Monday, July 2, 2018

10 Before 10: My Summer Morning Routine

During the school year, I keep a morning routine for myself of things I daily attempt to complete before 9 or 10 in the morning. What makes sense during the school year and what works well during the summer are sometimes different things, so while I was working on my expectations for the children, I also worked on mine.
For summer, my list contained 10 tasks to complete before 10 am. In case you are wondering, I am waking up to an alarm at 6:30 on weekdays this summer.

My Summer 10 Before 10

  1. Pray, Ponder, and Gospel Study
  2. Exercise and Drink Water
  3. Shower, Hair and Make-up
  4. Make Bed
  5. Family Prayers
  6. Breakfast
  7. Start Laundry
  8. Unload Dishwasher
  9. Tidy Kitchen and Dining Room
  10. Plan Day

I feel like I can get a lot more done first thing in the morning when I don't have to reinvent the wheel every day. I also live most comfortably with a moderate amount of structure. Spontaneous summer fun is more likely to be fun when the kitchen is functionally clean and I feel ready to face the day.
Some mornings are definitely smoother than others. If we have a busy evening where dirty dishes get left out overnight instead of run through the dishwasher, it's going to take me a lot longer to get through steps 8 and 9. I have found this to be great incentive to do the dishes in the evening!
If we stay up late the night before, I know it will be much harder to get up at 6:30. Knowing I am getting up at my summer variation of "early," I purposefully choose not to be up late the night before, so I really believe I'm getting as much sleep as if I wasn't using a schedule.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Book Review: Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons

About a month ago, I attended Time Out for Women in Raleigh, North Carolina, and enjoyed hearing Zandra Vranes and Tamu Smith speak. They were a pair of fun and dynamic speakers, with unique and thoughtful insights into Bible stories and life itself. They are also the authors of Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons.

Written as a series of diary entries, the "sistas" reflect on gospel lessons found in their everyday lives. They cover a wide range of topics, from "Dysfunctional Families Are Forever" to "Set Your Standards High So You Can Fly," and my personal favorite, "Don't Save the Drama for Mama," but the theme that runs through this book is learning to love Jesus and turn your life over to him.
Zandra Vranes and Tamu Smith share the gospel as they've learned it, bravely sharing stories from their childhood and youth that don't always portray themselves in the best light as they, like anybody, have needed to pass through hard things to find and follow Jesus.
The book is full of good choices and bad, real-life encounters with service, forgiveness, family drama, what it's like being the only black family at a Mormon church, and a healthy dose of "black momma sayings" (their words, not mine). Their "black momma" (again, their words, not mine) is a cross between Mrs. Weasley and Jiminy Cricket. This is a woman on fire to have you "choose the right" or "regret the wrong." Zandra and Tamu let you know what she would say, as they heard her voice a lot growing up in their respective families.
We are all individuals. There is such a range of personalities, choices, and life experiences, that I think it would be a mistake to assume any one book can represent the thoughts, feelings, and life experience of all black (or even African-American) Mormons - or Korean Mormons or Southern Baptists or --well, you get the idea. And yet, experiencing the gospel through the eyes of someone with a different life, culture, or race does help me feel more strongly connected with Saints all over the world.
I'm very glad I read this book. It was an enjoyable read, and helped me focus on the core of the gospel (as opposed to the pseudo-culture that is sometimes associated with the gospel). I felt closer to these great sisters in Zion, and appreciated their courage in sharing their views and experiences with the world.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Free Printable Covers for Scripture Stories from The Friend

I wanted to share how we've been getting so much more use out of the wonderful scripture stories printed each month in The Friend, and share the (free printable) binder covers I made to go along with them (scroll to the bottom for the download).

These illustrated retellings are an amazing (and practically free!) resource for parents and Primary teachers.

The Author and Illustrator

The retellings are written by Kim Webb Reid, and illustrated by Apryl Stott.
The stories are written with a beautiful simplicity appropriate for ages 4 and up. My little one is only 3, so the first few times we tell a story, I'm pointing at the pictures and paraphrasing the story in the simplest way I can. Once he is comfortable with names and words unique to the story, I can transition into actually reading the text.
In picture books, an illustrator can make or break a story. What I often see in children's scripture stories are cartoonish renderings that are incapable of showing the depth of these great stories. I have completely fallen in love with Apryl Stott's thoughtful illustrations, which are sufficiently stylized to draw your eye to what matters most, while containing thoughtful details for those who want to linger on them. As if that wasn't enough of a treat, she has been designing a monthly coloring page that appears right after the story.
Together, this author-illustrator team has created a powerful resource for parents and Primary teachers  to introduce children to the scriptures.

Book of Mormon Stories

In 2016, The Friend printed a story each month from The Book of Mormon.

2016 was the year we tried (and mostly failed) to read our church magazines online, so I didn't have access to physical copies from that year. Ink can be expensive, but I felt like my little one needed this, so I printed all of the pages, slipped them in sheet protectors in a 1" binder, and made a cover for the binders.*
The illustrations really appealed to my 3-year old. Paraphrasing the stories as I went, he let me read about half through before losing interest (for this child, it was more than I expected).
Then my older children picked it up, one at a time, and read through it themselves.

Bible Stories

In 2017, each month included a different story about Jesus.
This year, 2018, The Friend has been publishing stories from The Old Testament.

This year I'm prepared. I put a stack of repurposed sheet protectors (anyone else reuse those things?) in a 3-ring binder (for the year, you will need 24). As soon as we get a new Friend magazine, I can carefully tear out the Bible stories (and anything else in "The Friend Jr." that I think we will want to reread) and slide them straight into the sheet protectors.

I finally got around to making a binder cover so I would stop losing this binder when it's in plain sight. I named it Bible Stories so that this year's Old Testament stories and last year's Stories of Jesus could go in together.

Church History

While I have no inside information, I'm going out on a limb and guessing that 2019 will finish things off with a year of stories from church history.
In case of that eventuality, I also made a "Stories from Church History" cover.

Free Printable Covers

The link for the binder covers takes you to Google Docs, where you can view and download them.

Scripture Binder Covers (Original, Full-Ink Version)

Low-Ink Version of Scripture Binder Covers

Printing the Covers from a Mac

  • Download (see links above)
  • Open the document in Preview 
  • Select "Fit to page"
  • Select "Single-sided"
  • Print

Printing the Covers from a PC

  • Download (see links above)
  • Open file
  • Select File, Print
  • In the print dialogue box, choose "single-sided"
  • Print

Getting the Stories

*If you need to go back and print some stories you are missing, go to the website for Friend magazine. Choose the year you need, then the month. Scroll down until you see "Scripture Stories." Off to the right it will have the author's name, Kim Webb Reid. Click the download button (an arrow in a circle), and print from there.
I recommend printing the stories SINGLE SIDED on plain computer paper (it doesn't need to be cardstock), fit to page, and if there is an option for image quality, I choose "Best."
There is one story in each month, so if you're missing stories, YES, you will have to go separately to each month.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Travel Vlog: Philadelphia Temple

In this video, I share parts of our overnight temple trip up to the Philadelphia Temple, and how we managed child-swapping so both my husband and I were able to enjoy sessions, while helping the kids have happy feelings about our regular temple trips.


How do we afford this? Well, we have a little checking account that on the first and fifteenth (payday) we automatically transfer in a set amount of money. It's our temple-trip account. We track how much we have spent on previous temple-trips (i.e.: hotel, fast food, gas, tolls). This gives us a good idea of how much we need to save to go to the temple. When we have enough money in the account, it's time to go. 
We can transfer all the money over to our checking account right before we leave. If our account is full from a recent pay-day (i.e.-and the bills haven't fallen yet) we can wait until Monday morning to transfer it and see how much we spent.

Preparation Check-list:

  • Call temple to schedule sessions
  • Reserve a hotel (about 30 minutes outside the city is close enough, and cheaper than in the city)
  • Add money to E-ZPass for tolls
  • Download Netflix episodes to iPad and/or choose books
  • Top off the gas tank
  • Buy and assemble snacks
  • Pack overnight bags

Drive Up:

We left late (after 7). The sun was setting as we drove across the bridge-tunnel. I read to Cory while the kids watched downloaded episodes on the iPad. We ate dinner before we left (remember . . . it was late) so we passed out snacks as needed. We also had water in our Thermos bottles. The kids don't spill them, and since water is a boring drink, they don't drink more than they need to, which keeps down on rest stops.
We pulled over at a gas station when kids needed to use the bathroom, and topped off the gas tank. By this time it was 10 pm, we were still 2 hours from our hotel, and that light dinner had worn off. We pulled into a drive-through and ordered some sandwiches from the economy menu to round-out our snacks. For me, this really hit the spot.


Most of the kids fell asleep almost immediately. Q took some coaxing to quiet down and sleep somewhere that wasn't his bed or a hotel crib. We had brought his special toddler sleeping bag, which I think helped him emotionally. I didn't get to sleep until almost one in the morning, but we had to get up with our alarm if we were going to make it to our sessions in time.
Cory and I showered before waking the children, who got dressed quickly. They like hotel breakfasts and will get ready for the day in a hurry if I require that first. We left breakfast about 30 minutes before we wanted to leave the hotel, because packing-up and checking-out always takes longer than I think it will.

Child-Swapping Temple Trip

We pulled into the temple parking garage about 30 minutes before my 10 am session. Cory gathered the kids and walked to the Franklin Institute (a family-friendly science museum) a couple blocks away, where we got a membership. Crowds were light in the museum that early. Little Q, who loves trains, got to spend a lot of time in the train room. The kids were happy.
Meanwhile, I took the elevator up to the temple entrance, where I got our parking ticket validated. Getting out of my session took longer than Cory and I had expected. I met him with the kids between the temple and the museum a little after 12:30. He headed back to the temple.
The kids were hungry. A nearby food truck sold Philly cheesesteaks and hot dogs. Hot dogs were either 2 for $6 or 3 for $6. There were two signs and I wasn't sure which was current. The kids weren't interested, so we walked a couple blocks to a mini-Target. We got two bags of bagels, meat, cheese, and a bag of sliced apples for everyone to share. Then I gave the kids permission to choose a drink and a side (most got a bag of chips). I think this second category may have doubled the cost of the meal, which was about $30.
It was a little chilly to eat outside, so we thought we would try to use one of the cafeteria-style lunchrooms on the bottom floor of the Franklin Institute. We asked a nice lady at the check-in desk, who went and checked on the rooms. It turned out that all the tables were folded up and a custodian was cleaning, so she gave us permission to go upstairs. We found a corner near the snack bar (not the restaurant), and enjoyed a leisurely meal. I put the leftovers back in the grocery bag. We enjoyed the museum for about half an hour before deciding to use restrooms and head back to the van.
The parking garage was mostly empty when we got there. The kids settled into the vehicle (unbuckled) and soon Cory joined us.
After enjoying his lunch in the car, we got on the road. We waited for Q to doze off, which didn't take long, before the kids started watching The Greatest Showman on the iPad. We had the sound faded through the speakers toward the back of the vehicle, as I was reading a book to Cory (the middle-grade sci-fi novel Bounders).
We got home with just enough energy to unload the van, dumping the laundry in the laundry room to wait for Monday.
We all slept well that night.
The kids are already asking when we can go back. Hurray!

Friday, April 27, 2018

Temple Trips with Children: How We Do It

Can't go to the temple often because you have kids? It's so hard to find a babysitter . . . and who can afford to pay a decent one for that long of a trip?
Today, I share how we have become more successful (i.e.-more frequent) about our temple trips, even as we've moved farther from temples and had our family grow.

My inspiration came from a family I knew who lived about an hour north of the Seattle Temple. They would drive their whole family down on a Saturday and drop-off one parent at the temple. The other parent would take the kids to a nearby bowling alley. 
That's right: bowling!
Maybe somewhere out there is a kid who would rather sit and listen to conference talks for three hours, but that isn't my kid, and it probably isn't yours either.
When we moved to Charleston, South Carolina, it took two hours to get to the nearest temple. Fortunately, we had some great friends who also had children, so once every 6-8 weeks we would drive up on the same morning. One family would take all the children while the first couple went in. When they came out, it was time to switch. 
We all became pros at nearby activities we could do with the kids. Weather permitting, the nearby park was a good option. Often we would walk there, which would use up time in a good way. There was a small LDS bookstore that opened around ten. The kids would enjoy the play place while one of the adults perused the books. I tried to only go in if I was serious about buying something that day.
When the weather was bad, we would drive all the kids (yes, this took some car seat and vehicle planning) to the nearest Chick-fil-a, where they played gleefully. We would buy them a morning snack to "pay" for the visit.
Then we moved states and found out we were three hours (in ideal traffic - ha!) from the nearest temple. We had to get a lot more intentional about our temple trips if they were going to happen, and even more intentional if everyone was going to be happy about it.
This is the gospel of good news! I want my kids to learn that living the gospel makes our family happy.
We had money automatically transferred to a "temple trip savings account" every pay period to save up for our temple trips (we went about 10 out of 12 months). We needed money for a hotel, a tank of gas, at least one fast food meal, plus snacks and water. For better or worse, the snacks often came out of the grocery budget.
There were a handful of times we skipped the hotel and drove there and back in one day just to save money. It wasn't fun, so usually that was just if the youth were going on a temple trip.
For a while, our exhausting mini-vacation family temple trip looked like the following:

Sample Washington DC Temple Trip Agenda

  1. Drive up Friday afternoon
  2. Sleep in a hotel
  3. Cory wakes early and makes the first session
  4. I get dressed then get the kids to dress
  5. I take the kids to the hotel's continental breakfast
  6. Cory comes back and catches the last of breakfast
  7. We check-out of the hotel
  8. Cory drops me off at the temple for my session
  9. He drives to IKEA and checks the kids into the ball pit
  10. He and the kids get back to the temple
  11. They wait in the visitor's center for me to get out
  12. We drive downtown and pay for parking
  13. Visit a Smithsonian museum for a few hours
  14. Drive home
Right now, the Washington DC Temple is closed for renovations. That doesn't mean we've stopped going to the temple! Living farther from the temple just means being extra intentional about it. We're still automatically transferring money into our "temple trip savings account." After adding up the cost of an extra fast food meal, more fuel, and some expensive tolls, we have decided that we can afford to go to the temple once every 6-8 weeks.
Next week I'm posting a video of one of our family's trips up to the Philadelphia Temple. I'm excited to share with you what we did and how it went.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Royal Icing Temple Cookies

I'm a serious home baker, but I recorded this video the second time I used royal icing to decorate sugar cookies. The icing was a bit thicker than ideal, but I decided to post this anyway, because I thought it might be encouraging to those even newer to this process to see that the process doesn't need to be perfect to be perfectly beautiful.

Make Sugar Cookies

I used Alton Brown's sugar cookie recipe from Food Network. There are several videos as well as the recipe at that link. (I also made a batch of chocolate sugar cookies, but I lost that link. Sorry.)
Then roll the dough between two layers of parchment paper (divide the dough in half and do this twice), slide it onto a cookie sheet or cutting board, and refrigerate until firm, which will be in about 45 minutes.
When the dough is firm, peel back the top layer of parchment paper, dip your cutter in flour, and cut your first shape. While the cutter is still on the dough, slide a floured metal spatula under the dough and cutter, and transfer them together to a cookie sheet. This helps the cookies keep their shape better.

Put the cookies (with tented spires, see below) in the oven for the minimum bake time. Then remove the foil. Leave in the oven for up to a few more minutes, or until the edges of the cookies blush golden brown.

Make Royal Icing and Decorate

Make sure you have meringue powder and icing bags, couplers, and tips available!
Wilton's royal icing recipe can be found here.  Use the "thin icing" variation. Divide the icing among several cups. Cover the cups with a wet paper towel. One at a time, remove a cup from under the wet paper towel and add gel colors. Transfer into an icing bag with a coupler already in place.
 Use a small tip to outline your cookies (like a #1 or #3), and a slightly bigger tip for flooding them with icing (like a #3 or #5). Have fun with this!
I did a blue temple, then added yellow polka dots, and a blue CTR shield, then added yellow letters. If the icing is the right consistency, everything "melts" to the same level. It's part of the magic of royal icing.
Here, I did colorful diagonal stripes. Then I ran a toothpick through the stripes, but only in one direction:
This temple got a solid yellow background, large round white dots with little yellow dots in the middle. I pulled a toothpick from the center of the small dots outward, which gave a sunburst effect. (The lumps are from the icing being not quite thin enough.)

Then my daughter came home:
The cookies are supposed to air-dry for 24 hours before being stacked. That's the professional ideal. At the very least, don't stack them within the same couple of hours as when you decorate them, and then proceed with caution.
We served these as refreshments for our ward's Temple and Priesthood Preparation (Primary) meeting. I show a few more cookies in the video.

Friday, April 13, 2018

General Conference Study Challenge: President Nelson

After the October 2017 LDS General Conference, I wanted to learn more about Russell M Nelson. Each morning after dropping my son off at LDS seminary, I would listen to a talk by President Nelson. I started with his oldest conference talk, which he gave the day after he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and progressed to the present day. About two months into this challenge, President Thomas S Monson passed away, and Russell M Nelson became the new President of the church. I feel like my study of his conference talks prepared me to have a testimony of him as a prophet.
In this video I share how I did my study, as well as some of the things I learned along the way.

By the way: I was joking when I said President Nelson probably knew more Chinese than me. I'm sure he knows way more!