Friday, May 18, 2018

Minivan

First off I want to apologize to my loyal 10 readers. I've been very busy and haven't made time for my writing, which has led to a few late posts on Friday night in an effort to meet my goal. Without time to really reflect and edit my writing, I feel like it has led to lower quality posts. While it is a good exercise for me to practice writing on a deadline, it isn't fun for you to read lame stuff. So, thanks for coming back and I'm hoping quality will improve as I continue to practice.

Let me share with you another struggle I am having. A few weeks ago we bought a new car. A minivan actually. I still have a hard time saying it. I've become a minivan-driving soccer mom. I have always been this person but just didn't have the minivan for the rest of the world to know it too. I am not ashamed of who I am; I love staying home with my children, I enjoy supporting them in their activities, I can even get into my son's soccer games. But for some reason I felt a little cooler driving a small SUV around instead of the typical minivan.

I think my biggest problem is that I don't want to be seen as fitting into a stereotype, even though I pretty much am the stereotype. I'd like to think that I am unique and bring my own flair to being a mom who stays home with her kids and drives them to soccer practice in a minivan but I suppose to the outside world, I'm the same as all the others. I should be proud to be part of such a group but instead I am struggling not to be bothered by the way in which people say so dismissively, "oh, you're a soccer mom."

Yeah, well, guess what? I am! But that doesn't mean I don't have talents, or abilities other than driving kids around, or that I am not smart or capable or wonderfully funny. Or maybe this bothers me because I actually don't feel special. I am doing exactly what a lot of other women around the country are doing and maybe not even as well as them. Other soccer moms are also PTA moms and run side businesses and bake delicious cookies every day while I threaten to throw away toys regularly. I have kept one plant alive in my house for two years and counting though so we're going to throw that into the win category. I'm also good at making lists and checking things off of them. And ping pong. And gloating when I win ping pong.

But the van purchase wasn't about me. We bought the minivan for the kids because they were pretty squished in our other car and as they continue to grow it was only going to get worse. They are already excited to go on our first road trip in the van and last week two of my kids were sitting in the car 10 minutes before we had to leave for church just because they wanted to sit in the van. They love how easy it is to get in the back, how the doors are automatic, how they have climate control over the back seat and how they're not going to be squished by luggage when we travel because of the huge trunk. It is also has plenty of room for soccer balls, ballet bags, friends who are going to the same activity and I suppose most importantly, love and family fun.

If you have any ideas for how to make a minivan cool though, let me know. Although I suppose if I have to ask I'm not that cool. Perhaps the best thing to do is just accept who I am and my minivan and maybe I'll just get a t-shirt that will somehow let people know that there is more to this soccer mom than meets the eye. Like an alive plant and a ping pong tournament winner certificate.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Motherhood

I have a sister-in-law who will be having her first baby this summer and it has been fun to go back and try to think about life before I became a mother. I never had any great ambition for a career, although being a travel writer sure sounded fun, but what I ultimately wanted to be when I grew up was a mom who stayed home and took care of the family. To some that may seem demeaning or the formula for a life unfulfilled but for me it is perfect.

I grew up with a wonderful mother who was and continues to be everything that makes a good mom. She is tough and could practically pull things out of the oven without an oven mitt because of her calloused, hard-working hands. She is an excellent cook and made family dinner a special time every night. She taught us to work hard, she encouraged us to live the gospel of Jesus Christ, she took us on picnics and fun trips to the beach, she enjoyed taking us shopping for clothes, and she was always helping or serving other people. My mom is a do-er and when she gets an idea into her head of something she wants to do or get done, you had better not get in her way. She also has great respect and love for my dad and supports him in all the good things he does. Like any mother, she made mistakes (she almost left me by the side of the road one day when I was going through a tough stage as a five-year-old!), but she loves me and taught me well, mostly through her example, of a what a woman should be. 

I am also blessed with a wonderful mother-in-law who has been kind to me since I was 17. She never criticizes me or offers unwanted advice. She supports our family and regularly tells me what a good job I am doing with our kids. She is fun and whimsical and raised a son who is sensitive, committed, honest, hard-working and patient. She makes the best cookies, loves birds and basketball and is a focused listener. She sends me flowers when I'm having a bad day and understands how I feel when we talk. She is a great example of loving people for who they are and I appreciate her sensitivity and compassion. 

My own journey of motherhood has been eventful, as I suppose every one is. It was a struggle to become a mother and then I had this precious little girl that I just laid around and watched for months, simply in awe of her existence. Then her brother shortly joined us and that time is a bit blurry because having two children only 18 months apart is a bit demanding and it was challenging but what a blessing our miracle baby has been to us. Then we waited a bit and had a third little kid who was all smiles and sunshine from day one and then when number four came along, he was as chill and calm as a baby could be. I love them for their distinct personalities and sometimes I look at them and think, wow, I made you! That's amazing!

Motherhood is all-consuming for me and such a careful balance of taking care of myself and keeping four little people alive and well, who are all different and have various physical and emotional needs. I really struggle sometimes being so needed (one of the reasons I hated breast-feeding) and have tried to teach my kids to be as independent as possible, while still wanting to serve them and show them I love them. One of my greatest challenges is figuring out what to do for each kid and how to solve their problems or even better, how to teach them to solve their own problems. I do feel that I receive a lot of guidance from church leaders and the doctrine I believe in but still there is so much room to question myself and wonder if what we're doing is right for this kid in this situation.

I love how my kids think that I know everything and ask me a multitude of questions all day, every day. I suppose the majority of the time I do meet their need and so they keep asking away, but so much of the time I feel like I'm just saying, "I don't know" over and over again. It can be so easy to wonder if I'm doing this motherhood gig at all right or am I emotionally damaging them by just being me (like when I'm somewhat unsympathetic when my kids get hurt or when I get frustrated that my eight-year-old still cries over everything, etc.)  I've told my friends before that we can't judge ourselves on how our kids behave and that we need to be patient as they go through weird stages but what other feedback do we have that we are doing anything right and that our time and efforts are worth it? I believe that there are moments all along the way that we need to look for and enjoy.

I love being a mother. After writing that I sat here and thought for a few minutes about whether I really do love it and while it is difficult sometimes, nothing truly is more rewarding or brings greater joy than my family. My children challenge me in a way I've never been challenged before and in a good way they help me to grow and become refined. I never knew that I had a temper or could even raise my voice until I had children who ignored or deliberately disobeyed me. It is good to discover this and work on it so that eventually I hope to truly be a person slow to anger. They make it impossible for me to be selfish, they are fun and loving and really good snugglers.

It is an honor to be a mother and a responsibility I do not take lightly. I know that God sent me these children to raise and teach and that they each have a mission to accomplish while here on earth. So I teach them to be nice, to pray, to work hard, to develop talents, to seek knowledge, to read the scriptures, to serve others, to appreciate the earth, to respect their bodies, to be grateful, to clean up after themselves, and to make wise choices. Hopefully they will listen and get it and grow up to be wonderful people but I will always love being their mother.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Teachers

Tonight my family attended a teacher appreciation evening put on by our church. It was well-organized and a lovely event that included gifts for each teacher and a great video of each child saying what they like best about the teacher they chose to invite and honor. My two oldest invited school teachers who could not attend but my younger daughter invited her ballet teacher, who did come. It was wonderfully special to get to actually talk to this good woman who I admire so much for her approach to teaching dance and to see her interacting with my daughter.

Teachers really are a special kind of person. When I was trying to choose a major I went to an English major introduction and all they talked about was becoming an English teacher, which was not what I wanted. I ended up switching my major to journalism so that I could write and not teach because I knew I wouldn't be good at it. It requires a special amount of patience and understanding and love for the subject and your student to be a great teacher. I remembering tutoring a kid in my pre-calculus class who was a year older than me and the principal's son (no pressure!) but it was just baffling to me that he didn't understand what we were learning when it was so clear to me. I admire teachers for being able to teach to different learning styles and personalities and explaining things in various ways.

One of my favorite teachers was Mrs. Herd in second grade. She encouraged us to write books in her class and I wrote many under her guidance. I even got to read one of my books (if I remember correctly it was about my cat) on the local news. She was older but so nice and fun. We had our desks pushed together in groups and I remember she had stuffed animals that she would award our group if we were good. It was always a good day if we got the raccoon because that meant we were the quietest group.

Another teacher I loved was Mrs. Messolella in fifth grade. She was tough but I liked her and appreciated that she pushed us. She made us memorize all fifty states and state capitals and it was sitting on the floor of her classroom I learned that we were going to war in Iraq. She once told me she wished I always had a microphone with me because I was so soft-spoken.

I loved the energy of my sixth grade math teacher, Mr. D, and the organization and preciseness of Mrs. Pearson's classroom, my seventh grade English teacher. My eighth grade social studies teacher, Mr. Remley, was the best at making history interesting and I still remember preparing a project on the roaring 20s that included a radio show and a magazine we had to make.

My 10th grade English teacher became a friend and mentor to me. She was tough and not all students liked her (honestly, it was rather obvious when she didn't like a student either) but I loved her. I loved reading challenging books and getting into deep discussions about their meaning and what we could learn from them. She expected us to work hard and I thrived with the chance to rise to high expectations. Later when I started working on the school newspaper, she was one of the advisers and she challenged me and supported me and encouraged me to push boundaries. She also gave me confidence in my writing abilities, without which I might not have even considered journalism.

My 11th grade English teacher was also fantastic and I adored her. She was kind, funny and compassionate. My calculus teacher, Mr. Camaan, was also a really good man and was so patient and calm. I loved my band teacher, Mr. Green, and will never forget the amazing feeling of playing Armenian Dances at competition and nailing it or laughing so hard the day he accidentally conducted himself off of his chair during a pit orchestra rehearsal. These teachers all knew me as a person and cared about my success and helped me along the way. I had enough not-so-great teachers that it made me appreciate the good ones and recognize that they were something special.

Teachers have great potential to affect children and make a difference that could change them forever. It isn't just about math, reading or science but it is also about appreciating knowledge, learning, persevering, and working hard to succeed. Taking the time to appreciate the good teachers, the ones who actually care about their students and deal with a lot of challenges with patience and grace, is homework we should all try to complete.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Bishop

Last Sunday my husband was sustained and set apart as the bishop of our ward. That means that he is now responsible for the spiritual and temporal welfare of our entire church congregation and all the people that live in our ward boundaries. It is a weighty responsibility and one that he accepted humbly. Our church is one of a lay ministry with no paid clergy so we all take turns filling the various responsibilities. I currently play the piano for the children during their singing time and I love it. Other times I have helped with the youth organization and the women's organization. Josh has taught the children before but mostly served in the men's organization and most recently as the previous bishop's executive secretary. This was not something he sought after, in fact we both secretly hoped it would never be asked of us, but when the call came, we both supported it and said yes.

A lot of people have been asking me how I feel about it and depending on the person I have had different answers. Overall, I am good with this change. I shared these feelings on Sunday but I have promised the Lord to do whatever was asked of me to build up his kingdom here on earth and to love and serve His children. This is a wonderful opportunity to fulfill those promises. I love my ward family and I also know that this experience will refine my husband (although he really is the best and it is hard to imagine how he'll get any better). I adore him and support him one hundred percent. I wonder how long it will take me to get used to people calling him Bishop though because that seriously just seems too grown up for us!

My greatest concerns are first, logistics. When he has meetings or visits to make or interviews or activities he needs to attend, that leaves just one of me to make sure my kids are making it to where they need to be. It also makes it harder for me to go out and limits my flexibility. Nothing I can't handle but it does make life a bit trickier, especially in the short term when we already had things planned before we knew about this change.

Second, I'm concerned about time together. Thankfully we already have the habit of spending Friday nights together, so we already have scheduled time that is mine and mine alone because I need it. Josh is my best friend and we need to communicate often and completely in order to maintain the good thing we have going. This week he was trying to surface after being thrown into the deep end of the pool, which meant he was serious, exhausted, preoccupied and hardly at home. I started wondering if the man I loved was gone for the next five years, but thankfully he got over that starting bump and returned to normal yesterday. We had a wonderful evening together and it was reassuring to me that he will be able to balance work, marriage, fatherhood and church service.

My last concern is that people won't be nice to him. It is rare but there have been times when people have been extremely critical or unkind or even threatened bishops. Josh is so kind and humble and patient with people, but I am not as much and if people treat him poorly, it will be difficult for me.

But, in the face of these concerns and challenges, I know that God lives and that this is the true and living church of Jesus Christ. I know that Josh was called to this responsibility through revelation from Christ and that he is to lead our ward at this time. I also trust that there will be great blessings poured out upon our family because God is generous and good and when we participate in His work, He strengthens us and makes us capable. It will be different but it will all be for our learning and benefit and happiness.  Jesus commanded us to be of good cheer and I couldn't be more grateful to know him and love him and to be a member of his church so let's get this new wife-of-a-bishop party started!


Friday, April 6, 2018

Birthdays

This weekend we're celebrating my husband's birthday, something we've done more successfully some years over others. My favorite was his 25th birthday when I surprised him with tickets to see Jerry Seinfeld. He loved the show and I knew he would love to see Jerry's stand up routine. I got some great tickets, planned a fun dinner out and was so proud of myself. We were poor college students so this was a big splurge and I couldn't wait to see the look on his face.

Somehow he found out that Jerry was coming to our area and he got all excited, making me frustrated that he was ruining my surprise. I had to purposely take him to some websites that had tickets for exorbitant prices and was able to completely discourage him from going. While I had been disappointed that he found out about the show, it only made it that much more of a surprise when he opened up his birthday card and the tickets for that night's show were inside. We had such a fun evening going from our little college town to the big city and having a night out on the town. Jerry was incredibly funny and it was one of the best birthday surprises ever.

Other birthday celebrations have included spending one night in a fun hotel, getting one of the first ipods, and one year I got him a birthday gift for each one of his five senses. Then there was the year we moved here. There was a two-week gap between when he had to start his new job and when we closed on our new house. A kind family from church offered to let Josh stay at their house while me and the baby stayed with family until the day of Josh's birthday. We flew down and I was exhausted from carrying all of the baby stuff and the baby through the airport, then we drove down here and stayed in the Navy Lodge (which is a glorified dorm room). We grabbed Wendy's for dinner and I gave him a subscription to USA Today and we talked quietly in the dark while we hoped our baby would fall asleep.

A few years later I was due to have another baby girl but she was taking her sweet time being born. By the time his birthday rolled around I was ten days overdue and went to the hospital to be induced. That didn't seem like the best way to spend his birthday but I needed to get that baby out. As it worked out she was transverse so I spent all day in bed getting pitocin but it wasn't until the doctor kind of pushed on my belly and turned the baby around that things started moving along. So we spent all day hanging out in the hospital room, watching movies, talking and then watching the championship game of the NCAA tournament. We had Wendy's for dinner because it was close to the hospital and then I wasn't allowed to eat again until after delivery. We were up all night and I finally got into some serious labor by 4am and she was born at 8am, so they are birthday buddies that we get to celebrate back to back. I thought it was kind of a bum birthday but he says it is one of his favorites because we got to spend the whole day together.

This year he got a basketball hoop, a new basketball, basketball shoes, a baseball mitt and a few books. His parents said it was a lot like his 8th birthday and were marveling how things haven't changed much in 30 years. I love celebrating him in whatever way works each year. He is as wonderful as a husband as I ever could have dreamed of, my best friend, a fantastic father, and an all around good-hearted man. I love his gentleness, patience, how I have never heard him raise his voice, how he is such a good listener and so fun to play with. We've had epic water wars and wrestling matches and adventures and I'm grateful for each year of his life that we get to celebrate. It is a good life and I'm grateful he chooses to spend it with me.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Zoo Day...sort of

This week my kids were on spring break and we didn't have much planned except a day up in D.C. at the National Zoo. We were going to meet my friend there because it is in the middle of our two houses. I thought it was lucky that it was a nice day after a very rainy week as we packed up our picnic lunch and drove the 90 minutes to get there.

Unfortunately, many other people seemed to think it was a good day to go the zoo as well and by the time we got there at 10:30, the parking lots were full. I decided to drive around a bit but couldn't find another parking garage close by or any street parking down by the entrance where luckily Carrie had gotten one of the last parking spots. After 30 minutes I finally did find a spot on the street but only for two hours. Then we got out of the car and saw this long line of people. Since there is no admission fee I figured they must be waiting for a special event. So the kids and I walked to the entrance only to be told we would have to go back and wait in the line that went for four city blocks to get into the zoo; it was the line to go through security.

I thought I had done a pretty good job of keeping my cool while my little kids kept asking why we weren't parking and weren't we going to the zoo and where was Carrie and were we almost there. When I found a spot I congratulated us on making the best of a tough situation. Then came the line of a million people just to get into a free zoo that I can go to any day of the week I choose. I just couldn't do it. I felt terrible bailing on my friend but just couldn't fathom waiting in line to then follow this huge crowd of people around as we all try to see the animals only to rush back to the car to find another parking spot. My stress button got stuck and I had to get out of there.

Luckily, the kids were pretty easy going about the change in plan. My daughter was sad not to see our friends, as was I, but again we tried to make the best of it and went to have our picnic down by the Tidal Basin. Unfortunately, it was pretty crowded down there so no street parking was available and my usual parking lot was closed because they were setting up for the Cherry Blossom Festival. D.C. is a tough city to drive around in and without another adult to navigate for me I decided to just get out of there.

Again, we changed plans and headed to National Harbor, which thankfully was not crowded and we were able to find a parking spot. We had our picnic lunch and the kids played in the sand and we enjoyed the views of the river and D.C. in the distance. After just over an hour we were done and ready to head home.

The day ended up being nice but a disappointment from what we had originally planned. I had to consciously choose many times not to be frustrated with the way things were working out. I suppose we could have waited in line and stuck it out at the zoo but I'm not sure that would have been a very fun way to spend our time, although at least we would have gotten to see our friends. In the end, my kids were happy and enjoyed the day so I suppose it was a successful outing, even if it was not what we had hoped it would be. I was proud of how my kids responded to the many changes and though it
would have been so easy for me to be upset (I really don't like it when things don't go as planned) I was proud of myself too for staying calm and positive.

I feel that life can be a lot like our zoo day. We have great ideas and then a million people get in our way and we have to adapt and drive around and try to figure out a new plan. Even then sometimes that plan doesn't work out either and we have to try something else. We may end up somewhere very different and it may take real effort to be happy to be there instead of where you had planned to go, but it is possible. I did love sitting in the sun and watching my kids play. We also had a moment when I was passing out hand sanitizer to the kids and my youngest said, "What is that stink?" I told him it was the new tropical-smelling hand sanitizer I had just bought and he said (with quite a grimace on his sweet little face and he says his "k" like he's German) "I don't like it." Then he waved his hands around trying to get it off. All of us started laughing and in that moment I felt pure joy. It was just one of those moments in life where suddenly you realize that life is good, no matter the detours.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

San Francisco

When I first went to college, my plan was to major in English. I wanted to be a writer and that seemed the best route to become one. I remember sitting in the orientation and all I heard was teaching. It seemed like everyone else there wanted to be an English teacher and I had no desire to do that at all. So I went back to my two favorite things to do: write/read and travel. I considered majoring in travel and tourism and was really in love with the idea of getting paid to plan other people's vacations. But it was 1998 and the internet was really starting to take over tourism; people weren't calling travel agents anymore but looking online for everything so my mom talked me out of it.

This lead me to print journalism where my ultimate goal was to write about travel. While in college I subscribed to travel magazines and fantasized about getting sent around the world to rate resorts and find family-friendly activities in big cities. I loved my college experience and did get to work for a small magazine for a few months after I graduated but I have yet to achieve my dream of writing for a travel magazine. Someday I'll pursue it with greater energy and purpose but for now I'm going to include a few travel blog posts here. I am rusty so hang in there with me.

First up is San Francisco. I went there for the first time in 2005 and it is still one of my favorite vacations ever. We had been married for just two years and it was our first time going somewhere totally new while not visiting a family member or friend. We loved being on our own to explore and experience the city on our own terms. When I travel. I like cheap, fun, beautiful and historical. I love water, especially ocean, and I don't mind touristy experiences at all as long as it isn't crowded. I love cities and am not much for physical adventure (i.e. I would never bungee jump or go skiing and while I like the idea of a zip line, I don't think I could do it).  I also highly value eating good food while traveling.

This makes San Francisco a perfect city for me. We stayed near Fisherman's Wharf at a cute and cheap little motel that was close to a bus line and we loved how close it was to everything we wanted to see. We started off day one by walking seven miles through the city, which is a serious hike in San Francisco because of all the hills. We walked down Lombard Street (so cool), up to Coit Tower (a nice tribute to the firemen of the city), down to Chinatown and then back up to Union Square (good but traditional shopping). I convinced Josh we should take the trolley back (a quintessential San Fran experience) and we even stopped at the Cable Car Museum, which was especially interesting to my engineer and a fun little place to explore for an hour or two.

Fisherman's Wharf is totally touristy but I absolutely loved it there, mostly because of the food. We walked down there and saw the Boudin's Bread Bakery and were immediately intrigued. I love factory tours and while it was simple, we ended up eating at the restaurant there and fell in love with the clam chowder in a bread bowl. Nothing says San Francisco like sour dough and filled with their sumptuous clam chowder, it became a piece of heaven on my tray. We ended up eating lunch there every single day; I couldn't get enough. The shops are cute and fun and sell cheap t-shirts, for which I am a total sucker. The seals on Pier 39 are fun to see and we ended up taking an hour-long boat ride out under the Golden Gate Bridge that was cold but beautiful. It gets foggy and can be hard to see the bridge so going under it was the best view we got of it all week. There was also a homeless man hiding behind a garbage can with tree branches covering himself and every once in awhile he would jump out and scare tourists; that was entertaining and unique.

We also went down to Golden Gate Park but that is a difficult place to go without a car. We went back to San Francisco last summer and this time drove through the park, which was much more enjoyable. It is quite large and has beautiful gardens, including a Japanese tea garden and if you make it all the way west you come to the Pacific Ocean. It is not designed for a casual stroll but if you have a bike or a car, it is a beautiful place to explore for as many hours as you want.

Ghirardelli Square is a delicious stop and thankfully it was close to our motel. Every night we would walk from the bus stop through the Ghirardelli chocolate store to get our free chocolate square on our way to our motel; the perfect way to end the day. The hot fudge sundaes are the best I have ever eaten and totally worth their somewhat expensive price tag. Last summer we ate at McCormick and Kuleto's (my father-in-law was paying!) and it was pricey but a meal I can still describe in detail. I ate the most delicate and flavorful filet mignon covered in dungeness crab and I am drooling just thinking about it. It was also an incredible view of the bay at sunset. We had breakfast one morning at Linda's Cafe, also in Ghirardelli Square, and it was historical and tasty. It was fun afterwards to walk along the water and see all of the local artisans selling jewelry and photographs and paintings.

There is so much to see and do that every traveler should be able to find something interesting about San Francisco. We saw the famous row of houses from Full House, we went to Muir Woods to see the Redwoods, we saw Wicked at the beautiful Orpheum Theater, and we dipped our feet in the Pacific Ocean. It was incredibly memorable and I hope it isn't long before I get to go back.