Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year's Eve!

I just wanted to take a moment to send my love to my family and friends (and any blog-readers who I haven't had a chance to meet yet).

Eric and I spent the day organizing boxes in the garage and the attic--while our children practiced barrel-walking, went bike-riding around the neighborhood, and threw water balloons at each other (it was so nice and warm).

I read once on GTD Times that it's less important to set New Year's resolutions, and more important to clear out the clutter in our lives to create space for new projects and opportunities.  So I've spent many hours this month turning spaces like this:


Into more organized spaces like this:



One of my posts, "How to De-Junk in a Whirlwind" is up on The Power of Moms right now, along with a recent podcast I recorded with a lovely mother named Tina Marantette.

The main thing that's on my mind, though, is my evaluation of 2011.  Simple Mom has 20 great reflective questions posted on her site this week, and it was fun to look through them and consider how our family and The Power of Moms has grown this year.

But the number one question I ask myself each year is, "Have I grown closer to Christ?" 

If I've grown closer to Christ . . .
  • I've been kinder to my family
  • I've strengthened my marriage
  • I've used my time wisely
  • I've gained a greater understanding of who I am
  • I've served His children with more charity in my heart
  • I've surrounded myself with people and things that uplift
  • I've cherished the precious moments around me
  • I've become less selfish, less obsessed with my flaws, and more willing to unite my will with God's
  • I've been brave when I wanted to shrink
  • I've gained a deeper understanding of my absolute dependence on my Creator, and 
  • I've devoted myself to becoming even closer to Him in 2012.
I know I'm lacking in about 10,000 areas, and I know it's going to take a long time to get where I need to be, but as I close up 2011, I feel very grateful for the chance to live, the chance to be a wife and mother, and the chance to grow a little bit closer to the Lord each day.

Have a wonderful New Year!

Love,
April

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas!

My children are out of school for three weeks, and although there is a lot of "life" going on (doctor appointments, the stomach flu, grocery shopping, laundry, home repairs, emails, activities, etc.), I'm doing everything I can to cherish the moments with my children and enjoy this beautiful Christmas season.

My children love buying and wrapping gifts for each other (they've been saving up their money . . . and we're keeping things simple), they join me each morning for scripture study and family exercise, and we spend each day running errands, cleaning, reading, napping (of course!), and doing all we can to make this season a little better for those in need.  In spite of some hectic moments, things have been wonderful.

This December is also when Eric and I get to celebrate our 13th anniversary.

I spent three hours making a movie with Alia last night, featuring 13 years of our most memorable family photos set to the music of our favorite family songs.  Alia has been scanning photos from our old albums for weeks, and last night after we put everything together, we snuggled on my bed and watched the 10-minute movie--while I tried to hold in the tears.  It was our special gift to Eric this Christmas--and a fun "family birthday" gift.  I'll post some photos from the movie once I have a bit more computer time.

Tonight Alia and Grace made a cake so we could sing "Happy Birthday" to the Perry Family.  They made a card, cleaned up the house, and practiced a little dance for us, too. 

It doesn't seem like it's been 13 years since I fell in love with Eric.  We've definitely had our share of ups and downs, but I can honestly say I'm married to my best friend.

This is a photo of us from about a month after we started dating:


I know that not everyone has a happy marriage, so I'm always hesitant to write too much about Eric, but I also want to be as clear as I can that we are two very imperfect individuals, and the only reason our marriage is so strong is because we work at it every single day--keeping Christ at the center of everything.

My children have discovered me (I snuck off into a little corner to type this), so I will go get them tucked in bed.  I just know I won't be writing on this blog for awhile, so I wanted to say Merry Christmas to my friends and family who read this blog and thank you for your powerful influence in my life.

I hope your Christmas is wonderful!

Love,
April



P.S. We also have a special Christmas gift, including TWO free programs, waiting for you at The Power of Moms (in case you haven't seen it yet!).


Click here to receive your gifts.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Help for a Distracted Mother

I'm over at Deseret News today with a post called "Help for a Distracted Mother."

Hope you're having a wonderful day!

Love,
April




Sunday, December 4, 2011

Candy Cane Airplanes

A couple of weeks ago, our family sat down together and planned our "perfect" Christmas.

One thing we love is making candy cane airplanes. It's a tradition from my dad that I cherished while I was growing up. We made them every year and hung them on our tree.

My dad is almost 80 years old, so this year, we decided we wanted to make candy cane airplanes with the master.

After my nephew's beautiful baptism last Saturday, I took my children to my parents' house for a mini-airplane assembly session.  I knew this would be a memorable time, but it turned out to be even more magical than I'd anticipated.

We gathered near the front window and set up our supplies.


My dad is one of the most patient people I have ever met.  He worked with the children to get the airplanes just right.  We spent about fifteen minutes threading rubber bands through the Lifesavers, adding in the sticks of gum for wings, and finally finishing off with the candy canes and hooks.


I think my dad is just so cute.


This is one of my favorite pictures.  My mom was singing "Silver Bells" for us, and everyone was so happy and quiet as they listened to the music, made their airplanes, and just enjoyed being together.



There's something beautiful and comforting about joining three generations in a simple Christmas tradition. You can go to Alia's blog to find step-by-step instructions on how to make candy cane airplanes.  I love Christmas.



Do you want to share any of your favorite traditions?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Southern California Retreat Location?

Do you know the perfect Southern California location for a Power of Moms Retreat?

We're holding a Power of Moms Retreat January 28th, and we're still looking for just the right place.   If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them!


What are Power of Moms Retreats?


Since June of 2010, The Power of Moms has held 10 Retreats around the country.  This page on our website describes the Retreats in greater detail, but our main goal is to gather mothers to a beautiful location and give them an opportunity to strengthen each other, participate in meaningful discussions, and return home armed with ideas and inspiration to help them build great families.

A Day Retreat typically lasts from 9 am to 5 pm on a Saturday, and it includes conference-style presentations (with lots of audience participation), a lovely lunch with powerful discussion groups, and several break-out sessions for small group conversations.

We focus on topics such as taking care of the person inside the mom, establishing family systems, moving good ideas forward, and keeping a healthy perspective on motherhood.  Each Retreat has been incredible.  Not because we think we're incredible, but because the mothers who attend are deliberate, sharp, wonderful women who want to create strong families.  Simply being in a room with so many good women who simply want to grow and learn from each other is powerful.

Here are the details on our location search:
  • What are we looking for? While we are considering some beautiful hotels and event centers, we would love to find a large home that can seat between 60 and 90 mothers.  (We won't be bringing our children, so it will stay very clean!)  By holding the Retreat in a home, we are able to keep the costs down and enable more mothers to attend.  We are also able to provide more discounted rates for mothers who really want to attend but might not be struggling financially.  There is also something beautiful about being in a home atmosphere.
  • Location: Southern California--within an hour of Disneyland (we won't be going to Disneyland, but that's the general area)
  • Ideal amenities: Convenient parking, space for lunch discussion groups to be held outside, two restrooms, and the ability to bring in outside catering.
  • Date and Time: The main Retreat will be Saturday, January 28th from 9 am to 5 pm, but we'll need to set up the night before, and then we'll stay to clean up, so it will probably be more like 8 am to 7 pm.  Also, we are planning to do a Friday "Mind Organization for Moms" session during the daytime (either from 9-12 or 1-4), but we can hold that at a separate, smaller location, if needed.
  • What will The Power of Moms provide?  Chair rental (if needed), a catered lunch to be brought in, cleaning costs after the Retreat, plus all the set-up, logistics, etc.  Basically, if a homeowner is kind enough to co-sponsor this Retreat, we will take care of all the details and do our best to create as little disruption as possible.
Here are a couple of photos from our Retreats this year:



If you can think of a location that would be right for this event, would you please email april (at) powerofmoms.com and let me know about it?

Thank you so much!

Love,
April

My Stress-Free Christmas Planning Session

Sometimes Christmas feels like an all-consuming project that sends us racing through malls, jumping from party to party, and being busy-busy-busy as we fill our time with lots of Christmas fluff.
I want something more than that, though.

I don’t want to have to “recover” from Christmas. I don’t want to start the new year eight pounds heavier. I don’t want my children focused only on the electronic gadgets they hope Santa brings. But everything I don’t want will probably become my reality–unless I take the initiative to implement what I do want.

David Allen’s Natural Planning Model (from the book Getting Things Done) seriously saves my sanity on everything from birthday party planning to creating new programs for my website, so this year, I decided to use the five steps of the Natural Planning Model to create a Christmas experience that is both magical and meaningful.

Step One: Defining Purpose and Principles

For this part, I sat down with my children and gave them the following prompts:
  • What’s the purpose of this season?
  • What do you want this Christmas to feel like for our family?
  • Please finish this sentence: “I would be happy with any Christmas celebration, as long as . . .”
Then I took good notes, and the beauty of their responses continues to amaze me.



Step Two: Outcome Visioning

We did this part on a separate day with an informal breakfast discussion, which basically took our ideas from Step One to a deeper level.

My 11-year-old was the scribe: We agreed that we want to be well-rested, reasonably-paced, and organized throughout the holiday, and we’re going to continue exercising and eating well so we’ll be in better health by the time the tree comes down. 

We’re all going to be happy with our Christmas gifts–even if we don’t get the “big” stuff that all the kids at school are talking about. We’ll purchase and wrap our presents by the first week of December, shop together for a beautiful tree that will be trimmed with homemade decorations, and focus the majority of our activities and expenses on making others happy.

Just typing these things out gets me so excited about the holiday season. Certainly, there will be days that won’t go as planned (probably most days), and some of us will be whiny or emotional while others will be frustrated or exhausted, but that’s just life. We can still aim high, can’t we?



On to Step Three: Brainstorming

This step is my favorite because it gives us a place to write all the ideas we’ve been cooking up over the past few months. 

We looked carefully at our notes from the first two steps and then gathered as a family one evening to brainstorm around seven areas of focus. Here they are:
  • Activities and Outings
  • Helping Others
  • Uplifting Media
  • Christmas Cards
  • Gifts
  • Meaningful Traditions
  • Healthy Food
Then my daughter added an eighth area called, “Unhealthy food.” (She needed a place to include the gingerbread house.)

Photo courtesy of Shawni Pothier

Seeing our areas of focus as clusters on one page helps us to realize that the “all-consuming” holiday planning really is finite. We can create boundaries around our time, we can control our expenditures, and we can make sure our energy is spent on what’s most important. 

In many areas, there’s a clear overlap. Can’t we create meaningful traditions that help others? Can’t healthy Christmas goodies and beautiful music be part of our Christmas-gift giving? Looking at the big picture clarifies everything.

Step Four: Organizing

This part initially feels hard. How am I going to take all these brainstorms and make them manageable?

Simply jump in.

I wrote out all the components and sub-components on little slips of paper.



Then I moved them around and organized them according to priority and sequence.
Here are my three sub-clusters: things to do this week, things to do before December 1st, and things to do in early December.



I noticed that four of these slips contained two-minute tasks, so I quickly accomplished those and then moved onto the next step.

Step Five: Identifying Next Actions

As I was getting all my ideas out onto Post-it Notes, I realized that some things I wrote down were projects, while others were tasks.
 
I created a list of Current Christmas Projects,



and then I created two Next Actions Lists: one for immediate Next Actions–things to accomplish within the next week, and one for important Next Actions–things to accomplish as soon as it’s convenient.



Then I simply put these sheets into my inbox to organize during my next Weekly Review.
I’ll create calendar triggers for the Christmas plans that mean the most to me, and then I’ll just do my best with the rest, knowing that ultimately, spontaneous events might replace those I’ve planned, some of these projects might not seem as important three weeks from now, and what really matters is how this holiday feels.

Your family’s Christmas planning will likely be much different than ours. There’s no one “right” way to do this, but I hope that this exercise using the Natural Planning Model will help you to create a wonderful Christmas for you and the ones you love.

To download your own template like the one in the photos, click here!

Friday, November 25, 2011

My Top Three Home Improvement Projects

I was looking through my files of current projects the other day, and I came across a folder labeled, "Home Improvement."

Of course, when we think of home improvement, we generally think of things like refinishing the kitchen cabinets, adding new blinds to the bedroom windows, or building a cover over the back patio.

We do have several projects like that waiting in the wings, but there are some more important home improvement projects that I want to accomplish as soon as possible.

(1) I want to speak to my children respectfully--100% of the time. 

I've noticed that sometimes my voice sounds pretty frustrated.  Sometimes it's because my children are a challenge, but other times it's simply because I'm focused on other worries, and the noise of my family feels like too much.

When I was growing up, my parents never treated me as an annoyance.  They were so loving and patient with me, and I never went to bed wondering where I stood with them.

Many times, I would walk into my mom's room and find her kneeling at the side of her bed in prayer.  She would immediately stop, look up at me, and hold out her arms so I would come give her a hug and tell her what I needed.

One day I asked, "Mom, what do you tell God when I interrupt your prayer?"

She replied, "I just say that my child needs me, and I'll be right back."

My parents didn't take us to Europe or buy us cars when we turned 16.  We didn't have a pool or a game room.  And we didn't have a cabin in the mountains or memberships to country clubs.

But none of that mattered.  We knew we mattered.

(2) I want to reciprocate the love my children show to me.

Alia and Grace "heart attacked" the office the other night (when I thought they were in bed).  They stuck notes on the window,


sprinkled cut-out hearts all over the desk,

 
and created all kinds of pictures and designs for Eric and I to enjoy.


The following morning at 6:30, I was working on my laptop in my bedroom when they came in and asked excitedly, "Did you SEE it?"

"See what?"

"The OFFICE!"

"Oh no, I haven't been in there yet.  I'm just working on a couple of things before I come down to breakfast.  I'll check it in a minute."

I should have jumped right up and ran into the office.  But I just wanted to finish "one more thing" (I can't even remember what it was now).


They waited by me patiently, and then we did go into the office together, and I "oohed" and "ahhed" over all the darling love notes they wrote, but looking back on it now, my gratitude didn't match the gift.  Alia even told me she'd had a dream that I walked into the office, saw their handiwork, and got SO excited.

I'm going to go "heart attack" them back as soon as I finish this post.  (Fortunately, I'm realizing where I'm lacking before my children grow up and leave the house.)

Grace also brought me breakfast twice in the past week.


 
Both times she forgot to make breakfast for herself because she was so excited to serve me--and then later those mornings, she wondered why she was so hungry.

I haven't made her breakfast in bed for months.  That's going to change.

My children are so thoughtful.  I don't want to overlook their kindnesses and regret the way I spent my time.

So that's Home Improvement Project #2.

(3) I want to laugh more.


Some moms are so good at relaxing and having fun with their families.  On a scale of 1-10, 10 being best, I think I'm a 5.

Home Improvement Project #3 is to become a 9+.

It doesn't take that much, really, to smile and laugh during our meals or bedtime.  If I spelled out all the things I'm worried about right now, I bet you'd tell me that I have every right to be serious and/or worried instead of light and happy.

But I keep thinking about the words to one of my new favorite songs, "Little Wonders."

Our lives are made in these small hours, 
These little wonders, these twists & turns of fate.  
Time falls away, but these small hours, these small hours still remain. 
Our lives are made in these small hours.

I also think of this image a friend shared on Facebook recently:

I love this, but I don't want to just "hold it together."  I want to soar.  I want our family to genuinely feel the power that's available to us.

I want my children to think their home is the safest, happiest, most wonderful place to be.  Not because the house is incredibly large or gorgeous, but because they know the people who live here are absolutely crazy about them.

It's not a simple job.  But it's my job.  And that's the most important way that I'm going to improve my home.


What do YOU do to improve your homes?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Fall!

I think I've slept more in the past four days than in the two previous weeks combined.  Sometimes do you just feel exhausted? The Arizona retreat was amazing, and I came back wanting to be a great mom, but of course, that requires me to catch up on sleep.

Here are a few photos from the past week:

Spencer's preschool had a special Friendship Feast in honor of Thanksgiving.  These are the kinds of photos I'm going to miss someday:  


Grace and I went to the Power of Moms Retreat in Arizona, and I need to do a whole separate post about it, but here's a quick photo of the beautiful home where we got to hold the event (I love our new banner . . . it makes everything feel so official):
 

And here's a snapshot of one of our panel discussions, led by Saren, with Nichole, Myrna, and Shawni on the panel:


I always joke with our attendees about a common syndrome that many mothers get once they return home.  It's called "Post Retreat Let-Down Syndrome."  When you come back from a rejuvenating weekend, and your children seem to be arguing a lot, the house seems out-of-control, and you feel like you'll never be on top of things, you just take a deep breath, give yourself a week to recover, and realize that life will look better soon.

Alia wanted to do a photo shoot with all the children, and she got everyone dressed in matching outfits.  I was feeling incredibly grumpy that morning, but in an attempt to be the spontaneous, fun mom I've always wanted to be, I took them on a walk down to the park and spent a few minutes enjoying our little patch of fall foliage (most of the trees around here are still green).
 

I love Spencer's green crocs.  He wears them every day.

Ready, set . . .


THIS is how I imagined motherhood:


It's so funny because honestly, life only feels like this about one percent of the time for us.  Of course we have beautiful, precious moments throughout each day,  and of course we feel an intense amount of love for our children on a continual basis, but the sheer joy in the photo above is what I live for. That's why I'm grateful for cameras.





Grace took this picture on our walk home:

 
I do love this.

Happy Fall!

Love,
April

Sunday, November 6, 2011

How to Be Where You Are

For years and years of my life, I didn't know how to "be where I was."  I know this sounds a little strange, but I'm confident that I'm not the only one who has felt this way.

I'd be snuggling with my husband on the couch, and although I was kind of listening to him tell me about his day, I was also thinking about the groceries I needed to buy, the email I needed to send, and the load of laundry that needed to be transferred to the dryer before it started to smell like mildew.

My mind was also distracted when I was reading stories with my children, eating lunch with friends, working on a writing project, or even trying to go to sleep. 

I look back at pictures like this (a 4th of July parade with my little ones), and I know for certain I wasn't cherishing my time with them.  It was more like, "Let's get this parade over with so I can go home and make lunch and get everyone down for a nap."


It's incredibly sad to realize that, but I couldn't fully enjoy the present because I was so concerned about all the other things I needed to be doing. 

Life isn't like that anymore, and I can't tell you how grateful I am to be able to be where I am. 


Alia snapped this picture the other day when Grace and I were doing each others' hair at the same time.  I needed my hair blow-dried, and she needed her curlers out, so we worked together.  I loved that moment.

This is how our refrigerator looked for the month of October.  The "clutter" of pictures used to bother me, but now I can smile and appreciate the love that went into each piece of artwork.


Spencer and I eat a sweet potato on the front porch about once a week, and I can soak up the moments we get to spend out there, one on one.


After school each day, I sit at the table with all four of my children.  They talk about what happened that day (yes, sometimes there's quite a bit of tattling), and we make plans for the afternoon (an hour of quiet time is always on the schedule), but even on the toughest days, I feel their love, and I'm grateful that they're so excited to see me.


And I can't help but smile when I see my girls doting over Spencer.  I tell you, they have TONS of pictures of him on that camera.


It was Friday, though, that I really started to appreciate this blessing of "being where I am."  Spencer and I spent the day with my mom and two of my sisters, Susan and Laura.


We went through an old photo album of my grandmother's, and my mom told us all kinds of stories--about the miraculous healing of my great-grandpa's arm after he fell down the cellar stairs, her storybook days on the farm with Aunt Viva and Uncle Ollie, and how she first learned to make bread.


I sat next to my mom, with my arm around her shoulders, for as long as I could.

We ate sandwiches for lunch while we huddled in the van outside the park, and then Spencer played on the slides until it started to drizzle.

He was so excited to show his Aunt Laura how the umbrella works. 



I don't know how many more years I have left with my mom.  Hopefully we'll all be around for a long time, but you just never know. 


Being able to spend a few hours with people I love means the world to me, and being able to be there while I'm with them means even more. 

So what's changed in my life that's enabled me to finally "be there"?

Some incredible people have taught me how to answer these two questions:

(1) What deserves my focus?

and

(2) How do I keep that focus?

In answer to #1, my family members, mentors, and Power of Moms friends have taught me how to prioritize my children and my relationships.  They've shown me how to put wider margins into my day, establish firm boundaries around my project time, and create a balanced life (by not getting stuck worrying what everyone else thinks of me). 

If you'd like to benefit from these ideas as well, we're doing a free webinar on Margins, Boundaries, and Balance this Wednesday night at 8:30 MT.  It's part of our Power of Moms webinar series, and I think you'll love it.

In response to question #2, several excellent books have shown me how to organize my thoughts, tasks, projects, and goals into a trusted system that takes the stress out of my life.  I've put everything I've learned into the Mind Organization for Moms program, and we'll be doing a special workshop about this as part of our Phoenix Arizona Retreat on November 18th and 19th.  It would be so fun to see you there.

Life seems to get more and more complicated as my children get older (I'm sure I haven't seen anything yet), but choosing and keeping my focus makes life more beautiful than I ever imagined.

Any other thoughts?  How do YOU help yourself to be where you are?


Thursday, October 27, 2011

"We're Both Being Raised" Webinar

Six years ago, I started writing about the ideas that strengthen me the most.  These are the ideas that draw me closer to God through my mothering and help me to see who He is.

While I have taught several of these principles at religious conferences over the years, the majority have never been published or recorded, and I recently felt impressed to produce a series of spiritual webinars for this blog (and perhaps The Power of Moms).

I don't claim to have all the answers, but if the thoughts I've put together in this webinar can help others to feel how much God loves them and give them the tools to make positive changes in their lives, then it's well worth the investment of time and energy.

Simply fine-tuning this webinar over the past week has been a powerful experience for me.  I've felt lifted, comforted, and inspired by the Lord, and I can tell you with 100% surety that He loves all His children.

This webinar is called "We're Both Being Raised."


I'll share five stories with you from my early years as a mother and discuss the patterns that exist between the way we raise our children and the way the Lord raises us.

Click here to watch the webinar, "We're Both Being Raised."

Much love,
April


Monday, October 10, 2011

Creative Activities at Home

We've been focusing on The Power of Fun this month at The Power of Moms, and I've been trying so hard to be a "fun mom."

Yesterday, Spencer was breathless as he said, "Mom!  I want you to walk out in the hall, go down the stairs, through the living room, into the kitchen, out the back door, and go jump on the TRAMPOLINE!!!"

Wanting to be a spontaneous, in-the-moment kind of mom, I said, "Sure!  Let's go jump."

Then I heard Spencer mutter under his breath, "But it might break."

We ended up jumping for about 20 minutes (no broken springs, fortunately), and I loved every minute with him, but I've noticed that most of the fun happening in my home is the spontaneous stuff my children do on their own (while I'm busy doing all the "mom stuff").

Life is 100 times cleaner and quieter when my children are "plugged in" to a screen or completely out of the house, but there's a certain level of creativity that's only reached when the electronics are turned off and our schedule is cleared of errands and appointments.

Walt Disney once said, "Our greatest natural resource is the minds of our children."  I love that.

And sometimes, the best thing I do for my children is give them space to create.
Alia is almost 12, and she makes the most creative snacks for the kids--like these little mice nibbling on some cheese:


When my children visited with their cousins recently, they all dressed up in Halloween costumes and just played the whole afternoon (it wasn't even close to Halloween):


My sister told us about this fun idea--using rain gutters as car tracks.  The boys spend hours lining up the tracks and racing the cars across the living room.


And whenever I get out the kitchen food (found at a garage sale for $5), they have such a great time playing restaurant.


This is Grace, taking my order:


I was reading a book on the couch while they were playing, but I had to stop and take a picture of this cute meal.  Honestly, I know I'm going to miss these kinds of scenes popping up all around me.


One day, I walked by a little end table in the living room and saw that Grace left me this:


They looked so cute, lined up with big smiles.  Then I went in the kitchen and saw Spiderman hanging out on someone's plate of pretzels:


Alia wanted to teach Spencer how to type using the "home" keys.  He couldn't see the letters when his fingers were in the right position, so she got out a marker and wrote "A-S-D-F and J-K-L-;" right on his knuckles.  It worked!


Family life is a beautiful thing.  It's messy and noisy, and there's plenty of whining and tattling going on, but the more I recognize the fun around me, relax our schedule, and give my children opportunities to create more fun, the more I enjoy this whole process of motherhood.

What inspires you to be creative?  Do your children participate in any creative projects you think my children would like?  (I'd love to hear!)

You can also see what my girls are up to by visiting Alia's Ideas and A Place for Gracie.  Have a wonderful day!
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