Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Heirloom Presents

I can't remember the last time I was so excited about my own Christmas presents. In addition to some sweet things from Mark, here are my favorites:
These are heirlooms from my father, his mother, and my mother's father and mother.

The painting is done by my Grandma Ashurst, who raised nine children, then graduated from college and developed her talents in her later years.

The pen and pencil set is made by my father, who is a skilled woodworker. These I think I will put away. One day I'll have a lovely desk and fewer gremlins to ransack it.

The gold-handled scissors are my Grandma Benac's little embroidery scissors. I love having little objects like that to remember by.

My Grandpa Benac was born in Yugoslavia and became a devoted stamp collector. The frame on the left is all the stamps released in Yugoslavia in the year of my birth.
Aren't they all treasures?

And I've been so excited about this gift from my in-laws.
A beautiful set of new scriptures. My last set is now twenty years old and in pretty bad shambles. Too many of above-mentioned gremlins being naughty during church! This set is better quality and should last even longer. I've decided I'm going to read it. As in, start on page one and read until I get to the end. I've never read the Old Testament straight through before. I told Mark the whole endeavor is so that in another twenty or thirty years I can clutch these scriptures in my wrinkled claws and proclaim, "I've read this book, every page, and I can testify to you young folks..."

So maybe one day, this will be someone else's heirloom Christmas present.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Presents

Today I conducted the final appropriation and equalization of Christmas gifts, using these:

(You'd think that by now my kids would have learned that my blog is a good source for inside info. But they haven't, so we're safe.)

This year, the kids will each open four presents (one from Mom and Dad, one from grandparents, one from an aunt and uncle (my sibs are on a rotation), and one from a sibling (also a rotation)). We also have several lovely family group gifts from the other grandparents, and I've set aside a little something for each stocking. And yes, Jesse's is a box of tin foil. Which he will be thrilled with.

One way I try to keep the Christmas season Christ-focused is by keeping the gift-buying process simple. Not easy, since in addition to Christmas, we have three birthdays and an anniversary in December. My process starts with this:
Having the kids write wish lists helps them off-load some of their wishful thoughts. You can see that the lists are rather extravagant. (Levi's list includes a laptop and his own room. Dream on, buddy.) Once their desires have been recorded and recognized, they seem to be able to stop thinking about them so much for the rest of the month.

Then I spend some careful time and thought weighing the kids' lists, their needs, reality, parity, money, etc., etc. We try to give gifts that support the kids' talents and interests. And we like to have a new movie or wii game to play with on Christmas day.

I compile it all into a huge Amazon order that I usually place on Cyber Monday. I imagine I could get slightly better deals on some things by shopping around, but Cyber Monday prices are quite good and usually come with free shipping. By Monday night, ninety percent of my work is done. I just sit back and wait for my friendly neighborhood UPS man.

And because the world needs more of Little Miss Piggy Tail:

Love that cheeky smile!

Okay, this is a horrible picture, taken by Betsy's request when I had just gotten back from the gym. But compare our eye colors. She is definitely going green like her daddy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Twenty Years

Twenty years ago today, I woke in a hotel room I was sharing with my parents in Manti, Utah. My mom helped me curl my hair and lent me a pair of pearl earrings. We drove to the temple, where we met Mark McGee. I changed into the beautiful dress my mom had sewn for me. Mark and I climbed a spiral staircase to a tower sealing room. The huge chandeliers shook as my Grandpa Benac performed the ceremony.

This morning I woke in bed next to my husband. I read the Book of Mormon with our six children. I sent our two teenagers out the door to school, then ushered out our two elementary schoolers. I kissed Mark good-bye as headed out to his job as a historian, a job that for many years we didn't know if he could get. I ran to the gym with our two little ones and came home to bustle around the house staunching at least a bit of the mess and chaos. One the fridge door, the fridge containing six gallons of milk, I found this:

Our marriage is far from perfect, definitely still a work in progress. Here are the lessons I've learned in our first twenty years:

Go to bed angry.
Who on earth keeps telling couples to never let the sun set on their anger? That person should be muzzled. Late at night when tempers flare and patience wane is the worst time to hash out problems. Suddenly people are saying things they don't even really mean, hurt feelings from eons past are being trotted out, and the issue at hand has gotten into a huge tangle. For heaven's sake, go to bed. In the morning, you'll wake with more humility and perspective. You'll say something like, "Hey, sorry things got tense last night. I just was trying to say..." And your spouse will say something like, "I can see what you're saying. I'm just concerned that..." And everything will be fine.

Deal with your spouse as they are, not as you wish them to be. 
You don't have to be married long to know all the sub-par elements of your souse's personality. But don't kick against the pricks, don't always be pushing your spouse to be what they are not. For example, Mark's pace is slower than mine. He talks slower, walks slower, gets out of the car slower. I've learned not to waste energy wishing him to be faster. It's futile, it's unkind, it leads to frustration--and it's ridiculous, since slowness is an integral part of the man I chose to marry.

Be loyal.
It seems to Mark and me that some couples split because they had been operating with a little escape hatch in the corner of their minds. Don't have even the shadow of an escape hatch. Of course, if things become dire, it'll appear. But until then, be totally committed to your marriage. Make it beyond question that you and your spouse will work out whatever challenges may come your way. Don't bad-mouth your spouse. Don't choose anyone else over your spouse, even in small matters.

Have a unified vision of the big picture...
Share a vision of the purpose of life and family and work together to build that vision. This big-picture vision is what holds you together through the slog of housework, money trouble, sickness, etc.

...but be okay with disagreeing on the little stuff. 
If you agree on the big stuff, you can let your spouse do their own thing on everything else. Don't worry about disagreeing on how to care for the lawn, how to administer time-outs, how to succeed at work. Part of being loyal to your spouse is trusting them to handle their own part of working toward your shared vision.

Go on dates.
We think it's invaluable to make time (and set aside the money) to leave the house together every week or so, to do something fun and indulgent and uninterrupted together. The older our kids get, the harder it is to have private conversations. The quality of our conversations on date is totally different than at home.

Take turns losing it.
Everyone has moments of impatience, pettiness, self-absorption, and freak-out. Things go so much better if you and your spouse don't have those moments at the same time. When you see your spouse losing it, give them space and support, then be the one to walk the high road for a spell. You can have your moment of weakness later.
On our anniversary trip to NYC last spring.

So here's the final installment in my series of 6-word love poems:

 Twenty years together. Eternity to come.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sibling Gift Rotation

Last night was one of our favorite holiday traditions: Our annual all-family shopping trip to Target. Each year we set up a rotation so each of the kids buys a present for one of their siblings. On one Monday evening, we break into two groups, making sure that no one in each group is giving to another member of the same group. Then Mark takes one group, I take the other, and we go our separate ways in Target. We sneak around corners, avoiding each other in the toy section.

Last night, once my group had finished their shopping, we saw Mark's group from afar. Logan hollered, "We're going to get treats!" Mark's group hollered back, "No! We already got treats!"

Then we all descended on the check-out line. Kids were dumping handfuls of change on the counter, hollering at each other, "No, don't look!" It's a wonderful mayhem.

On the ride home, we listened to Christmas music. Snow was falling as if on cue. The kids were happily thinking about the gifts they had chosen, hoping their sibling would love it.

I don't think anyone was thinking about what they'd receive.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Logan on the Jumbotron

Once or twice a year, Mark comes home with Jazz tickets. (They apparently release unsold tickets to church employees under certain conditions.) He'll call me from work and say, "So what's going on tonight?" (or Wednesday night, or whatever). And I'll say one of two things:

1. "Oh, we have a million things going on. First we have to, and then we have to to, and we have to get back in time to, and then Levi has to, and we have to take Haley..."


2. "Not much. I'm so exhausted, I can't wait to just stay home for once."

In either case, Mark will smugly reply, "I guess I'll just give away these Jazz tickets." Then he'll sit back and enjoy the show while I back-pedal, "Oh no! I'm sure we can work something out!"

Earlier this week he was able to score tickets to last night's game--Jazz versus San Antonio Spurs-- enough for Mark and me, Levi and a buddy, some of our favorite neighbors, and the entire teachers' quorum.

We love the Utah Jazz. The always-a bridesmaid team that's never won a championship but almost always makes the playoffs. The team that's all heart and hustle--no ball-hogging or show-boating. The team that's a team, not a star with sidekicks. And we love to hate the Spurs, in those snooty black jerseys. We even love our de rigeur nose-bleed seats up against the back wall.

The Jazz were behind for most of the game, but they held on. Mark and I (with Levi and our friends) snuck down to better seats while Logan and his buds stayed up in the nose-bleeds. As the famously raucous crowd roared the start of the fourth quarter, I looked up on the Jumbotron to see....Logan! My son shaking it gangman-style  for all the world to see.

I feel can die happy knowing that Logan has fulfilled his destiny by being broadcast, larger-than life, being crazy, in front of thousands.

Then, with one second left, the score tied, this happened:

This video fails to capture the absolute tsunami of sound crashed across the room.

In a Jazz-love side note, Mo Williams had missed a three-point shot just moments earlier. But "Instead of getting grief from his coach, Williams got another green light. "Coach told me don't worry about it. You'll make the next one," Williams said." And he did.

*sigh* We love you, Jazz.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Trust the Process

Lately I've been feeling that my relationships with the kids have gotten somehow adversarial. In a million little ways, they evade, ignore, resist me, even when I'm trying to do something innocuous. Thus is the way of the world, right? But it seemed to be reaching toxic levels.

One of many perks from our Thanksgiving weekend filled with aunts, uncles, and cousins was that it helped bump us all out of our funks. Also, Mark and I attended some fortuitously timed parenting classes. We always loved the training courses we took for foster care licensing, and still occasionally crash them by virtue of our status as foster-adopt parents. Classes for parents of traumatized children are always about taking it to a higher level, to responding to terrible behavior in therapeutic ways. This one was about viewing all parent-child interactions in terms of a "circle of security" wherein a child moves away from parents for a time to explore the world then returns to receive nurturing.

My a-ha moment during the course of the two four-hour sessions (I know!) was about my own fear. I think that when my children misbehave, a part of me clenches up in panic. They can't do that! I must fix that! I cannot abide my children to behave that way! And in context of that fear and panic, my response to them becomes a little too severe, a little too coercive, a little too overwrought. And in that context, of course the kids push back.

It reminded me once of when I unloaded to my mother-in-law all my frustrations about a particularly demoralizing parenting problem and she said, "Trust the process." Meaning, stay the course, keep doing all the good parenting you know how, and trust the kids to respond and learn in time. Kids are meant to misbehave. They lie, they make messes, they sneak out of bed, they hide dirty socks under the rug, pinch their sister, and on and on. Of course, recognizing the inevitability of misbehavior doesn't mean to accept it or give up on correcting it. But for me it means to tamp down the panic, deliver discipline gently, and trust my children to internalize it.

Here's an example: The other day Logan and a buddy went to hang out at the park after school. Many hours later, well past dark and dinnertime, no sign of Logan. Dinner had to be postponed while I went out looking. The friend's mom sat on our couch waiting. It was definitely an infraction and an inconvenience  But also a garden-variety, age-appropriate one. I drove around the park and finally found the boys. I was tired, hungry, irritated, and a little sheepish in front of the other mom. But in light of my new vow, I was able to tamp down the strident lecture. In fact, I skipped the traditional "Your behavior was wrong. So wrong!" segment entirely. After dinner, I said something along the lines of, "You know, Logan, in our family everyone comes home for dinner unless there's a pressing commitment otherwise. It's important family time" and left it at that. Which left me feeling less embattled, even though Logan still found reason to be offended and argue--probably because he already knew he was in the wrong--making it all the better that I didn't rub his nose in it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

6 Word Love Poem: November

In celebration of our twentieth anniversary next month, a six-word love poem to our  marriage:

Roscoe, Logan, Levi, Haley, Jesse, Betsy!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Some thoughts on pretty, in honor of my 41st birthday

The embarrassing truth is that apparently, all this time, being pretty was wrapped up in my self-identity. And yet, as I look in the mirror on this my forty-first birthday, I have to admit: my lifetime supply of pretty is rapidly diminishing.

I recently happened upon this blog post and was struck by the line, “You don’t have to be pretty.”
"You don't owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don't owe it to your mother, you don't owe it to your children, you don't owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked 'female.'"
I realized that a lot of my uncomfortable feelings about my forty-year-old face and body came from a feeling that to some extent I owed it to people to be pretty. To my mother, to my children, to my husband. But why? 

Pretty is like the shallow cousin to beauty. The Lady GaGa to Madonna. The Lindsay Lohan to Elizabeth Taylor. The Rihanna to Michelle Obama. In real life, I don’t go too much for pretty. I've always been more attracted to, found more beauty in things that are a little worn or off-center or unmatched. I’m a fan of pied beauty.

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;        5
    And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled, [fortyish] (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:        10
                  Praise him.

When I look at older women—and lately I've been doing that a lot. Checking out jowls and necks and brows, comparing, trying to figure out how some women manage to look old but beautiful—I admire most the ones that are more than pretty. The ones whose faces show strength of will, force of character, life. And when I look at young women—Those smooth foreheads! That glowing skin!—sometimes the prettiness looks a little unformed. Those unlined faces look to me literally incomplete. And I think there will be more beauty when time seasons a little of that pretty.

It felt like a revelation and a relief (and okay, maybe a bit of sour grapes) to just let go of pretty. Elegant, handsome, stylish, beautiful, confident, striking, fit, attractive—these I’m hoping for a lifetime supply of. But pretty, my stores on that are running low. And maybe I’m okay with that.

Friday, October 26, 2012

How to Make an Awesome Blanket Fort

Do "forts" have the cachet at your house that they have here? Every few weeks we build a fort that takes over an entire room.

The tricky part is often the ceiling. Like in this picture from last year. The kids had used buckets of toys and boxes of books to try to hold blankets up for the ceiling. And it all came crashing down.

Fortunately, I have now figured out The Best Way to Make an Awesome Blanket Fort for the Amazement and Entertainment of All Your Friends.

Step 1: Make two rows out of your kitchen chairs. The chairs are the four corners of your fort.

Step 2: Fit each corner of a fitted sheet over the chairs. This is your ceiling.

Step 3: Drape sheets over each side. These are your walls.

Step 4: Enjoy. Bring in snacks, clipboards and crayons, a mini DVD player, a stack of books, your sister...

Friday, October 19, 2012

6 Word Love Poem: October

The truth is, it's been a long week. Teenager trouble, car trouble and the resultantly exacerbated money trouble. Then Mark took Logan and my car (now shipshape) to Goblin Valley with the Young Men for the weekend, leaving me and kids stranded and a little bored.

Good day to take the long view and post another 6-word love poem in honor of our upcoming twentieth anniversary:

Thrift store. Temple altar. Target. Turkey?

One of our first dates was to a thrift store. Target seems to encapsulate a lot about our life now. Turkey is on our list of places we'd like to go. (along with Bhutan, Jerusalem, Costa Rica, Rome, Mumbai...) You know, when we're old and free from teenager trouble, car trouble, and money trouble.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Year Less

This morning while we were all getting ready to go to Levi's soccer game, we turned on the TV to listen to the beginning of General Conference. While I was making my bed, I heard President Monson announce that, effective immediately, young men were eligible to go on missions at age eighteen instead of having to wait until nineteen. Tick, tick, tick, it dawns on me that this means Roscoe will likely leave for his mission this summer. In just a few months.

For a couple years now I've been on a conscientious program to gradually prepare myself for Roscoe leaving on his mission. For the day I pull into the MTC driveway, drop him off, and drive away not to lay eyes upon him again for two years. No matter how much I love the gospel and cherish the beautiful image of Roscoe growing the testimonies of himself and others, this is a hard pill for a loving mama to swallow.

We had thought that he would graduate this spring, go to college--probably here in Utah--for a whole year, then go on his mission the following summer. And we've been counting down, cherishing each of the months he lives under our roof, imagining him coming home for movie parties and laundry-thons on weekends. We've always known that our family's time as a complete whole--with both Roscoe and Betsy on scene--would be precious and short.

And now it's a whole year shorter.

Within seconds of hearing President Monson's announcement, I began to sob. I cried and cried and cried. I just couldn't stop. We just lost Roscoe! I kept thinking. The tears flowed and flowed. And I decided to let them. Let's just get a bunch of this out of the way, I thought. It was the good kind of crying, the kind that lets a wave of sadness come out and have its moment in the sun before melting away.

About forty minutes later, we seriously needed to get out the door to that soccer game. So I crawled out of the corner (literally), washed my face, and headed out the door. Much to my relief--and that of my confused family--I was better. Ready to start scheming and planning and getting excited about what's before Roscoe. As the day has progressed, I've started to feel about the imminence of Roscoe's mission the way I always have about the imminence of a new baby: That this is a much-needed impetus for our family to take it to a higher level. This is an opportunity to do more of what we believe is most important in life.

The crazy thng is that Roscoe's out of town for the weekend. We haven't talked to him about any of this at all! I'm thinking it's a good thing he wasn't here to witness what shall surely be known among the Qshurst-McGee children as The Day Mom Totally Lost It for No Reason We Could Discern Whatsoever.

Sabbath Update:
As the initial shock was worn off and we've had a lovely General Conference weekend, it's been a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our family and gospel service. I still feel the make-our-family-better push like I feel when I find out I'm pregnant. And I also feel a lot like I do when Mark or I gets a new calling: That we are doing something that is good and that our Heavenly  Father wants us to do, and so as a result God's hand and support will be over us. I feel a sweet confirmation of the rightness of Roscoe's mission, and the assurance that blessings are in store for our family. We've also received sweet phone calls from lots of family members excited for Roscoe.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Kitchen Day

One thing I've instituted this year is Kitchen Day. I decided I would devote an entire day each week to the kitchen to do things like soak and cook beans, bake bread, make freezer meals, try new recipes, bake granola, and all sorts of things that will keep our menu a bit deeper and yummier throughout the week. Here are some things I did on my last kitchen day:

Soak and cook garbanzo beans...

 ...then spice and bake them to make crunchy chickpeas, one of my favorite lunch snacks.

Slice apples for pie.
 Harvest tomatoes from my garden for this soup. Very yum.
 Run the dishwasher. Repeatedly.
 Consult cookbooks and pinterest.
 Make a big mess of the whole entire kitchen.

Good thing I had a sweet little helper to wipe the counters for me. 

I cannot get over the cuteness of this outfit. It's slaying me!!

I also made a batch of dressing for one of our new favorite meals. This dressing is so fantastic that it turns this salad into a gourmet treat. It's not a quick process, though. It involves zesting nine limes! But one batch is enough for at least three meals. (I divide each batch into thirds and freeze two of them for later.) And I'm telling you, this is an amazingly delicious and nutritious meal. You will be grateful for each and every bit of that zest.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Dinner Salad
with Honey Lime Dressing

6 T white wine vinegar
zest and juice of 9 limes
3 t cumin
3 t chili powder
3 t kosher salt
3 jalapeno peppers, cored and diced
3/4 c honey
1/4 c olive oil
1/4 canola oil

Mix in large mason jar. Can be made ahead of time. Serve over any of the following:

brown rice
lettuce or fresh spinach
sweet potatoes
black beans
sweet peppers
green onions
toasted almonds

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

6 Word Love Poems: September

Continuing series in honor of our twentieth anniversary this December.

Math nerd. Hippie chick. Opposites attract.

Fight? Sure. But love deeper, always.

I don't think anyone could accuse Mark and me of taking the easy road. We got married knowing full well that our perspectives, styles, and opinions were very different. Our thinking was that our differences would make us a stronger couple, a better family. It also can make basic decision-making a challenge. We still love our differences, even when we still to accommodate them.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bottom, top, and middle

Last night I spent a couple hours in the urgent care with an irate little missy who has apparently sprained her wrist. It's a little ironic that the fearless girl who's been going down the slide solo since she was ten months old was injured...on the bean bag in the playroom. (No one is quite sure how it happened.)

She seems to find her soft cast very comforting. It doesn't keep her from hassling her brothers...

 ...perching from places where she could fall and break her arm in earnest...

...or showing her moxie.

Then this morning I had to be out the door early to visit college recruiters with Roscoe at his school's college fair. I am  having total cognitive dissonance over this whole sending my child to college thing.

Just to back up my point about Roscoe's specialness, yesterday I got an email from a friend who happened to be at Roscoe's McDonald's the other day and overheard some employees talking about him. Apparently he had invited one of them to church and they were marveling that he seemed to enjoy church activities on Sundays and on other days of the week too! My friend wrote, " It was obvious that they recognize him as being 'different' and I'm so happy that there are wonderfully 'different' boys out there who aren't afraid to be themselves and to live what they believe." So you see, it's not just me.

And in the middle, we have Jesse. Who last week started kindergarten. Again.

No less proud on round two, and possibly even more excited. He adores his teacher and aide and was really looking forward to seeing them.

Sometimes I think that schlepping to the car will be the only thing my children really remember from their childhoods.
Even though I've been talking about the option of two years of kindergarten for Jesse all along, even though his teacher concurred, even though it was clear that Jesse in first grade was not feasible, it was hard to make the call to hold him back. His teacher suggested that he stay in her class rather than moving to the school's other kindergarten teacher, so I told Jesse that Ms Z requested that he stay with her to be the "expert" and help all her new students. He seems to have bought that with no qualms. I think an extra year of childhood will be a gift that allows Jesse the time to develop all his imagination and enthusiasm into, you know, socially appropriate channels.

Jess has actually grown up a lot in the last several months, giving me hope that he will not act like a toddler forever. For the other kids, it feels like their preschool years were too short. Not so with my Jesse. It feels like I've been taking care of Jesse forever. Listening to his monologues about superheroes, negotiating him off tantrum cliffs, wheedling him into basic hygiene and routine. Thank the heavens he is so charming and handsome. And thank the heavens he wasn't my first child.

The Real Middle
Don't tell anyone, but Mark and I have always secretly referred to Levi as the Golden Boy. He seems to be the happy medium that combines the best from his two older brothers. I'm so grateful and proud and amazed that all through our foster care years, when each foster placement infringed on his spot in our family, he remained secure and able to share. (Remember our first foster daughter was exactly his age, and Haley is only eighteen months younger.) We've always tried to tell him that his middle spot in the family is a blessing, giving him the best of both worlds, and he's always agreed. "I'm the smallest of the biggest and the biggest of the smallest," is how he explains it.

It seems to be not so easy anymore. I'm a bit puzzled why this moment in our family dynamics is the one that's tripped up his equanimity. His view of his downtrodden position in our family just does not jibe with how Mark and I see him! We're just looking for ways to show Levi how Golden he is.

Like serving up cookies and milk after school:

Hm, maybe it all has something to do with that Logan, who insists on letting it be known that he is bigger and better. And look at poor Haley--she doesn't stand a chance with those two.

Levi does seem to feel that not being a teenager is a sore affliction. Case in point: last weekend he went on a backpacking trip with his brothers and uncles. His testosterone-fueled brothers bounded right up the mountain with full-size packs. But Levi, fueled only by determination and stamina, braved wind, rain, and snow to summit King's Peak, the highest peak in Utah. No small feat.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Sometimes people comment on how Roscoe must be such a wonderful inspiration and example to his siblings. I nod and agree, but really I wonder if he's not. The kids see Roscoe as unapproachably perfect. Great grades. Amazing work ethic. Relentlessly righteous. He works at McDonald's! He drives his own car! They adore him. They bask when they get a moment of his attention. But I don't think they think they can be like him.
Was Roscoe excited about his last day of work at McDonalds...
...or was he not? 
Roscoe, of course, is not actually perfect. But truly he is an amazing, special, rareified creature. Everyone knows it.

Everyone but Roscoe, I fear. Sometimes I think Roscoe is a little lonely up on that pedestal we've made for him

Mark and I mostly let Roscoe do his own thing. We support whatever decisions he makes. We say yes to almost everything he asks for. When he comes to us for advice, we tell him we're sure he'll make the right choice. The irony is that if I were to have one beef about my nearly perfect upbringing, this would be it. I look back on my teenage years and see that the veneer of competence and assurance I gave off was largely a farce and that I could have benefited from a little more guidance, advice, and hand-holding from my wise parents. (Even today, in fact!)
Bets escaped from bed last night and pattered downstairs to  do some YouTube watching with Roscoe. See how they're sharing earbuds? So sweet! Betsy is smart enough to know that quiet and cuddly girls are allowed to stay up late, just for fun.
My philosophy with babies is to fill them up with so much love and sweetness that it overflows from them for the rest of their lives. Roscoe got plenty of that, so I do take a teensy bit of credit for his loving heart that I filled. But this time next year Roscoe will likely be down south in a dorm room. Til then,  it's my chance to fill him with even more strength, affirmation, and encouragement. The next few years--starting college, serving a mission, choosing a career, finding a spouse--will be major for him. We know that he can do it. I need to make sure he knows.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The End of the Era of Sloth and Decadence

Yesterday at this time, our front yard looked like this... a rotating cadre of about twenty screaming kids. Our water slide party was open from nine to five (with a lunch break in the middle that actually turned into teen time), and for that entire time a kid came down the slide about every five seconds. It was pretty awesome.

Today, we looked like this:

Hawthorn kids, 2012: Logan, 9th grade; Levi, 5th grade; Haley, 3rd grade
Kind of a jarring transition for all of us. But a welcome one. I've loved the unstructured vibe of this summer, but I have to admit, as August has worn on it's worn a bit thin. We all seemed to get kind of cranky and bored. This year the promise of sharp pencils, fresh starts, and new routines seems especially alluring.

Here are a few of the course corrections we're making in our family routine:

- Scripture Study. This was basically non-existent this summer. And last year, Roscoe had early-morning seminary so he missed family scripture study each morning. (In fact, he was gone before anyone else woke up in the mornings and was often home in the evenings after the little kids had gone to bed. Not healthy family dynamics.) This year, Roscoe is banned from early-morning seminary, so we're re-committed to whole-family scripture study promptly at 6:45. I'm a firm believer in the blessings of fortifying kids with a bit o family gospel before sending them out into the big, wide world.

- Zones. I'm still loving our zones chore system. But Roscoe often isn't home to do his, and I've never taken the time to teach/enforce a zone for Jesse. So I've made Jesse and Roscoe zone partners. When Roscoe is home, he can teach and encourage Jesse. When Roscoe is gone, Jesse's got him covered.

- Dinnertime. With teenagers, our all-together family time is a rare commodity. So we're trying to improve the quality of our dinnertimes. The new rule: Everyone stays at the table until everyone is finished. (Everyone except Haley, who eats at the pace of a snail.) Then we all clear and tidy together. This way, our together time is extended, and our many hands make light work of clean-up, leaving Mark and I more time for other, funner things. I'm also hoping this will help teach certain children to eat more slowly and enjoy their meals.

- My routine. Year by year I systematize my routines more and more. It seems to help me accomplish more stuff more easily. I already have a deep-clean task for each day of the week and a weekly schedule for errands and trips to the gym. This year, I created an order of operations for my morning to keep me moving when I tend to be groggy and aimless.

Any fabulous new routines cooking at your house?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

6 Word Love Poems

Meet. Make out. Hyphenate. Procreate. Exaltate.

That's our plan in a nut shell.

Friday, August 10, 2012


"When we are honest with ourselves, we know that it is not 'Me Time' we need or a 'Girls' Night Out.' Children are not a burden to escape or endure; they are a blessing that drives us to Christ because we are incapable of parenting well without Him."
      ~ Large Family Logistics, The Art and Science of Managing the Large Family, Kim Brenneman*

The other day, Mark came home from work not to find apron-bedecked me putting the finishing touches on a nutritious, home-cooked, vegetarian meal in the kitchen while the children tidied the house--and yes he's lucky enough to often find just such a scene. Instead I was lying on our bed watching hulu. The kids had been bickering all day, one putting out an invitation for a bit of contention, the other quickly accepting, the next escalating the whole thing a bit more. I had been managing and reprimanding and and imploring and giving consequences all day and finally decided that if they all really wanted to gather together to snipe at each other, well then I'd go elsewhere.

I think that was the same night that Mark asked me about Family Home Evening plans and I responded with, "Oh yeah, because more family time is just what I need!" (This was in the privacy of our bedroom, which we use as sort of a free-speech zone.)

Hm, and come to think of it, that was the same night I delivered what I thought was a lovely little lesson on bearing testimonies, but at the end the kids had been so rotten that I told them that I didn't feel comfortable sharing my testimony with them.

Okay, so maybe Mark was justified in doing what he did next. Later that evening, he announced that he had arranged for our good friends the Flemings to come over on Thursday night. He and Steve would stay home with the kids while Lee and I would go out on the town. I guess I was feeling a little sheepish that Mark had felt the need to call in the cavalry, but Lee and I are not ones to pass on a chance for some time together, so we agreed. (And remember my recent vow to just take a break every once in a while?)

We had the most wonderful evening together. Lee and I talked nonstop all the way through out dinner at the Blue Lemon. (Topics covered included the new math core curriculum in Utah, the role of Khan Academy in education reform, the role of foster care in rehabilitating dysfunctional families, whether the BYU Religion Department is truly academic or primarily devotional, and ward members who make unreasonable demands for baby showers and meals.)

Then we went to Sephora, where I was in search for a red lipstick. After becoming BFFs with our makeup rep, I went home with Nars Jungle Red. What do you think? Lovely, but do I ever dare wear this in public? I'm speaking in church on Sunday and teaching Relief Society. Should I go for it? (Picture forthcoming.)

Then Lee and I walked through Restoration Hardware, discussing the plays with scale, the juxtapositions of rustic and high-brow, the expensive things we could hack for cheap. My very favorite thing was this:

See? It's like a gigantic recreation of an old-fashioned gentleman's steamer trunk, but the little drawers and compartments are like library card catalog drawers and the whole thing is a fold-up office. I love everything about it. (And it's only $3,225!!)

It's hard to express how much Mark would not have enjoyed this itinerary. He doesn't really get (which is not to say that he opposes) my love for aesthetic. I came home feeling awash in new ideas and images and very refreshed indeed.

* I love this quote, and I'm enjoying this book of systems and tips for managing a large family more efficiently. But I can't get on board with the author's view of a mother's "second-in-command" relationship with her husband or her somewhat extreme view on how much a mother should "sacrifice" her "Self" to her family.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


I used to mock my mother for waking up the in morning and saying something like, "Who coughed last night?"  But now I'm relating a little too much.

Parental sonar is a wonderful thing. It alerts you to the fridge opening, rocks throwing, fights escalating, toilet water splashing, the kind of manic on-the-brink laughter that always leads shortly to tears, or the kind of ominous silence that means that the kids are up to no good. I can sleep through the garbage truck, but wake up the moment Betsy cries or Jesse's hand is on the bathroom door.

Apparently my sonar has been so finely tuned for so long that it's on hyperdrive. My own personal PTSD. There are enough people here--with Betsy crying or Jesse taking a potty break or Roscoe coming home from a late night with friends or Logan sneaking into the kitchen for a snack or Levi launching into yet another audio book--that there's always something pinging my sonar. (Except Haley, who never wakes us, even when she really, really should.)

My mom hasn't lived with needy youngsters for years, but she still has to sleep with earplugs to muffle her hypervigilance. Ri ght now I have the bathroom fan running to mask the sounds of mayhem from downstairs. I think I need more earplugs.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Splash Pad

First, Little Miss Polka Dot stood outside the fence watching.
 Then she walked through the gate...
 ...until she got near the water.
 Watching the kids.
 Thinking about getting wet.
 Good thing she had Haley to help.
 Always a superhero.
 King of the Mountain.
 This picture shows two new things about our summer.
First, I decided that this summer I don't have to force the teenagers to do the same activities as the kids. Good because I don't have to feel like a mean tyrant for staging a trip to the splash pad. Bad because we miss our big boys! Second, this summer we have a new batch of cousins living nearby. So fun to have visitors!