Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Thanksgiving was a whirlwind of fun for our family this year. We spent nearly five full days in Logan with Dan's family and had a wonderful time! I tried to catch different aspects of our week with pictures from my phone, and although I wish I had a much nicer camera to work with, I was glad to be able to catch some great memories. Man alive, we have so much to be grateful for! It was wonderful spending time with family and thinking about our blessings.

The fun all started with Regyn's 2nd Grade Thanksgiving Reader's Theater. She sure makes a cute little Pilgrim, don't you think?

Then we were off to Grandma's. Here are a few of the fun things we did while there.

Read. I love this picture of Dan's mother reading to some of her grandchildren. She's so good about making time to sit down with the grandkids. And oh, how I love books!

Here's another picture of some little readers. Isn't this adorable? These two girls are both in 2nd grade and had a blast together all week, as the following pictures show.

Singing karaoke on Grandma's stage in the theater room. Regyn was really getting into it (note the look on her face).

Fixing their cute little cousin's hair in Grandma's bathroom (Brooklyn, the cousin getting her hair fixed, doesn't look like she's having near as much fun as Brighton and Regyn).

And here's the end result: pigtails! Brooklyn just had to show us her missing tooth, too.

These cute cousins also found plenty to do:

Earning quarters for the gumball machine by cleaning up toys. . .

(Here is another cousin chomping on a gumball--I got a kick out this picture)

Playing on the bounce house . . .

And fishing in Grandma's fish pond (this woman thinks of everything, let me tell you.)

And then there were these fun things to do.

-Make crafts.

-Play "house" in the Play Room.

-Play "dress-up" in the Secret Room (they have a little play room behind their theater room that opens by pushing a section of the wall--it's pretty amazing). These rooms are usually spic and span, btw, but with lots of cousins staying for numerous days, this is what it looked like most days.

-Watching movies in the Theater Room.

-Playing board games.

Dan's mother thought of everything. She even organized a flag football game for Nate and invited neighborhood kids. I sure wish my picture was better, but I was taking it from the balcony and the trees were in the way. You get the idea. Lots of fun. Nate loved it!

It was fun spending time with my sisters-in-law. They are so darling. Here is a picture of some of them (I'm so sad I didn't take one when Karlene was there, but I didn't think of it until everyone was leaving and she was already home).

Here are a few activities the adults did all week.

Exercise (notice I am not in the picture--I took the week off, but I have to admit I felt a bit guilty as I ate chocolates and watched them work out).

Make chocolates. Man, are they ever delicious! I didn't even know what candy-making was until I joined the Conger family.

And of course we visited, shopped, went to the movies, and had a wonderful Thanksgiving meal.

I loved this little sign my creative sister-in-law, Jen, made. It hung on the windows right above the kitchen table all week. So cute!
 My father-in-law had written a beautiful 2-page letter to his family about how much he loved his wife and asked me to read it before dinner. It was eloquent and sweet and amazing--a wonderful way to start off the occasion.
These were just the adults. We fed the children eight years old and younger  and then set up the big table for us and sent the kids downstairs to watch a movie while we enjoyed a peaceful dinner. It was great!
By the end of the week, we were all exhausted, but so happy we had been able to spend time with so many people we love. The house was pretty much trashed by this time, but we all pitched in to help clean up before we left for home.

Berkley especially loved this part.

I love this. It's hard to tell, but she's actually pretending to talk on the phone while she vacuums.  It's never too early to start multi-tasking! LOL!
It was a wonderful week! I'm truly so blessed to have the Congers in my life. They are all such wonderful people who I have learned gobs from. I love that the Holidays bring families together. It's my favorite part. Dan and I have felt so blessed that, as this year comes to a close, we decided we wanted to send our Christmas cards out a little bit early--for Thanksgiving.

I tell you, I wanted to send this to everyone I've ever known! I just kept thinking of all the fabulous people we've been blessed to know throughout our lives and it was hard to refrain from trying to reach out to all of them. So, to all of you who have ever crossed our path or blessed our lives with your friendship, we love you! Hope your Thanksgiving was as wonderful as ours!

Now to get ready for Christmas . . .

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Boston's 6th B-Day!

I'm not a good party mom. Or holiday mom. Or birthday mom. I do, however, think kids need to feel especially loved and wanted and special on their birthdays each year, so I do the best I can. Here is a summary of Boston's sixth birthday.

He wanted a red cake. Red is suddenly his favorite color. He enjoyed licking the bowl more than anything.

Here he is blowing out his candles.

I LOVE this "Happy Birthday" sign my sister-in-law made and gave to us for birthdays.

Now for the presents. . .

Regyn got a big hug after he opened hers.

Berkley couldn't help but try on the special birthday hat.

And of course, Boston got the "Special" plate for dinner. A family tradition.

Last, but not least, the famous breakfast. He chose donuts. We spiced them up by making blue glaze (of course, he told me he wished it was red instead). We make these donuts from canned biscuits. Super easy (and unhealthy) and fun.

I sure love this little boy. He was sent to bring me love, I tell ya. He is so loving. Every day when I put Berkley down for a nap before he gets home, he says, "But Mom, I didn't get to give her a hug and a kiss." That is very important to him. He will chase me down the driveway if I leave before he kisses me, and I love it. What a blessing he is to me.

Happy Birthday, Boston!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

It's All About Love

Even though I know better, sometimes I feel like such a failure as a mother. It usually happens when I'm experiencing those overwhelming, flustered moments when nothing seems to be going as it should on a regular basis. It's so easy to look around and find all that is not in place, all that is cluttered and dirty, all that hasn't had the proper attention for a while. On the other hand, it's not so easy to see the magic happening all around me--the things that are getting done, the behavior that is kind and appropriate, the spaces that are neat and orderly. Why is that so?

This morning before my children left for school, I was determined to be negative, even though that little voice inside my head told me to focus on the positive before I ever even got out of bed. It's just that sometimes I don't feel like flattering my children with praise over finally picking up a dirty sock they left out three days ago when everything else they are supposed to do in the mornings is getting left undone. So, I marched throughout the house, throwing my hands up in the air over everything I saw wrong, nagging my children about their lack of responsibility, until I couldn't even stand myself. That's when this wise, patient, loving mother--the one I think is always there deep inside of me--told me to stop. I mean, did I really want my children going to school today with my negative voice ringing in their ears? No.

So, I took a breath, then I took Regyn's shoulders in my arms, and I looked into her blue sparkly eyes for a moment and told her sincerely that I loved her and I hoped that was what she would remember today. I immediately felt ashamed for all my brow beating about chores not getting done and time getting wasted, especially since I have been the Queen of Irresponsibility myself lately.

As I walked around the corner, Nate wrapped his arms around me. I must admit, I didn't feel like hugging him--not because I was angry with him--but because I was so disgusted with myself, I didn't feel I deserved his affection at that moment. But I finally gave in; I mean, how could I NOT give in to a hug from my 10-year-old son, the one who had just told me the day before that kisses from his mother were no longer something he wanted or needed (I pulled out the Power Of Moms book on that one and immediately read to him how important kisses and hugs really were to brain development. "You want to be smart, right? OK then, kisses and hugs will still be a part of your daily regimen"). I wrapped my arms around him as tightly as I could, kissed his cheek over and over and told him how much I loved him. Man, it felt good! So much better than the nagging and fits of frustration.

Boston ran into my arms like he does every time either he or I leaves the house and gave me a squeeze and kiss--that boy was sent to bring me love, I tell you, and I'm so thankful. I wished them all a wonderful day and then I closed the door and sighed. Nothing had changed really. No matter how amazing displays of affection are and how good they make you feel in the moment, they don't magically clean floors or bathrooms or make the pressure of everyday life disappear.

That's when I remembered something I've always known but tend to forget sometimes. Life is good. It's not perfect, but it's good. I told my children recently, "Grateful people are happy people," and I was right. I have so much to be grateful for, so how can I be unhappy? At the top of it all is that I have five children to love. And I have a husband who not only puts up with me, but truly loves me. And that's just it--the key to everything--LOVE.

I have been reading this book published by the Power of Moms called 12 Key Powers of Peace, Purpose, Order and Joy (It's soooo good, btw--I totally recommend it), and just the other day I read this section about love. One paragraph stood out to me. It's written by a mother of four children:

With four small children it's easy for me to focus on getting things done rather than on loving. Love is not "productive." I can't check "loving" off my to-do list. Because love is process-driven and impossible to measure, loving doesn't even make it onto my list. 

So good, right? So true. Then it continues . . .

At it's core, mothering is motivated by love. By recognizing love as the explicit motivator behind what we do, everyday, mundane tasks suddenly become meaningful. There are whole seasons of my life as a mom where I've forgotten this and have lived as if motherhood were about getting laundry done, or putting healthy meals on the table, or having a clean house, or making sure the kids are in the right schools. Sure all these things are important, but only if they are rooted in love, and only if my family feels loved as I do them.

Butabing! Butaboom! There it is. My reason for failing, or at least feeling like I'm failing, lately. My motivations have not been rooted in love, only in selfishness. I have not been trying to teach my children responsibility out of the deep love I hold for them in my heart; I've been doing it because I need help. That's not always a bad thing, but if the love isn't present, all methods become ineffective. Hence my frustration. I'm so, so thankful for that little word--love--and the miracles it produces. I truly feel it is the key--my key--as a mother to lead my children.

And so, I got to work. I cleaned, went to get favorite cupcakes at the bakery and rent a feel-good Christmas movie, and I'm waiting for my kids to come in the door so I can shower them with my time, my attention, my sincere praise for all they are doing good, and most importantly, my love. Because truly my love for them stretches wide and runs deep and they need to know that--always.

I truly believe if I can work through my feelings of overwhelming frustration and focus instead on gratitude and love, I can realize and appreciate life again, and hopefully even feel like I am succeeding as a mother, rather than failing.

It's all about love.

And who easier to love than these children of mine?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

An Extraordinary Mother

I heard a quote once that has stuck with me ever since. I guess it's more of a personal standard to measure behavior by than a quote, but either way, it's powerful, and it seems to come to my mind in moments of great need and remind me of who I'm trying to become. It is one simple question:

 "What would an extraordinary person do in this situation?"

That's it. Nothing earth-shattering, yet so profoundly appropriate and soul-searching. I can't even remember where I heard or read these words, but they haunt me on a regular basis because I believe this one question can help shape character and mold decisions that will ultimately determine one's life course. At least, that's what this question does for me. Why? Because I want to be an extraordinary person--not by the world's standards, but by God's, as I believe they are two distinctly different things.

I think life presents us with plenty of opportunities to grow or shrink intrinsically through the choices we make. We find ourselves in situations that require self-mastery, patience, understanding, integrity and so much more. We ultimately always have a choice of how to behave under our given circumstances. We can give into our natural tendencies and exhibit inappropriate behavior or we can try to overcome those natural inhibitions and become something much more--someone extraordinary. That is my goal.

As a mother, I have found myself in difficult situations on a regular basis. These situations make me want to scream or throw a fit or slam a door; they make me feel like manipulating my children, coercing them into doing things my way, using fear and power, rather than love and patience. It's very easy to give into these tendencies because, after all, they come without effort. But then a little voice in the back of my mind forces itself to be heard:

 "What would an extraordinary mother do in this situation?"

This question demands I change my perspective and my behavior and become so much more--a mother who really listens, a mother who exhibits patience and faith and love in the most difficult circumstances, a mother who leads and trains by example--a mother who is extraordinary. It's my constant quest.

Nine months ago, I was chosen by the American Mothers Association as the Utah Young Mother of the Year for 2012. What an honor! What a title! What a joke! Seriously. Mother of the Year? Me? It was something I joked about often, especially in times of complete and utter failure on my part to be the kind of mother I felt my children really deserved. And now, here I was, the state's representative of motherhood and all it entails. I shook my head in disbelief often, wondering how it happened. Then, I finally decided if this outstanding organization was going to name me "Mother of the Year," I had better start living up to it.

I have found myself often over the past nine months thinking to myself, "Wait--what would the 'Mother of the Year' really do in this situation? How would she handle it?" And then I would take a breath, pray for inspiration and move ahead more carefully, weighing my words and my actions, striving to lead my children with love and empathy, rather than frustration and coercion. I have failed over and over, but I have also conquered at times. Most importantly, I have felt myself becoming more like the mother I really want to become--an extraordinary mother. I have miles and miles to go, but the journey is rewarding, even if it is long and bumpy and filled with detours at times.

The thing is, I am hoping and striving to raise extraordinary children--not in what they accomplish, but in what they become. As I notice trends in the world and I become aware of attitudes and practices that are opposite from the core values and standards we believe in, I realize how necessary it is for these dear children of mine to be able and willing to stand up for unpopular but moral standards, to exhibit self control and bridal passions in order to avoid harmful addictions, to follow God's laws regardless of the consequences--to be extraordinary.

And so I must somehow become extraordinary myself. How does one become extraordinary? That's what I'm trying to figure out. I think it must have something to do with denying oneself of all the attitudes and behaviors that are negative (such as nagging, hollering, throwing fits, etc.) and developing those qualities that God Himself exhibits--patience, forgiveness, empathy, integrity, self-control and unconditional love. It cannot be conquered in a moment or a year or even many years but is the quest of a lifetime.

And it is my quest.

Because these children are everything to me.

And if I do happen to one day become extraordinary in any measure, it will be because of them.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


I am beginning this post with a warning: If you love Halloween, please do not proceed to read the rest!

To all of you moms out there who love this spooky holiday and are great at making it awesome for your kids, I admire you. I have tried to follow suit, but to no avail. I truly wish I shared the same enthusiasm for Halloween as most of the civilized world, but the truth is. . .

I hate it.

I'm serious. I absolutely hate it.

Why, you might ask? I mean, how can someone hate a holiday, especially one that offers so much fun for most people?

I'm not sure I have a solid answer, but this year as I was sitting miserably at a ward Halloween party, pondering those very questions, feeling grumpy down to my bones, I was reminded of something. When I was little, we simply did not have extra money. Therefore, our Halloween costumes were either homemade or made up by finding things around the house and turning them into a costume. I think both are great, and my mom was an absolute wizard on the sewing machine, so she came up with some fabulous stuff, really. But when we left the house, it was pretty obvious our costumes were not as amazing as everyone else's. And I think that's where it started.

I hate costumes. I hate the idea of trying to have the best costume out there and spending money on something so trivial (I know--I'm winning no friends here--please forgive me for being so straight forward). I also hate the idea of knocking on people's doors and asking them for candy. It just feels wrong. Every year as I watch kids bounce around neighborhoods, grabbing fistfuls of candy at every doorstep, I just cringe inside. Whoever gets the most candy wins! I mean, that seems to go against everything I'm trying to teach my children. And during the weeks following this tradition, my kids beg for and fight over candy every spare minute they have. I absolutely hate it. There just seems to be so much social pressure to conform. And then there's the dark side of Halloween--the ghosts and witches and haunted houses and monsters with chainsaws. No matter how hard I try, I just can't understand what is thrilling about those things.

So now that I've been way more honest and direct than I ever should have been, I must say, that even though I despise this holiday, and I inwardly cheer inside every year on November first when I realize it's a whole 365 days until it comes around again, I do want my children to have a chance to enjoy it. Truthfully, my hope is that they won't grow up with the negative attitude towards Halloween that I have.

A couple of years ago, we loaded up as a family and went to a hotel on Halloween night. We played games, went hot tubbing, made caramel apples and watched a movie (not scary) together. It was truly wonderful! Way better than the traditional celebration in my eyes. Unfortunately, it's hard to do that when the holiday falls in the middle of the week, so most years we end up simply conforming and following the crowd, and it never makes me happy.

Okay, I am done complaining, I promise. And I must say that I do love any time I can watch my kids have a good time. And kids are so good at that, don't you think? They don't stop to analyze all the details; they simply join in and have fun. I love that! It's something I need to learn from them. So, here are a few pictures of their Halloween fun this year (btw, we are so lucky--we borrow all our costumes from Grandma Conger, who happens to have a closets and trunks full of amazing outfits that she's willing to share--such a lifesaver!).

Regyn was a hippie girl--I love it!

Boston was a shaggy dog. Never mind that he was sweating to death, he loved this costume, and I'm telling you, when he got down on all fours, he looked like a real dog.

Berkley was a purple dragon--of course I snapped the picture when she was picking her nose!

Hallee was a volleyball player--not very original (she's way too much like me, I'm afraid). Here are these four altogether. Nate was already with his friends, so he missed the group photo. I love their smiles.

Nate with his two buddies--Luke and Luke. 
One thing I will say is that I do think every kid deserves a chance to love Halloween, even if his/her mother doesn't. And so, my main goal for next year is to pretend harder! And if that doesn't work, well, we may just have to book a hotel!