Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Our Christmas

Other than the kids being home from school and that they have some new toys, our world is pretty much back to normal today. I'm still in my robe, just payed some bills and now I'm putting off the laundry. Utah Dad is back to work. The Christmas tree and the other decorations are stored away until next year. The plastic tree needles all over my floor have been vacuumed up. Most of the yummy treats have been devoured. The beautiful cards from friends and family have been removed from the wall and are ready to file away (I save them). The wreath is no longer hanging on the front door.

As delighted as I am to put away the "Christmas clutter" (by the end of the season it really starts to bug me and we like to start the New Year fresh), I'm still feeling a little sad that the holiday season is coming to an end. We had a great one.

On Christmas Eve, Utah Dad cooked our traditional rib roast (we watch for the sales all season to grab a big one at a good price). It was perfect--medium rare and juicy. I added some mashed potatoes, gravy and additional fixings to the dinner. My in-laws stopped by for a couple of hours in the afternoon to eat with us.

After dinner, the kids opened their Christmas jammies. We attempted to do our reenactment of the nativity. I couldn't find most of the costume items we've used in the past. They must be in that box we didn't get out this year. The kids love this but they were also very excited and "being still" did not really happen.

After we read the Christmas story from Luke 2 and sang some hymns, the kids went to bed and Utah Dad and I set up our new TV so that we could watch It's a Wonderful Life together before going to bed.

The boys woke up just after seven and proceeded to wake the girls. They were pleasantly surprised to see that Santa had returned their names to the "nice list" and left them some lovely gifts. He didn't leave Amberly a violin or the game Neal finally decided he wanted on Christmas Eve (we warned him that Santa's sleigh was already loaded) but they still got most of what they requested.

We spent Christmas day in our pajamas playing our new games and watching our new movies. Utah Dad made "Breakfast Dinner" for breakfast. I cut up cheese and summer sausage to eat on crackers for lunch. The entire day was delightful and relaxing.

We loved learning and playing the new games Santa left in Amberly's and Utah Dad's stockings. Sleeping Queens and Loot are both fun, reasonably priced card games from GameWright. I was surprised that even Neal loves to play Sleeping Queens.

Early Saturday morning we all loaded into the minivan and headed to my parents' home in North Eastern Utah. It takes us a few hours and we arrived before lunch. Neal joined a bunch of my siblings and their families on a sledding outing. We were able to watch the videos later. My brothers are seriously insane. Several of the sledders came home looking as if their faces had tangled with the bushes or as one nephew put it, "he plant faced it."

I have six siblings--four brothers and two sisters. We're all married. We all have kids. Except for my youngest brother and his wife--they have a really big dog. There were 19 grandkids there this weekend (my sister's step-daughter was unable to join us). There are two eight-year-old boys; two six-year-old girls and four babies. The other 11 kids are between the ages of one and five. My parents' lovely but modest home was bursting at the seams so my mom arranged for us to spend Saturday afternoon at the church.

My uncle and cousins joined us. We ate delicious soup in bread bowls; visited; played basketball and ran relay races; sang Christmas carols and watched the children perform a talent show of sorts. The kids sang songs, told jokes and danced. My sister captured some wonderful blackmail style video of Neal dancing that could be very valuable during this teenage years.

Sunday morning we gathered in the ward where we grew up and my brother blessed his fourth baby and first daughter. Another brother sang the musical number accompanied by his wife. I didn't get to stay in the meeting for long because Thomas shouted out "I need to throw up". How could I stay? Everyone turned to look. I recognized the fear in their eyes. I took him straight to the restroom. He didn't. I'm pretty sure he just figured out a new way to get out of Sacrament Meeting.

Amberly informed me this weekend that she "needs to grow up on a farm". She had just come in from helping Grandpa feed his horses. My daughters and nieces LOVE horses. So Grandpa arranged to take the girls and some of the boys to his friends' house to see their miniature horses. The horses were so cute and little and gentle and the kids had a great time. The kids got to pet them, feed them, lead them around and even sit on their backs. I think I know what the girls will be asking Santa for next year. The owner invited us back this spring to see the baby miniature horses.

One of my favorite times at my parents' house is when all the kids go to bed and the adults gather in the dining room with treats and games. We visit and eat and have a great time. Sunday night we pulled out my sister's new game--Curses. I haven't laughed that hard in a really long time. My cheeks hurt and my side ached. There are some really funny people in my family.

We stayed up too late. We ate too much food. By the time we left my parents' home yesterday, Utah Dad felt a little like this miniature horse.

We were exhausted and harried by the time we got home last night. But it was worth it because it was so much fun. Bring on New Year's Eve!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Few Christmas Pictures

They're not reindeer. They're pronghorn antelope. This picture was taken out my bedroom window. I think they're beautiful.

We should have taken pictures BEFORE church when their hair still looked good. And inversion fog=crappy light in my house for pictures. The boys dressed up nicely in Christmas clothes for church too but they were unwilling to pose for pictures after church (they had already changed into pajamas). The kids didn't match this year but they were color coordinated in red and black. And thanks to hand-me-downs from my sister-in-law, Amberly was the only one who needed a new dress. I love my cute girls.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Clam Chowder for Dinner

Utah Dad and I love clam chowder. I know. Really. Even though we live in Utah--no where near clams. We love it anyway. While we lived in New Hampshire we ate it a lot. We ordered it nearly every time we ate out. We once ate clam chowder for lunch in Boston and later that evening had a bowl for dinner in San Francisco all while trying to get home to Utah (that was a long day).

I've tried so many different clam chowder recipes over the years. Some have been good. Others not so good. Then last year we got the really cool 9th Ward Cook Book and there was a recipe for chowder by our friend Rheanna. She had lived in Maine. Her husband was from Maine. Utah Dad insisted that it would be good (Mainers KNOW clam chowder). So, we tried it.

It was delicious. And easy. And unlike some clam chowder recipes that call for cream, I can keep all the ingredients in my pantry so that I can make it whenever I feel like it (those cold, homesick for NH type of days).

I've adapted the recipe a little to make it more our style and here it is (mostly Rheanna's--I hope she doesn't mind if I share it).

Clam Chowder

* Peel and chop some potatoes (I usually use about 10 medium size potatoes). Put the potatoes in a big pot and just cover with water. Put them on the stove to boil.
* Chop and sautee an onion in butter (or olive oil). I use butter because I like butter. :) When the onions are nice and transparent throw them in with the potatoes.
* Cook the potatoes until they are nice and soft. I hate to bite into an undercooked potato in my soup. Yuck.
* Add 3-4 cans of chopped or minced clams and the juice (whatever kind your husband happened to buy in the store. Sometimes we use both kinds. And because we're in Utah we use canned clams. Obviously.)
* Now pour in one can of evaporated milk. You might need two cans if you like it thinner. (Do not let it boil after adding the milk.)
* Salt and pepper to taste.
* I add some butter. Because I like butter. (Did I mention that already?) And because the clam chowder at Newick's in Dover, NH always had melted butter floating on top.

We had it for dinner last night. With scones. I had more for lunch today. Mmmm. So so very good.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


My sister-in-law gave me a tube of C.O. Bigelow Mentha Lip Shine a few weeks ago. I LOVE it and now I don't think I can live without it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

"Be Like a Duck" (a Lucky Duck)

There are two lucky ducks today.



Jenni S.

both win a copy of Sandra Boynton's latest book/DVD "One Shoe Blues". While we're in the Boynton mood be sure to click here to watch another fun music video "Be Like a Duck" (a single from the Philadelphia Chickens CD).

If you happen to be Cassie or Jenni S., congratulations! Please send me an email with your information so that you can enjoy your new Boynton book right away.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's the Year Without a Santa Claus

Every Christmas season we make a trip to a local mall to let the kids visit Santa Claus. We try to go early in the season on a Monday afternoon in an attempt to avoid crowd and long waits (we're successful about half the time). This year, our trip to visit Santa was scheduled for yesterday. The kids were excited and looking forward to it. Neal was still trying to decide what he should ask for.

However, my children have found themselves on the naughty list this year. Sunday evening they were bad enough (i.e. impolite, rude, disobedient, completely obnoxious) that Utah Dad and I decided to cancel our annual visit to meet the jolly, bearded guy in the red suit.

We informed the children of our decision yesterday afternoon when they got home from school. There were some tears and some mild pledges of future obedience so that Santa might be persuaded (in letters) to return their names to his "nice list" before Christmas Eve.

Then during our revised Family Home Evening, we laid it on thick. Utah Dad and I are sick and tired of the name calling, the demands, the "tone" of voice, the rudeness. There were more tears and more slightly stronger pledges of future obedience and politeness. (Yes, it was one of those types of Family Home Evenings. Not really the intent of the Brethren, I imagine.)

And because we needed some positive reinforcements, we pulled out the big guns--the "Warm Fuzzy Jar". Ever since President Monson mentioned the warm fuzzy jar in October General Conference (the only thing my kids remember from the eight hours of conference talks we forced them to listen to) we have been intending to start our own warm fuzzy jar. I put it off, mostly because I kept forgetting to get pompoms whenever I went to the store. But now it was an emergency.

I showed the kids the large glass vase we would fill and the pompoms that I bought at Walmart yesterday (the kids are pretty sure I didn't buy enough to fill the jar. I promised them I'd buy more). They were excited and anxious to start being more obedient, kind, thoughtful and willing to serve others.

We told them a few ground rules:
1. Mommy and Daddy can reward a warm fuzzy for any good behavior that we observe (i.e. politely asking for something at the dinner table; using the potty for potty business; completing chores or homework without whining; obeying the first time . . .).
2. The child cannot ask for their own warm fuzzy for good behavior, but a kid can "tattle" on a sibling for good behavior that Mom and Dad might have missed.
3. We are all in on it together. It's a big family project. Not a contest.

We didn't come to a consensus about the prize we will get if and when we fill the jar. We're still thinking about it. We might have to have a family vote.

So far, on day one there are eleven warm fuzzies in the bottom of the jar. And that makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

How to Mend a Broken Heart

Eight years ago today Utah Dad and I handed our little baby boy over to the doctors and nurses at Boston Children's Hospital for major surgery on his heart.

We were at his two month old check-up with a pediatrician we had just met for the first time. As proud parents, we showed off our good-natured, chubby baby for Dr. Soares, who reminded me of a grizzly teddy bear. Dr. Soares joked and maintained the usual conversation with first-time parents until he listened to our baby's heart beat. He listened again. And again. I wasn't worried. Certainly nothing could be wrong with our delightful miracle baby. And then he order an EKG. And then he sent us to the hospital for blood pressure tests on our baby's tiny arms and legs. And then he gave us the name of a qualified and respected pediatric cardiologist.

We were first time parents. We didn't know that it was unusual for a baby to sweat profusely whenever he nursed (it was a hot and humid New Hampshire summer). We didn't know that a baby should kick his legs more. We didn't know that a baby shouldn't sleep so much (we thought that was good) or take so long to nurse. We thought we were holding him too tight when his legs turned purple.

The day before Neal's check-up, I had interviewed for a new position within the company where I worked. I was on maternity leave for another four weeks, but the position was working on the Utah contract and it was very likely that I would get it. I'd be able to travel to Utah several times a year and take Neal with me. The company had an on-site day care and great benefits for working moms. And I loved my job. At the same time, I really did want to stay home with my baby. We weren't sure how we would be able to afford having me at home, but there wasn't a question of how we would decide after that appointment. Thankfully, I've been able to stay home with my children ever since.

Dr. Rauchenbacher, the pediatric cardiologist, worked out of a hospital an hour away. We became very familiar with the drive to Manchester as we became very familiar with the technical terms of Neal's condition. After additional tests, including an echo cardiogram, it was determined that Neal had a coarctation of the aorta. Essentially, the aorta had a kink in it--like a garden hose--so blood flowed into his upper body at a high pressure and his lower body had very low blood pressure. (Neal claims that this is why he is so smart--all the blood went to his brain when he was a baby.)

The cardiologist wanted to schedule the surgery as soon as possible, insisting that the earlier the coarctation was repaired the better. Boston Children's Hospital was another hour south but the surgeons were very experienced and had excellent reputations. (We were already very familiar with Mass General in Boston. It sometimes seemed like our only trips to Boston were for hospital visits.) The surgery to repair Neal's heart was scheduled for December 6th, 2001.

Neal was five and a half months old by then. He weighed slightly more than 18 pounds. The other babies in our heart ward were tiny, frail, sick things. Even though it took Neal so long to eat--he'd get tired and would have to rest--he was my first and only baby. I could sit and nurse him all day if he wanted and sometimes I did. Thankfully, he continued to sleep a twelve hour stretch at night. Neal was sweet and cheerful. He smiled often and rarely cried. He didn't act sick. He didn't look sick.

The bulk of our family lived in Utah--over 2400 miles away--but Utah Dad's parents, my mom, grandma and sister flew to Boston to support us during Neal's surgery. We stayed in a nearby hotel and were at the hospital at six am for his scheduled surgery. There was an emergency and a delay and it was several more hours before Neal got called in for surgery. Even though he couldn't eat (I thought I might explode before a kind nurse found me a breast pump), Neal was sweet and cuddly and warmed the hearts of his grandparents and the staff.

I generally stay calm and collected in an emergency (it's later, when the tension breaks, that I cry). It was a very long day. I was about to crack. The surgeons cut the kink out of the aorta and then sewed it back together. That's what I remember now. At the time, we listened through all the technical, medical explanations; had detailed diagrams; asked every question we could think to ask. But now, eight years later, I remember only the basics. You can click here for a graphic summary (it's not graphic as in gross).

I remember seeing my little baby son, sedated and covered with countless tubes and wires, in ICU that evening. He looked so tiny then. His nurse was from Utah. My dear friends Sue and MaryEllen traveled from New Hampshire and Maine to visit us. Utah Dad stayed at the hospital that night in a cubby. I returned to the hotel. The next morning, Neal was awake and able to move from ICU to the heart wing. I could stay there with him. I could nurse him again. He hurt and he was sad. But he was brave and rarely cried. His grandparents spoiled him. I rocked him. I sang to him. I sang "Away in a Manger" and "A Child's Prayer". His Aunt DiDi sent a Christmas tree for his room. By the second day he was happy again, unless he had to take his medicine. He was on the mend and our spirits improved. His Gramps bought him a fish balloon that he loved to kick. His smile and laugh returned. We sat in our small corner of the ward we shared with three other tiny babies (that made me want to cry) and visited and joked and laughed. And we realized that we needed to be with our family again and made plans to return to Utah.

Eight years later, I rarely think about his surgery. Neal sees a pediatric cardiologist every few years. He's healthy and strong. He's a smart-aleck. He's a picky eater. He's a tease. He taught himself how to play the piano. He loves space and science and math. He reads Harry Potter. He plays soccer. Yesterday, he went to ski school at Alta. He fell down a bunch but he just kept getting up and he was getting the hang of it. And he wants to be a pediatric cardiologist when he grows up.

Today, I am grateful--grateful to my Heavenly Father for miracle babies; for Priesthood blessings; for doctors and nurses who have been inspired with the knowledge to heal; for family; for friends and especially for my darling, sweet, sometimes-obnoxious little boy.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sandra Boynton Book/Music Review and Give-away

They finally finished the road behind our house and Utah Dad insists that we get curtains for our kitchen window as soon as possible. He's especially concerned that our lovely neighbors might get a glimpse of me dancing in the kitchen. I love to dance but I am not very good at it. Seriously, grace and coordination are not two of my strengths. Unfortunately for Utah Dad, that doesn't stop me from dancing. He's mortified.

When Neal and Amberly were very small, I discovered a book and CD collection called Philadelphia Chickens by Sandra Boynton. Unlike most music for children, these songs had clever and humorous lyrics put to fabulous music performed by artists like Kevin Bacon, Laura Linney and Meryl Streep. It is music that makes you want to get up and dance--swing dance. I grab the kids and swing them around and we have a great time (I burn a few calories too). My new dance partners--Thomas and Lilly--also love it .  The Philadelphia Chickens CD includes nearly twenty songs that make you want to boogie. My personal favorite is a love ballad to the hard-to-reach chocolate chip cookies.

A few years after we found Philadelphia Chickens, I was delighted to see Sandra Boynton's  Dog Train at my local book store. Dog Train is an equally fabulous collection of songs dedicated to rock and roll. The songs are performed by actual bands that parents will recognize, like Hootie and the Blowfish and Five for Fighting. If it was possible to love a CD more than we loved Philadelphia ChickensDog Train was it. We rock out together to "Tantrum"  and "Penguin Lament". We listen to it in the car. We sing along. We all, including Utah Dad, know all the words. Sandra Boynton understands children and the way they think. If you don't believe me, listen to her songs "Broccoli" and "I Need a Nap". You'll be convinced.

More recently Sandra Boynton has written and published Blue Moo: Jukebox Hits from Way Back. We don't have that one--yet. Hmmm. Christmas is coming. "One Shoe Blues", a single from Blue Moo performed by the legendary B.B. King is the inspiration for Boynton's latest book and her first movie short.

Workman Publishing, who publishes all of Sandra Boynton's books, sent me a copy of One Shoe Blues, which includes the storybook, song, and a DVD with the musical movie short this week. My children and I have already enjoyed it several times. They also sent me two more copies to give away to you. Christmas is coming. I know you or a special child would love one. It would make a great stocking stuffer.

To win a copy of One Shoe Blues by Sandra Boynton leave a comment on this post. To earn additional chances to win do one or more of the following:

1.  Become a follower of Utah Mom's Life Blog.
2.  Add the Utah Mom's Life Button to your blog.
3.  Post about this give-away on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Be sure to come back and leave an additional comment on this post for each thing that you do.

The contest will be closed to entries at 11:59 pm on Thursday, December 10th. The winners (there will be two) will be announced on Friday, December 11th some time in the morning--after I get the kids off to school and feed Utah Dad and the others their breakfast and maybe get dressed (but probably not).

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Grand America Holiday Events - Out and About in Utah

I've been away from my computer (I checked my email on Saturday) since Wednesday morning. Besides trying to take a break from the addiction that is blogs, Facebook and Amazon.com, I was having much too much fun with my family this holiday.

Friday evening, Utah Dad, the kids and I joined my brother-in-law at The Grand America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City for the first annual "A Grand Holiday Festival". There were lots of Christmas lights, music and free food. I overheard one girl tell her dad, "this isn't your typical free food. This is good free food." And it was. Rich, hot cocoa. Wassail. Warm scones with honey butter. Toasted almonds. Good free food.

My second favorite part of the evening was the magnificent ginger bread houses on display. My brother-in-law's good friend Fernanda is the creator of the amazing church with an actual moving water wheel (pictured below) and another house. She and the other artisans did some awesome things with cookies and candy. We were all very impressed.


If you happened to miss the Festival last Friday night, you can still see the the Gingerbread houses on display at the Grand America Hotel through the month of December. The First Annual Teddy Bear Town will also be open through the Christmas season. Check the hotel's website for times and dates of other community activities during the month.

The kids also got to decorate their own ginger bread cookies. They loved that.

As a fun bonus, we happened to see ourselves enjoying the ginger bread houses on KUTV Channel 2 News. We all had a great time and it was a unanimous decision that we attend the Second Annual Grand Holiday Festival next year.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Thanksgiving Practical Joke

College is the time for practical jokes, right? During my freshman year at BYU (a really long time ago) my roommates and some of the guys from our Y-Group honed our practical joking skills. We were really good. We put Kool aid on their towels one Wednesday night (the only time girls were allowed in the upper levels of DT). They put alum on the frosted animals cookies that we were known to consume by the pound. We even sent one poor fellow hiking up to the Y, at dawn, in the rain to meet his mysterious and illusive admirer. Obviously, she wasn't there. Even if she had existed, would she really have hiked to the Y by herself in the rain? I don't think so. But the rain provided a good excuse and the guy didn't figure out that he had been pranked.

That fall semester my roommates and friends were making plans for Thanksgiving. Some were headed home to California. Others were spending the holiday with grandparents and relatives in Utah. One of my roommates was from Oklahoma. She wasn't going home for Thanksgiving so I invited her to spend the holiday with my family who lived just a few hours away from Provo.

One of the guys from our Y Group (the gullible, love-struck, hiker. I'll call him Dean*) was from the South East and he wasn't able to go home. He was in our apartment one afternoon in early November whining about his misfortune. Dean was the only guy from our group that didn't have plans for the holiday and he wasn't looking forward to eating Thanksgiving dinner in the Morris Center Cafeteria by himself. Ignoring the dangers of bringing home a guy that I wasn't even remotely interested in, I took pity on the poor, pathetic soul and invited him to join my roommate and me for Thanksgiving with my family. Dean quickly accepted. Since my grandparents were picking me, my cousin and roommate up from Provo and driving us home, I didn't have room for this guy in the car so I gave him a list of people I knew from my home town and let him find his own ride.

But I warned him that my family was a little strange and before he made up his mind to spend Thanksgiving with us, he should know that my family had this crazy tradition dating back sixty some years. During the Great Depression, they had gathered together all the food to have a big, fantastic celebration on Thanksgiving Day but then they had to go hungry for several days afterward. In remembrance of all our ancestors had suffered during the lean times and to be thankful for what we now had in abundance, my family fasted for the three days following our giant Thanksgiving feast. I was strangely convincing as I told this tall tale. (I think my dad and brothers would in reality pass out cold if they had to go without food for more than one Fast Sunday a month.) Dean was horrified but claimed that he still wanted to join my family for the holiday.

Dean found a ride to my hometown that actually left Provo several hours earlier than I did and Dean arrived at my home and met my family before I got there. By the time my roommate and I got home, my mom, who is too nice and honest, had already informed Dean that my family was not seriously insane and that there would be plenty of food to eat every day. The suitcase of food that Dean brought along would not be necessary.

Not only that, my youngest (darling) sister was just a kid and a notorious tattle tale. She told him all about the joke we had played on him with the notes from the secret admirer and the hike to the Y. Until that moment, he had assumed that the secret admirer was just too shy to reveal herself--yet. In fact, since he had told none of us about the hike on that wet morning or the notes, none of us should have even known about it. I certainly shouldn't have been including the (I thought funny) details in my letters home. (I really was a freshman a long time ago. Long distance calls were still expensive; cell phones were extremely rare and very large and the internet was just an idea. So yes, I wrote letters. Real ones. On paper. Put a stamp on the envelope and sent it in the mailbox. Archaic.)

And so the joke was on me. I stopped writing detailed letters to my family of the fun times at college. We didn't play nearly as many practical jokes on each other, especially now that Gullible Dean was on to us. And until I met Utah Dad a few years later, I NEVER took another guy (friend or beau) home to meet my family.

*Not his real name.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Be Thankful

Friday, November 20, 2009

Growing Up *Sniff*

Earlier this week, Amberly and I had an impromptu photo shoot so that I could test some settings on my camera. She'd been playing dress-up earlier and had changed into a sun dress that I usually require her to wear over a T-shirt. It was definitely not sun dress weather either. Her hair had some serious fly-aways and should have been combed but it wasn't intended to be a real photo session.

But I am so glad that I took these shots this week. Do you see those pearly-white little baby teeth in her  smile? So cute. She's still a little girl in first grade. By Wednesday night Amberly had a loose tooth. All day yesterday she wiggled it with her fingers and her tongue. She even drew a picture of her mouth (it was kind of gross). By bed time it was just barely hanging on. Utah Dad could have yanked it out so easily but she wouldn't let him near her mouth. "I like to wiggle it," she told us. I snapped a few pictures of the loose tooth this morning before she headed off to school to wiggle it some more.

Like most moms I experience a mixture of pleasure and sorrow as my children reach new growth  milestones. Amberly is so excited and a little of that can't help but rub off. I certainly do not want to make her feel bad about growing up. At the same time, I'm a bit sad to see her cute little baby teeth go. And I'm seriously dreading the future orthodontist bills. Utah Dad and I both required extensive orthodontist work to get our straight smiles, so I know what to expect.

In the meantime, we'll celebrate each new milestone with our beautiful daughter and look forward to another visit from the tooth fairy.

The Ecostore Gift Certificate Winner

The winner of the $25 Gift Certificate to Ecostore USA is . . .


Kerri said...
I don't know why I ever enter. I never win.
November 16, 2009 12:00 PM

Hey! Kerri you won one. Persistence paid off. The odds weren't bad this time either. Drop me a line with your info so you can claim your prize. And have a great Friday too. (Kerri is a good friend of mine. I recently had the privilege of photographing her family. You can check out more pictures from the session here.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thanks for Thanksgiving -- Children's Book Review

My mom teaches elementary school so I've been ordering books through her Scholastic book orders since I first had children. When our kids went to school, we started ordering through their teachers. Utah Dad, the kids and I love to look through each book order. We circle all the books we would like to buy and then narrow it down to the two or three that our budget allows. I usually pick books by well known authors, award winners or books from my own childhood (nostalgia is a great sales-motivator).

Occasionally, I order an unknown book just for fun. When Neal was in preschool, a book called Thanks for Thanksgiving by Julie Markes caught my eye. Most likely, it was the special 99 cent book.

I fell in love. It's darling. Markes's beautiful yet uncomplicated poetry inspires gratitude (my children need constant reminders to be grateful) for the simple things and for childhood and for family and for everything I hold dear.

But it is the artwork by Doris Barrette that I love the most. I wish I could live in the world Barrette creates with her illustrations. It's cozy and warm. It's a hug. It's a family. It's autumn (my favorite). It's Thanksgiving (my favorite). It's turkey and pumpkin pie (my favorite). I can only try to recreate it in my own home. So, I pull my little ones on my lap in our favorite chair and read them this delightful book.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ecostore USA - Review and Give-away

There are two things that I can count on as a mother. The first is that by the end of the day (or maybe even as early as breakfast) at least one of my kids is going to need a bath. As in really NEED a bath. For example, here are a few pictures I took of Lilly the other morning after she enjoyed a slice of cinnamon toast. Her face is covered in sticky, buttery sugar and cinnamon. Oh, and don't forget the boogers. It seems like we've always got the boogers.

Oh no. The tongue. She's got to taste that mess.

The second thing that I can count on, is the laundry. The laundry is my nemesis. I'll spare you an actual picture. Each week, I do an average of six loads of laundry. I wash a white load, a dark-colored load, a light-colored load, a pink load (yes, an entire load of pink clothes--who would have thought), a load of jeans, and sometimes even a red load (for being BYU fans we seem to have a lot of red clothes). I also wash an average of two loads of towels each week--one bath towels, one kitchen towels. And the sheets. Oh, the sheets. I have a high-efficiency-large-capacity-front-loading washing machine and I stuff it full with each load. The crazy thing is, Utah Dad works from home and we usually spend our days in jammies. I can't even imagine how much laundry families have when they actually get dressed all the time.

And we all know that unless we have the entire family go naked for a day (I've considered it) we will never ever be completely caught up on laundry. I'm lucky that my husband is willing to help fold and put away the clothes because I HATE it. Someday, I will require my children to wash their own clothes. For now, I have them help by sorting the dirty laundry and putting their clean clothes away in the drawers.

When Ecostore USA contacted me and asked me which two of their products I would like to try, obviously it only took me a moment to choose the Baby Wash and the Laundry Detergent. Ecostore USA sells plant and mineral based cleaning products that are free from toxic chemicals. Their products are gentle, safe and effective.

Several members of my family, including Utah Dad, have very sensitive skin and allergies to some of the chemicals used in many of the supermarket brands. I was interested to see how they reacted to the organic products from Ecostore USA. Lilly has suffered from skin rashes off and on for the past year. She has taken several baths using the Ecostore Baby Wash and hasn't had any negative reactions. That's good enough for me. She also ends up nice and clean and smelling fresh and lemony (it reminds me of Little House on the Prairie).

The Ecostore Laundry Powder has also been effective. I've used it to wash all the clothes for the past two weeks and I've been very happy with the results. My whites are white. The minor stains are gone (fortunately I haven't had to test it on any major stains lately). The clothes smell nice and fresh. And I rather enjoyed sleeping between the fresh-scented sheets this week. Utah Dad hasn't complained of any itches either and believe me if he was itching he would be complaining.

Ecostore products are ultra concentrated so you can use much less of the product to get the job done. It also means smaller boxes to store on my shelf. And the price isn't bad, either.

Which leads me to the fun part. Ecostore USA is offering a $25 dollar Ecostore USA gift certificate to one reader of my blog.

Here are the rules to be eligible. They're easy.

1. Check out the Ecostore USA blog. While you're there, feel free to sign up for their newsletter so that you can receive updates about their products.
2. Come back here and leave a comment on this post.

As always, you can get extra chances to win by being/becoming a follower; posting about the give-away on your blog; adding the Utah Mom's Life button to your blog; telling your friends on Facebook; etc.  Just be sure to come back here and add another comment on this post.

Entries must be received by Thursday, November 19th at 11:59 p.m. (MST). The winner will be announced on Friday, November 20th whenever I wake up and get around to doing it. Good luck.

The Winner of "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee"

The winner of a copy of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel is


Mandy said: "I would love to win this book!"

Congratulations, Mandy. Send me an email with your information so you can start enjoying and learning from this awesome book asap.

And check back later today for information about the next give-away.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Forced Gratitude

Taking a suggestion from The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel, Phd. (click here for a chance to win a free copy of her book), Utah Dad and I have decided to instigate a new rule in our house. Before our children can ask to be excused from the dinner table (an old rule that I love) they must now say, "Thank you for the delicious dinner, Mommy." Exactly like that.

After I announced the new rule at dinner time the other night, Neal asked, "What if we don't think it was delicious?" (He's picky. He rarely thinks anything that doesn't come from the freezer section of Costco is delicious.)

"You'll say it anyway," I told him. Eventually, I hope he'll mean it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sending My Gratitude

I am a pretty grateful person, generally. I really appreciate when people go out of their way to be kind, generous or thoughtful or even just do their job well. I genuinely like writing Thank You notes. It's something that I enjoy. I keep a bunch of cute notes in my desk and in my night stand. I buy manly Thank You notes and give them to my husband so that he can show his gratitude to others as well without looking like a sissy (can you still say that, now days?). I usually write the notes right away. I try to be personal. I seal them in their cute, little envelopes and write the recipient's name on the front in some fancy handwriting style. If I have my address book handy and the stamps available, I finish the process and send the notes out.

But usually, I write the notes at night when the thankful mood strikes. And then something goes wrong. Somewhere between looking up the addresses, addressing the envelopes, finding stamps, putting them in the mailbox and sending them off to the people that I appreciate, there is a break down in the process and so very often the notes never make it to the intended thoughtful person.

I regularly find Thank You notes in their envelopes all over the house. Right now there is a note on my nightstand. It's thanking my college roommate and very dear friend for hosting our last girls' night, making dinner and listening to me talk for hours. We got together in September. There are two notes on the buffet. One is for a neighbor/friend who brought me a warm and delicious loaf of her homemade bread--in March. The other is for another neighbor/friend who brought me ice cream after Molly was born--also in March. (It's not as if I don't see these women regularly. And they live pretty darn close.) Another note I just found on my desk is to my sister for the adorable outfit and blanket she gave Molly when she was born. There is one for my sister-in-law who gave me bags of beautiful hand-me-down clothes to fit Lilly and Molly.

Occasionally, when I find these notes, I actually send them. My mom called me one afternoon so confused. She had just gotten the note thanking her for coming out to visit and help with the kids "last weekend". She hadn't been out for months and assumed that I had sent a note intended for my in-laws. It really was for her. It just took me a long time to get it to her.

Obviously, I have a problem. My new goal, this Thanksgiving season, is to actually let the people that I appreciate KNOW how much I appreciate them by actually giving them the Thank You notes I have written for them.

P.S. If you never got a thank you note from me for a wedding gift (so many years ago), THAT was my husband's fault and a story for another time.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

An Ode to Utah Moms by an "Outsider"

I found a post today written as an "Ode to Utah Moms". It made me laugh. And I know the author (a very talented paper-crafter) has never met me. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"The Blessing of a Skinned Knee" Book Review and Give-Away

Several months ago my niece and I were laughing together over a recent temper tantrum thrown by one of my children. Generally, I try to ignore the noisy outbursts but on this day I gave in and imitated the screaming, flailing fit. I intended to show the child how ridiculous she looked. Her thrashing and yelling stopped immediately as she looked at me in shock. Thankfully we were in the relatively private confines of our own home and no one outside our immediate family witnessed the humiliating event. I may have succeeded in stopping the tantrum but I ended up looking like a fool in front of my child. I could laugh a few days later but it still concerned me, besides all the other worries I have because I'm a parent of five children.

My niece, a new mother with three little ones in as many years, suggested that I read The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel, PhD. Her husband, a medical student, read it for one of his classes, liked it and passed it on to her. Since I respect their opinions, I ordered it (from Amazon). The book was in my hands a week later and I hungrily devoured every word within a few days.

Wendy Mogel is a nationally known clinical psychologist who has written a treasure map for parents who want to raise respectful, successful, honest, "self-reliant" children (who doesn't). In her book, she uses Jewish teachings to show parents how it can be done. For example, one of the lessons from the Ten Commandments teaches that we should honor our parents. Mogel points out that God has shown us how to do this in the first of the Ten Commandments when He establishes who He is and His authority. Likewise, parents need to establish their authority. Mogel goes on to provide simple but effective suggestions on how parents can successfully do this.

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee also includes chapters on teaching children to work, be grateful, be spiritual, use their time wisely and other poignant and thoughtful advice for parents. I especially appreciate her advice on creating a sacred dinner table for our family. She writes, "One traditional Jewish expression for home is the same as the word for a house of worship: mikdash me'at, or 'little holy place.' Our dining table with our children is an altar. It has the potential to be the holiest spot on the planet." (p.35)

Mogel's writing is conversational, humorous and timely. Not only was The Blessing of a Skinned Knee full of good lessons for parents it was a pleasure to read. While I am not Jewish, I am religious and the basic principles are the same. I appreciated the spiritual nature of this book. Quite honestly, I enjoyed learning more about a religion and people that I respect and admire.

I have attempted to take the lessons learned from The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and change some things in my own parenting style. My husband and I noticed a definite improvement in the behavior of our children and in our own attitudes. Unfortunately, old habits die hard and I probably should read the book again and again. And for that reason and because Utah Dad is half way through reading it, I couldn't give my own copy away. I contacted Wendy Mogel's assistant who was gracious enough to send me another copy of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel to give to one lucky, randomly selected winner.

To win a free copy of
The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel leave a comment on this post and for an extra chance do one or more of the following:

1. Become a follower of Utah Mom's Life Blog.

2. Add the Utah Mom's Life Blog Button to your blog.

3. Write a post about this give-away on your own blog or Facebook or just tell a friend if you're old fashioned and still communicate with people face-to-face (then come back and leave another comment so I know).

Good luck. The winner of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee will be announced on Friday, November 13th.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hide and Seek

Day Light Savings Time. Hmm. There are definitely some irritations about the time change but I like to focus on the benefits.
  • It may get dark earlier at night but I'm no longer sending my kids to school before the sun rise in the morning.
  • We adjust our already early bed times. Normally our kids are in bed by seven thirty. Lights out by eight. We haven't had any whining when we turn the lights out a half an hour earlier now.
  • It's cozy. We stay inside more. Read together. Cuddle. Eat soup. We'd light the fire if we had one.
  • And finally . . .

We especially love to play hide and seek in the evenings. We turn out all the lights. We can only hide upstairs. One person counts. Everyone else hides. The basic rules. Everyone knows.

Playing hide and seek with toddlers is hilarious. Walk into a dark room and ask, "Where is Lilly?" She'll jump out and tell you. The older kids are starting to become better at hiding. They know how to curl their small bodies into the darkest corners and stay quiet. When Utah Dad and I hide we have to be extra sneaky or we'll end up with one of those toddlers cuddling with us and giving us away. Utah Dad's hiding spots are limited because of his size but he manages. I am the champion hider (as long as one of the toddlers/babies isn't hiding with me). Occasionally, I hide so well they can't find me and I have to jump out and scare them a little too.

It's funny that when you turn out the lights, a perfectly safe house during the day becomes spooky. Thomas hid in his bedroom closet (which is a generally spooky place at night) and we could hear him talking, "Okay, ghostesses, spiders and monsters, don't find me. I'm just hiding from Neal." We explained to him (probably unsuccessfully) that he didn't need to be afraid of anything. We spray for spiders.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Electronic Gadget Lab - Cool Toys for Kids

Now that Halloween is over, I'm getting excited for my favorite holiday of the year. We celebrated with a "warm-up" turkey dinner with just the basics yesterday after church. My taste buds are getting anxious for all the extra fixins we'll have on the big day.

Not only is it time to start planning the menu, it's also the season for me to make sure my Christmas gift list is in order. I'm sure it doesn't surprise you that I do most of my Christmas shopping online. I love that I can avoid the crowds, get exactly what I want, save gas and money, and I especially love it when the UPS truck starts making frequent stops at my house.

Last year, Neal didn't know what he wanted for Christmas. And so I did some of my own searching. I wanted to replace my husband's cool but outdated geography game and so I was checking the National Geographic website (who made the original) and the Discovery Channel Store. I couldn't find what I was looking for but I came across a very cool Electronic Gadget Lab from the Discovery Channel Store. (I shopped online but I also get their catalog because they have really cool, educational toys and if my children are going to look longingly through a toy catalog, I would prefer it be this one . . .)

Anyway, the Electronic Gadget Lab was a huge hit. It uses snap together pieces to create over 100 gadgets such as a siren, door bell and fan. It includes everything you need with the exception of a couple of AA batteries. I especially like that my seven-year-old son can do it on his own. The manual has clear pictures and detailed but easy-to-read directions. The lab does have small parts so we keep it away from the little ones.

Within a day or two after Christmas, Neal followed the directions in the enclosed manual and had put together all the different gadgets. I worried that he'd put it away and never use it again. Fortunately, I was wrong. He still plays with it frequently--using the pieces to create the same gadgets and even trying to figure out new ones. Neal loves that by putting the components together in different configurations, he is making something new and making something work. I love that it is teaching him something. The price wasn't ridiculous either.

This year, we'll definitely be checking out the Discovery Channel Store for our Christmas gifts again.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pretty Dang Easy Halloween Costumes

. . . and fairly cheap too.

Neal has worn the same costume for the past three years. He was supposed to be an astronaut but it was really just an orange jumpsuit with a little flag on it. He could have been a "trustee". Anyway, the costume no longer fits him and we told him that he had to be something else this year. His hair was getting very long so I suggested that we make his hair crazy and he could be a mad scientist. He actually agreed. So we put off the desperately needed haircut (it will be getting cut off on Monday). I borrowed a lab coat from a neighbor/friend. We put gel in his hair and some make-up on his face.

And clearly he added the "mad" to the mad scientist all on his own. It's really not that far of a stretch.

Amberly wanted to be Tinkerbell but I didn't want to pay the price for the Disney costume. I made her a green tutu. I'd never made one before but it was so easy and actually kind of fun. We bought the wings and some sparkly face paint at Target and she was happy. She wore it all over her leotard and pink leggings. When we go trick-r-treating this evening she'll probably have to wear it over her coat.

She has gorgeous eyes. Love her. She's worn her costume all day and has been "flying" all over the house spreading her own type of pixie dust.

Thomas wanted to be a skeleton. It was a perfect costume for him because he loves bones. For a few years now he has spent so much time looking at his "bone book". I hunted high and low (well, at two Walmarts, a Target, and an Old Navy) for a skeleton costume for him. They all had skeleton costumes but they were either for babies or for adults (I could go on and on about what I think about adult costumes, but I won't. At least not now). I finally found a T-shirt at Old Navy with a rib cage. I bought the black pants and a black turtle neck from Old Navy as well. When I got home and showed it to him, he was a little upset because it didn't have a pelvis. I promised to make him a pelvis. I cut out the basic shape of a pelvis and leg bones (ask him the real names--he knows) and stitched them on the pants by hand. Add a little face paint and voila! The most adorable skeleton I have ever seen (even if he does have a cold).

Thomas has some serious attitude made even more serious by his cold. We skipped all the other Halloween parties because we were sick but we promised the kids they could still go trick-r-treating. We figured that we'd be outside and not spreading the germs too bad. But he did spread his attitude. He informed several nice and patient people that he hated suckers and purple candy. He gave them back. He didn't last long before we sent him home to bed with Gramps.

Lilly's costume was the easiest. She recycled Amberly's dance costume. Sigh. I am smiling about this one. Obviously, she's supposed to be Minnie Mouse--who is her favorite right now. (It's time for us to make a visit to Disneyland.) She's silly and she LOVED trick-r-treating tonight and she really LOVED the candy.

Molly was going to be a clown and wear the clown costume that Amberly wore when she was a baby. That was the plan until Thursday night when I suddenly changed my mind. We often call Molly our "cherry on top of the sundae" because she is so sweet and because she is probably, most-likely, almost definitely our last child. So, after a quick trip to Walmart to buy more tulle and ribbon and quickly making another tutu (I'm in love with them now), Molly became the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae. No one could really figure out what she was, so it probably wasn't that great of a costume, but we liked it.

Happy Halloween!