Friday, November 11, 2016

Kindness and Beauty

I'm so grateful for the kind and encouraging comments on my last post. We live in a world where there is plenty of ugliness and each of us see and experience things on a personal level that can be painful and challenging. But there are bright spots of beauty and kindness that make such a difference. Today I want to celebrate a few of the bright spots that have really helped me in the past couple months.

In response to a couple of my posts, I received a beautiful card full of such helpful and loving encouragement in the mail. It came all the way from England (at least I'm pretty sure the stamps were British stamps...) and included no return address or last name. Stephanie, if you're reading this, thank you so very much. Your wise words gave me added strength and perspective. Yes, things are not generally as bad as they seem when you're in the thick of something that seems impossibly hard. Yes, there are more things we can do about hard times and issues than we may initially realize (it is taking time and prayer and pondering and trial and error but I'm finding helpful things that I can do about some of the hard things I'm dealing with). And yes, once we get through something hard (or through a little section of something hard), the "new normal" can be really beautiful in its own right. Thank you thank you thank you for these important reminders. And thanks for the reminder that the kindness and concern of strangers is such a beautiful and inspiring thing.

Here's what I got in the mail:

In the midst of the the crazy long-days (and nights) of getting the Mom Conference together (wow, September and October were INTENSE - I spent pretty much every waking moment that the kids didn't really need attention working on all the little and big details of the conference), I was touched to have a beautiful basket of fall flowers delivered to my door courtesy of my always-thoughtful mom. Having those flowers right behind my laptop screen as I sat here hour after hour gave me a much-needed reminder of love and beauty in the midst of the tedious and consuming work that needed to be done. (By the way, things came together beautifully in the end and we had over 80,000 moms attend!)

At the close of the conference, we received so many emails thanking us for making this conference happen. This one brought tears to my eyes:

"I just wanted to thank you so very much for all the hard work and time you put into making this conference wonderful.  I am sure it was a huge thing.  I wanted you to know I saw the link on facebook about 1/2 way through the first day and thought I would just try it.  WoW! The first few videos I watched answered so many prayers and concerns I have been having.  I started crying! I stayed up til the last minute ran out to watch them all.  I cannot express how grateful I am to you all for being such a positive influence in the world for good.  I don't know how often you are going to do this but it is so very valuable! I will make sure to blast it out to everyone I know.   Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.  And I hope that when you are having a hard day as a mom and wondering if you ever make a difference you will think of me because you made a difference in my life; probably forever."
-Kat Loiseau (Washington State)
Along with kindness, I'm so grateful for beauty. On the hardest days, there is a spectacular sunset or a gorgeous display of leaves or an extra-blue sky or a perfect little flower growing in an unexpected place to remind me that God loves me and He's watching out for me. Beauty is so intertwined with love for me. Whether it's the crunch of leaves underfoot and the golden shimmer of leaves above on a quick walk around the neighborhood, the sweeping grandeur of the scene at the top of a mountain, or a lovely sunrise as I drive kids to school, the beauty of nature always feeds my soul and reminds me of God's love and presence and the fact that He is there for me. It also offers me perspective and gives me a moment of "awe" - and awe helps us be kinder and happier (read this article or check out this podcast episode I did recently for more on why awe is so important).

I've been doing my regular weekly hiking with friends and the good conversations and beauty those hikes offer have got me through a lot. A couple weeks ago, I went down to Moab/Arches National Park with a couple good friends and enjoyed a day and a half of gorgeous hikes through whimsical landscapes where the red rocks contrasted perfectly with the blue, blue skies. We talked and talked about the deep and the simple and laughed and just had a perfect little get-away. I came back feeling refreshed on so many levels.


On Wednesday, I felt like I needed some serious soul soothing and time away from society after the craziness of the elections. So Oliver, Silas and I spent the day out on Antelope Island where practically the only living creatures we saw were bison and deer. We had such a nice time talking together as we climbed the highest peak (Frary Peak) on the island and the raw, stark beauty and 360 degree views helped me gain perspective and feel better about everything.

We left the island just as the sun was going down.

Life can sure be hard sometimes but when we look for the kindness and the beauty, it's there for us and can offer us great hope.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The latest with me

I've got like 20 drafts of posts that I just never quite get around to polishing and posting. I've got some great photos and info on our National Parks trip, an almost-finished post with tons of great info on Costa Rica for anyone who may ever want to go there. And lots of rambling draft posts about the things I'm worried about and what I've been thinking about and learning.

I used to blog so regularly and I love looking back and remembering the cute things the kids said and did alongside the big and small moments of my life over the years. A few years back, it was all very well and good to post about the crazy messes the twins made when they were toddlers or post about the cute and funny things Eliza used to say or share challenges I was going through with various kids in a way that didn't really identify which child I was talking about.  But now that my kids are older, I need to respect their privacy and there are often issues going on that are far too personal to share so I don't post about the challenging things that they do or my concerns about them.  I just post on Instagram about the great things they do and the beauty and happy times in our lives with a very occasional picture/post about something hard but not very personal. And so much of what I'm going through in the past couple years is stuff that is very personal to me so I try to process it through my rambling unpublished blog posts and my personal journal rather than processing it online as I used to do back when my issues seemed huge but now seem quite tame in comparison to what's hit me in the past few years. I'm OK. Or at least I think I'm OK. But sometimes I'm not sure!

I guess to anyone looking at my life from the outside, it would seem that everything is just wonderful. Successful active kids. Beautiful hikes. Great family reunions. Wonderful things going on at Power of Moms. Lots of fun family trips. And while these things are all true and are all things I am so grateful for and want to remember and share, they are not the full story. Pretty much no one shares their full story on social media or even in really private conversations. The longer I live and the more people I talk to, the more I realize that the vast majority of people, like me, have a full story that contains some really crazy hard parts. And I think one of the reasons that so many popular "mommy blogs" are written by moms with younger children is that it's easier to share what's going on when your children are small and the hard stuff, while still very very hard, is often stuff that doesn't need to be kept private.

We might post about things that are tough sometimes, but when our hearts are broken due to challenging relationships or mental health issues or places where we feel like a failure, we don't generally blog about it or post about it on Instragram or Facebook. That's the time we often go inside ourselves and feel pretty lost and sometimes quite hopeless. We get to the point where we don't know what to say even if we did feel comfortable saying something. During this time, we post happy pictures and successful moments so that we can count our blessings and celebrate the good in our lives. When we seek the good, we can feel much better about our lives. There is so much good. And that goodness helps the bad stuff feel more bearable. But sometimes, as we're posting about good things, we're just putting on a brave and happy face while we're really struggling with various things.

Anyway, the past year has had some really really hard stuff for me as well as some pretty hard stuff and some great stuff. And maybe it will be helpful to someone out there to know that they're not alone if they're feeling sort of hopeless and lost at times. It happens to the best of us.

One of the things that really helps me in the hard patches is having something really meaningful to take my mind off my worries. The hard part is that the meaningful stuff I do often becomes overwhelming so that it adds to my worries! But I'm learning, bit by bit, how to draw boundaries around my meaningful work so that I can also have time for meaningful fun and meaningful rest.

Here's the meaningful work I've been doing lately:

I'm really excited about our speakers this year - 20 really amazing topics presented by 20 top-notch speakers. I'm so glad I get to be part of presenting these messages to all the moms in the world who, like me, are struggling with various things. I love that the conference is FREE and that moms can watch from home w/o having to get a babysitter. I loved hearing from so many moms last year who said that they found answers to some of their most pressing questions and worries when they watched last year's conference and I'm sure it'll be the same this year. I know I found answers to some of my pressing questions when I conducted my interviews for the conference.

If you haven't registered already, please do. You'll be richly rewarded. And please share this with all the moms you know - it might be an answer to prayer for some of them.



Friday, August 05, 2016

Our Crazy and Wonderful National Parks Adventure

As I type this, I (Saren) am in the car with my husband and five kids (ages 11-16) driving from Mount Rainier National Park to Crater Lake National Park. Before Mount Rainier, we visited Rocky Mountain National Park for a couple days, then Yellowstone for a couple days, then Glacier National Park for a couple days. We've seen amazing sites, we've set up and taken down camp 4 times (quite a process each time!), we've slept in tents 8 nights, we've been able to shower a grand total of 2 times. We've got our fingers crossed that there will be laundry facilities at the next park as our clean clothing options are getting pretty sparse.

When we get done at Crater Lake, we'll go on to Lassen Volcanic National Park, then Yosemite, Then Kings Canyon, Sequoia, Zion, Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde. By the time we sleep in our beds again, we will have visited all 12 national parks that existed in the west back when the National Park Service was founded 100 years ago.

Why are we doing this? Well, it all started when some good friends planned a month-long trip that would follow the old Park-to-Park Highway and invited us to come along and celebrate the centennial of the National Parks System with them. My first thought was, "That would be really cool but there's no way my husband could get that much time off work or that I could leave Power of Moms for that long and the kids would have to miss the first couple days of school and camping for a full month would be a lot more camping than I'd really enjoy." 

But as Jared and I talked through this idea, it just started to feel right - and doable. We've had so many of these national parks on our bucket list and we only have one more summer after this summer with our oldest before he heads off to college. We've been craving some solid family time as all the kids have been busy with their own separate things - sports, jobs, friends, etc. Being out in nature and hiking with our kids is a major part of our family culture and some of our best memories come from time we've spent together outdoors. 

So Jared talked to his work and figured out a plan for how he could take some vacation days and then work in the car on the days we'd be travelling from park to park. I realized I could use this trip to do something I've been wanting to do forever - write a National Parks Guide for Families for Power of Moms - and decided I could keep up on my other Power of Moms work during our car time (good thing Ashton is such a great driver so he can drive while we work!). And I decided that if it's right for our family, I can make anything work - even a solid month of sleeping in a tent and cooking on a camp stove and dealing with all the little discomforts involved in camping!

So here we are on the road to Crater Lake (amazing that this internet hotspot we picked up at Walmart is working in the middle of nowhere!).

This trip has been all that we hoped for so far - and more. We've experienced some amazingly gorgeous places together and created some wonderful memories (see lots of it on Instagram @sarenloosli if you like). Sure, there have been plenty of squabbles and some complaining and some grumpiness from lack of sleep or hunger here and there. Of course, some things haven't gone as planned - like yesterday when I insisted we do this supposedly-amazing hike that was supposed to go to a fabulous viewpoint of Mount Rainier and the kids complained that it was sort of rainy and they didn't want to go on another long hike so I got all huffy and told them they were being so ungrateful and they simmered down and we got going on the hike only to find ourselves hiking through a crazy hail storm on Mount Rainier. Then once we got to the top of this hard hike, we couldn't see a thing from the vista point due to all the clouds! Then when we were almost back to the beginning of the trail, Mount Rainier popped out of the clouds in all it's glacial glory and we were all so excited!

As we leave each park, I've been posting some highlight photos ON INSTAGRAM HERE and typing up detailed information about what we did and what advice I'd give to other families wanting to visit that park. I've taken tons of photos and my son Ashton has taken lots of video footage that he's making into short films showing what we did and offering suggestions for others (he's so good at video editing and makes great use of his Go-Pro).

Why am I telling you all this? Because I'm hoping you'll be excited about this new National Parks Guide for Families that will result from all this and hopefully help your family experience some of the great stuff we're experiencing some day. And because I'd love your help!

Please click on the link below to learn more about this trip and the guide I'm writing and add your comments about YOUR favorite things to do and see at the 12 parks included in our itinerary. You can add comments on this blog post or on the post linked below.

So much of what we've done so far has been thanks to recommendations from commenters on the post linked above and comments from those who follow me on Instagram. And I'm sure there are many things I should be including in the guide for each park that I won't have a chance to experience myself but that I can include in the guide thanks to the information you provide to me.

Wish me luck as we continue this crazy trip! I'll keep you updated on how things go on Instagram @sarenloosli or follow our group's official Instagram feed

Have a wonderful week (and enjoy your shower and kitchen and bed for me, will you?)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Typical Summer Evening

Last week, we had a session with a fabulous documentary photographer, Cate Johnson.

The idea behind documentary photography is to capture the regular and basic parts of every-day life - the parts we don't often think about photographing. 

Usually we photograph the special stuff - the birthday parties, the special outings, the family trips - wonderful things that we certainly want to remember through photographs. And most of us do occasional formal family photos where we capture how we look when we're all gussied up and smiling for the camera.

But the simple things we do day in and day out aren't usually photographed. And down the road, we probably won't really remember how our every-day life looked.

I want to remember the little details of our every-day family life.

So I was really glad when Cate offered to do this photo-shoot for us.

I was so impressed by what she captured - she's so talented. And in looking at the photos she got, I saw that the simple and mundane moments of our family life are even more beautiful and precious than the things I usually take photos of.

Cate showed up as we were finishing dinner prep and snapped away as we ate, cleaned up, played around in the backyard, and went for our regular evening walk. No one put on special outfits or did their hair extra nice and we left the house how it usually is so the kids thought this was the best photo shoot ever! The older kids said they felt a little weird about having someone there with a camera taking photos - but after a few minutes, everyone relaxed and Cate did a great job of just blending into the background. The whole family really loved looking at all the photos Cate sent us - everyone seemed to realize what a good life we have after seeing it captured so beautifully on film.

Here are a few of Cate's captures:

 While some of us finish dinner, some of us jump on the trampoline:

Then when dinner is ready, I come out and ring the dinner bell:


Despite the fact that we have a "no phones at the table rule," this happens sometimes and gentle reminders are this case, he was looking up a concert we were thinking of going to the next night so it was a good use of technology...


It always seems to take forever to get everyone out the door to go on our evening walk - one person goes back in to get something, then people start jumping on the trampoline while we wait for that person, then when the person who went in comes out, another person has gone in there to go to the bathroom or find their shoes. But eventually, we get going!

Finally, everyone's outside at the same time and we're ready to head over the the park on the next block - we always walk around the park a couple times and often have some pretty good talks while we walk plus Isaac is usually showing us his latest skateboard trick, Ashton's often on his beloved hoverboard, and there's often a football or frisbee that is being thrown around.

Before we get to the park, we pass the library.

There is usually some tree-climbing going on in the trees in front of the library.

The twins always have to climb on the benches and planters in front of the library.

Then we get to the park: 

 Heading back home from the park:

We ended the photo shoot with some posed shots - love how Cate kept them so natural by just shooting away and not asking people to sit a certain way and smile as is the norm:

I'm sure I'm biased - but I think these are some pretty handsome boys.

I'm so grateful for this one daughter of mine.

I'm so glad to have some good family photos! I was looking for a recent photo for something on Power of Moms a little while ago and was coming up pretty empty...


Our life is so good. I'm so grateful for these images that will always remind me of the everyday moments and the abundance of beauty in my life.

*** If you want your own documentary photo session and you're somewhere in Northern Utah, check out Cate's website here and invite her to come to your home. She really did a fabulous job with this photo shoot and I recommend her wholeheartedly. Cate also provides wonderful images for our Power of Moms Instagram account - just search "powerofmoms" to find and follow. Cate and her twin sister Candi put up such beautiful and inspirational stuff there pretty much every day!


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