Thursday, September 22, 2016

Birthday Traditions for the 8+ crew

I'll post more about birthday traditions we've made for the under 8 crew, but I wanted to remember some of the traditions we've been establishing now that Max is well...older. His last birthday actually put us on the 'decade of parenting' list. I can't even count how many times I've looked at this guy recently and simply smiled. The car wash/construction truck/run everywhere/curiously get into everything/fun/crazy/happy toddler is growing. Faster than I'd ever thought possible. And I'm so grateful to be part of his life journey.
I'd been stewing about ways to make his day feel meaningful (as it was also filled with many 'typical' things - school, soccer and after school activities for his siblings), while listening to my own personal boundaries and simplicity. I brainstormed ideas and the idea I'd been hoping for finally came to me about 9p.m. the night before.
I wrote up this poster for him, and stuck it under his door for it to be the first thing he saw (he often awakes on his own, and I didn't want him to come into the kitchen feeling like it was just 'another day.'). I tried to be specific to his age and things I've both noticed about him and want him to know. It was sweet to see him kinda quietly smile and reflect on this that morning. As a tradition - I like this as I'll be able to create new (and longer) lists each year. Plus it gave me an excuse to use a poster board and smelly markers (a personal favorite).

Since it was an 'off to the races' kind of a day, we opted to open presents while we were still all together that morning. Simple and such a fun way for him to start his day.
As we were driving to school, he was tying his shoes and turned to me saying "oh mom! Will you bring me some jolly ranchers to school? I want to pass them out for a class treat?" Of course this is something we'd both completely spaced, and I knew I'd be going to the school to meet him for a birthday lunch date, so it was a simple thing to pick up and swing by.
Meeting him for our lunch date was a highlight. This kid loves a good sandwich, and bringing him a favorite was as fun for the little girls and I as it was for him. I think I had a permanent smile listening him talk about new games at recess and hikes he wants to go on.
The afternoon kinda flew by and before we knew it, it was evening. We had extended family over for root beer floats (his dessert choice - we aren't really a cake/ice cream kinda family) and to hang out and visit.

Every year I tell the kiddos their birth story - and it was fun to listen to him remember most of it. He loves the details - from the time he was born, to how he came out screaming, to how dad/I were overjoyed (and overwhelmed!) to be parents. I usually follow it up with some of my favorite baby/toddler memories of him too.
We also let him choose a place to go for dinner (we went later that weekend and of course he chose a Mexican restaurant he loves), and an activity we could all do as a family. He didn't hesitate to choose a hike, and we picked a new, but simple one - Lisa Falls. The hike and dinner out was awesome. Of course, there are always interesting twists and turns as we tackle any adventure with our one-year old, but thankfully the kiddos seem to go with the flow which helps me remember to a little more as well! I absolutely love being together as a family, in the mountains and connecting as we explore together.
While there are so many things that can be done for a birthday, this flow of traditions has been wonderful for our family. I don't feel overburdened/stressed, and am better able to focus on being present. It helps me simplify so I'm able to give way too many hugs and smile at these little people (who won't be little that much longer!). Grateful for the opportunity to be his mother.

Everyone needs an awkward photo! What are we supposed to do? Actually look at the camera?!

Washington DC

Shortly after clicking "buy" for our airline tickets to Washington D.C., I realized something: our kids really didn't know much about D.C.
As much as my mind naturally wrapped around the logistics, I really wanted to cultivate a general understanding of where we were going, and why we loved it so much.
As fun as it would have been to create the element of 'surprise! we're going on vacation today!' I know myself and my kiddos well enough to realize whatever I planned in my head, the exact opposite would probably occur. For my sanity, I completely deleted that thought almost as quickly as it came in, and focused instead on building excitement for the upcoming trip.
  • At Dinner: We started sharing our favorite D.C. things during dinner (most) evenings. And, while I'd love to claim that I remember all kinds of dates and facts, I actually pretty much forget most everything, so I'd start by mentioning a site or a President I LOVED, and the we'd look up answers as questions came up.
  • The Library: I *think* we checked out every book about Washington D.C. AND my favorite presidents (Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson), so belated apologies if you tried to pick one up while we had them. The kiddos LOVED reading little facts here or there, and looking at photos - which was a great way to familiarize them with the city. The library also had a Washington D.C. DVD that was a simple virtual tour. Tayler loved it.
  • A Blank Poster Board: I actually love creating lists and ideas with a blank poster board. We hung it on our pantry door, and wrote down a 'bucket list' of places that sounded interesting, or places we knew we wanted to go as we found them. Side note: one rainy afternoon, I actually gave my older two another poster board and three of the D.C. library books and challenged them to create something to share with the family. Max is pretty fond of presentations (ha!) and jumped on this opportunity. It was fun to listen to their findings on President Lincoln.
  • Art: Please don't confuse this for the word 'craft.' I'm not much of a crafter (love seeing the amazing things others do, but have blessed and released that word from my immediate vocabulary. Imagining a 'craft project' with my kids feels complicated and gives me anxiety. Use the word 'art' or 'create' and I'm all over it.). Anyway, we all created our own National Mall using construction paper, glue, and well, more glue.
  • Stories: Since we were grateful to be staying with a childhood friend of Mike's and their family, Mike shared all kinds of childhood stories. That was fun.
For me, those pockets of time - in the car, at dinner, or after school - were opportunities to throw in a little side conversation about where we were going. I found it helped me feel more excited about the JOY and the WHY for going (that matter!) and less anxious about the logistics and things that seem to consume so much mental thought (what to pack, what not to pack, will I pack enough, will I pack too much - tell me I'm not the only one that goes through this!) and don't really matter too much.
This 'building excitement' phase was so cool once we finally arrived on vacation. They would mention a story, or a phrase, or a little fact they'd heard or read. Loved listening to them draw their own connections at the various memorials and soak in the joy of simply standing IN something they'd studied and seen photos of. So grateful for those moments.
A few of the places we loved:
  • The Washington D.C. Temple Visitors Center: we actually flew into Baltimore (flights were cheaper AND direct), so this was a natural stop on our way to the D.C. area. We love sharing our love for the temple with our kiddos, why we believe in the importance of temples, and why we believe in the powerful importance of the family unit. The visitors center had some fun, interactive spots for the kiddos.

  • The White House: we walked over after eating lunch at a Potbelly's close by. Snapped a pic, waved hello, and headed on (we didn't schedule a tour).
  • The monuments and war memorials. While we did walk a lot, there were plenty of places to take a break. We packed some snacks and waters. They were ALL amazing.
  • Mt. Vernon: We actually spent an entire day here! In addition to touring the house, my kids loved the little adventure map where they found certain clues, and at the end filled in a puzzle in return for a small prize at the gift shop. Super engaging for them. We also loved the 4D movie in the museum. The path to the Potomac river is simply beautiful and we enjoyed seeing the farmers 'farm' as they did in 1899. As we drove out of Mt. Vernon, we stopped at the Mill (still in operation!) - so cool.
  • Arlington Cemetery: This was probably the most anxious place for me with the almost two-year-old because I knew she wouldn't grasp where she was AND there wasn't much to distract her with. But we wanted to share this sacred place with the rest of the crew, so we rolled up our sleeves and jumped in. And actually, she did pretty well, except for the end (see previous DC post). We were SO grateful to share our deep gratitude for all those who have served and sacrificed for this beautiful, amazing country. And to visually create that experience was completely worth the craziness.
  • "Driving Tour": Thanks to our amazing hosts, we had a car during our stay and great tips on how/where to park. FYI: there's a cool app that connects your parking meter to your phone and helps you pay/track how much time you have left. We found it handy! Because we did have a car, we enjoyed a driving tour past many of the buildings we simply didn't have time to see (or really aren't allowed to go in!). Such a cool city as you can really delve into the history as well as the current life/energy simultaneously.
  • The Smithsonians: We didn't make it to all of them, but these are some highlights for the ones we did peek inside:
    • The Museum of Natural History: Max was a bit bummed what he had planned to see (the Hope Diamond) wasn't on display that day, but there were PLENTY of other gems and rocks for him to explore. While the museum was chuck full of school groups, we still saw loads.
    • The Air and Space Museum: We really liked seeing the inner workings of the various ships and rockets on display.
    • The Native American Museum: Alexis chose this one (I think) because the exterior of the building is so cool. There was a really enjoyable native american short movie we watched and loads of beautiful beadwork/artifacts on display.
    • The Art Museum: Max chose this one, and I won't lie, when he said he wanted to go to the art museum, I responded "you know it's art on the walls to look at, right? Like you can't actually make art, right?" After he gave me the "look" (like of-course-I-know-that-mom), we headed over. Hands down, it was a crowd favorite! The Van Gogh, Monet and Degas paintings were probably where we spent the most time, but we could have spent another half a day in that museum (if we didn't have the one year old with us!). The architecture within the actual museum was so cool.
    • The Renwick Museum: I actually heard about this one from a friend, and was hesitant as it was called a 'craft museum' (read above for an explanation of my love of the word craft). I was BLOWN AWAY! First, if I were only to walk through the restored building with NOTHING in it, I would have been happy. It was BEAUTIFUL! But to have these rooms filled with creative ART (tires, marbles, fishing nets, bugs) in ways I never thought?! It completely opened my mind and we all absolutely loved seeing the beauty. Probably my favorite part was listening to the kiddos say "oh! I'm going to try that when I get home!" or "cool! this makes me want to..." It definitely sparked some creative juices.
  • The Potomac: we were grateful to spend time with some amazing friends who actually lived close to the river. While we didn't end up 'hanging out' there (it was actually quite rainy most of the trip), we absolutely LOVED driving by/over it as we traveled in and out of the city. So. Much. History. And. Beauty!
  • Souvenirs: I'm not a big fan of 'things' that end up either breaking or cluttering once we come home, but we have really enjoyed a couple of fun Washington D.C. books we found and I always find a Christmas ornament (that's a tradition I started years ago with places we visit and/or live).
We were beyond grateful to share this auh-mazing city with our kiddos, and for such auh-mazing friends who let us crash at their place and keep their kids up way too late! Fun memories.

6 Things that helped me enJOY vacation with an almost 2 year old

We recently spent 5 days traveling to Washington D.C. as a family. It was awesome. Auh-mazing. I'm grateful for the memories we created. I look forward to posting highlights soon.
But, there were plenty of bumps in the road. Our family is entering some new territory with the ages of kiddos. My older ones are like sponges ready to take in these awesome experiences. Up to this point, we've kept much of our travel close and simple - often centered around what works for the youngest child. This was the first time we chose a trip with the primary focus around our older kiddos. And with that shift, there was a juggle of balance. Would I still enjoy it? Would I feel like I was missing out on experiences? Would I be stressed/anxious or grouchy the whole time? Because let's be honest. Taking a one-almost-two year old anywhere is chaotic. She is a joy. A hot mess. And everything in-between.
And let's just say there were a lot of tantrums. I, and probably every surrounding passenger around me, couldn't wait to get off the airplane on our way there. The two most memorable meltdowns were:
  • Finishing an awesome trip through Arlington Cemetery - when she realized her older sister was on her dad's shoulders, and that she needed to be the one there. Screaming to get out of the stroller and then running downhill only to trip and land on her forehead. Which then of course resulted in more crying/screaming. Only to look up and see that her sister was STILL on dad's shoulders. Oh, the tears in an otherwise silent surrounding. And by silent, I don't mean empty. The walkways were chuck full of tour groups - from high schools to seniors. Let's just say she and I had a very brisk trot to the visitors center.
  • I chuckle thinking back to the Smithsonian Art Museum. While it was one of my favorite places, it was also a bit of a circus act as the hubs and I tag teamed her with the other three kiddos. Turns out it's a little tough for her to comprehend that you actually can't touch anything inside the whole museum. Except the kids section in the museum gift shop. Where we totally caved and bought her the cutest singing bird stuffed animal.
Between the crazy, there was joy. Her wonder at the simplicity of something I probably would have otherwise overlooked. At George Washington's mill she loved feeling the stones the building was made of and kept pointing at them in awe. At the memorials, she loved watching the water fountains. They were so calming.

It was a joy to watch the connection she made with her siblings. Sure, they live together, but experiencing new things pulled them closer. I loved that uninterrupted bonding time.

I made this list as a way to remind myself that there actually were things that helped (maybe it was all coincidental, but I'm going to go with the idea that they helped prevent at least some unknown tantrums). Whether these things happened independently or together, I felt more mindful, aware and present.

Six things I found helpful to shift my focus to enJOYing vacation with my almost two year old:
  1. Keep expectations low. Sounds obvious, but the less I expected of her, the less surprised I was when she had a melt down. I felt more grounded and calm instead of frustrated and hot. And I enjoyed her happy moments without holding onto the burden of a 'stress hangover.'
  2. Set the stage. My little one isn't much of a talker at this point, but boy, she understands a lot. I tried to talk as much as I could to her, and I feel like it helped. It was fun to have her point to things she knew and recognized (trees, birds, ducks, flags) when she might not be able to grasp something the older kids were enjoying. I found I captured more as well.
  3. Pack familiar food/snacks. This was so helpful. I actually threw a bunch of snacks I knew she liked in our suitcase for us to use the whole trip. It was so handy to pull something out she was familiar with (every day) and let her munch. And let's be honest, I'm cranky if I'm hungry too.
  4. Pack a bag of tricks for the airplane. I feel like all kids respond a little differently, but with Abby (at 22 months) - she loved stickers, coloring with markers (we used the Color Wonder Crayola ones), window gel clings, new snacks, lipgloss and books. She had ZERO interest in pretty much everything else.
  5. Be patient. And as hard as this can be, I found by putting myself in her shoes instead of asking why she was behaving a certain way helped me realize she might be tired, overstimulated, something might be bothering her (too much noise), or she simply doesn't know how to express her emotions. Pausing, breathing and trying to understand where she might be coming from helped me feel calmer.
  6. Smile. At her, at the hubs, at the kids. Because making memories isn't about a perfect picture or a perfect moment. Often it's the messy moments or the ones that don't go as planned that can turn into the most beautiful of adventures.

The Journey of Womanhood

Womanhood. It's a title I've been pondering after listening to this quote earlier this spring: 

"Our high responsibility is to become women who follow the Savior, nurture with inspiration, and live truth fearlessly. As we ask Father in Heaven to make us builders of His kingdom, His power will flow into us and we will know how to nurture, ultimately becoming like our heavenly parents." - Neill F. Marriott

When I ponder my personal journey of motherhood, I realize it has taught me more about myself than I could write into words. But I'm unbelievably grateful for all of it. And as much as I cherish the big memory making moments, I learn more and more each day how much the smallest things can create joy. The touch. The curiosity. The new perspective. The independence. The struggle to succeed in the smallest of ways (even if that means climbing on top of the counter, or a kiddo doing their own hair).

Creating and nurturing for me is a two-fold process. As much as I knew I would walk into the role of motherhood with the tasks of nurturing, growing and creating a life for my little ones, I had no idea how much the process of motherhood would be an opportunity to create and nurture myself.

More than ever, I recognize it as a necessity to invest in myself. Learning, growing, creating and nurturing myself make me a better mom, wife and person. And I know this because I can point to times where 'something was missing' and each time, it was the space within my personal growth.

Finding the time is always tricky. But I seem to have the most success with small pockets. Over the years, my focus has changed. But it's been fun as recently I've been expanding my personal 'creating' process with learning how to make home movies, developing a new yoga class, practicing calligraphy for some quotes I want to hang on our walls at home, trying some new recipes and reading some great new books.

What do you do to create and nurture yourself?

Spring Trip to the Park

We woke up this morning with a completely free schedule. I let the kids choose what they wanted to do and they picked a trip to a park! We settled on one in West Jordan - my kids nicknamed it the "Castle Park." I love the variety offered at this park. It feels like there is something for each age of my kiddos. Gladly there is a fence around the whole thing, but since there are a variety of exits, we do go over the 'don't cross here' when we first get there. Lots of swinging, sliding, hide and go seek, and obstacle course routes. We packed a simple lunch (gotta love PB&J and grapes!) and threw out a blanket. The best part of a picnic lunch is the clean up - a simple shake of the blanket! I always want to remember the simplicity and joy behind being together outdoors. So grateful for these four kiddos!

The growth of spring

kay, I had to laugh at myself. The amount of pictures I've taken of blooms, plants, green grass, and pretty much anything that resembles spring is a little ridiculous. Clearly I'm excited. But honestly, I LOVE seeing the growth and feeling the change in the air. Not going to lie, I actually really do enjoy winter, but those final weeks of winter are such a struggle. The days seem endless, we've done everything I feel like I 'want' to do in winter, and I hit a point where I'm tired of the cold!
And seeing these photos made me realize I should have a little more love for those final weeks of winter. The toughest part of the season (for me) is simultaneously developing the whole new chapter - spring! I just can't see it yet.
The funny thing about spring is the actual growth behind what I'm seeing happens much sooner than I can see it. Those little buds are hard at work long before they become buds. Change happens deep within the roots that triggers a series of progression. Plants are growing long before we see the beauty transpire.
Which makes me ask:
"What unseen growth happens in my life?"
I've found that change is usually kinda hard. Okay, sometimes it's really hard. And if change doesn't happen on 'my timeline' I'm frustrated. I'm ready to throw in the towel. If I don't see a result, why continue trying?
In my experience, there are loads of times where I've started something new only to feel foolish. So many setbacks. Failures. Trials. And oodles of weeds to work through.
I remember when we decided our oldest was 'old enough' to start reading scriptures as a family. He was two, and we thought bedtime would be a great way to finish the day. It was a habit we wanted to create, and while it seemed like a good idea, we soon found it fell far from any expectation. I picked up the picture/story version of the scriptures and imagined he'd sit on my lap while we read. In actuality, he rolled all over the floor, jumped, tore the pages, ran all over the room and did anything but listen. I was frustrated. If we were doing something that seemed right, why wasn't it working? It would have been super easy to shelf that idea for a future 'someday.'
Wisely, the Lord has reminded me again and again of this scripture. I think because I need to hear it. Over and over. And I've learned (over and over), the truth behind it is very real:
"Now you may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise." Alma 37:6
Often change and growth are both small and simple.
In the case of reading scriptures together, it was simple: change our approach. Instead of fighting against who he was, or giving up completely, we could choose to learn how to embrace where he was at. As an active guy, he wanted to participate. Through trial (and error), we learned he LOVED acting out the scenes and loved listening if we told the story and pointed to the pictures rather than reading the words directly. Over time, as he became more familiar (and older), he began to tell the stories. Gradually, he began to sit and listen. As other children were added into the 'bedtime routine,' he welcomed the opportunity to act out stories for them. Now, with a habit of family scripture study (while we still do miss nights from time to time), I'm grateful for his reminders to get us back on track.
Looking back, there have been loads of fails in the process (and I have no doubt this will be an ongoing continual work in progress - especially as schedules continue to change and kiddos grow). But, had I completely stopped all efforts, and 'shelved the idea' for when it would be right, I wonder when the 'right time' would have (if ever) happened. I know we would have missed out on those sweet memories of foam swords and laughter (he loved acting out the battle scenes the most).
Just as much as I seem to never grasp the complexity behind a simple beautiful springtime blossom, I don't think I'll ever fully grasp how much the Lord guides and lifts in small and simple ways. It's humbling to think how thoughts build on one another like an individual blossom. Choosing to listen and take action on those thoughts - no matter how small - are what build those blossoms into the framework of an entire tree.
Small and simple is a lesson I am continually learning from. Life is FULL of springtime. There is so much good. So much warmth and growth happening. I simply need to remember to see it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting (on Audio) Review

Love love love.
I loved the research, the connections between adults and children (how we are ALL still on a journey, growing and learning), and the development of core values. Instead of giving a "to do" list, it digs into the roots - understanding guilt and shame - and how to channel minds, actions and intentions toward a direction of hope.
Simple suggestions and thought processes shared in a 'story telling' experience. I felt like I was listening to a great conversation. And left the conversation feeling empowered, inspired, and with some new tools in my pocket.
Loved how her insights are applicable to a parent of young children, teenagers, adult children, grandchildren, or through extension as an aunt/uncle. Definitely worth a listen!