Monday, March 30, 2015

Jane's 5th Birthday

Jane is five! I can hardly believe that she'll be in kindergarten next year and I'll only have one left at home with me all day! It's a bit sad, really. I love having the children home with me and when they leave, it reminds me that they are constantly growing up and that I won't be living with us forever, but really, for only a very short time during our time here on earth.
Jane woke up, ate breakfast (cereal, of course; that's everyone's breakfast of choice on their birthday since we never have it otherwise. She choose a 'Frozen' cereal) and opened her gifts. She got a doll, a kid camera/video/voice recorder thing, clothes and sandals, money from grandma and grandpa and Gran got her a dress and matching dress for her new doll.

Scott went to work and later that morning we met our good friends, the Rogers (and Jane's bff Ruby) at Jump City. We jumped for an hour, Desi and I even joined in and played dodge ball etc which was fun, and then we went to Chick-Fil-A for lunch and we brought cupcakes to share with our friends. After lunch we came home and gave Nora a nap and the kids played with Jane's new camera and then they started part of a new Tinkerbell movie but we didn't get far along before Nora was up and we went outside and played with our friends and neighbors, the Rogers, again :). The weather has been gorgeous, low 70's and sunny, so we've been outside a lot, spending time with our friends.

Once Scott got home we had home made pizza, bread sticks and salad and as tradition, we went around the dinner table and each said something we love about our Jane, which was easy to do! Then the missionaries came over, per Jane's request, and we sang Happy Birthday and had cake and ice cream. Like I mentioned in the previous post she requested a cake of her "love" which is a baby Eeyore blanket thing.

Jane requested birthday cake ice cream and we also made our vegan mint chocolate chip ice cream since I prefer non dairy ice cream and Elisabeth was still getting over a sickness and didn't want dairy and sugar. We didn't tell the missionaries until after they ate their ice cream that it was dairy free, sweetened with pure maple syrup and had spinach inside :). They were surprised. You can find that recipe here. It's really yummy!

We sure love our cart-wheeling, loud singing, creative dancing, artistic, fast, loving and thoughtful Jane!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Good, Better and Best:Smith Family Sunday Activities

Today after church we watched a general conference talk given in 2007 by Elder Oaks called Good, Better and Best. Afterward we had a discussion on good, better and best Sabbath day activities for our family. I loved coming up with our list together, hearing the children's ideas; they came up with really good ones, and I think they'll be happier about doing all these activities because they were involved in making them.  We typed up everyone's ideas on our lap top that was connected to our TV so everyone could see and then we printed them out. We posted it on our family room wall where it can be seen regularly. Here is what we came up with. 

  • Go on a walk together
  • Read, memorize, and study scriptures
  • Call grandparents
  • Write in journal
  • Write email/letter to loved one
  • Prepare dinner together
  • Family history and indexing
  • Individual parent-child interviews
  • Church music/classical (listen or play on piano, guitar)
  • Read the Friend or Ensign
  • Service (visiting the elderly, taking a meal, do something nice for a family member etc.)
  • Go to church
  • Pray
  • Plan your week/set goals 

Good and Better
  • Church videos
  • Have someone over for dinner
  • Play a game (whole family, no fighting)
  • Quiet play
  • Puzzle with the whole family

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Eeyore Cake

Our Jane turned 5 over Spring Break, and requested a birthday cake of her 'Love', which is this baby Eeyore blanket thing pictured below. Since the kids were off of school, we had a 'lazy' day, meaning they stayed in their pjs all day, lounging around and I didn't put any makeup on :). But I wasn't lazy. I exercised, read my scriptures and then got to work on this cake. Normally I'll take a couple of days to finish a cake, but this time I got it all done in one day. The kids got involved too, kneading in the colors for our fondant, which was very helpful.

Recipes I used for this cake:

Marshmallow Fondant
Marshmallow Fondant
10.5 oz mini white marshmallows 
2-3 Tbsp water
6 c powdered sugar 
1 Tbsp Crisco (this is just to grease your hands while you knead so have it in a bowl that's easily accessible.)

Melt mini marshmallows and 2 tbsp. water in microwave by placing in micro for 30 second intervals and stirring in between, repeating until melted. Dump 4 cups powdered sugar into marshmallows and stir with large spoon. Once combined stir in more powdered sugar. Keep stirring until fondant gets a little dry. Now grease your hands and knead fondant. You'll knead for about 5 minutes. Add a little water, a teaspoon at a time, and knead if you need to. You want it to get to a smooth elastic ball that will stretch without tearing. If you see tiny bits of powdered sugar, knead and maybe add a few drops of water. To store, coat with Crisco, wrap in plastic wrap or parchment paper and put in a Ziploc bag, squeezing all air out. It can be stored in fridge or on counter for several days.

Butter Cream Frosting
2 1/2 c unsalted butter, softened at room temp
5 c powdered sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp lukewarm water
Mix butter. Add sugar, one cup at a time. Add vanilla, salt, water and mix until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Use that day or store in airtight container in fridge. Allow it to thaw and soften before using it to decorate. 
*To make a chocolate frosting, follow recipe exactly but add 2/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder when adding in sugar. 

Vanilla Cake
2 c sugar
4 eggs, at room temp
2 1/2 c flour
1 c milk
3/4 c coconut oil melted or vegetable oil
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 9 inch round cake pans (or 1- 9x13, or 1- 9 inch square pan and 12 cupcakes) with parchment paper. Grease the paper and the sides of the pan well. 

In a large mixing bowl, with an electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs together until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Add flour, milk, oil, baking powder, and vanilla and beat for another minute, just until the batter is smooth and creamy. Don't overbeat. Pour batter into the prepared baking pans. 

Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. A single 9x13 will take longer to bake than the smaller 9inch rounds or squares. Loosen the sides of the cake from the pan with a knife, then turn out onto a rack and peel off the paper. Let cool completely before covering with frosting.

Using fondant, is a lot like using modeling clay. You do a lot of shaping and molding, and I use knives and toothpicks, pizza cutters and cookie cutters to help. I never really thought of myself as an artist, drawing and good penmanship were never strengths, but once I started decorating cakes, things changed; now I notice shapes and colors more and little details stand out.

I used cookie cutters to cut out the letters and the number 5.
I took this picture at 3 in the afternoon; everyone still in pjs and cake has just been completed!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Friends, Food, Mariachi band

Jane's birthday is coming up this week and when my kids have birthdays, their great Aunt Jolene, my mom's sister, always sends them a $5 gift card for mcdonalds or dairy queen. We used the gift card to get Jane and Nora hot dogs and cones at DQ last week which they thought was so special.
Nora (and Annabelle) love cashews. When they're wanting a quick snack they pull the entire costco container out of the pantry and carry it around the house with them. I'm trying to teach them to pour themselves a small bowl and eat them in the kitchen, but it'll take some time and patience before it sinks in and they do it on their own without any reminders :). 
 Elisabeth has activity days with girls ages 8-11 in our church every other Wednesday evening at the church, same time and place as Charles cub scouts, which is very convenient. They have a big group of girls that attend, probably around 15 most weeks. The girls love their leaders and they love spending time together learning about teachings of Jesus and other good life skills.
 Jane and Nora helped me pull out our two Easter decorations :), and while we were digging through our box of easter baskets and eggs, they found their baskets and quickly and excitedly pulled them out and have been playing with them since.
 Hours, and hours of fun!
 During the day, while the older kids are at school and Scott's at work, the girls and I play and do our cooking and cleaning. Jane made a lot of the protein balls on her own this week...this is one of the kids favorite snack items.
 We have dinner together as a family each night, which is one of my favorite things of the day, eating while visiting with the family. During the day, Jane, Nora and I eat lunch together each day which is another favorite time. These girls love taco salad so we have that often.
 This is our dear friend, Patricia Murphy, or Sister Murphy, as our children call her. She crocheted a beautiful infinity scarf for me this past week(pictured here). I will feel love every time I wear it.
 She wanted to watch the new, third Night at the Museum movie with the kids that her son just bought, so Scott and I were able to go out on a dinner date while they did that. We ate dinner somewhere we'd never been before called Que Bueno, and when we walked in I was pleasantly surprised to hear and see a Mariachi band playing! My eyes instantly filled with tears and memories came flooding to my mind of home. Of home, in Seattle with my family, and with my father who is from Mexico and was constantly playing his mariachi records and telling us about his days in Mexico, growing up on the farm and playing soccer and the cornet. Love family and history, grandparents and beyond, different cultures and all!

Monday, March 23, 2015

St Patrick's Day celebrations

St. Patrick's Day was pretty laid back this year; most of our holiday celebrations have gotten pretty relaxed. We usually do something but I don't want to add extra stress so that something isn't very elaborate or time-consuming. When we celebrate, we tend to celebrate with foods and colors of clothing, so we all wore green (found the older kids green shirts at Walmart for $1, and the younger girls got some for the same price at a thrift store) and we ate green and/or Irish foods for breakfast and dinner. Breakfast I made green smoothies, which I make every morning, but this time I didn't add any dark colored berries, we just used pineapple, banana, mango and strawberry along with our greens so that it really was green.
Charles and Annabelle after school, wearing green and eating peanut butter and apple sandwiches (not green or Irish).
Oh, and we couldn't possibly forget Nora!

For dinner we had Irish soda bread, which I made the day before, salad, potato and leek soup and rainbow fruit cups. The rainbow fruit cups I decided to make on a whim just before we served dinner since I noticed and variety of beautifully colored fruits on hand.

After dinner, also on a whim, I decided to try a new ice cream recipe in our ice cream maker that I'd been dreaming up for weeks. Chocolate chip mint ice cream, no dairy, no refined sugar and no dyes! I used almond milk and canned and refrigerated coconut milk, spinach for color, pure maple syrup for sweetener, and peppermint essential oil for flavor. Once the ice cream was done we added carob chips to some and dark chocolate pieces to some. It was SO yummy and the kids had NO idea it was made with spinach and non-dairy milks and no sugar!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Report Cards, Reading, and Play

Our local grocery store, King Soopers, has these fake horses you can ride in the front of their store for a penny. So every time we go to the store, we have to stop at the horse ;).

The kids got their report cards in this past week and everyone had great notes from their teachers and all 3's and 4's so we took the family out to Zinga frozen yogurt to celebrate. I was disappointed that they were out of their Mochi, which is my favorite topping. If I had known, I wouldn't have gotten any frozen yogurt.
When Nora naps during the day, I make myself sit or lay on my bed for at least thirty minutes and read. That may not sound like a big deal but I have so much to do all the time every day with cooking and cleaning and helping children and paying bills and running errands and fulfilling callings for church etc that if I didn't make myself do this, I would never sit down and rest, ever. And I want to be a good example to my children and show them that reading is important; and I do enjoy reading but actually sitting down and picking up the book can be hard at times. Many times, Jane will jump up on the bed with me, sometimes with a stack of books of her own, or sometimes with a blanket, or a doll, and after about 10 minutes, she'll doze off. I've dozed off a couple of times myself, which could have negative consequences if one was to accidentally sleep through kids school pick-up, not that that's ever happened to me ;). I love and cherish that quiet, peaceful time and that short rest fills me with energy and hope and I feel rejuvenated and ready to keep going until bed time. It's usually around 1pm which means I've already been up and going strong for 8 hours. This past week I finished The Giver by Lois Lowry, which I would highly recommend. It's a very thought provoking book and I found lots of similarities in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his eternal plan. Elisabeth finished that book just a few days before me and then we watched the movie this past weekend with Scott and Charles, too.
While Nora naps, we also spend time working on Jane's letters and numbers and then she does quiet activities like puzzles, coloring, linkin logs or tinker toys. She took this picture below of her tinker toy creation.
The weather has warmed up quite a bit over the past week. Just a week and a half ago we got A LOT of snow, and Sunday it was 75 degrees! Gorgeous! We've been going for lots of walks.

I love this picture; Can you find Scott? He's somewhere buried beneath the five laughing children :).

Monday, March 16, 2015

Rewards for Good Behavior Board

 I talked about our behavior board and stars reward system a couple of weeks ago in this post.  Well, since then all four kids have been able to redeem their 50 stars for a fun activity. I took the girls to see Cinderella at Standley Lake High School. Their babysitter, Emery Hines, was playing Cinderella which was so fun for them to see. Emery was amazing! She has a beautiful voice and was awesome on the stage.

 Changing gears for such a second, I made this checklist for Charles and stuck it on our garage door so he can see it as we go out to the van each morning to school. He is known for forgetting things, I'd say at least a few times a week he'll leave something at home or at school. Now as we're heading out he stops at the door and checks for each thing which has helped a lot.
 Last month, before we started our rewards, I told Elisabeth I'd take her rock climbing at the rec center again because dad took Charles awhile back. Jane asked if she could come along and then Charles asked if he could turn in his 50 stars and go again so I agreed. It's such good exercise and so I'm happy to have them join in on the fun.
 Charles and Elisabeth each did four climbs, and really challenged themselves with the level of difficulty. They each made up two of their four climbs.
 The last time I went, which was also my first time climbing, I did three climbs and made it to the top of two. This time I did five climbs (4 new and all four challenging) and I made it to the top on every one! My forearms were sore afterward, still are actually :).

Jane did two climbs, which is more than she did last time, and she made it up a lot farther than before! Nice job! 

Because it looks like the kids will be able to redeem rewards about every two weeks, we told them that every other time they can turn in their 50 stars for $5, that way they'll earn a little money (we'd stopped doing allowance awhile back) and still get a date/fun activity with mom or dad once a month. The behavior board continues to work very nicely. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Family, Parenting, Mothering

"Have joy in your mothering." I love this phrase that I picked up from a book several years ago. I'd be lying if I said that motherhood and parenting was all joy and roses with no heartache, frustration or pain. Parenting is tough. We all have ups and downs. We all face struggles and challenges because that's part of life. Some things we have to learn from experience and our Heavenly Father knows this and so he's given us this opportunity here on earth, to learn, grow and prove ourselves. And the family unit provides the perfect setting to learn those lessons. Some of those lessons are learned through experiencing pain and sorrow from consequences, sometimes not by our own doing, but by the direct result of someone else's bad decisions. Life was not meant to be easy. We're here to learn and grow.

There are some who think there couldn't possibly be an all knowing, all powerful God who loves us because if there was, he wouldn't let bad things happen to good people. My husband and I have been blessed with five wonderful children. During the first couple years of life, they learn and grow at an extremely rapid pace. All five of our children received numerous cuts, scrapes and bruises during those early years as they learned to walk, or ride a bike, not because we didn't love them or because we weren't there for them. The experience of falling and going through pain, helps them learn and grow and master necessary skills.  If I were to have never allowed them to walk, or ride a bike because I wanted to keep them protected from the possibility of injury, I would being doing them a huge disservice. Now, that being said, when they do fall, I'm always there to love and comfort them, if they allow me, and I know that our Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ are likewise always there for us, if we will turn to them.

They are the perfect role models for parents. They have not left us alone to our own devices; they've provided scriptures with their teachings, living prophets and apostles to lead and guide us, and prayer so that we can communicate with them and receive answers for our individual needs.

"I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." -St John 14:18
Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and WWII concentration camp survivor, wrote a book called "Man's Search for Meaning." In his book, he talks about prisoner of war experiences and the psychology of what's going on inside the minds of those prisoners. He similarly found that when we go through struggles and very difficult circumstances(like being a prisoner of war), it gives us the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond ourselves. Our trials and troubles can refine our character and make us become better than anything we'd ever imagined for ourselves. And so this is with parenthood. Parenting is probably one of the most challenging things we'll ever do in this life, if we want to do it right, and we should! President Heber J. Grant once said that nothing is more important than "shaping a life for good." My dear friend Lindsay, mother of six, recently said, "Children are our greatest investment." I completely agree. They should always come over career, money, hobbies, exotic destinations, and so on.  
Nora, now ready to clean with her goggles on just so
 Marjorie Pay Hinckley, the wife of the late Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, said, "We just do the best we can with the help of the Lord. The trick is to enjoy it. Don't wish away your days of caring for young children. Sometimes we get so caught up in the physical work and trivia that we forget the big picture. We forget whose children they really are. "
Annabelle and Jane in ballet
Enjoy your children! Enjoy them while they're young and still living with you. Don't wish away that time or enter into a vegetative state because you're trying to cope. You will regret it. Look at parenting and motherhood with a fresh and positive perspective with the end in mind. See them how Christ sees them, with love. Focus on their potential and endless possibilities for good. These little people will soon become adults who can do so much good in the world, and they will, because you will have taken the time to show them love and correct principles through your actions.
Jane proud of her green smoothie mustache, as always 
As you grow old, you may have some regrets about having spent too much time at work, away from home, building your worldly possessions, which will no longer be of value to you. But, you will never regret spending too much time with your family. You might even wish that you had done a little more, been there a little more, and you might wonder if what you have done and taught was enough.  
These precious spirits were sent to you for a reason. You might feel, at times, that you're not enough. You may feel inadequate, like you're not good enough, or capable enough to raise these spirits and to show them the way. But you can. You'll occasionally stumble and fall, but that's what the atonement is for. We can brush ourselves off and get up again, and with the strength of the Lord, you can do all things. You can change your ways and old, undesirable habits and create new, good habits.

The Lord knows you. He loves you. He is highly interested in your life and is concerned for your welfare and the welfare of all of his children and so he will never leave us alone, but will always be there, waiting for us to come to him. We should follow his example. Families are forever so they should be of utmost importance and given highest priority in our lives.