Posts in Uncategorized

Why My Kids Do Their Chores

Disclaimer: This can be a controversial and stressful topic for lots of parents. Remember, the number one key to good parenting is to be true to yourself. However, yourself is not a yelling, frazzled monster. I promise, it’s not. These are ideas that have worked for me and my four children. Take what works for you and inspires you and leave the rest. Which is what you should do with every parenting advice thing you run into – on the internet or in person or from well-meaning parents and in-laws.

Why I Ask My Kids To Do Chores

When I was a younger mother and my kids were little, I overheard one of the best parenting advice gems I’ve ever heard. A mom of older teenagers (who is a licensed therapist working with adolescents who have eating disorders) was defending her choice to make her kids do chores. Her kids were busy and involved with everything you could think of and another parent said “How can you make them do chores when they’re already so frazzled and stressed and busy?” She simply shrugged, smiled and said “you love what you serve.”

these are my kiddos last fall

Even though I wasn’t directly involved in the conversation, this phrase impacted me and I will always remember it. Did I want my kids to love and sacrifice for their sporting events, their musical abilities, their school work? Of course, but I wanted them to love their family the most.

Since then, I’ve read mountains of evidence supporting the benefits of chores. A study at Berkley concluded: “Assisting the family appears to provide adolescents with the assurance that they are fulfilling their role as a good son or daughter, which, in turn, is associated with feelings of happiness and positivity, a sense of identity, and connection to the family.”

“Chores instilled in children the importance of contributing to their families and gave them a sense of empathy as adults. Those who had done chores as young children were more likely to be well-adjusted, have better relationships with friends and family and be more successful in their careers.” This is from another study at the University of Mississippi.

The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds points out “Responsibilities can make children and adolescents feel special.”

A study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found “The frequency of chores in kindergarten was positively associated with a child’s perception of social, academic, and life satisfaction competencies in the third grade.”

I could go on.

Needless to say, the research had repeatedly shown that kids who do chores are happier and more competent at life.

How To Be Successful With A Chore System

Consistency

Have you ever noticed that kids will watch the exact same TV show or movie about a thousand times and never get bored of it? How about their diet? Do they eat the same exact lunch or breakfast everyday? Perhaps even cut in precisely the same manner with the exact same brands of peanut butter and jelly?

Any parent has already noticed that kids don’t have the same need for variety that adults do. In fact kids seem to thrive in consistent, predictable, routine environments. VeryWell Family cites a CDC study saying “Consistency in terms of structure and routine provides limits and boundaries for children. These help them to organize and integrate information into their brain and gain an understanding of how the world works.”

Why then, do we insist on switching up their chores every day or week? My kids have the same exact chores for a whole year. This allows them to

  • Know exactly what is expected of them each day without having to guess, think or be uncertain about it
  • Become good enough at the chore to take pride in their work
  • Feel that they are making valuable contributions to the family as opposed to just doing something that a parent asked them to do

If you only take one thing away from this blog post this should be it.

Power

My kids choose their own chores.

At the beginning of each summer, we have a draft. The youngest goes first, each kid picks a chore until they all have their predetermined number of chores. The younger kids have less chores than the older kids.

My 11 year old daughter has chosen take out the recycling every year for the last three years. She loves that chore. Where as my 8 year old prefers to mop. I’ve generally found that this works out well and there is no fighting because the system is so ridiculously straightforward.

I believe in protecting my kids’ abilities to make choices as much as possible. Kids love feeling a sense of power over their own lives and this is a way to use that to your advantage as you ask them to help out around the house.

Carrot and Stick

If you think about trying to make habits for yourself, you’ll find that if you use a reward system it’s quite motivating. The same is true for your children. Because their brains are constantly changing, habits need to be constantly reinforced as they grow up.

Reward systems will look different for every family, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to do this without any kind of reward. In the past my kids have responded to anything from stickers to earning screen time minutes to money. You’ll know best what motivates your kids. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, in fact I would recommend that it not be.

I do not enforce consequences if my kids do not do their chores, with the exception of their room. If it’s been more than one day that they’ve done a poor job a “monster” will come in and kidnap their stuff. It will be held until the monster feels that they are taking better care of their things and he will give it back. I hardly ever have to do this now, it was more common when my kids were younger.

A Few Cautions

Lower Your Expectations

Your kids are just learning new skills! There’s no way that they are going to be able to do these chores as good as you can. One of the benefits of having the kids do chores for a whole year is that you can work with them and teach them at the beginning of the year and then supervise less. After a year of practice your kids will be much better at their tasks!

Remember that having the kids do work for you is not the main goal of chores, it’s all the mental benefits I outlined earlier.

Do Not Criticize

Have you ever tried to help someone out, maybe at your in-laws house, and been criticized for how you were doing it? How motivated were you to repeat your efforts?

Be positive with your children. Find a way to compliment them each day. Something they improved on, their effort, their ability to remember without being asked, or that the counters are sparkling. It doesn’t matter. Positive feedback is the single most powerful and underutilized force on Earth.

Stress Less

Days will get skipped because the schedule is wonky. Maybe your kids are having an off day and are feeling unmotivated. It happens to us all. Avoid the temptation to make a federal case out of it. If that happens, they forego their reward. That’s it. You don’t need to make them feel bad or make sure they know they did something wrong. It’s not a big deal.

Pay Off

My older two kids, 13 and 11, do their chores now without a word from me. In fact, they’ll often have their chores done before I wake up. (not a morning person 🙂 They also know how to do laundry, dishes, clean a bathroom and sweep floors.

this is what my house looked like the other day when I came downstairs

This year my oldest chose a chore because “that’s what bothers me the most when it isn’t clean.” I was so proud.

And this year, for the first time, I have kids doing a load of dishes a day with enough competency that I don’t have to redo it. I absolutely hate doing the dishes. Having a sink full of dishes magically cleaned and put away is such a luxury and worth all the effort I’ve put in over the years to implement this system.

FAQ

How old did I start my kids doing chores?

My kids get their first chore lists on their second birthday. This is the perfect time to start chores because the kids are so excited to do them. They love to help. Take advantage of the enthusiasm and give lots of positive feedback about how much they are helping you!

How do you make it fair?

As far as I’m concerned the draft makes it fair. Younger kids go first. All the kids get to choose what they want to do. Younger kids have less chores than older kids.

What about chore charts?

I make a list in a word document, add clipart and print it out on cardstock. Then I’ll get it laminated and the kids can use dry erase markers on it throughout the year. Cheap, durable, easy.

What if the kids don’t do it?

When you’re first starting out, I would make a big deal about the thing being the kids’ responsibility. My kids do their chores right after school, but if the trash is full at a different time I’ll call my daughter to come and take it out because it’s her responsibility. Or I’ll tell my son, we’re having people over so make sure that you do an extra good job on the bathroom you take care of.

Also if you’re just starting out I would put chores in your chore draft that bother you if they’re not done so that you’re regularly reminding your kids to do them. (Remind, don’t nag. Just ask them once then move on with your life. You can ask them again in an hour.)

Give out rewards calmly but ostentatiously.

Also see ‘stress less’ above.

What chores did my little kids do?

When my oldest was three we got this cordless vacuum so she could do the front room. I’ll tell you that was the hit toy at my house every single play date. All the three and four year olds wanted to do was vacuum my house.

The little kids like to vacuum, sort laundry, put away the plastic kid dishes out of the dishwasher, wash windows (I would spray cleaner on a paper towel and then hand it to them), and pick up/put away any room in the house. I also let a couple of them fold clean towels. I’d give them a damp rag and let them wash the walls or floors.

I would like to reiterate that when my kids were little, their efforts were not giving me any less work. They did a terrible job. It was for their benefit, not mine.

There are a lot of age appropriate chore lists available on Pinterest as well.

Running Playlists from Guy and Violet

I was recently laid up in bed for a few days with an ankle injury. It was sooo boring. I watched a lot of The Great British Baking Show and Somebody Feed Phil. I read The Silver Currant by Kenneth A. Baldwin. I stared out the window and wished I could plant the two hundred daffodils I split last week. I wished I could go for a run. So I made some running playlists inspired by my two favorite characters.

Running is a big part of Guy and Violet’s relationship as they are both training for some long races. Although they often run together, they have plenty of solo runs as well and need some sweet tunes to get them through.

It was fun to put together these playlists because Guy and Violet’s story takes place in 2007, so the music on their playlists is a throwback.

Violet likes popular singles, although she has a weakness for whiny boy music. (that’s what my college roommate used to call Yellowcard and Dashboard Confessional). She also loves a good diva. Her playlist is two hours long, just enough time to get her to the finish line for the half marathon she was training for.

Guy uses running to help him cope with his grief. His playlist is melancholy and a little angry at times. He likes classic rock and old school favorites. Guy finished his half marathon in about an hour and forty minutes, but I gave you two hours of music anyways.

I hope you enjoy the playlists, either for running or cleaning your house or whatever your pleasure.

Violet’s Running Playlist on Amazon Prime Music

Violet’s Running Playlist on Spotify

Guy’s Running Playlist on Amazon Prime Music

Guy’s Running Playlist on Spotify

Books to Match Your Resolution

I got married on December 28, 2005. On New Years Eve we were road tripping back home after our honeymoon. While my husband drove, I found a fresh page in my notebook and wrote 2006 at the top in big letters. Then I wrote down four subheadings: Physical, Intellectual, Spiritual and Social.

“Okay,” I said. “What are your goals this year?”

My husband blinked at me. “What goals?”

“Your 2006 goals…” I said.

Silence.

“You don’t set New Years’ Goals?”

Silence.

“Okay, well, I always set goals and this year you’ll join me. It doesn’t have to be revolutionary, just a little goal in each category.”

I proceeded to force my husband to set goals.

I wish I still had the paper I wrote those down on. My husband figured that losing weight is a pretty common goal. He set a goal to lose ten pounds. December 31, 2005 is the thinnest he’s ever been.

We were worried about losing touch with our single friends. We set a goal to hang out with people at least once a month. We needn’t have worried. Our tiny apartment hosted game nights at least once a week.

Fifteen years later, my conversation with my husband is similar. “Have you thought about 2021 goals?”

“Not really.”

“Alright, well what about physical? What do you think you want to do for that?’

“I think I want to run another half marathon.”

“Another half? It’s been five years since you’ve run more than two miles.”

“I know… I just think I want to run another one.”

“Okay…” I say, slowly writing it down. “What are you going to do to get there?”

The exercise seems identical, futile even, but we’ve come a long way. We are definitively better people than we were fifteen years ago, in every way. Even physically (at least I am 😉) I know people have strong feelings about New Year’s Goals.

My 2020 social goal was to do something vulnerable every week. That goal directly led to my first novel being published this year, feeling a greater sense of belonging in my community and allowing me to be a force for good in the lives of people around me. Despite Covid.

If you’re interested in setting goals, or want to make your goals more effective than in past years, here are some great reads to help you.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.  If you haven’t read this one yet, now is a great time. I wouldn’t describe this as a self-help book. It reads like a Malcolm Gladwell, citing various studies and anecdotes to make points about a greater theme. It will inspire you to examine your life and notice what your habits are.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey.  Modeled after the much heavier book by Sean’s father Stephen Covey, this book is a more bite sized approach to the seven habits.  Which are excellent, as the long-lasting popularity of Stephen Covey’s book suggests.

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. On letting go of ‘should.’ This book, and Brene’s famous TED talk are the things that inspired me to make my vulnerability goal in 2020. Very inspiring.

The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. Even if you don’t buy in completely to Ramsey’s money philosophy, reading this book will make you more intentional about how you’re managing your finances.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. If you’d like to set a running goal this book will inspire you. Just resist the temptation to try barefoot running, it will only end in pain.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Once again, you may not agree with everything Gilbert is saying but her book will inspire you to be brave. If you have creative goals this year, pick this one up.

Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman. I love this book because it helped me not be so scared of calories. I started concentrating more about if I am getting the right nutrients in each day. It concentrates on health, with weight loss being more of a side effect.

Pick someone you admire and read their biography. I read Thomas S. Monson’s biography a little over a year ago. The writing wasn’t my favorite but the way he lived his life, with a focus on lifting up individual people, inspired and motivated me. I read another book called Mama Maggie. Once again, the writing was underwhelming, but the woman’s life serving the poverty-stricken children of Egypt was inspiring. Self help books are all well and good but I think what really motivates us to change is seeing how the people we admire lived their lives.

We all grow and change everyday. All we have is our choices. I hope you find some forward progress in 2021!

How to Get Your Kids to Love Giving

It’s December. I have heard from many parents how stressful this time of year can be because of the pressure to find the perfect gift for their children. Stressful financial situations, particularly this year, combined with kids who are inundated with consumerist messages and braggy friends can weigh down parents’ hearts. All we want to do is provide our kids with magical childhood memories! And make everything perfect! And avoid all feelings of disappointment! Is that too much to ask?

We’re not immune to these feelings at my house but at this moment my children are busy doing “bounty chores.” They are frantically cleaning my house to earn a quarter here and a dollar there. How did I get this army of house elves? My children use their own money to buy each other Christmas gifts.

Tip #1: Have your kids spend their own money to buy Christmas presents

Do you remember the first Christmas you made money? When I was sixteen I got a job at In N Out burger. It was only a few months before Christmas and I was hired at $8.25/hour, which in the year 2000 was great money. My eyes bulged out when I got my first paycheck. It was such a vast sum, more than I had been able to make babysitting a couple nights a week. I felt rich.

I immediately began planning out the gifts I would buy my family for Christmas. I was so excited to give them something they actually wanted, they would actually like. And with money that I earned myself. What a magical feeling.

In remembrance of that feeling, I’ve never bought presents on behalf of my kids for anyone at Christmas time. When they were little, they made art projects or would give a toy of their own to their sibling. Now that they’re older and can do more lucrative jobs, the dollar store is their best friend. Candy is a common gift around here. Last year, my sweet nine year old hoarded all of her money for months so she could buy “good” colored pencils and a “good” coloring book for her little sister, not the cheap stuff from the dollar store. She was so excited to give. It filled up my mother-heart.

Tip #2: Take turns giving instead of receiving

I take each of my kids on a date to go Christmas shopping sometime in December. While we’re out I let them pick out a roll of wrapping paper that I purchase for them. When we get home they wrap all the gifts they bought in the wrapping paper they picked out and put it under the tree. No one else uses that wrapping paper. (I stick it in a box and use it myself the following year).

On Christmas morning, we start with the youngest child and each take turns giving presents. I love watching the face of the giver. The anticipation and joy that they experience is greater than the recipient.

Around my house, talk in December is less about what my kids want for Christmas and more about what they think their siblings or Dad might want for Christmas. We talk a lot with the younger kids about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and thinking about what they would like.

Tip #3: Model Joyful Giving

At Christmas time, my feelings of joy are renewed as I remember the hope that the Savior’s birth brought to the world. Those feelings of joy and gratitude are what inspire my celebrations and giving. That’s what you do when your insides are too full to contain, you explode with gifts.

If we give our children gifts reluctantly or resentfully, with warnings about behavior or mutterings about how spoiled they are, we are not modeling joy. Our children will pick up on this attitude and be reluctant to give gifts themselves.

It also helps to give good reactions when your kids give you gifts. Most of the time when my kids give me something, especially when its a craft they’ve made, it’s not exactly what I always wanted. But they’ve given me something from their sweet little hearts and I try to react appropriately.

Here’s a hilarious video if you’d like to get better at reacting to presents you don’t love.

Board Game Gift Guide

When we were first married my husband and I made a goal that we wouldn’t be one of those married couples that no one ever hears from again after the wedding. We wanted to stay connected to our single friends and continue to create new relationships. We found the best way to do that was through games and food.

My husband and I love to have people over to play games and eat food. It is one of our absolutely favorite things to do together. We like laughing and talking smack and the connection that food has the ability to create between people.

As our family has grown, the tradition has spilled over into our children. We have marathon board game sessions with our kids on a regular basis and they play games with each other daily. In fact, one of their uncles taught them a new game at a family function and commented, “wow, your kids sure know their way around a board game,” because of the ease with which they grasped the rules. David and I were so proud. 🙂

Games make a great gift. Each year Santa brings our kids a new game. My husband and I have a tradition where I give him a new game on Christmas Eve and we play it together that night. We give them to our siblings as gifts as well. So here are my suggestions based on the age and interest level of your loved one.

Best Games If You Don’t Think You Like Board Games

We don’t meet tons of people who like board games as much as us (except our favorite friends the Biggs!) but we often encounter people who think a board game means Monopoly and we can rock their world by showing them that games can actually be fun.

This is actually not my favorite game because my husband has hacked it and always, always wins. However, it is a game that we have taught a lot of people and most people really enjoy. It is a game in which you build your own deck of cards. It’s fast-paced and doesn’t take forever and has a really good replay value because the game is different every time you play it.

A little apt this year, this is a cooperative board game, so great for people who don’t like the competitive nature of games. Cooperative, meaning you are all on the same team.

This game has a strong cooperative element and a more subjective feel. People who aren’t necessarily great at games usually will play this one and enjoy it. One player is the ‘ghost’ and tries to communicate from the other side using images. Play for the ghost character is a little bit complicated but for everyone else it is very easy, without complicated rules.

Best Games for Families

Playing games with young children can try anyone’s patience. Kids seem to take for-ever to play their turns and things can often end in tears. These games are fast paced, and have mechanics that take the sting out of losing.

My kids love SushiGo. Everyone’s turn is played simultaneously but the rules are straightforward enough that even my five year old can play without help. The points are calculated at the end of the game, which helps avoid frustration mid-play.

This game is a gem. As the title suggests, it takes literally five minutes to play (because after that you’re out of time) and it is cooperative which means either everyone wins or everyone loses. It is essentially a matching game, which means it works for pre-readers as well. I also noticed that they have a Marvel version out now if the fantasy skin is a little much for you.

This is a secret identity deduction game. I like it because even if your identity is revealed you can still win points which has eliminated some angst. The kids really love it and beg to play constantly. It’s a little more complicated and slow placed.

In this game you draw a picture and pass it around the circle. Players alternately guess what the picture is or draw the last person’s guess until it goes around to the beginning player. It gets a little silly but the kids love it and I recommend it for large families or as a party game.

Games the Kids Can Play Without You

When my youngest was four he learned all the rules of chess from playing this game with his sister, who was six. Now they can probably both beat you. I have no idea why it works so well but it really does. If you are an adult who has no idea how to play chess, this game would be great for you too.

We have been through two copies of this game, it is so well loved. Everyone who comes over will play it. Sometimes they won’t even use the rules, they’ll just happily make different cupcake combinations. It really captures their imagination.

There are two versions of this game. The other one is from Ravensburger and it is also excellent. This one has some extra cool components that make the game seem absolutely magical, but it involves small metal balls and strong magnets so it’s not the best for very young kids who are likely to lose pieces.

Best Two Player Games – for date night

The most important criteria for these, at least in our house, is that it’s balanced and the same person doesn’t always win.

This is a card and resource management game. You “buy” cards to play on your side of the table and at the end the person with the most points wins. It’s surprisingly well-balanced. This game cannot be played with more than two people.

Playing with the colorful tiles that come with this game is the best part. You make a pattern on your board and earn points for different combinations. It’s delightful. It can be played with up to 5 people, but works great with just two as well.

This is another resource management game with cards. You are fighting over the same set of cards, so it’s a little competitive but we haven’t ever gotten into a huge fight about it. 😉 This one you can play with up to four players.

Games That Are a Little More Complex

Do you like board games? Are you comfortable learning new rules? Looking to take your collection up a notch?

I love this game. There’s farming, there’s worker placement, there’s that frustrating moment when you realize that you could really use another round or two. It’s kind of a time commitment, but it’s worth it.

This is a legacy game, meaning you make permanent changes to the game as you play it. It has a storyline that takes place over twelve games, then you have to buy a recharge pack if you want to play it more after that. The catch is you really should play it with the same people all twelve times.

This fascinating game is a play once and your done type deal, however it has multiple episodes and they come out with more all the time. It’s kind of escape-room-esque. Very difficult and very fun.

Best Overall Games

This is just a great all around game. It is a card game in which you pick a card from your hand to play and then pass it to the next player. That’s the whole game. You score points based off combinations of your cards and your neighbors cards. It’s fast paced and can be played with up to seven people.

This is my current favorite game. The art is beautiful. It’s extremely relaxing. It’s not super competitive. You just play different beautiful birds into your play area. There are lots of different ways to score points and it’s extremely well-balanced. Everyone we have taught it to loves it.

And there you go. I would absolutely love to give you a game recommendation if you are looking for something specific. Just leave a comment. Also please tell me your favorite board games! We’re always looking for new games to try out.

How Do You Read?

My eight year old, Heidi, has started saying that she hates reading. I’ve gone through grief: the denial, shock, horror, anger, remorse and bargaining. How is someone to cope when her child says such a ridiculous thing?

But the girl does love stories. She is an audio book enthusiast and the first one to remind me to read aloud at lunchtime. I’ve told her many times that she doesn’t have enough experience reading to decide whether or not she likes it. She’s still practicing.

The other day, my husband, David, was looking for something to do while the kids were at their cross country practice. Normally my husband runs too but his fall allergies are killing him and he just wanted to sit in the car this time around. I handed him Jeff Wheeler’s The Queen’s Poisoner, wondering what he would think of the magic system. (My husband is famously over critical of magic systems.)

When he got home I asked him how he liked it. “I’m not used to actually reading books,” he said, shaking his head. David is a huge audio book fan, but rarely takes the time to sit down and read. “I kept trying to multi-task. When it got to a descriptive section, I’d look at my phone for a minute, expecting that part to have passed when I looked back over at the book.”

I found this hilarious. It reminded me of a conversation I had with my mom a few days before. My mom has never been a big reader, but she recently became an empty-nester and tells me that now, she’ll read books but she reads quite slow and can only read when the house is empty.

“How come you can only read when the house is empty?” I asked.

“Because I read out loud to myself and it’s embarrassing if anyone else is around,” she told me.

I began to tell her about Heidi’s trouble with reading. She explained that she’s noticed some people read a phrase at a time while she has to read one word at a time. She asked if maybe Heidi is a word-by-word-er, and mentioned that finding the right book that is interesting to her is key.

If anyone has any suggestions for a romantic book appropriate for second graders let me know…

Heidi’s issue is that she refuses to sound out words she doesn’t know. She would prefer to guess what a word is based on context and the first letter. I feel like she would have a lot more success if she was even using the first two letters instead of the first one. I’ve taken advantage of our stint homeschooling to go back to the drawing board with phonics, even though she is reading at a level appropriate for her grade level. I was worried that this would make her dread reading all the more, but it doesn’t. After ten minutes working on phonics, she’s able to read through Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and sounds out words like Viking without pause. Even though before she read it as Vizimberkig.

I believe everyone’s reading is unique. How do you like to read? Are you an audible junkie? Do you like to snuggle in with a slow, immersive masterpiece you can feel between your fingers? Do you read in phrases or word-by-word? Have you been known to add words into sentences, or even sentences into paragraphs, that just aren’t there? Maybe you are one of those read-the-end-first kind of readers. I’d love to hear about your unique reading experience.

Books from Summer

I had a major case of reading too many books at the same time this summer. I am halfway through three books in print but didn’t actually complete any during this crazy summer. All the books I got through were audio.

I also decided to pull my four children out of digital learning and home school them until the whole pandemic crisis calms down. Which could be the rest of their public school careers. We’ll see. Also I’m an over ambitious snob and decided that I don’t want to pay for pre-fab curriculum. Instead, I’m putting lesson plans together myself. It has definitely cut into my reading and writing time. But I’m getting into a good groove and hopefully school planning will become less of a time sink and I’ll be able to read and write again.

The book I managed to listen to this summer were a mix of heavy, thought-provoking books and super light escapism.

When life gets to me and I’m feeling overwhelmed, I reach for Sophie Kinsella. This one was particularly fun because it’s a rekindle romance about a married couple. A doctor praises them for their good health predicts another seventy years of marriage, which causes them to reevaluate their relationship. It’s adorable and hilarious, exactly what I look for in a romantic comedy.

I happen to have a higher than average interest in libraries and in Los Angeles (where I’m from), so for me this book was readable. For anyone else I would suggest skipping it. Written by a reporter, it is a little dry and academic. At the same time it skips around from the history of libraries in LA, to the LA library fire, to the personal history of the head librarian to how libraries maintain their relevance in an increasingly digital world. It felt all over the place to me.

My two older kids read this book for school in fourth grade and loved it. I finally got around to listen to it. It’s a cute book about a robot that is stranded on a deserted island and somehow adapts to become a part of the local ecosystem. It is the first book in a series and would be a fun read aloud for you and your kids.

Another one I read with my kids. It’s about a family who’s mom has passed away. The dad is a wreck and the kids are struggling. Their lives change for the better when an inkblot from the dad’s sketchbooks comes alive and helps everyone work through their emotions. It was a bit of tearjerker.

I liked this book. I felt that it was well-written, insightful and honest. I have to tell you though, that I didn’t get to finish the book before it was due back at the library, so I’m still waiting for the hold so that I can finish it up. Maybe I should have waited to review the book until I finished it. But if you are looking for an accessible way to learn more about race and police brutality, this is a great option.

This book was funny and compelling but heartbreaking at the same time. Poor Eleanor is not completely fine, but I love her and the sweet friends she makes. I can’t say too much without giving things away but this one is worth your time.

I learned a lot from this book. It will stretch you more than The Hate U Give. It might make you extremely uncomfortable to read some of what Oluo has to say, but one of the points in the book is that avoiding uncomfortable conversations isn’t helping anything. I really appreciated the courage it took to put this book out there. If you are willing not to be defensive and are seeking to truly understand another person’s experiences, this is a great read.

I hope everyone is doing well with however COVID has affected your life. None of us has escaped without some kind of trauma, but I choose to believe that things will get better. Hang in there. Light a candle and read a book. And breathe.

Creativity is Christlike

I spoke about this on a zoom call for my church women’s organization this week, so I thought I’d type it up as an essay and share it with you.

“Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He can deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, and pour out peace.”

Ezra Taft Benson said this before I was born and I grew up believing it. I tested it out as I matured and found that he was right. By the time I was an adult my desire to do what the Lord wanted me to do instead of what I wanted to do was strong.

One of my biggest struggles as a stay at home mom has been the choices I make about how to spend my time. I’ve always been a busy person. I like having projects, events, parties and other things to keep me occupied. I felt vaguely guilty about this as a young mom. I had a half dozen hobbies that I liked to spend time on, but was that turning my life over to the Lord? Did he really want me to take time away from my family to do these frivolous things?

The short answer, is yes, although it took me years to realize it.

Creator is one of the Savior’s names. He created a beautiful world for us to live in full of imaginative creatures and bright colors and intriguing paradoxes. When we consider what it means to be Christlike, creation should be one of the first things that we think of.

In a talk to the women of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Dieter Uchtdorf highlights the importance of creativity.

You are spirit daughters of the most creative being in the universe… Think about it – your spirit body is a masterpiece, created with a beauty, function and capacity beyond imagination.”

Dieter F Uchtdorf, October 2008

He talks about the meaning of creativity. It means “bringing something into existence that did not exist before.” His examples? gardens, homes, memories, laughter or a smile on someone’s face. He points out that we all have gifts and talents that the Lord has blessed us with and he wants us to use them.

I think it is important to note that He doesn’t place caveats on the use of our talents. He doesn’t tell us only to write a song if it is specifically religious in message. No, all the songs of the righteous are prayers unto him. Everything good comes from God. (Ether 4:11)

God encourages us to be creative and to use our minds to improve our situations. I think the Brother of Jared’s story illustrates this point. When he goes to the Lord to ask about how to get light in the dark boats he’s building, God encourages the Brother of Jared to use his creativity. He tells him to come up with a creative solution to his problem and that He, God, will support whatever the Brother of Jared comes up with.

Over and over again in the scriptures God’s people are forced to move to a new place where they are industrious and creative as they create a new home. They do this because they are followers of Jesus Christ and creativity is Christlike.

Henry B. Eyring has said “The Creator expects His children to become like Him- to create and to build.”

“Brothers and Sisters, we are children of God. Shouldn’t we be about our Father’s business? Shouldn’t we be creators as well?

Mary Ellen Smoot, April 2000

As with everything the Lord commands us to do, if we obey we will be blessed in our efforts.

Mary Ellen Smoot advised: “Immerse yourself in the holy word of the prophets, both ancient and modern, and the Spirit will speak to you. Be patient, ask in faith, and you will receive guidance in your creative efforts.”

Elder Uchtdorf says “the more you trust and rely on the Spirit, the greater your capacity to create.”

What wonderful promises! As we try, just try to create, no matter how bad at it we are, the Lord will bless us. For me, that means He helps me find the deeper meaning hidden in the story I’m telling and bring it to the foreground. He helps me find the right words and structure to convey an emotion. For me, writing and sharing what I have written is a manifestations of the Lord’s desire for us to feel like we are part of a community, that we are not alone. And he helps me to accomplish that goal.

Over two years ago, I sent Love Over Easy to my brother. He had just started a small publishing house and I thought he might be interested in publishing it. I didn’t hear back from him. I had just gotten back from a pitch to Covenant that didn’t go well and I assumed that no news was bad news. Clearly my brother thought my book was terrible and he was just too polite to actually tell me that. I struggled with whether or not to continue writing for the next two years. I continued to do it because I couldn’t not do it, but I continued to doubt and question myself.

At the beginning of this year, when I was contemplating new goals, I wondered whether to continue writing again. I decided I should either double down and write much more regularly or I should give it up. I couldn’t decide what the right choice was so I Marco Polo-ed my brother to ask for his thoughts, just because he was another creative person and I knew he would understand my dilemma.

He said “Jossy,” (that’s what my brothers call me. No one else does, so don’t try. 🙂 “I don’t think that the Lord would put a desire in your soul to write, that has been there since you were a little girl, if he didn’t actually want you to. I just barely picked up your book this week and have really enjoyed it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the day that you contacted me. I think it’s a sign.”

The lesson here is that even nepotism won’t get you to the top of the slush pile.

In all seriousness, I broke down and cried. I felt so overwhelmed with gratitude to the Lord for communicating with me in a way that I understood. I felt very certain that I should continue writing and that I should pursue publishing my books. I become more and more certain about that as I have gone through this process. I have learned so much and I feel like I have become a more Christlike person.

I’ll leave you with two more thoughts:

“You can seek revelation to know how to develop your talents, become like Jesus Christ and make yourself, other people and even the world better.”

(from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints personal development youth guidebook)

If you don’t know where a creative outlet is in your life, look for one. Pray about it. I loved this advice from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: pay attention to what piques your curiosity. Instead of setting your curiosity aside, let it grow and feed it. You’ll find something.

Don’t let the fear of failure discourage you. Don’t let the voice of critics paralyze you – whether that voice comes from the outside or the inside.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf

No one likes criticism, but we cannot let it keep us from doing worthwhile things. If you are never criticized for anything in our world of hyper criticism all it means is that you’re not really doing much with your life. We can never please everyone and we should never try. I’ve found the best way to get over it is to practice. Make a healthy meal for your kids, that should be good criticism practice,

May Books

I chose to wait a week to post this blog entry out of respect for the protests, George Floyd and the others who have been victims of police brutality. My thoughts and prayers and worry and anxiety are with the Black community right now as we deal with these turbulent times.

I am working on a list of the books about race in America that have impacted me the most. I feel that reading is one of the best ways to experience someone else’s life, even more so than watching a movie or TV show.

So with that, here are the books I read in May, mostly before the world exploded.

This book was recommended to me by a friend after I said I like funny books. This book was extremely funny. I laughed out loud many times.

You should know that it is a fantasy book. Instead of Catholic vs. Protestant, which was the rift historically, in the book it’s people who turn into animals vs. people who don’t.

Also if you listen to it, the narrator is a little loud and over the top, but I got used to her and it was fine after the first chapter or so.

I’d like to write a historical note on the accuracy of the book but I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I’ll just say that all the characters in the book are historical, including the Dudleys.

I read this out loud to my kids for our “read the book, watch the movie” tradition. This is one of the few books we’ve read that we liked the movie better.

The Mary Poppins in the movie is so much more lovable than the one in the book. In the book she is very stern, strict and vain. I think a bit of it is cultural. Turn of the century England was a much harsher place for children to grow up that 2020 America. We’re much more concerned about children’s feelings nowadays.

In any case, I can see why Ms. Travers didn’t love the animation sequences in the movie because part of the charm in the book is how seamlessly the magic of Mary Poppins is woven into everyday life and the animations gives a definite delineation.

It was a fun read overall.

I acquired this book years ago at a writing conference that Jeff Wheeler spoke at. I loved his presentation, so I bought his book. He talks about how a book is like a sandwich where the author brings ingredients and the reader brings ingredients. They put them together, then the reader eats it. If the reader doesn’t like the sandwich that’s not entirely the author’s fault. It just means that their ingredients didn’t combine well. I really appreciated that concept, as a reader and as a writer.

In any case, I’ve had this book sitting on the shelf for a while and finally my daughter picked it up and read the whole thing in a day. So then I had to read it too. I really enjoyed it. It’s light fantasy and had a lot of wonderful factions and ambiguous characters.

When I finished it I bought the sequel but Brenda read the first chapter but then put it down because she said “there was too much romantic stuff in it.” In the first book the characters are children and in the next book they’re teenagers. I’ll read it myself and let you know how it goes.

I definitely recommend this book if you like fantasy or a Medieval feel.

I usually listen to audiobooks on 1.5x speed. This book, read by the author, I set to just 1 so that I wouldn’t miss anything that he said. It was fascinating. I really feel like anyone who has any interest in the socio-economic or political climate in the United States should read this book. He offers insight into a culture that makes up a large portion of the country, but that I didn’t know much about.

The author uses a combination of personal experience and research to tell the story of poverty in the Appalachians and beyond. There’s so much in this about how to help on a macro and micro level. The author does a fabulous job of pointing out how he was personally lucky, but also how success is achievable for anyone. He strikes a balance between empathy and encouragement. It’s just so good.

Fair warning, there is a lot of swearing in this book. The author doesn’t use adult language as a part of the narration, but he does quote a lot of people who use colorful language.

This is another read aloud with my kids. The book was way better than the movie, but it still wasn’t my favorite book. At least a quarter of the story is flashback. Animal book aren’t necessarily my favorite. There wasn’t a satisfying answer to all the questions the book brought up. Just meh for me.

I absolutely loved Backman’s A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry. I thought I knew what to expect when I picked up Beartown, but it was much heavier than the other books from Backman I’ve read.

This is a book about rape and a community that created an environment wherein a boy could do it and get away with it. About how that community failed to protect it’s young women. About how sexism caused so many problems. There are a lot of big questions about how much any one person is responsible for a culture.

The writing is exceptional. Backman hops between at least ten different perspectives and you never feel lost. On top of that, each character still seems distinct from all the others. There are some really hard hitting themes interwoven throughout. It’s powerful.

As I was reading this book, I felt like it was really timely. Even though it’s about sexism instead of racism, it brings up the concept of silence and how not confronting someone about their inappropriate behavior makes you complicit. I felt like it was a really timely read.

That’s all I had in May. I have to admit that after Beartown I immediately got a Sophie Kinsella book in an attempt to lighten things up. Things have felt so heavy. Books have an incredible power. They can really be all things to all people depending on what you pick up. If you’re in a certain mood, or crave a certain genre, let me know I’ll try to recommend something for you.

Hating Summer

Summer is not my favorite season. I wish I liked it. Other people seem to really enjoy it. I have a friend who talks about the joy of sitting on her screened in porch and letting the heat envelope her. I have another friend who told me that the humidity has become pleasant to her, like being wrapped in a warm blanket.

These are not my feelings about the humid heat. It makes me feel claustrophobic. I hate running the air conditioner because how can running an engine make something colder? How does that even make sense? So I run it even though it makes me anxious and then I start sweating in my climate controlled house whenever I try to do a simple chore like fold laundry or sweep the floor. I feel gross and dirty by the end of every day and going outside to do anything is pure torture of sweat and miserableness. And the clothes? Guys, I look terrible in summer clothes.

So naturally we moved to Georgia.

I love seasonal things. Fall, Winter, Spring, love them. Summer? I try. I really do. After my run in 98% humidity this morning. I figured I’d try again, to try to remember the things I like about summer.

relaxed schedule. when my kids started getting up at 6:30am to catch the bus, summer became a lot more attractive. I love sleeping in and summer is the only time to do that. Unless you want to run in weather that’s bearable. Then you still have to wake up early.

refreshing beverages. I love me some frozen drinks. Day to day I try not to drink anything with sugar in it, so I stick to Bubly and other such zero calorie flavored waters. But as a special treat. I like me some homemade koolaid slush or orange julius. Injesting something frozen is one of the few things that will make me stop sweating.

outings with my kids. I like taking my kids to museums, zoos, parks and special events. Unfortunately this year that’s going to be hard to do because of coronavirus but I’m hoping that maybe by the end of the summer maybe we can get somewhere fun.

this one is a portobello mushroom burger with caramelized onions and ricotta cheese and pesto. so delicious.

burger month. we eat burgers for dinner everyday in July. But a different kind every night. I try to keep a beef one down to once a week. My kids love chicken burgers and I love all the veggie ones: sweet potato, quinoa, black bean, etc. The burgers that come back year after year are: BBQ, salmon, thai, turk jerk and greek. All so yummy. I can’t wait.

road trip. I love going on road trips with my family. This year we’re driving from Atlanta to Wyoming. Should be exciting. I’ll keep you informed. Our stops along the way this year might be a bit limited because of coronavirus but we’ll do our best.

my garden. I love growing vegetables. Growing up we had this amazing backyard with a gigantic vegetable garden and berries and fruit trees and a big flower garden with a swing in it. I try to replicate my mom’s amazing skills but moving every few years has made it difficult. I learned last year that zucchini doesn’t like the south. Weird.

pool culture in the South. the one thing I do love about summer in the South is that everyone hangs out at the pool all the time. I thought I’d be self conscious in a bathing suit but since everyone wears one and everyone’s bodies are so different it hasn’t bothered me much. The kids have swim team every morning and then in the afternoon I can read a book by the pool while they swim. Swim team was canceled this year, but we’re hoping to get our pool membership still this year.

That’s all I’ve got friends. Lying under my ceiling fan right now is working for me okay, although I’m concerned it’s going to wiggle off the ceiling and fall on my face. I could make a longer list of things I hate, but I’m trying to be positive here! More reasons to love Summer would be highly appreciated!!!