Thursday, November 19, 2015

Gratitude: General Conference and Favorite Talks

I'm so grateful for General Conference. For the past couple of weeks, after the busy rush of getting kids to school each morning, I've been carving out time to sit down with some breakfast (I never get a chance to eat breakfast while trying to feed everyone else!) and a cup of my favorite herbal tea (Sweet and Spicy by Good Earth) and watch a talk from last month's General Conference. This daily dose of inspiration has made such a difference for me. Some talks are simply nice reminders for me. Others bring tears to my eyes as they help me realize something really important and timely and offer messages that resonate on a deep level with me.

Today's breakfast was homemade sort-of-healthy oatmeal cookies and persimmons.

Here are a few of my favorite talks so far:

What Lack I Yet by Larry Lawrence (I often pray for help with specific character traits I know I need to work on, but praying to know WHAT to work on is something I haven't really thought about before - and something I'm trying to do now. I know that if I work on changing one small thing at a time - and find out from the Lord what to work on first - I can become more of the person I really want and need to be.)

It's Never Too Early and It's Never Too Late by Bradley Foster (great parenting advice)

If Ye Love Me, Keep My Commandments by Carole Stephens (great ideas to help me in my mothering and in my personal path towards greater obedience)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Gratitude Days 9-16: laundry, speech therapy, faith, hair, little kids, food, light and music

It's been so very good for me to seek out the good each day and take a moment to quickly celebrate it with an Instagram post. I've felt so generally happy and my life feels so good - even though nothing has really changed as far as my situation. I'm so grateful for gratitude!

Here are the posts I've done since last posting on this blog:

On Saturday the 14th, I didn't do an Instagram post because I wanted to share a favorite recipe as part of my gratitude for that day - and recipe-posting works better on a blog.We had friends over for dinner and I made my favorite fall soup. I'd forgotten how delicious it is! I'm so grateful for great recipes and for flavor and for good food.

Here's what we ate:

Curried Chicken and Apple Soup

This is a huge fall favorite around here - my husband and I and all my kids LOVE this. Maybe it sounds like a weird combination of things - apples, chicken, curry - but I've never had someone NOT love it.

Curried Chicken and Apple Soup

1 tsp. vegetable oil or olive oil
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 3 big breasts)
1 large onion, chopped
5 crushed/chopped garlic cloves (or 1-2 tsp bottled crushed garlic)
1 medium green pepper and one yellow bell pepper, chopped (optional)
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger (or bottled crushed ginger)
½ tsp red or black pepper
1 tsp salt
5 cups chicken broth/stock (can use bouillon cubes to make this)
2 15 oz. cans or one 28 oz can of diced tomatoes (the whole can with the juice) or one large can crushed tomatoes (if you don’t like tomato chunks)
2 apples, chopped in small chunks (Granny Smith or Fuji work well – the crisper the better!)
1 cup rice

Saute everything down to the broth/stock together in large soup pot until chicken isn’t pink anymore and onion is tender. Then add the chicken stock, rice and diced tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 20 minutes (until rice is tender), then add the apples and cook about 8 minutes or until apples are somewhat soft and rice is done.

If desired, serve with a garnish of chopped cilantro and a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream. Great with warm crusty bread
Makes 10 one-cup servings.

I had to do two posts after a gorgeous walk along the Shoreline Trail on Sunday afternoon:

Monday, November 09, 2015

Gratitude Day 8: My husband and kids (and the final chapter on our MFME trip)

I wrote this back at the beginning of October, when my flight home was cancelled. I felt such overwhelming gratitude for my family during that delay - absence does make the heart grow fonder! I'm sharing this journal entry as a wrap-up on the MFME trip plus a gratitude entry - I bolded the part that is specifically about gratitude for my family - so if you don't want the whole family, skip on down to the bolded part!

I’m sitting here in a rather odd but fairly nice little hotel room - one twin bed, dormer window, large nook where another twin bed could easily fit but it’s just empty. Rain is falling gently outside - we’ve been blessed with a solid week of beautiful fall weather - so amazing that the first rain came as we were leaving. Perfect timing.  I’m eating a really delicious apple (all the apples have been so crisp and delicious here - I saw some applies in a bowl at the reception desk and even though it looked like the yellowish variety that is often mushy when you get it in the States, I grabbed one. Good call.) And I’m also eating a totally delicious Lindt dark chocolate hazelnut bar and a piece of bread I didn’t quite finish at breakfast. Bread, chocolate and an apple. It’s not exactly a great lunch - but by 3:30pm, you’ll take what you can get for lunch! My back hurts from standing in line for hours this morning and now sitting in this uncomfortable chair trying to catch up on Power of Moms work (so much to do for this Mom Conference next week!). My eyes are heavy from so many short nights and so much adventure. My heart aches because I want to be with my husband and kids right now - so much. But here I am. And I’m choosing to be grateful for the chance to reflect a bit and catch up on emails and watch conference before spending tons of hours on a wifi-less plane tomorrow and being slapped with the beautiful but probably overwhelming reality of jumping back into motherhood when I get off that plane.

I’m supposed to be on a plane headed home right now. But after waking up at the crack of dawn to sneak out of the hotel room while my sisters slept and get to the airport for my flight, I found out my flight was seriously delayed and was excited when they said they could get me on a different flight that was supposed to leave earlier but was delayed a bit. Then I sat on that plane at the gate for almost an hour (in the very last row in the corner, feeling pretty claustrophobic…) before they said it would be 2 more hours at least and might get cancelled (no visibility in Amsterdam because of crazy-thick fog, I guess). They invited those of us w/o checked luggage to get off and get rerouted. I jumped at that chance. 

I hurried right over to the ticket/check in area and talked to an agent who told me I could get on a flight leaving in just a couple hours - there were seats available - hallelujah! But then she double checked and said that she didn't have the right authorization to put me on that flight and that I'd need to wait in the super long line across the way to see if they could put me on that flight. Since by then, all the flights to Amsterdam were cancelled and there were like 200 people waiting in line to get re-routed, that was bad news. While waiting in line, I tried to get on the phone with the airline (Delta) but my phone wouldn't work as I didn't have an international plan. I tried to set up a plan but no luck. Then I was so excited to see my sister Charity happen along, headed for her flight, and she let me use her phone. I called Delta and they said that they COULD book me on that LA flight but then, after checking on some things, the agent came back on the phone and told me that as the flight was now only a hour away, the system wouldn't let her book me on that flight - there was no way I'd get to the next terminal and get to the gate on time. So she booked me on an Air France flight the following morning but told me to stay in line to get a hotel voucher. Oh, I was so sad and worried - I'd been away from home for so long, missed my family so much, Jared had been holding down the fort so kindly for over a week, and I had SO much to do on the Mom Conference! I needed to get HOME. And I was so sad that I'd been forced to miss that LA flight because of mess-ups on the airlines part.

When I finally got to the front of the line (over 3 hours in line), the agent said the flight I thought I had booked over the phone wasn’t actually booked for me and I’d have to take a later flight tomorrow and not get home until 6:30pm. I really really tried not to cry. But I was so tired and was longing to get home to my family SO much and was SO frustrated by feeling so helpless and stuck that I admit some tears did come out and I couldn’t quite talk to answer the agent when she asked if a 10am flight tomorrow getting in at 6:30pm would be OK.

The lady just sort of looked embarrassed for me but went on typing away for like 10 minutes to book this later flight for tomorrow. Then she handed me a printout with letters and numbers all over it and highlighted my flight time for tomorrow on the paper. She told me to go to another long line and wait for a voucher to go to a hotel for the night. I told her I’d already been in line for over 3 hours and she said just go up to the front. So I did. And when I finally got someone’s attention, a lady took my precious paper with all the letters and numbers on it that I understood was supposed to be my ticket for tomorrow and went off into the back room for ages then finally came back with a paper in German and said it was a hotel voucher. I asked where my paper was that had all the letters and numbers on it and she said she had to keep it but that she would get me a copy because I would need it in the morning. She left for another 10 minutes and I could see her fighting with a malfunctioning printer in the back. Then she came back out and started helping someone else and seemed to have completely forgotten about me until I flagged her down and asked her for my paper. She just sort of humphed and kept going with what she was doing. Then a while later she printed out a new paper full of letters and numbers for me and told me to take that to the ticket counter in the morning - but not this ticket counter - a different one which she thought was maybe in the B area of Terminal 1 but it could be somewhere else - apparently I was just supposed to come early tomorrow to figure out where to get my actual ticket. 

I totally get that weather happens and that everyone was probably doing their best to do their job in tricky situations like this. But wow, you’d think they’d have some better procedures in place and have more personnel who could stay on or be called in! Surely stuff like this has happened before and will happen again. None of the staff I talked with (6 or 7 in all) seemed concerned about the length and duration of the line. No one explained what was happening or what the procedure should be. And I totally could have made that 12pm LA flight that was open according to the Delta agent on the phone if the first agent I talked to at the airport hadn’t told me I had to wait in that long line becuase she didn't have the right authorization to put me on it!

The rest of the story (Journal from the following day):

So I settled in at the hotel last night (finding the hotel shuttle was quite an ordeal but it was OK in the end) and tried to make the best of things. I got on Skype with my family that night and was so glad ot see their faces and hear their voices. And I asked Jared to call Delta to double check that I was all set for the flight in the morning. After a couple of hours, he called back to say that he'd talked to agent after agent on the phone and there was no record of me having a confirmed ticket on that flight in the morning and that Delta was now saying that that flight had been oversold so they were putting me on a flight the FOLLOWING morning. I couldn't believe it. Seriously? I looked on and it showed that you could still buy tickets for the flight I was supposed to be on the next morning. But after talking to people for over 2 hours on the phone, Jared was told that my only option was to wait and go on the flight the following morning - over 48 hours after my original flight.

I cried to Jared for a while (a long day at the airport can sure do that to you - especially when combined with disappointment after disappointment as I was bumped from flight to flight by people who didn't explain things and weren't very nice and when you miss your family a ton!). Then I started looking for something - anything - good about this situation.

I was safe. My family was safe. I had internet (spotty but OK so I could work on Mom Conference stuff). And all this will make me extra grateful for home and family.

I’ve missed my family SO much this week. I always miss them when I’m away. But I guess I haven’t been away from them for more than a night or two in ages plus the time difference has made it really hard to communicate much with them while they’re gone. So I’ve just felt a dull ache - which sometimes jumps up into a serious pain - these last few days when I think about my dear husband and children. I am so incredibly blessed to have them. I know I take them for granted too much. So this is good for me.

I miss Oliver’s big hugs that happen whenever I’m stressed (he’s so sensitive to my worries and so good at helping me feel better). I miss Silas’s cute little song he sings to me (“Mom, I love you so, so much, I will never stop loving you”) and I miss making meals with him. I miss hearing all the details of Eliza’s day each day after school and really missed seeing her beautiful stride and determined face in last week’s cross country meet (she came in second!). I miss Ashton’s great and somewhat rare smile that makes the skin around his eyes crinkle up. And I keep wishing he was right here to help me figure out how to get on the internet of get my phone to do what I want it to do (my storage is full thanks to all the photos I’ve taken and I can’t for the life of me figure out how to delete very much…). I miss seeing Isaac making things fun for Oliver and Silas and all the neighborhood boys - he’s always up for fun and the little boys adore him. I missready for school earlier than anyone as he heads out to early morning seminary and seeing him so responsibly get his homework done. I miss Jared’s great hugs - I feel so safe in his arms. He always makes everything OK. I miss his deep voice leading family scripture study in the bleary-eyed mornings. I miss family dinner time each night when we sometimes laugh a lot and sometimes get into a deep conversation and sometimes I wind up sharing stories about things I wish I’d known sooner or experiences I’ve had and the kids get sucked in - I love spinning a good tale and seeing them wrapped up in it.  I miss tuck in time when the kids want to talk and I get some great one-on-one if I can remember to pad the time and take a deep breath and just sit there on each of their beds for a few minutes.

I’m so very very very blessed to be a wife and mother and to have the children and husband I have. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.  And I guess my main resolution from this trip is to slow down. To savor and enjoy the beauty of my family life. Just like I’ve been savoring the beauty of the scenery and the food and the conversations I’ve been having with my mom and sisters. I need to build and keep high and strong fortress walls around the time it takes to really enjoy my kids and husband. I can’t be on my computer after school and in the evenings. I just can’t. I’ve got this huge conference coming up but I’m sure it can be awesome without me stealing from my precious family time. I can prioritize better and be way more efficient and wise so that I can get the most important things done and leave the rest.

I'm SO frustrated with Delta and all the agents at the airport and over the phone who couldn't seem to give me straight or consistent answers. But I’m SO excited to go home to see my family. I am grateful for the added dose of love and gratitude for my family that this delay has brought on. But I just can't wait to get home!

I got a lot of work done in that funny little hotel room and went on some nice walks through the fields full of corn and carrots in the area. I was able to get on that flight home 2 days after the original flight. The flights were completely packed but I was just so grateful to get home! Jared and the kids were there waiting for me when I got out of the secure part of the airport. It was so wonderful to see them and hold them in my arms again! 

I did let the Mom Conference steal some precious family time. There were so many timely things that needed to happen combined with crazy stuff no one could have anticipated (like the website crashing on the first day because somehow we'd been set up with a faulty server despite our careful efforts to set things up so they'd be crash-proof when we got a lot of traffic!). I pulled a lot too-late nights and worked when the kids were home from school way more than I would have liked. But I still got everyone where they needed to go and made sure we had family dinner most every night and didn't even open my computer on Sundays so I could enjoy total focus on my family. Things are much better now that the conference is over (and it was really great in the end - almost 40,000 moms from around the world attended and we got so much kind feedback!). I've got boundaries in place and I'm being much more realistic and careful about what I take on.

I contacted Delta to ask for the compensation due to me for a delay over 12 hours and/or being involuntarily bumped from a flight according to EU law. They deny that they owe me anything despite what it says in the EU law regarding long delays and involuntary bumping from flights. It clearly says that they need to put people on the next available flight and they did not. I've sent them full information on every step of the ordeal I went through but they completely deny any sort of responsibility or compensation for me. This is extremely disappointing that Delta would choose to deny a legitimate claim like this. I totally get that they can't control that flights need to be cancelled from time to time and delays are often inevitable. But as their negligence caused much of the problems I encountered, they should clearly take responsibility. Delta is now a company I will avoid and will encourage others to avoid. So I guess Delta makes my "stuff I'm really not grateful for" list right now!

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Gratitude Days 4, 5, 6 and 7: Running, Braces, Hiking and Healthy Active Kids

Here are my gratitude posts for the last few days (from Instagram). It's been so great looking for the positive in my life and celebrating it daily. There are plenty of not-so-good things I could dwell on. But celebrating all my blessings makes me a much happier - and nicer person!

Day 4: Beautiful runs exercising body and mind (and my current favorite podcasts - This American Life, Invisibilia, and Radio Lab)

Day 5: Orthadontics (Isaac's done and Eliza and Silas have an appointment this coming week to decide when they'll get started - ortho appointments are going to be part of our lives for quite some time. But how grateful we are that orthadontics exist! Isaac could barely close his mouth back when he started. So far 100% of the my siblings, my kids, and all their cousins have had the big "Eyre teeth" come in when they get their permanent teeth - and often those big big teeth cause some crazy crowding and serious overbites. So braces are something all Eyres are grateful for!)

Day 6: Hiking (and the first snow! we hiked through gorgeous swirling snowflakes this week.)

Day 7: Healthy Active Kids

I have to admit that I've complained about the huge amount of driving kids around and going to kids' sporting events that has been such a large part of our lives this fall. But I'm so grateful that they want to be involved in great things that keep them active, help them form good friendships, and teach them so many important things. At Isaac's first swim meet on Friday afternoon, Jared, Ashton, Eliza and I got a crash course in how swim meets work (this was the very first swim meet any of us had ever attended) as we got roped into being timers. For almost FIVE HOURS, we carefully timed event after event in the lanes we were each assigned and we learned a ton while supporting Isaac and the team. Not only are the kids who are participating in each sport learning and growing and making new friends - so is the rest of the family as we support them!

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Gratitude Day 2 & 3: Beauty and Safety

I posted this to Instagram yesterday as my gratitude post for the day:

The deep, rich colors of late fall have filled my heart with joy. I love how leaves, in the very act of dying, become amazingly beautiful. And I just love fall - especially days like Monday when it's crisp but not cold and the overcast skies make the colors really pop. I went for a run on Monday and it was just so beautiful and perfect.

For the past few days, I've been thinking so much about the huge blessing of safety that I enjoy so that's what I want to focus on for my gratitude post today. On Sunday, we decided as a family to fast for the refugees who've left their homeland of Syria to find safety. On Sunday, we watched these YouTube clips (and a lot more - but these were some of the ones we liked the best) to learn more about the whole thing:

We've talked a lot the past few days about how blessed we are to feel safe in our country, to be able to sleep at night in our own comfy beds rather than sleeping on the streets while traveling to find asylum or in a tent in a refugee camp, hoping to have a roof over our heads again some day.

How blessed I am that I've never known war and have always felt safe.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Gratitude Day 1: MFME Trip to Switzerland, Austria and Germany

It's weird that it's been SO long since I've written. I wrote 2-3 times a week on this blog for years and years but something just had to give over the past year - so my blog got put on the back burner. I've been Instagraming regularly and podcasting a lot so I'm sort of journaling my life and thoughts that way. But now that the big Mom Conference I co-hosted is over (it was SO much work and stress but I learned a ton and we had nearly 40,000 moms attend - many of whom took the time to write the nicest notes of thanks), I've decided to slow down on Power of Moms projects and make more time for writing, for reading, for thinking, and for actually taking the time to enjoy my beautiful life (my word for this year is "enjoy" and I'm determined to get better at actually doing it!).

You won't be seeing a lot more posts here in general. But you'll be seeing more. Especially this month as I've decided to do a quick gratitude post every day (maybe here part of the time, on Instagram part of the time - still deciding...). A couple year's back, I did a quick daily post about something I was especially grateful for during the whole month of November up until Thanksgiving and that was such a positive thing for me. I enjoy life much more and find a lot more happiness when I'm actively looking for the good in my life- and knowing I'll be writing a gratitude post each day helps keep me actively looking for the good.

My first gratitude post for this month will be WAY longer than the rest. I finally got a chance tonight to read over my mom and sisters' great blog posts about our fabulous MFME (Mothers and Future Mothers of Eyrealm) trip to Europe at the end of Septemer/beginning of October. And I'm just SO full of gratitude for these fabulous women I get to be related to and the precious time we had together and for my mom who made it all happen. Plus I'm so grateful that my mom and sisters recorded the trip so well already - so I'm going to share links to their great blog posts full of photos at the end of this post and keep my post to a few full group photo and the text I wrote up at the end of the trip but haven't gotten around to posting until now.

Oh how I love these ladies!
In the schoolhouse- turned-museum where our great great grandfather and mother went to school
In Schmeidrued, Switzerland (with the sweet museum curator and his wife)

At the church where my great great grandparents, Verena and Samuel Weber, went to church

In Flims where Anita grew up

Walk through the gorgeous hills near Tal and Anita's house

In the Alps
At Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany
On our "Sound of Music" bike tour in Salzburg
at the Museum of Modern Art in Salzburg

getting creative with pictures - downtown Salzburg

Munich - during the height of Oktoberfest

Final dinner together - in Munich

Here's what I wrote at the end of our trip:

I’ve had a truly wonderful and amazing week with my mom and sisters and sisters in law, traveling around Switzerland, Austria and Germany. 

  • We visited the town where our great grandmother grew up and and saw the school and church that she went to as a girl. 
  • We wandered through beautiful Zurich and climbed to the top of the towers of the cathedral there. 
  • We had a fabulous Sunday dinner at the lovely traditional chalet where my brother Tal and his family live (Tal’s wife Anita is from Switzerland and is SO excited to be living there again after living in the States for 20 years!). 
  • We visited the breathtaking ski town in the Alps (called Flims) where Anita grew up and visited her parents in her childhood home which is right up against one of the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever seen. We saw the bedroom she had growing up and marveled at the view she had from the desk in that room as she did her homework! 
  • We hiked along the “Grand Canyon of Switzerland” and walked around the lake in Flims plus rode a ski lift up to where we could get sweeping views. Then Anita and I walked down the mountain into the old village center of Flims, cow bells clanging all around, chalets and old barns dotting the hillside.  
  • We wandered along the remains of a 2000-year-old Roman road as we went through the Julier Pass. 
  • We saw traditional Swiss mountain cheese made the original way - in a huge kettle over an open fire - and learned facinating facts about cheese making before enjoying a fabulous (and HUGE) platter of many kinds of cheese. 
  • We rode a gondola up to the glacier peaks outside St Moritz and felt like we were on top of the world. 
  • We ate amazing chocolate and wonderful fondue and so many other tasty things (which were all VERY expensive - wow, Switzerland is one expensive country!). 
  • We explored adorable mountain villages in Switzerland and Bavaria with flowerboxes bursting with color at every window (Zouz, Oberarmegau, Mittenwald). 
  • We stayed in a wonderful apartment tucked into the attic of a house from the 1500’s and felt like we’d stepped right into a storybook. In fact, every place we stayed was just wonderful (thanks to Anita and Aja for setting up all the accommodations!). 
  • We went to the fairytale castle of Neuishwanstein and wondered at the care and expense that went into that exquisite palace that King Ludwig only enjoyed for a couple years before he mysteriously died. We hiked up above the castle to enjoy amazing views. 
  • We visited Mittenwald which was the violin-making capital of the world for centuries and learned about how violins are made in the lovely little museum there plus rode a wonderfully slow old chairlift up to the top of the mountain outside the village and enjoyed lunch looking out over gorgeous mountains with the town spread out below. 
  • We visited beautiful churches - some dripping with Roccoco pastels and gold accents, some simple and stark and pure. 
  • We rode bikes all over the gorgeous city of Salzburg, ate lunch at the Museum of Modern Art there with a spetcatular view of the city, heard all the bells pealing at the same time from the countless steeples of Salzburg, and climbed up to its ancient fortress before finishing off that grand day with a truly amazing and intimate concert in the guilded Marble Hall at the Mirabell Palace - in the very room where Mozart played with his father and sister when he was a boy.
  • We spent half a day wandering the grounds and enjoying the silly fun of the trick fountains at the Hellbrun Palace on the outskirts of Salzburg, then spent our final night together in Munich, unwittingly getting there at the climax of Oktoberfest so we were surrounded by slightly drunk and very happy crowds of people, most of whom were wearing lederhosen and dirndyls. We found a slightly less crazy little alley with a great restaurant for our final meal together and enjoyed the parade of Oktoberfest revelers walk by.
Perhaps most importantly, we talked. We had great conversations as we drove from place to place, alternating who went it which of the two cars. We had 5 in one car, 4 in the other. And 4-5 is such a perfect sized group for great conversation. We talked over meals and gathered in one of the hotel rooms each night to talk late into the night - even when we were so tired we knew we should really go to bed - we just had to enjoy every possible bit of good conversation! We each shared the best and hardest things going on in our lives right now. We talked about what books we’ve read and what podcasts we’ve listened to and all that we’ve been learning. We talked about our children and helped each other come up with ideas for handling various things going on with our kids. We laughed a lot. Oh, how good it feels to laugh with these women I love so much!

And we all had so much fun passing little 5-month-old Dean around. What a good baby he is - and he’s just plain adorable with all his smiles and coos and funny expressions! What a great mama he has - Julie just totally rolled with everything and never complained a bit about how hard it can be to travel with a baby who needs to eat in the night and has his fussy times while you’re trying to enjoy travelling with 8 other women. She’s amazing.

I’m so grateful that my mom has made such a point of getting us together regularly, that she comes up with great topics for us to discuss, and that she works to hard to make sure everyone is comfortable and happy thorughout our get-togethers. Our first “Mothers and Future Mothers of Eyrealm” (MFME) trip was back in 1998 and involved just me, Shawni, Saydi, Charity and my mom on an epic trip through I tay and France with a little time in Barcelona as well. SInce then, we’ve had gatherings pretty much every year, adding great new members as my brothers have gotten married. Some years we’ve just taken a few hours to go to dinner together while we’re at Bear Lake, leaving our husbands with the kids. Now there are 9 of us and we’re all mothers other than Charity. Because we’re all at different places financially, mom has quietly and generously helped ensure that all of us can get to every gathering. Usually our trips are much less expensive. But this year, my mom decided to use the money she got from selling the farm that her parents left to her to enable us to go on this grand adventure and visit the land of her ancestors. I know my grandparents were smiling in Heaven when she decided on this great way to use the money she got from them! They scrimped and saved all their lives and their farm never really prospered. But when the farm finally sold a few years back, my mom invested the money from the sale wisely and earmarked that money for MFME. How grateful I am to my mom and my grandparents for making this trip and all our other MFME trips possible!

How in the heck did I get so blessed to have the mother I have and the sisters and sisters in law I have???! They are each so precious to me. I learn from every one of them all the time through their examples and words. We’re all so different in wonderful ways and so much the same in important ways. There’s no group I’d rather be with. And I know having my favorite people right in my own family is a blessing that not everyone has.

Here are great posts by Shawni:
Switzerland intro
Anita's wonderland
Engadin Valley
Sound of Music Bike Tour

Here are excellent posts from Charity:
sisters in switzerland
flying through the alps (I'm so mad I didn't go with them paragliding!)
So much beauty in the engadin valley

And here's my mom's take on it all:
On to Switzerland and the Beginning of an Epic MFME

And here are the photos everyone Instagrammed while we were travelling.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

What I've been doing plus more great things to listen to/watch

OK, after weeks of super intense work and months of part-time focus, the online Mom Conference that Power of Moms is co-hosting this year is now open for registration (it'll be held Oct 13, 14, 15). I'm so so so excited about this online event that will give moms around the world the chance to participate in top-notch training by some great authors and speakers without having to get a babysitter or leave their homes. And thanks to some great sponsors, we're able to offer this conference for FREE.

Click below to learn more (and see a video of me and my kids with my Mom Conference partner Desi and her sweet kids):
Mom Conference 2015 

Another thing I've been working on is updating the Family Systems eCourse I've been working on for years. We launched it last spring to a group of 200 families as sort of our "beta testers." It was really well received by this initial group and they gave some valuable feedback which we've now incorporated into our now more full Family Systems eCourse. To celebrate this more full and finished version of the course, we've got a special $50 off this week only. So click on the link below the picture to check out the eCourse and if it seems like the right thing for you, use promo code "save50" and you'll get it for the best deal we'll ever be able to offer.

And of course, I'm always working on our own family - updating our routines and family systems for the new school year, working on my relationship with Jared and trying to protect some time for the two of us, talking to kids about what they're doing and how they feel about things, getting kids where they need to be - scouts, mountain bike practices and races, cross country practices and races, football practices and games (but Ashton takes care of most of that on his own, thankfully - see more below on that). Plus Isaac just decided he simply must join the swim team at Ogden High. Trying to figure out if we can make that happen on top of everything else. Really want the kids to be able to pursue the things that they feel excited about but wow, they're all interested in pursuing a lot of things! Other than the twins. Oliver and Silas just want to play with the neighborhood kids, build forts, climb trees, have nerf wars and jump on the trampoline plus go to scouts once a week. And I'm so glad they're so happy with this simple stuff for now.

Here's a glimpse inside my brain through what I found to be super interesting the past couple of weeks:

Ted Talk: 
The Story we Tell about Poverty Isn't True

I was drawn to this title as we live in an area where there are a great number of people living below the poverty line and as Jared (as the bishop of our ward) works to help a lot of people who are really struggling financially. I loved hearing her stories of people who are figuring out how to make ends meet and helping others along the way.


I've been really into RadioLab lately. This episode was especially interesting to me:

Ashton decided he wanted to play football this year. While Jared was a great football player back in the day, we've never really pushed football with our kids - it's really not my favorite game and there really weren't any great football programs for younger kids in the places we've lived. Ashton played touch football one season but didn't seem to care about it that much. But then quite suddenly, he declared he was going to play football for Ogden High. He found out about tryouts. He borrowed cleats from a friend. He got himself to the school for practice on his bike. He walked all over the place selling football cards (cards that give lots of discounts on local restaurants) until he'd raised the full $400 he was asked to raise to support the team. He figured out and did everything completely himself. We'd have been happy to help and support him but he just jumped right in there and did everything himself.

So I've decided it's time that I learn about football. We've been to the games (where Ashton supports from the sidelines - he's hoping to actually get in the game at some point!). I'm finally learning about how football works. I've asked Jared a lot of questions and pulled out my phone to look up answers to questions while watching the game (so that poor Jared could watch in peace for a while).  And you know what, football still isn't my favorite game. I don't like violence. Not one bit. I don't like seeing kids encouraged to run into each other. It just seems to go against everything most every parent is trying to teach their kids. But I really like the work ethic that football is giving Ashton and it's so great to see him just really go after something and take initiative.

Anyway, this episode from Radio Lab was so interesting and helpful to me - it offered details about football's history and helped me understand more about why football is so important to so many people, while examining how dangerous it is and what the future of football might be.

And I recorded these three podcasts for Power of Moms in the past little while and they've been really well received:

Setting your Family up for Success

Reflections of a Failed Tiger Mother

Protecting Kids from the Me Me Me Epidemic

This podcast by my Power of Moms partner, April, and "Hands Free Mama" really made me think. Oh how much I want to be more present in my own life! I learned some important principles that are helping me. There's so much more I need to figure out though. I know a big part of the answer is to do less. But I felt strongly that I needed to help spearhead this Mom Conference so I've got to see it thorugh! Then I can slow down on my work hours more and apply the principles Rachel teaches more fully...

Hands Free Life with Rachel Macy Stafford

Friday, August 28, 2015

What I've Been Listening To/Watching/Thinking

As well as recording what we did and what we looked like and how I felt about things, I want record some of the things that interested me, what made me think, what I listened to and watched that fed my thoughts.

So here are a few things I've found to be really interesting and that I've discussed with Jared and other friends lately:

Alaa Murabit: What My Religion Really Says About Women - I've always wanted to understand more about Islam and about what Muslim women think about their religion - this was very insightful - great to see a faithful woman explain how her devotion to her faith can be compatible with her belief that women and men are equal and that women's voices need to be heard in religion.

Brene Brown: On Vulnerability - The one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we're not worthy of connection; we can't treat others with real compassion if we don't show compassion to ourselves; people who are really good at connecting with others are generally people who can see that what makes them vulnerable also makes them beautiful. When we numb our worries and fears, we also numb joy and excitement and other positive emotions. Tips to enbrace vulnerability and find more connection: let yourself be seen - really seen, love with your whole heart (even though there's no guarantee), practice gratitude and joy (realize that even in the worst of times, there is so much to be grateful for and the more we focus there, the better we feel), embrace "I am enough."

I recently discovered the NPR podcast, Invisibilia (thanks to my sister Saydi). I love it! So much great food for thought. I've listened to all the episodes I could find during my runs over the past month or so. My brain really got whiring as I listened to each of the episodes linked below and I loved discussing a few of them with a friend on my hike on Wednesday - nothing like a good invigorating discussiong during a slightly-rainy, very sweaty, super-beautiful hike!

Fearless - We are wired to react strongly to fear as part of our nature - to keep us safe. But in today's world, we don't have that many real threats but do have TONS of exposure to scary things thanks to the Internet and the news so we have the fear centers of our brains lighting up ALL the time and that isn't so good for us (perhaps this is why there's so much anxiety in today's world? And this is certainly why our children don't have the freedom they need to develop properly...). Does fear really help us? (Story of a woman who actually cannot feel fear at all and how that affects her.) Can we get rid of certain fears through deeper understanding of whatever we're afraid of?

The Secret History of Thoughts - Do our thoughts really matter? When we have crazy thoughts, does that pretty much always mean there's some underlying issue in our past that needs to be resolved? (this would be Freud's theory) Or are some thoughts just dumb random things that pop into our heads and that we should learn to ignore? (a newer theory on thoughts that's become popular). Super interesting story about a kid who was assumed to be a vegetable for many many years but who was actually totally aware of everything going on but had no way to indicate to his parents or others around him that he was "in there." He had to live entirely alone in his own thoughts for many years - how he made that work...

I listened to this while running today - it put into words many of my own thoughts about how religion and science can work hand in hand:
A Climate for Change

Also, I've been reading the scriptures in a deeper and more meaningful way than I have in years (I've got this challenge going on with my mom and sisters where we're all trying to make sure we do serious sit-down scripture study for at least 20 minutes a day, at least 6 days a week. I have to admit I haven't been as consistent and thorough with this as I want to be but I'm working on it and I'm doing a lot more scripture study that I was before this challenge started so even if it's not 20 minutes 6 days a week, it's 10-15 minutes pretty much every day and 20 minutes more and more days...). I've found that my days go SO much better when I take some time for personal scripture study and reflection on how I can apply what I'm reading to my life. I'm following the New Testament reading guide for Sunday School this year - I just love the New Testament so much and Paul is one super interesting guy (we're in Acts right now). Once you get into it, the stories are compelling and there is so much to think about and learn.

I've also been thinking a lot lately about how my life is just too jam-packed and about how totally tired I am so much of the time. I've been feeling totally overwhelmed - and totally unsure about what to do about that. Everything I'm doing seems pretty necessary - and/or it feels even more overwhelming to figure out how to get out of doing any of the things I'm doing. I know that everything will feel more manageable if I do a better job protecting my sleep so I'll start with working on that. Getting up at 6:30 every morning now that school is back in session has been brutal when it's so hard to get to bed at a decent hour (our evenings are just so darn packed!). And I naively thought that once the kids were back in school, I'd be able to get my feet back under me as far as all the Power of Moms and Joy School work that piled up while I was trying to minimize my time on the computer in the summer. Every day since school starts, it seems like there's been something that I need to do that doesn't allow me the blocks of time I need to get stuff done while the kids are at school. There have been dr appointments for sports physicals and immunizations, there have been meetings, and I've needed to help Ashton manage his time since he didn't start school when the other kids did plus he needed rides home from football practice and we had apointments at his school to get him situated in the exciting and scary new world of high school....

Anyway, I'll let you know how this goes. But send some positive thoughts my way as I try to figure out how to get my life going at a more manageable pace!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Budget Travel Tips (you can make it happen if you really want to!)


I've had a lot of people ask me about how we manage to travel a lot on a tight budget with a bunch of kids. Here are some answers to commonly asked questions:

I was lucky enough to be raised by parents who wanted to raise "citizens of the world." They taught us to value and embrace diversity, to realize that "different is interesting and good," to understand and love the nature and art and culture of our home and every place we visited, and to seek after truth and beauty in every situation.

While we can bring the whole world into our home through the Internet and great books and documentaries these days and that is a huge blessing, there's still nothing like actually experiencing things first-hand. A big part of who I am comes from the travels I was lucky enough to experience with my family growing up so naturally, I want some of that for my own children. And I never feel more alive and more "on" as a mother than I do when I'm traveling with my children.

I love seeing the kids' excitement mirror my own as we explore new places together!

For many years, we realized we needed to be content with very inexpensive roadtrips - sometimes in Utah, sometimes stretching to California, often in conjunction with family weddings or reunions (our budget was super-limited with employment ups and downs for quite some time - but we literally lived on rice and beans in order to protect some money for travel that was important to our families and to us. Plus we pretty much always drink only water in our family - which saves us at least a dollar a day over families who drink juice and soda and milk a lot more - that $365/year we might otherwise spend on drinks goes a long way towards family travel when we do it on the cheap!).

Then we were so excited when we were able to do a big cross-country road trip a few years back, funded by the Power of Moms Retreats I put on along the way. We paid like $65/night for hotels thanks to Express Deals on Priceline and stayed with friends and family many nights. We stopped at grocery stores and ate out of the cooler in our car and stretched the $100 gift certificate Subway gave us when we asked them to sponsor our trip as far as we could (everyone paired up to share $5 footlongs, drank water, no chips, no cookies...). We did fabulous free things in every city we visited and spent no more money on food than we would have if we'd been eating at home. And our inexpensive hotel costs and gas costs were covered by what we brought in from our Power of Moms Retreats.

Once our employment situation became a bit more stable, we started putting aside money every month towards a hoped-for Europe trip and while it was a big stretch, we felt like we were close to making a trip work for this spring or summer. Bulgaria and Italy were first on our list since Jared and I served missions there long ago and since the kids have been raising money to help orphanages in Bulgaria for many years now and I've been involved in a non-profit that works with Bulgarian orphanages for 10 years now and needed to do some fact-finding and training at the orphanages. But England and France were right behind (I grew up in England for 4 years, most of my and Jared's ancestors are from there, my little sister is moving there soon, I have a couple dear friends there, and for France -  I learned French in school and travelled there a lot when I was growing up in England - fell in love with the countryside and castles and Paris and all that). Plus my brother lives in Switzerland now and Jared and I both have Swiss ancestry. And my other brother was moving to Spain. So there were SO many places we really wanted to visit in Europe for many reasons.


We tried to figure out how to maximize getting miles from credit cards but that proved to be too complex for various reasons (we couldn't figure out how to get enough miles to get us all on the same flights and we realized we'd need a lot more lead time and would need to put a lot more on credit cards to make it work - just too complicated in the end...).

Then we realized we could get a small grant to help with a portion of our airfare expense in going to Bulgaria since we'd be doing a lot of work, training and infrastructure-building in orphanges (as I've been working for 10 years with One Heart Bulgaria, fundraising and serving on their Board for part of the time, it was really time for me to get back to Bulgaria and do some assessment and training and research). After MANY hours of researching airfares on the internet, we were able to find some decent deals that could make our dreamed-of trip to Europe this past summer actually happen. When we were trying to actually book the best-deal plane tickets that we'd been able to find after weeks of searching, the website we were on froze up so we called their customer service line and to book on the phone. After going through each flight number on the itinerary that we'd pieced together so carefully, the agent quoted us a price that was almost $800 cheaper than what we'd been just about to pay when booking on the website. We went over it again and again and confirmed that everything was correct and yep, that lower price was correct. What a wonderful blessing to pay less than we thought we were going to have to pay!

At the SLC airport - headed out on our adventure

During our 12-hour layover in Paris that was supposed to be 2 hours.
Mechanical difficulties. Wish we'd known we'd be stuck so long and we'd have
figured out how to to explore a bit of Paris! But they told us we had to stay close...


We rented a car in Bulgaria for the week we were there. We shopped around a lot on the internet and finally found a car for $350 for the week. It was a 7-seater but had NO luggage room so we had the twins sit on some bags as booster seats and put other bags on our laps and under our feet (glad we didn't bring much luggage!). It worked out OK since we seldom had to travel with our luggage as we were mostly doing day trips around the country. But we learned that what the rental companies call a "mini-van that seats 7" isn't at all the same as what we'd call a mini-van here in the US.

Our car in Bulgaria (no luggage space but 7 seats!)
In Italy, the best price we could find for a vehicle that would seat us all for the 10 days we'd be there was $450. Initially, the keys the rental car place gave us were for a car similar to the one we'd had in Bulgaria. We asked if they had anything bigger and they gave us a full-size van for the same price. It was huge - a nine-seater with tons of luggage space. I was worried we wouldn't fit through all those tiny streets and  that it would be hard to park but Jared was sure it would be OK and thanks to his excellent driving skills - it was! (We did have to fold in the rear view mirrors on the sides to get through some extra narrow streets...)

Our Fiat Scudo in Italy
We chose to stay in places where there would be free/cheap parking for the van. We lucked out to find good, free street parking (probably not the norm) and ended up only paying for parking when we were in Sienna for a few hours (like $2/hour maybe?) and when we left it at the train station in La Spezia (I think $2/hour also?) to take the train to the Cinque Terre towns (quick train ride to the first town, then we hiked from town to town and took the train back to La Spezia at the end).

Train ride through the Cinque Terre (wish you could see how brillant blue that water was!)

When we weren't driving from one city to another, we parked our car near our apartment and walked pretty much everywhere. You see so much more when you walk! And we've got some good walkers. We put 84 miles on our feet over the 17 days we were gone. We took the subway in Rome one time but really, Rome is very walkable. We walked everywhere in Florence. We walked all over Sofia and Plovdiv. We found so many great things and soaked in the culture and sites so much by walking everywhere (plus it was free!).

Walking along the Arno in Florence - love that Ponte Vecchio!


We booked apartments to stay at throughout our stay in Bulgaria and Italy. We had help from a generous supporter of the charity we were working with in Bulgaria while we were there and he paid the $55/night that the apartment there cost (and we just paid for a couple nights at a cheap hotel in another city we visited). In Italy, we found some great apartments that slept 7 for an average of $100/night. So all in all, we paid about $1000 for lodging during our 2.5 week trip.

The very Italian house we stayed at near the coast 

the view from our apartment in Florence


We spent only slightly more money on food than we normally spend at home because we bought food at grocery stores to eat breakfasts and some dinners at the apartments where we stayed and we packed along bread and cheese and cucumbers and carrots to eat for lunch while we were out and about.

picnic of cheese and bread on the street
We ate at a few restaurants in Bulgaria since everything was half as expensive there as it is in the US (so nice to go to a restaurant and tell the kids they could order anything they wanted! Usually we're giving them a low dollar figure on what they can order or telling them then need to pair up and order something together if there isn't a cheap kids' menu).

But we also ate at the apartment we were staying at quite a bit. Shopping at local stores and trying local foods is a great way to really experience the culture - and it's sure a lot cheaper than eating out! Here are the kids enjoying some traditional Bulgarian cheese called sirene, excellent tomatoes and this red pepper spread called lutenitza on delicious Bulgarian bread.

We loved shopping at the very open market where I shopped as a missionary - Crasno Selo.

the bread in Bulgaria and Italy is SO GOOD!

I told these guys that this brown stuff was chocolate milk, It wasn't. It was actually a very popular Bulgairan drink made of fermented yeast or something like that called boza. Nasty! But fun to watch their faces as they tried it!

We saved a lot by eating breakfast and dinner at our rented apartments -
here's some fresh pasta and salad we had one night in Florence.
In Italy, we thoroughly enjoyed inexpensive street pizza (about $4-5 for a big slice) and lots of great gelato ($3/day per person to get a big bowl or cone each). We splurged for dinner at one of the Cinque Terre towns after a full day of hiking and it was probably an average of $14/person for fresh pasta and seafood. Jared and I went out one night on our own and spent about $20 each on a really authentic and delicious Italian meal at a great place our Airbnb host recommended.

Here are a few shots of some gelato moments - makes my mouth water just looking at it!

Gelato in Genova
Gelato in Sienna

Gelato in Florence (joint wine/gelato place)

Almost everything we did was free or close to free - hiking the Cinque Terre cost a small fee per family for the hiking pass and about $3/person for the train, going to the Colosseum and Roman Forum was $15/person but free for kids under 18 so the whole family went for about $30, gorgeous and fabulously interesting churches and cathedrals were all free except for the very biggest ones. We paid to go into the Uffizzi Gallery which was not super cheap but it was the one museum we did. We paid to get into a castle in Bulgaria which cost $10 for a family ticket.

Here we are at the castle in Bulgaria:

And here we are at a few of the 50 or so churches (free) that we visited in Bulgaria and Italy (There's so much beautiful art and so much culture and history to experience in churches!)

yes. wrestling is always necessary somehow...
My favorite church in Bulgaria - Alexander Dnevski. Got to sit in on a
Bulgarian Orthadox service there - so interesting.
The Sienna Cathedral charged a small price for admission for older kids and adults
(a few of the most amazing cathedrals do) but it was SO worth it!
There's a lovely church like this around every corner.
The kids were interested to note that it seemed that the more plain the church
was on the outside, the more elaborate it was on the inside.
And vice versa.

High baroque church in Genova

Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Sofia, Bulgaria

Bulgarian Orthodox church in Old Town Plovdiv in Bulgaria
One of the kids' favorite things we did in Bulgaria was to explore some old communist-era block apartment buildings where I served much of my mission. They were delighted to ride in the rickety old elevators and it was super exciting when we found that we could get onto the roof of one of the buildings where we had an awesome view of the whole area. Totally free.

Roman Amphitheater in Old Town Plovdiv in Bulgaria ($10 for a family ticket)

Here are some shots of our epic (and mostly free) day-long hike through vineyards and olive groves and amazingly beautiful towns in the Cinque Terre:

Here we are at a couple gorgeous off-the-beaten track hill towns in Tuscany. Wandering is so fun - and totally free!:

Driving over and hiking through the Apuan Alps was so beautiful - and so un-touristy. The marble quarries were really interesting and the vistas were breathtaking (as was the tiny windy road!).

Loved entering these gates of Genova and exploring the tiny twisty streets of the old city
The kids just had to see the leaning tower of Pisa. And it did not disappoint.

We listened to great Rick Steves audio tours of various areas in Florence and Rome (free - just downloaded them when we had wifi at the places we were staying and then listened later when we were at our destination).

Palazzo Vecchio in Florence
Climbing to the top of the Palazzo Vecchio cost like $3 per person but was worth it!

The Colloseum was SO cool. And so worth the $30 we paid ($15 each for adults and kids under 15 are free)

Magical night-time walk through Rome - awed by the Pantheon

Maybe our favorite night was when we wandered through Florence late at night, watching excellent street musicians, then came around the corner to see the Duomo all lit up - priceless.

We love street performers - some amazing talent and it's free (but we always give the a couple dollars). And in this photo below, you can see that if you're out and about and it suddenly gets really cold, a plastic bag makes a pretty good little jacket...

I have such fond memories of going to the Uffizzi Gallery in Florence when I was on study abroad in college - loved sharing some of my favorite art with the kids. It was expensive (I think like $15/person which adds up when you've got 7) but I think every trip needs one or two splurges for something you really value. And with the help of the Rick Steves free audio guide to the Uffizzi, we were able to go right to some of the most interesting stuff and not drag it out and make the kids dislike it.

We decided against going to the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel in Rome. The line was 4 hours long and it was expensive and there were SO many other wonderful free things to see in Rome. We did wait for about an hour to get into St Peters in the Vatican - great to see that crazy huge opulent place with the kids and enjoy the amazing art and architecture there while learning more about the Catholic church.

The twins' big souvenir purchase (the kids all brought their own souvenir money that they'd earned) were these Roman soldier and gladiator costumes. They had to put them right on and got a lot of smiles as they walked around Rome in these get-ups. They're all set with Halloween costumes now!


When we travel, we pack light and that makes a big difference in how burdensome traveling can feel!

I shared my best tips for packing in this post - these tips work for road trips or trips around the world:

I read the post above and expanded on the ideas there in this podcast that went up on Power of Moms this week:
Radio Show: Road Trip Tips

In a nutshell, we just don't bring much when we travel and we lower our standards about what constitutes "clean" clothes. We wear socks again if they aren't that dirty or stinky. We wear shirts and pants again if they don't smell and spot clean small spills (plus we pack darker colored/patterned things that won't look dirty as quickly). We try to stay at places with laundry facilities so we can wash stuff when needed. Also, we try to find shoes that are good for walking and that look decent with all our outfits so that we don't have to bring more than one pair of shoes plus maybe some flip flops. Shoes take up the most space! And we don't bring books - just a kindle or books loaded on our phones. We always bring a hoodie/light jacket for each person and bring a few raincoats/ponchos - take so little room and often come in handy!


Travelling to places that your heart yearns to go is something just about any family can do if they make up their minds to do it.

Yes. There are trade-offs. You can't really have it all (at least most people can't). But you can prioritize in a way that makes room in your budget for the things that you feel are most important for your family.

We keep Christmas and birthdays small (up to maybe $50 for birthday presents and maybe $50 for a birthday party every other year and our Santa has a $100 limit). Our clothing budget is small (the fact that the kids wear uniforms to school and that none of them are into brand names and that I really hate dislike shopping helps). We're OK with sort-of-worn furnishings (we like antiques and they're supposed to be a little dinged-up, right?) and basic cars (in fact, the one time I had a new car, it just stressed me out - every little ding or spill was so painful!). We seldom spend money on entertainment (family movie night and family game night and hikes and bike rides are our favorites - all pretty much free. Plus we live in a place where there are always so many awesome free events that we can walk to - downtown Ogden never disappoints!).

We've chosen to prioritize travel above many other things. We have so many precious memories from family trips and we've got a bucket list of family trips to work through on into the future. Maybe we'll make it to India and Africa (a couple of our bucket list places) but maybe we won't be able to afford that (it's just the airfare that's so expensive - everything else is pretty darn cheap in the 3rd world...). I feel quite sure that we'll make it to places that don't cost so much to get to like Mexico and Montreal and Chinatown in San Francisco and other awesome places where we can experience different cultures and languages more fully and build the kinds of special memories that come from stretching and growing as you navigate new places and experiences together as a family. 


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