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Five elementary school orchestras play a patriotic medley all at once at this end-of-the-year field trip.

The year is rapidly coming to a close, signaled today by the multi-school orchestra field trip. Our orchestra did so well! The children love playing the Disney songs: when our director announced we were playing “Let It Go,” there was an audible “Ah!” in the audience of children. I was nervous about how they would do on both that song and the group song that all 5 orchestras play all together. But they did WONDERFULLY!

Willing volunteer orchestra director

I sat in awe of the miracle that one willing, diligent volunteer mother can work in tandem with a couple of other volunteer mothers (and fathers, but we rarely have fathers volunteering, understandably). I see it in the happy faces of the children and in the sweet strains of music the children played that seemed so hard back in the fall. All those accidentals! They did it: they learned the music. They played it together musically. Talk about a shining moment!

But we need a music program director

But next year we don’t have a mother to direct the music program yet, and our current mother’s time is over as her sixth grader graduates. It is a tenuous time when I pray that someone will step forward and raise their hand, saying that they will take a turn to serve. When I served as program director, it was such a rewarding experience. Volunteer work is work, but the pay is very sweet.

Decision-making dilemma

There is so much we can do to help in our homes and communities! And it is always a dilemma I face, year to year, season to season, sometimes even day to day, about how and where and how much to serve. I feel so strongly in my heart that my very first priority is at home, and that if my husband or my children fail, that it will be my biggest regret in life. And so I have to make that my first priority.

Times and seasons

I pulled back on volunteering at the school this year, feeling that it was time to focus on my health and my family, giving them more attention than in previous years when I did the music program, when I felt inspired to serve at the school. Both times have been good. I have missed volunteering, but I have felt rewarded by a greater feeling of closeness to my husband and children. Life is never perfectly balanced, organized, or carried out, but there is a feeling of peace that comes from trying to focus on things that matter most.

I had two moments this week–two nights ago and last night–for example, that were the golden moments for trying to be more present with my children. The night before last, it was a note handmade and delivered while I made dinner. Inside the beautifully-addressed envelope, the handwritten note read, “I am so grateful you are my mom. What would I do without you? You are my best buddy.” 😍 Last night I was too exhausted to go to an older child’s concert, so I got my PJs on early and climbed into bed, Anna reading next to me me, while my husband went and watched. While I really would have loved to hear Rebecca’s choir sing, I also savored the quiet moment of just sitting next to Anna, reading together, not rushing to be anywhere. Just being. Just reading. Just quietly happy together.

I visited with a child who is homeschooled but who attends orchestra at our school—a darling, bright girl who may attend a private school next year because she is missing the socializing that happens at school (“The only person I have to talk to is the chair,” she quipped—or something like that! I’m sure her mom and brother would take that comment in stride…). If she doesn’t, she hopefully will be back to play in orchestra, and we have loved having her!

Like a river

I, too, have considered what both homeschool and private school might offer some of my children–I wish we had been able to take advantage of that! But life seems to play out like riding down a river, and while you get to paddle, you don’t design the river, nor the flow of the water, nor the rapids, nor the branches that overhang or the rocks that jut out up from the ground. You have to learn to go with the flow. So far our best option has been public school!

I always wanted our children to be bilingual, to attend a French immersion program. But there wasn’t one in our school, and they didn’t want to change schools into a neighboring district and not be with their friends. So we make choices. And we hope that our choices will affect our children positively. We have felt so blessed with the options we have had and the choices we made!

Heavenly tailored curriculum

From what I can tell so far, the things that matter most aren’t entirely up to us. God is in charge, and he has this magnificent way of designing a curriculum tailored to our individual didactic needs. Opportunities arise that we didn’t initiate but that bless a child’s life. People who influence and help shape our children’s ideas and help develop their talents. I didn’t ever study harp, for example, but circumstances allowed us to take advantage of teachers and programs that were flourishing in our area, and Sarah benefitted. I didn’t play rugby or start a rugby program, but Nate happened to hear about it and wanted to play, and with a little stretching we were able to make it happen. And so it has gone: programs are discovered, desires expressed, resources harnessed and plans made. Sometimes we just show up and are recipients of other’s hard work, and sometimes we contribute our part.

What do they need?

As a mother of 7, it’s a continual question, though: What does one child need? What should they do this year? What should they not do? How can I help them grow the most? What aspect of their life should I focus on and nurture? How can I make it all fit in a manageable puzzle that I can piece together with the time, energy and other available resources?

They grow up

I will say this: I am grateful that children grow up! I love that they learn to take on more and more responsibility. I don’t have to program their lives forever! I love that the older children now come to us and say, “Hey, I was thinking about doing this: what do you think?” and then we get to listen and share our experiences and discuss options and pray for them to make a wise choice. And we sometimes watch with bated breath as they make their choices!

Ah, parenting: quite the meal

I’m so grateful I’ve gotten to taste parenting AND volunteering. All the choices! Sweet and bitter. Satiation and hunger. Meal prep and cleaning up. And feasting! So much feasting in both, but particularly in parenting! So many golden moments that are such delicious rewards!

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How to overcome doubt and fear

Our prophet’s April 2017 general conference address is power-packed. I particularly love the promise that I can overcome doubt and fear by studying the Book of Mormon. I have renewed my commitment to not just listen to or read by to try to really “study, ponder, and apply” what I read in the Book of Mormon.

Today I typed up this quote so that I could post it on the inside door of our bathroom, where I share inspiring scriptures and quotes with my family. I thought perhaps someone else might appreciate being able to print out this quote. It’s very simply made, but I hope it will help lighten another parent’s load as they also try to help their family center their lives on Christ. Just click on the image or this link to go to a printable PDF!

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Getting your laugh back


It’s the first day back from spring break–Monday morning–and I’m JUST getting going! I got out of bed about 9:30 am after a challenging night, which is NOT my favorite way to start the day. But today is going to be a great day: I know it!

I want to share a happy resource to help you before I leave my room: meet my new friend, Meg Johnson!

I met Meg (not in person) online via the Mormon Channel. I listened to a radio interview podcast of her telling her story (“Beauty’s True Depth”) about how she became paralyzed and what has happened in her life since then. I LOVED her voice! (I think we are “kindred spirits,” and she doesn’t even know it! 😁)

Fast forward a year or so, and I was sitting in Relief Society two weeks ago (the women’s meeting at my church), and a friend made a comment about Meg Johnson. I thought how much I would love to share that podcast with my family.

So on Friday morning, when we were cleaning house at the condo where we stayed during spring break, I turned on the podcast. And then, while I was waiting for the linens to dry (we had about 4 hours of laundry…), I explored her online resources.

I love her spirit! She is full of the Spirit! Take a look at her YouTube channel, blog (MegJohnsonSpeaks.com), or other social media accounts. I am so excited to share her with you! The video posted above tells about how she got her laugh back and how Heavenly Father spoke to her and taught her how to do that: singing at the top of her lungs! “Sing away all of those bad feelings!” I hope she brightens and inspires your day like she has mine. 💗

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Primum non nocere, butter, and honey

Today when we came out of Costco where we were shopping for groceries, some said something that caused two of my daughters to almost simultaneously break out into a song from “Anne of Green Gables: the Musical.” I loved hearing them sing the upbeat song together, and I smiled and enjoyed the moment.

First do no harm

It reminded me of the gift of wonderful music as well as the phrase “First do no harm.” Not too long ago, I heard this phrase in conjunction with the Hippocratic Oath (the oath medical students historically take when becoming physicians). Upon reading a little about the oath, I learned that the oath was written in Greek, and so this Latin phrase (Primum non nocere, or “First do no harm”) didn’t come from the oath, but is apparently taught to healthcare students along with the oath.

Feed only good

I have been thinking about this idea recently in the context of what we feed children’s minds. We have such an opportunity to nurture our children’s minds and hearts for good, and it seems to me that this phrase is one of the measuring sticks that I use when it comes to evaluating what literature, music, art, media and games I “feed” my children. If a book (or song, or movie, etc.) contains something that could harm one of my children, then it shouldn’t have a place in my home.

There is enough really good stuff in the world that we don’t need to feed our children the mediocre.

Lyrics and tunes

I am particularly mindful of lyrics to music. Why? The songs I listened to as a child are played back in my mind whenever I hear that song in any setting: an airport, a dentist office, a supermarket. Music is powerful stuff. So I didn’t need any research to tell me that lyrics and tunes stay with us. I believed that “data in data out” (or harvesting what you sow) would be real in the lives of my children. And considering the limitless potential that each of our children has, I monitored what they listened to and read and watched very carefully. I wanted to feed them only the best I could find.

Guideposts and letting go

When our oldest, Sarah, passed through the magical stage of 8-12 years old, I think I began to recognize that our children would have to start making choices on their own more, with guidance and encouragement. We put certain guideposts in place–such as trying not to have any music with unkind or rude language in it. We have a rule in our family that if there is a song that has inappropriate lyrics or cover art, we don’t buy it, or if a child does, my husband or I has the right to delete it from our iTunes library.

Honey and butter

As the children have gotten older and obtained their own digital devices, our control has lessened, as it should. They need to be able to distinguish what is good from what isn’t. They have to evaluate and ask, “How does this book/movie/show/game make me feel? Does it make me want to be better, kinder, more honest and virtuous?” Our children learn that they are responsible for what they put into their own brains and hearts now.

While we don’t generally don’t make decisions for them after they become teenagers, I think our influence continues.  I have seen them come to love (or at least appreciate) many musical genres and choose songs with lyrics that help them want to be good. I worked diligently to provide the “honey and butter” input that would allow them to taste the good so they can know the bad when they “taste” it (see Isaiah 7:15).  I’m grateful for that opportunity to help my children taste the finest literature, art, music, dance, and media that our world has to offer–particularly that which will not harm their precious minds and hearts.

Giveaway

I chose this album for my first ever giveaway because, inspired by my sister, I wanted to share something we love with other families. Go to my Instagram to see details. Giveaway closes 9 pm PST on Wednesday, April 5, 2017.

More music recommendations

For more music recommendations, go here. (This is just a tiny little sampling of the music we love. Today I updated my music recommendations page with many of the musicals we love.)

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Answers to questions

I LOVE general conference! It is a time for peace for me and for my family. When the children were little, it took preparation and patience to watch all the sessions. But now the work has paid off. They all enjoy conference and are willing to listen, especially when they can draw, do LEGOs, knit or take notes while they listen. There are so many resources to help young moms prepare for general conference now! I hope you sit down and watch or listen wherever you are to drink in the peace and inspiration from heaven that general conference has to offer. 💗

Click on the image to go to a printable PDF.

Write down your questions

When I was a missionary, my mission president’s wife invited us to make a list on a piece of paper that had a vertical line drawn down the middle. On the left side, we were to ask our questions. On the right side, we were to take notes of who answered that question and during which session, so we could go back later and review it. I remember I had a question about how I could improve my memory. So I wrote down that question. During general conference, I heard a talk by Elder Neal A. Maxwell who gave an answer to that question. He said,

“While faith is not a perfect knowledge, it brings a deep trust in God, whose knowledge is perfect! Otherwise, one’s small data base of personal experience permits so few useful generalizations! But by searching the holy scriptures, we access a vast, divine data bank, a reservoir of remembrance. In this way, the scriptures can, as the Book of Mormon says, enlarge the memory (See Alma 37:8.)” (“Lest Ye Be Wearied and Faint in Your Minds,” April 1991 general conference).

I was delighted to hear the answer to my question! I have tried to study the scriptures–the Book of Mormon especially–every day.

I had more important questions than that that have been answered, for which I am so grateful.

What questions do you have for God that you would like answered?  Write them down and listen to general conference!

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#notspecialneeds, just human needs

Despite the crazy cat massage, I was really touched by the message of this ad today. (I found out about it when Nate walked into our home wearing colorful, mismatched socks, and I noticed.)

I graduated from university as a special educator. I had an opportunity to work with children who had special needs as I completed my student teaching and also in my job as a special education seminary teacher prior to graduation.

But I never wanted to be a special educator after graduation. I never felt totally comfortable with the way education approached children with special needs. Removing children with individual needs reminds me of racial segregation. Today when I watched this video and saw the conclusion, I felt like they described my feelings–that all children have needs, just like everyone else in our human family.

When it comes to education, I believe each child has particular needs that may not be met by the traditional way of teaching. This isn’t just for children with obvious differences! It is true for ALL children. I believe that educating all children together (mainstreaming children with “special needs”) allows every child to learn from the other, to become more compassionate, to learn to service, respect, protect, and ennoble one another in ways that children naturally do before they learn from adults how to not do that. Children with learning or physical disabilities have talents that can teach those without. There is so much children learn from one another, and that we as adults could learn from working with them together.

When I visited my mission in November 2015, I reconnected with a friend who is the mother of a teen with Down’s Syndrome. She told me about a wonderful school of dance program called DragonFly that is helping children with DS to progress academically. They combine learning “numeracy and literacy” with dance. I reviewed it online, was inspired by it, and wondered, Wouldn’t this approach also help other children not with Down’s Syndrome? Couldn’t we do things like this to help every child?

I have seen some wonderful integration at each of my children’s schools, and I hope this is an upward trend across the nation. I know that having opportunities to work with others who can use a helping hand in the classroom setting has blessed our family’s lives.

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The same God that placed that star in a precise orbit millennia before it appeared over Bethlehem in celebration of the birth of the Babe has given at least equal attention to placement of each of us in precise orbits so that we may, if we will, illuminate the landscape of our individual lives, so that our light may not only lead others but warm them as well.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell, That My Family Should Partake (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1974), 86.

I recently heard this quote will listening to a rebroadcast of a speech by Michelle Marchant, BYU professor of special education. I had read the quote for the first time at Christmastime, when it was printed on the tag of a star cookie cutter, given to us at a Relief Society activity.

I especially love the part that refers to God giving special care to placing us each in the “precise orbits” of our lives. As much as I can tell, God does not leave the sending of children to earth to chance. He is perfect in his timing in such important matters. We are each a deliberate, carefully planned piece in his marvelous plan.

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I walked into my door this morning, after doing a 40 minute carpool to Eliza’s Irish dance performance this morning, just in time to try to help Anna finish up her macarons to take to school. I hadn’t made her a lunch, and I figured she would just have to be late to school. But I came home to some great surprises: Anna had finished making the fillings and the cookies were all finished and arranged on a tray, and my friend showed up at my door to pick her up and take her to school! She and her daughter even waited a few minutes while Anna hurried to finish getting ready–even when I said I could take her so they wouldn’t be late–and she said that she would take care of Anna’s lunch for me since she also hadn’t made her daughter’s lunch either and would make Anna one! AND she handed me a celebration banner that she had made the other day, one for her family and one for ours!

I had just been considering, last night and this morning as I drove home, how blessed I feel with all of the mothers, women, and daughters in my life who work together as a team to get the members of families where they want to be in order to be educated, to develop their talents, and to be stengthened spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally. It is amazing.

Divine help

But it is not without divine help! I have felt Heaven’s hand in all the details of my life this past week, and when my friend texted me asking if I could pick up her daughter from harp, and then I texted her saying I needed to reschedule a music lesson, we were both thrilled at how the timing worked out to bless both of us. I was able to help other moms and children, and they were able to help me, as we performed this dance of feeding, clothing, transporting, and nurturing our children and spouses, helping one another make it all come out even.

“PHIL 413”

It was a delightful irony, while on my way either driving to pick up the “bonus daughter” at her harp lesson or taking the boys to hockey practice, that I saw a car with the license plate “PHIL 413”–and thought of one of my favorite scriptures, Philippians 4:13. It was the scripture whose words I clung to in labor with each of our children, and it is the same words that I cling to now as I wonder on Sunday night, “How am I going to do this week?”

It is a miracle. No one coordinates it all better than Heavenly Father. I don’t know how it is done, but I know that we are given help beyond our own natural abilities and after our diligent efforts to accomplish this work of motherhood!

By the grace of God

My wonderful visiting teachers came yesterday and shared the message about the enabling power of the atonement of Jesus Christ in our lives. This is what I am talking about. Somehow, by the grace of God, we are able to accomplish the work that God invites us to do! It is amazing!

175 Years

Today is the 175th anniversary of the Relief Society. The Relief Society is the oldest women’s organization in the world. Recently the mission of Relief Society was reworded to reflect its emphasis on the atonement of Christ, strengthening women and families, and working in unity to help those in need. This is such an encompassing, embracing mission. I love working arm-in-arm with the angels who surround me, the women in my family, neighborhood, and around the world. By so many daily acts of service, we are indeed accomplishing “something extraordinary” just as Emma Smith said we would!


Did you know Relief Society has been so involved in promoting the welfare of women, children, families, public health, education, and so many other beneficial efforts?

30 years

While I have been blessed by the Relief Society my whole life, I didn’t know how much I loved being a member until I became one after graduating from high school. Now after 30 years, I feel more grateful than ever for all the women who have helped me through college, my mission, young adulthood, and learning to be a wife and mother. I know that Relief Society will be there for me in all the years ahead!

(I wish I had time to write more, to give more specific examples! Another day…)

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“In the name of God, do your duty.”

Reading a book as a teenager is not the same experience as reading (or listening to) it as a person in her late 40’s. Wow, this book is something!

Right off, I must say that there is a ton of profanity in this book, and that the plot revolves around a rape case, so it is not a book you would choose to read aloud to your young children, even though the main character (who is utterly delightful)–Scout–is only 8 years old. I typically don’t listen to or read a book with profanity like this, but somehow it seems to be very much in context and understandable as part of the setting and vernacular. I would definitely recommend knowing your teenager to know if this story would be traumatizing or not. But it is a powerful story, for sure.

Here is what I love about it, so far (since I just finished the part where Atticus Finch, the father and defense attorney in the story, gives his closing speech to the jury–hence the title of this post): Atticus represents honor, nobility, integrity and civility towards all men. He is not only the educated man, he is also the thinking man, the moral man, the one who refuses to ignore the criminal in exchange for going along with the crowd. He’s the kind of man a child would want for his father.

Atticus’ daughter Scout reminds us of the pure goodness of unfettered and innocent childhood, of the wonderful, candid honesty that children possess. And she is hilarious.

And so many other characters and descriptions made me laugh out loud while I’ve been listening! Sissy Spacek does a phenomenal job portraying the characters with her voice.

I started listening to this book as I ran, since I’m trying to run longer mileage as I prepare for my half-marathon (…which scares me, so I need a good story to make the runs go by faster…). Then I have turned it on to keep listening as I drive and work and blog about quick dinners because I have to find out what happens! I cannot remember the conclusion from when I read it in high school. I just remember thinking it was a good book back then.

So off I go to finish listening. And I won’t let you know so that I don’t spoil it for you.

(But I will say that the breakfast description after the trial made me cry. And I love Miss Maudie and Calpurnia. And the title of the book and Atticus’ last name. And Scout’s conclusion: “We’re making a step. It’s just a baby step, but it’s a step.” And I agree with Eliza: this book is sad.)

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Tonight at 5:30 pm I said a prayer to ask for help figuring out what to make for dinner. It had been one of those days and one of those weeks when I didn’t get meals planned for the week or the day and wondered what I could make at this late hour with my low blood sugar and blank mind.

I peeled an orange and, while eating the sections, surveyed what was in the fridge.

I noticed some good items:

  • hazelnut 12-grain bread from Kneaders
  • baby “creamer” red and white potatoes
  • Brussels sprouts

I put the bread in a basket and sent it with willing hands to the table. I was grateful that the table was already set. That’s why I set the table in the morning when I empty the dishwasher. It means that at least one part of dinner is ready when it comes time to make it.

Then I started some water boiling in a pot and rinsed the baby creamer potatoes. Once the water was boiling, I dumped them in and turned to the Brussels sprouts.

Anna loves them, and so after I turned on the broiler on high and rinsed the mini cabbages, together we chopped off the little ends. Then she put them in a mixing bowl, poured some olive oil over them, and tossed them in it. Then she pulled out 4 baking sheets (well, 1, but 3 fell on the floor in a loud racket that surprised us all) and poured the Brussels sprouts on the baking sheet. She salted the Brussels sprouts and we put the tray into the oven.

Then I got some frozen chicken tenderloins out and rinsed them. I pulled out a bottle of Boar’s Head Deli Dressing and poured some in the bottom of the frying pan, turning it to high. I zested a lime, sliced it in half, and juiced half the lime into the pan. After adding the chicken, I covered the chicken with a lid. After a few minutes, I turned down the heat to medium high, added the lime zest around the pan as well as perhaps a tablespoon of minced ginger, and let it cook for a few minutes before covering it again. I cooked the chicken for maybe 5 more minutes or so. Then I added some mini carrots to the pan and covered it.

After cooking it for perhaps 5 minutes more, I turned off the heat. By then the potatoes had finished, and I had drained and added some butter, salt and pepper.

The sprouts were done after 10 minutes under the broiler. I turned off the oven and left them in so they would stay hot. When the chicken was done, we put everything into serving bowls and ate.

I called the chicken was “lime ginger surprise” because the deli dressing, and just because recipes with the word “surprise” in the name always crack me up. I got a few smiles to match the name.

And you have to say surprise “soo-prize.”

My prayer was answered. A yummy meal resulted, and we had a nice visit together while enjoying a hot meal.

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