt Lena also played a bunch of beautiful Christmas carols for us - mom on violin, Lena on piano - took me back to my childhood - and tales of their childhood.

We finished off the day at Jared's brother's house with his great family and Jared's mom where we somehow crammed a little more pie into our bellies while laughing and talking about the latest in everyone's lives (should have remembered to take a photo - oops!). I am so blessed to be related to so many wonderful people!

So the day was all well and good until Ashton was suddenly violently throwing up all over the car on the way home - it came on so suddenly we didn't even have a chance to pull over. Wow was that a nasty clean up in the freezing cold on the shoulder of the freeway with Ashton continuing to throw up over the guardrail of the overpass we were on. When we did our "top 10" lists of what we're thankful for at Thanksgiving dinner, one of my cousins who has little babies had "wet wipes" on her top 10 lists. Jared and I decided wet wipes were definitely on our top 10 list as well as we used an entire container trying to get Ashton and the car in decent enough shape to drive the rest of the way home!

Today was all about sick kids (Ashton was still sick and the twins have low-grade fevers and say their eyes are hurting and keep coughing - sort of a weird sickness) and Jared finally finishing the backyard fence with Isaac's help (it's done - yeah!). Jared and I also did a bit of shopping together (Jared has somehow worn holes in the bottoms of ALL his shoes..and we got a few fun Christmas gifts to get ahead of things - found some excellent deals on a few little things for the kids while marveling at the craziness of Black Friday...).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thank you notes and final Thanksgiving Tree

Yesterday we worked on thank you notes as a little Thanksgiving activity and they turned out great. Every kid picked two or three people to write to (Ashton said he'd rather email people and that was fine). I let them totally pick whatever they wanted to write to whomever they wanted to write to. They wrote to basketball coaches, church teachers, school teachers, relatives, you name it. Here are a few:

I've got to figure out how to deliver this one to the gabige man (garbage man) who does seveses (services) around the naberhod (neighborhood).

An email from Ashton to one of his teachers:
Since it's Thanksgiving, I wanted to tell you how grateful I am that you are such a great teacher. You make math fun while also helping us learn a lot. I know all the other kids in our class think you're great too. Thanks a lot.

Today we put a few final leaves on our Thanksgiving Tree.

Here's the list of most everything that ended up on this year's tree:
School, airplanes, camping, my mom, trees, Pippi Longstocking (a book we read a while ago), that I don't get sick a lot (from Eliza when she was sick last week), houses, learning, love, electric guitars, PJ's, The Magician's Elephant (we just finishd reading it - such a great read-aloud), family, Heavenly Father, dishwashers, that we can play on a basketball team, Dad's job, my amazing children, dance class, dishwasher fixers, trampolines, help, paper, homes, people who love their country, pencils, good movies, snow, teachers, good books, fall leaves, church, Power of Moms, Jesus Christ, plants, my dad, the Holy Ghost, heat, air conditioning, blankets, fruits and vegetables, pizza...

Now I get to make some yummy cranberry brie appetizer for our feast at my mom's house tomorrow (I'll share the recipe soon!). We'll head to Park City to help with all the cooking right after we finish with the neighborhood "Turkey Trot" tomorrow morning.

Oh, how I love Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Overlooked Blessings

"I have found that, rather than dwelling on the negative, if we will take a step back and consider the blessings in our lives, including seemingly small, sometimes overlooked blessings, we can find greater happiness."
- Thomas S. Monson

Here are some of my often overlooked blessings that I am so grateful for:
  • Grocery stores: I went shopping yesterday and in one store, I was able to buy all the food, toiletries, and household goods we needed. So much of the world has no access to convenient shopping - and/or no means to buy basic necessities let alone the "extras" I'm lucky enough to be able to toss into my cart at the grocery store. When I lived in Bulgaria, the little communist-era grocery stores sold  gritty grayish sugar, white flour, pasta, some dried beans, and a few other dry goods plus sometimes bread, yogurt and cheese (two kinds- there are only two kinds of cheese in Bulgaria). Half the shelves always seemed to be empty in those stores. Then there were "mini markets" that had candy, yogurt, cheese and some imported packaged foods and bread. Then there were open-air markets (even in the cold and snow) where you went to buy your fruits and vegetables (sometimes great, sometimes very sparse - only what was in season). One woman visited the United States and was excited to show all the people in our little branch (congregation) all her photos. At least 80% of the photos she was excited to share were photos of the inside of a grocery store. People oohed and ahhed over all the amazing number of choices, all in one place.
  • A good car: When I need to go somewhere, my car starts. Every time. It's 7 years old and it's nothing remotely fancy. One of the windows won't roll down. The carpet is stained, the plastic parts are scuffed pretty bad, and I'm always loosing the battle of keeping in somewhat clean inside and out. But it's comfortable and it gets us everywhere we need to be. We don't have to ride buses or walk or bike long distances to get where we need to go like people in most of the world have to do. 
  • The chance to be a wife and mother. It's hard stuff - this mother and wife stuff - but it's what I always hoped and dreamed of and I wondered for a lot of years whether it was going to happen for me as I saw so many friends and my sister get married and start their families while I was still looking for Mr. Right. Many of my friends are still looking and some have given up. Some friends have been through heartbreaking divorces. Some have struggled mightily with infertility. I am so blessed that these yearned-for blessings of a husband and children did work out for me.
  • Beauty: I talk about beauty a lot on this blog and in my life - I probably don't overlook it as much as some do. But I am just so grateful for the beauty of the earth and for the love of our Creator that it demonstrates. God probably could have made a much more utilitarian version of the world. But He went all out. He made so many interesting and exciting and lovely things to warm our hearts and make us smile and make us think. 
  • A comfortable home: While much of the world lives in self-made huts that are usually too hot or too cold and have little or no conveniences, I live in a nice house with heat and air conditioning and furniture and plumbing and blankets and computers and a TV
  • Peace: While so many people in the world live in fear of the next government take-over, in fear of the wandering soldiers who do whatever they like, in fear that they might have to flee their homes, in fear that their young sons may be forced into an army, in fear of the hate that some people have for them because of their religion or ethnicity and the violence they've seen as a result, I live in a peaceful country where elections can mean disappointments but don't mean overthrow or violence or drastic swings in policies.
  • Choices and freedom: I have so many choices every day. I can choose what to wear. I can choose what time to get up in the morning (within a window of what works) and what time to go to bed at night. I can choose when to do what needs to be done that day and can choose a lot of what goes on my "to-do" list. I can choose where my children go to school. I can choose what we eat for dinner. I can choose from many great choices of activities for my children. I can choose great friends. I can choose to go running or hiking because my body is healthy and strong. I can choose to be involved in my kids' school. I can choose to run The Power of Moms. I can choose to share my thoughts on this blog. I have so much freedom.

This afternoon, when the kids get home, we'll all be writing thank you notes to people we're grateful for who might not know how much we appreciate them. We'll use up the rest of the 500-pack of thank you notes from my wedding and do some thank-you emails as well. Writing the list above and sending out several emails today to people who enrich my life has made me feel so much joy today. I want my kids to feel this joy too.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Scripture Challenge Week 17: Strengthening the Strengtheners

This scripture really stood out to me this week:

Alma Chapter 15, verse 18
Now as I said, Alma having seen all these things, therefore he took Amulek and came over to the land of Zarahemla, and took him to his own house, and did administer unto him in his tribulations, and strengthened him in the Lord.
Back when Alma began his missionary work in Ammonihah, he was spit upon and cast out despite his most earnest attempts. But an angel told to go back and try again and Alma "speedily" did as he was told (I think I might have dragged my feet a bit...). Upon returning to Ammonihah, Alma was starving, having "fasted many days" and asked a man for some food. This man, Amulek, had been told by an angel that Alma would come and took him into his home where Alma was fed and where he "tarried many days," likely gearing up for his missionary work and discussing the gospel with Amulek as they prepared to teach people who'd been very unreceptive to Alma's prior attempts (Alma 8:19-27). I like to imagine the great friendship that grew between these two men as they prepared for and served this mission together. They experienced wonderful stuff together as they preached and performed miracles. They experienced  prison walls falling down to set them free. They saw many people - even the wicked Zeezrom - accept the gospel and change their lives. They learned to submit their wills to that of the Lord and see the beautiful things that brings.  They also went through really hard stuff together - huge heartaches when their message was rejected and when they saw some of their followers killed for their beliefs, frustration when Zeezrom tried to turn everyone against them, physical discomfort and pain and humiliation when they were imprisoned, whipped, stripped of their clothes, and spat upon.

On top of everything else he'd gone through with Alma, it turned out that Amulek had to give up all his riches and was rejected by his family (Alma 15:16). In verse 18 (above), it looks like Alma saw and understood how hard these sacrifices were for Amulek and now it was time for Alma to take Amulek into HIS home for a time and strengthen him.

For all of us, there are times when we need strengthening and other times when we need to strengthen others. Often it's the very people who've strengthened us that we'll need to strengthen at some point. No one can be strong all the time and always be the "strengthener." Even valiant wonderful people like Alma and Amulek need time to step back and be strengthened sometimes. Needing to be strengthened does not mean we're weak. It means we're strong - so strong that we've been trusted with big responsibilities and trials that will likely cause us to need to lean on the Lord and on others around us quite a bit - and that need to lean will help us be humble and will give others the chance to serve. Everyone needs to lean sometimes. Everyone needs to serve sometimes. That's how it's designed.

This week, as we prepare for Thanksgiving, I'm so grateful for the chances I've had in my life to serve others, to offer advice, to help people through hard times. And I'm so grateful for those who've been there for me when everything just feels so overwhelming and I've needed a listening ear, a helping hand, or an encouraging word.

*** And one last thing, I love love love this short article that posted on Power of Moms today. I so needed this reminder that while it always seems like there isn't enough time or money or bandwidth in my brain or heart to do all the things I yearn to do and feel called to do, there actually is enough. There is ALWAYS enough to do the things that are most needful when the Lord is involved.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sisters' Retreat - Napa Valley

How in the world did I get lucky enough to be born into the same family with these women, my very best friends?

We had an amazing get-away weekend in the Bay Area. Thanks to our amazing mom for making it all possible and to Charity for planning a perfect itinerary of culinary perfection, gorgeous scenery and lots of excellent talk time in the area she has made her own.Here's a little list we kept of all the fun things we did together so we wouldn't forget anything. I"ll let the photos and half-sentences tell the story. What a deal (my mom's favorite phrase).

* Meeting up with mom in SLC, flying with her to Phoenix to pick up Shawni, flying together to San Jose; Flood of memories landing in San Jose - all my kids were born there - such huge parts of my life happened there in so many ways...

* Good talks headed to San Fran from San Jose in traffic to meet up with Saydi (who got in a bit earlier) and Charity (who was preparing for a big party) while eating too many pistachios

* Burma Superstar restaurant with Shawni, Saydi and mom while Char did her party - great, unique flavors and we didn't talk about anything at all (not) as requested by Charity who hated the thought of missing anything but had this party planned from long ago (wow, was it ever a crazy long thread of emails finding a weekend that at least sort of worked for all five of us!)

* Police at Charity's beach party when we went to pick her up - illegal location for their bonfire apparently - living on the edge, that girl; very briefly meeting some of Charity's friends while the police stood over us, closing down the parking lot where we were.

* Laughing til we bawled about stuff like "sneaking down the hall" since mom was worried we were illegally putting 5 people in a 4-person hotel room and the random sign in the hall that said circus animals and marching bands weren't allowed in the hotel "quiet zone"

* Beautiful run by the bay on Saturday morning with Saydi and Charity

* Axis cafe for breakfast...delish eggs Benedict; Cool graffiti wall nearby (photo at beginning of post)

* Over breakfast, discussion of article about "teach these souls to fly" from mom...all in tears; talking about how motherhood so beautifully helps us raise ourselves as we raise our children...

* Golden Gate Bridge photo stop - gorgeousness. I can never get enough of that bridge.

* Drive to Napa through hills of vineyards glinting in the slanted sun; Listening to Carla Bruni singing in French

* Bottega in Yountville (Napa area) for delicious fancy lunch - butternut rissoto and beet and fig ravioli among other wonderful stuff

* Bike ride (16 miles) with 7 trillion stops for photos in breathtaking fields

* Stopping at picturesque Oakville grocery for baked goods

* Exploring little lanes full of beautiful foliage; Returned the bikes just after sunset

Gorgeous old Inglenook Winery

* Macaroons from Bouchant bakery in little courtyard strung with lights talking about our biggest worries

* Talking about our biggest happies back at the hotel

* Morning church at a local ward - lovely testimonies shared - we can all be the answers that each other needs as we follow the Spirit.

* Talking about the book, "The Book of Mormon Girl" on a terrace at a hotel with gorgeous views; discussing what we love about our church and how grateful we are for the way our parents explained things to us

* Talk of how we use the Atonement in our lives while basking in the sun down on lower patio of the hotel

* One more stop at Oakville grocery for ice cream and fleur de sel chocolate chip and tasty ginger cookies

* Driving to the Hess Gallery at the Hess Winery through super windy and beautiful roads

* Enjoying very cool art together (molten rocks and stained melted snow, this amazing free-standing wall of carefully placed twigs)

* Wandering through the near-by monastery

* Finding this view at the other side of the monastery and taking tons of photos of the foliage and grapes; collecting leaves


* Collecting gorgeous leaves

* Singing "For the Beauty of the Earth" while watching the sunset from a perfect perch by an old monastery

For the beauty of the earth
For the beauty of the skies
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise

(I always sing this with my kids when we're enjoying the beauty of nature and turns out Saydi does the same...)

* Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen for dinner (delicious curry chicken salad and loco chicken, seared tuna and skirt steak)

* Making a podcast back at the hotel, brainstorming ideas for extra gratitude and joy this Thanksgiving season. It's HERE if you want to listen to it.

* Up early to grab breakfast and sit in traffic (having great conversations) trying to get to the airport

* Seeing Charity's office and meeting her co-workers before saying goodbye to her and getting the the airport just on time

* Making resolutions together about really living our priorities, doing first things first, limiting computer time, and thereby finding more joy and less stress in our lives. We'll all be following up on each other!

Oh how I love these ladies!!!


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