Thursday, February 23, 2012

I 'heart' Valentines

Fondu for dinner was such a hit last year, all the kids asked if we were going to do it again...I need to have this on our menu more often, once a year doesn't really make you good at the technique-and the beautiful thing about this meal is that it keeps my kids at the table...they eat, they talk, they take turns at the fondu pot and we all enjoy an evening spent home together.

We now only have to make Valentines boxes for half of our children, which is great, because I am not into making Valentines boxes...poor Porter wishes I were. His classmates make boxes with pully systems, levers, and very advanced graphic art. Our boxes? We take 30 minutes with wrapping paper, old scrapbook punches and whatever glitter glue isn't dried up from last Valentines day! Of course, we do the obligatory valentine for each classmate with some form of sugar attached (I'm not an ogre, just don't take tons of time for a box that's getting ripped open at the end of the school day and looted for all its sugar content).

Our 'cookie for breakfast' tradition has lasted over 6 years. I think this will be its last. We went from store bought cookies (Great harvest) to home made this year. Most of the cookies were still out on the counter a few days after Valentines. That's a good sign that this tradition has run its course. Fun while it lasted. May it rest in peace.

photo taken totally out of context (this was in Hawaii; no I don't wear flowers around my neck in February) but I didn't snap a shot of my Valentine on this day of Love. We celebrated the weekend before with a super fun date; tennis, thai food, a 'drive in movie' which means watching a movie while sitting in the back seat of John's car while it is parked in a parking lot so our kids don't disturb us while we watch) and yummy hot chocolate and waffles from Bruge's Waffles and Frites. I gifted john little things through out the week. He gifted me new green jeans; oh how I had been pining for GREEN jeans. he done good I tell ya!

My favorite part of the entire day was that I made my kids stay HOME from swimming and dance to be with us for dinner. I know their teachers and coaches were annoyed, but sometimes you've just got to be a family ya know? And sometimes it feels good to remember that I am in charge, not the coach or the teacher, of my children and what they are involved in.

I didn't snap a picture of our huge heart Valentine, hung in the picture window, made by yours truly. That's another long standing tradition, and I love that one so I'm keeping it even if the kids say they don't care about it anymore. I think its fun to declare my adoration for the people I live with in such a public way one time each year.

I hope I show it privately a hundred other ways when it isn't Valentine's.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Be It Resolved...Resolutions for 2012

I am really a happy person; I believe that by setting achievable goals and reaching toward them I can become even happier :)

I am working to become a greater asset to my husband. I believe we have a good marriage, and that most of the things that aren't so good in it could be made much better with a little less selfishness on my part and a little more willingness to see things from John's perspective. To achieve this goal I'm working to be more thankful and to express my gratitude for all John does to provide for our family and to support me in my own work as a mother. I am also working harder than ever to manage the financial blessings we enjoy in a manner that allows us to plan for a future filled with service and time spent together in fun, meaningful ways. And I'm trying to keep my mouth shut more often when I want to 'vent' to John about the frustrations I experience in pursuing these goals ;)

I love John. I want him to have a hundred good reasons to love me back.

I'm trying to become healthy and strong this year. I experience some very minor aches and pains and have recently had someone tell me that my body is quite toxic. This year I intend to permanently step down the road to better inward health; by feeding my body properly and exercising it regularly. I hope to pursue more intense time in interval training and weight training as well as more yoga-incorporating more stretch and quiet into my work out regimen. I have often picked a race or two to work towards each summer, but I'm looking to achieve different goals this year and (see above) wanting to avoid unnecessary expense. I look forward to biking, swimming and running but not for the purpose of triathlon. I just want to become healthy and have a body I feel proud of (no, that girl is NOT me by a long shot, but it could be if I try hard enough. I'm finally ready to try that hard)

I believe my body is a gift, and that I will be accountable for how I use it. I intend to become its master, and to enjoy all it can do for me.

In the summer, with Lucy's anticipated entry into the world of full day school, I will begin playing the piano. I'll probably only get to practice 15-20 minutes each day, but I feel it is time for my children to see that I will practice what I have been preaching to them in their daily struggle to play. I want to obtain this ability, and then use it to bless the lives of my children, myself and those around me.

I believe we are given talent and opportunity; and sometimes we need to take opportunities to develop our talents. This is that time for me.

I plan to organize our things. We have now lived in this home longer than we have lived in any other without it being 'up for sale'. In previous homes, by the 2 year mark, we have purged, cleaned, repainted and even re-landscaped in order to sell sell sell. It is time to treat this home in a way that it will function for us to stay in it. That means purging, figuring out a system for its spaces to work for us and to bring us greater joy and purpose and for me to feel that I am its owner, and its caregiver. Its time for me to be a better steward of the Spruces.

I believe we are stewards over the physical things we have. We need to care for them and use them to bless the lives of others. I intend to make this home, the Spruces, a blessing to me and my family that we more fully realize and enjoy.

I am going to work hard to learn how to speak Spanish. Most of our married life I have had a goal to obtain a Masters Degree. While I don't feel it is time for me to go back to school and accomplish this, I do feel its time for me to apply some time to learning and being a student. Spanish, playing the piano again, and even volunteering at our neighborhood schools, is the way I feel comfortable taking some time away from my children to become more and become better. I don't mean for this to be a selfish pursuit, but instead an investment in further opportunities to bless the lives of others. John and I intend to be missionaries together one day, and I want to really be prepared to work and to serve with effect. He speaks Spanish, so it is an easy fit for me to learn this language. AND there are countless opportunities for me to give of my time in serving the Spanish speaking population in our city if I can speak the language.

I believe we need to prepare ourselves to bless the lives of others. And I believe we need to use our minds to gain knowledge and improve ourselves.

And, my most difficult resolution? I am going to read the Book of Mormon every day this year. So far, so good. This is a goal that I feel absolutely tenacious about completing. I want to NEED the scriptures in my life EVERY DAY. I want to know them, for them to be my friends, my answers to life's questions and my inspiration as a parent.

I believe that there is power in opening the words of God and inviting them into our lives.
As much as I often learn from the words on the printed page, it is often the quiet inspiration that comes about other matters in my life (how to help a child, what to do for a neighbor, how to solve a financial problem) that come when I am in the act of submitting my will by giving my precious time to the reading of scripture.

What are you resolutions? How do you choose them? How do you work to keep them?

Friday, February 10, 2012

We did Disney

the big kids are a little 'beyond' posing with disney characters, but they were good sports and had fun in other ways while we sailed on the Disney Wonder

John and I both value travel very much. Mostly we want to expose our kids to the wonderful and different cultures in the world, and to the goodness of people who are not like us.

But sometimes its important to travel for sheer pleasure. And John has wanted to take our family on a Disney cruise for nearly 10 years, since he first heard of these fun vacations from a partner at the consulting firm he worked for way back when

So, realizing we have only 2 summers and 4 school vacations left before Mason no longer lives here, we did Disney this January

We took the cruise that leaves out of L.A. and sails down the Mexican Riviera. We all had an absolute blast. We will remember this time together for a very very long while...

One of our favorite days was hanging out on the beach in Mexico. We snorkled, kayaked, paddle boarded, and played in the sand. Bryn enjoyed sun bathing (we only had a few sun tan worthy days much to her disappointment) and we all loved the guacamole! It was an amazing family day that I will always remember

Cabo San Lucas....when John saw this photograph he laughed and said he had made a vow many years ago he'd never take photos with people painted gold, but I wasn't in on that, so I smiled as the kids snapped the camera!

We had been told the average 7 day cruise costs a traveler about 8 pounds. I was determined not to go home 8 lbs. heavier...but we sure enjoyed the free ice cream on tap 24 hours a day....

Besides our beach day, my favorite parts of the cruise involved the people who 'took care of us' while we were on the ship. I loved our evening meals with Omar and Anastaciia-they waited on us as we had long conversations with our children around the table. And Noel took care of our little cabins; these men and women come from all over the world to work for the cruise line. They leave their families for 8-9 months of each year and rarely leave the ships they sail on. Omar had two small children at home in the Philippines, and Noel was paying for his 2 kids college education by making beds and cleaning rooms. I was truly touched by their example of dedication to their families and providing a good life for the ones they love. Though we had not thought of this as a teaching trip, the example of these wonderful people was more than a profound lesson for our children.

He is starting to look and act like a 'guy' instead of a 'kid'. It is crazy my son is a young (still immature but getting there) MAN.

Porter was in heaven, he cried the whole way home. He loved the food, the computers, the fun with the family and the break from his classroom and school.

Dinner was my favorite. I never realized how much I am up and out of my seat during our family dinner times-and you have heard me lament about not having every one at our table during dinner. This was wonderful! All of us together, long conversation, filling food, kind people cleaning up after us, family time that I will cherish as we dive back into the busy schedules of our family life at home

It was a lovely family vacation. We will always remember this time spent together, the people we met and the fun we had!

Friday, February 03, 2012

snapshot of 2012

A snapshot of our family this year; because of John's job as head of, we have spent several nights huddled around our computer, checking out the new features and products on the site. Because of this family tradition, we took a literal snapshot, for our family Christmas card, in glasses from John's website.

I love to read and Shawni, the author of this amazing space, recently took a 'verbal snapshot' of all that's going on in her family's routine right now. I truly loved the post, and the now that I've credited her properly for her brilliance, I'd like to give it a shot myself.

I have Teenagers

The volume button at our house has been turned way UP this year. ITunes, IPods and even IPads are some of the sources of the music but Pandora and Playlist are the favorite methods for the kids to hear their favorites, and they hear their favorites all evening long every day they can. I have had to be a real stinky mother about 'switching the tunes' to 'study appropriate music' after 4 o'clock, it is a hated hour of the day in our home. 'Study music' is classical music, or music without words at least. John Schmidt radio on pandora is their favorite study music right now, but I like the mozart station (mozart wrote music to the beat of the human heart, and his melodies though brilliant were purposefully composed to be 'background noise' for socializing aristocrats at court. Thus, it is the perfect speed and volume to listen but still think...a brilliant study tool to be sure). Once dinner is over the tunes usually get cranked up again, only to be hushed around 8 so I can try to calm down the house and get the littler kids to bed. That's when the iPods come out, and the older two crank their tunes (when they are home) and become oblivious (and less productive) members of the household.

Our daily routine consists of John and I waking between 5-5:30 (depending on the day of the week and how late the teenagers were up doing homework). We have made it a rule that we don't bring cel phones into bedrooms in our house, so our alarm clocks are set on our phones and John sets his on his desk in his office and I put mine in our walk-in closet. When they go off it forces us to get out of our beds to turn them off, which usually keeps us from snoozing and making our way back to the bed (that doesn't mean it hasn't happened though, 5 a.m. is awfully early). John heads into his office to work and study his scriptures. I either work out in the den or do housework/chores so I can work out when the kids leave for school.

at 6:30 John rounds us all up for scriptures. The two oldest have been up for about a half hour, showering and eating breakfast/making beds and lunches. I'm terrible at being the first one in the library but I've made a promise to myself I'd change this bad habit. I used to run scriptures for our family when John traveled all week, and now that he has led it again I have leaned on him too much and partnered with him too little. That will change this year. We gather by 6:40 and have song and prayer, then we recite scriptures, For the Strength of Youth, articles of faith, or right now we are learning the Family Proclomation (John has a great 'file card system' he uses so each of us work on parts and scriptures we need to and he does his memorization on his own). Then we read from the Book of Mormon. I've been really impressed with Molly lately, as she has truly begun to read the verses when its her turn and her fear of reading seems to be lessening - this is a huge step for her to be confident in front of her family and I'm truly so proud of her. Scriptures ends just before 7, and Mason runs out the door to catch the bus (many days lately he has driven the 3rd family car, but we are trying to discourage this as it wastes resources. The bus picks up and the bottom of our street, its silly for him to drive when the ride is right there).

The binder system has its pros and cons, for some its magic, for others not so much.

That's when the mama bear starts her morning work. 'Lets get that binder work done :)! Everyone earn a token today :)!' I'm finding that if I just keep moving myself to the area of the house the kids are in the morning chores go much better for them. I work so hard not to 'ride them'. But I must admit that I do. I try to be encouraging but lots of times I'm just harping. Madi rarely earns her token. She just doesn't 'buy in' and she earns her own money babysitting so she doesn't care about getting allowance. I am glad she does get her bed made most days and she practices piano though not for the full 45 minutes needed. Porter is our STAR when it comes to binder work. he gets his things done pretty much every day and with time to spare so he can read his Harry Potter books (I think he is reading the series for the 3rd time this year right now). Molly tries but usually flies off into imaginary never land and in her happy playful spirit doesn't get enough done for a token. Lucy, depending on the day, does o.k. and I can't even comment on the two oldest; it has been a miserable failure for them so far. But I digress.

The Jr. High carpool picks up Bryn at 7:30 and the youngest 4 leave at 8:20. Our neighbor, Lily, is our daily reminder that its time to put shoes on, she walks with the kids and when the doorbell rings we know its her and time to brush hair, gather homework and head out the door.

dinner night continues to be my biggest daily effort

Dinner time has been such a difficult predicament for me this year. As the big kids get busier and John needs to work until a professionally appropriate hour, I have had to resort to a 'majority rules' dinner. I refuse to give in to the ease of sitting around our massive counter, and have made it mandatory that school night dinners be eaten at the table. It ebbs and flows, but on a good day I fix dinner and have it on the table just before 6. We pray and eat and then the big ones start leaving; Brynley to dance and Madi to swim team and on some nights Mason to rugby or Bryn and Mason to Youth at church. (the kids still have their dinner nights but in the interest of sitting at dinner together I have generally resorted to fixing dinner earlier in the day and then having the kids help set/clear/clean up from dinner. I figure I'll really push cooking with each kid in the summer, but having the social experience of eating together and interacting took precedent over being with each child on his/her again the older ones are rarely home long enough to take their turns-except Bryn usually does it without me cause her night is Molly's dance night-so I've had to be flexible on this one). John often comes in before we have left the table, so he gets to be with us for a few minutes as I try to talk to our kids and help them learn to talk to each other over dinner.

Bedtime routines depend on the night. Baths-again because John is busy and the big ones need to be dropped or picked up-happen sometimes as early as 4:30 if i am home and able, and the little girls are most nights in bed by 8:30.

One of my favorite times of day right now is nighttime family prayer. We usually gather in the little space in our basement where all the bedrooms meet. It is small for all of us to squeeze in, but I think that's why I like it. We pray before the little-est ones go into their beds, so that means we are often missing one or two-but we pray for them and do our very best to gather as many as we can. We are all together at morning prayer, so though I'd like us all at night, at least the pattern is set.

These are the best parts of our family this year. Other things that I love that are happening these days:

The kids check out books from the gift shop in BYU's fine arts Museum

we have tried to take 'day trips' this year. Our most recent was to Utah County. We went to the museum, ate yummy JDawgs for lunch, and played around at an awesome toy store; Blickenstaff's. Its just for a day and we don't go far, but I love shoving our kids in the car and having some fun together!

Lucy learned to ski this year. She is timid, but with hot chocolate breaks and a very patient mother, she makes it through a full day.

The snow has been terrible this winter, but at the very beginning of the year we enjoyed skiing several times as a family-Lucy and Molly began their skiing in 2011. Molly is a speed demon dare devil, Lucy very timid. John generally sticks with those that don't do the bunny hill, while I hang with Lu all day. Our hope is that with time, this will be the favorite family activity; the reason for living in the shadow of the Wasatch range.

Madi works it to win Cupcake Wars

I like it that the kids have an interest in cooking. Bryn and Madi have had 'cupcake wars' and Mason has learned the art of the chocolate chip cookie. It isn't gourmet, but I'm so glad they feel they can read a recipe and that cooking is a good way for them to pass their time.

A couple funny things that the kids do: That line from Napoleon Dynomite "Your mom goes to college" has been distorted into the family vernacular around here "Your mom does the dishes" "Your mom takes out the garbage" and "your mom folds the laundry" have been heard as well as MANY other "Your mom....." phrases float from the mouths of even our smallest Grahams.

"Kid History" is quoted on a regular basis. Our favorite line? "Silly _______, your name is Silly______..." as the face of the person who is 'silly' is stroked awkwardly by the sayer.

That's a pretty good snapshot, if not a long one, of our family life this year. I think it would be good if I did a 'personal snapshot' of what I learned in 2011, we'll see if I have time for another epistle!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Mothering Lucy

Lucy asked about her Birthmother today, and the circumstances surrounding her 'being an orphan'. We've told her 'her story' before, in simplified terms. It goes like this;

Her mother went from her remote home village into the big busy city hospital to give birth.
Then, when baby was taken to the hospital nursery, mother slipped away.
Baby became a ward of the state, and went to live in the orphanage nursery.
Far across the world, we prayed for baby.
When it was time, we came for her, and as we lifted her from her crib her face lit up and she looked at us as if to say "I knew you were coming, I've just been waiting for you here, lets go home!"

But today Lucy told her story differently. In today's version, she was taken-kidnapped so to speak-and then abandoned in the orphanage.

Because why would a mother ever leave her baby?

Today for the first time Lucy understood that 'birthmom' means that another woman actually gave birth to her-she lived in a body she has never known.

She felt the loss acutely.

I held her as she cried. "I'm afraid. I'm afraid I'll never see her again. And she is my birthmom!"

I cried with her. How confusing. How difficult a thing to grasp at such a tender age, and with such a tender spirit as Lucy's.

I prayed as we cried, for help to help her. All I could do was tell her that I believe Lucy's birthmom is a good person. She wanted what was best for the baby she loved. In my own heart (I couldn't say this to Lucy, not yet, but someday) I believe so simply that she was prompted as to which hospital, what part of the city, how to place her baby in the best care possible until we could find her. All of the subtle promptings that were part of Lucy's welcome as an eternal member of our family scream to me that in some way God's eye was watching over this young, scared mother.

All I could say was "Heavenly Father is watching over her, and I know He loves her."
Lucy asked simply "is Heavenly Father watching me too?"
And I could simply answer "I know that He is".

And I do.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Long Past Holidays...How we decorated

Thanksgiving was clear last year, but for my own record I wanted to post pictures of the day. Thanks to Brother in Law Matt we got some 'before' shots of both the grown up table and the kids dining room... above tablecloth was compliments of the WalMart fabric department, simple ticking fabric

each napkin was tied with a label that our guest used to write something he or she was grateful for.

we enjoyed have several families join us this year, and let them bring part of our delicious dinner. John and I each cooked a turkey; mine was roasted and John's smoked. Both were absolutely delicious. Above you see Brother in Law Dean look on as my older brother Aaron helps John with the massive mound of mashed potatoes.

Sisters Jessica and Jen brought delicious veggies; the brussel sprouts were seriously so good, I'm craving them as I write this.

We've never sat so many for dinner, and it was great to find out that we could swap furniture from our library and piano room, making space for our large swedish dining table right in front of the piano room's picture window. I loved this setting for a dinner party and I'll use this arrangement again and again now that I see it can work.


My entire goal this year was to make decorating more simple and impactful. I didn't want to spend so much time putting up or taking down 'the season'. My hope was to give away an entire box of decorations, and I almost made it. It was still a beast to take down, but it was easier than in years past so I'll keep working on it to pear down and simplify year after year.

The feather trees are a huge addition this year, as I've decided to stop having a 'formal tree' upstairs and a 'kid's tree' down. Next year these white vintage trees will hold some of the most sentimental ornaments from the 'formal tree' and I'll let go of a tradition that became more cumbersome than valuable.

Our advent buckets continue to be the prized tradition-probably because it means that for an entire 25 days our children begin each morning with a piece of candy :)
I love this tradition because each day's bucket not only reveals a sweet and special treat (I begin collecting 'different' kinds of candy all the way back in October.) but there is a message or a scripture or an invitation for our family to come closer to a Christ centered Christmas in some way. This year we also added 'giving days' where an extra bag of candy was found in the bucket and we thought during our morning scripture time of someone we wanted to share it with. The kids then delivered the little treat with an anonymous note of gratitude to that person. My favorite recipients were some neighbors we dearly love and our school's to hear the kids decide who needed a little lift that day, a little extra sweet 'Merry Christmas'

Our snowmen are still actually on the mantle. Today I'll replace them with Valentines hearts, but they stay up 'all winter' and have become a fun collection for me. When I see a just perfect snowman I bring him home to become part of this little collection.

This year's other additions were several boxwood wreaths. I gave away several other wreaths I've had for other homes in year's past and just put these small ones over our pictures and mirrors, tied with apple green satin ribbon. I really liked the simplicity of this decoration, and I'll use it again and again.