Monday, March 28, 2011

Magnificent Brownies

Are you itching for a recipe?  Me, too.  How about some chocolate?  Oh, I so need some chocolate right now....

I got this awesome recipe from my sister, Anne, who got it from a friend.  She and I both have never made it with the original frosting, however.  So this is my adaptation.  (Here you go, cute girls from my ward!  The boys can have their pinewood derby, we'll enjoy our brownies....)

Magnificent Brownies
4 cups sugar
4 cups flour
8 eggs
1 cup cocoa powder
2 cups butter, softened
2 cups chocolate chips (I always use milk chocolate, for everything.  If you prefer semi-sweet, use that.)
1/2 tsp salt

Cream butter and sugar together.  Add eggs one at a time.  Add flour, cocoa, and salt.  Mix to combine.  Add chocolate chips. 

Grease baking sheet (not a regular cookie sheet, one of those big silver pans, you know what I mean?) and bake at 350 degrees for about 38 minutes.  (The original recipe said 28 minutes, but mine were still a little jiggly at that point.  At 38 minutes they were just barely underdone, enough to make them a tiny bit gooey.)  Cool before cutting. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Ta da!  Here's Katie with her brand-new look.  (A week later...I was having a hard time uploading pics to blogger.  Oh, well, whaddaya do?  It's free...)

For a while now, Katie had been asking to cut her hair again.  But much shorter this time.  She'd been hating the time it took to brush through it, and while she loves to look cute, she could take or leave the fancy hairdos I love doing.  When I asked her how short she wanted it this time, she shocked me by holding her hand up to her cheek!  It took me a couple of weeks to prepare myself for the loss of her hair, and in the hour before we left for the salon, I nearly had a panic attack.  Here are the before shots:

I am fully aware of how blurry this is, I'm struggling with an auto-focus problem with the lens on my camera, and this is the best we got.  Ugh!
I took her to Betsy Kirkland at Legends because Betsy does my hair and I trust her.  Normally I trim Katie's hair myself, but I don't know how to cut a style and I really wanted it to turn out cute, for my sake and hers.  We didn't think there was enough for Locks of Love (they require 10 inches, and it was about 8), but we braided it anyway just in case we could donate it, or to save it to remember. 

Look at Katie's reaction when Betsy handed her the braid!
She thinks these braids are so awesome! 
I have to say, I am so glad we did it!  These pictures don't do the haircut justice, it is adorable!  It's an A-line, so it's stacked in the back, and it really fits Katie's personality, sweet and sassy and stylish.  She is so happy that it takes 30 seconds instead of 30 minutes to brush through, and she loves blow drying it after a bath.  We've bought her some headbands and we're learning some new tricks to pull it out of her face for dance.  But we are super happy to have a new look! 

Exercise #11: Living Optimistically

The next time you encounter some nuisance or frustration, ask yourself, "How might this be helping me?"  If it makes it any easier, turn to an imaginary friend and say, "Pollyanna, what do you think?"  Be totally unrealistic if that's what it takes to free you up to laugh instead of fret. 
It is really easy to be cranky about having church at 9 am.  Getting 6 people not only fed and dressed and out the door, but bathed and in church-appropriate attire with hair combed and toting everything we'll need (diaper bag, tithing, scriptures, crayons and paper, *ahem* snacks *ahem*, etc.) is no easy task.  Especially when we spent a whole year last year, when we had church at 1 pm, using Sunday mornings to get everyone bathed, prepare lessons, iron dress shirts, etc. 

But as difficult as it can be, there are some perks to having church at 9 am.  One is that it forces me to really prepare for the Sabbath.  I have to have clothes ironed, and lessons prepped ahead of time (it really helps to have kids bathed the night before, too!), so then I don't end up spending half the day on Sunday getting ready for it to be Sunday.  Instead, once we get past the mad dash to get out the door, I can really focus on feeling the Spirit.  It starts the day off right and sets the tone for the rest of the day.

That is the second perk: there is a "rest of the day" when we get home from church!  We get home at noon and feed the kids lunch, put them down for a nap (hooray for the Sunday "family nap!"), and even after a nap there's time to prepare dinner, visit family or go for a walk.  Choir practice is after church instead of before so I feel like I can go (when I remember, I totally spaced it today!), and I don't feel like I'm leaving Adam in a lurch to get kids ready.  I have to say, despite how crazy it is getting everyone up and off to church at 9 am, I really think it's my favorite block schedule. 

Even still, it is crazy in the morning, and this morning I slept through my alarm!  We had an Elders' Quorum party last night, so the kids didn't get baths, but we thought that would be okay, we'd just take the little kids in the shower with us and it would all work out.  And last night I decided that our clothes weren't too wrinkly so I'd skip ironing this week...except Max's clothes weren't in his closet, so I figured I'd just pull them out of the clean laundry in the morning, and they turned out to be very wrinkly....  I'm sure you can imagine the panic I felt when I woke up and realized I had an hour to feed, bathe, and dress everyone.  And blow dry my hair.  And Katie's.  And pack the bag.  And go over the hymns for Relief Society.  Ack! 

Somehow, I managed to keep my cool this morning.  I guess I was just being optimistic: at least we could all go to church this week, so I didn't have to scramble with sick kids like we have so much recently.  If we didn't make it on time, at least we got there before the sacrament.  So Isaiah and Max didn't get their hair combed, but at least they had their hair cut this week, so it didn't look frightening.  Lily didn't get fed before we left, but she slept just late enough that it wasn't a huge deal to wait to feed her at church, and I didn't even have to miss the sacrament.  And being cheerful despite how stressful it could have been rubbed off: the kids weren't even fighting as they got into the van.  We were backing out of the garage before the bickering started, which is a huge improvement for our Sunday morning. 

Next week: Adjusting Expectations

Monday, March 21, 2011

Exercise #10: Taking Control

If you've done something you're not proud of during an out-of-control moment, make a concrete plan for what you can do differently next time.  Then go apologize to your kids and let them feel the joy of forgiving you. 
I'm not proud of this, but I do this about daily.  I smack Max's hands for pinching his baby sister, I yell at Katie for pestering me, I scream at Isaiah for, well, screaming at one of his siblings.  Yeah, I do a lot of apologizing.  I can't remember what I did one day, although it was pretty bad...I think I smacked Katie because she was sassing me.  (Please don't send child services after me, when I say "smack" I didn't leave a mark.  I do realize how awful it is that I've done it, though.)  I sure remember the apology, though.  She ran to her room with all the righteous indignation of a teenager and slammed the door, and I could hear her sobbing into her pillow.  It's embarrassing to admit, but it took me several minutes to calm down before I could go in to her even after I realized how upset she was, I was just still so angry.  I did go in and talk with her until she calmed down, apologizing sincerely and snuggling her for a while.  I think it was one of those rare times that she truly did seem to forgive me, and we were close for a while afterward.

Let me share Anne's experience from the week:
Thursday evening we were outside doing some much needed spring cleaning.  Our grapevine is trying to take over the yard, so we were hacking away the (hopefully) dead branches.  When we got to the section next to the garden, Jer and I had a... miscommunication.  I wanted to cut the branches off the ground high enough that we could plant alongside the vines; last year it shaded a big chunk of the garden and got tangled in the tomato plants.  We had the same goal but were looking at it from two different perspectives.  After a heated debate about how "high off the ground" could mean pruning horizontally instead of vertically, he started telling me how I should have stated it more clearly.  It was a ridiculous argument, especially in earshot of all of our neighbors, and knowing that Porter was taking it all in made me even more upset.  If Jer hadn't been holding Porter, I may have actually chucked the pruning shears at him.  I know it's not realistic to never fight in front of your kids, but losing control to the point that I feel like throwing a sharp, heavy object at my husband is not a "healthy" argument.  I did apologize to Jer eventually that night, and I talked to Port about it as we were rocking to sleep.  It's scary/amazing how much that boy understands.  I forget sometimes because he's still not very verbal (unless you count the endless stream of babble with a few "woofs" and "this/thats" thrown in).
It's hard being a parent because so much of what you teach your children is by example.  I'm mortified when I see Isaiah repeat something I said verbatim, or see Katie use exactly my body language.  Even Max says, "You makin' me crazy!" a phrase I have tried to stop using with him because he's picked it up!  All week this week I've had How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too! floating around in the back of my mind.  (I think the title more than the actual premise of the book fits my purposes, but I still recommend reading it.)  I've decided if apologizing so frequently isn't making me overcome my bad behavior, it's at least teaching my children how to apologize and seek forgiveness when they screw up! 

Next week: Living Optimistically

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Exercise #9: Letting Go

Watts starts off this chapter explaining "Motherguilt," the "feeling that somehow everything that goes wrong in a family is the mother's fault."  But she goes on to show that despite our desire to, we cannot control everything in our family, especially our children's actions and attitudes and therefore we are not to blame for everything bad that happens.  Letting go of the guilt we feel over things we cannot control frees us up to be better, happier mothers. 

Exercise #9: Letting Go

On a piece of paper, list everything that's driving you crazy about your kids right now. Then go down the list and for each item ask yourself, "Do I truly have any control over this?" If the answer is no, cross it off. Then let go of worrying about those things or feeling guilty about them, and focus your emotional energy on the items that remain on the list.

I'm sure you're dying to read my list, so here goes:

  • Isaiah leaving his socks everywhere
  • Isaiah losing his shoes and jackets constantly
  • Katie never being satisfied with my efforts to please her
  • Katie taking things away from her brothers just to make them crazy
  • Max throwing tantrums constantly
  • Max getting into and destroying things constantly
  • Lily not sleeping well (short infrequent naps, waking every 3 hours at night)

You know, it never occurred to me that something my kids did wasn't my fault. I mean, intellectually I know that, of course. But as a mom, I tend to feel that every part of my kids somehow originated with me, especially the bad things. So it was kind of nice to say to myself, "They are their own person. I can't do anything about that. It's not my fault and I'm not going to feel guilty about it." Particularly about Isaiah, who really is becoming his own person. It makes me crazy that I keep buying him shoes and jackets that he can't keep track of, but beyond labeling them and enforcing consequences for losing things, I can't change what he does. And it was helpful to remember that both of the older kids went through the phase Max is in now, throwing tantrums because he wants to do everything himself or his way and can't. It's just part of being two.

Here are my goals for the items that remain: 
  • I don't think I can change Katie's attitude about me. But if I make a concerted effort to put her at the top of my list at little more consistently maybe I can help her feel more positive about the time we spend together. To do this, I plan to pause every time she makes a request and remind myself to not say no immediately. I've already been trying to do this throughout the week, and let me tell you, it's hard! I get so tired of her whining at me all the time that it's like a knee-jerk reaction to immediately tell her no. Not to mention I have three other kids who really need me a lot of the time. She is so easy going and capable, I rely on her a lot to help and compromise. So if I can try to meet her needs a little more, maybe I can get a little less whining and a little more love. Maybe.
  • Max the monster, Max the madman. I get really tired of chasing after him and cleaning up his messes. But there are two things I can do to help with the destruction. One is to make more of an effort to involve him in what I'm doing and/or spend more one-on-one time with him. This is really hard. It takes a lot of energy to be patient with him when I'm already on my last nerve because I've been holding a fussy Lily for a bazillion hours. But the second thing helps make the first easier: be really consistent with nap time and bedtime. If he gets a solid nap, and gets to bed at a reasonable hour, he's more happy and pliable, and I'm more rested and less frazzled.
  • I think it's time to sleep train Lily. I have been dreading this day since I conceived this silly girl. Hand over the "Worst Mother Award," I'm going to admit it: I did not want to have a baby right now. For a reason. And about 95% of that reason is sleep deprivation. It's every bit as bad as I envisioned it would be and worse. Something has to give, but I'm not sure what. I've let each of the three older kids cry it out at some point or another and I flat-out hate it, I cry at least as much as the baby does. So my goal here is to start slow: I'm going to push bedtime earlier (to where it should have been in the beginning) and be consistent about it and her bedtime routine. I'll give that a good week or two and if we're still having trouble, I'll formulate a sleep training plan.
Up next week, the second part of "Motherguilt," Taking Control

Monday, March 7, 2011

Exercise #8: Rethinking Assumptions

You all only get to "see" Anne here on my blog a little bit, and to be honest, this weekly back-and-forth has been the most steadily she and I have ever kept in touch.  It has been so fun for me to have an excuse to make that phone call or email that so easily gets pushed to the bottom of my list and really see what's going on in her life.  Last week we had a real treat when she and Jer and Porter came to visit us!  My step dad, Douglas, also came and we all spent so much time just hanging out, cooking and eating, and enjoying the wonderful warm weather.  Thanks, Anne for the awesome weekend!  (And if anyone wants to help us find Jer a job in Southern Utah, I would be eternally grateful...I could really stand to spend every weekend with my big sister!)


Exercise #8: Rethinking Assumptions

The next time you catch yourself feeling badly about the way you've been treated, take a minute to check your assumptions.  Maybe you've misinterpreted someone's actions or intentions.  What would be different if you assumed instead that the person adored you and would be horrified to think he or she had upset you?  Bonus exercise: Next time you're ready to give up on something because it's just too hard, rethink your assumptions.  You may not be failing at all, just slowing in your forward progress for a bit.  Keep trying!
I'm a little embarrassed to share my experience with this, but here we go anyway....  Probably the people's actions I most frequently misinterpret are my own children's.  Now, you have to understand that I grew up mostly as an only child.  With the exception of the three years that I lived with my step-family (including Anne), it was just me and my mom as far back as I remember.  My mom never talked to me like a baby or even a kid, always as an equal, and I didn't have a lot of experience with children, especially children younger than me.  I just didn't have a frame of reference for kid behavior. 

Because of this almost daily I encounter someone saying or doing something to me or someone I love that I, with my limited experience, could interpret as really awful, like hitting, pinching, biting, teasing, complaining, arguing, etc.  I just haven't had a frame of reference for what really is normal behavior in a family.  I remember telling someone several months ago that I really was tired of my children criticizing me all the time.  She asked how they were "criticizing" me, and I used how they would complain about what I was making for dinner as an example ("I hate it when you make that for dinner!").  Trying not to laugh, she asked me if I really thought that was their way of trying to take a shot at my self esteem.  Or if, maybe, it was more about them expressing an opinion about something they felt they had little control over.  It was silly that I had never thought about it that way, I had only seen it from my selfish perspective.  Of course it had more to do with them than what they thought about me personally! 

With that in mind, I've been making an effort to not take my children's fighting so personally (it was amazing to me to learn that they could all-out brawl, screaming at each other one minute, and the next return to being the best of friends), to not react in self-defense to being head-butted by my silly little Max who's just trying to get a laugh, and to not take their childishly-worded comments as anything more than what they are.  It means being the adult in the situation, but occasionally I manage. 

As for the bonus exercise, well, I have felt like giving up on a lot of things lately.  So it was hard to pick a specific thing.  But I did decide that I just need to continue to try to be positive, and give myself a break because having a fussy, sensitive little baby and a needy whirlwind of a toddler (as well as two other busy children) is pretty hard.  And I'm not failing as a mother as much as I think I am.  That was pretty vague, but basically I'm giving myself permission to let the sewing machine collect dust, to not go back to the store when I forget the ground beef/syrup/potatoes/etc., to let the laundry sit in the basket for another day when I really want to go to bed. 

Here are Anne's thoughts:
The thing that comes to mind first is not something that happened this week, but off and on through my married life. Jer will say or do something that could be interpreted positively or negatively, and I invariably take it in the worst way possible. When I call him on it, he says, "Why would I mean it that way? I love you more than anything... Of course I wasn't trying to hurt you." And I know that. It just seems instinctive to get defensive. Fortunately this doesn't happen as often as it used to--mostly because Jer is more careful how he phrases things... but hopefully also because I don't jump the gun and assume he's purposely being hurtful.

One more example: Dad and I went out to brunch on Friday, and it was a pretty crummy experience. The food was lousy, but even worse, they didn't offer a high chair for Porter or give him one of their kid's menus or ask if he wanted a drink or anything. I know he still looks like a baby, but he did walk into the restaurant... The kid does eat. Guess I don't like having my child ignored. Then the waiter kept coming over to check on us (as we were the only customers there) and after awhile I felt like he was doing it to patronize me. No, the food wasn't good. No, we don't need anything else. We don't want any pie today. No, REALLY, NO PIE! Just leave us alone!! I didn't say those things; I replied with the typical niceties. Because I knew he was just doing his job, and I was probably being overly sensitive. He still got tip. (But I'm not going back to M. Callendar's for a looooong time.)

Bonus Exercise. Every week I tell Jer I'm going to march into the Bishop's office after church to tell him I quit. You'd think Primary Chorister was my dream calling, but it is such a struggle week after week to figure out new and exciting ways to teach songs, review songs, and make 20 minutes of Singing Time fun... twice (to two very different groups of kids). I used to hate Saturdays because I'd spend the whole day stressing over the next day's music/activity (or the lack thereof). But almost every week, I realize that I enjoyed it, that the kids were engaged, and that I love Primary music. It's harder than I ever imagined that calling would be (and Jer tells me I make it harder than it needs to be), but I keep doing it because I love my Heavenly Father, I love being in there with Jer and Porter, and I love the children I'm serving. And that's a lot of love.
Preview for next week...Part one of "Motherguilt": Letting Go