I let my kids climb up the slide

In the last 11 years, I’ve spent endless hours playing with my kids at the playground. In every park we’ve explored, I’ve discovered that there are few crimes more hainous in parenting than that of allowing your children to go up the slide. Indeed, mothers and fathers everywhere can be heard chastising their children from the woodchips, “honey, slides are for going down, not up!”

What kind of a terrible parent would allow such reckless, abhorrent behavior? A delinquent child who participates in such activities will certainly land himself behind bars in years down the road. And the parent who turns a blind eye to this atrocity?! The nerve.

Well, I let my children climb up the slide. In fact, I encourage it. Of course, if other children are going down then that’s another story. But as long as they have the slide to themselves, I say climb away!

I also let them spin in the swings. I let them climb trees, go barefoot in the grass, get muddy, and play with sticks.

Let me tell you why…

Its good for them! Getting kids outside, allowing them to move unrestrained, and giving them opportunities to challenge their bodies in new ways is not only good, but vital to their development. Going up the slide improves motor control and strengthens muscles in the upper body. Using the slide in ways that are often “wrong,” like going down head first or feet first on the belly activates different parts of a child’s brain.

Many preschool curriculums have lessons teaching children about their five senses. But did you know there are more senses than the five we focus on? Two often overlooked and so very important are our proprioception (an awareness of the position and movement of the body) and vestibular sense (the sense of balance). All of our senses, combined with other factors, are significant to development, and when they aren’t used and developed, or are overused, studies have shown that problems can occur–emotionally, physically, mentally, and socially. Something that is increasing at an alarming rate in our schools.

In Angela Hanscom’s book, Balanced and Barefoot (which is one of my all-time favorites) she says:

There is a common thread that runs through the development of healthy motor, sensory, social-emotional, and cognitive skills. Any time there is a kink in that thread, typically a result of not getting enough time spent exercising these skills, your child is at risk for a range of problems, from having difficulty making friends to paying attention in school to controlling emotions to even losing the ability to imagine– not to mention being at risk for a range of physical injuries.

So what can we do? I’m no expert, and my kids are a far cry from perfect. But I’ve seen the positive effects that getting out in nature can have–on me and on my four boys. I’ve witnessed how unstructured play has benefited their development in so many areas, especially emotionally. Experiencing the outdoors with all their senses, and even exploring playground equipment in ways that might go against what is seen as socially acceptable has given them stability, balance and confidence. I’m a firm believer in developing the vestibular and proprioception senses, and when we encourage our kids in these ways, we are doing just that. (and, side note, vestibular is just a cool word to say, right??)

I’m sure you’ve seen the numbers. The average 8- to 18-year-old spends more than seven hours with a screen in front of them each day. Experts say children should spend at least three hours actively playing outdoors. For toddlers and preschoolers, the recommendation is five to eight hours outside actively playing. In a society where phones, tablets, computers, and TVs are our constant companions and children are found more often indoors and sedentary than ever before, I challenge you to give nature a try. Give them room to explore without the constant need to correct or redirect. Let them climb in a tree, jump across across a stream, scramble around some rocks, balance on a log, spin in the grass. Let them use all their senses to experience the world. And if you’re feeling extra rebellious, let them climb up the slide.

What I Learned from taking a Three+ Year Break from Facebook

It was early October and the 2016 election was only a month away. Every morning when  I opened the newspaper the editorial section seemed to be exploding with angry opinions and fingers pointing in every direction. And if the paper was bad, Facebook was oozing with disgust, frustration, and banter from every political side. That particular morning I found myself, like most days, with a couple minutes to spare before four little boys came bounding down the stairs. And, like most days, I settled into my favorite third stair by the kitchen and mindlessly navigated my phone to Facebook. 

As I scrolled through my feed, I felt my heart sink. Don’t get me wrong, I have opinions, and I know how important politics are. But these were my friends and family, and there was so much hatred being blasted on both sides, sometimes between two people I knew. I loved these people, and thanks to Facebook, I was seeing an appalling side if them I wished I hadn’t seen. 

I turned off my phone and made a split second decision. Until three weeks after the election, I was taking a break. No more Facebook until everyone was back to posting those adorable pictures of their kids, funny memes, and explaining in mouth-watering detail what was on their dinner plate. I liked all these people, after all, and I kind of wanted to keep it that way. I uninstalled the Facebook app and decided to click on music any time I found myself picking up my phone without thinking.

I gave it a few weeks after the election before I decided to get back on, knowing feelings would still be raw for a while after the results were in. It had been almost two months since I made my dramatic (albeit completely unknown) exit from the Facebook world, and the idea of getting back on actually made me nervous! What friends had gotten married or had a baby while I was gone? Who had lost 47 pounds and had transformed into a supermodel? The Halloween costumes. I had missed the Halloween costumes! What if people thought I was terrible for not liking their pictures for weeks?

It didn’t take me long to learn that two months in Facebook land equates to an eternity of scrolling. Within five minutes my mind had gone numb and I realized it would be unrealistic to ever catch up. The idea of sifting through months of life for hundreds of people was completely overwhelming. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I was that I didn’t want the responsibility of Facebook every day of my life. I turned off my phone and never went back.

I really don’t think Facebook is all bad, and there are certainly things I miss. People have gotten married and babies entered this world while I remain completely in the dark. Friends have experienced miscarriages and loss, and I have missed opportunities to mourn with them as they’ve grieved on social media. My friends’ kids have grown up and in my mind they’re still toddling around in diapers. I’ve missed so many birthdays. Those things I do regret. I see the benefits and all the good that comes from staying in touch, and I certainly don’t want to condemn or discourage anyone who loves Facebook. It has a lot to offer. But, if you find yourself unhealthily comparing your body or accomplishments to others, feeling like it’s taking over your time, giving you unrealistic expectations of your relationships and the world around you, or making you dislike people you otherwise love, then maybe a break would help. Here are a few things that I’ve learned.

I stopped worrying about things that were out of my control. Maybe I’m totally weird, but seeing post after post about childhood cancer, families facing inexpressible tragedy, and all other manner of sadness weighed on me like I can’t explain. I felt so much pain for so many people, most of whom I had never met. It had started to consume me, and soon I began to think it was only a matter of time before every one of those horrible things hit my own home. Empathy is good. Letting empathy consume you to depression? Not so good. I was definitely hitting the not-so-good levels. Now I can face heartache in a much healthier way, taking it in manageable doses.

I compared myself (and my family) a little less to the people around me. It’s only natural to post your most flattering pictures for the world to see. We tend to compare our absolute worst (or our husband’s, or our children’s…) to other people’s social media best (which sometimes isn’t even real at all). Taking a step back helped me to appreciate what I have a little more with more realistic expectations.

I found myself calling, writing, or texting friends when they were on my mind instead of checking in on them via facebook. I completely admit, not being on Facebook has made me loose touch with so many friends. It’s a quick and easy way to get caught up and visit. But personally, I rarely communicated, just looked. It gave me a false sense of being in touch. Calling or emailing back and forth with old friends has been a much more real and fulfilling way for me.

I started taking pictures for ME. My mindset went from, “Oooh, I need a picture of this to put on Facebook!” to, “Hey, I want to remember this moment ten years down the road.” Maybe Facebook is a good way to record memories for some, but I never used it that way, so this change was good for me.

I started playing with my kids for THEM. I once witnessed a friend bribe and yell at her reluctant children to pose with her next to a snowman she had built while they cried on the sidewalk. The next day that same picture was on Facebook with the caption, “Just another fun snow day out with my kids!” I was dumbfounded. Had I done similar things too without realizing?? Possibly. I found quickly after getting off Facebook that my motive for playing with my kids no longer revolved around keeping up a pretence. I played with them because they needed me to, and because I wanted to.

I stopped feeling sorry for myself for being left out. This one is kind of silly, but occasionally friends or family would post pictures of them all together. And me? I was cities or states away, uninvited. I completely understood being left out, I wasn’t even around. But sometimes it really stunk. What I found when I got off of Facebook is that, when you don’t know you’re being left out, it’s hard to feel that way!

I had more time. Those little pockets of time added up. I decided to start practicing the piano again. I read about twice as many books. I attempted (and failed) a couple carpentry projects. It wasn’t anything huge, but it was something.

Most importantly, I finally remembered that my worth didn’t depend on anyone else. I didn’t need the validation of 42 people liking my post, a person I hardly ever talked to in high school telling me what cute kids I had, or the prideful satisfaction that my hair hadn’t gone gray yet. I started to realize that I could simply be me without all the fanfare. That was the best feeling of all.

Its not like I was on Facebook all the time, but even still, taking a step back from social media has been a surprisingly needed change for me. I honestly feel happier. I know there is good out there, and I know many people find joy in using it as a tool to stay in touch. I’m happy for you. Maybe someday I’ll go back, and I hope if I do I can use it for exactly what it is: a tool to communicate with those I love and not let it control me. But, if you’re struggling, I challenge you to take a little break. It might just change your life.

What I’d Tell My Pre- 4 Kid Self

Long ago, while I was a mom to just one little boy, I had a friend. She had five kids, and had grown up with nine brothers and sisters. She made parenting seem like a cinch. One day while I was visiting with her, she said to me, “You know, you just aren’t really a mom until you have two kids.” I gaped at her wondering why on earth anyone would say such a thing to a new mom with only one child. My mind was reeling. Not really a mom?? I am running on 2-hour incraments of sleep every night and averaging 3 showers a week. I change at least 8 diapers a day, cook with a baby on my hip, and get mother goose rhymes stuck in my head on a regular basis. How could you say I’m not really a mom?? I tried not to take it personally. Coming from her, I knew she wasn’t trying to be rude or condescending, she was simply stating what she saw as fact.

Three kids later, I think I finally understand what she was trying to tell me. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say you aren’t really a mom when you have one child, but you are certainly an entirely different kind of parent than you would be if (or when) you have more.


When I had my first son, I was young and naive. My knowledge of infants was limited to a couple parenting books and the advice of wiser, more experienced mamas. Babysitting didn’t prepare me near enough for what I was experiencing, and I was trying so hard to do the right thing, thinking I had finally figured something out, only to find myself back at the drawing board. I worried about EVERYTHING. I thought I had to be perfect, my son had to fit the text-book description with each benchmark, and that if another mom had a differing opinion on parenting then I must be doing it wrong. I tried to please everyone. Sometimes I looked at other moms who had it all put together with complete awe, while on other occasions I saw parents and turned a judgemental eye thinking that I had it figured out so much better.

I think that the biggest difference between then and now is that I thought I had to be perfect and have perfect kids. Once I went from man-to-man defense to zone, I found that neither will ever happen, and that’s totally ok!

If I could sit down with that naive, young mom I was back then, I’d love to tell her a few things. Not that I have it all figured out now or that I’m better at this parenting thing than I was back then, but each new child and 10 years have given me a little more experience.

1. Don’t worry so much about what everyone else thinks. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a mom, it’s that everyone has an opinion on parenting. Not only that, everyone has an opinion on how YOU are parenting. When it comes to being a parent, you will rarely (if ever) be able to please everyone. Back then, I remember feeling like I was drowning in everyone else’s opinions and feeling terrible and dejected when someone thought I’d made a wrong parenting decision. Not much has changed today, but now I’m trying harder to focus more on what I feel is right for my own family and following that inspiration. Maybe my 90-year-old self will have this figured out!

2. The best gift you could ever give is time. “Sometimes in life we become so focused on the finish line that we fail to find joy in the journey.” Dieter F. Uchtdorf
The journey of motherhood goes so fast, I wish I could go back and remind myself to give more time to those that occupy my heart and less to the distractions that seem to take up more than they should.

3. Don’t judge. You just never know. You never know what is going on in that person’s life. You never know when you will be in the same position.

4. Kids don’t know everything. The other day I asked my 4-year-old to clean up some spilled milk. “Just grab a washcloth and wipe it up!” He rummaged through the drawer and pulled out a giant towel. “A washcloth, T! Not a towel.” Turns out, he had no idea what a washcloth is…how, I have no idea. Sometimes I find myself expecting my kids to know things, like how to act in certain situations or how to do something that seems so simple, when they’ve never been taught. I forget that they aren’t little adults, and there are things that they simply need to know and practice before I can have expectations.

5. Your kid has his own personality. Let him be him. I have four boys with vastly different natures. Learning to appreciate each one and not expecting them to be something that aren’t has been monumental in the way I interact with my kids. It certainly isn’t easy, but I hope in the end they will be glad for who they are and not try to be something they’re not.

6. Average is a good place to be. I spent way too much time worrying that my kids would be top of the class. That they would potty train early, know their abc’s, tie their shoes, and be reading before any of their classmates. I wanted them to be the best. I’m so thankful that I quickly learned the beauty of letting go of all that pressure, on them and on me. Middle-of-the-road is a great (and I’d argue healthy) place to be!

7. Water the flowers, not the weeds. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chanted this to myself as my toddler has thrown himself into a tantrum or my older kids have frantically done their forgotten homework minutes before the bus arrives. Finding and pointing out the good in others, especially our kids, I really believe could change the world.

8. Be the kind of mom that’s YOU. Don’t try to be something you aren’t. The day I realized I just wasn’t the kind of mom who threw giant birthday parties for her kids was both a disappointment and a relief. As much as I wanted to be that kind of mom, it just wasn’t me. I realized that I could do other things to make my kids feel loved. We all have our strengths, even in raising little human beings. Capitalize on that!

9. Appreciate the moment. Savor the good. Motherhood just isn’t all roses and sunshine. But so many roses and sunshine do come! Taking time to really savor those moments makes the harder times not seem so bad. And when the clouds cover the sun and the roses seem to wilt, those better memories can remind us that the roses will bloom and the sun will shine again.

10. Forgive yourself. “Motherhood is a choice you make everyday, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is…and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong.” Donna Ball

If I could go back in time, I would tell myself that so many exciting things are ahead. I’d tell myself that this will stretch me in ways I didn’t know possible, that I will be a different mom down the road than I am right then. And that’s ok.

I’d tell myself that motherhood is embarking on the grandest adventure anyone could imagine. The waters are deep and the waves can be mountainous, but the journey is one that you will never regret.

Legacy

So, I can juggle. And not to brag or anything, but I’m pretty darn good. I’m talking four balls in the air, pins, rings, with a partner, bouncing… Yep. I’ve got some mad skills. I helped start a juggling club in elementary school called the J.I.V.E team (acronym for Juggling Is very Educational–pretty catchy, eh?) back in the day. We performed at countless nursing homes and elementary schools over my grade school years.

Fourth grade was the height of my juggling career. I remember pulling out the rings and making my way to the front of that nursing home crowd. In my mind’s eye I saw my future before me: on stage to thousands chanting my name, flames bursting from the end of my pins. All I needed was that Barnum and Bailey scout to discover me!

To be fair, all students who attended Ms. Finnigan’s and Ms. Steffy’s PE classes also became accomplished in the art of throwing and catching objects. Our teachers had a serious passion for juggling. One of my earliest memories of school was music blaring and brightly colored scarves littering the air of our little gym. Once scarves were mastered, beanbags began to fly. Before we hit second grade, almost all of my classmates could have been recruited to the circus.

Today, my audience consists of four little boys and their occasional friends who stop by. They smile and roll their eyes. If only my kids knew how totally awesome their mom once was, juggling to a roaring crowd of 80-year-old grandparents. Yep, those were the days.

The important thing is, Ms. Steffy and Ms. Finnigan left a legacy. Their passion for juggling influenced hundreds of children, and that totally random skill is now a part of a next generation’s lives.

Other teachers, mentors, and friends have left their passions imprinted on me as well. In 3rd grade, Mrs. Chamberlain gave an awkward, shy girl with a hideous bowl cut a chance to shine. She cared about making others feel important, especially those who needed a little extra love. Her legacy: Compassion. Mrs. Miller and Mrs. Schenk in 9th grade spent years encouraging and engaging many hesitant writers and readers. I’m sure Mr. Catt thought it was hilarious teaching me, a quiet, follow-the-rules, straight A soccer player, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin on the guitar. He showed me I didn’t have to fit a mold. Regina, my boss through High School, is the hardest working person I know. Her way of giving her all and treating her workers with respect is a trait I’ve always admired. Mrs. Alexander helped me see potential in the kids I student-taught, even when it sometimes felt hard to see. My dad: patience and service. My mom: listening and kindness. My sister: humor, positivity and friendship.

When my grandkids sit around a table recalling memories of their old Grandma Chelsi, maybe they will smile when they remember my mad juggling skills. More than that, I hope they will remember me for the things I’ve learned from amazing people that have had an impact on my life. Kindness, patience, compassion, positivity, service, a listening ear, a friend, a hard worker, someone to cheer others on. I certainly have a long ways to go and have made more than my share of mistakes, and sometimes I feel as far from reaching that as juggling in Barnum and Bailey Circus. But that, more than anything else, is what I hope I can leave behind.

What kind of legacy will you leave?

Famous Last Words–things we say as (or about) parents that maybe we shouldn’t

A couple nights back I was talking to a mom at my son’s 4th grade basketball practice. In the course of our conversation she asked how old my other boys were. When I told her that I have a middle schooler, her response was, “Oh! Well then, you have this little kid stuff all figured out!” “Why yes,” I replied. “I am well versed in all things little kid and know all the answers.”

Haha! Just kidding. I most definitely didn’t say that! No, no, no. I  laughed and thought instantly of how my preschooler had just thrown me for a total loop that morning with his stubborn determination to not go to gymnastics because it’s boring, thank you very much. And, naturally, with my wealth of knowledge and extensive experience in little boy, in addition to just finishing How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will talk by Adele Faber, I handled every little bit of it wrong. Coincidentally, the book even went through a scenario earily similar to the very one I was seeing play out in front of me. and what did I do? The very thing that she covered in the “Don’t Ever Do This” section.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in parenting, it’s that every time I smugly think to myself, “I have this parenting thing all figured out!” my children make it their sole purpose in life to prove me wrong. 

This morning I’ve been thinking of other things we adults like to say that would probably just be better left unsaid. You never know when you could have to eat those words later. Here are a few:

My child will NEVER… Unless this sentament is followed by “…never have the anatomy of a caterpillar” its probably best to just completely remove this thought from your mind. As an independently thinking human being, you have NO idea, pre-toddler, if said future toddler will sprawl out in the grocery store and throw a tantrum over ice cream sprinkles. You just don’t. And until you’ve been there, it’s safe to say you might handle it entirely differently than you think you will. Rule of thumb, unless you’re raising a robot…just don’t go there.

What that kid needs is a good… talking to? Spanking? Take your pick, as long as it is in reference to what a parent is, in your opinion, doing wrong. Instead, it could be more helpful to try, what that parent needs is… a friend, some encouragement, the benefit ofthe doubt, an extra hand, a couple hours to take a shower and feel human again, a smile, a text, a meal, a playmate for her kid, to cut you in line at the grocery store, a hug, monetary help, a listening ear…

I’m going to enjoy every minute of being a mom! Being a mom is incredible. So is marriage, playing an instrument, running a race, or playing a sport (though not all on the same level of incredible, of course). I think we can all agree that these things have challenges, hurtles, and frustrations. That doesn’t make them any less important or you less skilled at it. And doesn’t overcoming all of the challenges and experiencing such a breadth of emotions make it all the more worth it? I wonder if parenting were completely and utterly wonderful every second, if we would find it so deeply rewarding and amazing as it is.

My kid is such a good sleeper. Jinx! I’m 93% sure my kids always take this sentence as permission to wake me up 5 times the next night. “Good sleeper, eh?” They smugly say to themselves. “I’ll show her!”

Another baby? You do know how that happens, don’t you? “Well, no! Please do enlighten us!” Said no one ever.

When you have kids you’ll understand. I was talking to a friend a while back who hasn’t been able to have children after several years of trying. She confided in me about how much it hurt when someone has made this comment. She would love to understand, but for whatever reason, the opportunity had not come yet. I hope we will all make an effort to not be one who causes pain for others because of our words.

Sometimes I think how much easier it would be if I could just program my kids like a robot to do and act exactly how I want. Or, if I could just read a parenting book and have it filed away into my brain so I knew precisely what to say in each and every scenatio. Maybe part of a healthy parenting diet is eating some of our words every day. I have certainly ate my fill! This parenting gig is complicated, and getting it all figured out can feel like trying to reach the top of an escalator that’s taking you down. But, if you ask my kids, that is wildly more exciting, fun, and satisfying than just letting the escalator take you in the direction it’s going! And maybe that’s how parenting is too.
 

Bedtime Blues

The Clock had just chimed 11pm when my husband and I finished brushing our teeth and we heard the faint sound of music. It was a school night and our oldest, then a 4th grader and notorious for never wanting to sleep, was singing. Seriously?! Exhausted, I trudged my way across the hall and harshly whispered to him for the sixth time that night to just go to sleep. The trouble was, R wasn’t just singing to himself. All four of our boys shared a bedroom.


Yep, all four. It sounds crazy, I know. But, apart from the occasional 11pm solos, it worked! Sure, when one woke up at 5am, all 4 were up at 5am. When one pair of socks got left on the floor, suddenly we were swimming knee high in little boy clothes. When toothpaste got on the counter, toothpaste was covering every surface imaginable. When pillow fights ensued, it was full on war. When we sent them to their room to get pjs on, we might as well have announced it was time for WWF wrestling. Someone was always complaining about the bedtime story choice (especially a certain 4-year-old that is so vehemently opposed to Harry Potter you’d think he were a supporter of You-Know-Who). And the shoes! Do you know how many feet four boys have, and how many shoes that equates to?? They were always missing shoes, finding shoes in random places, and wearing the same shoe but in two different sizes.

Ok, maybe it was a little crazy. But they were contained. Their toys were contained. I liked having them all in one spot near us in case some crazed lunatic broke into our house. Bedtime could all be done in one fell swoop–stories, prayers, lights out, done. And I attribute the fact that they all could sleep through a zombie apocalypse to their shared living quarters. I would have happily continued on that way forever. But…


Over winter break we decided it was finally time. We had talked about moving the older two to the spare bedroom downstairs for years, and they were beyond ready for their own space. After several delightful hours of moving beds and furnature here and there (few things in life elicit such joy for me than rearranging a room, much to my husband’s constant frustration), our boys and all their belongings were separated. The delight lasted just long enough to organize the closet, and then the reality began to sink in. I didn’t expect it to be a sad occasion, but as we climbed into bed that night, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of gloom creep through me. We had talked for years about moving bedrooms when they were older. Older! How did all that time pass, and how did our four little boys grow up to be not so little any more? While moving rooms wasn’t a terribly significant change in the grand scheme of things, for me it represented in a small way moving on to a new stage of life.

The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.

Kakuzu Okakura, The Book of Tea

Whether our current changes are getting married, starting a family, sending a child off to their first day of kindergarten or college, going from full house to empty nest, retirement, and whether it is welcome or not, change can be brutal. Time is relentless about bringing a new stage of life, and that’s just something I may never be able to get used to.

I’ve also found, however, that each change has brought new and exciting experiences, unexpected adventures, and hidden blessings. As much as I’ve wished for my kids to stay little, the awesomeness of having boys that can go on adventures, carry on a intellegent and interesting conversation, and be so independent is definitely undeniable. While I miss having a toddler to chase after, I love who my kids are growing up to be and getting to be a part of that. And I wouldn’t change that for the world!

No matter what crossroads you find yourself, I hope you can appreciate where you’ve been, relish the memories you’ve made, and recognize the knowledge you’ve gained. I hope you can live in the moment, because too soon it will be in the past. And I hope you can look to the future with a brightness of hope, because “there are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” C.S. Lewis

And tonight I’m going to be thankful that my boys have so many fun memories and plenty of lessons learned from sharing a room all together. I’ll be relieved that now if R decides to grace us with a rendition of Row, Row, Row Your Boat at midnight he will only be waking up one brother. And I’ll look forward to tomorrow, knowing it will bring new changes that, whether I like it or not, will add to this beautiful tapestry of life.

Stop Shoulding on Yourself

I have a confession. I’m not on the PTA. I still have my Christmas decorations up, I ate a piece of chocolate at 7:05 this morning, and my biggest accomplishment this past year has been organizing my linen closet and reading bedtime stories. Some days I don’t even get a shower.

And I absolutely hate the question, “so…what’s new with you?”

To be fair, it’s not so much the question as the lack of an answer I seem to have at this point in my life. There isn’t much glamor in explaining in excited detail how you discovered how to fold a fitted sheet. And when everyone else seems to be accomplishing so much and lighting the world on fire, that question is especially hard to swallow.

Sometimes I wish success was measured in how many scrapes you’ve doctored and kissed, the numer of times you’ve googled how to do a 3rd grade math problem, or the number of legos you’ve tripped over in your lifetime. Then I’d be feeling pretty darn accomplished.

This morning alone I’ve thought of at least 20 things I should do. I should try to exercise, I should offer to babysit for a friend. I should bring dinner to our neighbor, volunteer at the homeless shelter, clean the bathrooms, get my responsibilities done for church, invite a new family over for games, finish at least one of the books in that pile a mile high, go for a run, help out at the kids’ schools, work on the alphabet with my preschooler, find a face cream that will get rid of wrinkles, practice the piano, take my kids for a bike ride, get a job, go back to school, remodel our very 70s house, plan an exotic vacation, solve world hunger, and invent a cure for cancer. Not to mention get a shower. Then I’d have a good response to what I’ve been up to. And, as I come up with more and more shoulds, I feel more and more guilty for how little I feel I do.

I was recently visiting with a group of friends. One amazing lady, who has given so much and spent her entire life serving others, expressed how she felt like she was being pulled a million different ways and should be doing this and that. Meanwhile, her husband is undergoing serious cancer treatments and her focus for the last couple years has been getting him healthy and helping him every day. One of our friends interupted. “Stop shoulding on yourself! Right now your only should is exactly what you’re doing.”

Stop shoulding on yourself. I can’t tell you how many days I’ve needed to hear that! I think we often feel stretched across miles and miles of “shoulds” and forget that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with focusing on the things that need our attention most of all. How often do we should and should our days away, making ourselves feel guilty, exhausted, and unsuccessful? How often does the weight of the world seem to only rest on us, and we feel no one else can carry that load?

The truth that maybe we all need to learn is that there will always be shoulds that we shouldn’t get to.

The truth is that it’s ok to say no.

It’s ok to ask for help.

It’s ok to do what you can and let some things slide.

It’s ok to take care of yourself a little. It’s hard to draw from an empty bucket.

The truth is, maybe we all need to stop shoulding ouselves and just do the best we can, then when we feel we can do more, try to lighten someone else’s load who feels they are drowning in the shoulds of their day.

We aren’t meant to do this alone, and we aren’t meant to kill ourselves trying to do it all. When you’re asked “so…what’s new with you?” and you wish you could answer something grand and awe-inspiring but only come up with a closet of nicely folded sheets and a pile of picture books, that’s totally ok. You aren’t failing, and what you’re doing is important.

Maybe success should be measured in how many scrapes you’ve doctored and kissed, the numer of times you’ve googled how to do a 3rd grade math problem, or the number of legos you’ve tripped over in your lifetime. Maybe it should be measured in how you’ve cared of a sick family member, the love you’ve given over a lifetime, or the words of encouragement you gave to someone younger and less experienced than you. Because, though it sounds so mundane and lackluster, those are the shoulds in life that really shouldn’t wait.

Let Him In

Years ago when I was in high school, our church youth group decided to go caroling. We made up several plates of Christmas goodies, and our leaders put together a list of houses we could sing to. The night came, and we loaded up into cars. Excited and looking forward to spreading a little Christmas cheer, we jumped out of the vehicles and knocked on the first door. As we heard locks sliding and the door creaked open, we began our first song. Not three words in, the door slammed in our smiling, eager faces. Shocked and confused, we placed our first plate of goodies on the porch and returned to the cars. The next house proved to be even less friendly. As we knocked and began caroling, we found our voices drowned out by rock music being blasted through the front window. House after house we were rejected one way or another. A lady rushed past us with a hurried apology as we sang and she jumped in her car and drove away. Another slammed door, a porch light being turned off and curtains pulled closed immediately after we knocked. By the time we reached the last house, all of the girls were in tears. We felt so rejected, so hated, and so incredibly discouraged. Who were those unkind people, and how could they be so cruel? With the encouragement of our leaders we skeptically approached the final house. As the door opened, we slowly started to sing. Our carol grew louder and more confident as the couple at the door stood smiling, and joy filled our battered souls. With little pause between songs, our voices rang out, “Hark the harold Angel’s sing…” and the couple stepped out on the porch and beckoned us to follow them around their house. We had just finished our second song and had just started “Silent Night” when we stepped into their barn next to their horse pasture. Tears streamed down our faces as we all crowded around the scene a young couple dressed in wool clothes holding a baby swaddled in a small blanket, shepherds kneeling next to the manger. I’m not sure how those visitors had felt those many years ago that had come to see the baby that would be the savior of the world, but after such a traumatic night, the warmth and love in that moment standing in that barn felt so real.

When our song was finished, the man who had answered the door explained to us how Jesus was often rejected. How he had a message so wonderful and amazing, yet people often didn’t recognize how important it was or didn’t think they had time. Just like then, today the same message of hope and love is available to all of us. Christ is knocking, but it is up to us to let him in.

This week as I’ve reflected on that experience as a teenager, I’ve thought about how often I’ve been too busy or distracted to allow Christ into my life. When I’ve rushed out the door without a prayer, when scriptures lay unopened for days, when unkind thoughts of others fill my mind. I think about times when my actions were unchristlike and my goals didn’t reflect the life He would want me to lead. But then my thoughts have turned to those times when I’ve felt my Savior’s love envelope me, when I’ve made Him a priority and turned to Him for help. When I’ve felt His forgiveness and I’ve allowed him in. I want my life to be filled with more of those moments.

20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

Revelation 3:20

As we remember His miraculous birth over the next few days, I hope His example, His love, and the hope He can bring will carry us through our happy and difficult days. I hope we will welcome Him in.

At the end of our night of caroling, we noticed several of the people we had attempted to Carol to and been rejected by also standing in the barn. Many asked us to forgive them and explained that closing that door and seeing our sad faces was so incredibly hard. It turns out our leaders had planned the entire thing and arranged for those people to treat us unkindly. I’m thankful for those people that participated in that experience 15 years ago and helped us as teenagers to recognize our Savior’s love. Most especially, I’m thankful for Him, who so patiently waits for me, as flawed and human as I am, to simply let Him in.

From our family to yours, we hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a year filled with happiness!!

Our Top 10 Favorite Christmas Picture Books This Year

I have a love/hate relationship with the holiday season. Love because, well, its Christmas! Everything is magical and wonderful and everyone has holiday cheer twinkling in their eyes. The Scrooge in me hates it because all the Christmas trimmings seem to always come with those disgusting, horrible, joy-sucking cold and flu germs.

Over Thanksgiving break we apparently unpacked plenty of those nasty critters along with our ornaments and mistletoe because all four of my boys spent more than a week laying on the couch, wrapped up in a blanket, acting like they’ve been hit by a train. And–bonus!–they infected just about everyone around the Thanksgiving table, including my cute 1-year-old niece. Nothing like sharing germs to express your gratitude for your family.

If there’s one good thing about having sick kids around the holidays its that you have ample opportunities to read all of those Christmas pictures books you’ve had waiting in a box the last 11 months. Reading Christmas stories to my kids all through December is definitely my favorite holiday tradition. And snotty noses or not, my kids love it too.

I thought I’d share with you our 10 favorites this year, and I’d love to hear what you’re reading this season! We always love finding new Christmas books to add to our collection. And hopefully you are enjoying your books cough and fever free. We’re hoping to soon!

  • Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve? Jan Berett books are some of my absolute favorites. My kids love the layout, and the illustrations are amazing.
  • What Santa Can’t Do We found this one at the library in November and decided right off the bat that it was going to be a 2019 favorite. I think we’ve read it at least thirty times and my youngest thinks it’s hilarious.
  • The Perfect Christmas Tree This was in the discard pile at the library a few years ago. It’s kind of long, but it makes me cry every time. I think I like it better than my kids, but they love it too!
  • The Christmas Train This is a great one to teach about the happiness giving can bring. I love that it’s a true story, and I love the author.
  • An Otis Christmas Loren Long is an amazing illustrator. All of my boys have been obsessed with his version of The Little Engine That Could, and we think the Otis books are brilliant. This is my number one Christmas favorite every year to read to the kids.
  • Dear Polar Bear Ok, this isn’t technically a Christmas book, but it somehow made it into our Christmas box a few years back and has stayed there since. It’s about a polar bear living in the North Pole, which is kinda Christmas-y, right? The little letters you can pull out are fun, and the surprise at the end is pretty cute. It’s a good one about friendship.
  • The Candy Bomber This was a new one to us this year, and my older boys, who are getting a little old for really enjoying the picture books, like this one a lot. It’s a little over my younger boys’ heads, but they enjoy it well enough. It’s a true story from WWII, which they think is fascinating. This one also makes me cry.
  • Dinosaur Christmas It’s about dinosaurs, and I have boys. I think I’ve read this one more than any other Christmas book over the last few years. It’s short too, which is nice if you have lots of other Christmas fun going on and the night gets away from you.
  • Little Blue Truck Christmas It will be a sad day for me when my youngest doesn’t want me to read him one of the Little Blue Truck books every night. This Christmas one is just as cute at the other Little Blue Truck books, and my kids especially love how it lights up at the end!
  • Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree When we got this from the library and read it that night, I decided we needed to buy it to add to our collection. It’s about how one tree brings Christmas cheer to many as the top gets chopped off over and over to fit each different home.

I would love to hear what books your kiddos are enjoying snuggled up around the Christmas Tree this year!

Happy reading!

The Science Fair

I always knew it was only a matter of time. It runs in my family. My dad was in his late 20s. My grandma, story goes, was in her early 20s. I guess I should count my lucky stars that the years have been kind to me. But as I stood staring in the bathroom mirror, I realized that the clock was ticking, and my time was running short. Two white hairs. That brought the total up to 11. In the last five years I’ve pulled out 11 thick, white hairs! As I stared at the strands in my hand, I cursed my thin, strawberry blonde head and wondered if something had triggered this fate. Then the realization washed over me like an ice-cold shower.

THE SCIENCE FAIR.

In the past five years, I have helped my children with no less than 11 science fair projects. I quickly did the math in my head. 11 white hairs. 11 science fair projects. Coincidence? I think not. It added up too nicely, and the fact that I had just yesterday drug my battered and bruised body out of the science fair ring for the fifth year in a row seemed a little fishy.

I think that the science fair is somewhat like delivering a baby. The first fair you just don’t have a clue. You go in all gung-ho and excited, dreaming of that gleaming 1st place trophy that is most certainly going to be his. You google and google and google, asking your child which project they like (“No. No. No. Not that one. No. No. Nope. Maybe. No.”) until your fingers are sore and that perfect project is uncovered from your 157th open tab on your computer screen. After weeks of finding subjects to test, putting together the perfect questions, and carrying out the experiment, you wipe the sweat off your brow and beam at your child for accomplishing what you are sure is the hardest part of the project.

But it doesn’t take long for you to realize how very wrong you were.

Suddenly the science fair is a mere three days away, and you quickly realize that you forgot to get the science fair board. You rush to three different stores, only to discover that the last board in town is about a foot smaller on all sides than the ones your child will be competing with. That’s ok though, because he can spruce it up with amazing embelishments and creative paper. Who needs a big board, anyway? 56 boxes of scotch tape, 3 packages of cardstock, 97 glue sticks, 2 containers of glitter, one roll of string, 5 pages of chemistry stickers, 1 small science fair board, and a diminished bank account later, you are on your way home. You drag all 9 bags into the house and pull the child (the one who convinced you two months before that he desperately wanted to enter the science fair) kicking and screaming off the trampoline to finish his project.

As the next seven laborious hours crawl by, you find your patience wearing dangerously thin. By three hours in, you and all of your surroundings are covered in purple glue. Tape is in your hair, shreds of paper cover the carpet like confetti. Not to mention the glitter (need I say more?). Your child types away at a rousing two words per minute on the computer letting out sad groans and whimpers. By hour six, as he lays on the floor and your voice is hoarse from more nagging than you have ever done in all his six years of exhistance put together, you question if you are cut out to be a science fair parent. You wonder how you ever were talked into this, what your child would think if you curled up in a corner and cried, how you get glue out of carpet, and what kind of horrible person invented the science fair anyway. And, worst of all, why you EVER bought glitter. But then, just when your relationship with your child is on the brink of disintegrating, he tapes on that final piece of computer paper. You decide to overlook that he spelled “Conclusion” wrong, and throw yourself on the floor with a heavy sigh of relief. You promise yourself you will bribe your child with anything, ANYTHING it takes next year to NOT enter that extra curricular activity from you-know-where.

Finally the day comes. You peek through the crack in the door and see the judges buzzing around the gym like little bees. You spot your child standing next to his masterpiece, and sneak a quick wave. He gives you two thumbs up and flashes a nervous, “Look at me, Mom!” smile. As you approach the table, you hear him chatting amiably with his neighbor about photosynthesis and androgynous plants. He throws around the words “etiolated” and “herbaceous” (what the heck does that mean again? You’ll have to ask him later) and you realize he just might have learned something after all! After sneakily googling what requirements he will need to get into Harvard, you admire the other posters and wonder if the moms behind those projects just about lost their souls in the process as well. Then the principal announces the awards. Everyone crowds around, and you cross your fingers for good measure. Doggonit, with all the nagging your child endured, you he desserves one of those trophies!

When you pull out of the school parking lot, your future scientist is positively beaming buckled in the back seat holding his second place trophy. You, misty-eyed and bursting with pride, are happily brainstorming ideas with him for what his project should be next year, having lost all memory of the last hellish 72 hours.

Of course after delivering a baby you are left with something inexsplicably more wonderful than a trophy. And for that, I totally understand why the pain becomes irrevelant after you hold that sweet little bundle in your arms and you would do it again in a heartbeat. But I don’t quite understand why there’s something about exiting the doors of the science fair that brings similar amnesic results. Beyond all reason, you begin plotting the next project. A strange phenomina that baffles me to no end.

I suppose looking back I should simply be grateful that I have hair left to turn white–that I didn’t yank it all out in the days leading up to the fair. I should be glad that my children want (at least initially) to do something challenging, that in the end they learn something new, and that their confidence gets a little boost as they accomplish something kinda cool and talk about it to others.

I can’t help but wonder if all the parents helping their children with a science fair project should get an award too. Like a sticker. Or a candy bar. Or a luxerious weekend getaway with massage and unlimited netflix included… Just some food for thought, Science Fair Organizers.

For better or worse, I very likely have a decade of science fairs left. My hair might be white as snow, but I have a feeling that won’t stop us. Science fair, here we come!

P.S. To all my fellow science fair project parents, you have my deepest empathy. I feel your pain.

Projects we’ve done in the past if you need some inspiration!

-Cracking Geodes: Can you tell what’s inside a Geode from how the outside looks?
-Rockets: What shape of parachute is better?
-Rockets: What shape of rocket nose makes the rocket go higher? The year of the rockets was hands down my favorite! I’m 99% sure my kids would agree.
-Do Left Handers have a better memory than Right Handers? This was my second favorite, mostly because I’m left-handed. And yes, according to our results, we do!
-Code Breakers: How scrambled can letters be before you can’t read easily any more?
-Boats: which keel keeps the boat from tipping best?
-Can you tell what something is just by the smell?
-Mindstorm Lego Robots: How to build a robot.
-Mindstorm Lego Robots: How to program a robot to do a maze.
-Moldy Bread: What area of the house is the dirtiest?
-Magnetic Magic: Making a pencil stand up and spin on it’s own using magnetism.

Silver Lining

A few months ago while visiting my sister and her family, we had a conversation about how sometimes bad things that happen end up making really funny stories later on. My sister chimed in. “Like just the other day when I was…” She glanced over at my brother-in-law, who was giving her the death stare, and trailed off. “Nope.” He shook his head. “Needs more time. Not funny yet!” Turns out they had just bought a new bike carrier to go on the roof of their car. My sister had taken the kids on a bike ride across town, and when they arrived home, she’d forgotten that with the bike rack she needed an extra 3 feet to clear the garage door. The bikes and bike rack stripped off the top like a banana peel. Both the car and the rack were in bad shape, resulting in weeks of car repairs and a new mode of transporting bikes needing purchased.

I’m not sure that anything really good came of that sad situation, but it did eventually make for good story material once enough time had passed for the funny factor to finally sink in. Looking back, so many things in my life that once felt like a hard or horrible experience ended up being much more than I had expected at the time, whether it became comic relief, gratitude that it wasn’t any worse, or a blessing in disguise.

“It’s funny how, when things seem the darkest, moments of beauty present themselves in the most unexpected places.” Karen Marie Moning

My Grandma passed away a little over two years ago from cancer. Like most battling that monster, she had spent the last few exhausting years in and out of doctor appointments, chemo treatments, and hospital stays. The summer before she left, she and my grandpa made the decision to forego treatments and spend the little time they had traveling and focusing on family. While I was down visiting one weekend, I sat in the car alone with my grandma. “Chelsi,” she said, “I know I’m going to die. But I want you to know that I’m not scared. I’m not worried. I will be fine.” Earlier on after her diagnosis I remember her saying, when referring to her children who had grown distant from each other, “If this experience brings my family closer together, it will all have been worth it.” At her funeral a few short weeks after my visit, all seven of her children greeted each other with loving embraces, shared memories, and tears of both loss and gratitude. I’m sure Grandma was up in heaven smiling.


Watching my grandma fight a loosing battle was never easy, but I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to see a side of her I hadn’t quite realized was there. The quiet courage, fierce determination, graceful resolve, and strong faith set in her face that day in the car has strengthened me many times since.

“To live greatly, we must develop the capacity to face trouble with courage, disappointment with cheerfulness, and triumph with humility.” Thomas S. Monson

It’s funny how often the most difficult times and bitterest trials end up teaching and shaping us to be stronger, more compassionate, more caring, more brave, more grateful, or more determined. While I’d never wish for some the difficult things I’ve experienced or have watched loved ones face, I am grateful for the silver linings that somehow always seem to find their way through the gloom.

This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for those undesirable situations that make for great stories later on. I’m thankful that time can make bad situations seem better, if not occasionally humorous. And I’m thankful that when the clouds come, there’s silver lining to make it just a little easier.

“No matter our circumstances, no matter our challenges or trials, there is something in each day to embrace and cherish. There is something in each day that can bring gratitude and joy if only we will see and appreciate it.” “Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Happy Thanksgiving!

Be You

I love personality tests. Not the “Which Downton Abbey Character Are You?” type. I’m talking the real deal. Myers Briggs, Winslow Personality Assessment, Keirsey Temperament Sorter… The ones that leave you feeling completely exposed, like someone just dug out your soul and splattered it across the computer screen.

When my mom sent me this test that she’d taken in a class, I dropped everything I was doing and sat down at the computer. Take a look into the depths of my innermost being? I just couldn’t resist.

Turns out I’m a mediator. Any other mediators out there? As I read the description I couldn’t help but wonder if Professor Trelawney and Luna Lovegood would run in the same crowd as me. Guess it could be worse…

Of course once you’ve found out who you are, you must convince everyone you come in contact with to give it a try too. I quickly recruited my husband. If you know my husband, you might understand how comical answering some of these questions would be. For example, one question says, “After a long and exhausting week, a fun party is just what you need.” “Fun party” is a complete oxymoron in his mind. And adding his name to a sentence with party?” That’s just ludicrous (at least when considered in the sense most would define a party). Even the assumption had my kids rolling in their seats with laughter.

We both lean toward the introvert side, but that’s pretty much where our personality similarities stop. Apparently I live in a fantasy world while my husband is a realist. He is analytical, I’m unsystematic. He’s blunt, I avoid any and all conflict. He’s focused and driven, I’m indecisive. If we aren’t a testament to the saying “opposites attract,” I’m not sure what is.

I think what I love so much about personality tests is seeing how different everyone is. Each letter represents an entirely different way of thinking, living, and experiencing life. How cool is that? Some people actually find it relaxing to go to a wild party after an exhausting week? Mind blown (I have to agree with my husband there). The fact that my husband is more direct and blunt is wonderful when a salesman comes to the door. If it weren’t for him, we’d have a lifetime supply of Girl Scout cookies and Hoover vacuums crammed in every closet.

Years ago I taught an adult class in church with another lady who happened to be very dynamic. She was funny, clever, and just incredibly likeable. I picture her Myers-Briggs test coming back as a charismatic, social butterfly. Me? Most definitely not. I loved working with her, but I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a disappointment to my class when it came my turn to teach. Her lessons were amazing and full of funny stories, insightful thoughts, and keen observations. My goal each Sunday, on the other hand, was to talk as little as possible and have everyone else’s comments do the teaching. The less I had to be in the limelight, the better. Then one day, as I prepared my lesson, I had this thought hit me like a ton of bricks. “You aren’t Alice (name changed). You aren’t meant to be her. You are meant to be YOU. And someone in that class needs you. Someone needs the quiet, reserved, awkward, and thoughtful you. Stop doubting, stop apologizing, and start being who you are meant to be!” Letting go of our insecurities is such a difficult thing. I still have a ways to go to being comfortable in my own skin, but what an incredible, freeing feeling to not be encumbered with the self-doubt and constant comparison.

“Don’t compare yourself with others. That is a battle you will never win.” Michelle Parsons


We all are meant to be different. Imagine if we all acted, dressed, thought, and performed the same as everyone else? What a disaster that would be. I’m thankful for the people in my life that balance me out and push me to be a little more. Not to mention to fill in the gaps that I just cannot fill. We are given the traits we have in order to make a difference in this world: a difference unlike any another person can give. And that, my friends, is a truly wonderful, magical, and beautiful thing.

If you take the personality test, I would love to hear what you get! Let me know in the comments. The questions only takes a few minutes and the results are really quite in depth. And you don’t even have to give out your email.

8 things we learned taking four small(ish) children on a 30 mile backpacking trip

When my husband proposed we take our boys on a backpacking trip over Labor Day weekend, I was all in. Our kids are experienced hikers and campers, and we had done a couple little backpacking trips earlier that summer. Over this last year we discovered that we have reached a magical stage in our boys’ lives where we are no longer encumbered with diapers, baby carriers, nursing, or other baby needs (for the first time in 11 years!! Woohoo!), and we are loving it. A backpacking trip? Why not?? The plan was three miles in, three miles out, a couple days in between to play.

My husband grew up backpacking, canoeing, and exploring the Wind Rivers in Wyoming with his dad, so that’s where we planned to go. Maps stretched over our table like a tablecloth, we finally decided on Shoshone Lake near Lander. A couple weeks later we packed up our car, picked up grandpa, and we were off!

We arrived at (almost) the trail head around 1am, and after a rather hurried night sleep (and patching up a flat tire) we loaded back up in the car. My husband and father-in-law had fond memories of hiking near Shoshone Lake 25 years ago and had vague memories of driving up a bumpy road, parking the car when it narrowed into a trail, and hiking the remainder to a lookout over the lake. After being thrown around the rocks for ten minutes, we realized that 25 years had done a number on what they remembered as a rather disastrous but passable road. With ten miles left to go, we parked the car, slipped into our backpacks and, with smiling, cheery faces, started our ascent into the mountains. What’s seven more miles than we had planned?

Appearently a lot to someone who has only been on this planet for four short years. Even with the essential responsibility of carrying the Snickers bars in his super-awesome, camo fanny-pack, Ty was miserable. Mis-er-a-ble! By four steep miles in he had asked to be carried no less than 143 times. Of course that would have been impossible because between the steep incline and my 40 pound pack, I also thought I might die.

At 6:00 that evening we summited our mountain, and down in the valley we could see the lake. It was incredible! In an instant all of our aches and pains seemed to melt away. Ok, that’s definitely a gross exaggeration. Everything hurt. Period. Absolutely nothing was doing any sort of melting as the temperature had suddenly plunged to what felt like thirty degrees and the wind just about swept us back down the mountain. But now that we could finally see our destination, everyone had a renewed determination. And that’s all we needed. Two more miles (finally downhill!) to go, and we would be to the lake!

The sun was just going down as we found a spot to camp. The lake was beautiful, the stars were numbering in the trillions, and after ten exhausting miles we had all made it alive!

We spent the next two days at and around the lake fishing, kayaking in an inflatable kayak grandpa had brought, exploring the rivers all around, and relaxing. By the next morning all of the kids (Ty included) had forgotten all about the arduous journey we had taken to get there.

Ten miles in, ten miles exploring over two days, then ten miles out. The trip out always proves to be quicker. Though it was no less difficult, our packs were lighter (or at least the boys’ — we ate all of Ty’s snickers in addition to the food the other boys had carried) and the prospect of getting to rest in the car carried us forward. Nine hours after we started, we finally spotted the car. Now that was a welcome sight!

For weeks after we returned home, all the boys could talk about was Shoshone Lake, the fish they caught, the treasures they found, and how THEY had hiked ten miles in, ten miles out, and ten miles in between. Now the talk is how they might be able to do 70 miles across the entire Wind Rivers next summer…what???

In our family we tease that there are three types of fun. Type 1: Disneyland. Pure pleasure. Type 2: Experiencing fun through someone else’s eyes. I.E. Watching your kids at the park. Type 3: Torture that somehow ends up being satisfying in a, “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done!” kind of way, say a marathon. Around here we prefer the type three, torturous, “that was so fun, my legs feel like rubber!” type, and I suppose our trip to Shoshone Lake had all the elements of “fun” that we love. While it certainly was a challenge, the satisfaction of doing something difficult and getting a little fishing in while we were at it proved to make it one of our most memorable trips yet.

Backpacking as a family definitely has it’s challenges. Because this was our first experience backpacking more than a few miles with our entire family of six, plus Grandpa, we learned quite a bit along the way. Here are a few tricks we learned:

  1. Have a cool destination you’re working for. I’m convinced if it weren’t for the awesome lake at the end of our hike, my kids would have turned back miles before. That hike was pretty darn hard, but because we had shown them pictures from my husband and father-in-law’s previous trip and talked it up, they were motivated to keep moving forward.
  2. Let them carry the food, and drink their water first. If the kids carry the food, their pack can only get lighter. And, as long as you don’t mind sharing the germs, drinking their water first helps a ton too!
  3. Have some travel games in mind to play as you hike. We played 20 questions the last two miles of our hike, and I have to admit, (even though by the 59th time guessing a giraffe I might have been going a little crazy!) it made the last little push go so much faster even for me.
  4. Bring good snacks. We don’t typically chow down on Snickers, gummy bears, Sweedish Fish, or M&M’s around the house, but having something yummy to snack on as you hike up a steep incline for three miles really helps when you’re nine. Or seven. or four. or 36. We also love the Mountain House freeze-dried dinners and would simply supplement them with naan or mashed potatoes or stuffing. You just add boiling water. So easy, and best yet: hardly any clean-up!!
  5. Just let the kids play. We spent almost the entire day after we got to the lake just…playing. It was totally up to the kids. The youngest two and I played hide the bungee cord they found and built a rock fort for hours. It was one of the highlights of the trip, and it was so nice to not feel uptight that we weren’t doing something we’d planned, getting somewhere, or accomplishing some feat.
  6. Kids are way tougher than you think. Have you ever read Hank the Cowdog? Sometimes we call Ty “Drover” because any time doing something unpleasant comes up, he’s automatically grabbing at his leg and claiming his leg hurts, just like Hank’s sidekick. So for him to hike 30 miles without being carried? Completely shocking, and totally inspiring. I never would have known he had it in him if we hadn’t tried! Best of all, I could see his confidence bursting at the seams when he told everyone about the hike when we got home.
  7. Kids will probably remember the good stuff, not the miserable parts. One of my worries was that our kids would never want to touch a sleeping bag again by the time we finally reached the car. Not two minutes after we loaded up and got on the road, the kids were dreaming of the next time they would go backpacking.
  8. And finally, Splurge a little when you’re all done! We have a tradition that after a backpacking trip we stop on the way home at a restaurant to eat. After days of tuna fish in pita bread, bagels, and trail mix, a big, warm meal is a welcome sight!

What tricks do you have up your sleeve when you take your little ones on adventures? I’d love to hear!

Hello Again!

Hello, old friends!

I haven’t even logged on to my blog in over three years. I stopped for a variety of reasons, but mostly it just sort of…fizzled. I never thought I’d be back, but here I am!

Sometimes when you’re deep in the trenches of parenting it’s easy to loose yourself. Between diaper changes and trips to the park, naps and rushing to pediatrician appointments, matching lost socks and cleaning up spilled cheerios, somehow you forget who you are. Of course, you will never be the same person you once were after having children, and that’s without question a beautiful thing. But recently I had to introduce myself to a group of strangers and I realized I didn’t even know what to say! Beyond being a mom to four boys, I drew a blank. My identity had been so wrapped up in these kids I love so much for over eleven years that I no longer had something to identify with outside of them. A question I keep getting asked lately is, “What are you going to do when Ty (my youngest) goes to school in the next year or two?” With no definite answer to give them, I’ve found myself doing lots of soul searching.

I came across a box the other day full of little children’s books I’d written years ago while blogging. As I read though them, I was reminded of Catching Crawfish and all time and passion I put into the hundreds of posts. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I really do love to write. I’ve missed it! I’ve missed connecting with old friends, making new ones, taking a quick break from the dishes to jot down an idea for a post or a picture book. So here I am. Honestly, It’s a bit terrifying to be back, (what if people don’t like me? What if I don’t fit in??) but kind of exciting all at the same time!

I’ve given it a lot of thought and I’ve decided I want to take a somewhat different direction with Catching Crawfish. Instead of always writing about life lessons I hope my boys will learn, I’m going to focus on living and raising a family in the county, about helping kids to love the outdoors, and anything else that seems to fit. When we moved 20 minutes from town almost seven years ago it was our intent to inspire our boys to love the outdoors and for them to experience all that comes with country life. The longer we live here, the more passionate I feel about getting kids to experience fresh air and the thrill of being outside.

I still have plenty of life lessons I hope my boys will learn. I feel like my time to help them experience all they need to is slipping through my fingers (I have a middle schooler this year, how did that happen??). But I also feel that as they grow older those strories are no longer mine to share to anyone who happens to come across my blog. It’s time for a change to Catching Crawfish, and I’m excited for this new adventure!

PS I should add that I’m still making changes to the blog to fit it’s new purpose, so if you click on something and there’s nothing there, please know it’s still a work in progress!

One-kin-stine

I have never met a one-year-old that I didn’t find completely and utterly adorable. Their pudgy sausage fingers, their squeals of delight, their hilarious interpretations of new words that will, for better or worse, follow them the remainder of their lives (raga-lo-li-lo-li will forever be on our menu for busy Tuesday nights!) One-year-olds are, without a doubt, the best.

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Unless…

Unless, of course, you happen to take a one-year-old to the grocery store. Hell hath no fury like a toddler who has had enough of the canned tomato isle. King Soopers is a dark and lonely place for a mother who dares to venture to get food with a toddler in tow.

Today happened to be such an occasion for my four boys and me. Despite my inner conscience screaming, “Nooo! Don’t do it. Have you forgotten last time?  Is there no other way??” I loaded them up and off we went. As expected, not two isles in my one-year-old went Dr. Jekyll on me. By the yoghurt section I was carrying him potato-sack style with his hands flailing to reach the string cheese on the other side. By the time we miraculously reached the checkout, I’d been the gracious receiver of no less than seven “Wow, you sure have your hands full!” Five “FOUR boys!? Oh, you poor thing.” Two “Bet if you tried for a girl you’d just get another boy.” and one “Oh, Mama, go buy yourself some flowers. You deserve it.” Not to mention numerous eyebrow-furled stares.

Minutes later as I wrestled my toddler into his car seat and the other boys unloaded the bags out of the cart, I thought about how those grocery shoppers had just witnessed my sweet, little one-kin-stine  at his very worst. No doubt about it, he was a monster for those 45 miserable minutes.

But in those two-second exchanges, they missed so much. They missed ten adorable, pudgy fingers. Fingers that learned to snap when he was just nine months old. They missed how he loves dogs, how he won’t even say his brothers’ names, but can say Howard (our English Shepard) almost perfectly. How he thinks his big brothers are hilarious and loves to steal their toys; how he loves to jump on the trampoline and would spend every waking moment outside given the opportunity. How he climbs on everything and loves to ride in the laundry basket when Mom does the laundry. They missed his big, toothy grin he gets when his dad gives him piggy-back rides and how his brothers always fight over who gets to sit by him every single time we get in the car. He refuses to wear shoes and he’s ticklish on the bottoms of his feet. They missed that too.

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Essentially, they missed that he really isn’t a monster. Not at all.

But I didn’t. I didn’t miss for a minute that these four crazy boys make me one incredibly lucky mom. That when I look at them I feel blessed far beyond what I deserve. And I never ever want those boys to think I forgot. So next time a fellow grocery shopper acknowledges me and my wild brood, I’ll smile and, in all sincerity say,

“Yes. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

 

Our Moment

Over the winter my kids began following our local high school boys basketball team in the newspaper. We’re friends with two of the players, and we decided in January to take our boys to a couple games so they could cheer them on in person. I’m not sure if it had to do with the fact that my boys came up to the players’ belly buttons, or that those colossal high schoolers (in comparison to my shrimpy offspring that, unfortunately, have no chance to ever reach such heights) could slam dunk the ball, but we may as well have been going to a NBA championship game. We had four ecstatic boys ready to cheer with every ounce of their basketball-loving souls. We chose a game against a rival school, and the bleachers were dense with fans from both sides of town.

Shortly after we nudged our way to an empty spot, the announcer introduced the teams and a pretty, blonde choir student took the mic to sing the national anthem. The roaring crowd quieted, removed hats, and covered their hearts as her euphonious voice filled the gym. As she reached “O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming,” her voice suddenly cut away. Murmurs filled the crowd, wondering if the mic had stopped working. Seconds passed, and it became clear that the mic was not the problem. She had simply gotten nervous and was trying to find the courage to continue. A few minutes later, she began again. “Oh, say can you see…” her voice slightly wavering under the pressure of hundreds of people listening in anticipation. From behind our bench, a man picked up the words. “by the dawn’s early light…” More voices joined in, and the girl’s voice grew stronger. Soon the entire gym was singing. As the song reached the climax, the crowd on both sides of the bleachers went wild, and the singer who had started again so timidly hit the last notes with gusto.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in that gym blubbering as the announcer took the mic, but regardless my kids were a bit mortified that their mom was getting all emotional at a basketball game. What was this, the ballet?? At that moment, I felt like I had just witnessed something significant about who we are: as a town, as a country, as human beings. Contrary to what we see in the news, in tabloids, or during rush hour, there’s good in this world. We have the capacity to step up, encourage, help, and lift others when life seems to be pulling down. I was so impressed that not even the other team’s fans or her fellow high schoolers ridiculed or booed. Everyone joined in, and everyone cheered. When she felt alone, the good people in that gym showed her that they were all there to support her and lift her up. It really was an incredible thing.

I’ve been reflecting on that experience as the entire world faces a new challenge, something completely unknown. As shelves in grocery stores go bare, the stock market plunges, and medical procedures that some have been waiting for go on hold, fear seems to be the rational response. But in times like this, let’s remember that there’s so much good, and we are incredibly resilient. We have the ability to lift up those who feel torn down, to appreciate and cheer on the heroes that are on the front lines. We can help, we can trust, and we can love.

“Don’t give up. Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead. It will be all right the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.” -Jeffery R. Holland

An editorial in our newspaper the other day used a quote from Apollo 13 in reference to the coronavirus and what is going on around the world, and because of my boys’ obsession with NASA and all things rockets, it resonated with me. 50 years ago this year, the three astronauts on board Apollo 13, 205,000 miles from Earth, faced unthinkable odds. Gene Kranz, flight director, heard someone say, “this could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever experienced.” He responded, “With all do respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”

This is our moment. Let’s exemplify humanity at its finest. Let’s add our voices to those that are struggling to finish the song. Let’s make this our finest hour.