March 04, 2015

Sowing in Snow

Here is a glimpse into my life the past few days.  It is not glamorous, it isn't even always fun.  Some days (like yesterday) are awful, some days (like Sunday) are sublime.  I post my life as my testimony that normal life is a gift.  These moments, the good and the difficult, are all part of our journey.  There are ups and downs but we keep on moving forward together.

I hope you know that I cherish these days with my family.  I can do this today because I have hope for tomorrow.

My mother in law shared this quote with me this morning.  It's from Marjorie Pay Hinckley,

"Being a mother at any age is a blessing. But, as we age and our children become interesting and productive adults we really begin to savor the joys of the harvest, the fruits of our labors.  How could we have known when they were younger and the demands so constant that we could ever have the luxury of simply enjoying their companionship?"

Being a mother at this stage IS a blessing.
Morning snuggles with Eve.
One of Leah's many lists-- "Things you need for a hamster".  She checks out a non-fiction book about pets and devises a very in-depth plan for the next pet we should aquire.  I'm not a fan of rodents, but she has just about convinced me.  (Who are we kidding?  I would have bought one Friday, we're just waiting for a Dad to go out of town... I'm kidding, sort of.)
A special mom-date with Leah, grocery shopping and hamster LOOKING.  (She loves me to pick her up early from school.)
Todd and I chaperoned the 3 stake modest prom.  Jakob invited two girls from school.  I was so impressed that they went shopping for dresses just for the occasion.  Aren't they darling?  They were so cute when I explained kids don't bear-hug at Mormon dances, they hold one hand and put the other on the waist or shoulder.  The girls both squealed and said they always wanted to dance that old-fashioned way.  Haha.  We went to Denny's afterwards and they told Jakob he had the BEST parents.  I'm certain he was super embarrassed as we took the occasion to tell stories about when he was little.
A typical morning (lunch making, hair doing, breakfast eating, last minute project finishing).
The lunch station up close.
These little cups are the BEST for sending fresh veggies with ranch.  They don't pop open and you don't have to clean them.
I'm not sure whether Leah and Lily's teachers love that I randomly send One Fish Two Fish treats for Dr Suess' birthday or if they roll there eyes at my last minute surprises.  Ha!
Did I tell you Eve broke her foot?
The doctors couldn't find a fracture, but thought it was broken because she wouldn't walk on it.  After 10 days and a repeat X-ray, a radiologist found it-- on her first metatarsal.  Poor thing.
They didn't have "wainbow" casts, so she picked pink, and then red, and then light blue like Elsa.  (She got her cast changed after x-rays once, and after it got wet the second time.  Just FYI- trash bags are not water resistant.)

I don't have any pictures of the really neat opportunities that I've had the past few days to represent The Church of Jesus Christ on an Interfaith panel, speaking to over 300 Catholic middle schoolers, or speaking at a training meeting to 30 Red Cross workers.  

was a nervous mess as I was preparing to sit next to the most lovely Muslim, Catholic, Baha, and Sikh leaders.  I was literally sick.  Drew was asking me questions as we were lost trying to get to the church and I was stumbling all over myself.  Answering in one minute what your religion thinks of sin and forgiveness, or what your church teaches about homosexuality, or suicide, or the role of woman.  Try talking for three to five minutes about "what are the hot buttons in your religion?"  Yeah, that's harder than it should be, especially to one as verbose as I am.  They told me as we arrived that they were video taping it to publish on their website.  (Ahhhh.)

But, as I was presenting I felt a sweet peace.  I knew as each question was asked just how I needed to respond.  I used some of the things that I had prepared, and many answers I surprised myself.  It was a pretty neat experience.

Speaking at the Red Cross was also spiritual.  I was speaking to a room full of workers who help to set up and run blood drives.  I felt such love and gratitude for them.  People are good.  

I couldn't have done this without the sweet help of a friend of mine who came and sat in the back with my two toddlers while I spoke.  So grateful for her!  After Red Cross, we took a walk around a Destiny Mall.  We rode elevators, escalators, and the Carousel.  SO fun!  We even built a bear...
Eve, in her blue cast, giving her new "Elsa" a bath.  Eve is the sweetest, most cheerful, broken-footed, 3 year old ever.

Whenever anyone asks her what happened to Eve's foot she says in her cute little voice, "We were pwaying (playing) 'Lava' (where the ground is hot lava) and I jumped and twisted my foot on the piwwo (pillow)."  Lava?!! Oh my life.  

(Eve was playing lava when Drew told her to get down from the coffee table.  She tried to jump to a pillow, but missed.  Poor thing.  Her foot wasn't swollen or bruised, you could move it around and she said it didn't hurt.  But, she wouldn't walk on it.  She kept saying, "I'm OK Mom!  See, I can cwawl (crawl)."  I just knew it was broken.)

I can't even tell you what a sweet thing she is in her little cast.  Soo sweet.
Eve loved the carousel!  
It still cracks me up that Ben was terrified on the carousel.  The kid climbs cabinets daily but wasn't too keen on going up and down on a plastic horse.  :)
Rocco is no longer contained in our backyard fence.  (The snow banks are too high.)  Yesterday, he hopped the fence, went into the barn, and killed 2 chickens.  Grrr.  
Yesterday was an awful day in general.  We ended up back in the ER for three more stitches for Ben.  Yes, 3 stitches, 3 times, in the last 3 months.  It was so sad.  (Same place on his chin, this time it just barely opened up.)  Ben fell right as Rocco was killing chickens.  I couldn't imagine taking Eve (with her broken leg) and Ben for stitches the 3rd time.  Oh my!  So grateful my friend met me there and took Eve home with her.  

The ER gave Ben numbing gel on his chin and Versed up his nose.  He was out of it but just laid there calmly while they stitched him up.  Sweet boy.  (Maybe the lollipop helped?)

There was a huge snow storm as I was leaving the ER.  I got stuck on a mountain and had to BACK down a huge hill in my van (I couldn't make it up to pick Eve up from my friend's house) AND then I got the van stuck in MY driveway. 
I carried Ben inside through a blizzard, put him to bed, made dinner, got my boys to help with snow, and went back through the blizzard to get the van pulled out by my neighbor (who also got his own 4 wheel drive truck stuck in his driveway).  It was AWFUL.  Todd was teaching late.
My boys were great snow plow, snow shoveling helpers.

Anyway-- I was feeling pretty down when
my mother in law called this morning.  I said, "I think I'm cursed."  She said, "You are so blessed."  She was right.

These are just the constant days.  They are tough and beautiful all wrapped together.  These are the days of sowing and planting.  Oh how I thank God every day for these eight, strong spirits I am learning to parent.  I know that I am learning and growing each day and someday I will just bask in the luxury of their companionship.  (If I can keep Ben alive that long... oh, how I love that boy.)

"How could we have known when they were younger and the demands so constant that we could ever have the luxury of simply enjoying their companionship?"

That time is coming.
I feel it.
Being a mom is tough and wonderful.
God, grant me the patience and wisdom and endurance and love and ability to deal with my blessings.
Keep us safe, keep us sane, and magnify our loaves and fishes.

I'm still walking forward, through the snow, with my handcart.
I'm trying!
I am happy!!
I am grateful.
Life is good!

February 24, 2015

I am a Mother

"A good woman must constantly resist alluring and deceptive messages from many sources telling her that she is entitled to more time away from her responsibilities and that she deserves a life of greater ease and independence. But with personal revelation, she can prioritize correctly and navigate this life confidently.
The ability to qualify for, receive, and act on personal revelation is the single most important skill that can be acquired in this life."  ("And Upon Thy Handmaiden in those Days Will I Pour Out My Spirit" Julie B. Beck, April 2010)

Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
FOR THE POWER IS IN THEM, wherein they are agents unto themselves.  And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.  
(Doctrine & Covenants 58:26-27)

Isn't that SO powerful?
Women, we have great power within us.
We have power to teach, to love, to organize, to create, to lead, and to give relief.  

For years I have tried to learn the art of nurturing.  I have wrestled with my own natural tendencies, with the philosophy of the world, and with physical and mental opposition.  I believe that there is opposition in every good thing.  I also believe that the power is IN us to do more good than we know.  We are not victims, we are agents, free to act and with great access to heavenly help.

In a talk called, A Mother's Heart, Sister Julie Beck describes a righteous woman as one who, "believes that to be “primarily responsible for the nurture of [her] children” is a vital, dignified, and “sacred responsibilit[y]” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,”Liahona, Oct. 1998, 24; Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102). To nurture and feed them physically is as much an honor as to nurture and feed them spiritually. She is “not weary in well-doing” and delights to serve her family, because she knows that “out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (D&C 64:33)."

In a talk called "Fulfilling the Purpose of Relief Society" Sister Julie Beck in October 2008...

"The only way we can accomplish this is by seeking, receiving, and acting on personal revelation.  The real power in this great worldwide sisterhood lies within each woman. Though we may see ourselves as weak and simple, we all share a noble heritage and can develop a faith that is equal to that of remarkable, faithful women who have gone before us. We have a vital role to play in helping build the kingdom of God and preparing for the Lord’s coming. In fact, the Lord cannot accomplish His work without the help of His daughters. Because of that, the Lord expects us to increase our offering. He expects us to fulfill the purpose of Relief Society as never before."

Today I am adding my voice to that which has been testified by many who live lives of quiet service.  Wealth, fame and ease are not the hallmarks of a successful life.

Today I am remembering that I am not a victim I am powerful to act.  The power I need does not come from external sources, I already have it, I just need to access it.

Today I am studying and praying and listening for the influence of the Holy Ghost in my life.  

Today I am finding great nobility in my call to bring relief to others.  I am capable of more good.  I know it.

Life is such a grand teacher.  I'm grateful to spend one more day learning.

(I love this picture Eve took of me doing what I do...)

Have I done any good in the world today?  Have I helped anyone in need?  Have I cheered up the sad or made someone feel glad?  If not I have failed indeed.

(I'm off to relieve Ben of his mouthful of Legos.  I love my job.)

February 18, 2015

Inter-faith Friendships

I found my soul at Inter-faith.  For the past year I have been a part of an Inter-faith dialogue planning committee and I can't tell you how at home I feel with these beautiful people of many different cultures and faith traditions.  I love these people.  I want to walk behind them and see how they do what they do.  These people know how to love others in word and in deed.  I love them.

Peace in the world will only come as we learn to love people who are different from us.  We can be absolutely devout in our own faith and absolutely loving of those of different or similar cultures who believe differently.  I know it.

This is possible even as it is difficult.

Do you love people who believe differently than you do?  Not just love in a general sense, but are you REALLY friends with those who look, act, worship, or live lives and cultures different from your own?  I think this is one of the hardest, most vulnerable things we can learn to do in this life.

It is easy to be friends with people who think and act and look like you do.  It is harder to really help people feel loved when you live different lives.  How do you do that?

One of my dear friends asked me this weekend, "Jen, do you want to be invited to parties where there is drinking?"  I smiled and answered naturally, "Of course."  She said, "Will you think we're all sinners?"  I laughed out loud and said, "I love sinners!"

This conversation plays over and over in my mind.  I'm not sure I answered well.  

I have made covenants not to drink alcohol.  Because of these covenants, I do think it would be a sin for me to drink alcohol.  I have many friends of other or no religion, I honestly don't think they are evil for drinking.  There are many who drink responsibly in this world, and I think everyone would agree that there are those who drink too much.  I actually don't believe that alcohol is inherently evil (Christ drank wine).  The Word of Wisdom was written "for the weakest Saint".  I love that.  

We could talk for hours about the definition of SIN.  My view of sin might be a bit more universal and gentle than your idea of sin.  I actually find grace and unity in sin where others might feel judgement or pride as we discuss this concept.  I'm not sure that I rate sins for severity, your beer drinking vs my cussing at cookie dough theft.  Sin is a really interesting topic of discussion.  One of my favorite bumper stickers says- Don't judge me because I sin differently than you.  Amen.

But this isn't really about alcohol or sin definitions, it's about inter-faith.  

Inter-faith friendships, inter-faith families, inter-faith parties... how do you do this without offense?

How do you develop friendships and bonds that are deep enough to cover the defensiveness that is natural in these situations?

In this day and age, we almost believe that we can't love unless we have no differences.  We are taught that tolerance trumps and that any difference of belief equals intolerance.  That is hogwash.

You do not have to believe what I believe to be my friend.  Be loyal to me.  Don't talk bad about me or my religion behind my back or in front of me.  Look for the good.  Ask me what I believe so you understand things that seem odd.  Give me the space NOT to drink just as I give you the space to drink.  I will be loyal to you.  Relationships are gifts.  We CAN be different and still absolutely bless each other's lives.  I know it.

The more I think about it, the more my heart swells with the certainty that our similarities far outweigh our differences.  I cherish the differences like I cherish the similarities.

Do not think for a moment that I'm good at this inter-faith stuff.  I'm still learning.  Inter-faith relationships in my own family are still shaky.  I'm a devout Mormon girl, raising eight devout Mormon children and we're weird.  (Sometimes it's hard to get past the Good Little Mormon Girl tattooed across my forehead.)

A man I love and admire was talking about how to measure actual changes made from inter-racial efforts.  He said it's easy to SAY you have inter-racial relationships but when was the last time you actually had someone of another race in your home for a meal?

So true!!  I can SAY I love you, but my actions show I love those who look and act like me.  Ugh.  

I am actually pretty good at opening my home to many different kinds of people.  I want to be better at this.  My life is enriched because of the diversity in my relationships.  With that diversity comes vulnerability.  Comments made by those close to my heart hurt so much more than comments made by strangers.  And so, inter-faith relationships require trust, communication, and love.

Yes, my friend, please invite me to your home where you drink alcohol and I will invite you to my home where we don't.  Tell me about your life and I'll tell you about mine.  We'll laugh about silly children and swap recipes.  I'll make you bread, you pull me out of my house, and we will find that place where we are as different and as similar as sisters.

Because I believe that we are all family and that families (and differences) are beautifully eternal.
I love that.
Life is good.

February 11, 2015

Teenage Boy Birthday

(Jakob wore the same shirt for his 9th and 10th grade school pictures.  That was accidental, but I think he should keep it up for 11th and 12th grade.  Ha!)

I wasn't sure what to do for a 16 year old birthday.  I decided to try a surprise party inviting all the kids on Jakob's Technology team as they were working hard to get ready for states.

They made individual homemade pizzas, ate snacks, played games, played Ping Pong, had cake and root beer/purple cow floats.  It was simple and fun.

Jakob was completely surprised.

I have to say something.  Jakob has always been pretty popular.  I'm not sure where he fits into things here in Tully.  I think he's had a struggle finding close friends.  But, the group of boys we had at our home last Friday were absolutely adorable.  These are really good kids.

Jakob and Drew share friends these days.  Many of these boys are in advanced classes and many come from farming families.  You have never met a group of nicer, more respectful, just down-to-earth good kids.  I'm so grateful my boys have this group of boys to grow up with.

We have always lived in an area with other LDS youth.  My kids are the only Mormons in their High School.  I think it makes me especially grateful for this group of good friends.

I do have pictures, but I'm not sure other parents appreciate me posting their children on the Internet.

I really love having teenagers.
Life is good!

February 10, 2015

The Not So Cowardly Lion

The cutest Dorothy!
(Anna helped out on the stage crew.)
(Her choreography was darling!)
(The poppy field was magical.)
(Oz was my favorite!)

Please excuse my lame phone pictures-- a friend did snap some better pictures for me.

Ellie was funny and animated, she sang two or three solo songs and did a beautiful job.  It was fun to watch.  All the kids were incredible.

I'm amazed at the schools here in Tully, NY.  They have wonderful music and art programs, choirs, drama, and band- all in Elementary school.  I feel so grateful that my children are exposed to good kids, and wonderful teachers.  Our lives are SO enriched by our involvement in this community.

I am very involved in our community.  As I serve, our lives are blessed.  Watching Ellie sing and perform this weekend, I saw gifts and talents developing in her that she could never have learned from me.  And, I was SO, SO grateful for our community.

It has taken us a year and a half to feel it, but these are our people.
Tully- there's no place like home!!!
(See the legs I added to the dip spoons for the cast party- so fun.)

February 07, 2015

What is Talent?

We are somewhat obsessed, as a culture, with finding talent.  The entertainment industry is saturated with shows like The Voice, Pitch Perfect, America's Got Talent, American Idol, Dancing With The Stars, etc..  We value athletes, musicians, actors, dancers, and people who look good.

I think about these things a lot as I'm raising a family.  Part of me believes that my children could become really good at anything that I put money, time, and energy into helping them develop.  I've seen this time and time again, skilled children are rarely born prodigies.  Skilled children are the result of years and years of parental investment.  

I am someone who loves good music, cries at beautiful dancing, is mesmerized by athletic skill, and learns much from those with an aesthetic eye.  I appreciate the diversity of talents even as I contemplate the value we place on different talents.

Why do we value performing above almost any other talent?  

Days before a houseful of Christmas company arrived, my dog ate a plate of chocolate Christmas treats and wrecked havoc on our basement Berber carpets.  When we tried to clean up we ended with a disgusting mess that I was doubtful would ever come clean.

Honestly, all of our carpets were looking pretty bad and I was getting quotes for new carpeting.  On a fluke, I requested an online carpet cleaning referral quote and the next day I was opening my door to a self-employed older gentleman with a carpet steam cleaner he appeared to have rented at the Home Depot.  He charged me $25 per room with stairs free.

I almost turned him away.  With my eyebrows raised I explained that I was expecting a professional carpet cleaning. He smiled and assured me that I would not be disappointed.

I watched this man clean carpets with a skill and finesse I have rarely seen.  He was amazing.  As he cleaned he taught me tricks of the trade.  Here was a wealth of knowledge.  

His main advice was to use very hot, almost boiling water and very little soap.

Like a magician he transformed my rugs, they looked new.  For $125 I was able to clean that which I was prepared to replace for $5000.  Not only that, but he helped me (almost) get sharpie marker out of my leather couches and inspired me to get stains out of my white ikea slip covers with hot water and bleach.  

This humble man honestly changed my life.  Stain removal is not something I have focused on or learned much about.  Now, I see what a cool, valuable skill that is to have.

I have similarly been amazed as I've tasted mouth-watering food cooked in a home without electricity powered only a couple hours a day by a generator,seen intricate clothing sewn on a foot-crank powered sewing machine by a skilled Philipino tailor, listened to an inspiring lesson taught by a simple woman without a high school diploma, or have had technically minded friends fix our electrical shortages, broken pool pumps, and septic issues.  

I value the vast talents of entertainment only because I see the years and years of practice that such a skill demands.  

I'm concerned that as a whole, our culture is failing to see the value in similarly developed skill.  Skills, that while being less likely to produce fame or even wealth, just might be more conducive to creating a happy, fulfilled home life.  

My children have learned much on sports teams, in music lessons and choirs, and performing on stages.  I value these skills even as I am desperately seeking to expose them to skilled teachers of domestic, technical, and culinary skills.  

My soul feels content as they work with their hands planting seeds, fixing engines, building, sewing, cooking, or creating.  To create something beautiful from raw materials is a skill worth encouraging.  

Fixing, designing, arranging, etc., are these lost arts?  Are these skills that we think will just magically develop while we spend hours and hours and hours teaching them to throw a ball through a hoop?  Or better yet, allow them to spend hours and hours of time creating imaginative computer worlds becoming gods of a virtual world with no skills to build a life in this physical world?

Are we placing more value on the ability to appear successful and popular than the ability to actually live a successful and happy life?

The Kardasians have replaced Leave it to Beaver.  I'm certain this isn't progress.

Today, are we are replacing the talent of shopping for the talent of creating?  In our busy life, TIME is a more precious resouce than MONEY.  People are almost amazed if you make anything yourself, and some tend to scorn the fact that you "must not have had anything better to do with your time".

There is something in my soul that gasped when Drew forfeited a spot on the highschool basketball team to spend more time at home and in the barn.  But, as I watch him hang shelves in our closet or masterfully work with animals, I feel his success.  

Talent is deeper than an ability to entertain.  There is much to be learned in life.  Wisdom, skill, and education aren't always accompanied by a university degree, wealth, or fame.

This is what I think about while I fold laundry.

Life is good.

February 06, 2015

Wizard of Oz Cookies

Anna, Ellie and I had so much fun decorating cookies last night.  We are sending them in for the concession stand at Tully Elementary's Wizard of Oz musical.

I'm biased, but I think the lion steals the show... (Ellie is the cutest lion ever.)

Personally, I think tucking little rainbows with the bigger cookies made the packages so fun.
We just taped the bag down in the back-
Todd liked the yellow brick roads best.
There's no place like home!!

February 04, 2015


It was a cold February evening 16 years ago when Jakob took his first breath.  No baby has been more cherished.  This child raised me.  He exceeds me in all but dish-washing abilities.  (If we count dishwasher loading, he might still have me beat.)

Jakob is a kind soul.

While in Kindergarten, he was so excited to announce that tomorrow was pajama day!  He asked if he could bring an extra pair of pajamas in his bag, for a friend who didn't have any pajamas.  I watched as he gathered his pjs and arranged Superman PJs neatly in his backpack and laid The Incredibles out to wear the next day.  Knowing Superman was his favorite I asked why he packed those to lend out.  He said frankly, "Because the Superman ones are the best."

This kindness seeps from him still as he plays with his younger siblings.  At church dances, my heart melts to watch him ask a sweet handicapped girl to dance the last dance.  

Jakob isn't perfect, but he's close.  He gets sassy at times but ALWAYS apologizes quickly.  

I believe Jakob was given to me as a gift.  How blessed I am to see him grow into a sweet, happy, smart young man.

He is neat, organized, confidant, and diligent.  He has a quick sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye.  There is a reason that 4 of his 7 teachers last year chose Jakob for their top student award. (This wasn't a grade thing, it was more of a tracher's choice award.)  

Today Jakob got his braces off (and rainbow colored retainers on- poor guy sounds like he has three jolly ranchers in his mouth)!

Got to spend the afternoon with his favorite mother and three youngest siblings (Lily is home sick).  
(They were so intently filling out the pink form.)
(Oh how these pictures make me smile!
Those tip toes...)
AND got his drivers permit!!
He's growing up...
Sure love that kid!
(Cheesecake... Mmm)

Life is good.
Happy Birthday Kob... 

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