Friday, May 12, 2017

Fasting and Frustration

Last Sunday was Fast Sunday.

For those of you who don't know what that is, it is a day that we in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints dedicate every month to fasting.  We skip two consecutive meals without eating or drinking, and donate the money we would have spent on that food to help the poor.  We are encouraged to fast with a purpose in mind, and to begin and end our fast with a special prayer for that specific purpose. 

It's a beautiful principle that requires some sacrifice, and after "practice-fasting" for a year (skipping one meal at a time), Jack is now fully fasting.

He's inherited my ability to fast, which means he's not great at it.

I'm kind of a baby when it comes to going hungry.

This last Fast Sunday was rather stressful for our family--Steve was feeling pretty sick, I was hungry, tired, and grumpy, and Calvin was getting four molars and was a BEAR.

(Not literally.  That would be weird).

So after a church meeting of me wrestling with a very loud and cranky toddler in the hallway (I can't wait until he's old enough for Nursery), and then an hour of me sitting in Relief Society, trying not to feel guilty when other women were giving advice on how to teach children to avoid contention in the home, I was ready to go home and hopefully sneak in a nap before dinner.

Sometimes I don't have the best attitude about things, and today was one of those days.

On the way home, Jack started really complaining about fasting and how hard it was, and with the recent Relief Society lesson in mind, I bit down my frustration and instead bore my testimony about how the sacrifice of fasting can help others, sharing an experience where we had all fasted for a seriously ill family member who had gotten better.

Clark responded beautifully, asking thoughtful questions and commenting on the story where appropriate.

Jack waited until the split second I was done and immediately started whining again.

By this time, we'd gotten home, so I snapped (Relief Society lesson be darned!), told Jack that he was fasting no matter what, and if he wanted to have a horrible attitude about it, he could go take a NAP, for ALL I CARE.

Writing it out makes me seem a lot more logical and cool-headed than I was, I assure you.

After huffing around to get lunch ready for the other kids (Steve was very helpful during this time, even though he still wasn't feeling well at all), I had the thought persistently come into my mind that we needed help in how to teach this principle to our son, because this most definitely wasn't what you could call teaching in the Savior's way.

As soon as the other kids got settled with lunch, Steve and I went into our room with the door closed and prayed for help.  I said the prayer, and I let Heavenly Father know that I was sorry for my horrible attitude, and that we understood the importance of the principle of fasting, but didn't know how to teach it to our son in a way where we honored his agency while also teaching him habits that would help him later on.

A few thoughts came into our minds, my heart calmed down, and we invited a bawling Jack into our room to have a more gentle conversation with him.

This time, the Spirit led me to teach him about where his focus was.  I asked him how he felt right now, and he answered, "Angry, sad, mad."

I asked him who he was thinking about, and he responded quietly, "Me."

I pointed out that I, also, was thinking of myself, and so I had been acting cranky all day, as well.  I then drew a larger circle around the first circle, and labeled it, "Others."

"How do we feel when we focus on others?"  I asked.

Giving the Sunday School answers, Jack answered, "Happy..."

I disagreed.  I said, "We don't know how we're going to feel if our focus is on other people, because we put them in control of how we feel and they don't always act in ways that make us feel happy.  If we are serving them, then yes, sometimes we feel happy, but if they don't do what we want them to or appreciate us, then we can still feel angry or sad or ignored."

I then drew an even larger circle around the other two, and labeled it, "Christ."

"When we focus on Christ, we can know that we will ALWAYS feel peaceful and happy.  Other people will let us down, and we will let ourselves down, but He never will, and when we try to do what He will have us do, He can guide us how to serve others and ourselves in ways that will bring us true joy."

I drew a happy face in the largest circle.

"I know that fasting is HARD.  I don't really like it either, if I'm being honest.  But it's like exercise--it helps our spirits to learn how to become stronger than our bodies, and when we keep our focus out here in these other circles, remembering why we are fasting, then we can have peace and joy even when we feel hungry."

Steve leaned in at this point and added, "Jack, it's like your Pokemon cards."

Jack perked up, and Steve chuckled, "Yeah, NOW I've got your attention.  You know how you have some cards that have a value of 50, but then you can add other cards that takes their value to 100?"

Jack nodded.  

Steve went on: "When we pray, Heavenly Father listens to and answers our prayers.  But when we fast with our prayers, it takes the power of our normal prayers from 50 to 100, and makes them even more powerful in behalf of what we need.  Today, you're fasting for other people, and every time you feel hungry or thirsty, if you think about those other people that you're fasting for, and say a prayer for them, it's powerful and can help them more than you could otherwise.

"When you fast for other people, you are sacrificing a part of yourself for them, and Heavenly Father honors that.  He blesses you and he blesses them."

The conversation went on, with Jack asking some questions and us sharing our testimonies, but the entire feeling of our home changed at this point, and as Jack left our room with a smile on his face, I was filled with gratitude for a gift of guidance that helps me to navigate this thing called parenthood with a wisdom and insight far greater than my own limited resources allow me to have.

The thing about parenthood is that it's never-ending--the demands on your emotional, physical, and mental resources is greater than any one person really can ever live up to perfectly.  And when I try to do it on my own, I fail miserably, which happens at least 18.3 trillion times a day.  But when I remember that I wasn't asked to do it on my own, that I have a Power greater than myself upon whom I can call, well, that is an encouraging thought to remember, now, isn't it?

Kindergarten Luau

Every year for Mother's Day, towards the end of the school year, the kindergarten students (namely, their teachers) put on a big luau for all of their moms.  

Because Jack's luau happened to be at literally the exact same time that Steve was graduating from Nursing School, we didn't get to attend his, but we did do a special Mother-Son date instead; of course, he doesn't remember the date at all but remembers perfectly that I missed his luau.

Sometimes you just can't win, huh?

Last night was Clark's luau, and although it got a little rough sitting on the hard tile floor for an hour and a half, it was more than worth it because of the entertainment:
Look at that adorable guy!  Because my family tends towards the tall side, I'm used to having to look for my kids in the back row.  It's par for the course.

There were dances, songs, a limbo, and pineapple-coconut cake, served by my own lovely son.

He was so proud, and every so often would come up and put his arm around my side and give me a little squeeze.  I absolutely love this age.

Afterwards, we went and took a picture with his teachers, Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Sipes:

I love these women.  They work so hard for so little, and make such a difference in these kids' lives because they genuinely love them.  It's nice to know when your child feels loved by their teacher.

I was also impressed with how much work went into this whole thing--the entire room was decorated and set up in the most adorable manner, and the kids really had learned their dances ever so well, something that I know is no mean feat at that age!!  We are so lucky to have such a great school in this community.

Afterwards, we took pictures near one of the adorable backdrops:

And of course, a silly one:

Hahaha.  Clark is hilarious.

He was a little disappointed that he didn't win the limbo, but I reassured him that limbos aren't really slanted in the direction where the taller kids are likely to win, and that helped (he's actually been practicing his balance and flexibility lately, and it's cute how seriously he took that contest).

I'm so proud of this boy.  He is smart and funny and sweet, and I love when I get alone time with him.  It brings me so much joy.


Hooray For Five!

My daughter is five years old!

I can't believe it--all of my kids just seem to be growing up far too fast for my comfort; the other day, we went to Maverick to take advantage of their F'Reals deal (milkshakes for a dollar each), and even though the line was ridiculously long, I didn't have to corral them--the siren call of frozen sweetness was enough to keep them in line.
It's interesting to be to this stage in parenthood, and yet also to be hitting the toddler stage yet again with Calvin.  But this post isn't about him.

For Maggie's actual birthday, we didn't do much; I decorated the kitchen and her bedroom door with streamers, and then invited my in-town family over for cake and ice cream.

And to sing Happy Birthday, of course:

Maggie had requested a Barbie cake, and when I was figuring out how to form it, I jokingly suggested that we make it out of Rice Krispie Treats instead--

Maggie was a fan, so it made the entire process significantly simpler!

Not too shabby for my very first time!

...even if she does look like she's expecting.  Or maybe I'm just making a political statement and designing her to look like an actually realistic woman's figure is supposed to look.

Yeah.  That's it.

I'm so happy that my sweet, strong, happy girl is five.  She brings such joy and kindness to our family, and I'm glad to be her mom!

Happy Birthday, Mags!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Eiffel Tower

Because the Eiffel Tower is so iconic (and because we truly had such an awesome experience with it),  I felt that it deserved its own post.
 Also, because Steve takes way more pictures than I do, so I have a good 5 dozen pictures to try to sort through and use.
The way the Eiffel Tower works, you can buy tickets online for a specific time to go up it, and because Steve scheduled our tickets at 8:00, we got to see the lights turn on, as well as the sky change around it.
The area around the Tower was quite nice, as well, with a little garden, and when it came time to go up, although we'd planned on walking up the stairs as far as we could go (there are three levels, and the third level is only reachable by elevator), we couldn't find the stairs.  So the elevator it was, which gave a new meaning to the expression "packed like sardines" for me.

Once we got up there, we just couldn't get enough of the view.  It was truly amazing.

We'd seen this icon from our first night in Paris:
 And been drawn to it from the start.

 I mean, how can you not be?
 It's fun that it now sparkles every hour, too.
 Steve got a couple of good videos our first night, which are fun to watch:

And so once we got up there, we had to take some good shots.
It's really quite romantic.
 And quite a lot bigger than I'd pictured it.  I mean, after all, Phineas and Ferb climbed the dang thing with a grappling hook in the opening credits!
 I definitely have a new respect for engineers after seeing this.

 Under the tower:
 The view from the top.

It's incredible.  This place is so famous, and now to know that I've been there--I've seen the Seine in person--it's a fun experience.
 Well, if you say so....
 They had a line all along to show how high up you were, and on one of the levels, there was a diagram all around the entire level showing how other countries' famous monuments measured up, height-wise, to the Eiffel Tower.
Because I'm prideful, it was satisfying to see that America has several buildings taller.

There was also a small little scene showing when Thomas Edison came to visit Gustave Eiffel.
 That was fun to see:
 A shot of me--my hair started out cute, but quickly gave up:
 And Steve.  He stayed cute all night.  Lucky guy.
 We then climbed the stairs all the way down, which was both fun and gave us a feeling of accomplishment--that is quite a lot of stairs!

There you go!

Move Your Body

It's time I told you all about one of my favorite discoveries of all time, thanks to my sister-in-law, Danica.

It's called GoNoodle.  They have an app, as well as a YouTube channel, filled with videos for kids to help get the wiggles out, focus, or calm down.

I absolutely love it.  I haven't been running a ton since the marathon (think, only maybe three or four times total), but with GoNoodle, I can have the kids each pick an exercise video and then we all go to town while I get my heart rate up and the kids get their wiggles out.

Molly sent me this video of the younger three dancing to one of the videos while Steve and I were on our trip, and I may have watched it already at least 3.7 billion times:

Be still, my heart.

Yesterday morning, I was trying to get my exercise in before a meeting that I was scheduled to go to, so I did a couple of the videos on my own while Clark and Maggie finished cleaning their room, so they could do the videos with me.

They started getting a little overwhelmed, so I went in there and challenged them--I would do squats until their room was cleaned.  It really wasn't very messy, and I naively thought they would hurry...  

I ended up doing 100 squats.

But hey, their room was clean and I am now pleasantly sore!

So, yeah.  GoNoodle.  Check it out.

The City of Lights

Ahhh, Paris!!

I'll admit, Paris as a whole was rather underwhelming.  I'm sure part of it came from the fact that we were only able to be there for two days (one full day, really), so the sheer feeling of having so much to do in so little time was kind of a burden.  We also were coming to Paris after having been traveling for 8 days already, and we were pretty exhausted.

Plus, it was surprisingly dirty, which I wasn't expecting.

BUT--that being said, we had some truly magical moments and some wonderful pictures from the trip which I'm excited to share.

Our first night, after we landed, we checked in at our hotel, but only after having some misunderstandings with the subways--turns out that unlike the London and Edinburg subways systems, the barriers didn't automatically open, and because the light didn't flash green (and we couldn't read what was flashing up instead) with the passes we had, we thought they didn't work.

After about an hour, a little panicking, and some help from an incredibly patient worker who had better English than what our French was capable of, we figured out the subways and headed to the Arc de Triomphe.

It was stunning--several flights' worth of stairs:
only to be greeted by the god of war at the middle section:

And then the view at the top was wonderful.  It was raining and quite cold, so I didn't grab any pictures (I think Steve did), but we looked around a bit, and then decided to wander down the Champs-Elysses.

It was stunning and quite opulent, but because I'm a small town country girl, expensive stores and restaurants aren't really my scene, and with the rain and the chill, it was all rather overwhelming and confusing.

We were hungry, so we turned down a side street to see if we could find any restaurants serving food for less than 50 Euros a plate, and we came across a little place called Chez Barbara.  It was warm and smelled good, so we sat down--the waitress spoke English quite well, and explained the menu to us, and while we chatted with another American sitting next to us (who looked almost exactly like Dan Stevens), she joined in and chatted with us, telling us her story after he left.

Turns out, the friendly waitress was Barbara herself!  The food was so good, and the experience was so pleasant that I asked to get a picture with her.

Also, yes, that is a monkey giving us the finger in the background.  Not sure why, but the food was good.

After eating, the rain cleared up a little and so strolling down the Champs-Elysses this time was significantly more pleasant:

Still cold, though.

Our hotel was situated near the famous Moulin Rouge, and since Steve is a huge fan of the movie, we grabbed a shot:

After which we learned that the Moulin Rouge is right next to Paris' red light district.  Red also describes the color of my face as we walked the surface street back to our hotel--I have never seen so many awkward novelty items in one place before!

A fantastic shot of Steve in front of the Arc:

And me:

We got back to the hotel, dried off a bit, and then wandered a bit (in a different direction) in search of a pastry shop, as the French pastries were absolutely on our must-do list.

We weren't disappointed--one of the shops was still open at that late hour, and we got about 15 Euros' worth of pastries.

And then stuffed our faces like a couple of fat kids back in our hotel room, after Facetiming our kids.

SOOOOOOO decadent.

The next morning, our first stop was the Louvre, where we saw the glass pyramids:

Isn't it incredible?

And the Sphinx.  Truly, the biggest thing we'd wanted to see at the Louvre was their Egyptian section, as Steve and I both love Egyptian culture, and after wandering through the maze a bit, we learned that the Egyptian section is closed on Fridays.

We were there on Friday--our only day to be able to go.

Pouty face.

But we went through the marble sculpture section, and I was truly astonished at the beauty that artists could find in human and animal forms.

It was incredible, and I'm sure I could spend a week alone in the Louvre.

We didn't really plan to, but we ended up wandering into the area where the Mona Lisa (the most famous painting in the world) is kept.


It was nice, but I definitely can't see why this painting, of all the other paintings in the world, has become the celebrity of paintings.

I felt sorry for all the other paintings in the same room with Mona, and I made sure to look at them extra hard to make up for the inadequacies I'm sure they feel.

Steve, looking at a depiction of a theatre.  It made me happy.

This painting cracked me up, because as soon as we saw it, Steve started singing "It's a Hard Knock Life"... apparently this is what happened to Little Orphan Annie when she grew up!

We then grabbed a double-decker tour bus ride, where we drove past the Louvre again on the way to Notre Dame.

Notre Dame was incredible and quite a beautiful experience--Steve was the principle photographer when we were inside the building, so I only have a couple of shots of the outside:

I got a video while we were standing in line (in which I'm TOTALLY tongue-in-cheek about how we entitled Americans shouldn't have to wait in line)...
This statue reminded me of Carmen San Diego, so I took a picture of it.

I'm sure I'm being totally disrespectful in saying that.

We then went into the catacombs underneath the city and saw the ancient roman ruins of Paris, where we took some pictures of personalized coins they made of our faces:

I never noticed my double chin until now.  Dang it....

After which we re-emerged to the surface streets to see a man surrounded by a huge flock of pigeons.

I'm weird, and I love pigeons, so we went over to walk through the flock, and the man beckoned me to him, filled my hand with bird seed, and grabbed my phone to take pictures while the birds flocked all over us.

It was SO fun!

My face cracks me up here--I was so simultaneously grossed out and yet thrilled that I was holding a Parisian pigeon on my head in front of the most famous cathedral in all the world!

Steve was more just grossed out:

But of course, as soon as the man stopped taking pictures, he held out his hand for us to pay him.

We hadn't gotten any cash, and so had to tell him we had no money--I felt awful, because he acted as though we were ripping him off by allowing him to take pictures of us without paying him for it.

But hey, we got some good pictures, right?

Us in front of the Seine:

And here we are in front of the Tower!  We had tickets to come back and see the tower at night (Steve wanted to be sure that we got to see it light up and sparkle), so we didn't stop here during the day, but that was definitely a highlight for me.

People are incredible.  I love seeing what they are capable of creating.

We stopped at the Palais Garnier only to learn that the last tour of the day had already ended, so we had to content ourselves with taking pictures in the lobby:

...the mirrors were stunning, and my lack of photography skills doesn't do them justice, but I had to at least try!

Honestly, the architecture alone could have me there for weeks.  So much detail and beauty even in the stonework of the outside!

We found another cafe for lunch/dinner:

And then went to the Eiffel Tower that night.  It was magical.

Because Steve was the principle photographer that night, I think I'll download all of his photos on a separate post about only the Eiffel Tower, but it was definitely my favorite landmark of Paris on this trip.

We spent a good amount of time at the Tower, after which we went back to the hotel and crashed--we were leaving the next afternoon, and wanted to be up to explore a little before we had to head to the airport.

The next morning was by far, my favorite experience overall in Paris.  We had no subway tickets or landmarks we felt pressured to see, so we just found a nice neighborhood near the hotel and wandered a bit.

We came across a petting zoo and a lovely little park, which were just so beautiful and quiet and sweet:

And then we found yet another cemetery:

I know. We're a little macabre.

This morning felt the most genuinely Parisian, however, seeing the sweet families with their ridiculously well-dressed children playing at the park, walking down the street, greeting each other kindly and sitting outside at the cafes.  It was lovely, and I'm so grateful we got that sweet, low-key morning after our otherwise hectic and busy trip.
I was quite impressed by how kind people were to us.  It was a new experience for me being in a country where I knew only a handful of phrases, and while several people spoke enough English to help us out in certain situations, I kept wanting to respond to them in French.  Problem is, every time I tried to speak the little French I knew, Chinese kept coming out!

Steve kept accidentally speaking Spanish, too, which cracked me up.  Good thing we both had these useful languages under our belt to visit France with!

I definitely gained a new appreciation for those people I know who are able to speak several different languages.  I still can't figure out how not to mix up the ones I know!

Isn't it just lovely?  This little park was so serene and beautiful.
When we finished wandering around, we then had to pack for the airport, and since we'd bought some souvenirs, I used the old trick of wearing all of my clothes so my suitcase would have room (and weight) for the things we'd bought.

It was uncomfortable, to say the least, but quite stylish:
We made it to the airport the required 2 hours early, only to find out that our flight was delayed a couple of hours...good thing we were pretty much ready to sleep on anything by that point.  We napped and looked at pictures and stalled as much as possible until we were ready to board.

Suffice it to say, by the time we finally landed in California at 8:00 California time (4:00 AM Parisian time), we were exhausted.  Being a tall person does not make for a conducive environment for resting when crammed into the coach seat of a Trans-Atlantic flight.

We sent this picture to our worried mothers as we rode the airport shuttle back to the hotel (which was random and deserves an entire post to itself), and then we crashed for the night before driving back home again.

What an amazing trip.  I am so glad we went, and now that I've caught the traveling bug, I can't wait for our next one!