House of LIGHT

Our Japanese rental home

“Mama, we’ve always lived in homes with lots of light.”

The unexpected yet earnest comment from my 13-year-old son caught me off-guard. I was folding laundry and he had just come upstairs to say goodnight. As a typical teenager, he usually was more concerned with his friends than he was with the number of windows in our house. But I was pleased with his observation.

“You’re right,” I said. “We like light in our house.”

We had just moved into a rental home in Japan, and it had been a challenge finding enough space for 8 people to comfortably exist. Families our size were not common on the tiny Asian island.

But despite our idiosyncrasies, we were lucky enough to find a home with wide, tall glass doors on each floor and spacious windows in every room. I loved looking out on the “jungle” vacant lot next to us and the ocean in the distance. Having views and light would certainly make our foreign transition smoother.

Why is light so vital to our souls? And to moms? I can think of lots of reasons. But the bottom line is, LIGHT makes us feel light.

As Pa Ingalls observed when digging his well, “Where a light can’t live, I know I can’t.”

Thinking back on our previous homes, I love remembering our wonderful windows in Kaysville, Utah; Casper, Wyoming; and Las Vegas, Nevada. Light and windows have always been a priority for us.

And my rule of thumb as a mom is, start the day by opening the blinds. Let the light in!

Get out of bed, open the windows and then get on with the to-do list.

Folding laundry, doing dishes, sweeping floors, managing little people, and all of the ups and downs of motherhood are much easier to deal with when the beauty of the earth is visible through our windows, and when the light of the world is streaming into our lives.

So when you’re feeling overwhelmed with the cares of life, open your shades, sit by a window (or out in the yard or on the deck) and soak in the sun.

And you never know, your teenage son may learn from your actions, and love LIGHT as much as you do!

The Polar Express: A Christmas Program

This month I wrote a program for a church Christmas dinner. Our theme was The Polar Express! I combined images and phrases from the book by Chris Van Allsburg and the movie staring Tom Hanks to share a Christmas message of faith in Jesus Christ.

Producing the program is simple. Here are the steps:

  1. Invite two readers to be the Conductor and Narrator. We used a married couple and it worked great! We did one practice read-through before the night of our event.
  2. Find someone to manage the PowerPoint presentation. Simple! My teenage daughter did this task for me.
  3. Download the Polar Express soundtrack and have someone cue up songs and play them throughout the narration. This can easily be done by creating a playlist. It takes a little bit of practice to fade songs in and out during the narration, but really, anyway you do it works great! The music provides a magical background to the readings.
  4. Ask one to three people to perform during the program. They can sing or dance!

Suggested Songs:

-When Christmas Comes to Town (This is especially cute if children sing it. There are easy minus tracks available online.)

-Believe (We had small ballerinas dance while the soundtrack played.)

-End the program with any song about the Savior. A Christmas carol? A contemporary piece? Even singing Silent Night as a group would be meaningful.

That’s it!

The script is included in this link: Polar Express Program

Here is the PowerPoint: PolarExpress2019

Feel free to edit and rewrite the script or rearrange images to best fit your audience and needs.

Here are a few pics from our successful evening:

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Continue reading

Of Abundance and Apathy – A Tribute to the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Life is easy right now. Most of the people I know have a car (more than one), a phone (more than one), a T.V. (more than one), they often take vacations (more than one) and even own a home (some have more than one).

I don’t personally know anyone going hungry, and even friends of mine who’ve experienced a “downsizing” in their job status are still able to make ends meet and live comfortably. Some would call our current standard of living “the abundant life.” And it is very abundant. However, we must be very careful that the “abundant life” doesn’t become the “apathetic life”.

This month is a good time for a wake-up call.

IMG_3159My wake-up call came when my teenage son excitedly told me one day that he had seen a piece of the Berlin Wall.

“It was behind glass,” he explained. “A real piece of the wall. Imagine that!” I waited for him to finish the story of his museum field trip before I replied.

“Actually, I have a piece of the wall downstairs,” I told him.

“You do?” He didn’t believe me.

“And, you can touch it,” I added. As he eagerly followed me to the basement, I realized that I had never shared with him two important experiences of my youth.

img_3161.jpgVarious circumstances took me to Germany twice as a teenager. The first time was in 1988, to visit Hans Dieter and Inge Wittke, Scouting friends of my dad’s. They lived in a small village near Düsseldorf, West Germany. I stayed with the Wittkes for a month while I practiced my junior high school German skills.

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As active Scouters, they provided an opportunity for me to attend a German Scout camp near Immenhausen for two weeks. Hiking, bicycling, camping, and backpacking through the green fields and hills of West Germany is an experience I will never forget. Continue reading

Media Myths: An invitation for Latter-day Saints to understand changes within the Boy Scouts of America

This month I had two distinct experiences.

While introducing myself to an international stranger, I mentioned that I lived in Utah, USA.

“Oh, that’s the place where people have lots of wives!” he remarked.

I cringed.

A few days later, a good friend showed up at my door. With tear-filled eyes he said, “I’m so sorry that Scouting is ending.”

I cringed again.

While both of these assumptions—that polygamy is legal in Utah, and that Scouting is ending—are false, they are mingled with truth. Yes, polygamy was prevalent in Utah over 150 years ago. And, the relationship between Scouting and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is ending this year. However, the full and entire truth about both of these situations is often misunderstood.

As a lifetime member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and as a longtime volunteer for the Boy Scouts of America, I have firsthand experience with painful partial truths. I often refer to these misunderstandings as “media myths.”

People are prone to read a headline and immediately think they comprehend a story. During the past century, both the Church and the BSA have been victims to unfortunate media myths and misconceptions.

Paradoxically, we are currently in a situation—the Church ending its Scouting partnership—with multiple misconceptions about the BSA among Church members.

I wish to directly address the confusion that some of my Latter-day Saint friends have regarding the Boy Scouts of America.

Unfortunately, many Latter-day Saints feel the BSA has undergone “major” foundational changes during the past decade. This assumption is false. Instead, closer observation reveals that the BSA is simply making structural modifications. And, the Church is making—and has already made—similar adjustments!

My goal is to clarify changes the BSA has recently made, and share with Church members why I personally agree with these changes, and why I don’t feel they are causing the end of the LDS-BSA relationship.

Since May 8, 2018 when the Church announced the end of their Scouting partnership, I’ve observed seven common misconceptions about the relationship between the two organizations. I will refer to these misconceptions as “myths,” and have numbered them one through seven, in no particular order.

As all-too-common victims of media madness ourselves, I invite members of the Church to seek the full truth about the Boy Scouts of America.

Please note that what I share is based on my personal opinions. These views are mine and don’t officially represent the Church or the BSA.

Now sit back, smile, and read on.

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Myth #1: The Church is leaving Scouting because the Church no longer supports the BSA.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland clarified this myth when he spoke at the BSA National Annual Meeting in May 2018.

“Right now in the Church there are 4.5 million young people. We have a very large responsibility to a very large Church and it’s getting larger. That’s the arena and the growth that we’re facing. We are obligated for all the right reasons to intentionally reach them around the world.”

“Please know how grateful we are to the BSA. We are friends now and we will be friends forever. In 18 months when our charters are finished, we hope that many LDS youth who wish to do so will still choose to be in Scouting. It is just the charter part that we are separating from. We’re going to stay in close contact. And we are locked arm in arm and hand in hand for the next 18 months. Please keep your shoulder to the wheel. Let me stress again, this isn’t a divorce. It’s growth. We’re not in any way disavowing any of those virtues of Scouting.”

I personally reported on this event and wrote this article, and Elder Holland himself approved the article before it was published on the Latter-day Saint Scouting website. (Read the full article here.)

I’ve often heard Church members whisper that there is “more” to the ending partnership, but I choose to believe an apostle’s explanation. Yes, the Church does need a worldwide youth program. And yes, “We will be friends forever.”

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Myth #2: The Church is leaving Scouting because of girls.

The truth is that the Boy Scouts of America first welcomed girls into many of their programs starting in the 1970s. These coed programs included Exploring, Venturing, Learning for Life, Sea Scouts, and others.

While the Cub Scout and Boy Scout divisions remained male-only programs, they opened their doors to females in 2018 and 2019, respectively. However, girls can still only participate in separate dens and separate troops.

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As a former youth Explorer who loved the outdoor adventure provided by the BSA, I look forward to enrolling my own girls in the high quality Cub Scout and Scouts BSA programs.

Interestingly enough, the Church is also making changes to equalize young men and young women activity programs. For example, the new youth program, Children and Youth, provides a non-gender based outline for personal growth. Boys and girls, young men and young women, are now on an equal plane. In fact, in the announcement during the recent general conference, it was noted that “…ward budgets for youth activities will be divided equitably between the young men and young women according to the number of youth in each organization.”

And, in an interesting twist, while the BSA maintains separate girl and boy dens and troops, the Church often combines males and females in more activities than the BSA, making the Church slightly more lenient in this matter. I have seen Activity Day boys and girls meet together under coed circumstances that would actually violate BSA policy.

Additionally, the Church has made recent changes in temple and baptismal ordinances to more readily involve females and further clarify the value and position of women in the priesthood. These changes in the Church are enlightening!

We should feel the same about parallel changes to equalize opportunities for females in Scouting. It’s exciting that the BSA and the Church are both making similar structural adjustments.

No, girls in Scouting really isn’t new news. Instead, it’s thrilling!

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Myth #3: The Church is leaving Scouting because of transgender youth and adults.

Frankly, this is old news as well. And again, changes the BSA has made to welcome all youth and adults mirror changes in the Church.

A few Church examples of recent inclusiveness include greater emphasis on inviting all to come unto Christ, specific websites to help transgender individuals feel welcome in Latter-day Saint congregations, the Tabernacle Choir performing with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (full story here), and even recent Church policy changes that allow baptisms for children of same-sex couples.

Additionally, consider that Scouts Canada changed their youth and adult leader policies way back in the 1990s, yet the Church kept a partnership with them for over 20 more years. It stands to reason, then, that membership policy changes are not the reason for the end of the LDS-BSA partnership.

These membership adjustments are truly non-issues in both the Church and the BSA, especially in our current social climate.

It is extremely notable, however, that the BSA has not changed their century-old Scout Oath and Scout Law; nor has the Church changed the Ten Commandments, the Articles of Faith, The Living Christ or the Proclamation on the Family. While maintaining their historical and principled foundations, both organizations have opened their arms to all who wish to join and abide by their precepts.

This steadfastness is remarkable and commendable.

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Myth #4: The BSA is going bankrupt.

Members of the Church should fully understand how the media often misconstrues financial facts. I remember a major article splashed across the cover of Time Magazine titled, Mormon, Inc. The article grossly overstated the financial status and goals of the Church. It was misleading and embarrassing.

Likewise, the media has caught wind of financial stress within the BSA, and is having a heyday with them.

In a nutshell, recent changes in state litigation laws now allow unlimited suing ability for abuse victims, literally putting non-profit organizations out of business—a dangerous situation. Instead of focusing on what they do best, the BSA is drowning in litigation costs. This is an unfortunate outcome of our current sue-happy society.

(Read an official statement on the situation by Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh here.)

Since the 1920s, the BSA has kept careful track of child pedophiles and abusers, removing such individuals from their programs. Even a century ago, before records of such people were required, the Boy Scouts of America went above and beyond to track offenders and deny them access to our youth. Strangely enough, these records—once used to protect youth—are now used by greedy litigators to hurt the Boy Scouts of America.

The BSA hasn’t made an official decision yet, but as a non-profit institution they can “restructure” and set aside money specifically for litigation costs and abuse victims, while maintaining funds necessary to run their organization and program. Such an action would require the vote of the BSA National Executive Board. Time will tell what these wise men and women choose to do in this precarious situation.

I am personally afraid for organizations like the Boy Scouts of America—led by honorable people, striving to uphold American values—who are being put out of business by lack of litigation boundaries. Situations such as this should make us fear for our society.

In my opinion, the BSA is not the enemy. Instead, a society without youth who are trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind and all the rest is the true nightmare.

Again, the Boy Scouts of America is not going bankrupt. They are considering a “restructure” to save non-profit funds for what the BSA does best—instill character, citizenship, leadership, and fitness in America’s youth.

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Myth #5: The Boy Scouts of America changed its name.

Sigh. The Boy Scouts of America did not change its name. It simply changed the name of one of its many programs. Boy Scouts are now Scouts, BSA. This change is a reflection of the fact that girls can now join girl troops—all (let me be clear) under the umbrella of the Boy Scouts of America.

And, speaking of name changes, Latter-day Saints should be especially empathetic to official names. We were recently asked by our prophet to stop using the terms “Mormon” and “LDS” and focus on our full name: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Have we changed our name?

No.

And neither has the Boy Scouts of America.

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Myth #6: Scout leaders endanger our youth.

This is another classic example of media madness. Small truths are being twisted to tell partial truths and hurt good programs.

My kids participate in several different extra curricular activities, and none of them use a Youth Protection program like the BSA. In my opinion (and the statistics support me) kids are safer in Scouting programs than anywhere else.

I prefer sending my children to leaders who have been trained in multiple facets of safety as well as specific youth protection guidelines. I like having two leaders present at each Scouting activity. I choose an organization with leaders who have skill-specific training for outdoor adventure and safety.

The Church is not immune to youth protection issues either. Consider the recent allegations regarding the BYU Honor Code. I actually worked in the Honor Code Office as a student secretary when I was a college Junior. The people in that office were some of the kindest, most honorable individuals I’ve ever worked for. I often think about them during these media madness times, and wonder how they are coping as rumors swirl around their peaceful purposeful office.

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I feel the same about the Scout leaders I know. They are honorable upright citizens who support youth. Paradoxically, these good people are engaged in a battle against them. It’s strange that our society eagerly twists truth and makes good people the enemy.

I invite you to look past the media madness and get to know your local Scouting leaders. I believe you’ll be impressed, too.

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Myth #7 We can’t be involved in both the new Church youth program and Scouting

This is a question each family will decide for themselves.

I personally feel that Scouting will complement, not compete with, the new Church initiative. I believe and am grateful that our youth can still be involved in Scouting while working on personal growth in their Church quorums and classes. Scouting is an effective way to inspire physical, intellectual, spiritual, and social development in youth. For us, Scouting perfectly complements our quest to increase in “wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”

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Scouting has been a bridge for our family to connect with many good people not of our faith who also believe in God, country and family. For us, Scouting is a ministry—an opportunity to meet and serve with incredible people in our community, nation, and world. And an opportunity to follow personal revelation, grow, and bless lives. We have felt an undeniable spirit when we gather with good people in the framework of Scouting. We are working arm in arm with other children of God to prepare for the Second Coming of the Savior. Isn’t this exactly what the Church is encouraging us to do? I think so.

So, now that we’ve discussed the myths, let’s talk about what the BSA IS doing…

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After 109 years, they are still delivering quality programs to youth throughout our nation. They are still providing outdoor adventure opportunities and character building activities under incredibly safe guidelines. They are still training leaders in specific safety and youth leadership. They are still founded on their original Oath of honor to God, country, and family.

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Scouting is still a robust personal development program that teaches First Aid, patriotism, environmental respect, swimming and lifesaving skills, navigational and camping skills, understanding animals and wildlife, financial and personal management, leadership, cooking skills and safe handling of foods, community involvement at the local, national and world levels; internet safety, emergency preparedness, safe water practices…

The list goes on and on!

The BSA has benefited generations of youth, and will continue to bless generations in the decades to come.

Personally, I’m extremely grateful for an organization that teaches character, citizenship, and leadership. I love when youth learn to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

I whole-heartedly applaud and support the Boy Scouts of America. Our family—both boys and girls—plans to be involved for generations to come.

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We will Still be Scouting in 2020, and I hope your family will be, too.

Autumn Time – A Parent’s Pout

12052499_893156100731419_5381880284282719173_o.jpgNo! SUMMER CANNOT BE OVER YET! It absolutely may not end!!! I know I write this exact same column every single year, yet I have these exact same emotions every single year.  August turns into September and then into October long before I am ready to give up July.

“Wait!” I want to shout.  “This mom is just getting into the swing of things. I am finally accustomed to swimming and vacationing and reading without any schedule. I am finally adjusting to meals on the fly and sudden trips to the library. I am acclimated to long, hot, lovely days when flip-flops and shorts will suffice.”

And then, suddenly, those days are over, there is a cool nip in the air, and school has started. It just isn’t fair.

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I’m sorry. I cannot readjust my life that quickly. It is impossible to morph overnight from a summer-silly-fun mom to a September-school-strict mom who puts children to bed at 8 o’clock when the sun is still above the horizon and there is daylight to enjoy! I cannot—in my rightful mind—get little students up at 6am to catch the bus after weeks of summer sleeping in. I cannot suddenly tell my children to put a book down and start their homework. Or come in from the swing set to work on a math assignment. I cannot say goodbye to the marshmallow roasts and hikes in the sunshine and bike rides on the trail.

I cannot.

IMG_5780.jpgNo. Don’t make me admit that there is change in the air. That fall is inevitable. And whatever you do, absolutely, positively do NOT show me an orange-gold pumpkin. Not in the fields, not on the neighbor’s doorstep. Don’t you dare put up Halloween decorations in the stores. I don’t want leaf wreaths or yellowed stalks of grain. Don’t say the word “Jack-o-lantern” or show me a black cat or an apple pie. I only want summer. Pink and orange and green and brilliant summer. Fun, carefree, no-responsibility summer. That’s still me.

Just give me one more week without homework and bus schedules and supply lists. Give me a few more days without lunches to pack and schedules to keep. Let me buy some more time to eat picnics and run through sprinklers. We still have a thousand movies to watch and a million books to read on our summer “to-do” lists. Please…hold back time for this muddled mother.

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But then it happened. Despite my groanings and murmurings and pleadings, the school bus showed up on the first day of school. My children (bless their hearts) were actually happy to put on their new tennis shoes. They donned their fresh backpacks and—swinging their new lunchboxes—said goodbye to me as they left, without even looking over their shoulders. My heart crumbled. I watched them skip down the street and around the corner, and then I walked back into an almost empty house and cleaned up the dishes on my own. I did laundry on my own, and I read a book during the quiet afternoon. I even went outside to harvest some vegetables.

Before I noticed, it was the second week of school. And then the third, and then the fourth. Now, despite my best rantings, the inevitable fall has crept in around me. Geese are flying overhead, caramel scents and smells are everywhere. At first, I ignored it. It was easy to pretend that our pumpkins weren’t ripe and we didn’t need jackets quite yet. I was still in summer mourning.

Then the Saturday soccer games and school field trips started. And (it’s hard to admit) after a few golden days I was delighted with autumn leaves. I actually enjoyed the smell of new pencils and notebooks, and loved the reading homework the teacher sent home.

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This week the air was even cooler and as we ate dinner on the deck (squeezing that last bit of summer from the evening) I looked over and saw golden red in the trees. Halloween costumes became the dinner conversation chatter. “This year I’m going to be Cinderella.” “I’ve waited so long to finally fit the Superman costume.” “My friends and I already planned our trick-or-treating route.” I finally relented.

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“OK!” I called up to the beautiful harvest moon, just rising over the horizon. “I was still enjoying July and August. But I’ll give up. You can take summer and I’ll be happy with fall. I actually do love orange and red and yellow and brown. I’ll be content with lovely jacket Saturdays, with corn at the farmers’ market, and freshly-pressed grape juice and applesauce on my counter. I might eventually feel happy to pull the boots from the shelves and dig the winter coats out of the closet. Ultimately I may even want a good soup on the stove or a fire crackling on the hearth. Sooner than later I will crave crisp apple pies. You win, world. I suppose I really do like all of your changes.”

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Now the orange pumpkins are everywhere. Now the cornstalks are dried and decorating the farm fence. Now there is a sweet nip in the morning air, and we gather a little more closely for family prayer on chilly mornings. It’s time to stop my summer soliloquy. The lazy days of July and August have turned into golden September, and we are—despite my best hesitations—enjoying this season. Our summer sorrows have turned into autumn joys.

School Days – A Mother’s Soliloquy

IMG_0508I’m sending seven children to school this year – from high school senior on down through pre-kindergartener.   And that doesn’t include my two off-to-college boys and one living-across-the-ocean missionary.

Shouldn’t I be in the Guinness Book of World Records or something?  After all, managing students is a feat worth recording.  That is, if I survive.  Let me replay how our school preparation has gone.

“Everyone wash out your lunchboxes,” I call during one of our final summer afternoons.  Soon, a display of boxes and bags are lined up on the counter, rinsed and still dripping a bit.  It’s exhausting just to consider the food prep each school morning will require, even though many of my little pupils pack their own meal.

“School clothes day,” I call on a different morning.  Then, one by one, I go through each child’s drawer with him or her.  “School shirt, play shirt, dirty shirt that it’s time to dispose of, shirt you don’t wear so we’re donating to charity, shirt that doesn’t fit you any more (put it in your brother’s drawer)…”  The school clothes project takes ALL DAY.

Our next effort is school supplies.  With seven children at home now (and six lists) we head to the store.  “I’ll go get my pencils!” calls one, and a few wander down one aisle while I stay with the rest to find notebooks, Kleenex, hand sanitizer, folders, lined paper, pencil sharpeners and oh, yes, 50 glue sticks! (I should just buy stock in Mr. Elmer’s company.)

Next we shop for school shoes.  Luckily, our two favorite footwear stores are just across from each other in the mall.  I take one group of children (the “wear-out-your-tennis-shoes-in-one-month” boys) into one store to invest in high-quality sneakers, while the dainty girls go across to the other store to find some cute (and not as durable) sandals.  Luckily coupons and memberships give us a pretty good discount on the 12 pairs of shoes we buy (although purchasing company stock could still be a viable option.)

Shirts, pants, shorts–and of course lots of socks and underwear–and we are finally finished with our school prep.  Now comes the waiting.

“I think the teacher lists are posted!” my 5th grade daughter comes running breathlessly into the house one morning.  The news spreads through the neighborhood like wildfire, and soon our elementary students are on their bikes, racing to the nearby school to check the library windows.  Yep, teacher lists are posted, and they return home eager to broadcast their findings.  “My best friend isn’t in my class!”  “I don’t know if I can spell my teacher’s name!”

My junior high and high school students are calm but anxious as they retrieve their class schedules online and then call their friends to compare notes.  “We have Calculus together,” reports my senior after chatting with his best friend.

Then, the week before school, we head out on one more lovely lazy camping trip. I want to savor every moment: the beautiful blue water, the nights under the stars, the milkshakes on the lawn, the hot dogs over the fire, the late-night movie. I don’t like giving up freedom for the rigors of education. But my children are more than excited to start the school year adventure.IMG_4856.jpg

IMG_4857.jpgA few more days and it is the “start-of-school eve.”  Before I go to bed I check my sleeping students:  little “clothes people” are laid out on all of the bedroom floors – new shirts, pants, socks, shoes and hair bows are prepped for the next morning.  Yes, even my senior laid out her clothes, and I snapped a picture while I wiped away tears. Backpacks are hanging expectantly in the laundry room, lunch bags are propped on the kitchen counter, sharp pencils and colored markers fill the school boxes.

I look out the window at the soccer nets, and the pool, and the meadow that will now be deserted and sigh at what will be lost.  No more sleeping in, or marshmallows on the campfire, or lazy bike rides past bedtime.  No more afternoon movies, or all-day read-a-thons, or swimsuit lounging.  They (whoever they are) never asked this mom about starting school in August.  I’m sure I would NOT have given my permission.

“The summer night is like a perfection of thought,” wrote Wallace Stevens.  Yet the sun is already setting earlier, and the summer frogs are slowly disappearing.  I suppose school starting is inevitable.

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And so it comes the next morning:  SEVEN excited students, SIX different grades, FIVE lunches to pack (two students eat school lunch), FOUR different schools (not counting the university), THREE different departure times, TWO boys off to college, and ONE sad mama in a quiet house.  I hug them in their crisp outfits and they walk out the door – lunch boxes swinging, new shoes skipping, waving to friends.

IMG_0523The bus pulls up, the bikes round the corner, and then our street is silent.  School has started again.

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All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Family Council

Family Council 1All I really need to know I learned in Family Council.

Wait.  You mean, Kindergarten, right?  All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten. Isn’t that how the phrase goes?

Nope.  Everything really need to know I learned in Family Council.  Let me explain with a flashback to my childhood.

First of all, family councils have been happening forever, right? Well in theory, yes, but the real emphasis came in the 1970s. In fact, in October 1976 a special edition of the Ensignmagazine admonished Church members to hold regular family councils.  Church pamphlets and stake conference messages in 1977 furthered the direction to organize families and keep records.  My parents, who live the gospel to the letter, held their first family council in August of 1977 (when I was just four years old) and they’ve held family council once a month on every Fast Sunday since then.

Not only did my parents start holding family council regularly, they also organized our family into four focus areas:  Family History, Missionary Work, Personal and Family Preparedness, and Home Education and Activities.  Kind of like the three missions of the church, only they were the four missions of our family.

And, they took family organization even further and gave us all assignments as committee chairmen and members of these focus areas.  Remember it was 1977, and I was four years old. My Dad called me in for a Personal Priesthood Interview and asked me to serve as our Family Missionary Chairman.

In true four-year-old fashion I immediately responded, “Nope.  I don’t want to be the Missionary Chairman.”  I’m sure Dad was surprised, but he remained calm and explained what exciting things a Family Missionary Chairman would do.  I decided to accept the call.  So, there you have it.  One of the first things I learned through family council was to accept callings and responsibility.  And I’ve been accepting them ever since. Continue reading

Pioneer Night

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Tomorrow is Pioneer Day–a Utah state holiday commemorating the Mormon Pioneers who entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. When we lived in Las Vegas, Nevada we celebrated with “Pioneer Night,” an evening of fun, since July 24th was not a holiday in Nevada.

My two oldest boys were young then! That was a long time ago. Now those boys are both grown and gone! However, we still celebrate the pioneers as a family.

I wrote about our Pioneer Night experiences for the Friend magazine, and the article was published in 2017. I hope you enjoy this fun story and get a few ideas of your own for Pioneer Day–or Night!

Read the story here: Pioneer Night


“Mom, what are we doing for family night?” Benjamin asked as he and his younger brother, Sammy, walked into the kitchen for a drink.

“Do you mean Pioneer Night?” Mom said with a smile.

“What?” Benjamin asked. “I thought today was Monday. You know, family night.”

Mom nodded. “It’s Monday all right. But tonight we’re having a special Pioneer Night.”

Benjamin frowned a little. He liked family night. He wasn’t sure he wanted to do anything different.

“What’s Pioneer Night?” Sammy asked.

“Well,” Mom said, pulling out a kitchen chair and sitting down at the table with them, “one hundred and seventy years ago, Mormon pioneers crossed the plains in wagons and handcarts to get to Utah. On July 24, 1847, the first pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.”

“Wait. Isn’t today July 24th?” Benjamin asked.

“Exactly! It’s Pioneer Day. In Utah it’s even a state holiday,” Mom said. “There are parades and fireworks to honor the pioneers.”

“But we don’t live in Utah,” said Benjamin.

“Well, that just means we have to think of creative ways to celebrate,” said Mom. “So we’re having Pioneer Night. Will you help me get ready?”

Benjamin and Sammy nodded. As they helped Mom, Benjamin felt more and more excited. Soon Dad got home from work.

“What’s this?” he said when he saw the kitchen table set with checkered napkins, glass jars, and pie tins.

“It’s Pioneer Night!” Benjamin said, handing Dad a red bandana to tie around his neck. He and Sammy were both wearing cowboy hats from their costume box.

“This looks fun!” said Dad. Then he sniffed the air. “And something smells really good.” Mom was stirring a pot of stew at the stove.

“Before we eat, we have to make butter for the cornbread,” said Sammy.

Mom poured cream into a jar and screwed the lid on tight. After shaking for a few minutes, she handed the jar to Sammy. They all took turns shaking until there was a lump of butter inside!

After dinner they had a special family night. Dad showed them a black-and-white picture.

“This is Joseph Francis, your great-great-great grandpa,” Dad said. “He came to the United States with his family when he was 13 years old.”

Dad talked about how Joseph sailed from England and then worked in a factory to earn money to cross the plains. Benjamin couldn’t believe a boy who was just older than he was had done so many hard things.

Then Mom shared a story from her family history. “My mother, your grandma Hunsaker, met the missionaries when she was 13 years old. When she prayed to know if their message was true, she felt the Holy Ghost tell her to be baptized. Because of her decision, I grew up knowing about the gospel. My mother is a pioneer because she set a righteous example for others to follow.”

Benjamin liked that. Maybe there were ways he could be a pioneer! He was still thinking about it when Dad said it was time for the closing song and prayer.

“Now we can have the treat!” Sammy said. Mom handed everyone a cookie, some candies, and a few other yummy things. She showed them how to make wagons with marshmallows like white canvases on top.

“These wagons sure taste good,” Sammy said as he took a big bite. “I’m glad the pioneers went to Utah.”

“And I’m glad we don’t always have to make our own butter!” Benjamin said with a laugh. His life was different from the early pioneers, but he knew they all had one thing in common: they all believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ!

P.S. Go to “Family Night Fun” to see how to make your own wagons!

Three reasons our family will Still be Scouting in 2020

IMG_3630.JPGLast year The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced it would discontinue its relationship with the Boy Scouts of America and introduce a worldwide youth program in 2020. While our family fully plans to embrace the new Church Child and Youth Development Initiative, we also intend to continue our participation in Scouting. Here’s why:

P22-4c67f.jpgReason #1: Structure. The Boy Scouts of America has been around for over a century, and the BSA has proven its worth as a structured program. This structure is a remarkable support to both Scouting leaders and Scouting families. Regular quality activities, handbooks full of information, and leader specific trainings all provide a tried and true ladder guiding youth to leadership, character, citizenship and fitness.

IMG_4231.JPGBSA programs—Cub Scouting thru Venturing—are based and built on age-appropriate activities, like stepping stones. My Cub Scout learns to handle a pocket knife, my Boy Scout earns the Woodcarving Merit Badge. My younger son takes a mile hike with his den, my older son hikes for 30 miles with his troop. You get the picture. My children are benefitting from a program shaped and tested for decades, with applicable achievements for each group, and all under an umbrella of specially trained leaders. Scouting is a safe place to learn and grow.

IMG_3573.JPGAdditionally, I love that Scouting youth have requirements—steps that must be followed—and hard tasks to complete. As humans, we rarely choose to over-extend ourselves, but the organization of Scouting gently and consistently compels youth to climb higher, be better, and accomplish hard things. In a world becoming increasingly wishy-washy and self-centered, I find the structure of Scouting remarkable and helpful to my parenting efforts.IMG_4234.JPGReason #2: Skills. Scouting is all about skills—building fires, camping, backpacking, tying knots, pitching tents, cooking, swimming, lifesaving, first aid. The list of Scouting skills is endless! Take a glance at the 137 merit badges offered to understand the full gamut of opportunities available to Scouts. Where pushing buttons with thumbs has become an all-to-common society staple for youth, I am grateful for skills taught through the BSA programs.

IMG_3641.JPG“Outing” is a key component of Scouting. Leave the lethargy and apathy at the door and step into adventure: rock-climbing, rappelling, canoeing, biking, rafting… the list goes on and on.img_4054.jpgAnd the fun isn’t just for the older youth. Last week our Cub Scouts learned and played the iconic game of marbles. Imagine seven 9-year-olds, squealing, laughing and cheering as their marbles rolled across the dirt. And in the preceding weeks our Cub Scouts hiked, whittled with pocket knives, cooked over a fire, constructed with carpentry tools, pitched tents, conducted science experiments, practiced safety, and built contraptions with simple machines. Scouting is all about skills.

IMG_3069 (1).JPGThe skills lead me to Reason #3: Substance. Scouting is chock-full of substance. Let’s face it; there are a million and one extra-curricular options for kids today. But I can’t think of another activity, club, pastime, team or sport based on Duty to God, Country, and Family. Each week I watch Cub Scouts raise their arms in the Scout Sign and recite the century-old Oath and Law—promising to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind…the iconic list goes on.

IMG_2341.JPGWhen any youth commits to Scouting values, we’ve won a battle for our future. Like I’ve said before, our time as a family is precious, yet the substance—the values and character-building opportunities—offered through BSA programs put Scouting at the top of our extra-curricular list.

P4-a1fd9.jpgAnd my fourth point—if I may have one—is Patriotism. No one does patriotism like the Boy Scouts of America. Two weeks ago I stood with over 100 other observers at a campfire. The sky was crystal clear. The stars shone brightly. The full moon came up over the ridge. The fire glowed orange and red. It couldn’t have been a more picturesque evening. Around the campfire stood eight solemn Boy Scouts. With all the respect they could muster, they displayed a flag, tattered and torn. Then, while the audience watched, they shared history in broken and emotional tones, before respectfully retiring the flag in the flames.

IMG_3619.JPGThe audience was completely silent, engulfed in the emotion of the moment. My 12-year-old son was one of the boys by the fire. Four of his younger siblings watched him participate in that sacred event. It was worth gold to me to know that he had set a standard of respect for our family as he handled the American flag that evening. Yes, no one does patriotism like the Boy Scouts of America.

P14-36c94.jpgWill the partnership between the Church and the BSA end in December? Yes. But for our family Scouting will go on. The structure, skills, substance and patriotism offered by the BSA are—in my mind—indispensable. It is my belief that Scouting will compliment—not compete with—any other extra-curricular activity, including the forthcoming Church initiative.

P19-b63a8.jpgOur family looks forward to another century of citizenship, fitness, leadership, and character through the Boy scouts of America. In 2020 we will Still be Scouting.

 

“Just a Mom” – The First Falsehood of Motherhood

IMG_4227.jpgI wasn’t even a mom when I first used this phrase. Well, I wasn’t quite a mom.

It was the day of my college graduation ceremony. There I was—dressed in a black gown, thrilled to be receiving my bachelor’s degree—when I spoke the false words.

“What are you doing after graduation?” a caring friend asked.

Glancing at my large belly with a smile I said simply, “I’ll be just a mom.”

I wasn’t disappointed, just truthful. With a new baby arriving in a few weeks, I wouldn’t have time to pursue a job and career. I’d already made my choice: motherhood.

Still, my answer didn’t seem quite as adventurous as my colleagues who were going on for higher degrees or enviable jobs.

I mistakenly thought I had spoken the truth. I would be “just a mom.” But I had no idea how false my words were.

~~~~~ 22 years later~~~~~~

At 5:30am the alarm rings. I roll over to turn it off and remember that my husband is out of town…again. I’m a single mom for a few more days this week.

My exhausted body tells me I CANNOT get out of bed, so instead I lay there for a minute and think through the day: the meals, the carpools, the homework, the piano lessons, the preschool. There is so much to be done! Who is going where? When must they arrive? What has to be done before they leave? And the never-ending question, “What’s for dinner?”

My mind cannot possibly solve all of the puzzle pieces or unknowns, and so I finally crawl out of bed. It’s time to make breakfast.

Lunches.jpgI open the cupboard and see the oatmeal. Again. I have made at least a million gallons of oatmeal in my life. And a million peanut butter sandwiches. And sliced a million oranges for lunch. And wrapped a million carrots. And buttered a million pieces of toast. And don’t even get me started on how many morning ponytails I’ve brushed or diapers I’ve changed.

Mothers totally comprehend eternity and infinity.

In fact, I’ve lived a million days like this one: waking children, cooking for children, helping children, dressing children, feeding children, cleaning up after children, signing homework for children, sending them out the door, folding laundry, sweeping floors, washing dishes. Sometimes I even envy Cinderella.

With the tasks of the day looming over me I cannot possibly get my slippers to move. So instead I sit down on the couch and shut my eyes… just for a few more minutes. But, no matter how well I did it yesterday, I must do it again.

The clock is ticking, so I finally stand up to wake the first batch of children.

On mornings like this one the falsehood from my graduation day comes back to me, and I hear discouraging voices.

You are just a mother. You are just a mom. You are just one more robe-clad bleary-eyed Mama calling up the stairs to wake sleeping kiddles. Your daily routine is empty.

But the beauty of this moment is that my minuscule perceptions are completely and totally false. Despite the exhaustion and mundaneness, these feelings are not real.

They are actually a farce and a dream.

IMG_4226.JPGFirst, the voices are wrong because I do go on. I do get up each morning. I do wake up children. I do make the breakfast. I do brush the hair and kiss the cheeks and hug them goodbye. Yes, like every morning, and every other mom around the globe, this Mama goes on. And on and on and on… Like the Little Engine that Could, or the Titantic, or the Energizer Bunny.

We don’t stop because we can’t. And that’s the paradoxical beauty of our situation.

We can’t.

Motherhood is forever. Once the decision is made, there is no turning back. In fact, even on those mornings when we do stay in bed, or do skip fixing dinner, or do forget the homework, we are still mothers—indispensable, never forgotten.

IMG_1242 2The world would stop turning without us. Literally. And the sooner we come to realize this amazing fact, the more empowered we are to go on.

Second, the discouraging voices are false because we will never be “just”. We will never be disposable or invisible or even secondary, no matter how the legislators and the regulators vote. We are the world.

But with all respect, these truths are hard to remember at 6:00am.

I call the children down to family prayer. I cook the oatmeal. I kiss high-schoolers goodbye. I pack lunches. I find lost library books. I comb tousled hair. I listen to piano practice. I sweep up crumbs. I find matching socks. I zip up the backpacks and the coats.

And the world turns.

I somehow survive this morning like I have survived a million mornings in the past. And as I work, the glorious truth unfolds.

By the time the kids have eaten breakfast, their happy chatter and eager smiles have miraculously lifted my spirits. Their sticky hugs, their shared concerns, their innocent conversation carries me up and over the mountain of motherhood.

Somehow the very souls that increased my burden have actually resolved it.

IMG_4111In fact, by the time they walk back through the door that afternoon after school, they are literal saviors. Their happy chatter heals me. Their souls are my souls. Their accomplishments of the day are my victories. Their friendships and kindnesses have filled my bucket. This reality is surprising, and our shared existence is exhilarating.

We eat dinner. We do homework. We feed chickens. We fold laundry. We brush teeth. We resolve calculus. We read stories. We say prayers… And over and over again these small efforts become big. My minuscule motherhood moments have become monumental.

As I crawl into bed that night I count my victories, and comprehend who I really am—the Mama beyond the “just.”

IMG_3136I am the scientist (my son) launching satellites around the globe.

I am the missionary in Sweden (my son) changing the world one door at a time.

I am the student secretary at the university (my daughter) managing service events.

IMG_4191I am the DECA president, (my daughter) traveling across the nation to compete in marketing.

I am the first chair flute (my daughter) performing at the state band festival.

I am the Scout patrol leader (my son) teaching First Aid skills to his peers.

I am the student leader (my daughter) sharing hope with others.

I am the Science Olympiad contestant (my son) practicing with his teammates.

I am the bubbly first grader (my daughter) reaching out to the injured classmate.

I am the adorable preschooler (my son) carefully writing his name and sharing smiles with all around him.

Temporal accomplishments are certainly not the goal, but influence is the natural offspring of effort, and my children make me shine.

I have never been to Sweden, or the moon, or the Science Olympiad—yet I have miraculously impacted those corners of the world.

Who knew that one oatmeal-making, hair-brushing, story-reading mama could affect life with this scope and magnitude?

IMG_4128 2I know nothing about satellites. I cannot speak a word of Swedish. I can’t play the flute, or recite the Scout Outdoor Code—but I am all of these things because of my children. It’s a humbling and exhilarating realization!

And this motherhood success is irrelevant to numbers. One child or twenty, the hand that rocks the cradle literally rules the world. Children make us more than we are. They make us who we are!

IMG_3144In fact, Mother by definition, is everything. The world. The future. The universe.

The very opposition that entices us to be “just a mom” is evidence enough of our eternal and influential nature. Our daily struggle provides ample proof that our role matters.

The mornings of exhaustion. The mounds of oatmeal. The million pony tails. The pages of homework. The hours of piano practice. These are our stepping stones to exaltation.

In the end, the truth will set us free. We are not and will never be “just” mothers.

We are MOM. We are MAMA. We are MOTHER.

Take notice. We are the world.