Monday, November 30, 2009

War and Peace

Here are the facts:

Christmas is coming. Fast.

I have very little money to spend on gifts.

Teenage son desperately wants a video game for his Xbox 360. So bad.

I used to be conflicted.

Not any more.

I've written about it before. The whole video game thing is a sore topic for me, and I realize (for those hostile commenters in the past that think they were telling me something I didn't already know), that there are elements of control in that, and projection of marital issues. All of that aside, I do not think video games are inherently evil, I just cringe at how addictive they become, and how increasingly violent and realistic they have to be to carry any merit with the teen boy crowd these days. I've relaxed a lot. A lot. I mean it. I still have a rule of no rated M games, although some of them make it in if they have the 'special family filter' thingy on them. There's one in particular that is a huge hit with my son. He will have his friends over and they will play for hours. And they play live with other players around the world. It's great fun, I've heard. It just sounds like a war zone to me, but I know there's something in boys that wants to conquer.

But I've also written about the fact that I worry about my Teenage Son. I love him so much, and I'll admit that I'm not quite ready to cut the strings loose. I'm a firm believer that media choices (movie/TV/music/video games) affect our minds and spirits. I see a correlation in behavior, and as this is such a vulnerable time for him, I want him to have the freedom to choose, but then again, since I'm the one who has to live with him and his attitude, I also want some ability to censor at least what kinds of influences make it into this home. I don't think being immersed in war violence all day every day can be that beneficial when it comes to figuring out how to solve problems day to day. I mean, we can't really just blow them all away, can we? I believe there is some kind of hyperstimulation of the rage part of our brains going on there that reroutes other neural pathways, but that's just because right now I'm up to my cerebral cortex in the Central Nervous System. Another topic.

I'm in this state of trying to be Cool Mom to keep the peace and also trying to be Good Mom to raise a proper man. I already make him mad about so many things. I'm trying to meet him where he is, true, but my goal is also to keep him elevating himself. No easy task. Mainstream youth are pretty happy just hanging out where they are, with not a lot of thought about the future. I realize that I may not like these video games, but he does. They are important to him, and I can't completely discount that. But do I spend $60 to bring it home?

I had halfway decided to bite the bullet. I put the game on my Amazon wishlist. I almost put it in my cart several times. While walking around Costco, I picked it up and looked at it. I hated it, but I was trying hard not to. I almost put it in the cart, but then I set it back. And then I went back and looked at it again. Again, something stopped me. The game is rated M. (He told me it was T.) There is a "special family filter thing", but I don't know. He's only almost 14. 8th grade. Isn't there room to grow in his thirst for blood? I don't believe his father would buy it for him. I don't believe his father would be thrilled with him playing it. And should I buy warfare for Christmas? The baby Jesus' birthday?

I ramble.

I came home from Costco without it. Still conflicted. I looked at it again on Amazon and moved it from my wishlist to my cart. But didn't check out. And there it sat. I was praying in my heart, not just about the game, but about my son. Proper manhood. Moderation. Boundaries. Courage. Wisdom. All those things.

And then, at 2:47am I was awoken from a deep sleep with a very vivid warning in my mind:

Do not buy that video game.

It was so clear and so urgent. I had images come to my mind, things shown to my mind of the effect of immersion in violence, especially as entertainment, ways that it would affect him. I know I can not prevent him from ever playing--nor do I want to--, but I could set a limit on what I spend my money on, and thus endorse, and what we bring into our home. I lay in bed for thirty minutes or so, with the conviction seeping deeper and deeper that this particular game was not right for my son at this particular time in his life. I was given wisdom and courage and foresight. I got up at 3:30am, and deleted it from my Amazon shopping cart.


I was also given in my mind a wonderful compromise. Buy the family a Wii. Satisfy the video game craving, but bring us together downstairs, and nobody has to die.

And for the Teenage son? A really handsome, manly watch that he has wanted. Maybe it will remind him that life is a collection of seconds, minutes, and hours that should be carefully guarded and wisely used. And when he feels the heft of it on his wrist, I hope it reminds him that his mom loves him big time.

Pun intended.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Saved

Well, this was going to be a nice post about how Thanksgiving was almost ruined and how grateful I am for my children who saved the day. I had this lovely little thing all typed up about how holidays are not always cozy and blessed and how my heart aches for those who carry around holiday sadness. I had also written about how thankful I am that my mother taught me how to properly "do" a holiday, and with that power, nobody can screw up my day, because a properly done holiday conquers all negativity. Now, I had all of this typed up, and then I lost it somehow when I added the pictures and started moving things around. Computer problems are a sore inconvenience, but really, the least of my worries. So, rather than scrap the whole post, I give you Random Thanksgiving Pictures All Out of Order Because I'm Sick of Trying to Make This Post Work.


Here are the kids tearing up the bread for the stuffing. It's the first chore of the morning, while Mom is baking the pies.

Then the children make their apple gumdrop turkeys, just as my mother did with us. And no matter how old the kids get, it's just not Thanksgiving without making turkeys.

(See, here the kids are with their cups of eggnog, making their apple gumdrop turkeys. This picture should have been first, before the finished products. Then again, if you look closely, you'll see a carved up turkey in the background, because this year we actually made our turkeys after dinner. . .but I can't get the pictures to cooperate.)

Aiden set our lovely table this year.

Lyndsay made her delicious Lion House Rolls.

Dylan was initiated into his new role as Chief Turkey Carver. Manhood at is finest. He did a terrific job.

(Again, this picture should have been up there, with the other roll picture.)
And here's our Thankgiving banner. We made this for a Family Home Evening, each of us decorating a few letters in the word and then littering it with blessings and things we are grateful for. We hung it at the top of the stairs, and we've been adding to it as we pass by or think of other things we are thankful for. I kind of like it there and will probably leave it up for a while, with the plan to bring it back out each year and add to it.

Thanks for hanging in there with me. I've decided not to become frustrated about the lack of perfection in this post. I'm just dealing with it.

And now, to put up the tree!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Review: An Angel on Main Street

I love me a good Christmas story. The cozy kind, the warm-up-your-heart kind, the make-you-cry kind--you know, all those great stories that remind us that the reason we celebrate at this time of year is not to out-buy, out-decorate, or out-bake everyone else, but to honor the birth and life of the Savior of the world, who gave us the perfect example of loving service. And a reason to believe in miracles.

I've got the perfect Christmas story for you. It's called An Angel of Main Street, the second book by Kathi Oram Peterson. At a quick 99 pages, it's a satisfying and soul-expanding story worth re-reading yearly and would make a terrific family read-aloud. I can just picture the family sitting around the living room, tree lights on, cocoa in hand. Even little kids would like this tale.

It's 1953, and only three days before Christmas. Micah Connors, a 13 year old boy, has just moved into a new town with his mother and little sister, where he has promised to start over with a clean slate and stay out of trouble. The gambling kind. But poor Micah, overwhelmed with the grief of his father's death in Korea and the illness of his sister, and the heavy responsibilities of being the man of the house for his worried and overworked mother, just can't seem to help being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and almost immediately is being escorted home by the town Sheriff. Not a good start.

But aside from the trouble he keeps finding, someone is building a nativity set on the island in the street, each day adding a new piece to the set--a stable, some sheep, the wise men, an angel--and Micah's very sick little sister feels sure that if she can see the baby Jesus come she will be healed. With desperate love for his sister, Micah determines to investigate around town to find out who exactly is building the nativity so he can steal the baby Jesus and bring it home to his her. But time is running out as she gets closer to death. Micah needs a miracle.

As miracles usually go, this one goes above and beyond what Micah had ever hoped for. The discovery of who is behind the construction of the nativity is just the beginning of the wonders that this new Christmas, in a new town, brings to Micah. Angels are closer than he had believed.

This is a great story, really. I love that the main character is a boy instead of a girl. I love that the boy is real in little-boy ways, and that so many times, even with good intentions, his judgment gets him into predicaments. (I know little boys like that!) I love the message of God's love and awareness of each of us personally that shines through the story. And I think it would make a terrific Hallmark Christmas special. Truly. Kathi Oram Peterson wrote just the right kind of Christmas story, and she wrote it well.

Also, Kathi is hosting a special contest. The contest runs from now until December 15th. Anyone can enter by simply emailing her at and writing about an experience you have had with someone who became an angel in your life. The winner will be announced on her blog ( A gift certificate from either Seagull Book or Deseret Book will be given to the winner and an "Angel" in his/her life. This contest celebrates the selfless, kind acts performed daily, many times unnoticed. Let's face it, life is tough and the small acts of kindness shown to us by others need to be remembered and celebrated especially during the holidays. Kathi says, "Christmas brings out the best in people and I wanted to give others the opportunity to thank those who have touched their lives in a profound way. Hopefully this contest will remind us of the angels in our lives."
Here's a trailer for the book:
Grab it for yourself and your family and get ready to get in the Christmas spirit!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Comfortably Yum

You've all heard me praise my amazing friend Luisa Perkins over the years. Everything she touches is like gold to me. She is one of the most intelligent and talented people I know, and to be her friend is a treasured privilege. Luisa is one of those women who does everything wholeheartedly. With whatever she wishes to excel at, she is a diligent student, and as a result, her efforts are blessed with success. I look to her for wisdom as a writer, a parent, a gardener, and a chef, among other things, so you can imagine how my fingers itched to get a copy of her newly published cookbook, Comfortably Yum. A whole collection of Luisa's culinary masterpieces all in one binding? I had to have it!

As I made my menus for the last several weeks I scheduled in many of her tried-and-true recipes. I wanted to try some of everything before I wrote this review. I can't think of anything more enjoyable. Plus, I felt connected to my soul-friend who lives at the other side of the country from me.

When Comfortably Yum arrived in my mailbox from Amazon, the first thing I had to do (because I'm a nerd like that) was to read it cover to cover like a novel. Yes, I read cookbooks. And a good one will not let a reader down! This one was no exception. Even if you have a complete aversion to tasty food and being anywhere near a kitchen, you would find yourself thoroughly entertained by Luisa's narrations throughout the book. Several times I was laughing out loud, and there was more than one "Amen, sister" uttered vocally.

For instance, the first recipe we tried was "Cranberry Upside-Down Tart", which begins with this introduction:

"I got this recipe from a lovely German lady in our congregation (of course, I've monkeyed with it). Elga called it a dessert when she gave me the little handwritten index card, but I know she must have been kidding, because, um, see, Elga, it doesn't have any chocolate in it."

Amen, sister.

And thus "Cranberry Upside-Down Tart" goes in the breakfast category. And it is perfect there. My kids loved it. With a tall glass of cold milk, it was the most delicious start to our day.

Well, that is until we tried the "Scones", and the "Oat Breakfast Bars", and the "Baked Doughnuts", and the "Dewey Buns", and the "Biscuits and Gravy", and the "Mother of Invention Muffins". Luisa's scones were the topic of a blog post long before she published her cookbook, and I had been wanting to try them ever since. Only laziness in copying the recipe kept me from doing so, but now that I have, they have become a breakfast staple in our home. And, like many of her recipes, they are so versatile. You can change up what you add to them each time. We especially like dried cranberries and chocolate chips (together) over here.

Luisa and I share many food philosophies and kitchen practices, like bring on the (raw, if possible) dairy products, and take the time to make your own homemade stock. Less processing and more 'real' foods (butter versus margarine, for example) bring health and wholesome deliciousness. Her soup category is hard to beat. "Potato Cheese Soup" (which she introduces with "One of my basic cooking equations is this: potatoes + cheese = comfort. Feel free to check my math." Can I hear another 'Amen, sister'?), "Clam Chowder", and my personal favorite, "Quick Black Bean Soup" were very heartily accepted by everyone in the family. Seriously, she wasn't kidding when she calls her Black Bean Soup "Quick"--I think it was even heated through within 6 minutes--and easy? Nothing is easier. I ate it for several meals and every time I professed my love.

There are so many recipes to try! "Chicken Enchiladas", "Lasagna", "Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf" (hello? You know about my affair with bacon, right?), "Quiche" (just let me die now, please. I've now lived.), "Tuscan Chicken", and "Zucchini Casserole" were my favorites. I can't wait to try every other main dish.

Desserts? Please. Luisa knows desserts. I've been privileged to sit eagerly at her dining table with her brood of children anxiously awaiting her cookies from the oven. After she's doled them out to us, I have been guilty of coveting more than my fair share and, I'll admit, plotting to steal more. Try her "Chocolate Drop (Mostly) Dead Cookies", or her invention, "Brookies". "Sourtastic Lemon Squares" make my mouth water even as I type their name. "Chocolate Caramel Bars"--I would marry them I love them so much, and the "Vermont Apple Crisp" is just about as perfect an autumn dessert as you can get. I also heartily recommend "Chocolate Sour Cream Cake" and "True Love Cheesecake".

Oh, man, I'm hungry.

Comfortably Yum is a user-friendly cookbook. You don't need master kitchen skills or expensive equipment. You won't even have to hunt down hard-to-find ingredients. You will need butter, but that's a good thing, and you will find yourself excited to gather your family around the dinner table night after night as you nourish them with food prepared with love. The name really says it all.

And I love how Luisa summarizes her food philosophy in her Postlude:

"I don't hold with demonizing food, or feeling guilty about it, or talking about how unhealthy or sinful it is to indulge in it. Food is a blessing, a gift from God. I do not believe food makes us sick or fat; I believe that what is going on in our minds and spirits has far more to do with metabolism or the body's other functions than science can yet measure.

"All I am saying is give peace a chance: end your war with food. Don't worship it, but do savor it with thanks and praise to its Creator. Share it with as many people as you can; let's take the energy we used to spend on ambivalence over food and use it to find ways to feed the poor and hungry among us."

Amen, sister, amen.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What Doesn't Kill Us, Makes us Kinder?

Treats are the easy part of Family Home Evening, this tradition that has us gather our families around us every Monday night for a gospel lesson, an activity or game, some songs, a prayer, and then refreshments.

I am an ardent believer in Family Home Evening. I have tried to faithfully hold it every Monday night, and the kids look forward to it.

I do not, always. It's like exercise. Sometimes you hate doing it, but you're always glad you did it once it's over.

I remember Family Home Evenings in my family growing up. Like a circus, they were, with nine children to entertain, uplift, and educate, while keeping a modicum of control. The cycle continues in my own family now, circus and all, no matter my pleas (or threats) to the contrary. But I will persist because I believe in the promises made by a prophet to those who will obey. And, I think it really does make our family happier. Eventually, anyway.

Yesterday's treat was easy to decide on. I knew I didn't want something too sweet because of all the Halloween candy that has been consumed over the last several days, so Lion House Banana Bread went into the oven early in the morning. But the lesson?

As the kids have gotten older, I have felt more pressed to make every lesson count. The weeks that the teens have left in our home are numbered and the pressures they face outside of our home are increasing. I want to pack a punch with our family time. I think long and hard each week. I search idea websites and the oodles of manuals and resources that I have here at home. And sometimes, at a loss, I pray. This was yesterday.

I told God about my concerns for my family, the things weighing on my heart for each of my children. I asked Him what He would have me teach. And very clearly, yet softly, came the answer.


I stayed on my knees for a time, thinking. Yes, service. To one another. There is too much contention. Too much mean-spirited humor. Too little kindness. How can we have the Spirit in our home if we're not even nice to each other? How can testimonies grow in mean little hearts?

I went back to some websites and found just a few scriptures. The classics.

"When ye are in the service of your fellowmen, ye are only in the service of your God." (Mosiah 2:17)

"For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it." (Mark 8:35)

I found a great quote by Elder Robert J. Whetton that said, "Every unselfish act of kindness and service increases your spirituality. God would use you to bless others. Your continued spiritual growth and eternal progress are very much wrapped up in your relationships—in how you treat others."

Yes, yes, this is the perfect lesson for us. Teens who are struggling with their own spirituality--who find it difficult to be sober and reverent--need to be reminded that their growth is connected to the way that they treat people.

I decided to have the kids play "The Biggest Loser", a mock of that weight loss reality television show. But in this game, points are given for "losing yourself" in the service of others.

I knew it was the right lesson. Still, evenings are chaotic. Homework is strewn about. I'm teaching piano until 6pm, and then dinner (which was, thankfully, cooking in the crock pot) had to be assembled, served, and eaten. Teenage girl gets home from work after 7pm, and then the battle begins with the toddler, who every week wants so badly to be a part of "Family Evening", but who is the main source of disruption and frustration. One chance, I tell him. Again.

We sing a song, "Have I Done Any Good". Teenage boy rolls his eyes and moves his lips, but without producing a sound. The toddler jumps from the couch where he is sternly directed to sit without moving, and begins to dance wildly around the room. Teenage girl is feeling homework pressure. I can see it in her face, but she never complains. Now the toddler is jumping on the teenage boy who is laying on his stomach on the livingroom floor. I get up from the piano, and put him back on the couch. Keep smiling. Talk sweetly.

A prayer. (Hasn't worked yet.)

A few announcements and then we stop again because the toddler is now kicking the boy on the couch with both feet, and with all his might. I pick him up and carry him, crying and begging, up to his bed. As I come back down the stairs, having been gone for, maybe 15 seconds, the boy on the couch is now crying and holding his stomach. Apparently in that 15 seconds, the teenage boy has "played too rough" and has punched him and knocked the wind out of him.


So, then sweetness goes out the window. I am sick and tired of teenage boy thinking that his bad attitude can control this family. He has his hand out way too often to be given that kind of power, and I won't stand for it. So, now he has his head down. Way down. But I don't think he is ashamed, as much as he is ticked off and cursing me in his mind. Fine, let him.

I sit down. I want to cry. I want to run from the room and curl up in my bed. Throw it all out the window. The tension is thick. I wonder in my mind, "What is the point? We should just do this another night."

But no. We are supposed to have this lesson, darn it.

I take a deep breath, and I look at their faces. I start to cry, but only a little. I tell them how much I love them, and how important this is, and how just that afternoon I had been on my knees asking Heavenly Father what I should teach them, and I just knew this is what He wanted. They each read a scripture. I read the quote to them, and tell them that if we are unhappy with how we are feeling spiritually, then we need to examine the way that we are treating one another (myself included, of course). I tell them that Heavenly Father wanted us to play a game this week, and are they willing?

Yes. I told them the game. I even told them that if they thought I wasn't being serious, that they should ask Heavenly Father themselves and receive their own confirmation that this is what our family should be doing this week. I bore my testimony to them. The Spirit in the room changed. Even teenage boy looked up through his hair at me.

I gave them each a baggie with 50 pennies in it. I told them that for each act of service they did for a member of our family, they could put a penny inside the jar. But no mention of the acts of service can be made. The person who gets rid of the most pennies, who loses himself in the service of others most frequently throughout the week, is the "Biggest Loser" and will win a prize.

Immediately after closing song, prayer, and refreshments, I went to Teenage Boy and put my arm around him as he sat at the table. I apologized to him and told him, with a kiss on the cheek, how much I love him. Then I went upstairs to wash my face. Teenage boy came and met me in the bathroom. Towering above me as he does now, he put his arm around me and said, "I love you, Mom." What a moment! And then? He started looking around for acts of service. He saw the flashlight next to my bed and replaced the batteries for me. He hung out in my room after the others had gone to bed, and told me about his friends, and school.

This morning there are already several pennies in the jar. Scripture study went much more smoothly this morning. We talked about the steps that Nephi followed to receive his own personal revelation. The kids were helping each other, passing out red pencils, and opening up Book of Mormons.

Family Home Evening works. It won't work once. It won't work now and then. But consistently, patiently, over the weeks and months and years, it will work.

And it better, because it's killing me.