Thursday, June 30, 2011

Camping With KIds: Firepower!

Hey Liza! Looking for fun?
The Oma kit has the makings for
Fire Power!

~Give each kid a magnifying glass.
~Gather round the cold campfire (or any rocks)
~Each kid makes a tiny pile of twigs and scraps for kindling.

~Position the magnifying glass to catch some rays.
~ Sing "Here Comes the Sun" whenever he peeks out from behind a cloud.
~Coax him with "You are my Sunshine."
~Repeat the magic chant: "Come on baby, light my fire . . ." whenever a ray appears.
~Direct the sun through the magnifying glass onto kindling you've lovingly put together.
~ Watch for smoke wisps above your piece of napkin.

"Hey, I'm thmokin, don't you think?"

~If you are a smokin-hot 2nd grader, that lucky old sun might shine for a second right through your magnifying glass.

~Finally, you scream giddily, "FIRE!!" For you, city slicker that you are, have created fire without a match.

Then, you sleep in the sunshine.

Camping With Kids

If you sat around our campfire you'd hear some wild tales. One year Opa set a lantern on fire, tripped over a stump, and rolled down the hill with a flaming duffel bag. The next year we were pelleted with hail stones while the ground beneath us shuddered in a thunder storm. The annual Gathering of Heroes has become a cherished tradition.

Some babes in the woods.

Our family camp-out is sponsored each year by Heidi and Jac. This summer their four little girls were 5, 4, and the twins barely 2. In an interview for Marta's blog Heidi gave these expert tips:


My advice for camping with kids is that you can never be too prepared.

I believe in outfitting little ones in rugged jeans or pants that I don't care about, so that I don't care if they sit on the ground and get completely filthy. I like to bring a place for them to sit, like a highchair or saucer, even the car seat carrier is handy for the tiniest ones. A highchair (the ones from IKEA are cheap, and perfect for hosing down afterwards) makes it is easier for them to eat, be up out of the way and it was great to let them sit and color for awhile.

Watered down cocoa is great in a sippy cup. I prefer uncooked s'mores for 2 year olds! I bring books and all of their nighttime paraphernalia for tent sleeping. I bring their winter jammies with feeties, and make a bed out of an unzipped sleeping bag and blankets. The twins are still in cribs at home, so I wasn't sure what they'd be like sleeping. (I discovered the first night that they didn't like to be inside the sleeping bag, so I did it different the next night. Creativity is key!)

Getting them to bed is always an adventure. I make sure every kid has a flashlight and then turn them all off at the same time to listen to tent-time Dora Adventures by mom. Once they are all settled and snoozing, I don't freak out to leave them in the tent alone. The adults are always very close, the campfire is just a few steps away and I check on them often. It's great for us to enjoy some fun time around the fire sans kids. I try to have everything ready before dark so I can get right in my sleeping bag after zipping down the tents for the night.

Another tip: Kids noses get stuffy while camping... maybe campfire smoke or something. This year I brought those cool Triaminic Vaporized Patches. We cut them in half and stuck them on their jammies and they slept soundly.

I look back on pictures and realize my kids get really dirty. We try to brush teeth, but we don't do hair too cute. The clothes they wear are grungy and I always bring washable shoes. This year since I knew it would rain we brought galoshes to roam in. They were perfect! With their pants tucked inside, the pants are clean enough to wear another day.

We scout out perfect campsites and reserve them early. Even if we're booking our site in winter, we try to get a feel for what it's going to be like by driving to where we're going. We know just what we like about the sites we want; shade only, no one wants to bake while making lunch! It's lousy being hot and kids get grumpy. (The typical group sites are great, but are usually cement without tons of shade.) We like to invite others, because it's just easier that way.

My husband is awesome enough to set everything up and take it down as long as I take care of scrubbing down the kids. It's a perfect trade off. We only camp 15 minutes away from home, so it's easy to pack our whole house! We make it worth it by staying a few nights (it is definitely not worth all the packing when you go for just one dinner and one night). May as well make a whole vacation out of it! My kids remember the fun times with their cousins and have come to love our family camp outs.

We always have yummy food, because the best part of camping is the meals and snacks for me. Opa & Oma introduced Jac and I to their GINORMOUS sleeping pads, not so easy for lugging along but they are soft and cushy and make sleeping in a tent totally do-able. I like to take a stroller for walks around the campground, or you can always drive the canyon to get kids to take naps. Most of all, you and your husband can't have huge expectations. Jac gives me breaks so I can enjoy and read my book and I try to give him time to sleep and unwind too. We can't wait for the years when the kids are old enough to do long hikes and we can all sleep in, etc. But until then, we'll just deal with it. Plus we have to make the most of it! We can make them go now while they're little. What happens when they're all saying, "Camping?!! Gross mom... can't we just go to Disneyland?"

We only do this once or twice a year. But, every time we come home we say, "We gotta go again." I feel anxious to just set up the tent to sleep in the backyard this week!

Aunt Marta and her followers

Marta had tips, too. She said:

camping with kids checklist.

i've received a few emails inquiring about camping w/ kids, so here goes. i am a novice about camping with small ones, but i've learned a thing or two from my older sister. heidi and her husband have camped with their - oh so darling - 4 kids (in tents, mind you) every year since their family began. this year included her two year old twins. if they can do it, so can you. here are some ideas i picked up.

details. let loose and be flexible. give the kids each a place to sit. heidi brought her itty bitty princess camp chairs; perfect for the girls to roast marshmallows and minimized quarrels over where to sit. i brought up our small portable high chair for benji (it was perfect for keeping him from swallowing sticks). use off wipes to keep bugs away from li'l ones. bring sunscreen and lots of it. set up your tent in daylight and put the rainfly on, just in case. put a port-a-crib inside your tent for the baby (keeping him off the ground means he feels warmer and is lot more like home). pack all the baby food / spoons / bibs together in a separate ziplock gallon size baggie, it will be no nonsense to fix up when he gets hungry and anxious. oh and there are even coleman battery-operated fans available to attach inside your tent, perfect for hot afternoon naps. what will they think of next.

This post is a TravelinOma rerun from 2009. Our 4th of July camp out gets better every year! This week I'm working on my Oma Tent kits, so I'll be repeating myself with ideas that have worked for us!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Red Velvet Cake for the 4th of July

Take a flag cake to your 4th of July picnic!

Last year I made my traditional flag cake and Marta took pictures.
Then she scooped me and posted it on her blog!

Click here to find the recipe and easy directions!
How to make a flag cake.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Lullabye and Goodnight

Marty and Jiggs, 1950

♫ Honey won't you look into your baby's eyes, and tell me that you love me true. ♫

Dad's melodious baritone drifted to the back of our old black Dodge and night shadows rhythmically flashed through the car window. I curled on the floor in one of two cozy nests my mom created from quilts and pillows on either side of the bump. Tommy was in the other, Polly was tucked into a tiny bed on the ledge under the back window. (These were the days before seat belts, and for some reason our car didn't have a back seat!)

The Old Black Dodge.

Dad was an optometrist in Salt Lake City, but late Friday night we'd leave for a midnight drive to Monticello, Utah where he had an eye-clinic on Saturdays. He'd sing us to sleep with medleys he created from pop-tunes of the thirties and forties, mixed with old songs his dad had sung to him.

Shine on, shine on harvest moon, up in the sky;
I ain't had no lovin' since January, February, June or July. ♫

Nothing comforted me like my dad singing lullabies in the car. Just the thought of ♫ Jada . . . jada . . . jada, jada, jing, jing, jing ♫ soothes my mind.

Any song qualifies as a lullaby if it's part of a bedtime routine. A beloved lullaby CD, ♫ Dedicated to the One I Love ♫ features baby boomer lyrics like "Be my, be my baby . . ." sung softly by Linda Ronstadt. The only problem with that album is you fight to stay awake, just to hear all the songs.

Jane Roman Pitt has recently created a new lullaby album, Midnight Lullaby. It's a collection of bedtime songs written by some of my favorite songwriters including Josh Ritter, The Dixie Chicks and Paul McCartney. These are songs they wrote for their own kids using their personal thoughts and musical styles. I was sent a copy to review, and I've listened to it over and over, hitting repeat every time I hear Forever Young written by Bob Dylan. Jane has a beautiful, tranquil voice and this is the perfect album to play in the car when you're hoping the kids will take a spontaneous nap. (It's relaxing for puttering around the house, too.)

Gentle songs act like a sweet hug just before bed.
I'm glad I was raised on lullabies.

♫ Everybody loves a baby, that's why I'm in love with you, Pretty baby, pretty baby, And I'd like to be your sister, brother, dad and mother, too, Pretty baby, pretty baby . . .

Thanks, Dad!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Getting Acquainted with Sadness

Lots of folks are looking at what the tornado left behind. I identify.
Our life got blown to smithereens this month, and I have to say

"I liked it better when . . . "
  1. I didn't feel scared every time I remembered.
  2. I thought cancer happened to other people.
  3. Life and death decisions were hypothetical.
  4. I was ranting about the cost of other people's chemo.
  5. My old problems were my main problems.
  6. Our future seemed predictable.
  7. I could relax my shoulders.
  8. At 2:15 am I could concentrate on blogging.
  9. Feeling hopeful didn't take such an effort.
  10. I didn't know how I'd feel.
The doctor told us that after a cancer diagnosis, people go through stages of grief. By the time he mentioned it, I figured we'd been through the stages already that week and we'd go forward with a stiff-upper-lip and faith in the future, back to life as we'd known it. What I've discovered is life as we know it is gone. "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto."

With any big change-of-direction event, life becomes a new locale. Thinking, planning, dealing with the day-to-day has new implications. Dee gets phone-calls from his buddies—the ones he coached T-Ball with, the guys he chaperoned scout camp with. Now, instead of talking about fishing in Alaska and collecting cars, guns, or golf trophies, the big conversation is about the incontinence he can expect after surgery, hot-flashes and mood swings that come with his $900 hormone shots, or the ever-present fatigue and constant diarrhea radiation has to offer. Discussions of whether he can work during treatments, if it's worth it to risk a stroke on the operating table, how to handle the horrendous costs before Medicare kicks in, and if it's wise to let the tumors grow wild for a few more months. Questions. We're full of questions without answers and it's disconcerting.

New, unexpected symptoms and side-effects add to the life-long surprise party these guys got invited to. Dee's overwhelmed, of course, and I feel overwhelmed, too. I'm in a crazy time: the final edit of my manuscript is due, my church newsletter deadline is tomorrow, and two or three projects are stacked on my desk. Real life doesn't slow down to let its travelers catch their breath. I find I have to remind myself to eat, a problem I've never had before!

Dee and I have lots of moments of hope and excitement and even exhilaration—we're re-inventing ourselves for our next chapter—it's a technique we've used several times and it's always rejuvenated our lives before. (More in coming weeks.) But there are all the in-between moments when I feel sad, and scared, sleepless in SLC (you think Tom Hanks wants to chat?) breathless, exhausted and depressed: my stomach churns, my head spins and my heart feels a little broken. And I long for how it was before.

Just for a while it would be nice to forget June, and skip back to May for a last taste of carefree.

I liked it better then.
I just didn't know it.


Did you ever write about a difficult time?
How did you keep a balance between
Depression and Optimism
in describing your reality?

Make sure your journal isn't all perfect children and marital bliss. (Your kids will wonder what's wrong with their life, if they ever crack open such a boring read.) Tell about your down-days, too. That's when readers identify most, and your blog or journal becomes a teaching tool. Introduce readers to coping skills you've used when getting acquainted with sadness. It might remind you of some you already have, for the especially tough times. The times you look back with nostalgia and say: I liked it better then . . .

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Writing Workshop for Kids

"Oma, will you teach a writing class for grandkids?" asked Chloƫ.
(Can you imagine how thrilled I was?)

Listen in on Oma's Write Stuff Workshop:

"What's a workshop, Lucy?"
"A place where you work and keep your tools?"
"Right! So a Write Stuff Workshop is a place where you work on writing stuff
and learn about writing tools."

"Nowadays everybody writes on the computer. But back in the olden days I just used a pad of paper and a pencil. Really, the only other thing you need to be a writer is an idea."

"Do you ever daydream, Jessi? Daydreaming is an important skill when you're a writer. You need to notice details (using all five senses) and dream about the stories they tell. Let's go catch some daydreams!"

Notebooks and pencils in hand, we went on a walk. "What are your five senses?" I asked. With each answer we paid closer attention to our surroundings. Sounds like flip-flops flapping, tires turning, sprinklers spraying were written down. We smelled garbage and grass, felt a rough brick and a smooth window. "Jessi's eyes are as blue as . . . " We realized that they are a unique blue, unlike any of the blue flowers in the garden.

"I'll tell you a writer's secret," I said. "If you learn to make a Dreamcatcher you'll always have ideas. Write down a detail you've noticed and draw a box around it.

"Does that idea make you think of something else? Write that one down, too. Draw a line from the first idea to the next and on and on. Pretty soon you've made a web and caught a whole bunch of daydreams." It was time to choose a daydream and write about it.

(Chloƫ used an old-fashioned laptop.)

"Jess, you look like a reporter! Does anybody know what letter a reporter uses over and over to write a story?" Nobody knew. "Stories all need 5 W's: Who, what, where, when and why. For a reader to care about your story they want to know who it’s about, what happened, where it happened, when it happened, why it happened and why they should even care."

We discussed The Three Bears and Cinderella, searching for the 5 W's. They were there! The next part of the workshop involved some reporting, using oral interviews. The girls each called a faraway cousin and conducted an interview, and then wrote a short article for our Cousin's Club Newsletter.

"You've got a few writing tools for your workshop," I told them. "A reason to daydream, a Dreamcatcher, the 5 W's, and some interview skills. Now let's make your writing sparkle!

"Alliteration is fun to read. What if I wrote a poem about Several Nice Frogs? Would it sound more interesting if I called it Five Friendly Frogs? Why? What if I wrote a story and the title was Little Girls Eat Lunch? Would you be more intrigued if it was called Chicks Chow Down?

"Writing words with the same sound is called alliteration. Let’s practice. Describe yourself in three words that start with your initial. I'll start: Marty makes memories."

More newsletter entries: we compiled a list of all twenty cousins and made up some funny facts using alliteration. Chelsea chews chocolate, Lauren licks lollipops and Jill juggles jigsaws were just a few.

Our two hours were up—time to wrap it with a homework assignment and a little present. "It takes practice to become a good writer, just like any talent you want to develop. You don’t become a ballerina just by putting on a tutu; you can’t hit home-runs just by picking up a bat. It takes lots of practice. Writers write every single day. I write a blog to make sure I practice. What's another way to write every day?"

A diary! Of course!
Aunt Min had contributed her special little books
and my new journalists were delighted!

I found this note taped to my computer a little later:

My whole world looks more colorful now!

It was so much fun, I'm taking Oma's Write Stuff Workshop on the road.

Meet me in St. Louis!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Roller Coaster Ride

Ten days ago I wrote on my to-do page: "List all your worries and then list ways to let them go." As it turned out, I got on a crazy new ride and threw them to the wind. Now, I can't even remember what they were! Funny how one new experience can overwhelm your whole life and make you forget your past bumps and grinds completely.

It seems like everyone who's anyone has already been on this ride, or they're climbing on for their turn. It didn't look that crazy right at first, but the big drop was a shock, and my stomach almost popped out of my mouth; pure speed overwhelmed me and I just held on.

I've been up, down, dizzy, disoriented, gulping air, trying to get right-side round again. We've been rolling for a full week now and I can tell I'm still pretty discombobulated. I keep leaving my keys in the front door; I took the towels out of the dryer and loaded them back in the washer and turned it on; I found myself drying the kitchen counter with a baby's bib. I start something and get distracted and realize it's noon and I have my levis on but I forgot to put on a shirt. One eye lash is curled, the other straight. And my blog from yesterday is still sitting half-written, but I can't remember the point I was making, so I'll rescue it from Drafts someday soon, and have an out-of-date observation about something that will seem irrelevant.

Where's the Dramamine?

There. I feel almost back to normal. As soon as I stop feeling dizzy, I'm going to list all my brand-new worries and figure out a way to let them go, too. But I'm too exhausted to stay on the roller coaster much longer. All that rolling is making me a little sick.

When will we start coasting?

(I'll be back to normal posting soon, I hope!)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Writing Workshop For Kids

"If there's a book you want to read but it hasn't been written yet,
then you must write it."
—Toni Morrison

This summer I'm hosting Oma's Write Stuff Workshops for interested grandkids. I was sure I'd find a book on Amazon or an online curriculum that would make it easy, and there were a few to choose from:
Everything I found was a bit too fancy, complicated or heavy, so I decided to write my own. Stop by tomorrow and observe our first workshop!

P.S. I can't tell you how much your comments and emails have meant to Dee and me the past few days. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Friends from high school (even elementary school!) former neighbors, long-lost cousins and far-flung folks from the blogosphere—you are all appreciated. Your support has buoyed us up.

We met with the doctor again on Friday, and learned more about cancer than we ever wanted to know. Dee's probably had this for a couple of years already, but since it's slow-growing, he can wait a few months until Medicare kicks in before we decide which of many treatments would work best for him. In the meantime he had a $900 shot of hormones to slow things down. It was a roller coaster week, but we feel like we're back on the ground, ready to start a new chapter in our life. I'll keep you posted!


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bad Words

"Wash your mouth out with soap!"

When I was a little girl there were some bad words my mother never allowed: Shut up and butt. They still sound inappropriate to me. Now we have a-words, b-words, f-words, and d-words. Monday I wanted to stuff a bar of Dial into the doctor's mouth: he said the c-word.

It's a word I haven't allowed in our home, but I guess I'll have to get used to it. Dee got the word, and for the first few hours we took it in stride. Prostate cancer. "It's the kind of cancer you want," they say. "It's a cancer men die with, not of," we read. "Every man gets it if he's lucky enough to live that long." Luck—that's it. Dee has dealt with asthma, gout, diabetes, heart failure, and zillions of complications. What's a little cancer, we thought. CANCER.

CANCER!!! NO! We don't want CANCER!

Panic set in. I pictured myself a widow and Dee pictured emptying out his storage garage. Both pictures were horrifying. I remembered everyone I know who has died of cancer. People die of cancer, I thought to myself, while Dee was thinking the same thing. Without too much effort we conjured up the worst case scenarios. Not good. Steady, Dear . . . calm down . . . it will be OK. Deep breath—when we were in a state of serenity we called our seven kids.

That was the hardest part. They are so awesome, so supportive, so loving. Tears of gratitude slid down our cheeks after each call. Full of thanksgiving for such a great family, we pulled out our faith, recharged our hope and went to bed. It was a fitful night. Dee went down to the treadmill at 4:30 am to walk off his anxiety. Ten minutes later he woke me up, white as a sheet. "I can't catch my breath!" he wheezed. His skin was clammy with cold sweat and he was unsteady on his feet. The morning of his heart attack flashed before my eyes and we left immediately for the emergency room.

Doctors take heart patients seriously and Dee was hooked up with tubes, oxygen and electrodes before we could say "nitroglycerin." He spent the whole day having his heart examined. Another round of emotional phone calls to the kids, plus our sleepless night, produced pounding headaches. Finally the cardiologist arrived with the news: it was heart failure all right, but the kind brought on by panic and stress, not by plugged up stents. We could go home.

Dee told Dr. Muhlstein about the success of his company open house during their chat. The Doc said, "Look at all you still have to do! You'll have plenty of time." Our daughters brought dinner, and we were reminded again of who we want to live for and why. These friends and loved ones have already circled their wagons around us in a protective shield. We took our worry down a notch: Cancer. Cancer. We remembered everyone we know who lives with cancer. Many, many friends and family face it with dignity and grace. As Gordon B. Hinckley used to say, "Getting old is not for sissies." Maybe the c-word is courage.

Even so: I'm shouting this from the top of my blog:

Shut up!!

We're gonna kick its butt!

(Somehow these bad words seem totally appropriate!)

Share your experience!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tell Me About Your Dad

Excerpt from

Son of a Gun
Marty Halverson

“There’s a man ... my daddy’s voice was as soft and low as a lullaby—would break the heart of Lucifer himself to hear him and Ma sing harmony.” Leo told her then about his sisters, Josey’s harmonica and Nataki . . . “she said our music would make the angels weep.”

“What’d you do?” Ruby asked, picturing the scene.

“Strummed. I got a guitar. We sang all the old Kentucky songs to the Texas wilderness to while away the wintertime darkness.” He told her about watching the lightning chain at eight years old, when they first settled the ranch. “Nothing but the wind and the rain to argue with,” he said. Lost in his own memories, Leo went on, “After Ma died of the measles, just before my daddy followed her, he said, ‘I tell you boys, if either of you remember how your ma taught you how to pray, get down on your kneebones this night and tell Him up yonder you’re beholden for the land he give us.’”

Chagrined at his rambling, Leo rolled over and looked at Ruby. “I oughta’ save part of my breath for breathing.” He was talking to her as he’d talked to no one in years.

“You’re good company, Leo Barlow.”

"Guess if you're going to spend your whole life with yourself you need to learn to be good company."

So, how would you describe your dad?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Celebrate Dads

"Kids need fewer critics and more models."
—Thomas S. Monson

"Nobody can do for little children what a loving father can do.
He sprinkles stardust over their lives."
—Alex Haley

"You don't have to worry about what a child will be tomorrow,
if you remember he is someone today."
—Stacia Tauscher

"The word no carries a lot more meaning
when spoken by a father who also knows how to say yes."
—Joyce Maynard

"Teaching his children is the mark of a civilized man."
—J. Ganz Cooney

"My father didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it."
—Clarence Kelland

"Fathers create the sunshine of childhood."
—Chris Morgen

Definition of a successful father: a man willing to make substantial, long-term sacrifices of his time, money and personal fulfillment and dedicate his efforts to rearing the next generation.

These seven fathers are my heroes.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Writing Workshop: Show, Don't Tell

Turk tilted his chair against the kitchen wall, scratched his middle-aged paunch, and felt the warmth of the late summer sun on his gnarled and flaming knuckles. It had been a fine Saturday morning until this crazy woman he worked for announced another out and out war with Sam Lester. “It’s like spittin' in the man’s face,” he told Ruby. “He’ll have to spit back, and Sam has got breath like a double-seater."Son of a Gun by Marty Halverson
  How much do you learn about Turk from this paragraph?

Turk was my favorite character when I wrote Son of a Gun. He was going to be just a walk-on, Ruby's boss, but the more I wrote about him, the more he told me about himself. I saw him bake sourdough for the cowboys on a cattle drive, pick his teeth after dinner, develop a paternal crush on Ruby—he grew on me.

After listening to his tall-tales, lounging by a crackling fire, with the aroma of horses and steaming coffee nearby, I couldn't hurt his feelings by not including them. So I let him tell the stories to the little boys, and even my editor couldn't cut them out.

James N. Frey wrote, "If, after you have created your characters you do not see them in your mind's eye walking, talking, breathing, perspiring . . . put them on the couch and start asking them questions. By the time you've thoroughly interviewed your character he should have become like a dear friend or a hated enemy. Once you feel that close, you should be confident working with him."

Introducing a character and then allowing her to be observed is the best technique, whether you're creating an imaginary friend for a book, fleshing out a kindergarten teacher for a memoir, or discovering yourself for your blog. Instead of telling readers what to think ("he's sixty, overweight and has arthritis") show them ("Turk scratched his middle-aged paunch and felt the sun warm his gnarled and flaming knuckles.") Let them draw their own conclusions. Remember trying to convince your dad that your boyfriend was a hard worker? It wasn't as effective as the time he helped your dad move. Suddenly your dad was saying, "Hang onto him. He's a hard worker!" That's the difference between telling and showing.

Try it. List three of your own traits. Now use those traits to describe yourself, without using the actual words. "He lifted her chin, but she wouldn't look him in the eye after her outburst." Did you guess that she was short, stubborn and emotional

Show, Don't Tell assignment: 
 Leave your description in a comment. The next person guesses the three characteristics, and then writes a sentence about themselves.  

Come on—show us what a character you are!