Tuesday, September 30, 2008

In case you were wondering

This afternoon I'm taking 5 kids for dental checkups. We actually love going to the dentist's office because it's chock-full of video screens and Play Stations and a huge treehouse and all sorts of magical things. So who cares about that nice man who comes along and sticks things in your mouth?

Tonight is Cub Scout pack meeting, where Logan is earning some Webelos badges. And it's Boy Scout Court of Honor where Roscoe is earning several merit badges and his Star. Sadly, Mark and I will both be at a foster care training meeting because all year long every time we've planned on going to a meeting there were too many other events so we didn't go and now we have to go or we're fired!

I have a super huge, super comfy new corduroy sectional sofa. Everyone in the family can sit on it. We no longer must fight for our spots during scripture study. But I'm sure some of us will still find reasons to fight anyway.

I finally finished Nicholas Nickelby! And you'll never guess, but the bad characters were punished and got their just desserts and all the good characters ended up marrying each other!

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Mom: We're not going to talk about it now because right now you're mad and argumentative. Logan: NO I'M NOT!

Levi (telling me about his vision test at school, where the kids have to cover one eye and then show which direction the E is pointing): I covered one eye, and I got them ALL right! And then since I'm in first grade, I had to cover both eyes. And then I only got half of them right.

Roscoe: "Mom, I'm so excited! Now I worship the Norse gods..."
(At which point I'm so flustered that by the time I realize he's talking about his computer game I'm hopelessly lost in his tale of new weapons, creatures, and attack strategies.)

Haley: "Thanks for dinner, Mom."
(Haley really never says anything offbeat or ridiculous. But almost every night she spontaneously and sincerely thanks me for making dinner. What a gem!)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Say it loud, you're my kid and I'm proud

I'm plowing my way through Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby. All 799 pages of silliness and extravagance. I love Dickens, but I suggest you opt for Tale of Two Cities instead. Even though I'm about ready to muzzle Nicholas with his ever-loving top hat, still the luxury of older literature is the authors' indulgence in asides. They weren't addicted to efficiency and pithiness and staying on point the way we are. If opportunity arose for a two paragraph digression on smallmindedness or political jockeying or relative nose sizes--anything really--they would happily wander down that path, yielding gems such as this:

"Pride is one of the seven deadly sins; but it cannot be the pride of a mother in her children, for that is a compound of two cardinal virtues--faith and hope."

I've always hated the idea that my pride in my children is unrighteous. I've tried substituting "I'm pleased with you" for "I'm proud of you," but it doesn't sit right. Pleased is such a milk toast word for the furious joy I feel for my children's accomplishments and growth. I'm not proud in the sense of feeling better than others or that the goodness is my doing, but proud of them I am indeed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Family Playlist

This project was inspired by the Talking Heads song "Stay Up Late."

The chorus is total pop/rock standard: "Baby, baby please let me hold you. I wanna make you stay up all night." But what's so fun is that this time, it's not a metaphor for sex--he's really talking about a baby. It's a song about loving the cuteness of your baby so much that you don't want to put him to bed: “Cute, cute little plaything. Why not make him stay up late at night?”

So I thought, what if I made a whole list of songs addressed to "baby baby" but to me they really were about my babies?

For example, Mariah Carey's "Always Be My Baby" is allegedly about a boyfriend, and in that case it's psycho and wrong. But address the lyrics to your children instead, and suddenly it's very a propos: "You'll always be a part of me. I’m part of you indefinitely.”

So here's my list of songs you can pretend are about your children, or that really are about families, or are by families. We've been having a lot of fun doing our chores to the tunes of The Jackson 5 and Sister Sledge. Once my list is nice and long, I'm going to burn a disc for the van. So brainstorm with me, please. What other “baby baby” songs could really be about our babies?

Just What I Needed, The Cars
Because you gotta remember, these kids are just what you needed.
Best family line: “I don’t mind you coming here and wasting all my time….I needed someone to feed.”

Stay Up Late, Talking Heads
Beautiful anthem to just lovin’ your kids.
Best family line: “Having fun--for no money.”

You’re the One That I Want, Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta
Because you gotta remember, these kids are the ones that I want.
Best family line: “Oo-oo ooh.” (Even Jesse can sing along.)

Always Be My Baby, Mariah Carey
Best family line: "Now you want to be free So I'll let you fly Cause I know in my heart Our love will never die."

Our House, Madness
Can you say nostalgia?
Best family line: “Mother’s tired, she needs a rest.”

We Are Family, Sister Sledge
Sing it, sisters.
Best family line: “We’re giving love in a family dose.”

Lightning Crashes, Live
This one came out the year Roscoe was born and really describes how we felt about it.
Best family line: “Lightning crashes, a new mother cries.”

ABC, Jackson 5
I defy you to not start bopping along with that cute baby Michael
Best family line: “Without the roots of love every day, girl, your education aint complete.”

Suddenly I See, KT Tunstall
Best family line: “This is where I wanna be”

Ode to My Family, The Cranberries
More nostalgia. See, even rockers love their mommies.
Best family line: “'Cause we were raised, To see life as fun and take it if we can.”

Creatures of Love, Talking Heads
Teach your kids the truth about the birds and the bees with this one--I love it.
Best family line: “Well, I’ve seen sex and I think its alright. It makes those little creatures come to life…From the sleep of reason a life is born. We are creatures of love.”

The Obvious Child, Paul Simon
Best drums ever.
Best family line: “Had little a son, we thought we’d call him Sonny...Sonny gets sunnier day by day.”

My Tennessee Mountain Home, Dolly Parton
You could also include her “Coat of Many Colors.”
Best family line: “Watch the kids a' playin' with June bugs on a string.”

Whole Wide World, Wreckless Eric
About a son following his mother’s advice to search the whole wide world for his woman.
Best family line: “And then in a year or maybe not quite We'll be sharing the same next of kin.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

"Doors that our generation opened"

I recently heard an interview with Carol Hanisch, an organizer of the feminist protest at the 1968 Miss America convention, and Debra Barnes Snodgrass, the former Miss American herself, whose farewell speech was interrupted with shouts of “'women's liberation!” and “No more Miss America!”

To this day, Hanisch (the protester) is a bit uncomfortable with the rudeness of her protest. She quipped, “We wanted Miss America to come and join us.” When the interviewer told Snodgrass (Miss America) about the hypothetical invitation, she laughed, “I would never have joined with that at all.”

What she said next is what I love. Forty years later, Snodgrass has a wider perspective: “I see that I have reaped so many of the benefits of what they were trying to say… I can get a charge card myself. I don't have to have a husband sign for that.” Did you hear that, ladies? Getting your own charge card—have you ever stopped to realize that something as simple as that is a benefit you enjoy largely because of the activism of yesterday’s feminists? Hanisch concluded, “Young women have come through the doors that our generation opened.”

My peers take for granted that they can graduate from college, get a job, be mothers, run their own finances, speak their minds, hold political office, and even expect their husbands to change diapers and participate in childcare. And maybe it’s right that those things should be taken for granted. Of course they should be that way, and more. Women should have more of a voice. Forty-year-old women shouldn’t be Hollywood has-beens while men their age star in yet another leading role. Men should be more comfortable with women leaders. Strong, energetic, opinionated women shouldn’t be laughingstocks. Women shouldn’t have to spend their lives finessing and tiptoeing to avoid being labeled as bi!ches.

It’s that sneaky, hard-to-pin-down sexism that labels feminists as freaks and that makes us—today’s women whose lives rest on the hard-won accomplishments of feminists—roll our eyes at the very women who gave us these benefits. Don’t forget ladies, you’re walking through doors feminists opened for you.

For the npr story on the protest, go here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Fall Harvest

You know the joke: Why do Utah Mormons lock their car doors durng church?

Answer: Because otherwise the car will be full of zucchini when they return.

This Sunday we came home to find a huge zucchini on our doorstep with this note: "We cannot take care of our zucchini. We hope you'll give it a caring home." It really was the size and shape of a swaddled baby. Jesse cradled it in his arms and called it his baby. And when I turned that zucchini into 16 cups of grated sludge, he watched all the while shouting, "My baby! My baby!" So that's the kind of foster family he thinks we are.

So we--and all our neighbors--are enjoying plenty of zucchini bread. Here's my mom's recipe.

Zucchini Bread

3 eggs, well beaten
1 c oil
1 c sugar
2 c raw, grated, peeled zucchini
3 t vanilla
3 c flour
1 t salt
1T cinnamon
1/4 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 c chopped nuts.

Combine wet ingredients. Mix in dry ingredients. Stir in nuts. Pour into 2 loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, here's today's harvest from the tomato garden I planted late and then abandoned all summer:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ode to Roscoe, Part Deux

Poor little Haley is ensconced in her room coughing her lungs out (she’s been instructed that the more she rests, the sooner she’ll get better), Jesse is playing at a friend’s, and the boys are at school, making this my number one primo opportunity to get some work done. But instead I must document some of the wonderfulness of 13-year-old Roscoe.

First you must know that Roscoe was an almost neurotically sensitive baby (a situation exacerbated, no doubt, by his inexperienced and doting parents). Then he became an almost clinically out of it first grader, a bullied third grader, and an incoherent sixth grader. He’s been a certified genius all along, but his is the genius of Swiss cheese—delicious and wonderful, but bearing certain holes. To this day he doesn’t know his address, can’t answer a direct question, and has no idea what you just said.

All this to highlight for you the wonderful magic that makes him at 13—an age liable to be the most awful of all—a pure delight. The other morning I stumbled downstairs, barely coherent, barely able to see, and there was Roscoe. Showered, dressed, breakfasted. He had just finished reading the scriptures and was doing sit-ups. At 7:10.

Exhibit A: Saturday morning

Mark and I have decreed that no one may enter our bed or request breakfast on Saturday morning until 8:00. (Decadent, I know.) This is possible because Roscoe nips upstairs to let Jesse out of his room and keeps track of him. “Gah-ko” loves his Jesse, and Jess loves “Gah-ko.”

Exhibit B: A growing seed

When Roscoe’s church leaders tell him he should read his scriptures every day or be a peacemaker at home, he listens. Actually, he’s reading the scriptures morning and night and has a goal to finish the Book of Mormon by Christmas. When there’s contention over, say, who gets the best seat in the van, Roscoe is often the one to step forward to make the sacrifice to keep peace. He gives heartfelt prayers that aren't just the unconscious litany of the other kids. We can see that he is on a conscious campaign to live the gospel more fully, which is a real blessing to our family. He’s planted the seed, he’s experimenting upon the word, and I believe his little testimony is sending down strong roots.

Exhibit C: Fitness

Roscoe does an hour of karate twice a week. He attends a teen fitness class at the rec center twice a week. He does sit-ups in the front room and lifts weights in the garage. Because he’s all about self improvement.

Exhibit D: Money management

Roscoe has a little check register from an old checkbook in which he tracks income and expenses. He manages it down to the penny, makes wise spending decisions, and has volunteered to clean the bathrooms for me every Friday for extra income.

Exhibit E: Homework

Roscoe decided he wanted more computer time. We warned him that more computer time could hurt his grades. He devised a plan whereby he logs onto the school’s web site every Monday to check his grades on each assignment from the previous week. For each class with A scores from the previous week, he gets X minutes of extra computer time. He gets what he wants, we get what we want.

Monday, September 15, 2008


This weekend felt just blissful. On Saturday, Mark was home! We all went to Levi's first soccer game under a warm sun and Utah mountains. Levi was a little stallion and actually made a goal. (For comparison purposes, the grand total of goals made by his older brothers in 4 seasons of soccer is: 1.) Thanks to an afternoon with two parents at home, we can now indulge in little luxuries such as walking from van to garage door without climbing over a pile of bikes and scooters. Thanks to stake conference and an absence of extra meetings for Mark, we hiked up to Cecret Lake and let the kids play in the water for a long time while the sun sank.

What makes this all a bit pitiful is that Mark wasn't even around for the whole weekend: He didn't come home on Friday until around midnight. His dissertation is due two months from now, and the month after that will probably be a frenzy of coordinating his committee, defending, cutting red tape, etc. so he can graduate in December. So I'm bracing myself. I'm already feeling worn out and overused and under-supported, and it's going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Moroni discovers the right kind of prayer

This week I read about a time when Moroni finds himself in a tough spot. While Lamanites are mounting battles, taking prisoners, and conquering cities, Moroni is low on manpower and supplies. Faced with overwhelming odds, he prudently decides he can take no more action until he gets additional support: “We did wait to receive provisions and strength from the land of Zarahemla” (Alma 58:7). Moroni was justified in looking to Zarahemla for support, but it was not forthcoming: “We did wait in these difficult circumstances for the space of many months” (Alma 58:7).

I sometimes feel like Moroni. I’m overwhelmed; I could use some help; and there are people around who I think could or should help me. What I love here is Moroni’s response when help was not forthcoming. He could have become bitter. He could have given up. Instead, “we did pour out our souls in prayer to God, that he would strengthen us and deliver us...and give us strength” (Alma 58:10).

I think that’s the kind of prayer God wants us to give. There’s certainly a time and place for praying that someone else will step in to give us what we need. But a lot of the time I think God wants us to pray for a greater measure of strength and support from Him, which will then allow us to rise to the challenge. So finally, after waiting for months, Moroni and his people offered that prayer, and here’s what happened:

The Lord our God did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; yea, insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith, and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him. And we did take courage with our small force which we had received, and were fixed with determination to conquer our enemies…And thus we did go forth with all our might. (Alma 58:11-13)

Outwardly, nothing changed in their situation. No provisions or soldiers arrived; the Lamanites didn’t relent. But the people felt assurance, peace, and faith from God, which gave them hope and courage, so they went forth with all their might. I know I’m like a broken record on this topic, but this is the stage of life I’m in right now. I do wish someone would swoop in from some magical Zarahemla to give me some backup with the kids, fix my house, and beef up my bank account. But most of the time that’s not going to happen. Most of the time I need to ask God for assurance, peace, and faith so that my strength, with His, is enough.

So of course Moroni hatches a crazy scheme to lure the numerous Lamanites out of their city so he can cleverly conquer them with his much smaller force. I kind of like how his plan is described: “Now Gid and his men were on the right and the others on the left…I caused that my men should not sleep, but that they should march forward by another way” (Alma 58:17, 26). Sometimes that is how I solve my problems, too: My kids are accustomed to afternoons when I’ve hatched a plan where some people go this way, the others go that way; we won’t get much sleep but we’ll get the job done.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Improv Can Teach the Gospel. Yes, and we'll have treats when we're done!

This week we had one of our funnest Family Home Evenings ever. Stay with me now, because this is going to sound crazy and irrelevant but turned out to be not only fun but instructional.

The number one rule for doing succesful improv is to say "yes and". No matter what your partner says, you agree and then add to it. (The idea being that the scene will die if you undermine what your partner has begun.) Watch this clip and you'll see what I mean:

So the words "yes and" are deceptively simple, but when you use them, you're doing two powerful things. You're agreeing with your partner, which everyone loves and feels validated by, but you're also extending what they said. Not disagreeing, not introducing your own topic, not even steering the conversation in a new direction.

So on Monday I showed the kids this clip and then we took turns playing "yes and." I wasn't sure if they'd get it, or like it, but everyone but Haley (who would proudly say "yes and..." and then not know how to continue) totally got in the groove. It was amazing to see how often our responses to someone are NOT "yes and," but "no," or "yes but." Rosoce was being a surly teenager and trying to flummox me by saying bizarre and morbid things, and I just kept saying "yes and" until the conversation reached the point where I cheerfully agreed, "Yes, and you have a death wish!"

When we broke for treats, we couldn't stop. People were saying things like, "Yes, and we'll sit at the table while we eat!" and "Yes, and I think you liked your lunch at school!" We were so darn positive it was almost like the Allreds'.

For me, keeping family conversation positive is like wagging the dog. Jab piles upon complaint in a riptide of negativity and I struggle to have a enough positive energy myself to singlehandedly turn the tide. Now when everyone is settling into a rut of rudness, we can start a game of "yes and." We're saying things we don't mean ("Yes, and then we'll fly to the moon!") and agreeing with things that are ridiculous ("Yes, and you'll meet your new girlfriend there!") but just saying those positive words helps put us on the right track.

I think I got this idea from this article in Real Simple magazine.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Birthday Giveaway

In 200 posts and 365 days of blogging, here are my words:

click to enlarge

No big events or changes have marked this year, but it's been a bit of a slog. It's been a blessed rare hour when Mark is home and I've been working double time to get my business off the ground. Through it all, blogging has given me a therapeutic sense of connection and voice.

Since my sister Nancy was the inspiration for my blog, the birthday present comes from her too. Leave a comment on this post and I'll enter you in a drawing to win something from her ChicMade etsy shop. Mention a memorable or favorite post from pressed down and shaken together, and I'll enter you twice. Contest ends Friday at midnight.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

New Chapters


Isn't yet as tall as his mom but can now beat her in arm wrestling. So I pointed out that now he must obey me because he loves me, not because he's stronger than I am.


Now has a teacher and a mother who are fully in cahoots. The lies of "She didn't pass out the spelling list" and "I don't have any homework" or "I lost my planner" have become a lot more difficult to pull off. This is a big improvement over last year, when Logan succeded in persuading his teacher that he was incapable of basic school performance.


Rides to school with "The Group," a pack of neighborhood kids who work their way from one house to another collecting all their buddies, then ride to school together. This is a big deal for Levi, who has heard tales of The Group's adventures for three years now.


Finally has started school like the boys. She is now in the 4-year-old class of the same preschool she attended last year. But this year she goes three days a week. Heavy stuff.


Insists that everyone sit in the car patiently while he works to buckle his seatbelt himself. Minutes tick by. "Me buckle!" he shouts to anyone who tries to hurry things along. Can be persuaded to get dressed only if allowed to choose his own clothes. The power surge of choice is so intoxicating that he often chooses one shirt after another, "This one!" [switch] "This one!" [switch] "This one!"