Sunday, June 28, 2015

Thoughts on Blogging - and some updates on what's happening in my brain

Did you know I started this blog 8 years ago? And I was pretty darn good at blogging up our family adventures, our every day life, and some of my thoughts and ideas with at least three blog posts a week for many of those years. I was looking back at some blog posts the other day (while finding photos for the tribute I did to my dad in the last post) and found some great posts with photos and stories and ideas from long ago and I felt so glad I'd taken the time to do those posts.

After taking a walk down memory lane through this blog, I started to feel pretty conflicted about the current state of this blog.

I didn't really consciously decide to stop blogging so much. I just started using Instagram a lot and then blog posts about our regular daily life and special events seemed sort of redundant if I was capturing things on Instagram. Then I started feeling extra overwhelmed with life in general and felt like something had to give - and perhaps that something was being so conscientious about journaling via this blog. So I decided to just write a blog post whenever I felt like I had something to remember and/or that needed to be written out and didn't really work on Instagram. And the more I didn't blog, the more I got out of the habit. Which I generally think is fine. But seeing those old posts that I value so much got me thinking about what I should be doing with this blog moving forward. I don't really have any conclusions. But I do think I'll start trying to blog about my thoughts and ideas and keep track of more of an overview of what we're doing as a family more often.

So anyway, here are a couple things that have been on my mind lately:

Importance of kids interacting with nature

After a crazy hiking adventure a couple Saturdays ago (we tried to climb Mount Ogden - a goal we've had for a while - and we lost the trail. What was meant to be a 4-hour hike turned into a 9-hour hike with some pretty hairy moments and some pretty exciting adventures - serious family memories built in the end!), I stumbled across a podcast on Radio West (I always listen to podcasts while running) that solidified a lot of things I've always thought about parenting and made realize how important our crazy hiking adventure was for our kids.

Here's the podcast I listened to:
How to Raise a Wild Child (featuring the author of a book of the same name)

And here's the podcast I made for Power of Moms that details our crazy hiking adventure plus interesting research and statistics about how important it is for kids to interact with nature:

Putting more Nature in your Nuturing

I'm so glad we live in a neighborhood where all the parents are quite united in supporting lots of outside adventuring for our collective kids. And I invited the whole neighborhood down to the nearby river for an afternoon of serious fun interacting with nature last week - loved seeing the kids explore cause and effect and test limits just have a great time together as they built boats of leaves and sticks to float in the current, swam against the flow, found bugs, and splashed each other with the cold cold water on a hot hot day. We're going to go down to the river a lot more (it's only 5 minutes away!).

How to "be" more by "doing" less

I'm realizing more fully that I can't be all things to all people. I can't act on every good idea (and can't seem to control the fact that I have so darn many ideas come into my head, most of which seem viable, helpful and important!). I need to spend a lot more time thinking and being - right now I spend almost all my time doing. As someone once wisely said, we are human beings, not human doings.

For years now, I've been trying to figure out where to draw boundaries. There is always PLENTY to do for Power of Moms. I used to think that at some point, Power of Moms would sort of start running itself more and I could stand back a bit more and enjoy watching it continue to move forward. But I'm realizing lately that Power of Moms is like a needy baby that never grows up - brings lots of joy and goodness and is totally worthwhile on so many levels but involves constant attention and has so many unpredictable and urgent needs. It's been 8 years now since my Power of Moms journey began and I'm just pretty darn tired and my kids need me more than ever as they go through puberty (I thought the hardest time would be when I had 5 preschoolers but nope, having 5 teens and pre-teens is harder in many ways - so much mental and emotional energy required!).

Our numbers of newslettter subscribers (50,000), podcast listens (6000+/week), and pageviews (120,000+/month) are solid and growing. Our Board of volunteer moms do such a great job running social media, editing content, and more. We get beautiful letters saying that Power of Moms has changed people's lives and we've seen so many moms sign on to our programs in the past year. But managing the overall functioning of the website and all our great Board members, figuring out what opportunities to take and which to leave, planning and executing marketing, writing the weekly newsletters, overseeing customer service, making new podcasts, and much more falls squarely on the shoulders of me and April. And sometimes it's just so heavy and overwhelming, especially when all our best efforts don't seem to be leading us to a place where we can get ourselves out of the hot seat of having to do so much ourselves.

I love Power of Moms and I know it's an important part of what I should be doing. But I have to figure out how to do what I uniquely need to do for Power of Moms and pass off or eliminate the things that I shouldn't be doing - and that maybe no one should be doing. Easier said than done!

I've always felt strongly that as long as I was doing my best, everything would be OK. The big problem with that, though, is that I don't know what constitutes doing my best. For much of my life, I've thought that doing my best means working efficiently every possible minute on something totally productive and tangible. I've protected my sleep and my exercising pretty well (because I've learned the hard way that I'm a disaster if I neglect those things). But I haven't protected hardly any time to read and learn, to relax, to laugh. I know I need to come to a new and more healthy understanding of what it means to do my best. And I'm getting there - but I'd love any insights you care to share in the comments! What does doing your very best mean to you?

I'm prioritizing more time to think and learn and search and pray and just be there for the people who matter most to me - rather than just doing, doing, doing when it comes to Power of Moms. That means I push back some deadlines and adjust some committments (I used to be such a stickler with myself on doing exactly what I said I'd do in a super-thorough way by exactly when I said I'd do it - even if it meant putting in way too many hours and squeezing out sleep and family time for a period - and personal time, what's that?). More time to think, learn, search and just be also means I don't get around to answering every email - which used to make me feel so very guilty but now just makes me feel mildly guilty as I admit that all I can't do it all and should stop trying so hard to do everything.

Still, I have a lot more questions than solutions right now. I'll let you know any ah-ha moments I have moving forward!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

OK, so it's a little late. But I just have to take a few minutes to share some favorite thoughts and memories and photos of this amazing man who I get to call Dad.

My dad is truly unique. In fact, as my sister Charity pointed out when we got together on Father's Day, Dad is so unique that there needs to be some sort of new uber-unique word made up just for him. He thinks outside the box, he does what he feels is right, he dresses in his own special style, and he couldn't care less what anyone else thinks. He's also about the most deliberate person ever. He makes plans and goals and makes things happen like no other. He oozes purpose and drive. He has about 100 exciting new ideas every day. He offers amazing advice (and has gradually learned to offer it mostly just when asked!). He loves and cares more deeply and passionately about more people and more things than most people can even imagine.

He's raised us to be the change we wish to see in the world, to dream big and then think and plan carefully to bring things to pass. He's raised us to be "citizens of the world" and has instilled us with an insatiable desire for experiencing new things and new places and new people.  He's sent us on plenty of guilt trips and been somewhat of a control-freak at times, but all that helped point us in the right directions and for that we're so grateful. He's showed us that being a parent and a grandparent is the most beautiful and powerful and important role we can play. He's taught us to love more and to find great joy in serving others.

I love this photo-booth shot. Dad always did photo-booth pictures with us when we were little. And he could get us laughing like no other.

On a cross-country road trip
Dad was great about getting us out in nature.

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 on a picnic up the canyon (Saydi, Josh, Jonah on the ground, Dad, Talmadge, me, our dog Canie, Shawni). Can you see the mutual adoration going on?

Dad fulfilling his dream of building a log cabin together

My kids 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 a while back. The great relationships are pretty apparent in the photos.

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.)

Thanks for being who you are, Dad, and for being it so completely. Thanks for doing so much to help us be all that we are. And thanks for all you do for my children. You have influenced SO many in such important ways. I'm eternally grateful that you are my dad.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Summer so far

So the kids have been out of school for one week now.

Oh how I love summer! I love not having to be places at a specific time. I love having time to learn things with my kids and help them work on their goals. I love the long cool evenings when all the neighborhood kids are playing happily together until it gets dark. I love all the great events that are always going on all around us in Ogden, making it so that there's something exciting to do any time we feel like venturing beyond our neighborhood.

After a busy, busy amazing time in Europe, it's so nice to take a few weeks to just sort of go with the flow. The kids and I made a "bucket list" of things that we'd like to do this summer and we've been going on our "must-do's" to keep everyone reading and writing and helping with housework and getting physical exercise every day (see all about that here). So we do have some structure to our days and some plans. But the kids can do all their "must-do's" in a couple hours so there's plenty of time to play with friends in the neighborhood and just sort of hang out.

I'm finding that I can get a couple of hours of Power of Moms work in each day at some point - but I'm deliberately not planning on exactly when I'll work. So far it seems like quiet times naturally occur each day when the kids are off playing with friends or building a fort in the backyard or working on their "must-do's" and I can work during these times. I've had a few times I need to head into my room and do a phone call or record a podcast, but that has slipped quite nicely into our days w/o being a big deal. I'm really focusing on my "word" for this year - Enjoy. I want to soak in these great kids of mine and follow their lead more often and spend more time being by spending less time doing.

Of course, we're only one week into summer so who knows how I'll feel about everything in a couple weeks. But so far, so good (other than the inevitable moments of kids bugging each other and everyone needing something from me at the same time on occasion).

Anyway, here are a few of the things we've done so far (mostly unplanned - just things that felt like a good thing to do at the time - good mix of fun and getting stuff done - in a no-pressure fun way):

  • Weeded the big patch of weeds in the back corner of our yard (everyone worked together and the kids had a good time seeing how nicely the roots of the huge weeds slipped out of the ground thanks to the rain)
  • Took a couple kids out to special lunches to celebrate their great grades this past quarter and really enjoy some one-on-one time (I've still got some lunch dates to do - I so love one-on-one time with these kids!)
  • Had a good meeting with my dad to brainstorm how to best market the Joy School 2.0 lesson plans I've been helping with all year and that we'll now be offering on Power of Moms (check it out here if you want). So excited to get this great program upgraded and shared with a new generation.
  • Cleaned out closets (put away school uniforms for the summer and cleaned out stuff that is too small or stained)
  • Stumbled across a big-deal tree climbing competition at the park down the street - serious stuff as these guys from different power companies and tree trimming companies competed against each other in different events from seeing who could climb a set tree and ring a bell at the top the fastest to seeing who could climb straight up a 50-foot rope from a tree limb using a special sort of knot they had to do. My kids LOVE climbing trees (especially the twins) so they were totally into watching. Plus they liked the key chains and baseball hats that a chainsaw manufacturing company was giving away. 
  • Went to a really great concert at the Ogden amphitheater - the first in a brand new series of Ogden Twilight Concerts. Watched two great bands and enjoyed a fun concert atmosphere with all the kids (while poor Jared attended meetings - but luckily there will be another concert next week and he'll be able to join us!)
  • Learned to make gelato (see post with details about that here).
  • Watched a newborn for a friend and learned all about babies (she's been wanting to add "experienced with newborns" to the flier she's making to help her get more babysitting jobs). Eliza became a pro at feeding and burping and soothing and changing and Oliver and Silas were quite enamored with the little guy. Then Isaac rocked him to sleep. Oh, there's nothing like snuggling a newborn! And there's nothing like seeing your older kids dote on a sweet little baby.
  • Ashton finished making a whole series of awesome videos about our time in Italy (you can see them here). I think he's pretty darn talented and he captured a lot of great stuff I didn't think to capture. Plus he made a great video about our time in the orphanages in Bulgaria. (He shared that here.)
  • Isaac had a friend teach him to juggle and now he's working on juggling WHILE riding his unicycle. I told him he'd better get a clown costume.
  • Cleaned out all the cardboard boxes in the basement (how in the world did we get so many down there?) and the kids built a big fort in the playroom with them.
  • Eliza, Isaac and a friend spent a whole afternoon building a great brick patio area with bricks laid in a nice pattern in the back of our yard using a bunch of old bricks we've had piled up forever (it was going to be the floor of a fort but then they thought it would work better as a patio)
  • Oliver and Silas had about 100 Nerf wars with their buddies in the neighborhood and after saving up for a long time, they were finally able to purchase their own nice Nerf guns so they wouldn't have to borrow from friends anymore (a couple friends have a whole arsenal but having your own gun is just way more special. When we got back from the store with their new guns, they were SO excited to show their friends and when I tucked them in bed that night, they said thanks for taking them to the store again and again and said "this is almost the best day of our whole lives!") I've never been a fan of guns and didn't really let the older boys have guns but seeing these neighborhood boys have so much creative fun with their totally harmless and totally non-realistic-looking Nerf guns won me over.
  • Ashton spearheaded a great Nerf war video with all the neighborhood boys (you can watch it here). Loved seeing the big boys and little boys working together all day.
  • Went to a really big and super interesting and fun classic car show downtown - just wandered on down the street and found like 300 cars - beautifully restored old cars - some 100 years old, creative mash-up cars, muscle cars, cars with amazingly huge fins, cars with crazy and beautiful paint jobs, super low cars, super high cars, interesting stuff!

Learning to make gelato

We all fell deeply in love with gelato while in Italy. It's just got so much more flavor than regular ice cream and we wanted to figure out why. We did some research and found out that gelato has less sugar and more fruit or whatever flavor you put in there - hense, more flavor. We also found out that while ice cream has twice as much cream as milk, gelato has twice as much milk as cream. And gelato has egg yolks in it.

So one of our shared summer goals was to learn how to make gelato. And we've done a pretty good job figuring it out! So far we've made banana gelato and Nutella gelato (super good to have a little of these two flavors in the same serving!).

Best recipe we found:

Video showing how to make it:

To make the banana kind, we followed the same recipe for the chocolate hazelnut gelato but mashed up two very ripe bananas and put that in instead of the Nutella.

We learned that it's very important to put the "custard" in the fridge for a couple hours before putting it into the ice cream maker. We poured the custard in hot when we did our first batch and it barely made it to milk-shake consistency - but it did set up OK when we put it in the freezer. When we cooled the custard on the second batch, it froze nicely in the ice cream maker.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Mission Accomplished.

Hey all, it's Ashton again!

Once again, thank you all for the amazing help with my Eagle project and our family orphanage projects. I was able to rasie $573 thanks to your donations and those of other kind people! This translated to 1,003.90 Lev (Bulgarian currency) and I was able to buy lots of books and a new computer for the orphans.

I also invited people in my area to donate toothbrushes, toothpaste and gum and my friends and family helped me to put together 115 little gift packets with the toiletry items, the gum, and a nice personal note. We took these packets over to Bulgaria with us and delivered them in person.

Here is a video that I made that shares overall information, what I learned, and lots of pictures from the orphanages we visited.

The orphans were absolutely thrilled about the computer and books that you helped to buy.

We went to an outdoor book market and got lots of great books for the kids (luckily they had lots of our favorite books, translated into Bulgarian, and they gave us a great discount on the books when they heard what we were buying them for).

We got to deliver the computer to the orphanage and I got to turn on the computer for the first time for them. It was a really nice computer - it ran up-to-date software and it was perfect for what the kids needed. They immediately used it to log on to Facebook and added me as a friend so that we can keep in touch. Then, after we delivered the little gifts with the notes, they used Google Translate to see what they meant.

 Every single donation helped, and I'd like to personally thank you all.


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