Me: "Who has the best seat in the house, me or daddy?"

Adam: "Well, Daddy's is nice, but yours is best. Your's is squishier."

Friday, July 25, 2014


My big boys went away on Trek this weekend.
No, not the outer space one.

Trek is a wilderness adventure for youth sponsored by our church, where the kids are divided up into "families", given a handcart to pull, and then sent out on a 20 mile journey to be covered in three days, with only the clothes on their backs and the supplies that they can fit into a five gallon bucket.  

Why would a kid even want to do it?  Well, Ethan asked himself that question the first day, as blisters formed and dust flew, but by day two he was singing a new tune.  Well, he wants me to make it clear he wasn't actually singing, but everyone else was.  The kids on the trail sang to pass the time as they traveled, hymns and pioneer songs, and eventually some Disney  (apparently the blisters weren't painful enough, they had to listen to Frozen sung off key for hours).  Still, despite the song selections, my boys still report having had a great time.

Along the way there were occasional challenges placed in the kids' way; a pioneer approached them with an orphaned baby (a weighted doll) that their family was asked to adopt.  They took turns carrying the bundle when they weren't at the yoke pulling or pushing the handcart.  On another occasion, they were approached by pioneers that asked for any food they could spare.  This was the food they had been hauling themselves for the day, and of course, they shared.  Though they never went hungry and the baby never ate or cried, the scenarios presented to them caused them to reflect on the plight of the pioneers who struggled just to feed the mouths in their own companies, let alone share.  At one point along the way, an old prospector, who they learned was not even part of the Trek, but a local fellow who enjoys participating in his own way, offered a taffy to anyone who could hit a log with a thrown hatchet.  Adam tried.  No taffy, but he didn't care.  Apparently I'm the mean mom that doesn't allow hatchet throwing in the house.  Go figure.

As was the case for the Mormon pioneers of olden times, the second day the young men answered the call of the President of the United States to join a battalion and march off to fight for their country, leaving the young women to fend for themselves with the heavy handcarts.  The boys marched in tight rows carrying their buckets, every step the buckets seeming to grow heavier.  Meanwhile, the girls struggled in long skirts and blowing dirt as they made their way up the hill.  It was not uncommon on pioneer trails of old for women to struggle alone with their loads.  Soon the boys were asked to stand by the side of the trail and watch as the girls battled a steep hill with their carts alone.  It was so hard for the boys to keep themselves from offering their help, and when the carts finally reached the top of that particular hill, the boys could not be restrained from running to take over the loads.

It became the boys' turn, then, as they reached a massively steep incline.  The handcarts were rigged with multiple yokes and the boys battled the incredible powdery dust, hauling the ridiculously heavy carts up the hill.  It took 7-9 boys to haul--some pulling in front with a few pushing from the back--each cart to the top, and when they got there, many ran back down the hill to help with the next cart.  Adam helped with five carts.  One boy there, who was well admired for it, helped with eight out of the ten handcarts.

In the evenings they set up camp, then listened to music and dramatic actors recounting true pioneer tales in character.  They loved it, but Adam was so tired that he fell asleep sitting upright on his five gallon bucket.  They later laid out their sleeping bags on tarps right on the ground and slept out under the amazing stars.  When morning came, after they cooked their meal and ate, they would set out again.

They traveled 8 miles each of the first two days, and then 4 on the last, a distance that their pioneer forefathers would have traveled in a single day.  Just before reaching the end of the trail, they stopped in a clearing and gathered for a testimony meeting to share the spiritual experiences they had had individually.  This meeting could be considered the pinnacle of the Trek.  It is not often that young people today are asked to give up comforts or think of anyone other than themselves.  Here, they were compelled to think about each other and the lives of people that came before them that sacrificed much in the name of religious freedom and the pursuit of their dreams.

Ethan and best bud, Tyler.

Heads up!!!

Better than the movies

The roof over their heads 

Marching off in the Battalion

The dust made it impossible to breathe and made them so dirty they were unrecognizable. 

Adam was behind a bar in every picture I saw of him.  
I am so proud to see my boys working so hard.

Live music in the evenings sure beats the britches off MP3s and TVs.

Gathering for the evening devotional.

Adam and his "family".

Ethan and his "family".

I can't say what went on in the hearts of my big boys as they trudged along in the hot sun.  I can only tell you the spirit they had when they came home.  They were excited and open, happy to tell us all about their trip.  Talkative.  Yes, talkative boys.  They showed off their terrible blisters with utter pride.  Ethan had 8 on his feet and ankles, several an inch in diameter, but what he didn't have was a single complaint.  Neither of them did.  They loved their adopted parents, were grateful for the experience and said it was, in a word, "awesome".

Before they left for Trek, Guy read each of the boys stories from the journals of their 3rd Great Grandmother, Sarah Loader, and others who crossed the plains to escape religious persecution.  As a girl of just 11 years, Sarah pulled a handcart with her three sisters while their father and brother-in-law pulled a second cart containing possessions, their sick mother, and pregnant married daughter who was due any time.  After the baby was born, the married daughter and her husband parted from the company.  Soon, Sarah's father became sick and died.  They buried him on the lone prairie in a shallow grave and moved on.  The girls and their sick mother managed to pull their cart through a now frozen countryside.  Waves of rescuers trickled in from Salt Lake and picked up only the sickest of the travelers, one being Sarah's mother.  Now the girls struggled on alone. They ran out of food and drank a broth of boiled rawhide to stay alive.  Too weak to continue another step, they had laid down in the snow to die, when the final rescue party from Salt Lake City came and saved them.  Sarah and her sisters abandoned the cart they had pulled over a thousand miles there on the frozen prairie and climbed into the rescue wagon.

I don't know if my boys thought of Sarah as they journeyed in comparative comfort on their Trek.  But whether they thought of her or not, they have her to thank for their very existences, and I have her as an inspiration.  I doubt I'll ever be called upon to do the things Sarah did, but I hope I will do everything I do with the dedication she had.

I want to give my great thanks to Ron Aguilar for permission to use his amazing photographs.  I wasn't there to see my boys toil on this journey, but through Ron's gorgeous photos, I can almost taste the dust in my mouth, and hear the hymns on the air.

If you'd like to see more of his awesome work, go to:

or contact him at

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Passing the Torch

I used to think it was my job to teach my kids everything they would need to know to get by in this life.  Wear deodorant.  Vote.  Clean your vent filters.  Floss.  Be good to your neighbors.  Stir the spaghetti noodles.  Wash darks on cold.  Wipe front-to-back (hey, it's important).

But I have come to believe that there are some lessons I shouldn't be too anxious to teach.  Some lessons a kid needs to really want.  They need to ask, and be told no, and no and no, until it becomes forbidden fruit, and hence something they desire with all their heart.  And maybe I shouldn't even be the one to teach them.

Enter: The Lawn Mower.  I grew up in the era of boys-do-the-yard-work, girls-do-the-housework.  I remember wanting to mow the lawn desperately.  There seemed something akin to driving a car when you stood behind a big rumbling motor with unseen slashing blades.  It held danger and a sense of power.  Then there was the amazing magic-wand-like moment as the mower passed over uneven clumps of grass, some with stocks of seeds, making order out of chaos, the perfect lines of evenly trimmed grass falling in order behind you as you plowed down wild tufts of green.

The girls have been asking to mow for a while.  I said no for a while, and then, realizing I had started the boys out at their ages, I decided it was time.  The first week, I took the girls out, gave them goggles and safety instructions, and had them take turns with passes.  The next week, I called Adam in on his lawn mowing day.

 "Adam, for your job today you are going to teach Tessa to mow the lawn."

(-insert 2 minutes of teenage complaining, here-)

"Dude, you are training your replacement.  The sooner she learns well, the sooner you can pass the torch."
A look of confusion, followed by a stammering, "but I...", followed by that glorious look of "Wait, I'm about to get away with something here, and my mom is in cahoots with me.  Yes!", all traveled across his face in about 4 seconds.

A short while later I heard the mower roar it's approval to it's new co-pilot.  I hid in the kitchen watching as Adam gave instructions and correction, seeing not one, but two lessons taking place.

They were the easiest lessons I never taught.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Second Helping

Later on
in The Beginning, God created food.  And it was good.

I am so behind on posting, I have had a couple of foody events slip past which have gone unblogorated, so, hot on the heals of my last palate-pleasing post, here is a second helping!

Usually, I spin tales of Guy's culinary capacity, but he ain't the only cook in the clan.  I have been known to crack an egg or two without getting shells into the batter.  So for Father's Day last month I made a Thai dinner, sort of.  I hate instructions.  If you play a board game with me, be prepared for me to poke you in the eye if you try to read the instructions.  Let's just play once through, I'll catch on, and then, because it's only polite, I'll wait to beat you till the next hand.

So I perused a few recipes, collected the compulsory culinaria, and began blending.  I let my gullet be my guide, tasting and mixing until there is the perfect blend of sweet, savory, spice and tang.

For this meal I made:
Chicken Satay with spicy peanut sauce
Deep fried noodles (so fun, you must try these below)
Peanut and basil noodles
Tempura Broccoli (Not Thai, but the kids loved it)
a salad with almonds and homemade orange dressing

(Not pictured:  Dessert of Chocolate Brownie Waffles 
with Banana Coconut Cream Cheese filling and Chocolate sauce - a guarded ancient Thai delicacy eaten in the Early Waffle Dynasty)

Next up, Guy's Yummo Mother's Day Pork

It was sweet and spicy, and an excellent meal paired with Coconut lime cilantro soup, an awesome chow-mien noodle dish and fresh butternut squash and yam curry.

Cuz he loves me.  Cuz I made him 6 babies.

Oh, look, there's one now!  Cute, huh?  
What can I say?  I do good work.

Deep Fried Noodles
 Deep fry Thin Rice Noodles in oil.  Make sure the oil is hot enough by testing one small noodle piece in the oil.  It should sizzle and puff up like long, skinny popcorn!  It will look very white (see pictures).  Make sure you turn the bundle over in the oil so that every last piece of noodle hits the oil and expands, or it will be really hard and not crispy and fun.  My kids LOVE these things.  Eat them with your fingers, on top of salad (or under it!), or as part of a meat and veggie dish.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The 4th - Revisited

So, it's been a while since I got all foody up in here.  My kids have taken to saying "Mom, should you take a picture of your food?" before we start eating if they think it is a particularly nice looking plate.  Lest ye think we eat well all the time, I confess that last night the kids ate frozen waffles at about 9PM for dinner.  Wasn't the first time, won't be the last.

But on the 4th we laid a particularly patriotic palate-pleaser that deserves some technicolor attention.  Guy made a great thin sliced pork with Asian Sweet Chili sauce and served it on artisan bread with white cheddar and his own creation of ginger mayo.  The combination was amazing.  He paired all of that heaven-in-your-mouth with bacon potato salad and corn on the cob- Mexican style (with spicy mayo and grated Romano cheese on top).  

Kathy brought an American flag made of fruit skewers and a gorgeous mango and strawberry green salad in a strawberry vinaigrette.  We even made little blue star ice cubes.  It was so patriotic, we had to eat the whole dinner standing up, just out of respect.

 For dessert I got all tricky.  
I made a cake I saw on Pinterest.
Well, I tried anyway.

The outside was pretty simple... partly because I am lame and started late so there was no time to be fancy, and partly because it was the Leaning Tower of Pisa right out of the gate.  If the Italians are interested, they may be able to make their tipsy tower appear to be balanced correctly by piling a mountain of frosting on the low side.  

Yes, simple outside, but the inside was a tushy-load of work.  And I didn't notice until just now that I somehow got my layers wrong at the top with two reds and no white in between.  Also, it was a huge pain in the keister to make, and nothing went as easily as the tutorial let on it would.
Curse you, Pinterest Scum!

First off, when making red velvet cake, please plan for your kitchen to look like a crime scene.  It's not red, it's somebody-call-an-ambulance red.  Also, don't think the toothpick is going to come out "clean" when the cake is all done.  It will come out looking like you stabbed the cake in a fit of jealous rage.  I don't want to even think about how much food coloring was in this thing.  It's vanity I tell you, plain and simple.

(Peeps and eats)

We fed the good people of the town, including Jensens, Dave, Dan and the Missionaries, some of whom were so gorgeous and/or handsome that they made my camera go all blurry and could not be photographed.  We sat after dinner and listened to Dan tell some great stories (I love Dan), and before long it was time to head off to the fireworks.

There is always a band playing at the park before the show, and after we get glow-bands on the kids, I always take them up to the front of the stage.  We slam dance like we are in a mosh pit.  Well, we don't really, but Tessa and Kaylee danced with me a little while Ellie shyly looked on.  Owen cracked a smile once, and Jonah just yelled "toooooo loooooud!"

Natalie wasn't bothered by the fireworks show at all, even sitting right below it in the park, and though I started with my hands on her ears, she soon pulled them off.  Jonah pulled his third repeat performance of sleeping through the show.  I know whenever I hear "the bombs bursting in air", I think "nap time", don't you?  There is nothing that says nighty-night like a crowd of a thousand people cheering to the sonic boom of a grand finale.  I say it every year, but I think this was the best one yet.
Sweet dreams.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Among Giants - A Camping Photo Ablum

Ah, Summer; the time of year we await with fervor, knowing that once school is out we will get to all of the projects that have been piling up.  We will pick up the old band-aids laying behind the toilet, knock down the spiderwebs that have been in the corner since Christmas, and finally take the baby clothes out of the 3 year old's drawers.  Oh, we know there will be other activities to tend to, but, we assure ourselves, when those are done, we will pass the remaining hours each day filling photo albums and finally writing in baby books.

What are you smoking?  Summer will be over in 4 minutes and
  It feels like we just got here!!!

June blasted by in a cloud of road dust and dirty laundry.  Because this blog is actually my journal for my kids (Aw, you thought it was for you? How cute. Gee, sorry 'bout that.  Also, you really need a hobby), I am going to take the time to post about each of our ventures.  It will be like one eternal slide show from the seventies.  Go get a snack and come back.  I'll wait.  Go pee while you're up.  It's good for your kidneys.

We kicked off June with a trip to Calaveras Big Trees to camp with Kathy and Bishop (who, by the way, is no longer Bishop, but now President, so I'll just call him Wayne.  It's shorter).  We forced the big boys to join us with promises of unlimited napping.  The park rangers did a great job of convincing the kids that bears would come in the night and gobble them up like human jerky if they had a stick of gum in their pocket, so yeah, bed time was super fun.  I'd like cash for each time I said, "You will NOT be eaten by a bear!"  Oddly, this is not on my regular list of bedtime assurances. It is a promise I couldn't really back up for sure, but I kinda think that if a bear started at one of my kids he would get his first dose of  Crazed-Mama-Lion.  My shrieking and arm flailing would at least make him nervous. After the kids woke up the first morning NOT in a bear's stomach, they all did a bit better the second and third nights.  All but Natalie, who puked like a fire-hose on me in her sleep (are bears attracted to puke?)

We had the campsite almost to ourselves, and though it was quiet in that respect, we were sadly so near a highway (I know!  LAME!) that it took the sparkle off of the shiny-wilderness experience.  Speaking of campsites, allow me to take a moment to mention this, the North Grove campground, in particular, since I could find nothing online that did so before we left (if you're here because you googled this, you're welcome.  Don't stay in unit 24).  The pluses of this particular campground were: great bathrooms, showers (coin-op), and very handicapped accessible, with a cool boardwalk right through the middle of the meadow.  There were no terribly pesky bugs, and there was plenty of shade.  Minuses?  As I mentioned, the highway was VERY near by, the bear boxes were a complete pain in the tookus, the creek was dry, the river was too far away to walk, and the fire-pits were so tall that while sitting you couldn't even see the fire.  Yeah, they kinda missed the whole point with that one.  Besides the threat of bears, there were very few actual critters to be seen, probably because you have to keep food locked up so tight there were no vittles laying about the ground for them to nibble.

We had a ball at the Stanislaus River, and though it was a billy-goat style workout to get down from the road to the water, once there it was almost dream-like.  By the second day I was actually able to let myself relax and stop making lists in my head.  There was a great pair of rocks that created a cradle just the right size for a pair of grown-ups or a grown-up and a kiddo.  We all took turns cuddling and talking to the kids one-on-one, and it was a sweet experience.  As couples, we took turns watching the kids so that the other pair could sit with feet propped up and enjoy a visit.  It was concluded after all the chatting that: camping with anyone under age 3 is a pain; tents are a pain; and next time we will get sitters for the kids, rent an RV and have a couples' retreat!  

For me, the things from this trip that I will tuck away in my dusty memory banks are:

The kids loving on the crafting supplies we brought.  They spent hours painting rocks and sticks, making flags and wooden dolls, and relearning how to simply unplug and play.  Their replacement for media became an obsessive compulsion to play Uno.  They may have played over 100 times.  It went on and on for hours.  I wasn't thrilled, but eventually the middle kids began to include the little kids, which was nice, and Ellie and Tessa began to prefer exploring by the second day.

The rangers had posted instructions on what to do if you were confronted by a bear.  You are to raise your arms above your head, wave your hands and yell something like, "Bad Bear!"  I guess they figured they should give you something to say rather than just screaming "mommy!".  On one afternoon, Ethan stayed behind at our site with Adam to nap while we went to the river.  Hours later after we had returned, Ethan finally woke up and stumbled out of his tent.  Everyone started yelling, "Bad bear! Bad bear!".  His response was a bearlike grumble as he shoo-ed his hand at us as at a fly.  He acted mad, but there was a sleepy hint of a smile on that grouchy muzzle.

On the last night, as is our new tradition (because two years makes a tradition, baby!), I made Dutch oven carnitas and we enjoyed them with limes and cilantro.  After dinner we got our S'more on.  You may remember last year we swapped the graham crackers for homemade chocolate chip cookies.  Well, this year we took it up a notch with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (in the new bar form).  Next year I may have to try making my own marshmallows.  Oh, and yes on that sugar high, in case you were wondering.

There were no major catastrophes, no burns or capsized boats (that's a camping story for another day).  We had a pretty good time, and we even sorta got to see a bear (or at least a grumpy teenager).

(Now it's time for a game.  It's like Where's Waldo, only you have to find Natalie)

When I saw this photo the first time I was shocked by all of the very big kids in it.  I still picture them as hitting me at the shoulder or elbow.  So much like the giant sequoia trees that we bent our heads heavenward to see, they are growing and growing and not stopping (why won't they stop?!).  

On the nature walk we took among the giant sequoias, the guide held up a small pine cone about the size of a chicken egg.  He said it contained even smaller seeds, and each was capable of growing into one of these mighty giants.  He said that the forestry service used to try to prevent fires in the forest in attempts to protect the trees, but have learned that the trees need the fire to thrive.  He said that each of these trees had been through about 100 fires in their lifetimes.  The fire kills disease, encourages new growth, and helps with overcrowding, and for those small pine cones to pop open and germinate.

I guess we are not the only ones who grow from adversity.

And now, Ladies and Gents, the pictures!!!! 

"Aw shucks!"

Another picture of Natalie, already, you ask?  Oh, you just wait.
 Because two of my brats refuse to be photographed.  I am just making up for it.

Kaylee and Tessaloo, standing on water.

"Seriously, mom, is there any point to this?  Don't you realize that in 10 minutes I plan to lick the cold soot off the grill and crawl under the table to suck on rocks?"

The "Booty Rock", as the kids called it. 
 I'll admit, it did cup one's tushy quite nicely.

Nap time, anywhere!

Is it just me, or are they beauties?

Carnitas!!! (the beginning stage, anyway!)

The only decent picture of Ethan I managed to get (and by decent, I mean his hand is not covering his face).

Jonah-boy was like a lizard on the rocks. A really loud lizard.

Enjoying my kidlets from the comfy booty rock.

Speaking of rocks, I like to take pictures of them.
  Hush!  You do weird stuff, too.

Top to bottom: Kaylee, Jonah (protesting the picture),Tess, Ellie, and Lauren

Adam spent a lot of time off exploring, but otherwise he could be found by the fire pit.  You know; boys, fire, sticks.  Enough said.

I wanted to remember this little moment.  Ellie had invited me to lay in her nest and visit.  We talked about important things, and I am glad she thought to include me.  I am also glad that I didn't pass up the moment to go do something "productive" and utterly unimportant by comparison.

At the foot of a giant.  The roots of a medium sized Giant Sequoia.  Living it was "only" about 200 feet high.

Look what Daddy caught...
too small to keep, too cute to throw back!

Looking at ladybugs.

Never mind that they are different ages, they play together sweetly.

Wayne with Ryan, who kept his mama and papa up a lot the night before.  
It didn't bother me, I was probably cleaning up puke.

As illusive as Ethan and Bigfoot... an Owen.

*Squeak!*  So dang cute.

If I had to title this picture, I would call it "Cooperation".  Jonah had been hiding from me every time he saw the camera.  I had a little chat and told him how much I loved his cute face and how sad I was that he wouldn't let me take a picture to remember the fun we were having.  This picture was his response.  

Forest elves.  Make a wish!

On the nature trail.
"I done.  I not coming any-moh!"  He plopped himself down and was determined to become a permanent part of the forest.

I adore this picture of Guy. And I also adore him most days. 

This little girl got in freezing cold water and played away.  
Her teeth chattered but she wanted to stay!

Wow.  Those eyes.

I took slightly more than 5 billion pictures on this trip, so there were many more that I left out, but I think the one above of Ellie and Jonah is my favorite of all.  They made a nest of long pine needles, and they played in it for over an hour together.  It was magical.  They giggled and rolled and hugged, and stared up into the trees.  They whispered quietly to each other and then giggled some more. 

This is what childhood should be like.  I feel like I allow my children to be robbed when I succumb to their requests for "screen time".  Even if they are watching or playing educational  programs, they are still letting their imaginations sleep.  It is sad.  By contrast, the way they played at camp was amazing.  The first day they complained and said there was nothing to do.  The second day they shifted and began to explore and really play.  The third day, they ruled their universe, and on the last morning Tessa announced, crestfallen, "We're going home today?  Awwww! It feels like we just got here!" 

Too true.