Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Someday Our Family Dinners Will Be Amazing

I've been thinking a lot about Family Dinner lately.

School is starting in just one week for us, and I keep thinking that this year, our dinnertime is going to turn out exactly as I've imagined it to be.

Alia is helping me to create a weekly menu and do the grocery shopping, I'm setting up a good morning routine where we can make dinner early (and avoid trying to prepare something during the "witching hour"), and I'm talking with Eric about how we can create fun and meaningful discussion topics each night--so we can teach our children on a daily basis, even in the midst of our busy schedule.

This morning as I was sorting my computer files, I found this article I wrote for The Sandbucket magazine a few months ago. (Have you heard of The Sandbucket? It's beautifully done.) 

I thought I'd re-post it here as a reminder that even when Family Dinner is a disaster, it's still worth the effort.


We sat down as a family for dinner tonight. Curry chicken and potato wedges.

I was expecting it to be a lovely gathering, full of meaningful conversations, laughter, and maybe some hugs as we all thanked our 13-year-old, Alia, for the lovely meal she’d made.

Instead, we had an adventure that looked something like this:

The children argued over who got to sit by me.

They also fought over who had to sit on the bar stools.

Ethan gobbled up the potato wedges, but because the curry chicken didn’t appeal to him, he started coughing violently and insisted he couldn’t finish his meal.

The girls also coughed throughout the meal, but that was because they’d been home from school earlier in the week with fevers, and they were just starting to get better. 

Throughout the choir of coughs, our five-year-old, Spencer, cried because he didn’t want his potato wedges.  The crying only subsided when Ethan kindly snuck some away from him—to eat in place of his now-room-temperature curry chicken.

There were requests for more milk, some cranky discussions, and to be perfectly honest, I sat and stared at our table of chaos and wondered why on earth we ever tried to achieve the “ideal family dinner.”

But as I thought about it, the answer became more and more clear.

We don’t have family dinner because it turns out perfectly.  We have family dinner because it brings us together.

Sure, the eating process might border on insanity, but then a spectacular phenomenon starts to happen.

For example, tonight Grace turned on our favorite Kids Bop playlist, and the family danced together as we cleared the table.

We laughed together when I noticed I’d spilled food all over myself . . . again.  (This happens just about every day, and it’s totally embarrassing.)

Spencer asked if he could do his siblings’ dishwasher jobs in order to earn a “hand” for our special “Give-‘em-a-Hand” wall.  While he sorted silverware and stacked plates, we talked about his kindergarten “Barnyard Moosical” that was coming up and helped him learn to spell “E-I-G-H-T,” in preparation for his test tomorrow. 

Then Alia told us all about her choir concert coming up on Tuesday, and Ethan pulled out a puzzle he wanted to piece together after dinner.

Once the clanking of the dishes subsided, our family activities settled down to a low hum centered in our little family room.

My husband Eric started working on the edges of that puzzle Ethan had been so excited about, and Spencer lined up six colorful Hot Wheels on the ottoman so he could “drive them” before bath time.  I put my feet up and leaned back in the recliner, and Grace snuggled into my lap for kisses and arm tickles.  Alia opened her books and binder to finish up some school assignments—choosing to sit close to us while she worked.

Being a part of that scene reminded me of a framed quote hanging in our kitchen that reads,

“Having someone to love is family.
Having somewhere to go is home.
Having both is a blessing.”

This is why family dinner is so important.

I think we’ll do it again tomorrow.  

Do you do anything specific in your home to make Family Dinner work? 

Monday, July 29, 2013

If I Wash Thee Not

I was looking through a different blog where I used to post, and I found this story I had recorded about five years ago. It was sweet for me to see how the things I learned then are still affecting my life now.

(And in an effort to create a single spot where my grandchildren and great-grandchildren can read about my life and my love for the Lord, I thought I would repost it here.)

Hope you are all having a wonderful summer!


"If I Wash Thee Not"

A sink bath is one of those experiences I have treasured with each baby. Spence loves it, especially.

I love getting him sparkling clean, wrapping him in a towel, and snuggling him before I put his jammies on. Keeping my children clean has not always been so fun, though.

I remember when I had three preschoolers at home, and we had white tile floors in our kitchen. They would run in and out of the house all day--getting the floors FILTHY--and I would get awfully frustrated.

Finally, I started wiping their feet with baby wipes each time they came inside. We went through several wipes a day, and I would think, "Why can't I have dark floors? Why can't my children learn to keep their own feet clean? Why do I have to stoop down like this twenty times a day?"

I think I was mainly upset because the workload was hard all around the board. Laundry, dishes, vacuuming, meal preparations, etc. took hours a day, and I was exhausted.

One day, as the wipes and the muddy feet had their hourly rendezvous, a scripture I had been reading from the New Testament came into my head. This is from when the Savior is washing His disciples' feet, and Peter says, "Thou shalt never wash my feet." Jesus' response is, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." Peter then responds: "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head."

It's a beautiful story, but what I loved best was that teaching, "If I wash thee not, thou has no part with me." 

Washing my children helps me be a part of their lives. When I wipe their feet or their hands or their faces, it gives me a chance to talk to them, give them a hug, and make sure their day is going all right. When we do dishes together, they ask questions about why they have to do timed tests at school or why their friends' parents don't live together. When we fold our laundry as a family, they talk about the funny book they just read or tell me about the picture they just drew, and while we wash the car together, they tell me how much they love the suds, and they squeal when I spray them with the water.

When we come to the Lord to repent of our sins, we give Him that opportunity to "wash us" and have a "part" with us. He wants us to be happy, and He knows that we'll feel better when we are clean. I think of that now each time I pull Spencer out of the high chair (he's inevitably covered with watermelon juice and cracker crumbs). I think of that when our kitchen is totally messy at the end of a busy Sunday or when the laundry pile is seriously taller than I am. I think of it when I realize that every inch of my living room has dirt on it.

Cleanliness and unity are eternal principles, and by remembering the Lord when I wash my children and take care of my home, I understand that one day we will all have a "part" together.

Do you have any ideas to share about keeping a bright perspective on family work?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Come Camping with Us!

This summer, we learned about an amazing place where families can have a GREAT weekend away.

It's called Camp Whitsett, and while it's a Scout Camp for most of the summer, there's one weekend (right around the fourth of July) where families are invited to come and use the facilities (it's about $35 per child and $55 per person 12 and up).

Our darling librarian, Nancy, told us all about it.  "It's in the Sequoia National Forest.  There's a lake and a stream and beautiful places to hike.  They cook your food for you--and it's not 'camp food.'  It's real food like shrimp and steak.  They have showers for the women and tons of activities for your children to do.  You'll love it."

And we did.

I'm going to walk you through a photo-tour of the camp, and then if you'd like to join us there next year, please do!  (Something might come up, so I'm not guaranteeing we'll be there at this point, but our intentions are genuine.)

This is the spot where we set up our tent.  Grace loves camping:

This is me and Nancy (our librarian I told you about):

These rocks were right outside the dining area, and my children had to climb them every time we passed.

Beautiful lake, don't you think?

This next picture makes me laugh.  I got so frustrated with Spencer when I saw the face he made, so I did a re-take.  However, now that I look at the two pictures, this one is much better:

A sweet moment with my honey:

I love how being up in the mountains provides so much family time. 

They have an "all natural" miniature golf course that my children thought was great.  Instead of hitting golf balls, you hit pine cones.

Alia is totally turning into Eric.  When the two of them get together, it's pure comedy.

This is Matt, Ethan, and Spencer, finishing up their last hole:

I asked the scout who made the course and the putters if he could show me how he connected the two pieces of wood together.  He taught me all about "lashings."

I think this is my favorite photo.  The kids practically lived in the stream while we were there.  Here are their shoes on the bank:

This is Jackie and Jayne:

And a DEER that walked into camp:

Saturday afternoon, the lake was open to all the campers.  We had to pass a pretty simple swim test first, and then we were able to take out kayaks, row boats and canoes.

Ethan had a fantastic time:

This is Grace and our friend Annie:

Spencer was sad that he didn't pass the swim test (he'd just barely learned to swim the week before, and I was amazed he even tried), so Eric comforted him here on this dock for awhile:

Alia and Jackie in their double kayak:

Jackie's husband Brandon in the row boat with Jayne and Annie.  Darling.

Once Spencer got over the fact that he couldn't kayak, Eric convinced him to ride in a row boat with him.  Look at that face.  I think he's an angel.

Eric and Spencer (I made Eric turn his hat around backwards because the shadow was blocking out his whole face):

Grace, Ethan, and Spencer loved doing archery:

(We went straight from the lake, so Spencer still had on his swimsuit.)

And we let Spencer sleep in the little doggy section of our tent.  He thought it was simply grand for the first few hours, and then he got cold and climbed into Grace's sleeping bag in the middle of the night, which upset her, so I had to get up and reposition everyone, but other than that, it was wonderful.

This is where the meals are served.  It's a nice big tent, and I will say there are some bugs under there, but it's not bad.  I was really happy with the meals.

This is a shot of the stream.  I have about 20 of these.  The adults set up camp chairs right next to this area, and the children would play and explore for hours.  (So come join us, and we can hang out by the stream together!)

The last night we were there, one of the camp leaders brought up a HUGE telescope and showed us incredibly clear images of Saturn and tons of interesting groupings of stars.  Eric, Alia, and I were out until midnight--totally enjoying the clear, starry sky.

Oh, it was wonderful.

And on the way home, we went by a redwood forest called "Trail of 100 Giants."

This was one of the first "giants."

Occasionally, the trees fall over, and you get to see their root system. 

You can't tell how large this is, though, until you compare the roots to Grace's size:

On the drive home, we saw a field of flowers, and I said, "Eric, that looks like the kind of field that a deliberate mother would sit in."  (When we did a call-out for the cover of our book, Deliberate Motherhood, I was AMAZED at how many photos were of mothers sitting with their children in fields of flowers.)

So we pulled over to take this photo, and it was a DISASTER.  There were bees all over those flowers, and our children were whining, and Eric was getting frustrated and saying, "They're just bees! Stand still and smile!" 

We did finally get one good photo, and we all laughed about it when we were going through these.

Honestly, Camp Whitsett is wonderful, and the camp felt pretty empty while we were there.  There's lots of room for more families, so let me know if you want to come, and I'll email you next year when it's time to sign up!


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I Love a Good Reality Check

Allyson Reynolds wrote a great post on Power of Moms last week called "Reality Check."

She wrote about how summer doesn't always turn out as planned.  Our children aren't necessarily as excited as we wish they would be about progressing, cleaning, and being helpful. 

This summer has been wonderful in so many ways, and for the most part, our schedule and routine has been great, but not a single day has gone exactly as planned. 

Here's a photo I snapped the other day in our living room (This is actually after we cleaned it):

The piano is covered with music books. Throw pillows have actually been thrown. And block towers, Hot Wheels, and Legos are all over the place (especially in the area hidden behind the piano).

I do love this time with our children.  It's noisy, messy, fun, and beautiful, but sometimes I just want everyone to FREEZE FOR 24 HOURS so I can catch my breath.

Yesterday there was a surprise rainstorm.  For about five minutes, it absolutely poured.

I was in the laundry room when I heard the pitter-patter of the raindrops, and I heard Alia call from the front porch, "Mom! Come outside!  It's raining!"

I really wanted to finish cleaning the kitchen, but I knew this was one of those moments I wouldn't want to miss, so I went outside and stood in the rain with all of my children and my husband, who had just returned from a run.

It was special, standing outside in that warm rain--Alia in her polka-dotted shirt and Oxfords,

but after a few minutes I wanted to go inside.  And then I was upset that the other children had run outside with bare feet, and when I put a towel by the front door, they didn't dry their feet very well, and there were leaves all over the rug I had just vacuumed, and I started to get a little testy.

Alia impersonated me for a moment: "You better not enjoy that rainstorm, kids!  We've got to keep this house clean! Come on, there are leaves everywhere!  No more having fun! Clean! Clean! Clean!"

I smiled.  She was right, but I was tired.  It had been a long day, and sometimes it's hard to move in circles doing the same thing while everything continues to get "undone."

So that's my little reality check.  Motherhood is great.  Life is great.  I just need a long nap.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Thursday Visits with Zoe, Family Photos, and a Sweet Reminder

For those of you who have asked for an update on my mom, I thought I'd post a few recent photos and let you know how things are going.  (Thanks for caring!)

One of my favorite things about this summer has been visiting my mom each Thursday.

Our visits are often filled with the same kinds of activities: going for walks, visiting in the courtyard, and playing games. 

Sometimes my mom is really happy--making lots of jokes and having a wonderful time with us--and sometimes she is discouraged and tearful.

We've learned to cherish those happy moments:

This past Thursday, I was in my mom's room with a couple of nurses, and we were talking about the family photos my sister-in-law Melanie had hung on the wall.  (Melanie was the photographer, and she is on the far right in the photo below).

This is almost all of us--minus a few dear cousins and in-laws who sadly couldn't make it that day.

Here are 19 of the 30 grandchildren:

Love these next two pictures:

And these are my parents, me, and my seven siblings.  From left to right: Ryan, Page, Lisa, Susan, Dad, Mom, Linda, Me, Laura, and Robert.

The following series of photos are precious to me:

(This is where Melanie asked my dad to kiss my mom for the photo.  My mom was so embarrassed, and every time my dad tried to lean in for a kiss, she would pull away shyly.)

This one is my favorite:


As I was telling the nurses about our family, one of them asked, "When were these pictures taken?"

"December." I replied.

She looked shocked and said, "Just this last December?"

I nodded, and then she looked to the other nurse, and I knew what they were thinking.  My mom has been declining rapidly.  Very rapidly.

We're all hoping mom will walk again, and we desperately want her to stay with us.  But the reality is that her dementia is getting worse, and the physical therapists can't get her to progress very well because she forgets everything she's learned.

We'll be getting her transferred home in a few weeks, and my sisters and I are coordinating a schedule of helpers so my dad won't be overwhelmed. 

I know we're not the first family to go through something like this, but wow, every step of this process is hard.

One sweet experience I'll share, though, took place when my husband and I were at the Redlands Temple for our church last week.  There's a beautiful room in each temple called the Celestial Room.  It's quiet and beautiful, and you can sit, pray, think, and listen.

While I was there, I said to the Lord, "I'm worried about my mom."

The sweetest, most peaceful feeling came over me, and I could hear in my mind the words, "You don't need to worry about your mom.  I am taking care of her."

That message has strengthened me this whole week.  Whenever I forget to breathe or start to tense up my shoulders as I think about all the hard things going on, I just remember that she's in God's hands, and He will help us.

I'm not sure why I feel compelled to share all these details here, but I hope that as I show what's happening in my life and share how the Lord is guiding me through it, I can help others to know He will do likewise for them.

Thanks for your friendship and for being with me through this.  I pray that you may feel the power of the Lord in your lives, as well.


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