Thursday, October 28, 2010


This weekend I turn 39. In the fine tradition of my Grandpa Benac, I've managed to arrange for birthday festivities to last at least three days. (Who can tell me where Grandpa's birthday issues began? Something about different dates recorded on church/state/immigration documents?) The real day is Saturday, but we'll be trick-or-treating that  night so we'll have cake with the kids, but Mark and I have moved our birthday date to Friday. And then Mark came home from with tickets for the Jazz home opener tonight. (Whoo!) So of course that's now part of the birthday fete.

But here's an even bigger milestone: I have now lived with Mark longer than I lived with my parents. (I went to BYU two months shy of my 18th birthday, and Mark and I are less than two months from our 18th anniversary.) We like this fact. I loved living with my parents, but it feels right that the scale has shifted and now the bulk of my life has been here, raising up this family with Mark.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hot Cocoa & Tuna Sandwiches

Yesterday we came out of church to find a dreary, wet day with gusty winds and gray skies. In my family, that's the perfect time to make hot cocoa and tuna salad sandwiches.

You may think this sounds like an unlikely combination, but think again. I believe even my last hold-out SIL has finally been converted. Make the tuna salad kind of like potato salad with finely diced onions and celery and mayo, mustard, and a bit of pickle relish. Make the cocoa in a big pot on the stove, with 1 tablespoon of cocoa and 1 tablespoon of sugar for each cup of milk. Mmmm. Dip the crusty corner of your sandwich into the cocoa*. For us, this is the ultimate comfort food.

Happily, the perfect person was here to enjoy our Sunday lunch with us: My dad. Turns out tuna and cocoa is a three-generation Ashurst tradition. Dad remembers his mother making it almost every Sunday for dinner. Dad showed us some pictures of his childhood in Fillmore, Utah, where he grew up surrounded by four brothers and three sisters.

Earl and Jim with bows they got for Christmas; baby Barb in front. In the Ashurst family, it's all about the weapons.

The pictures show groups of adorable, fat-cheeked kids and a mother who looks like she's enjoying the show. In one, my Dad is a baby sitting on his mother's lap, with a brother in jeans but no shirt sitting on either side. In another, little Dad stands beaming next to his baby sister's crib.
Dad on lap, with John on left, Jim on right.
I'm grateful that Mark and I, and our parents, all come from (literally) big, happy families. Each family has had its own brand of challenges and set-backs. But I believe each generation has felt that their large family was a joy, a blessing, and a strength. Mark and I are so happy to be plowing our way down the same row.
Playing in lake mud on vacation.
*Just realized I typed this entire thing with coca instead of cocoa. Which is an entirely different family tradition.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Betsy, 20 weeks

I saw more of Betsy today than I may ever again. Measured her kidneys and ventricles and blood vessels. Made sure her spine tapers to a tailbone, made sure no fluids leaked where they shouldn't. All in all, she's perfect and healthy. Also cute.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Foster parents no more

Next week our foster parent license will expire and we will not renew it. We've been foster parents for seven years, although we weren't accepting new placements for all that time. In all, we had four foster children, who stayed with us from six days to forever.

We didn't foster very many children for very long. We never fostered a child with severe issues. There are families who foster dozens of children, many with mind-numbingly difficult challenges. Compared to them, what we contributed is less than peanuts.

Really we gained much more from being foster parents than we gave. For one thing, the intensive training we completed to earn our initial license, and the ongoing training we've done every year since, taught us a higher level of parenting overall. The skills we began to learn for dealing with damaged and traumatized children have helped us be more conscientious, aware parents. It's hard for me to describe the huge paradigm shift Mark and I experienced in our understanding of what it means to parent a child.

Also, our children have changed in some essential ways from being foster siblings. We always told the kids that the best thing our family has to offer a foster child is healthy, supportive siblings. The kids really internalized their role in loving and helping our foster children. On occasion they may have groused a little about the chaos and stress of a hypothetical foster child, but when the real child arrived their hearts opened wide. They've grown up feeling that if any child in the world is in trouble, they should just come to our house.

Other awesome things about being a foster parent: We saw the much-maligned "system" and the good people who work within it do amazing things for families with children in foster care. Our parents and extended families opened up to all our foster children with as much love and support as any of our other children. We got go to Boondocks for free one day every year. God definitely guided us to become foster parents (story here), and we felt buoyed and supported each time we had a placement. On a selfish note, I enjoyed feeling that no matter what bad things the world might contain, we were contributing a little something for the good side.

Though I'm grateful for our family's new direction, I'm sad to see all that go. It was great. It was kinda cosmic. Maybe you should try it. We're very glad we did.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Seasons and tipping points

Autumn in Salt Lake is bittersweet. Almost everyone agrees it's our best season of the year. The sun shines and the temperature hovers right around 70. The air is clean and clear (unlike our summers and winters). The colored leaves make the world look alight.

But the joy is always tinged with doom. Fall means winter is right around the corner, and our winters are gray, polluted, and loooong. One of these days a storm will blow in and that'll be the end of sunshine and balmy breezes. A few more weeks, and everything from earth to sky will be a uniform gray, the ground covered with piles of dirty slush. All the way til March.

That ebullience tinged with doom is kind of how I feel about my life right now. I'm not tired, not nauseous, not sore, not bloated, not having contractions. It's so great! I'm working my way through all sorts of deep-clean tasks, like touch-up painting all the bedrooms and hallways, organizing closets, canning fruit, making new drapes, dusting all the bookcases, cleaning the oven...I'm leaving all these little nooks of beauty and order so that in a few months when I'm too [fill in the blank from the list above] to be productive I can rest on my laurels in a well-organized home.

Hence the doom. One of these days, my hormones and body mass will hit a tipping point, and everything will change. Tired, bloated, and gray. All the way til March.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Toy Story

The first Toy Story movie came out the year Roscoe was born. I remember taking baby Logan and toddler Roscoe to see Toy Story 2 in the little theater in downtown Logan. First we had a lame, soft-body Buzz. Then Levi was lucky enough to get an awesome new Woody and a Buzz whose buttons really worked. Each boy has gone through a long phase of watching (parts of) Toy Story every day and holding Buzz and Woody as their very favorite toys. Unlike all other toys in our household, Buzz and Woody never go out of rotation in the closet or furnace room. Buzz and Woody do not have to be shared.

Last night I took the kids to see Toy Story 3, including a big Roscoe who looks a lot like the grown-up Andy in the movie. Little Jess was enraptured. I kept poking Logan in the side so he'd turn and see Jesse with his smiling face turned up to the screen. Whenever someone in the movie would disparage the toys, Jesse would say, "My toys are not junk!" "Don't call my toys trash!" and (my favorite) "My toys are not plastic!"

I realize it's just a movie, but Pixar so gets what toys mean to children, and what childhood means to children and adults. Childhood doesn't last. Neither--no matter how hard they try--do the toys of childhood. We honor it and serve it while it lasts, then we put away the toys and let the children go.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Remember these dressers I thrifted for Levi and Jesse's room way back in August? They're finally installed.

The cabinets seemed sturdy but were a terrible shiny laminate. I primed them with Zinsser primer, which is touted to stick to even glossy surfaces without sanding.
It totally worked. Rolled on thick and covered with no problems at all. I had Home Depot tint the white primer to a medium gray so the primer would already be giving color coverage and hopefully save on paint.
I sprayed the shiny gold pulls with this in "oil rubbed bronze."

Mark screwed the bookshelves to the bottom dressers, then bolted the whole thing to the wall for security. (Cuz have you heard about Jesse?)

The boys are already creating their own little tableaux of treasured objects.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Roscoe is in Cedar City this weekend to compete with his high school Shakespeare Team in the Utah Shakespearean Festival. He was very excited to win his audition for this competitive group and he's been rehearsing a lot. He's staying with friends in a hotel room for two nights, performing, and attending workshops.

Logan recently passed his First Ban Bu at karate, meaning he's a big step closer to his black belt. He ran a mile; did sit-ups, pull-ups, and several styles of push-ups; and tested on dozens of forms and defense techniques. The test lasted about four hours. It was grueling just to watch.

Mark and I always had the idea that children should do one sports/physical activity and one musical/artistic activity. But we've learned that this strategy doesn't work well for big kids. Roscoe and Logan have both reached the point where their activities are higher stakes, higher skill, and they really only have time for one thing aside from church and Scouts.

Levi, however, is happily doing both piano and soccer, which I think is a great combination. We're lucky to have a fantastic piano teacher living just around the corner. Levi came home very excited and motivated after his very first lesson and treated us to this sweet little melody as I made dinner that night.

Little Miss Haley is lucky enough to have had two sisters move into the house next door. She can almost always organize a playdate for the afternoon. It's such a blessing to have lovely friends in the neighborhood. Friends are so tricky. When to acquiesce, when to stand up for yourself; when to ask for what you want, when to defer to show good manners. Haley is getting lots of practice on these important skills.

Jesse is the Student of the Month in his preschool. Very prestigious. We made him this poster, complete with baby pictures, cartoons of his siblings, and an array of superheroes. Just a few weeks ago I suffered through what I think is my third round of I-cannot-manage-this-Jesse-kid-any-longer. I knew from historical evidence that he'd probably snap out of that hellish little phase soon, and thank the heavens he has.

Betsy and I suffered through quite a growth spurt last month. We gained two pounds a week for four weeks straight. We both found it very exhausting. Happily, we seem to have leveled out, and for now this pregnancy is riding pretty lightly on me. 

I'm enjoying getting to know Betsy through her wiggles. For example, she always wakes up and gets frisky when I get up to use the bathroom at night. I crawl back into bed and just feel her little thumps and bumps as I fall back to sleep. 

Last night she floated up to the top of my belly, where Mark could easily feel her. Finally his prodding bounced her away to the nether regions, where she stayed until he lost interest, then she bobbed her way back to the top again. A boring story, I know. But a very fun bedtime for Mark and me.

Monday, October 4, 2010


You've been suffering, I know, without information on how I've structured our chore system for this school year. Is it clipboards? Is it jewels? Oh, no. We're onto something new this year: ZONES.

The idea behind this is that I would like the kids to take more ownership and pride in their work. So instead of outlining micro-tasks, I've divided the house into zones and they take turns being responsible for one zone each week.

Each zone comes with a few daily responsibilities (like pick everything up off the floor) and a few once-a-week duties (like dust or vacuum). They choose when to do their work, including when to do the daily deep cleaning.

Levi the third-grader marks off his chores by practicing cursive. So cute!
So far, it's taking a lot of reminders from me, which I'm trying to wean us from. I'm waiting for someone to do an awesome job on their zone without being asked so I can praise them and shower them with gifts. Hasn't happened yet. But I will prevail!

p.s. The jewels systems worked fine for the summer. I enjoyed not giving instructions and letting the kids go free-form on their chores. The tactical error I made was making the list of possible jobs so long. Since there were so many options, kids weren't competing to finish tasks first. The dishwasher would sit full all day while kids trimmed bushes or washed baseboards. Which isn't all bad. But I think next time 'round I might list only the necessary daily jobs.