Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Quick Funny from Brekken

A conversation between Brekken and Aaron this morning:

Brekken: "Are you thinking the same thing?"

Aaron: "Probably not."

Brekken: "I'm thinking we need to get in the car and go to a carnival."

Aaron: "Where would we find a carnival?"

Brekken: "It's in the city. We just need to drive east and then we go west and then we go east. I love the carnival."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

We're Building a Library!

What? How are you doing that?

Recently we learned about an organization called The African Library Project. This non-profit brings gently used books to an African community that has lots of eager readers but very few books. I don't know what it was about this particular cause that grabbed me... maybe it's my own life-long love of books and reading, or how I now see my own kids learning to read and loving books, but I was immediately captivated by the idea of joining in.

Books en-route to Mohale's Hoek High School in Lesotho
It only takes 1000 books and $500 - $600 to build a library... That seemed doable!

When I talked to Aaron about it, he was immediately on board as well. Since he has spent time in Africa and has a good friend who is from Lesotho, he definitely has a soft spot in his heart for Africa. So I got in touch with the people at the African Library project. They assigned us to a book drive project, and we were ready to get started! We learned that we will be gathering donations for a secondary school in Africa. We haven't been matched with a specific school yet, but we anxiously await that information. In the meantime, we're going to move forward.

Here are some ways that you can help...

Would you like to help build a library? There are lots of simple things you could do. Donate books; donate money; ask others to donate books or money; give us ideas for a fundraising event; put up posters or flyers around your neighborhood; donate packing supplies; or whatever else you can come up with!

Our book drive is for a secondary school library, so we need gently-used books at a U.S. 4th grade to 8th grade reading level. (If you're unsure of the reading level of a book, look it up on You can almost always find it there.) Books about Africa or African-Americans are great, but any book you can donate is wonderful. Schools in Lesotho teach English as a primary language, so English-language books are just what they need.

Here's how you can contribute your books...

Get your books to us any way you can. We'll take them at work, at church, at school, on the street, or when you run into us at Target. You can drop them by our house. You can mail them to us (media mail is fairly inexpensive). If you're feeling generous, you can buy a new book online and have it delivered to our house. Anything goes!

We need to raise funds for shipping the books...

We also need to raise $500-$600 for shipping costs. If you don't have books to donate, consider making a small donation. Hey, even if you've got books to donate, consider making a small donation! Even $1 helps.

You can donate here:

Or stop us when you see us and share your spare change. :) We also plan to set up some fundraising events to raise money for shipping. We will keep you updated on those!

What's in it for me?

Boys from Lesotho enjoy Dr. Suess' 500 Hats!
The satisfying feeling of helping others! A little bit of recognition - we'll keep a list of all contributors so we can thank you along the way. Also, please send a photo of yourself or your family when you make a donation. We'll send the photos along with the books so our school in Lesotho can get to know us a little bit. A great family activity - gathering books to donate would make a great family home evening! A chance to declutter - don't we all have some extra books lying around that we could stand to clear out? And even a tax deduction - The African Library Project is a registered 501(c)3 organization (Fed Tax ID# 65-1261685). Let us know if you need a receipt for your donation.

Contact us to find out more...

You can reach me by phone or email or by leaving a comment on the blog. I'll get back to you with more information just as soon as I can!

About the African Library Project...

Learn more about the African Library Project at
You can 'like' them at - get updates, inspiration and more!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Today is our 11th wedding anniversary. 11 years! I find it hard to believe it's been that long. I don't feel all that different. I don't feel 11 years older. And yet life is certainly different than it was 11 years ago.

11 years ago... we stayed up all night for no good reason... We went grocery shopping at 2 a.m. just to avoid crowded aisles and long check-out lines... We went out to eat on the spur of the moment - no pre-planning and babysitter finding or kid wrangling required... We slept in until noon on weekends... We took trips where we only packed a single duffle bag... We were the only ones sleeping in our bed... The only messes in our house were the ones we made. Frankly, life was a lot easier.

BUT... now we have 4 wonderful children to show for 11 years of marriage. And while we don't stay up all night (on purpose) anymore because the kids have us too exhausted to stay up past 10 or 11... And shopping at 2 a.m. means we've run out of diapers and it's an emergency... And it's a miraculous day when we sleep in at all... And going out for dinner takes hours of planning and schedule shifting... And going on a road trip requires a week of packing... And never a night goes by that someone (or several someones) doesn't climb into bed with us... And my house hasn't been truly clean since about 2005... I wouldn't trade it for anything. I love my husband and my kids and my life.

We celebrated a little early this year (because of that whole babysitter and work schedules thing I mentioned before). We decided years ago not to give each other gifts for our anniversary. Instead, we would use the money we would have spent and splurge on a really nice dinner out. This year we went to Bastien's restaurant in Denver. It was incredible! I had steak and lobster... so good. And Aaron had some sort of small steaks on toasted bread with asparagus and shrimp and bernaise sauce... also very good (he said) and beautiful. The dishes were so pretty I had to take a picture before we could eat. :)

Add in a relaxing evening without the kids where we were able to only worry about feeding ourselves and could actually take time to talk to each other... it was a very nice way to celebrate. (Especially since we knew the kids were quite happy without us. They love their babysitter Sarah so much that they often tell us to leave again when we get home after an evening out. They'd rather have Sarah than us anytime!)

Happy anniversary, honey. My vote is to keep this up for at least 11 more years!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Girls' Night

When I got the facebook message inviting a group of ladies from church to go out for a girls's night at The Melting Pot, I was so excited. A girls' night! I haven't done that in ages. And The Melting Pot! It's a fancy fondue restaurant that I've never been to before. I've really wanted to go because everyone raves about it, but it's pretty pricey. But hey, Denver Restaurant Week to the rescue! Every year, Denver restaurants have a week (or in this case, a month, because TMP extended their deal) where you can get a fancy dinner for the less-than-usually-fancy price of $52.80 for two people.  (Because we're a mile high, get it? 5,280 feet.) It's a great chance to go somewhere you normally couldn't afford.

I really wanted to go, so I asked Aaron pretty, pretty please can you make it home from work in time to pick up the kids? Because my husband is awesome, he arranged to have someone cover his hours at work that afternoon so that he could get the kids - and help them with homework - and fix their dinner - and entertain them for the evening - and get them ready for bed - and fight with them to keep them in bed - and put them back in bed when they get out yet again. All those things that are normally my job because Aaron doesn't get home from work until they're already in bed (hopefully... if I haven't managed to put them to bed by they time he gets home they're up much too late). As excited as I was by the chance to go out for the night and to try the nice restaurant, I was every bit as excited (maybe even a little more) by the idea that I got a night off from the bedtime struggle!

We all met up at Megan's house to carpool to the restaurant. It was a group of 9 ladies from church, all of whom I know at least casually, but mostly I only interact with them on facebook or blog comments. So it was really great to have a chance to spend time with them in person instead of online!

I haven't had so much fun in quite a while. We talked and laughed and ate... oh, my, did we eat! I have to say, the rave reviews of TMP were right on track. When we ate the first course of cheese fondue with bread and veggies and apples for dipping I thought it was incredibly good. (I love bread... and adding hot and gooey melted cheese to bread - awesome!) Then the salads arrived and they were great, too. And then the meat course. We got salmon and shrimp and chicken and teriyaki steak and filet mignon. And then a plethora of tasty sauces to dip them in. It was all so delicious. And though I wouldn't have thought it possible, given how much I loved the cheese course, the meat course was even better. And then... the dessert. They brought pots of melted chocolate mixed with caramel sauce. Then lit it on fire! The flambe action was fun to watch. Then they added candied pecans. Then gave us plates of goodies that would have made a wonderful dessert all by themselves - rice krispy treats, brownies, marshmallows, strawberries, bananas, pound cake, and cheesecake - and encouraged us to dip them all in liquid chocolate. Oh yes.

My favorite quote of the night came from Chantal, who commented after her first bite of chocolately goodness: "This must be what heaven is like." I have to agree, that would make for a pretty great afterlife.

We had such a good time. It was great to get to know everyone a little better. I got tips from the professional photographer on a great new photo app for my phone (as you'll see from the quality of my pictures, I need an improved photo app!) and from the veteran bargain hunter on a new app for earning gift cards (hooray! it's like free money). I was reassured that I'm not the only mom who loves her kids, but hates bedtime. And not the only one who goes faithfully to church but hasn't heard a word of it since the kids were old enough to cause chaos in the chapel. (And not the only one to feed my kids PB&J during the service!) I confessed my secret ambition (to post something creative, innovative, or delicious enough that people pin me on Pinterest) and shared our upcoming family service project (building a library in Lesotho - more on that later).

And when I got home everyone (including Aaron) was already tucked into bed and sound asleep... nice. All I had to do was put myself to bed. What luxury!

We're really going to have to do this again. Though my budget won't stretch to places like TMP very often... maybe we can set up the next girls' night for that chic hotspot known as Chic-Fil-A. The food might not be as fancy, but company would be just as good!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

We Didn't Move Like Jagger

Several months ago I mentioned that our family had been asked to sing in church and the kids suggested that we sing "Moves Like Jagger." Although I got a lot of encouragement to go with the kids' choice (Tera even offered to fly back from New York to see it), we eventually settled on a song from The Friend instead. Not as much fun, perhaps, but a bit more likely to be approved by the bishop.

We were supposed to sing back in October, I think, but due to a long string of things like illnesses and conferences and holidays and other musical numbers we only finally sang last Sunday.

I practiced with the kids for a couple of weeks beforehand. Every time we got in the car, I had them singing the song a capella. Usually, I could get only one - maybe two - of the kids to sing part of the song. I almost never got anyone to sing the whole song. Brekken (who doesn't really like music most of the time) often covered his ears and shouted: "Stop it! Stop singing! I hate the singing!"

I had visions of Brekken doing exactly that in the middle of our musical number on Sunday. But on the stand. In front of the whole ward.

Last Friday, we took the kids to the church so we could practice in the chapel. I wanted them to practice standing at the front and behaving themselves while they sang. (I must say, it sure makes it easier to coordinate practices when you have the pianist right in the family!) We were partially successful, in that they were at the front. I wouldn't go so far as to say they behaved themselves. But they sang more of the song than usual. I felt mostly okay about Sunday.

And when Sunday came, we headed for church. In the car they started singing the song with no prompting from me - just sang through the whole thing to practice and did it just right. When it was time to go up to the stand, they all came right up, stood in the places we had chosen, and sang out loud and clear. Brekken didn't shout at us to stop singing, in fact he sang right along. Rylen chose not to sing (sometimes he likes to make a lot of noise while we sing - I choose to believe that he's singing along, not protesting the singing), but he also didn't squirm to get down and go bang on the piano with Daddy while we sang.

I was so proud of my kids for going up there and singing out loud and strong in front of the whole congregation. They did a great job!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Quick Funny from Preston

Preston is playing some kind of superhero game and keeps running around the house shouting: "You can't see me! I'm indivisible!"

There must be some sort of math pun that applies here... :-)

Quick Funny from Brekken

I know all of these have been quotes from Brekken lately, but it's because he's such a funny kid!

Last night we went to dinner at Village Inn. Two older couples were eating at a table behind us, and as they got up to leave they walked past our table. As one of the ladies moved past, she smiled down at Brekken. He did a cool chin lift in her direction and (for some unknown reason) said, "Cock-a-doodle, dude."

I had to laugh. A lot. The poor woman looked so confused.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mmmmm... Corn Chowder!

Tonight I asked the kids what they wanted for dinner and they asked for clam chowder. I had no canned chowder on hand and no clams in the pantry to make it myself. Not to mention, I've never made clam chowder before, so it's not like I know what I'm doing.

On the other hand, my mother makes great clam chowder, and I was pretty sure I remembered or could figure out how to make it. But still, no clams. Then I thought of corn chowder. I have corn! The kids agreed that corn chowder was acceptable, so I decided to give it a shot.

It turned out great! Definitely made me wish I'd made enough for leftovers. Tasty, easy, and ready in 30 minutes - that's a success in my cookbook. :)

2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
2 cups diced potatoes
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Montreal Chicken seasoning
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp lemon pepper
1/4 tsp cumin
2 cups frozen or canned corn
3/4 cup + 1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup flour

Add broth, water, and potatoes to saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes (or until potatoes are tender). Add seasonings; mix well. Add corn and 3/4 cup milk. Combine flour and 1/4 cup milk and whip until smooth. Add milk and flour to soup. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes.

Serve with garnish of cheese, bacon bits, or whatever tickles your fancy.
(For example, my kids chose Cheez-Its. And as it turns out, that actually tastes pretty good!)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


I saw this picture on Pinterest and it brought back some memories.

Memories of what? you may ask...

Thinking back 15 years or so, I had just finished graduate school and was teaching some classes at BYU. It was actually pretty fun, but it was only a 6-month position, with no guarantees that the contract would be extended at the end of that time. So I started looking for another job. What I found was a job creating online training modules for the U.S. Marine Corps.

I worked at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) in Twentynine Palms, California. It's a lovely area... it is classified as having an arid, upland desert climate where temperatures regularly reach 120 degrees in the summer and drop to 15 degrees in winter. And then let's mention the sandstorms - where the dust and sand blow so strong that you can't see 5 feet in front of you, you can't breathe without a face mask, and it can scour the paint of your car. Occasional torrential rainstorms which cause near-instant flooding. The fact that you had to drive over 30 minutes to get to a Wal-mart for any large grocery shopping trips. The fact that there was no movie theater and only a couple of little restaurants in town.

I lived in a fairly spacious two-bedroom apartment with my own backyard. I went into that yard exactly once. In the 5 minutes I spent outside I spotted a scorpion, the tail end of some sort of snake slithering away, and (the final straw) a tarantula (I hate spiders). I ran back inside, closed the door, and never opened it again during my time there! The front yard was just concrete parking pads for the residents, so there was less wildlife. I was always on the lookout for that tarantula, though! (A fun side story on tarantulas... one of my buddies there was a marine and one night they were on manuevers in the desert. He was sleeping on the sand in a mummy bag, and he was completely wrapped up in it - the only thing exposed was his face. He woke up when something tickled his face and realized there was a TARANTULA sitting on his FACE! His arms were pinned in his bag and in his panic, he couldn't get them out. He couldn't open his mouth to yell for one of the other guys to help him because the TARANTULA was on his FACE. He flopped around frantically until the enormous spider fell off. Then discovered that the guys around him were perfectly well aware of his predicament, because they were all sitting around watching him. Apparently they'd watched the spider for quite some time and did nothing to stop it when it decided to crawl onto his FACE.)

One of the interesting things I remember about homes in that area is that there were no grassy yards (we were in the desert after all). Instead, people had sandy yards and they would rake the sand into elaborate patterns. People took great pride in maintaining their perfectly raked sand.

I lived right on the edge of Joshua Tree National Park. There were some beautiful things to see there, though I didn't spend a lot of time hiking in the park (allow me to reiterate... 120 degrees, snakes, scorpions, tarantulas). The joshua trees can only be found in two places... that area of California and Israel. So that was kind of neat. And beautiful, too, in its own way.

So back to the ghillies that started this reminiscing... On my first day at work on the base, the Captain took me for a tour of the base. At one point he stopped the car to show me a large, empty area. There were acres and acres of nothing but scrub brush and joshua trees (much like the picture above). He asked me if I could spot the people... I could not. It looked like it was completely empty. He instructed me to keep looking, but as hard as I tried I could not see anyone in the space. It was not until a man in a ghillie suit stood up and walked over to us that I had any idea there was someone there. It scared me to death, to be honest. It was like the man just appeared from nowhere. Those ghillie suits let the marines look just like a piece of the landscape and they are VERY well disguised. It turned out there were actually a lot of guys out there in ghillie suits and you'd never have known it.

I really loved my job there. I got to learn - and teach - a lot of amazing things. If you need to program your combat radio, drive your Humvee through a flooding wash, check your vehicle for explosives, elude a pursuer in an urban environment, or disarm a landmine, I'm your girl. Those are some the courses I helped put together and oh, it was fun! Even though I was a civilian, I got to practice doing those things so that I'd know how to do it before I wrote the course. It was quite an adventure.

Several branches of the armed forces use the base to practice bombing runs and live fire exercises. Shortly after I moved in there was a pretty spectacular lightning storm one night. Big flashes of light followed by rumbling booms. But no rain. When I commented on that the next morning at work, they all laughed at me. Turns out it was a bombing run. I got so used to that after a while that once I moved to Colorado I heard a thunderstom moving in and automatically assumed it was a bombing run!

There were earthquakes, too. At least a couple times a week there would be a little tremor. On really active weeks you'd get something every day. The first time I was in a little earthquake I was at work. I could feel things start to shake just a little and I was confused at first. Then I realized what was happening and I felt a little panicked! "What do we do?" I asked Bill, who sat next to me. "Aren't we supposed to get under a desk or in a doorway or something?" And as I looked at Bill, I saw something odd. All of my co-workers were sitting at their desks holding their coffee mugs in the air. "This is what we do," Bill informed me. "You have to pick up your cup or the vibration of the desk might make your coffee slop over the side." Then the tremor ended, they put down their cups, and work continued. The earthquakes were really pretty much a non-event. We never had anything above a 4 point earthquake while I was there. A 6.7 did hit the week after I moved away, but luckily didn't do much damage.

I have a lot of great memories of my time there. There were spur-of-the-moment trips to Las Vegas and San Diego... just because we were bored. There were all-night movie marathons. There was a great ward there that I really loved (though I was in the Primary presidency there and it was pretty stressful because there were a LOT of kids in that ward). The work was interesting and I had some great co-workers. I had a crappy boss, though (the civilian one, not the military boss - all the military guys I worked with were awesome). And between the crappy boss and the inhospitable climate, I ended up deciding not to renew my contract there and moved to Colorado. I'll always be a fan of the Marine Corps, though, and I'll always remember my adventure there fondly!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Day at the Museum

Our friend Melissa offered us some free passes to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, so I decided to be brave and give it a try with all four kids while Aaron was at work on Saturday. (I usually hang out close to home when I have all four on my own; I'm just too much of a wimp to take them all out!) I almost turned back around a went home when I got halfway there and realized that I had forgotten the leash for Brekken. (I know a lot of people hate the idea of a child leash - these are people without a child like Brekken, who has been known to dart out into traffic, disappear into crowds, climb onto high railings and otherwise put himself into danger at a moment's notice. I know, I know... I should just watch him better! But he's fast. And sneaky. And there are three others that I'm watching, too!)

But I decided I could manage and we kept going. And we had a great time! We played with hula hoops, we checked out the section on health and our bodies, then we went to the space section and saw a planetarium show. (First time the boys had seen a planetarium show and they LOVED it. Even Rylen was pretty riveted.) We took a break for lunch in the cafeteria area (peanut butter and jelly from home - I managed to convince them they didn't need the hugely overpriced museum food! Gotta love that.). We had to see the dinosaurs of course. And we checked out the rocks and minerals area (where the kids commented a lot on "Daddy would really like that rock. And that one. And this one over here."). We spent a good long time in the Dscovery Zone - where kids get to do a lot of hands-on experiments and play.

All in all, it was a really great day. Brekken did take off on me a few times, but I did manage to chase him down each time. It would definitely be easier with another set of hands, but I think I could do it again on my own. Maybe this will make me braver about going out with the kids instead of spending every Saturday at home!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Quick Funny from Brekken

I was talking with the kids about our plans to go to the museum on Saturday and commented: "Everyone cross your fingers that the snowstorm tomorrow isn't very big so we can still go."

Brekken, very sensibly, replied: "Why? What does crossing your fingers do?"

Good point.