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, 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.