Thursday, March 29, 2012


There's nothing more Sisyphean than laundry for a family. Dirty laundry regenerates like...what? Can you think of anything that regenerates faster, more relentlessly than laundry?

I'm lucky to have a pretty functional laundry room space--thanks largely to Mark and his Dad. Skip installed the shallow shelf above the washer and dryer. Mark added the big counter top that gives me work space and--more important--prevents stuff from falling down into the abyss between machines. Mark also installed the hanging rod across the room so I can hang his work shirts straight out of the dryer (and use that as an excuse to never iron them).

Here's how I run our laundry system:

- Marathon style. Laundry for a largish family is a marathon, not a sprint. I do laundry every day. Even if I do only one load (and the kids do one, see below), we'll  never get too far behind.
The chalkboard ovals to label the bins seemed like such a fun idea but ended up being ridiculously hard to execute.

- Buckets. Oh, it's all about the storage containers. On one side of my little laundry room are six dirty-clothes buckets for whites, towels, jeans, colors, lights, and kitchen (this is for damp rags and cloth napkins, which we use a lot of). On the other side, above the washer and dryer are ten clean-laundry buckets, one for each kid, one for Mark and I, one for kitchen laundry, one for clothes to give away, and one for outgrown things that need to be stored in their proper container.

- Fold it. In my experience, caching dry laundry leads only to sadness. And children rooting through piles like feral pigs.  I stand in the laundry room and fold laundry straight out of the dryer and into the kids' clean buckets.

- Enlist the kids. My kids are responsible for bringing the contents of their bedroom hampers to the laundry room and sorting them into the proper dirty buckets. And then for taking the contents of their  clean buckets back up to their rooms. In addition, the kid with basement as their zone is in charge of "shuffling" the laundry once a day. That entails folding the contents of the dryer, drying what's in the washer, and starting a new load. This has been a big help in keeping up on top of the laundry situation.

(I have a friend who made a point of never putting her husband's clean laundry away for him. She'd wash, dry, and fold it, then leave the little stack on his bed for him. She felt it was important to leave that bit of the cycle in his hands. Not a bad idea, I think.)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Wholesome Recreational Activity

Last night I was having one of those I-suck-and-my-kids-suck moments. (Tell me you sometimes have those too!) I think for me one of the challenges of having older kids and teenagers is the negativity. I have fewer kids who think I'm their moon and sun...and more who complain about pretty much everything I do. Heckling mom is our family's number one recreational activity.

Today the elementary and middle schoolers were out of school. I had to phone three clients, then get some lunch on, then get Logan to the school to turn in assignments he should have turned in yesterday, and take Levi to a friend's to pass out more Kony2012 flyers, then get to Costco because we're out of milk and bread, and get back home before Betsy's nap time was too far gone. Getting the kids into shoes and into the car was like herding butterflies.

About half an hour into the trip, as we're hurtling down the road, I hear Jesse suddenly scream from the back seat, "Wait! Who got out of this car?"

"No one got out of the car," we tell him. "We're all here."

"LOOK RIGHT OVER THERE!" Jesse yells. We look. He's pointing at Levi's empty seat. "WHERE'S LEVI??"

Jesse in crisis is a delicate matter. We carefully explain that Levi is at his friend's house. Where we took him. Not ten minutes before.

No sooner is this crisis resolved when Logan bursts out, "Wait, where are we going?!"

"To Costco," I answer. "Just like I said."

"Wait! Why didn't you take me home? Can't you drop me off at home?" Home is now about twenty minutes in the opposite direction.

"No. No, I can't take you back home."

"What?? Why??" And then with horror, "You're not taking us to IKEA are you?"

Suddenly I unhinge just a little. The ridiculousness. The absurdity. The futility! These spoiled children who can't manage some simple errands. Whose idea of horror is a trip to IKEA. Who seem to whine their way through the days in disgruntled confusion.

I start to giggle. "You guys..." I begin, but laughter is taking over me, "You guys...are all...STARK, RAVING MAD!"

Now I'm laughing so hard I can barely keep my eyes open. I laugh and laugh and laugh. All the way to Costco.

Haley, wisely, sat quietly in the far back seat, all the way there.

Monday, March 19, 2012


On Sunday I was released as Primary president. As I think is common, my feelings included both relief and emptiness. For more than six years, I came to church lugging a tote bag that could contain pretty much anything--a sailor hat, potting soil, paper bag puppets, jars of bleach, a life vest, a toy sword, a spatula. Virtually any household object has potential to eventually be pressed into service as a Primary object lesson.

For three years, I left sacrament meeting when the closing hymn began so I could rush to the Primary room to arrange chairs (two sets of five rows, each with two rows of little chairs and three rows of big ones) and set out supplies. For almost 200 Sundays, I stationed myself at the Primary room door to greet each child as they entered, perhaps providing the suggestion “Would you like to take a potty break before you come in?” or peeling a hesitant child from his parents.

Truth be told, on some Sundays I entered the Primary room already feeling smothered and flustered from wrestling my own children through sacrament meeting. My skirt and slip hopelessly askew, my Sunday attempt at an up-do ruined. Feeling that really, I’d had enough of children for one day as a stream of them jostled through the door. Teachers missing, again. Sometimes as I walked to the front of the room to begin the meeting, I had to summon a facade of cheerfulness from the place in my heart where I keep a Texas high school cheerleader. It’s a small place.

When I reached the front of the room, I would turn and look at the children. I would always say, “Welcome to Primary. I’m so glad you are here.” And no matter how much I had to grit my teeth to summon that first Primary-flavor cheerfulness, by the end, I truly meant it. Every time. I was glad to see each of them. Even the squirrely ones who might make a run for it before the day is out. There is nowhere better a child could be on any given Sunday. Because I believe in Primary with all my heart.

In Primary, we teach nothing but the good stuff. Be kind. Keep the commandments. Repent when you make a mistake. Be a missionary now. Choose the right. Try to be like Jesus. If it’s not pure doctrine, undefiled, it doesn’t make the cut into the Primary curriculum. No pointless debates about the Millennium or First versus Second Resurrection take place here. Sometimes the infallibility of prophets may be implied a smidge too much. Perhaps we lean too much toward Iron Rod obedience more than Liahona style. But just a smidge. Because nothing can get too deep or too serious when at any moment a Sunbeam might tumble off her chair, or a Valiant 9 might get bored and crack a joke to his neighbor, or a CTR 5 might say, “The Holy Ghost is spooooky.”

Really, Primary is all about love. The leaders love the children. God loves the children. The leaders love the gospel. And we want the children to love it too. We want them to love being in Primary, love the feelings that come when we meet together to discuss the gospel. I hope I've accomplished some of that in my last six years in Primary.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Roasted Vegetables

A few people have asked me to write about my systems for feeding an appealing vegetarian menu to a largish family on a budget.
Last night I made  (but did not take any photos of) roasated vegetables over couscous. This is a stand-by that appears on our menu in several configuations. It fits all my criteria: vegetarian, healthy, doesn’t involve exotic or expensive ingredients, isn’t labor intensive, adults and kids like it. It also has the added bonus of being flexible and customizable. Here’s how I do it:

When the kids come home from school, get out a big bowl and create a marinade. Just pour some mixture of the following into the bowl:
olive oil
soy sauce
lime juice
Throughout the afternoon, while providing intermittent guidance on homework, piano practice, conflict resolution and/or talking with your mom on her way home from work, chop vegetables into rough chunks and toss them into the bowl to marinate. Choose some combination of the following:
red, yellow, and green bell peppers
red onion
About a half hour before you’d like to serve dinner, start preparing some grains to accompany the vegetables. This dish will work with any of the following:
brown or white rice
quinoa (great cooking instructions found here)
couscous (I get mine from the bulk aisle instead of those little boxes)

While the grain is steaming/boiling, preheat the oven to 425. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Fish the veggies out of the marinade with a slotted spoon and spread them over the cookie sheet. Broil for 15 minutes or so, stirring once or twice.

When your grain is done cooking, pour on a little extra marinade for moistness and flavor if you like. Serve the vegetables over the grain, with a bowl of cheese for sprinkling.
crumbled feta
grated parmesan (I buy the big bag at Costco and keep the whole thing in the freezer. The cheese is hard and fine enough that you can pour a cup or so into a bowl for a meal and just set it on the table. It’ll have thawed sufficiently by the time the prayer is over.)
Yes, my kids do eat this. They sometimes threaten to turn up their noses when they see the mounds of vegetables, but the marinade and the broiling give the vegetables a really nice flavor, and I encourage the kids to use as much cheese as they'd like. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Kony2012: A plea from Levi

This weekend Levi learned about the Kony2012 project. JosephKony is number one on the International Criminal Court’s most wanted list for his role in the abduction and militarization of 30,000 children in Uganda. Because of the efforts of grassroots activists, President Obama deployed 100 US troops to advise Ugandan troops in Kony’s capture. The goal of Kony2012 is to keep Kony in the public eye so that the mission continues to receive US support despite setbacks.

After Levi heard about Kony2012, we watched the online videothat has gone viral in a matter of days. (The video is sobering but very well done and not graphic or gratuitous. I recommend it.) Levi never before knew of things like child soldiers or strategic mutilation. It was hard to watch him learn about the worst of humanity; it was beautiful to watch his response. Levi and Logan spent the rest of the afternoon making flyers and distributing them door to door around our neighborhood. Logan joined the Kony2012 facebook group and posted the video on his wall. Once the boys learned about it, they couldn't sit by. My children--who live in peace, safety, and prosperity unfathomable to many children--wanted to help children a world away who live in conditions unfathomable to us.

After the neighborhood was plastered with the boys' flyers, I agreed to blog about Kony2012 as part of Levi’s work. Here is his letter to you.
Dear Family,
Did you know about the man named Joseph Kony. Who was kidnapping kids and turning boys into soldiers and turning girls into slaves. He is also telling the boys to kill their parents and makes the boys carry guns everywhere they go and makes the girls do whatever Joseph Kony wants them to do. He also tells the boys  to cut up everyone’s faces with sharp knives. Joseph Kony is now the world’s number one criminal. He is hiding and we sent out 100 soldiers to find him so we are trying to make Joseph Kony famous, not the good famous, the bad famous. We want everyone to know that Joseph Kony is a bad guy so the president will keep soldiers out there, and on April 20th at midnight we will put up all these posters and pictures of Joseph Kony so everyone will know.
Sincerely, your grandson, cousin, and nephew
Levi Qshurst-McGee
 P.S. For more information, go to WARNING The video is a half hour long and don’t cry when you watch it.
My mama heart loves this budding human rights activism. He has correctly grasped the goal to leverage public outcry. Levi would appreciate so much hearing from any of you who watch the video or lean about Joseph Kony. Share a comment here and I'll pass it along to Levi. Let's teach him that grassroots activism can spread the word and make a difference!

Update: Levi is very excited to have received the following letter from one of our Senators.

April 4, 2012
Levi Ashurst-McGee
1728 West 8300 South
West Jordan, UT 84088-8249
Dear Levi:
Thank you for writing to me about Joseph Kony. I appreciate hearing from you and welcome the opportunity to respond.
Like you, I am concerned about the complex and troubling situation in Uganda. As you know, Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), has combined cult fanaticism with ruthless military force. In the past twenty years, it is estimated that under Kony, the LRA has killed tens of thousands, displaced over 1 million and kidnapped more than 30,000 children to turn into child soldiers. In 2005, the International Criminal Court charged Kony with 12 counts of crime against humanity and 21 counts of war crimes. Not surprisingly, he has yet to face justice for his actions.
That is why I joined Senator Inhofe and Senator Coons in co-sponsoring
S.Res 402, a resolution condemning Kony and the LRA for committing crimes against humanity and supporting ongoing efforts by the U.S. and countries in central Africa, to remove Kony and his LRA commanders from the battlefield. Currently this resolution is supported by 40 of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle. 
I remain committed to seeking a way to end the violence and suffering of the people in Uganda, Sudan, and throughout Central Africa. Your views in this regard are always appreciated.
Again, thank you for writing.
Your Senator,
Orrin G. Hatch
United States Senator

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Betsy's First Year officially over. On Sunday she turned one. She celebrated her birthday in perfect one-year-old style, plunging her fist into frosting and sliming herself thoroughly, then paying less attention to her presents than to the boxes they came in. I really can't muster much to say about my last baby's passage into toddlerhood. Having babies has been a phase of life I have loved with all my heart. A part of me isn't so sure that any phase of life yet to come will match it. 
The first row is Betsy's first week. The remaining rows are month by month. The last photo was taken on her birthday.

And for anyone (read: Mom) who, like me, can't get enough of Little Miss Birthday and her adorable smocked frock...

Thursday, March 1, 2012


A few weeks ago, Jesse's teacher made a list of specific goals for him to (we hope) accomplish before starting kindergarten (again) in the fall:

o   Write first name correctly.
o   One to one correspondence up to 10 (if I say 7, he can pull out 7 objects).
o   Write numbers 0-10.
o   Recognize all upper case letters.
o   Write correctly 10 upper case letters.
o   Write correctly 10 lower case letters.
o   Know 10 sight words.

So for Jesse's homework time, I've been foregoing the worksheets his teachers sends home (I imagine she's not thrilled about this) and working on those goals. For one thing, this lets me teach to Jesse's style. We practice letter recognition by scattering letter flashcards in a circle on the floor. I play one of his favorite songs while he hops from card to card. When I stop the music, he tries to identify the letter. Then we slip the card into a page protector and he uses a white-board marker to practice tracing it.
The fact that he's willing to cooperate at all on this kind of thing is progress in itself.
Betsy is very helpful during homework time.
I've also made a list of home goals:

o   Keep clothes put away.
o   Do an afternoon chore.
o   Tantrum-free three out of four days.

Jesse is doing a great job on these as well. I'm feeling some glimmers of hope.

When not working on chores or homework, Jesse meditates a la Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender.
This is the price I paid for my nice, hot shower--Betsy got jiggy with a marker. Perhaps with Jesse's help?
I've never understood the point behind babies' teeny  top-knots. Now I get it. Baby's short arms can't reach it up there to pull it out. And what else can you do with those few little wisps of hair?