Saturday, March 31, 2012

Come Listen

photo here

I always look forward to the General Conference that our church holds twice every year.

I learned something in high school that I will never forget, something that made me so excited to listen to this semi-annual conference every time.

High school aged youth who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints attend an optional religion class called seminary in addition to their school courses. In my area this class was taught at our church in the early morning before school began. During my senior year my teacher issued us a challenge about a month before the conference was to happen. She promised us that if we had any questions about our life or needed guidance on a specific problem or issue, that if we would pray about it every day and ask for help, we would receive an answer during General Conference. I am embarrassed to admit this, but I was going to prove her wrong. I thought, how in the world could every person's questions be answered? How could every person hear what they needed?

I accepted her challenge. I prayed daily about the things I needed answers for. And when conference came, she proved me wrong. I got the answers I was looking for. I remember how amazed I was.

As time passed between conferences I decided it must have been a coincidence. So I tried again, with a new issue, praying for answers. And again, it worked.

Since then I have done this every time. I have even become bold enough to make the promise to others, too - it works! Think and pray about your problem or issue ahead of time and answers will come during Conference.

Go ahead and try to prove me wrong.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

40 Planned Acts of Kindness

Happy birthday to me yesterday!

The leader of our local church congregation has encouraged us over the last few years to find the time to perform planned acts of kindness for others. I love the idea of random acts of kindness, but planned acts of kindness? Even better.

I love the feeling I get when I do something nice for someone else. Allen had asked me a couple of times what I wanted to do for my big 4-0 this year, and as I thought about it a plan came to mind. For 39 years my birthday has been all about me. And hey, that's awesome! But I thought it would be even awesomer to do something for someone else. Better yet, a lot of somethings. When I told Allen of my plan to perform 40 planned acts of kindness for others throughout March, using whatever money he would have spent on a birthday gift for me, he agreed.

I decided that I wanted to have my kids help out as much as possible so that they could experience that addicting, happy feeling that comes from doing kind things for others. I also planned to have all 40 things done by midnight on my birthday, March 26th.

Here's what I did.

1. Spent some time flying kites with our new friends at RAH.

2. Donated duffle bags for children in foster care (Thanks ~J!).

3. Bought candy bars for my cashier and bagger at the grocery store.

4. Made and gifted St. Patrick’s Day necklaces to the residents of Trinity Mission Care Center.

5. Gave a friend a much-deserved gift.

6. Bought some fun cupcakes for our friends at Medallion Manor.

7. Donated 3 boxes full of books to my kids’ elementary school’s library.

8. Donated 1200 swagbucks to the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

9. Donated a ginormous box full of fun magazines to our local hospital (Thanks Chip & Becky!).

10. Gave money to a homeless person.

11. Hid Easter Eggs filled with small prizes all over the place.

12. Brought flowers to a friend.

13. Donated a little extra to one child’s classroom fund.

14. Left quarters in the candy machines at the mall.

15. Nominated a very deserving 1st grade teacher for a district award.

16. Donated to a cute girl collecting money for the American Heart Association.

17. Left a bag with some change in it on a vending machine.

18. Gifted a new pair of stripey socks that I loved to a fellow sock-loving friend.

19. Took some treats to a friend.

20. Posted happy quotes in random places (elevators, street signs, people’s cars).

21. Donated to a friend's Walk for a Cure (Breast Cancer Awareness) campaign.

22. Bought a grocery gift card and asked the cashier to give it to whoever he thought could use it.

23. Bought some “Free Ice Cream” coupons from our favorite grocery store and passed them out in the store/parking lot.

24. Donated some peanut butter and cereal (2 of my favorite things!) to Community Action.

25. Busted out my sewing machine and made a purse like ElemenoB’s for a friend who commented on how much she loved it.

26. Made a donation towards finding a cure for FOP.

27. Put out the neighbors' garbage cans the night before garbage pick up.

28. Picked up trash and trash cans that had blown all over the neighborhood during a wind storm on garbage pick up morning.

29. Donated some needed items to Kids on the Move.

30. Left treats in the teacher’s mailboxes at the elementary school.

31. Made a gift for a friend.

32. Paid for the car behind me in Wendy’s drive-through.

33. Took a gift to a well-deserving friend.

34. Sent Red Vines to a pregnant lady in Canada who is craving them.

35. Left “Crayon Bombs” (boxes of Crayolas with this quote attached) around the city.

36. Took pictures for people at the lookout by the Salt Lake City Temple on the top floor of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

37. Purchased a STF gift card and taped it to the front door for the next customer to find.

38. Let my kids ride the crappy rides at the mall that I never want to pay for (paid for 2 other kids, too!).

39. Took some dessert to a dear friend.

40. Put together and donated birthday bags for Juvenille Justice Services.

Without going into details on each planned act of kindness (each one could be its own post, really) and the effect that so many of them had on me, I will say one thing - this was easily my best birthday, EVER.

Forty years feels pretty good on me.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Quick Quips

Coolister: Doesn't tuberculosis have to do with your wrists? Oh, wait... that's carpel tunnel.

Princess: Something smells like farts!
Hubba: Yeah, it's All-a-Boy's breath.
All-a-Boy: Whatever! It's your hands!

Curly: Mom, what does deformed mean?
Me: It usually means something looks different than you're used to. Like Quasimodo's face in the Hunchback of Notre Dame - his face was kind of deformed.
Princess: Yeah, sort of like Mom's. (pause) I didn't mean it like that!

Curly: (While saying a prayer) ...and please bless us to have a great prayer - if we even have a prayer...
Me: (whispered) Curly, you're saying the prayer right now.
Curly: Oh, right.

The following conversation took place through the bathroom door.
Little O: Mom? Mooooom? MOOOOOOM?!
Me: WHAT?!
Little O: I needs-a get my pay-ants on.
Me: Put them on, then! I'm in the shower.
Little O: Do they go on this way? (pause) Or this way?
Me: Um... that way.
Little O: This way?
Me: Yes.
Little O: Thanks, mom!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Foreign Exchange Program

(17-year-old me with Corinna von Rad, friend and exchange student with the perfect 80's name, from Germany)

You've all heard of foreign exchange students, right? I'd even guess that most of you have met an exchange student or two. Well the photo above is misleading, because that's not even what this post is about. (And seriously, how could I resist posting about someone with a last name like von RAD?)

What I want to tell you about is foreign food exchange packages! Have you heard of them? No? Well that's because I MADE THEM UP! (Sorry to shout, it's just VERY exciting.)

My recent post which mentions the treats that Allen brought us back from London sparked a conversation between my online Canadian pal Jerri and I. She has a friend who is preg-o and craving Red Vines - which are not found in their neck of the woods. This evolved into our plan of sending each other a package filled with delicious treats that are not available outside of our countries.

I took a poll on my Facebook page, asking what sorts of things I should request from Canada (Ketchup chips? Really?) and sent her a list to choose from. Jerri asked her friends from the states what they missed the most and sent me a list as well.

I sent this package off:
And got this one in return:
Repeat after me, friends: awesome. Remember the last time you got a fun package in the mail? Remember how happy it made you feel? It's addicting, that feeling.

It would really be a shame to end this awesome program after just one package exchange. I bet there are even variations of things we could trade between states! (Fry Sauce, anyone? Perhaps an Idaho Spud bar?)

So who's next?

p.s. Thanks, Jerri!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Homeschooling Hubba

A Hubba Haiku:
Always curious
the whole world is his classroom.
Who wants to sit still?

I wanted to post an update on Hubba. I was so excited to tell you about how we got a phone call from the school - a GOOD call - to let us know that Hubba had earned a blue ticket (these can be exchanged for prizes) and was being recognized for great behavior. We made such a big deal about this at home - we were thrilled to have such good news and see that Hubba was making progress! Well, wouldn't you know it, the day I sat down to write about our happy news the phone rang again. It was the school.

Hubba had a substitute teacher while his regular teacher was doing some testing for the day. Hubba made a burping sound (obviously fake) and the substitute asked him to stop, but he continued to do it because it was making some other kids (and Hubba) laugh. A parent helper who is familiar with Hubba also tried to get him to stop. This was when the realization hit that he was going to get in trouble - so instead of settling down, he ran from her. Not a good choice.

The principal's secretary called and let me know what had happened. I talked to Hubba over the phone and then they let him return to class. I talked to Allen, frustrated over why Hubba would choose to do this at school. Did he like the attention? Making others laugh? Probably both. But he is smart enough to know that acting this way is going to get him into trouble and Allen and I both agree that it should not have to be the teacher's responsibility - or the substitute's - to deal with his antics in a crowded classroom.

We decided to take him out of school and homeschool him for the rest of the week.

As I drove to pick him up, I thought over what I needed to do to make the week a learning experience. I didn't want him to be miserable, but I also didn't want him to love being at home so much that he might see it as a reward for his behavior at school. I remembered how much he disliked worksheets over the summer and decided he would have plenty of them to keep him busy.

That first day he only had a half day of school left, so I had him write letters of apology to the sub, the parent-helper and his teacher. This took the rest of the school day because he wanted me to tell him what to write and I refused.

After complaining about it for almost an hour he got to work and drafted some great letters.

Day 2 was filled with worksheets on counting money, writing practice, reading comprehension, putting things in alphabetical order and writing his own short stories. When he finished these, he got to read.

Day 3 was worksheets on the countries in North America, learning the difference between grams and kilograms, writing in his journal and making his own book about how to catch a leprechaun. When he finished these, he got to read.

Day 4 was our last day. Hubba was excited that it was a half day at school, which meant he would have less work to do. He didn't even complain much when I gave him a pile of worksheets that had to do with St. Patrick's Day.

We reviewed some math facts (estimating, the difference between inches & centimeters, pints, quarts & liters and grams & kilograms) and he took the same math test his class was getting.
We still had about an hour left and I was out of ideas so I had him teach Curly and Little O how to estimate measurements using different items from around the house.

They both loved "having school" and Hubba was a great little teacher. I marveled at what a smart, fun and engaging kid my little boy was growing up to be.

Monday morning came, and Hubba was happy to get back to his regular classroom. Me? I was happy to get dressed before noon.

I learned a few things from this experience, especially an appreciation for all that teachers have to do to prepare for and teach a whole classroom full of students each day.

As for Hubba, he's going to be just fine. He's a 7-year-old boy with a precocious personality who likes attention (what 7-year-old doesn't?). We'll work on that and just take things as they come, one day at a time.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Scripture Study

Chalk this one up as another successful morning for family scripture study.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Don't you love it when your kids get the idea to hide in a neighbor's trash can and then pop out of it to scare people as they arrive at your house?

What makes it even better is when you have no idea they're doing it and your mom emails you a picture the next day.

One thing's for sure - life with kids is always filled with surprises.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Missionary Boy (Okay, Missionary Man)

Young men in our church are encouraged to serve a 2-year, full-time, mission when they reach the age of 19. They pay their own way and put off school, work and dating for these two years so they can focus on their missionary service. Doctors and dentists are visited to make sure they are in good health, paperwork is completed, interviews are conducted, and finally everything is submitted to the leadership of the church where they prayerfully decide where in the world to send each young man. Calls are usually made on a Friday and mailed out the next Monday - making Wednesday The Big Day that prospective missionaries everywhere watch for the Big White Envelope to arrive in their mailboxes.

Well, despite the fact that I can very clearly remember my oldest boy as this little person:

he is turning 19 in June.

His envelope came yesterday.

Family and close friends gathered in our home as Coolister opened his envelope and read to us where he would be spending two years of his life...

Fort Worth, Texas - and teaching in the Spanish language!

There are just no words. My heart is full to bursting.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Book Review: Lightning Tree

I am excited to tell you about a book written by a friend of mine, Sarah Dunster. I worry that in saying she is a friend you will think I am going to say good things about her book out of obligation, but the truth is she's an excellent author with a very well-written story. It contains enough surprises and excitement to keep you engaged until the end. I love books based on history, and this one involves the history of a city which I especially love.

Here is a brief description of the book:

After surviving the tragic deaths of her parents and baby sister and a harrowing trek across the plains to Utah, it’s no surprise that Maggie’s nights are plagued by nightmares.

But after years of harsh treatment by her foster mother and sisters, and memories that seem to hint at an unthinkable crime, Maggie is forced to strike out on her own. To separate the truth from the dreams, Maggie faces a painful ordeal and learns that she’ll need to put her trust in those around her to survive.

Sarah was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about her novel. Read on...

What inspired you to write Lightning Tree?

It started with the idea of writing an immigrant-convert story, and then developed into a story about loss, family, adoption and the issues surrounding a cultural change as part of conversion. And then it also became a love story for Provo—in the ten years I’ve lived in Provo, I have fallen so deeply in love with the history and the pioneers who settled here.

Reading Lightning Tree made me want to learn more about Provo's early history. Was your story based on actual historical events?

Absolutely. I was a bit nutty, to tell you the truth, in trying to make everything as accurate as possible—from the kind of weather they had on that day the troops rode into town to exactly where in the city blocks the stores and buildings fell. I’ll never look at the streets of Provo the same after doing the research for this story… I’ll look at a hump in the pavement along center street and wonder if it was an old foundation, I’ll look at old buildings and wonder who lived there.

Were any of the characters in the story inspired by real people?

I have to be careful about this one. I’ve been told to say “no.” But in a way… sort of. The people in my story are fiction because the things they do are fiction, and you can’t ever get a good enough picture of people through historical accounts, photographs or family histories to portray a person. But some of my characters are halfway based on people and families who actually lived back then… but I do not claim to have made this in any way a biography of people who lived in Provo. It’s fiction. I haven’t named them after anyone real. There are a few characters that had to be real in order for it to be a historical novel—Judge Cradlebaugh, for instance, and Bishop Wall who lead the militia. And of course, Brigham Young.

Do you have a favorite character (or is this like asking if you have a favorite child)?

It kind of is like asking if you have a favorite child! I like all of the characters for different reasons. My favorite character (after Maggie of course) might be Pa Alden. Or maybe even Ma Alden. I like how Ma Alden is someone you don’t really see fully or understand until further on in the story.

Did you know how the story would end when you started to write it or was it more of an evolution?

I had a few ideas of how it would end. I followed through on those. But there were things that surprised me. I think it’s important to be willing to let a story evolve, as you say… sometimes better things flow from the subconscious than what you initially outline.

Do you have any interesting facts you'd like to add?

Maybe one thing would be, the anecdote at the beginning of the story, with the mattress, comes directly from my own family history. One of my pioneer ancestors was adopted after his parents lost their lives on the trail. His adoptive family hid some things from him. He found his biological family’s name on a mattress the family owned, and it caused a crisis that lead him to run away from home at fifteen, which is the same age as Maggie, my main character. In a way, maybe this story was a bit of a “happy ending” retelling of a tale that has disturbed me a little. There are so many interesting things in family history if you dig a little. The pioneers were people just like us, who had problems just like us. I loved being able to portray the pioneers as real people.

If you're interested, you can find out more about getting yourself a copy of Lightning Tree here.

Or find out what others think by joining the blog tour for Lightning Tree over the next couple of weeks!

By the way, I was given a copy of Lightning Tree in order to write this review. But it would have been pretty hard to do so without a copy of the book, don't you think? I wasn't compensated in any way, although someday I'd love to be paid for reading books and eating eclairs.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Baked French Toast

Who doesn't love French Toast? It is one of the breakfast favorites in my family, but with the chaos of getting everyone ready on weekday mornings, it rarely happens.

Until now.

This is a super simple and delicious recipe. The trick is in getting it ready the night before - in the morning you just pop it into the oven, let it bake for 30 minutes while you go about your chaos, then cut it into squares and serve it up.

You're welcome.

Baked French Toast

1 loaf of thick-sliced bread
1/4 cup butter, cut into 1/2" chunks (I slice it then quarter each slice)
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla

Spray your baking dish with cooking spray then lay the bread out in the pan (I do two rows of overlapped slices). Spread the chunks of butter evenly on top of the bread. Whisk together the eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla then pour the mixture over the top of the bread. Cover and chill overnight.

The next morning, bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, uncovered. You can serve this however you like, but it's best with freshly whipped cream, your favorite fruit and a side of bacon. Maple syrup, although boring, is always good too.

By the way, if you're feeding a large group you might want to double the recipe. (We do.)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

500 Things Project

While Allen was busy doing this in London:

I decided to get busy with a little project of my own. I remembered reading about the idea of purging your home of 100 things every 3 months to keep the clutter down and I decided to get really ambitious and rid our home of 500 things over 6 days.

Because there are eleven people who share this space in our home we really have no room for clutter (also known as: stuff, things, junk and excess). I was excited to delve into this project because I love to organize and get rid of stuff. I'm like the opposite of a hoarder. I think this is why, a few days into this, I worried that we might not make it to 500 things. However, I decided to keep shooting for it anyway. The rules I made were simple:

1. If it gets thrown away, it counts as one thing. (One piece of junk mail, one forlorn shoebox, one pair of holey socks, etc.)

2. If it gets donated, it counts as one thing. (One article of clothing, one stamping set, one outgrown toy, etc.)

3. If it gets organized or passed along to another person in the household, it doesn't count - but it makes me feel great.

It was awesome to slowly watch my house go from this:
my dresser

kids' craft cupboard

hall closet

to this:
I love my dresser again!

Now they can actually find what they need!

I know, it doesn't look much different in the hall closet. But I got rid of a bunch of excess in these bins where we keep the toys:
Side note: We use a checkout system with the toys. The kids are only allowed to have one bin out at a time. Once those toys are all back in their bin, they can get another one out. The closet locks. It's awesome.

In the end, it was getting close, but the little kids' underwear drawer in the bathroom (36 pair of underwear, GONE!) and the lonely-sock box: 18 mates miraculously found; goodbye, 21 lonely socks!

helped push it over the limit. With help from the kids, I ended up ridding our house of 600+ things!

I rewarded my efforts with half of a Green & Black's milk chocolate bar which Allen brought me back from his trip to England. I enjoyed it all the more from the solitude of my clutter-free closet (with the bedroom door locked).

However, the best reward by far was that awesome feeling of accomplishment and knowing that my house contains 600+ less things.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Welcome Home!

When Allen got home from his recent trip, the kids had this message waiting for him on the garage. They are so thoughtful and sweet, I thought. And then when I went out the next morning to take a picture of their welcome, I got a better view of what they had created.
(very creative!)

(love this!)

(Ummmm... I'm not exactly sure if this is a human but it has sparkly teeth)

To be honest, some of them left me wondering what exactly goes on in the inner workings of their young minds.

A robot reading about communism?

A dinosaur and a vampire? Hey, wait a minute....


And even after Cowgirl explained this masterpiece to me, I still don't really get it.

Initially I thought this was a stick person in a dress, but alas...
she is headless.

What do you think? Should I start saving now for therapy?