Friday, December 5, 2014

Cooking: Secrets to Saving Money

By today's standards, I cook for a large family of eight people. Because I have so many people to cook for, I have to budget wisely because food can get expensive. Recently, I have been having a lot of success with spending less than $100/week in my grocery category of the budget. I've had people ask me how it's possible, so I thought I'd devote a blog post to it.

Menu Planning
The first thing I do is menu plan.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner, every day for seven days. I have a notebook that is my grocery notebook.  Each time I make a list, I use one page.

On the side, in the margin, I list the days of the week.  I write down next to the day what shift my husband is working because that will often determine what the dinner meal will be (something simpler and that makes smaller portions will be designated for nights he is working, etc.).

Dinners are the meals I specifically plan each week.  I plan for a main dish.  My side dishes are almost always the same.  For my dinners, I look at what I already have in the fridge and pantry and then check the grocery store circulars to see what is on sale.

For example, this week's grocery trip (for next week's meals), I planned these meals:
Sunday--cheesy potato soup
Monday--pulled pork sandwiches
Tuesday--chicken rice
Wednesday--lasagna bake
Thursday--Hawaiian haystacks
Saturday--chicken pasta

Sunday.  I already have potatoes in the pantry and my soup takes 4-5 potatoes.  If I didn't have potatoes, they were on sale for a 10 lb bag for 99¢.  I buy chicken broth, sometimes I buy an extra carton to have on hand for the future (food storage).  The chicken broth I buy, which is just the generic store brand usually, is $1.86 for the 32 oz carton, which I use the whole thing.  I can often find the same size carton of organic chicken broth at a neighboring grocery store for about the same price, often cheaper.  I happen to have about one pound left of a 3-pound bag of shredded cheddar, which I will use about two handfuls of for the soup.  The other ingredients are water, onions (I keep a bag of frozen diced onion in the freezer), milk and flour.  I like to add ham chunks or bacon, if I have them on hand, which I do, so I will use those too.

Monday.  The pulled pork is actually left over pork from a pork roast I made last week.  I had so much left over that after the meal, I shredded it and put it in the freezer.  I will use this in the crock pot with BBQ sauce, which I already have in my pantry (part of my food storage item that I like to stock up on).  I will make my own buns.

Tuesday.  I have chicken in the freezer that I bought last week and never used.  Sometimes my meal plan doesn't quite work out and we eat leftovers an extra night or do a breakfast-for-dinner or even stop and grab a $5 Little Caesar's pizza if we have a busy night.  Usually I foresee the busy night by planning ahead but sometimes plans don't work out quite right.  So I will use the chicken I already have, which I bought for $1.69/lb on sale (fresh, skinless, boneless chicken breasts in a family pack--I section it out to one to two pieces per package and package it for the freezer when I get home).  I bought Rice-a-roni for $1 for the box.  I will use one chicken breast, baked and cut up into chunks for this recipe plus the box of Rice-a-roni, prepared as instructed.

Wednesday. Lasagna bake.  I actually grabbed a Banquet brand "Homestyle Bake" of Lasagna for $3 the other day because it looked good.  We may hate it and generally I steer clear of pre-packaged meals like this, but it was a whim and not too expensive.  I do have a lasagna toss recipe that is really easy that I have used that is not too expensive and this will probably end up being a similar dish.

Thursday.  Hawaiian haystacks.  I already have white rice, frozen chicken (I will use two breasts for this recipe), and chow mein noodles.  I will cook two chicken breasts in the crock pot with two cans cream of chicken soup (generic brand--69¢ each).  I shred the chicken and serve this sauce over sticky white rice with toppings such as chow mein noodles, sliced tomatoes, olives, diced ham, green onions, and shredded cheddar cheese.  I always buy things like tomatoes and diced ham and green onions and the cheddar cheese I already have.

Friday.  Pizza Day!  I make my own pizza almost every Friday.  It's a tradition.  The dough recipe is quite easy and I make it in my Bosch.  I buy pizza sauce (generic store brand-$1.14/jar), pizza cheese blend or make my own with mozzarella and cheddar, and pepperoni and other toppings.  I keep a lot of these on hand because I make it every week, so I rarely have to buy the ingredients.  This week, I had to buy pepperoni ($2.98), sauce (I'm cleaning out the pantry in preparation for the move and had used the last of my storage), and flour ($1.78--same reason as with the sauce, low on storage right now).

Saturday.  Chicken pasta.  This is the same as the chicken rice, only with pasta-roni.  One of the kids' favorites.  I have tried to make my own pasta sauce for this, but the pasta-roni just tastes better.  It's only about $1 per box and if my husband is home, I will buy the Family size or two boxes, but with just the kids and me, one box is usually enough.

I often do leftovers on Saturdays or the following Monday.  One of my favorite ways to serve leftovers is in the form of "Surprise Dinners", something my mom used to do.  You take each leftover, dish up a portion size into some foil, wrap the foil around it, and put them in the oven and heat them up that way.  Then the kids pick a foil and get a surprise on what they get.  In our family they are allowed a trade only if the other person is willing (not forced), and they can trade once.  Other than that, it's "You-get-what-you-get-and-you-don't-throw-a-fit". 

As I mentioned before, the sides are always the same.  I do a vegetable and a fruit.  The vegetable consists of something like steamed broccoli or green beans, sometimes a canned vegetable if I'm lazy, or a tossed salad (lettuce is usually cheap, so are carrots).  The kids don't care much for a lot of variety in the salad, so I make it with lettuce and carrots and shredded cheese.  I like to add my own cucumbers and tomatoes and other things, so I will often have those available on the side for those who want it (me).  They prefer steamed broccoli over everything else, so I always buy it when I can find it cheap (lately 99¢/pound). 

I like to make a fresh fruit salad by cutting up a few pieces of fruit, which vary by season.  Often, I can use one piece of each fruit, like one apple, one pear and one banana, to make the salad.  If apples are 89¢/pound, pears are the same, and bananas are 54¢/pound, that means that means apples and pears are about 30¢ each and a banana is about 25¢, then a fruit salad for one night costs about 85¢.  That is about $5.95/week for fruit salad.  However, I don't make the fruit salad every night.  Some nights we have canned fruit, like canned pears or peaches, and some nights (usually on Sundays) we have a jello salad with fruit in it.

I generally don't plan specific breakfasts, but I do have a routine.  I have to give credit where credit is due...I learned this from my mom.  I alternate egg mornings and cereal mornings.  We have eggs in some form every other day and cereal on the other days during the week.  On Fridays and Saturdays, I like to make pancakes or waffles.  On Sundays, we usually have an egg casserole and muffins.  The eggs I make are scrambled (with and without cheese), fried, and hard-boiled or soft-boiled.  Occasionally we will have an egg-cheese-potato thing that my husband makes or omelets.  On the cereal days, we have oatmeal or cream-of-wheat first followed by a bowl of cold cereal.  Some days we have two bowls of cold cereal, something not as sweet first, like Cheerios or mini wheats, then a sweeter kind next.

I don't exactly plan these either, but I do have to stock up on lunch foods.  My kids will take deli meat sandwiches in their lunches, since peanut butter is not allowed at their schools.  If it was, they'd probably take pb&j most days.  I buy roast beef, ham and turkey regularly and buy it again when we are out.  We were not out this week, so I didn't buy any.  I will buy a block of cheese on sale, otherwise they will go without cheese.  For lunches, then, I buy bread, deli meat, cheese (on occasion) and typically they take a piece of fruit (an apple).  I buy a LOT of apples and usually stop by the store once during the week to buy more apples.  They will take a dessert.  Sometimes I will buy Little Debbie desserts or cookies if I can find a good deal or know I won't be baking at all, but I try to bake some things like cookies and brownies for them to take.  They do buy a milk at school, which costs me $20/month for all four of them that are in school.  For us at home, we eat leftovers or sandwiches or sometimes I get creative and make quesadillas or mini pizzas.

I grocery shop on Friday for the next week.  I make my list based on the circulars and usually price match at Walmart but sometimes will go and find the item at the store where it is advertised.  Today, I spent $79 on groceries for next week, which was more than I wanted to.  I did buy a few extras that I didn't put on my list, like Little Debbie desserts (a good price) and  some paper towels that I saw and remembered we needed.  I will be spending more money on Monday for items from Costco (I hate Costco on Saturdays and didn't have a chance to get there today) that come from my grocery category--namely, milk ($5 for 2 gallons), bread (2 loaves for $4), and toilet paper (about $15).  So that will bump up my weekly total to about $110, since I need to buy four gallons of milk.  Still not too bad for a family of eight!

Thursday, November 27, 2014


There was a country song that played on the radio when I was in high school.  I never knew the artist, but I remember the chorus:

"The only thing that stays the same is
everything changes, everything changes.
Time marches on."

I am notoriously bad at change.  I don't like it, even if it's something very small.  My kids had to switch schools this year due to a boundary re-alignment in the school district.  You'd have thought my world was ending with how I handled it.  My kids...they were fine.  They already knew kids at the new school.  In fact, the boundary change was really for our benefit.  Since we moved here, the kids have gone to a different school than the majority of kids in the ward because of the wonky school boundary.  The change made sense, but I didn't like it.  We had been at that school for five years and it was a great school.  Nevermind that the other school was just as good.  I could only see the negatives.  The other school didn't have band.  Nevermind that I could just take my kids to the band at the old school.  Now that I am facing an even bigger change, an out-of-state move, only five months into the school year, I am realizing how stupid that all was.  I am really thick-headed sometimes.

Tonight I was driving home from a Thanksgiving dinner celebrated with my brother's family and his wife's family.  As I arrived at my house, the movie was still playing in the car DVD player and there was only a few minutes left, so I drove around the block to get to the end of the movie.  As I did so, I looked around at the neighborhood that I have grown to love. 

I realized that the majority of people who lived in this neighborhood when we first moved here no longer live in the neighborhood.  They moved on.  Most of them didn't move out of state, I'll grant you that, but they moved on despite the good school and the good ward and the good friends.  So why am I having such a hard time with it?

I have wanted to move back to Texas ever since I moved away from Texas in 1994.  Twenty years ago.  For twenty years I have been daydreaming about how great it would be to live in Texas.  But I've come to realize that all I ever had was a dream.  I didn't realize that in the time I'd left Texas, I had become a Utah girl at heart.  I had a hard time moving back to Utah, on the outside.  I put up a fight.  But on the inside, I think I was secretly glad to be back in Utah.  It's comfortable here.  The people are nice.  I really, really love how easy it is to access the LDS Church here in Utah.  I love the access to temples, the access to Salt Lake City, the access to BYU (Women's Conference, Aspen Grove Marriage Retreat, etc.).  I love how on Sundays, FM100 plays "Soft Sunday Sounds"--religious music, most of it made by Mormon songwriters and singers.  Driving along I-15 from Provo to Riverton at night, I pass four temples that I can see clearly from the freeway (Mt. Timpanogos, Draper, Jordan River, Oquirrh Mountain).  And the mountains!  Oh how I will miss these mountains!  I have lived in the mountainous west longer than I ever lived in Texas.  What was I thinking?

I know that Texas is a good place to live and there are great people there too, but I am broken-hearted about leaving this place that I have grown to really love.  And somewhat annoyed at myself for not having realized how I love it until it was too late and we were set to leave. 

Utah, you've been a good friend.  I will no longer be ashamed to say I have lived here.  I used to think it was better to tell people I was from Texas than Utah, but I no longer feel that way.  I will now tell people I am from Utah.  After all, I was born here.

Change, how I loathe you.  But I realize that things can't stay the same forever, as much as I wish they would.  Change is inevitable.  It's a fact of life.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How Could This Happen?

Today I am in utter disbelief that Jordan is gone.  It seems like, since it's been just over a month, that we are just overdue for a conversation.  It seems like any moment now I will hear a ping on my phone and receive a text message from him.  I feel the urge to call him to see what's going on because it's been just over a month since I talked with him last, but then with a gut-sinking feeling, I remember that I can't just call him because he is not there.  I keep looking for his "likes" and comments on my Facebook posts, but they do not come. 

How can this be true?  How can this be reality?  One of my brothers is gone for the rest of my mortal life already.  Already.  This isn't supposed to happen, is it? All six of us are supposed to outlive our parents.  We are supposed to have many more family reunions where we can talk and laugh about past memories and imagine our futures.

How could it have happened this way?  Jordan, you weren't supposed to leave so suddenly.  This just can't be right. We were supposed to be able to get together, a long time from now, after our kids are grown and married and having their own kids and talk about our grandkids and reminisce about these years. 

It just doesn't seem right.  The timing is all wrong.  How could this happen?  That question reverberates through my mind over and over.  How could this happen?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Compassion in Our Modern World

Let me tell you a story.  On a warm summer morning, my husband was home from work, so I left the older kids with him to clean the house and the backyard and I took my baby with me on my errands.  I had to go to Costco, which was clear across town, the bank, and then stop at the grocery store on the way home.  We went to Costco first because I like to get my errands done in the order of the farthest distance from my house to the closest.  Then I hit the bank drive through, so we stayed in the car.  During this time, from Costco to the grocery store, my baby was quiet.  I was distractedly thinking about the other cars around  me (crazy that I was paying attention to the traffic, eh?) and thinking about other random things and not thinking about my kids or my husband.  Therefore, when I got to the grocery store, and my baby was asleep in her rear-facing car seat, I had forgotten that I had her with me on my errands.  My other kids weren't there to remind me to open the back doors of the car, and absent-mindedly and focused on my grocery shopping, I got out of my car and headed toward the store doors.  I was checking for my keys, my phone, my wallet, like I tend to do as I walk to the store and felt something was missing and then I remembered--my daughter!  So I went back to the car and got her out and took her in the store with me.  Phew!

This type of thing happens all the time.  It may not be a grocery trip or errand run.  It may be switching parents to drop the baby off at daycare or bringing groceries home and the baby is asleep so you let her sleep while you carry them in, but when you bring the last load in, you forget to go back out to the car to get the sleeping baby.  There are so many different ways this can happen.

Not only that, but there are other instances in which parents do things that might result in harm to their precious children.  For instance, maybe they put a video in to watch with their little ones and doze off because they are exhausted and they wake up to discover their toddler has gotten out of the house and gone into the road, or the ditch, or gotten tangled in a soccer net in the backyard.  Maybe Dad goes out to hitch up the trailer and Mom gets busy putting things away in the 4-year-old's room and doesn't realize Dad left the front door cracked and the 18-month-old has gotten outside to follow Dad and Dad doesn't know she's there and he backs the trailer over her.  Maybe Mom is nursing the new baby in the nursery and the older 2-year-old has climbed out of her crib for the very first time and up onto the dresser next to the crib in the upstairs bedroom and sees an open window and goes to look, pushes on the screen and falls two stories to her death.  Maybe you are visiting the grandparents, who have a pool, and are usually very careful about leaving the pool area locked and the outside doors locked, but your 3-year-old has figured out how to unlock the door and finds the pool gate open, so goes in, accidentally throws a ball in the pool, and then goes in after it.

All of these scenarios are real instances when parents that I have read about or even knew personally have done something, made either an error in judgment or a simple human error, a mistake, a forgotten check, and it has resulted in inexplicable tragedy.

Every single day, millions of parents put their little ones in harm's way when we strap them into our cars and take off down the road.  Sure, car seats have helped reduce the deaths, especially if the child is properly strapped in, but there are still accidents where children who are properly strapped into a car seat die.  Does that mean that every parent who puts their child into a car seat and drives away in the car should be charged with abuse or neglect or assault or whatever?  There is risk in everything we do and sometimes we don't even remember to do or not do something that results in a risky outcome.

That's why I am really tired of the way these parents are received by society when their story, their life-changing tragedy, their despair and grief, becomes news.

We say, "I would never do such a thing!"  "My children are my life and anybody who lets this happen to their child shouldn't have had children!"  "What kind of idiots are these people to let this happen to their child!  It would never happen to my child!"

The news story gets posted on a news website and then social media takes over, spreading it around the globe like wildfire with the purpose of stoning the parents or caregivers of the child who was lost, calling for nothing short of a murder charge and the death penalty.

It especially makes my heart ache when this happens in communities with a highly religious population, religion that is supposed to teach love and compassion.

Yes, there are a few parents out there who are really neglectful, who treat their offspring as garbage, and even purposely cause them harm.  But those are not the parents I am talking about.  I am talking about the pediatrician who forgot she was taking her baby to daycare and left her in the sweltering car all day.  I'm talking about the doting mother who fell asleep watching a movie with her little ones and her toddler went in the backyard and was strangled in a soccer net.  I'm talking about the loving father who didn't know his 1-year-old had followed him outside while he hitched up the trailer and he accidentally backed over her while moving it.

These parents are suffering the worst kind of grief and guilt imaginable, and rather than reaching out to help console them in their suffering, we throw stones and call for crucifixion of them.  We are no better than the Puritan society of "The Scarlet Letter" or the witch-burning tribunals of Salem.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that we should "Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep." (Romans 12:15)  In the Book of Mormon, we are taught that to be called the people of God, we must be willing to "bear one another's burdens...and to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort." (Mosiah 18:8-9) In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted." (Matthew 5:4)

Whether or not a person is a Christian doesn't matter.  Yes, those are tenets of Christianity, but I would care to wager that other faiths teach compassion and love also.

Compassion (n) as defined by my 9-year-old's school dictionary is "sympathy for suffering, kindness."  This is something that many people simply lack in our modern society that is so focused on "me" and doing everything with self in mind.

We all need to be more compassionate.  Is there a time and place to punish those who do inflict intentional harm on their children?  Of course.  Are some instances of accidental harm also punishable?  Probably.  But I don't think we should be so quick to stone others for these types of mistakes.  Accidents do happen.  Every single one of us is capable of leaving a child in a car or being unaware while our child wanders out of the house.  Every. Single. One.

I am tired of so much judging and casting of stones.  I think we would all do better to support each other and comfort each other.  It doesn't happen often enough.  Yes, there are times when the news picks up a story of real love, compassion and comfort, but in the public eye, it isn't seen often enough.  Especially on threads of news stories about parents making fatal errors.  Please, people, let's try and be more compassionate and more loving.  If there was more compassion in this world, think of what a better place it would be!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

My Brothers

I have five brothers.  This has been a source of both pride and disappointment throughout my life.  I have always enjoyed telling people that I have five brothers and no sisters.  That automatically paints me as someone who is pretty tough and also someone who has people watching her back.  I do wish that I had sisters, and that is where the disappointment lies, but that is another story for another day.  I fall in the middle with two older and three younger.

This picture was taken four days before my oldest brother Jordan was killed in a car accident.  There aren't a whole lot of pictures of just me and my brothers, especially since we all grew up.  I insisted on having this picture taken at our recent family reunion.  I'm very glad I did.

My relationship with each of my brothers is very unique.  Anyone who knows me knows how much I love all my brothers though.  I have often told people stories of what it was like growing up with five boys.  I have often shared, with pride, the accomplishments of my brothers.  They are all, indeed, great men.  I admire each of them for different reasons. 

But of all my brothers, the only one who ever expressed this same kind of appreciation to me by telling me of his appreciation and sharing his admiration of me with others was Jordan.  Not one of my other brothers ever told me that I looked beautiful, but Jordan did.  Not one of them (to my knowledge) ever told anyone about me with pride that I was his sister, but Jordan did.  I didn't even realize he did as often as he did until after his death.  I have had many, many people that knew him, but not me, tell me how he spoke of me often and how he admired me.

When I was in first grade, Jordan was in fourth grade.  We had recess at the same time.  He introduced me to some of the girls in his class.  Those girls continued to be kind to me, even into high school.  I remember how nervous I was the night before starting junior high school (7th grade).  He was starting 10th grade that year, which was at the high school.  I was so afraid I would get lost in the hallways and not be able to find my classes.  He sat down with me and went over my class schedule and mapped it all out for me.  I remember going to many stake dances with him and his group of friends once I had turned fourteen.  I have a lot of these kinds of memories with Jordan that I don't have with most of my other brothers.

In the last few years, we hadn't talked as much as we used to.  When we were both in college, we talked often on the phone.  After college and when real life started, we still talked a few times a month on the phone.  But as his life got complicated and difficult, we didn't talk as often.  Oh, how I wish I would have been better about calling him.  It had only been in the recent two to three months that we began talking on the phone more often again.

I will miss Jordan tremendously.  I will miss his friendship.  Yes, friendship.  His phone calls, his Facebook comments, his comments on my blog posts, random emails and instant messaging and texts.  It wasn't often, but it was more often than I communicate with some of my other brothers.  I guess now I know what I need to work on with my other brothers.

Jordan, I love you.  You really were a good brother to me.  And even though when we were little, you sometimes teased me, you were never really mean.  I hope and pray you are in a happy place.  I know the last few years of your life you had an immense struggle.  I hope you passed your test.  I love you, my brother.

Friday, July 11, 2014


It was the afternoon of Wednesday, July 9th, and I had spent the morning visiting with friends at playgroup and then having lunch with my sister-in-law in American Fork.  My husband was gone to a meeting at work and the four older kids were at a park nearby playing with each other.  The younger two had just woken up from naps and were playing in the living room with me while I wrote up a blog post about watching my children grow up.  I finished my blog post and then got my memory card out of my digital camera to start uploading the pictures and videos I took at the family reunion we had with my side of the family over the weekend.

That's when it happened.  The home phone rang.  I rarely get calls on the home phone.  It's usually either my parents or a solicitor.  Being that it was 4:30 p.m., my parents don't usually call at that time, so I figured solicitor.  But I went and got it anyway and saw on the caller i.d. it was coming from my dad's line at the house.  "I wonder why he is calling at 4:30 on a Wednesday, so soon after we just spent a weekend with each other," I thought, frowning, as I answer the phone.

My dad's voice came through on the line.  He was on speaker phone.  He told me that my mother was on the phone too (she said hello) and that they had some news.  My stomach sank.  This couldn't be good.  He didn't say they had good news.  Only that it was news, which is code for "bad news."  I instantly had thoughts flash in my head of someone in the family dying, perhaps a cousin, aunt or uncle.  Perhaps it wasn't a death, but an accident and someone was in a hospital.  I was not ready for what came next.

I was told that my oldest brother had been in a car accident early in the morning and had passed away.

"No!  That can't be right!" I said.  I said that into the phone more than once, with my parents assuring me that it was and that it was real.  They asked where my husband was and whether I wanted them to call him.  I told them he was in a meeting and wouldn't answer his phone, even if it was them calling.  They said they still had others to call and would talk to me more later.  The call ended.

I burst into tears, screaming and crying.  My two little ones looked at me. I got them into the car to pick up my other kids.  As I was buckling my 1-year-old into her car seat, I screamed, "Why, Heavenly Father, why?  Why now?"  I couldn't stop the tears.  I picked up my kids and told them why I was upset.  They all screamed with upset too, some even cried a little.

They didn't know my brother very well.  In the last decade, we have only seen him about once a year, sometimes less.   The reunion we'd just had over the weekend was the first time I had seen him since Thanksgiving of 2012.  It had been twenty months, nearly two years, since my husband, the kids, or I had seen him.

We came home, I called and called my husband's phone.  Eventually he called me back to see what was going on, since I don't usually bother him during meetings.  He came home right away when I told him.

I wanted to write all this down so I can accurately remember what happened and how I felt the day I found out my oldest brother had been killed in a car accident.  It was the most horrifying, awful day of my life, second only to the day his ex-wife called me the previous April (2013) to tell me they were getting a divorce.  I have cried so much in the two days since (has it really only been two days because it feels like normalcy was a lifetime ago) that my eyes are constantly hurting and my head and neck and throat hurt.

I alternate between calmness with acceptance of this change and downright, distraught, deep, deep heartache demonstrated with wrenching sobs and endless tears.  I don't know how to handle this.  I don't know what to think or to feel.

I know the rhetoric.  I even believe it.  It is comforting to have a knowledge of eternal families.  It is comforting to know of Heavenly Father's merciful plan.  It is helpful to recall all of the tender mercies that have been happening surrounding this tragic event.

It is still so very, very painful and I feel so very, very raw.  I do appreciate people's suggestions for scriptures or hymns or temple visits or priesthood blessings.  They are helpful and comforting.  But they don't stop the pain.  My heart aches deeply.  I didn't know it could hurt this badly and not have an actual physical ailment.  It is a constant, deep ache.  My stomach is upset and I am having trouble eating.  I can't sit still.  My mind and its ramblings are ceaseless.

I will probably be talking more about this in future posts.  I feel it will help me grieve, not only to write it down, but to share it.

I will miss my brother tremendously.  I cannot believe that he is gone from this mortal existence. 

This is my brother playing with one of our other nephews at our family reunion.  
His little daughter (one of six kids) is the blondie right next to them.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


My oldest child turned eleven two months ago and my youngest has been one for four months.  Eight more months, which will fly right by, and she will be two years old, no longer really a baby.  I remember my oldest when he was this age.  Of course, I was expecting his brother already, due in a few months (they are seventeen months apart).  With each little step my little one makes in her development, I think back to when her older siblings hit those milestones.  She just figured out how to climb onto the kitchen chairs.  Next will be the crib.  One of her brothers climbed out of the crib at sixteen months.  She is fifteen months, almost sixteen months.  She is so quickly moving away from the baby stage.  And it makes me sad.

But I am also happy to watch my kids grow up.  It's wonderful watching them develop into who they will become.  I love that my oldest child is a fantastic artist who can whip out amazing drawings at request.  He is also able to play the piano by ear, which then he will figure out the music for his trumpet also.  He has even written some of his own music.  I love that my second oldest can fold any paper into any shape or design you want him to.  My third child is very athletic and strong and it is fun to watch him play and do any sport.  My fourth child loves to sing and dance and has natural ability there.  My fifth child is good with his hands and it will be fun to see what he does with his talents (he is only three).  I have no idea what my baby's strengths are yet, but it will be such fun to find out.

It is still sad that they are growing up so quickly.  The innocence of their faces and the sweetness of their questions is disappearing so much more quickly than I imagined.  I remember when my oldest was a newborn, I thought about him being in elementary school, second grade specifically (I had been a second grade teacher before he was born), and how far away that seemed.  Now he is going to be starting middle school and in a few short years, high school, and then he'll be gone.  And the kids following him will just be even more speedy.

Watching your kids grow up is a bittersweet experience, indeed.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Let Them Play Alone

There is a lot of pressure today to do everything with your kids.  You are criticized if you choose to sit back and watch them instead of get down and play with them.  Now, I fully believe that parents should play with their kids often.  I believe in the power of play, and one form of that play includes playing with a parent or other adult.

Tonight I was at the pool with my four older kids.  All this last week, there has been a post (a great post, to be sure) going around about how you should not worry about what you look like in a swimsuit and just get in the pool and play with your kids.  How I look in a swimsuit isn't something that concerns me when I am at the pool.  I don't believe either that people sit around and look at you and think about how you shouldn't be in a swimsuit.  I think most peopled are too self-absorbed to notice or think about how anyone else looks at the pool.

I love to swim and always take my kids swimming in the summer.  Sometimes, though, I just don't want to get in the water.  Sometimes, I just don't want to be wet.  Sometimes, the pool water is just too cold for me.  Tonight, the air was cool (high 70s) and even though it was hot all day, it wasn't warm enough for me to get in the water.  I didn't even want to put my feet in because the air was so comfortable.  So I watched from a chair on the side.  I didn't even bring my phone or something to read.  My four older kids can all swim just fine.  They had brought super spraying water guns to play with and were really going at it with each other.

I started to feel guilty for not getting in the water with them even though they asked several times.  The whole idea of not missing out on sharing a moment with them made me feel like I was doing something wrong.

But then I realized that they were playing together really well.  They played with those water guns for a good thirty to forty minutes, happy, laughing, swimming together.  They were getting along without me having to intervene every few minutes and remind them to be nice and share and blah, blah, blah.  Why should I interrupt that?  As great as it is to play with your kids and swim with them and do all these activities with them, it's also really good for them to play with each other without adult intervention or inclusion.  Sometimes, kids just need to play with other kids and work things out on their own without us.

So, even though it's great to get down and play with them and include yourself in their activities, it's also just fine to sit back and watch and not be part of it.  It helps them bond with each other and build friendships with each other.  After all, when I'm gone, they will have each other, and that will be a hundred times better if they are also friends.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Free Entertainment and Summer Fun

This summer, it is my goal to have as much fun as possible without spending any more money.  I bought a family pool pass for the summer, which was way too much money, in my opinion, given the hours the pool is open and how often it's closed due to thunderstorms, but beyond that, I have no intention of spending any more money.

That means no trips to Thanksgiving Point (a local attraction that consists of a few museums, beautiful gardens, an agricultural learning area, a movie theater, and lots of shops), no trips to the zoo, no trips to the aquarium.  That means no taking any summer classes beyond the private trumpet/trombone lessons I signed the boys up for to keep them practicing over the summer for band.  It means no lunches out and even no stopping at the snow cone shack for a cold treat on a hot day. It also means no road trips to visit family or friends.  What it means is only doing activities that cost no money at all.

What on earth does that leave to do?  In society's eyes, probably not a lot.  I've noticed that the fun most people post on Facebook that they have tend to be activities that cost money.  Not that any of that is bad; it's not.  But I have taken a good look around and realized that there is so much to do that can be done for free, or even really cheap.

Here is a my list of things to do so far:

--BYU has several museums that are free: The Museum of Art, The Monte L. Bean Science Museum, and a natural history museum. 

--There are lots of places to hike in the mountains around here (most of which I still have to discover because I don't know where kid-friendly hikes are)

--Blackridge Reservoir, which is a small man-made lake that we can swim in

--Many biking trails in our city

--Many new parks to explore

--Downtown SLC--Temple Square and some adjacent areas, like the Church History Museum and hiking up to Promontory Point.

--Free concerts/movies in the park hosted by the city

--Free parades, fairs and firework events throughout the summer

Then, of course, there is good, old-fashioned playing in a field: baseball, soccer, tag, etc. and other outdoor activities that can be done with a group of kids (six siblings and a mom count!), like chalk drawing, four square, basketball, bike games, setting up a lemonade/snow cone/other cold treat stand, and many, many more.

When I was growing up, we used to keep ourselves pretty well entertained in the summers without our parents carting us around to museums, aquariums, and zoos and other venues.  Somehow, we all  managed to come out of it okay and not bored.  Somehow we kept busy and out of trouble and had a lot of fun. 

So I'm going to focus this summer on a throwback to old times.  I'm not even doing my usual "summer learning" .  My kids have been in school since last July and they need a real break.  Aside from 30 minutes of daily reading and instrument practicing, they are free to play to their hearts content.

Ah, summer.  Good times!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Then and Now Kids

When I was a kid, my family joined a community club pool.  At that club, kids could go alone, without their parents, if they were eight years old or older and could pass a swim test.  The swim test involved swimming several laps, treading water for one minute and then retrieving something on the bottom of the pool.  My brothers and I passed that swim test easily and then spent the whole summer at the pool all day.   We would get there when they opened at 10 am and stay until lunch.  After heading home for lunch, we would go back to the pool until dinner time.  Often my mom would come with us in the afternoons.  Sometimes we would go back after dinner with my dad too.  When we weren't swimming there, they had sand volleyball, tetherball, and a video game room.  All of our friends did the same thing.  It was such a great place!
I was telling my kids about this awesomeness and one of them said, "Man, I wished I grew up when you did and lived in that place!"

I decided to look up that old community club pool to see if it was still there.  Sure enough, it's there.  So I decided to see if my kids could have the awesome summers now that I had when I was a kid if we lived in that place.  I was disappointed to learn that all of the things about the pool remained mostly the same except a few key differences.  They upped the age of attending without a parent to TWELVE!  My oldest, who is an awesome swimmer and the same age I was my first summer at the pool, wouldn't be able to attend without an accompanying adult even though he could easily pass the swim test.  The same swim test that I took at age eleven, mind you.

Why did we trust an eight-year-old in 1989 with doing something that today we wouldn't let an eleven-year-old do?  What changed?  Did they have one or more children unaccompanied by a parent drown in that pool between 1994 and 2014?  If they did, that would be terribly tragic, of course, but other than that, I can't see any reason why they should change the age if it was working then.

About eight years ago, a seven-year-old from Mesa, Arizona swam across San Fransisco Bay.  By himself.  It was to support campaigns to teach kids to swim to prevent childhood drownings.  Why do pools have rules that wouldn't even allow this seven-year-old, obviously an accomplished swimmer, attend the pool without being accompanied by a parent?

My own seven-year-old could pass that swim test.  I am seriously bugged by the notion that kids are not capable and need to be protected all the time.  The best times I had were the times I was given the freedom to do things as a child.  My younger brothers and I had a lot of fun times and a lot of them were at that pool.  I have the fondest memories of that place.

I don't know what the pool rules are at my current pool of choice regarding unaccompanied kids, simply because it is far enough away without any sort of bus service that my kids will have to always go with me.  Fortunately, they have a mama who loves to swim too (thanks to my childhood and spending those days at that pool), so we will go as often as possible.  But I won't be standing next to them nor will I force them to wear a life jacket all the time.  How can they learn to swim if they are always wearing a life jacket?

Somehow, kids have become incapable of doing things they could do on their own twenty years ago.  Parents have helicoptered and hovered and overprotected to the point that kids no longer can do the same things at the same ages as they could in the past.  They simply aren't ever allowed to try so they never develop the skill and are therefore not capable because we don't let them become capable. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

I do have six kids...

This week I had a conversation with another mom.  She said something like this, "You moms with lots of kids amaze me.  I only have a few and it's insane at my house sometimes!"

Honey, it's insane at my house pretty much all the time.  In fact, more often than not it is complete chaos.  People seem to think I have everything under control with my six kids.  It's true that I am an organized person.  I thrive on discipline and routine.  I like things to be clean.  Not just hide-the-clutter-because-a-guest-is-coming-over clean.  I like it white glove clean.  I like the closets, under the beds, the spice cabinet, the medicine cabinet, and all those other hidden places to be organized and clean too.  (Note: my house is not always this clean but I would love it to be this clean and strive to keep it as clean as I can.)

I scrubbed my baseboards, doors and door frames today because the little dark marks that are left by too many hands and feet were bothering me.  After I was done, I felt I had accomplished something fantastic.  Most likely, nobody will even notice anything is different, but it made me feel different to have it done.  I felt cleaner, more organized, and more in control of my world.

I love the Bill Cosby routine where he talks about parents and justice.  He talks about a crying child coming to a parent about a sibling taking a toy and how unfair it is.  He says, "We don't care about justice!  We just want quiet!"  That is the story of my life.

I am nervous that you admire me.  I want you to know, that as amazing as I may seem because I am juggling six kids, I am not all that amazing.  I yell way too much.  I sometimes hide in my closet.

I realize you probably look at me in awe because you struggle with your one, two or three.  I struggled when I had one, two, and three.  Parenting is grueling, exhausting, thanklessly difficult work that many people take for granted.  Everyone has a parent.  Many people who have never been a parent look back on their own parents and probably don't realize how taxing of a job it was.  Maybe their parents made it look easy or made it look like the parenting aspect of everything they did was a side thing.  I know I had such thoughts before I was a parent.  Now, with my six, I admire my mom even more for all she did for us.  I certainly didn't appreciate her at the time.  But now I recognize that she probably gave up sleep, spent many nights and days worrying about us, gave up money by having more kids, and many, many other things.

I have six kids.  That doesn't make me a parenting genius.  The only thing that I am genius at is realizing how hard parenting is and how hard we sometimes make it for each other.  We all have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to parenting.  Maybe some people don't keep a spotless house but some do.  I have read articles pointing fingers at moms who do keep houses clean and implying that they must not be focused enough on their kids because their houses are so clean.  If they're like me, they can't focus until the house is clean.  Then they are much more relaxed and better at their job.  Maybe some people keep a spotless house and can't understand how one can function in a home that's not clean.  I know several moms who don't keep a clean house but they do amazing things with their kids and are much more relaxed about certain things than I am.

We are all different.  We need to stop making parenting a competition and a war.  Yes, we all should strive to do the best job possible, but my best job might look different than your best job.

So, mom with less than six kids, I may make it look easy because you struggle with three, and right now, three would be easier for me, but when I had three, I struggled with that too.  We are on the same road.  Let's help each other out along the way.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


We just celebrated two birthdays in our house.  My baby girl just turned one year old last week and my youngest son just turned three the day before that.

Birthdays are kind of a big deal in our house.  We let the birthday child choose their meals all day long.  They often get to choose an activity to do as a family or have a birthday party.  We do cake and ice cream and presents.  The cake is their favorite part, I think (I could be wrong, but they sure get excited about it), because I always make a fun cake that has to do with something they are into right then.  My three-year-old's cake was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cake of his favorite turtle--Michelangelo.

But my kids' birthdays are very special to me.  They are close to my heart in a way that is different than they are for anyone else, even my husband.

Whenever one of my kids has a birthday, I reflect back on the actual day of their birth.

I remember how the labor began, what I was doing when it started.

I remember what the birth was like and what it was like when my baby was first placed in my arms.

All of the emotions I had at that time come flooding back, only they come flooding back as bittersweet because that time is gone and done.  Bitter because I will not be experiencing the anticipation of the birth of my own children ever again nor feel the high of delivering that baby and seeing him or her for the first time in my arms.  Sweet because I look back on those times very fondly, as the births of each of my six children were such beautiful, sweet, spiritual moments in my life.

And with each birthday, I think to myself, "It's been one year (or two years, or five years, or ten years) since I was in that hospital room in labor having that baby" and I remember that day and those feelings I had.

My children's birthdays may be exciting days for them, but they are such sweet, sweet days for me.

Now, let's see if you can guess which baby is which?  10 points if you get them all right!  (They are in no sort of order, and let's be blunt--the first picture is quite obvious who it is--the hair!)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Raise Your Child the Way You See Fit

I get so tired of reading, day after day, all of the parenting advice that is out there.

Of course, often we seek the advice.  My baby sleeps sometimes and sometimes she doesn't.  She eats well some days and other days she doesn't.  So obviously, I try to find answers, or at least something I can do to help her lest I feel helpless.

However,  I feel overwhelmed by all the advice.  I get that we need to pick and choose what we think will work for our own families.  Still, that is rather difficult to do, and sometimes we still can't figure it out.  But if we try to heed all of the advice we read and hear, we will go crazy.

I recently read this about the "cry-it-out" method.  Granted, it is a few years old, but it came out right about the time that my fifth child was born and contributed greatly to my mom guilt, even though I had let my older four children cry at times.  The thing is, these articles tend to not distinguish between the truly damaging crying (orphans in filthy orphanages overseas who are left to cry for hours and hours because there is not enough help to care for them) and crying that helps keep the sanity of a mother going crazy (having to take care of kids who are 18 months apart when they are young, sometimes you had to let one cry to meet the needs of the other). They also don't seem to take into consideration the generations and generations of capable people who turned out just fine despite being left to cry it out at babies. Honestly, this kind of article makes me crazy. Of course, that is because I am guilty of letting my babies cry but more than that, I feel that my children were not damaged by it.

Besides that, a lot of the parenting advice given today is very child-centered.  The article referenced above states

A government pamphlet from the time recommended that "mothering meant holding the baby quietly, in tranquility-inducing positions" and that "the mother should stop immediately if her arms feel tired" because "the baby is never to inconvenience the adult."  Babies older than six months "should be taught to sit silently in the crib; otherwise, he might need to be constantly watched and entertained by the mother, a serious waste of time." (See Blum, 2002.)

Now, I'm not saying this government pamphlet had excellent advice, but I also don't believe that a child will be damaged because her mother puts her down when her arms are tired and because she is no longer in her mother's arms, she cries.  I really don't think that will damage a child.  If her mother threw her down or slapped her in the process, that would be damaging.  If her mother never held her, claiming she was too tired, that would be damaging.  I feel that whole notion is very child-centered.

Yes, I believe that good parents sacrifice a lot to be good parents, but I also don't think they should sacrifice everything and let the child rule their life.

I also believe that a lot of the advice given today does not necessarily lend itself to raising the quality of human being I want to raise.  I believe in things like good old-fashioned work, making kids wait for things, sometimes telling them words like no and never, making them walk places (walk!  can you imagine?), letting them fail (crazy, I know!), and letting them solve their own problems.

Parents, your job is to provide food and shelter and security for your children.  There are many avenues to get there.  Seek advice, but don't try to do everything.  And remember, if you are trying and you are doing what you think is best for your family, don't let the naysayers make you feel inadequate.  You are not inadequate to raise the child that was given to you.  You are just the person that child needs to have as his or her parent.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Every Little Moment

There are so many blog articles and stories written about how we must treasure every moment of our child's fleeting childhood.  They will be grown someday.  We will miss this.  We will yearn for this.  Make sure you treasure every moment so completely because it will be gone before you know it.

I love my babies.  All six of them. I have loved every phase they have been in and hated every phase they have been in.  I have lain there at night thinking how eager I was for this phase to be over and at the same time, feeling sad because the phase would be over soon.

I read these blogs and feel bad because I do not love a lot of my baby's babyhood.  I hate changing diapers.  It seems every time I get going on something and am really deep into it, be it cleaning, cooking, fixing something, writing, reading, whatever, my baby needs another diaper change.  Or she starts to cry.  If I sit there doing nothing with the expectation she'll have one of these moments, then of course, she doesn't.  I don't love the sleepless nights (I am more exhausted than I have ever been with this sixth one--and she was the most terrific sleeper of them all from three months to eight months) and I don't love the teething.  I hate the rear-facing carseat (she screams the entire time she is in the car, every time, because she can't see me).

I have felt guilty because I'm not enjoying every little moment.

But today I had a realization.

To put my 2-year-old down for a nap, someone has to lie down with him until he falls asleep.  In the bed with him.  He will not nap any other way.  He falls asleep at night without this, but for naps, it's the only way.  As I lay there waiting for him to doze off soundly, I watched him fall asleep.  I memorized his face--the way his red hair flopped over his forehead, the way his eyelashes softly fluttered, his perfectly puckered little lips, his adorably kissable cheeks--and I realized that I do this kind of thing all. the. time.

I spend time every day taking in my babies' faces and memorizing what they look like at this age.

I do this with my ten-year-old.  I do this with my ten-month-old.  So maybe, just maybe, after all, despite the nightly moment when I wish my baby wouldn't be a baby anymore so she would sleep all night, I am enjoying their babyhood and childhood.

But maybe I just don't have to enjoy every little moment.

Book Review: The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

This book has been an enjoyable read for me.  I love to read about parenting.  I was eager to read this book to find out exactly what constitutes "Chinese parenting".  I had a vague idea in my mind, having grown up in an area where there were many Asian students.  I don't know how my Asian friends were raised, having never even been in any of their homes, but I'm certain, based on how they fared academically and musically, that it was probably similar to Amy Chua's description.

Much of the book resonated well with me.  I want my kids to be successful and high-achievers.  I want them to learn music and keep up with their studies.  I want them to be obedient and well-disciplined and polite.  I agree with some of her philosophies, in that I believe that parents should be respected and that children should grow up to take care of their parents.  I believe in being strict about many things too, that some of the pleasures our children indulge in these days are not necessary and many should be avoided.

I can agree that Western parents tend to coddle their children too much.  They don't allow for a lot of personal growth; they don't have very high expectations and don't expect much follow-through.  They come to the aide of their children far too quickly.  That I can agree with.

However, I didn't like some of her methods.  I guess that's the Western parent in me since was raised by Western parents.  I don't believe that her methods will necessarily result in adults who are confident enough to choose their own path.  She doesn't want them to choose their path.  That sounds a bit like Satan to me.  "My way or the highway", right?

I think there is probably a way to blend the best of both worlds.  Perhaps parenting with high expectations in addition to remembering Jesus Christ and following his example.  I think there would be less yelling and more loving.  I'd like to find a way to parent like that.


Related Posts with Thumbnails