Taking Breaks

This weekend I hit a little point of burnout.  I was feeling tense, tired and snapping at everyone.  I hadn’t had the best night’s sleep the night before and I had been giving a lot.  I finally just laid down on my bed exhausted and staring blankly at the wall.  Luckily, after years of practicing at my career as a mother I knew what I needed to do. I needed a break.  And soon.  So, I told my husband and – bless his kind heart – he immediately kicked into gear.  He took the kids and the new puppy for a little outing and left me to recuperate in peace.  I fixed myself a healthy lunch, took a nap and took a warm bath.  By the time he came home I was feeling ready to face the rest of the weekend.

Now what you do for your breaks may be different than me.  But I feel that everyone needs breaks.  Especially, if you run most of the day in high gear.  Indeed, I feel that women who take breaks are kinder, more effective mothers than those who do not. This goes across the board for working moms as well.  

As a younger mom, I always napped.  I scheduled time for myself to rest.  My children ran me thin and I needed time to recuperate.  And the breaks that I took were naps.  I remained close to my children who either napped or had quiet time.  The naps were usually not long – 30 minutes or so but I woke up feeling refreshed.  I also alternated running every other morning – my husband ran on my off days.  Usually I ran for only about twenty minutes but it was enough to get my engine kicked into gear.  And eventually, one evening a week on the advice of two bishops I started taking an evening off.  It felt selfish at first but when you are constantly doing service in your home you need a chance to do your own thing.  Would an employer deny an employee breaks?  So, why do we women feel so guilty about doing it ourselves.  

Now, my life looks a little different.  My day is basically like a hurricane with a quiet eye in the middle.  I am very busy in the mornings and also after my children come home from school.  And I am learning not to clutter the middle of my day too much.  I do the basic housework, prepare dinner, and then I also take time for things I enjoy – I write, I read, I talk on the phone, sometimes I still even take a nap.  These are things I enjoy.

What rejuvenates you?  It may be exercise.  It may be a healthy snack.  It may be music or napping or hobbies or even a lunch with friends.  Figure it out and take some time for it.  You’ll be glad that you did.

Finding Hygge in the Eternal Everyday

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Everyone seems obsessed with hygge these days.  And what is hygge?  The definition I found said that hygge is a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture).  And isn’t hygge what most people are trying to achieve.  Comfort and warmth.  Hence, I notice the word used in conjunction with cooking, decorating, fires and candles.  Items being the primary method for invoking hygge.  Which makes sense for a material-centered culture like ours.

But I would exert that true hygge is less about the meal or the perfect surroundings and more about the feeling.  Imagine entering a beautiful perfectly decorated home with a fire burning and candles. The scene has been set for a lovely evening.  But the people in the home are strange to you and are talking about you in an unfriendly manner.  No matter how lovely the atmosphere, you feel uncomfortable and want to leave.

Then imagine going to a home, perhaps even to a very small building or apartment where the furnishings are a bit worn.  There may be some piles of books or papers on the counter.  There is a lamp on the table next to a sofa — nothing fancy.   But there to greet you is the most adorable little grandmother and her husband.  They are so happy to see you and welcome you with a smile and a warm hug.  They offer you a small plate with perhaps a butter cookie from a tin or some crackers and cheese.  They listen to your concerns and encourage you in your goals. You instantly feel comfortable and at home.  You know that you want to visit this place again.  You feel, loved, cherished and adored.

I would maintain that we as a society have spent quite a lot of money trying to create something in our homes that truly only can be created with love.  Hygge, comfort, happiness and joy are feelings that are created in quite simple ways:

Smiling

Listening

Giving of the best we have

Gentle expectations

Encouragement

Unhurried time

Simple acts of caring

Good Humor

Love

My sister used to tell me how she particularly loved going to one friend’s home for dinner.  Her friend served hot dogs for a crowd and the home was usually a bit messy.  But the warm feeling this woman knew how to create among good friends was a lovely thing.

I love the scripture from Proverbs: 

“Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.” (Proverbs 15:17, KJV).

Hygge is not about items, its not about what we create.  Big things are not necessary to homemaking.  Indeed, a quest for items often deprives us of precious time.  What happiness at home is truly about is the feelings we get when we are there.  Little moments that make everything worthwhile.  Smiling at a child.  A family joke that everyone’s in on.  A soccer game outside.  A simple shared meal.  Time spent talking on the couch.  A quiet reply.  Dropping everything to help out.  These simple activities performed everyday contribute to a remarkable feeling at home.  A feeling of stability, of happiness, of love.  And a feeling that can be created in no other way.

The Real Secret to a Happy, Long-lasting Marriage

I once asked my Dad the secret to a happy marriage.  After all, he and my mom have now been married over 40 years.  I figured they must know something about it.  I don’t know what I had in the back of my mind but his answer surprised me.  He simply said, “commitment.”

Over the years my husband and I have watched quite a few marriages end in divorce.  This has been distressing to both of us.  Especially as we have watched the children navigate tough and rocky landscapes to which no child should be subjected.  I am not sure of the reason for all these divorces but I wonder if some of them could not have been saved if they had been one hundred percent committed to each other.

What are some secrets to maintaining commitment?  

1. Give 100%, expect 50 in return

Don’t have high expectations.  Expect that when you enter marriage you are entering a partnership and that there will be times when you will be giving a lot, maybe even 100%.  But there are other parties depending on you making the most of your marriage – your children and your neighbors.  “We did it for the children” is a great answer when it comes to how you hung in there through the tough times, especially when you look at the lasting effects of divorce on children.  I have known some couples who weathered serious infidelity or relationship problems to build lasting love.  Other couples seem to take a bow after the first argument.  Give it all you’ve got and be the first to forgive and forget.  This will go a long way toward making your marriage a happy one.

2. When the going gets tough the tough get going

There are times when you really aren’t going to like your spouse.  You may love ‘em but you’re not going to like them very much.  And you will come to problems that will test the two of you to the very marrow of your bones.  But working through these times can become a strong cement binding you together in times of ease.

3. Master the art of the soft reply

In other words: stop picking on each other!  And if your spouse is a bit more verbal than you, use a soft and gentle response.  Don’t add fuel to the flames with an angry retort.  You be the first one to forgive and forget.  This is what really makes commitment work.

4. Above all else, be loyal

Don’t let your eyes wander.  Don’t fall in lust with someone else.  Don’t go out to lunch with another “friend” of whom your spouse would not approve.  Keep your actions above reproach.  Invest in your spouse, don’t be continually shopping for a replacement.  

Commitment brings such great rewards.  Today I wrote a letter to an elderly neighbor of ours who had a great influence on our marriage through her and her husband’s example of commitment.  Carl* had come out to west from Massachusetts where he had met and married Becky.  They were the cutest couple ever.  Carl was a real do it your selfer who had used dynamite to blast out his backyard which also housed a working sawmill (this was the suburbs not a country estate).  Becky loved to read and Carl built her beautiful bookshelves which consumed their entire living room.  She also had another bedroom dedicated to her porcelain doll collection.  They lived in a tiny home and were about as opposite as you can imagine but somehow they had built a beautiful marriage full of kindness and consideration, each appreciating the other for his/her skills and abilities.  Becky had managed to hone a few of Carl’s rough edges and Carl managed to courteously maintain his manliness in a house overflowing with books and dolls.  They had raised a happy family and these members of the “greatest generation” were reaping the loving rewards of a lifetime of commitment.

Don’t let your marriage go sour.  Commit now to do everything possible to make your relationship work and you will be well on the way to your own happily ever after.

*Not real name.

Preparing Your Child for a Mission

Some Thoughts on Preparing a Child for A Mission

I am just starting the process of sending my seven children out on missions.  But here are some ideas that I have gathered and have tried to implement over the years that might be helpful to others working towards the same goal.

1. Build a Testimony

Hold your family scripture and prayers.  Make sure they know the importance of reading scriptures and saying prayers on their own.  Keep them clean and worthy to serve a mission.  But also let them make decisions.  Don’t force.  Give gentle reminders or use consequences when necessary.

2. Teach them to teach others

The best way to do this is to give them opportunities to teach in your own home.  Have them give family home evening lessons, Come Follow Me lessons or devotional messages.  

3. Serve Others With Your Family

When you go ministering, bring your child with you.  But more importantly look for neighbors and those in your community who need a helping hand.  Shovel snow.  Blow leaves.  When our boys were little we brought dinner to an elderly neighbor in their little red wagon.  And don’t just serve members of your own faith community.  Reach out to everyone around you.

4. Don’t Focus on Worldly Stuff

There are so many things in this world that are just not important.  Fun but not important.  If sports or cars or clothing or popularity are very important to your child then it will be hard to leave these things behind for a mission.  My children know that one of my favorite scriptures is: “A man’s life consisteth not of the abundance of that which he possesseth.”  I quote it often.

5. Work is the Key

President Ezra Taft Benson said that “one of of the greatest secrets of missionary work is work.” Incentivize them to wake up early. Have family work projects that you do together and jobs just for them.  Have them do work that prepares them to clean, to do laundry and to make meals.  We have made different job charts over the years to accomplish this. Teach them to finish a job and to do it well.  Check their jobs and call them back if they aren’t done properly.  Doing hard things at home prepares them for real world work.

6. Teach them to Get Along With Others

This does not mean teaching them to be popular.  Popularity often causes you to sacrifice the most important things on the altar.  Rather, teach them good manners and kindness.  Help them find jobs and volunteer work where they are around others.  Teach them to be a good friend. 

7. Have Them Earn Money for their Own Mission

We prayed about this and found creative ways for our kids to earn money – selling bread or cookies door to door or shoveling snow and mowing lawns.  Encourage them to find a full time job in the summer and other work as needed.  I wish I would have found my boys really social jobs where they had to talk to a lot of people. After they work help them to pay tithing and to put money in a savings account for a mission.

8. Learn About Other Cultures With Them

Have them take a language. Travel. Study the countries of your ancestors. Eat weird foreign food. Look at maps and google maps. Appreciate this awesome earth that you live on. But don’t forget to prepare them to also receive a normal, stateside mission call. Teach them that the most important part of a mission is bringing souls everywhere to Christ.

Being Noticed

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All of us like to be noticed.  All of us like to be appreciated.  But not many of us seem to grasp that most of the great work of the world will never be noticed or appreciated.  Many of us put hours into writing novels, building businesses, hosting lunches and social gatherings, or decorating and cleaning a home.  Much less time is spent on the things of lasting importance – relationships, listening, family time and traditions, or fun activities together.  These activities, while seemingly mundane, are the greatest contributors to the successful fabric of society. 

As I have learned about my ancestors I have appreciated more and more the value of the ordinary life.  The life as one of the ninety and nine.  A life where sacrifice and service take precedence over wealth, glamor or ease.  A life that is a composite of tender touches, work worn wrinkles, dusty shirts and dinner time conversations.  A life where success is sacrificed on the altar of integrity.  A life where ambition melts in a compassionate glance.  A life where a child’s call is answered.  In this type of life we don’t get seen much.  These lives become yet another plain cotton thread in the fabric of a very warm, very soft blanket.  A family.  A community.  A nation.

My Little Place

“Father, where shall I work today?”

And my love flowed warm and free. 

Then He pointed me out a tiny spot

And said, “Tend that for me.”

I answered quickly, “Oh no, not that!”

Why no one would ever see,

No matter how well my work was done;

Not that little place for me.”

And the words He spoke, they were not stern,

He answered me tenderly,

Ah, little one, search that heart of thine

Art thou working for them or me?

Nazareth was a little place,

And so was Galilee.”

Are we willing to live a life where we won’t be noticed much?  Are we willing to live a life where we get little acclaim and little recognition?  Will we answer the silent pleas in children’s eyes for better mothers or better mothers? Will we be better family members, better neighbors and better friends? Or will we drive quickly past like the Priest and the Levite, busily making our way to the next appointment?  

I love the next quote:

“[T]o do well those things which God ordained to be the common lot of all man kind, is the truest greatness.  To be a successful father or a successful mother is greater than to be a successful general or a successful statesman.  One is universal and eternal greatness, the other is ephemeral.”  (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine)

Let us not be so hungry for acclaim that we pass by the most important moments and people of our lives.

More Like Him

In the Church of Jesus Christ we have a tradition called General Conference.  I love General Conference!  We like to watch General Conference in our home – all four sessions.  This is my recharge and my strength for the next six months as I try to listen to at least one talk daily.  As I was reading over my notes I noticed a common theme throughout conference: Trials and Preparation.  I have in my notes that President Nelson said we should live each day so that we are more prepared to meet our Maker.  This theme just seemed to press on my mind.  I need to be changing, I need to be preparing.  I need to be becoming more like Him.

And then I started to think – what is Jesus like?  Am I really like him?  Or am I just going through the motions.  What were the hallmarks of His life?  And can I expect to do any less?

Christ took time to be with others – eating, walking – Christ moved with others.

Christ took time to be alone – talking to God and meditating, drawing apart.

Christ had a group of good men who were his closest friends – his apostles.

Christ told the truth.

Christ used stories to help people understand important truths.

Christ noticed people who were left out or on the fringes.

Christ was constantly teaching others.

Christ sacrificed personal convenience and time to minister to others.

Christ had one priority – pleasing his Father in Heaven.

Christ didn’t just preach, he healed.  He helped people to solve very real, temporal problems.

Christ suffered a lot.  

Christ eventually received a glorious eternal reward for his work on this earth.

As I evaluate these I realize that I am far from the mark.  I am so concerned with accumulating, so concerned with my house and my looks being perfect.  I am not truthful enough.  I speak to please.  I have a lot to work on and I hope that the Lord will help me as I work to change, to repent, and to improve.  I am so grateful for the example that He set.

Where Mother Is…

A while ago I was trying to make an important decision about a significant opportunity in my life. It would have been a dream come true for many people and it seemed too good to pass up. The only problem was that no matter how I tried to make it work, it would require a significant amount of time away from my growing family.

I prayed, stewed and turned it over in my mind. One day I was driving home and I looked up to the mountain. Something caught my attention that I had never noticed before. Going down the mountain was a line of trees surrounded by brown – brown being the common color in our arid climate. I knew they were following a water line and that that was the only way for trees to grow in this mountain desert. And then suddenly I had a thought flash into my mind: “where mother is, children grow.”

This was a decision maker for me. I knew that as much as I wanted this opportunity and as much as it “made sense” in every conceivable way, it was not right because I would be depriving my children of the mother’s presence needed for their growth.

Children need attention, they need nurturing, they need a mother who cares and who is available. We can so easily be busy with our occupation, with our social gatherings or with our volunteer work. But children need mother. They need her around.

I found this unattributed quote in a talk by President David O. McKay: “True motherhood is the most beautiful of all arts, the greatest of all professions. She who can paint a masterpiece, or who can write a book that will influence millions, deserves the admiration and plaudits of mankind; but she who rears successfully a family of healthy, beautiful sons and daughters, whose immortal souls will exert an influence throughout the ages long after paintings shall have faded, and books and statues shall have decayed or have been destroyed, deserves the highest honor that man can give, and the choicest blessings of God.”

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/media/video/2014-05-0001-to-every-mother?lang=eng

Don’t Change Locations, Change What’s Inside

Perhaps few stories have had more impact on me than a story I heard given in a church meeting almost twenty years ago. I was a busy young mother of boys living in Boston, Massachusetts. Finances were tight. Friends and family were far away. I was always tired and harried serving in my church group and giving to others. I dreamed of tomorrows when I would live close to friends and family and have the time and financial abundance of which I had always dreamed.

When I first heard this story I gave it little thought. I mentally criticized it as too simplistic. But the story has stayed with me over the years and has continued to be more and more meaningful to me.

President Pouliot, the president of the church in the Exeter, New Hampshire area, related the story similarly to what follows: They had been having a problem with the soap dispensers in his churches. No matter where they placed them they were dripping onto floors, dripping onto counters and the liquid soap inside was creating an awful mess. They tried moving the dispensers to different locations but to no avail. The soapy mess remained. Then one day, they hit on a new idea.

One day President Pouliot noticed something was different in the restrooms.  No more dripping soap, no more residue on counters or floors.  The solution – he discovered – was simple.  They had replaced the liquid soap with foam soap.  The moral of the parable continues to impress me with its many applications: “Don’t change locations, change what’s inside.”

So many of us live life insisting that a change in life’s circumstances will bring us the happiness we desire.  A new job, a new move, a new home, a new dress, a new body – even a new spouse.  We are convinced that herein lies the secret to our happiness.  So we move, we buy the item we’ve been wanting, we divorce our spouse and we discover that we are faced with a new set of opportunities but also a new set of problems, perhaps bigger than or even worse than before.

I am not advocating that we sit still and do nothing about life’s problems.  And sometimes we are faced with tricky challenges or opportunities where a location change is required.  But, more often than not, the key to our happiness, the key to our success lies in changing who we are.  Perhaps we are the ones who need to be more friendly, kinder, more hard-working or more grateful.  Perhaps we are the ones who need to adjust our attitudes or our habits to achieve the relationships or the goals we have always desired.  Perhaps the area we live in contains hidden secrets and untapped friendships waiting for discovery.

The years have passed and we have moved, our family has grown. But any happiness that I have I owe to things I have learned over the years: how to solve problems, how to be less angry and how to be more grateful.  And any discontent that remains about where I live or the people I live with I can clearly see is almost entirely the result of changes and improvements I still need to make in my life.  As Abraham Lincoln said almost 150 years ago: “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” 

Here’s a favorite scripture of mine: “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in no wise lose their reward.” (D&C 58: 27-28, emphasis added). Change what’s inside.

How I Hear Him.

I took seriously President Russell M. Nelson’s counsel to members of my Church to learn to hear the voice of God and have been working at this since his landmark talk: Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives. I have been learning so much about how God speaks to me. I wanted to share a bit of my experience with you.

Here are some keys that he pointed out to hearing the Lord:

  1. Find a quiet place for communion with God: I cleared out a room in my basement (although it gets messy so fast) and I carved an early morning time out of my schedule.
  2. Record impressions: I bought myself something to record thoughts from the Lord on. I have tried a number of different things. I finally settled on yellow lined notepads from Walmart that are half size. They sell for the incredible price of 88 cents per pack. I keep at least one of these on the nightstand next to my bed. But I can also keep them in my purse or take them with me when I pray in my special place or do my scripture study.
  3. Immerse Yourself in the Scriptures: I would like to do this one better. My mom and some of my amazing sisters read for an hour a day. I am not quite there yet. But I set aside a good chunk of time each morning to devote to prayer and scripture study.
  4. Really talk to God: Tell him how you are feeling, your hopes and dreams, your worries. I am good at this part. I love to express my feelings.
  5. Listen: This part has been a little harder. I often get so carried away and my thoughts focused on my problems that I have to make a concerted effort to be still and to listen. But the thoughts really do come. And now they are starting to be easier to recognize.
  6. Follow through: The hardest part of all. I try to check off the impressions that I have followed. And sometimes I only get through a few. Then I don’t seem to get as many the next day.

I am amazed how willing God is to talk to me when I take the time to listen. I am so grateful for the counsel given in this talk.

How I Stay Healthy While Raising a Large Family

I am not a health expert. I am not a health coach. I am just sharing what has worked for me so far as I have raised my family. It’s not easy to stay in shape with seven kids. But I try to maintain my health so that I can be a good mom to them.

Don’t Yo-Yo, Establish Health Routines

I would describe myself as a very steady person. I don’t get usually get overly excited. I don’t often dip into the depths of despair. I like my days to look pretty much the same. So, what works for me has been establishing health routines. I used to exercise every other day for twenty minutes. Usually, running. In the winter I would do a fitness video. It’s not a lot but I have been very consistent. Rain or shine, sun or snow, my early morning fitness minutes get me recharged and ready for my day. On a good Saturday I might get a lot more time. On a crazy day I might only get ten minutes. But, for the vast majority of weeks out of the year this is what my routine looks like. During coronavirus I upped my frequency to daily exercise. I have found it helpful but not a game changer. My goal is twenty to thirty minutes 3-4 days a week.

Eat Nutritious Food

Again, I don’t follow a diet. I don’t count my carbs. I follow a health code in my church known as the Word of Wisdom. I don’t drink alcohol or coffee. I don’t smoke. And I eat lots of whole grains, fruits and veggies. I do not eat a lot of meat. I also take a daily multivitamin. To me, this is just common sense, no-excuse eating. In the summer my family almost becomes vegetarians. We eat a lot of garden produce. In the winter time we eat a little more meat. Not much junk food. I just don’t keep it around the house. Then it doesn’t tempt me. If I have received too many plates of cookies in a week (holidays, beware) I just start pitching them in the trash. That way I’m not tempted to overindulge. Carrots , crackers, cheese and apples are favorite snacks for me and my kids. This is how I keep my waistline down and my spirits up.

Get Outdoors

When my boys were little I tried to get them and me outside every day. I still make it a point to take breaks outside and to do healthy family activities like hiking, camping, biking and rafting. We rarely go to movies at the movie theater and we don’t play a lot of video games. Instead, we invest in outdoors sports and adventure experiences. We also like to garden and to visit places outdoors where we can pick our own fresh produce. These things have kept me and my family happy and healthy in a natural way.

What have been your most helpful health routines?