Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Advent is a beautiful way to prepare our spirits for Christmas. Growing up I adored Advent, and looked forward to it eagerly. At one point, either in Catechism or in private school, I made my own little Advent candle holder - a simple small block of wood with four small holes. I hand dipped candles for my small Advent, and I humbly offered it as a part of our Christmas decor. I do not know what happened to my small Advent candle holder, but the memories that surround it live within me.
Remembering Christmases past, Kurt and I both fondly recall Advent candles being a part of our childhood. Kurt does not recall owning an Advent wreath, but loved the idea of bringing one into our home.

The first Sunday of Advent represents Hope. This week, as our youngest child has lit our purple Advent candle, we reflect upon hope.

Pictured here, is our own Advent wreath. In the background is our Jesse Tree, naked- as the tree devotionals did not begin until later in the evening.

I am so excited for this Christmas! I am so thankful that I get to homeschool our boys, and we can literally spend every moment of this season celebrating Christ and learning about the Gospel. I am so thankful for the hundreds of ideas that other parents have shared about teaching core subjects while learning more about the birth of our Savior! Carter and Harrison are excited to learn more about Jesus, and they are also excited about Santa- and in our homeschool that is okay.

May the peace and love that can come from the warm light of the Advent fill our homes!

(We are using the Jesse Tree book from this site)
(Yes, we are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and we celebrate Advent! For information about LDS celebrations of Advent you can look here!)

Monday, November 28, 2011


Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays! Sure, the food is great, but I am really in love with the idea of an entire day dedicated to being thankful! I had such a huge long list of things to be thankful for, and I am so blessed! (I say, "sure, the food is great" because I am not an excellent cook, so Thanksgiving was never a big deal for food in our house... but after this year, I can see why it would be the highlight of the season!!!)

This year was really neat for our family because we spent Thanksgiving with some of our friends! My good friend hosted us, made things gluten-free, and allowed us to take the whole day and relax! It was quite a treat! Things got even better when her best friend's family joined from out of town- so we were able to meet new friends too! 

The food was absolutely fabulous, and our amazing hostess really outdid herself. There was a light lunch with savory pumpkin soup, deliciously blended salad with goat cheese, and from-scratch berry lemonade. The dinner was delicious! Beautiful and perfectly seasoned turkey, two variations of cranberry sides, frog eye salad, freshly home made rolls, perfect mashed potatoes, sinful smelling stuffing, gourmet gravy, and the hands-down most delicious sweet potato souffle I have ever tasted! And for dessert? French cocoa (this is served in Heaven, I am sure!) and ELEVEN different pies!

With six adults and nine children, the house was full of friendship and warmth! We had such a wonderful time, and we were thankful to share it with such great families! The kids all got along really well! Sure, there were a few moments here and there, but remarkably there was less arguing with NINE kids than there generally is with just my TWO! How great!!! The kids made this fort in the back yard, and they were so proud of it! Rightfully so- the thing was amazing! Happy kids, fun adults, great conversation, amazing food- these are excellent memories =)

"The true meaning of Christmas"

I often lecture my children on "the true meaning of Christmas." There are literally hundreds of books, movies, and songs dedicated to "the true meaning of Christmas." As a Christian I frequently reflect on "the true meaning of Christmas." But somehow, I still seem to occasionally forget it...

We started the day with breakfast, and then the boys wrote letters to Santa! I understand some people do not tell their children about Santa, but we do. We feel there is room for Santa in our traditions, and we welcome him every year.

Today is Cyber Monday. Online shopping, hooray! I adore online shopping- I am not a fan of crazy crowds, and I would rather sip coconut milk cocoa and shop in my pjs any day. As I was shopping (unsuccessfully...) for my children's Christmas gifts, I saw a few Lego Advent calendars I had wanted for the boys, but forgotten to buy before today. Realizing that December 1st is just around the corner, I hastily started clicking site after site, searching for one Lego City Advent Calendar and one Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar. There were many sites offering one item or the other item, but I wanted them shipped together. I was frustrated. I finally found a site that carried both, but by the time I was ready to "check out"  I had spent a whole hour shopping for these things. I was happy, I finally found both calendars! Wouldn't the boys be excited!? They would get a new Lego toy every single day until Christmas!!! Hooray! These new Lego Advents, in addition to the singing, dancing, candy-filled Advent calendar from my parents... the candle advent I wanted to use... and the Jesse Tree.... woah... wait...

As I stopped and thought about my plans for Christmas, I realized I was sabotaging my own beautifully thought-out traditions with meaningless "stuff." I had envisioned sitting at the dinner table, and slowly lighting our beautiful candle advent. I had pictured daily family scripture study, combined with the loving crafting of our own Jesse Tree ornaments to symbolize all we had learned. My mind had seen the children accepting their small candies thankfully, watching the tiny figures on the mechanical advent dance while singing a different song every day. Yes, I saw all of that, and it was all good and appropriate. Why then, did I feel the need to add more? I am not new to parenting, I know exactly what would happen if they were to get new Lego toys in addition to all of these things... how can a small Jesse Tree compete with a Santa Yoda minifigure? In mindless haste I had forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. I had wasted precious time, and had almost thrown away money, on "stuff."

Problem. I had already told the boys they were getting Lego Advents... the last thing I wanted to do was disappoint them. I felt horrible to go back on something I had already promised them, and I hoped they would take the loss without screaming too much. I braced myself for the worst, and called them into my room. I told them that I thought the Lego Advent calendars were not a good idea, and I apologized for the change of plans. What they did next was the most amazing part... they smiled, said, "Okay!" and ran back to their room to resume playing with their toys. Wow! They get it!

I temporarily forgot the meaning of Christmas, but my children did not. I love that! 

I am so thankful that we have such an awe-inspiring and loving Savior who died for our sins- it is truly a good thing that I am offered forgiveness, because I seem to need it often. I am thankful that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love me, and are willing to offer their love at all times, despite my many faults. I am so thankful for the scriptures, and for their daily reminders of who I really am, and who I can be. And today, I am even more thankful than ever for my children- who truly do make me a better person!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Speaking of being prepared...

"If your home was threatened by fire, what would you take?"

I seem to remember being asked this question at least a dozen times in my life. School councilors, ecclesiastical persons, and random chit-chat have brought it up in hopes of gaining insight into my personality. Even though I always had thoughtful or witty answers, I was lucky because I had never been put in a position where I ever actually had to implement my responses... until last night....

Last night my hubby came home from work and told me that one of his coworkers was going to the Breaking Dawn movie, and she had offered to let me tag along with her group. I was so excited! I admit I love the Twilight books, and I really wanted to see the movie- but not bad enough to do an opening night solo. I took the opportunity to go with Kurt's coworkers and had a wonderful time! And then, the movie ended and I walked outside to see something like this...

I did not take this picture, but this is what it looked like. Except... I was closer. And as I stared at the fiery blaze I realized my home was dangerously close...

I grabbed my phone and saw that my husband had texted me to call him as soon as I could. He added a smiley face. To anyone who ever gets a smiley face from my hubby: it doesn't mean good things. I dialed the number and as soon as he answered I asked if our home was alright. Kurt told me that the house was fine, we had no power, but our neighbors (all of whom know the area much better than we do, as we have only lived there a short time) were outside looking around and assuring one another things would be okay. He told me the fire was not close to our home, and assured me the fire appeared worse than it really was.

As I drove home I tried to feel comforted by Kurt's calm words. However, the closer I drove to our home, the more it became apparent that things were much more serious than we had realized. By the time I got home the hilly landscape had changed the view of the fire. Smoke was everywhere, and was as thick as a dense fog. The sky was lit an eerie orange, and there were people parked along the streets, cars still running to help the passengers keep warm. The first wave of evacuations had been sent to our street.

I went inside. Kurt smiled and reassured me that the neighbors had told him things were fine. I told him things were not fine, and the fire was much closer than they were seeing. Kurt half smiled, and explained that he had believed there may have been more danger than the neighbors were admitting, and had already packed bags and loaded them into his truck. With small flashlights in hand (Carter- where did you put my ultra awesome and super expensive flashlights, or my super crazy leet headlamps?! You will be getting yet another lecture on not touching Mommy's things!) we carefully loaded our pets first and tried to make them as comfortable as possible. We then calmly woke our beautiful children. We explained there was a fire outside, and that we were safe- but it was important that we leave before the fire got too close. We had a pretty sobering view of the fire from our second story- we could see the flames lapping at the blackened sky, devouring trees, and moving hungrily down its chosen path. It was frightening, to say the least. Carter was fascinated by it, and wanted to sit and watch. Harrison was terrified. As calmly and gently as we could manage, we dressed and bundled the boys, and snapped them into their car seats. I handed them my phone, the Netflix app playing Gnomeo and Juliet, to keep their sleepy minds occupied and calm while Kurt and I finished last minute tasks. By this time the police had moved the safe zone away from our street and we knew that leaving was the right thing to do. Evacuations occurred shortly after.

Children, pets, and a few belongings in tow, we stopped and asked ourselves, "What do we take?" Kurt and I did not panic and did not rush, but we were quick and divided ourselves in order to gather things that we felt we needed. We did not communicate much, as I was busy preparing the children and Kurt was checking on the neighbors and offering assistance to other families.

When our family arrived at a local hotel (close enough to run home if possible yet far enough to be safe) we unpacked. The question: "What would you take?" was answered:

  • Family (spouse? CHECK! children? CHECK!)
  • Pets (2 cats and a parakeet in a pear treeeee... or a box... and food for them all)
  • Lockbox Documents (Birth Certificates, Social Security cards, Passports, Insurance info, etc)
  • Necessary Clothing (One set of clothing each)
  • Portable Electronics (Cell phones with chargers, Xoom with charger, laptop with charger, Kinde)
  • Snacks (Kids love midnight snacks- I thought it would help make the evacuation feel more like a party)
  • Scriptures... three sets?!

I had no idea that Kurt had already packed each of our sets of personal scriptures. He had no idea that as I did a final walk through and wondered what I really needed and I grabbed a set of scriptures. Between us both, we grabbed three sets of scriptures. Wow... that really says something about what we feel we really need!

Gathering one another and our children was a given- there was no way we could have gone without every member of our little family. Our pets are part of our family, so of course they came too. Because we evacuated with the first big wave, we were able to take the time to gather our pets and their necessary comforts. We all smelled like thick foul smoke, and we would need a change of clothing. Because the children had not eaten since dinner, we knew they would be hungry and we brought snacks. Keeping our important documents safe from harm is vital, so those were not a real choice, they were a necessity. So we had these things, and our scriptures- and we felt complete enough to leave our home.

The boys played "Fire Chief Command Center" in our room.

As I write this I am in a hotel room. I am surrounded by chaotic activity of children and cats, with a seemingly never ending chorus of parakeet chirps. I would swear my children have never been louder or more crazy, but the truth is that we are not used to sharing such a small space. I feel like it is very important for us to stay together, or I would suggest that we leave. Kurt cannot leave the hotel. Verizon Wireless, realizing that many of their employees were displaced, asked Kurt to see that families that had been evacuated be comfortably sheltered at our hotel- and his management and corporate card are needed here for the next few days. I would complain, but the truth is that Kurt loves helping and was thrilled when Verizon asked him to help out, and it makes me happy to see that Kurt is happy.

The fire blazed. We turned on the news and were speechless. The devastation was horrible. We had no idea where it was, and the updates were slow. We couldn't help but worry. Although the most important things in the world were with us in our hotel room, we still couldn't help but feel concern for all we had left behind: my children's first blankets and a few of their baby clothes, my grandmother's quilt, Kurt's letter jacket and dozens of medals and patches, our children's most favorite toys and costumes, my beautiful tapestry from Brugge, decades worth of journals and pictures. Things that had no monetary value, but things that could never be replaced. We tried to keep comfort, praying we would be able to handle whatever the outcome may be. We watched the news, and our hearts stopped every time our street was mentioned. The fire was a block away from reaching our home.

It has been less than twenty-four hours now. Although the fire is still not contained, the firefighters are hopeful that we may all be able to return to our homes tomorrow.  Growth has stopped, and crews are going to be on sight all night to put out hot spots and try and maintain the security of our homes. The news coverage of the fire team reports there are still about 2000 homes in danger. The local police are patrolling, keeping people away from danger zones and monitoring for suspicious activity. There is a lot of concern for theft, due to the lack of power shutting down security systems in such a large area full of empty homes with loot for the taking. It makes me ill to think that someone could take advantage of this situation, and rob those of us who have been displaced or take from those who have already lost so much- really, makes me sick. I pray fervently that our homes remain safe.

I have been overwhelmed with the support that has been offered to us by our friends and by members of the community. My homeschool group showered us with offers to help. Our Bishop's wife called and invited us to stay in their home. My good friend Joni offered to let us come and hang out at her house so the kids could run around. A new friend of mine, who shares many of our same dietary restrictions, offered to have us over for dinner- knowing that eating out often leads to uncomfortable contamination, and she wanted to help us feel as comfortable as humanly possible. Verizon Wireless has paid for rooms for every employee displaced by the fire, and the members of the district have called often to check on the status of our home and ask how we are doing. The hotels and casinos in the areas slashed their prices (or offered rooms at no cost at all) so that evacuations could be more affordable to families. The customer service clerk at our hotel greeted us warmly, and offered guests little comforts like toothbrushes and extended check out times. My father and mother called and offered us the use of their home. The abundant spirit of giving and overwhelming generosity have been simply astounding. We are so very blessed to live in such a wonderful community, where people come together and try and help one another during these difficult times.

Tonight, regardless of what happens to our home, I can sleep soundly knowing that the things on this earth that truly matter are here and safe. And that, is something to truly be thankful for.

We are happy, healthy, and here.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


This is an embarrassing story, but I think it needs to be told. Today was our Stake Conference. We knew it was the conference, and we were prepared to attend. We were excited, set the alarm, and thought we were ready. However, as we woke up and we started getting ready, we realized that we did not know which church building (the building, address, or even Stake name) we were supposed to attend! Could we call someone? No, the few numbers that we have were for members who would most likely be in meetings. Could we look online? We could if we knew how to use that particular feature on the site. Could we just drive around and magically find it? This is not Utah, so our chances of randomly running into the correct building on time would be low... So much for being "prepared" for the conference!

This got me thinking and it made me wonder all of the things that we could have done differently. Our wonderful Bishop was here on Tuesday, and I had my amazing Visiting Teacher here on Wednesday. Couldn't I have asked one of them? We have two sets of neighbors who are also in our Ward, couldn't we have talked to them? Why did we wait for the last minute to get our information? We had falsely allowed ourselves to believe we were prepared when we were not prepared at all. What other things do we incorrectly believe we are prepared for?

The whole situation made me think of the parable of the virgins, in Matthew 25:

 1 “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. 3 Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. 5But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.
6 “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming;[a] go out to meet him!’ 7 Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. 
11 “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ 12 But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 
13 “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour[b] in which the Son of Man is coming.

Would I be a virgin who had thought ahead and brought her oil? Would I be a virgin who remembered her lamp at all? Would I be a virgin who would be ready the moment I was called? I would love to answer yes, and before today I think I may have been able to unknowingly lie to myself and believe I would be a prepared woman, but now I see the truth: I have a lot of work to do.

As soon as we bring home our babies, we mothers have to be prepared. We have baby Tylenol, diapers, wipes, and a change of clothing (or two!) everywhere we go. As our children get older we still keep snacks in our purses and Kleenex in the car. And none of us (hopefully!) would dream of starting a long road trip without fueling the vehicles first! But as nice as these preparations are, they are purely temporal.

Each of us has things we need to plan and prepare for. I am very thankful that my hats are as a student, wife, mother, homemaker, and homeschooler- each of these roles requires preparation and forethought. For many women there are additional preparations that need to be made: family gatherings, community service, food storage and emergency preparedness, carpools, vacations, school events, church callings, employment, budgets and payments, holidays, etc. And those are just the things I can name without taking time and brainstorming! We are all very busy!!!

I have found that daily scripture study, personal prayer, and family prayer all help keep the spirituality on my list of top priorities. However, there are so many Earthly things that we have to plan and prepare for, it is often easy to allow spiritual preparation to fall on the back-burner. Like the foolish virgins, who allowed their  temporal needs to come first (they slept instead of getting their oil), it is easy to find ourselves out of time when we are put to the test. So, I hope that as I learn from today's experience, I will remember that I need to fill my lamp before it is too late- and next time I will get to where I need to be on time. Knowing that "you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming," should be a very large wake up call- we need to be prepared today, right now!

How can we prepare ourselves and increase our spirituality? Make it a habit!

Start with:

  • Family Prayer
  • Personal Prayer
  • Daily Scripture Study
  • Church Attendance
  • Regular Family Home Evening
I have had years of struggle with making daily scripture study a habit, and I found that joining a scripture study group really helped me (I am a Good Morning Girl, a nondenominational scripture study group). I also bought a large set of "family" scriptures that have photographs, illustrations, and definitions, and we read the family scriptures with the children. These were steps that I had to take in order to improve my performance in a very weak area of my spiritual progress. And as I have progressed in one area, I can move to another. 

This is all a journey, but if we press on joyfully, and put God first, our journey will have deeper meaning and eternal purpose. I am thankful I was able to share one of my many rough areas with you, and if you have any suggestions, ideas, or comments please feel free to share!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Latter-Day Homeschooling!?

I love the internet! Today I changed the look of my blog (for those who hate Christmas things in November, I apologize, but I greatly needed the boost in holiday spirit. Christmas may come in December, but for planning mothers it seems to come much earlier, and it happens more cheerfully if I have holiday cheer in my body!!!) and while I was looking for some cute new blog buttons I came upon a button for Latter-Day Homeschooling. What was this?! I clicked around and came to a super site that is full of homeschooling ideas, and has links to dozens of other homeschooling blogs with hundreds of more ideas! I am thrilled!

I am always looking for new blogs to read, new homeschool ideas, and new sources of inspiration! If you have any that you love please share!

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Carter and Harrison had a blast their first few weeks of homeschool! They have loved getting to pick what they learn about, and they cannot get enough of our library!

Our very first official unit study was on firefighters and what they do. What a neat topic! Carter and Harrison's first stop was the library, where they rushed to the nonfiction books to look up firetrucks. After making our selections, we headed home and I spent an hour or two looking up fun print-outs that were about firefighters. I printed some coloring pages, vocab lists, and even math worksheets that all were themed for firefighting! I created some index cards with our new vocabulary words, and I got the materials together that we would need for a few craft projects. My good friend sent me a helpful website that contained a list of themed websites- one just for firefighting! I browsed Netflix and found an age-appropriate program that was all about the life of a fireman! Add these fun themed school works to some other "core" activities- and we had a full unit curriculum! (**The Netflix was not part of school, I just added it for fun. It ended up working out perfectly because Kurt brought Strep home and Harrison spent an entire day in bed- poor fella! But he was thrilled to watch the fun firefighter program, and he actually learned things from it too!)

Carter loves to do worksheets with Blue on his shoulder!
Over the course of the unit we worked on some small art projects, and one larger project. Our large project was to create fire engines! I really enjoyed doing a complex project- the fact that it took so much time was wonderful, because we were able to space out the creation of the fire engines. Our first step was to paint some boxes.

We read, painted, read, did some workbooks, read, did some fun activities on websites, and read some more! We took our time on the unit, discovering and learning everything we could about life as a firefighter. We waited until the very last night of our unit to finish our fire engines. When they were completed, the boys couldn't wait to take a "ride!"

The unit culminated with a private tour of our city's biggest fire station. What an AMAZING experience! The kids truly received star treatment, and they spent almost two hours learning all about the life of a firefighter! They saw where the trucks and engines were kept, they got to "work out" in the station's gym, they snacked in the firehouse kitchen, they washed a fire engine, they got to play firemen (the dispatcher called for them by name, and they followed the firefighters to the engine, pretended to drive to the fire, and used a REAL fire hose to put out a pretend fire!!!) they got to sit in every single fire vehicle, got to see what it is like in a haz-mat suit, and got to push more buttons and turn more knobs than they have ever touched in their lives! I am not exaggerating, this was the neatest tour of a fire station I have ever experienced, and the firefighters were thrilled to have our little homeschool family visit! What a treat!!!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

H A double-L O W double-E N spells HALLOWEEN!

I love Halloween! The autumn weather puts me in such a great mood! I love to see all the beautiful colors and hear the sound of the leaves- it is a great time of year!

This October was pretty difficult, but all things considered we had so many great things happen to us this month! We have grown even closer as a family, and at the end of the day we can all sigh and smile because we are happy, healthy, and here. I think a huge part of our peace came from my implementation of the Women Living Well fall challenge- it really did make our home much happier!

Our Halloween actually started on Sunday. Last year we started a Halloween tradition of having "Dinner in a Pumpkin!" Because of our hectic Halloween schedule, we decided to have our special dinner on All Hallow's Eve, Eve. So, our pumpkin carving was a nice Sunday activity. (We were sad that Daddy had to work during the day, and missed our pumpkin mess fun!)

The kids helped me carve the pumpkins, and they had such a blast! Our neighbors stopped by and commented on how helpful and strong the boys were- they got a kick out of it =) When the pumpkins were hollowed I asked the children what shapes they would like for the different facial features. Both children were adamant that they needed the pumpkins to look like their grandparents. Funny kids! They gave me shape by shape instructions. Carter's mustache design was especially creative.

Dinner in a Pumpkin never fails to disappoint, and with a few small table decorations our evening was truly special! (The children adored the sparkling cider- it was a great taste of the sugar yet to come the next day!)

On Halloween the boys and I cleaned up the house, got dressed (the children wore costumes all day, of course) and ran some errands. We were sure to stop and visit Daddy at work- his coworkers loved seeing the kids dressed up!

There was an elderly man at the store who was dressed with his wide brim hat and cowboy boots- he was walking out of the store, commenting to one of the saleswomen that Halloween is not much fun anymore, "All the children dress up like ghouls and scary things!" He turned and saw Carter, dressed as a cowboy. He was so excited! Carter was equally excited because he didn't realize that the man was *not* in costume, and was thrilled that he found a grown up who shared his love of Woody from Toy Story! Carter and the man shook hands, and exchanged compliments on hats and shoes, lol!

I was so excited because this year we were able to see Sean on Halloween! We drove to Abi's new home and the children got a chance to play while Abi and I caught up. As soon as it started to get dark, we took the boys out for a bit of trick or treating. We couldn't stay long, because Daddy was almost home, and it is tradition for Daddy to take the kids. The boys had so much fun, they adore Sean!

When we got home, the first thing the boys did was run and hug Daddy. As soon as Daddy was hugged and kissed, Carter gave some love to his new best friend, Felix (AKA: Bad Kitty).

Then we put out some candy (we do not live in an area with a lot of children, so we set out a bowl and I got to take the kids trick or treating too!!!) and we all went around our little neighborhood and trick or treated. It was such a fun time!

When we were finished we took the kids out to dinner (it was almost 8pm!) and had a great meal. After dinner, we came home, changed into PJs (of course, the children wore PJs under their beloved costumes!) and we watched The Nightmare Before Christmas. (Carter did not feel like joining us until the last half, he was busy checking out all of his candy with Felix- which is why he is not pictured.)