Thursday, December 31, 2009

Farewell to the Reading List (and my favorite books of 2009)

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As 2009 draws to a close, I am happy to say that I met my goal of taking time to read good books. I read 45 of them, to be exact! A year ago in January 2009 I launched Nurture Mama's Reading List as a way of making me accountable for what I read. Over the year I have shared the books I read, my gospel study notes, Caldecott books (another goal, I'm still working on that one), and our family scripture of the week.

As 2010 begins I have decided to close the door on Nurture Mama's Reading List. Don't worry--I still plan to read, and I still plan to share it with you, but I'm going to simplify things and just do all of my blogging in this one blog. I'll still keep the Reading List online for reference, but I won't be posting to it anymore. I also won't be doing a Recently Read post for every book I read, just the really really great books that I want to share. You can check out my goodreads list on the right side bar to keep up with all of my books if you're interested.

If you're looking for something good to read, the books below were my favorites in 2009.

Best Fiction
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan (and the rest of the Percy Jackson series)

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Best Non-Fiction
Nurture Shock by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Happy Reading in 2010!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Your vital role

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"Sisters, I wish I could place my hands on both sides of your faces, look deeply into your eyes, and impart to you a clear vision of your vital role as beloved daughters of God whose “lives have meaning, purpose, and direction.” We are women who “increase our testimonies of Jesus Christ through prayer and scripture study,” who “seek spiritual strength by following the promptings of the Holy Ghost.” We “dedicate ourselves to strengthening marriages, families, and homes” and “find nobility in motherhood and joy in womanhood.”

Mary Ellen W. Smoot, “Steadfast and Immovable,” Ensign, Nov 2001, 91

Friday, December 25, 2009

A 5 year-old in the house

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Happy Birthday Ant Bug!
The important thing about Five and Six is that you learn a lot of tricks.

You learn how to count.
You learn how to read.
You know how to dress
and get what you need.
You can almost tell time.
You can speak in rhyme.

But the important thing about Five and Six is that you learn a lot of tricks.

Each day you grow a little more.
Each day you’re older than before.

Taken from Another Important Book, by Margaret Wise Brown.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Show your love today

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In the family proclamation we also learn that “by divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”

It is in the home that the family learns and applies gospel principles. Great love is necessary in order to teach and guide a family. Loving fathers and mothers will teach their children to worship God in their home. When a worshiping spirit permeates the home, that spirit is extended into the life of each family member. This will prepare them to make whatever sacrifice is necessary to be able to return to God’s presence and stay together as a family for all eternity.

The family proclamation helps us understand much of the love the Savior referred to when He told us we must “love one another.” He gave us the supreme example of love when He declared, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” He later atoned for all our sins and finally gave His life for all of us.

We can lay down our lives for those we love not by physically dying for them but rather by living for them—giving of our time; always being present in their lives; serving them; being courteous, affectionate, and showing true love for those of our family and to all men—as the Savior taught.

We don’t know what could happen to us tomorrow, and that is why today is the time to start showing your love through small acts such as a hug and an “I love you” to your spouse and children and those around you.

Claudio R. M. Costa, “Don’t Leave for Tomorrow What You Can Do Today,” Ensign, Nov 2007, 73–75

Christmas Craft Time

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We're counting the days until Christmas! Now that school is out, we have a little time to work on some fun holiday projects. We'll be trying some of the following in the next few days.
Super Simple Snowflake/Star Ornaments
Fork Print Tree
Shape Tree

Christmas Card Puzzle Game
Simple Reindeer Ornaments


From Kids Craft Weekly: Santa Cards

And of course, we will also be doing some baking. You can find our favorite Sugar Cookie recipe here, and a great recipe for gingerbread cookies here.

What fun activities will you be doing this week?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Gifts to Give

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In his last public address to the Church before his death, President Hunter offered 22 ways that we might follow the example of the Savior in giving the best gifts at Christmas.

1) Mend a quarrel.
2) Seek out a forgotten friend.
3) Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust.
4) Write a letter.
5) Give a soft answer.
6) Encourage youth.
7) Manifest your loyalty in word and deed.
8) Keep a promise.
9) Forgo a grudge.
10) Forgive an enemy.
11) Apologize.
12) Try to understand..
13) Examine your demands on others.
14) Think first of someone else.
15) Be kind.
16) Be gentle.
17) Laugh a little more.
18) Express your gratitude.
19) Welcome a stranger.
20) Gladden the heart of a child.
21) Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth.
22) Speak your love and then speak it again.

Howard W. Hunter, “The Gifts of Christmas,” Ensign, Dec 2002, 16


What gifts will you give?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Polar Express Party Planning Essentials

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Reading the book and watching the movie of The Polar Express is a holiday tradition in our home. This year we decided to invite some friends and make it a party!
Polar Express Party Planning Essentials

Wear Pajamas--The kids in the movie were wearing pajamas, so we all did too. What could be better then snuggling up in cozy pajamas with your blankets and pillows to watch a good movie?

Tickets, Please--If you want to ride the train, then a ticket is required. We got the template for our tickets from this helpful packet.
Ride the Train--When our friends arrived we handed them a ticket, then we all boarded the train for a ride to the North Pole. Our train was just the kitchen chairs arranged in train style seating, but we chug-chugged and pretended we were looking out the window at the snow capped mountains.

Bells--The bell is a central element of the story. Our train took a short detour to make sure each passenger was properly equiped with a bell. A string threaded through the bell makes a great necklace (incidentally, the Ant Bug has been wearing her bell necklace since Saturday).

Lights, Camera, Action--We parked the train at a safe location and settled in to watch the movie, with the lights from the Christmas tree setting the mood.
Snack Time--don't forget the treats! Our stomachs were content with popcorn, hot chocolate with marshmallows, and a few M&Ms.

Looking for more ideas? Check out this helpful packet from Houghton Mifflin which includes more party ideas, a crossword puzzle, word search, mazes and more.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cradles and kitchens vs. congresses

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"When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses? When the surf of the centuries has made the great pyramids so much sand, the everlasting family will still be standing, because it is a celestial institution, formed outside telestial time. The women of God know this.

"No wonder the men of God support and sustain you sisters in your unique roles, for the act of deserting home in order to shape society is like thoughtlessly removing crucial fingers from an imperiled dike in order to teach people to swim."

Neal A. Maxwell, “The Women of God,” Ensign, May 1978, 10

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Easy Ornaments

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One Christmas tradition I enjoy is making an ornament, usually with the help of my children (is it a tradition if this is only the second time I've done it?). This years version was inspired by an idea I saw here, but I got creative in using mostly supplies that I already had on hand.

Supplies needed:
-small round wood discs (I found mine at Michaels in the wood section)
-paint
-scrapbook paper
-mod podge
-string
-hot glue gun
-ribbon, bells, photos, graphics, etc (whatever you want to use for ornamentation)
Paint the wood discs and allow to dry (both sides). Cut slightly smaller circles out of decorative scrapbook paper, and mod podge the paper to the painted discs. Once the glue was dry I threaded white ribbon through a shiny bell, tied a bow and used a hot glue gun to attach the ribbon to the disc. The last step is to use the glue gun again to attach a string to the back for hanging on the tree.
The possibilities for the focal part of the ornament itself are pretty endless. You can use photos, old Christmas cards, berries, flowers, or whatever strikes your fancy. I made a version for my piano students using a small picture of a piano I printed from the computer (in the photo above).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Focus on Christ this Christmas

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"My brothers and sisters, I know that it is the desire of each of us to make time in our lives and room in our hearts for our Savior. No matter how successful we have thus far been at accomplishing such a goal, however, I am confident we would all wish to do better. Now, this very Christmas season, is the perfect time to renew our efforts" (President Thomas S. Monson, source).

This week I was thrilled to discover that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has put together a wonderful online resource to help individuals and families draw closer to Christ this Christmas. This page has videos, music, and personal stories, all focusing on the most important reason for the Christmas season.

Some of my favorite highlights from the site:
And this video is very sweet:

Here are a two other links I've liked that might help you focus on Christ this Christmas.
Christ Centered Christmas: Christmas Traditions Centered Around Jesus Christ
The Little Book of Christmas Spirit by John Hilton III: a free electronic book available from Deseret Book (get the link at the bottom of the Sugardoodle page)

Monday, December 7, 2009

"Let your first interest be in your home."

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In the year 2000, President Hinckley gave a talk just for women and mothers. For the last six weeks I have been sharing segments of that talk, in which he discusses seven things that are important for mothers to teach their children. Here are his concluding remarks:

God bless you, dear friends. Do not trade your birthright as a mother for some bauble of passing value. Let your first interest be in your home. The baby you hold in your arms will grow quickly as the sunrise and the sunset of the rushing days. I hope that when that occurs you will not be led to exclaim as did King Lear, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” (King Lear, I, iv, 312). Rather, I hope that you will have every reason to be proud concerning your children, to have love for them, to have faith in them, to see them grow in righteousness and virtue before the Lord, to see them become useful and productive members of society. If with all you have done there is an occasional failure, you can still say, “At least I did the very best of which I was capable. I tried as hard as I knew how. I let nothing stand in the way of my role as a mother.” Failures will be few under such circumstances.

May the blessings of heaven rest upon you, my dear sisters. May you not trade a present thing of transient value for the greater good of sons and daughters, boys and girls, young men and women for whose upbringing you have an inescapable responsibility.

May the virtue of your children’s lives sanctify and hallow your old age. May you be led to exclaim with gratitude as did John, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 Jn. 1:4)."

Gordon B. Hinckley, “Your Greatest Challenge, Mother,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 97–100

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

December Traditions

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For most families, December is a month that abounds in holiday traditions. Christmas trees and carols and presents make for much excitement. The Ant Bug has been looking forward to December for some time now, and she was thrilled when it was finally the day after Thanksgiving and we could pull out our decorations and trim the tree.

Last year we found a great activity in the December 2008 issue of The Friend magazine that was perfect for helping us keep the focus on Christ during the Christmas season.
Here are the directions:
Each day during December look up the scripture reference for that day. Read the stories of Jesus. Then color the set of scriptures for that day. Each day also lists a picture from the Gospel Art Picture Kit (GAK) that can accompany the story. You can access the GAK online here.

We like to display the chart as well as the accompanying GAK picture as a visual reminder throughout the month.

Click here for the activity and the scripture reading list.

Last year we also had fun reading Christmas books together.
Here are the basic directions:
Find 25 Christmas books (or as many as you can), wrap them up and put them under your tree. Then everyday until Christmas your children can choose one to unwrap and read together.

Our current shelf of books is pretty sparse when it comes to Christmas books, so most of our books come from the library (you can still wrap them up even if you have to take them back). This is what we will be reading this year:

Drummer Boy by Loren Long
The Tale of Three Trees by Angela Elwell Hunt
Olive the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh & J. Otto Seibold
Christmas Tree Farm by Ann Purmell
Christmas Mice by Bethany Roberts
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
Bear Noel by Olivier Dunrea
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
McDuff's New Friend by Rosemary Wells and Susan Jeffers
The True Story of Christmas by Nell Navillus
How Santa Got His Job by Stephen Krensky
Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck
Mooseltoe by Margie Palatini
...and maybe a few more!

I first saw this idea on Make and Takes, and this year The Idea Room also shared their version of this activity.

As far as the rest of the month goes, I'm sure we'll be doing most of the same things I wrote about last year here.

What traditions do you have that make your December special?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

THURSDAY Nature Walk on December 3rd

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I have an appointment on Friday this week, so our weekly nature walk will be on Thursday instead, same time.

Important Note: I have decided to stop posting the weekly nature walk location on this blog. If you are interested in joining me for future nature walks, please let me know (either in the comments or by email) and I will keep you informed about future activities through email.

Here are the details for this weeks adventure!

When
: Thursday, December 3rd, 2009 at 10 a.m.
Where: Alfred A. Ring Park, 1801 NW 23rd Boulevard (Parking at Elks Lodge).
Driving Directions: From NW 13th Street, turn left on NW 23rd Ave. Park at the Elks Lodge, which will be on the left.
Link to the map: Click here.
What to bring: Drinking water, bug spray. Maybe snacks or a picnic lunch? You might also like to bring a camera or a journal for your children to record their discoveries.
Things to note: Park includes bathrooms, picnic tables, small playground. Walking trail is mostly dirt, so strollers are not advised.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Teach your children to be virtuous and teach them to pray.

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In a talk given to the women of the church in November 2000, President Hinckley suggested several things that parents might teach their children. Here are his sixth and seventh suggestions:

Teach them to be virtuous.
Teach young men to respect young women as daughters of God endowed with something very precious and beautiful. Teach your daughters to have respect for young men, for boys who hold the priesthood, boys who should and do stand above the tawdry evils of the world.

Teach them to pray.
None of us is wise enough to make it on our own. We need the help, the wisdom, the guidance of the Almighty in reaching those decisions that are so tremendously important in our lives. There is no substitute for prayer. There is no greater resource.

"Teach your children when they are very young and small, and never quit. As long as they are in your home, let them be your primary interest."

Gordon B. Hinckley, “Your Greatest Challenge, Mother,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 97–100

Friday, November 27, 2009

Before you throw away your fall pumpkins...

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...try using them for a painting project!
I saw this fun idea for Pumpkin Printing on No Time for Flashcards, so we tried it out yesterday while our turkey was baking. Cut your small pumpkins in half, scoop out the seeds, ready your paint and paper, and start printing!

A few painting tips I recently learned from my friend, Janene.
-save plastic lids (like the ones from sour cream containers) to use for your paint palettes. They are sturdier than paper plates and can be washed and used again.
-cut up cereal boxes and use the squares as your painting canvas. Again, it's much sturdier than paper.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thankful

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I am thankful for the wonderful people in my family (and the little BOY who will join us in the spring)!
What are you thankful for?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Winter Soups

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Winter weather makes me feel like eating soup for dinner. Unfortunately, there is no winter weather where I live in Florida, so I'm going to pretend it is snowing outside while I enjoy my favorite soup recipes.

Crock Pot Potato Soup
6 potatoes
2 leeks
2 onions
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
4 c. water
1 1/2 tsp. salt
4 chicken bouillon cubes
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1 Tbsp. parsley flakes
2 Tbsp. butter
13 oz. can evaporated milk

Cut all to bite size. Put all ingredients except milk and chives, in the crockpot. Cover and cook on low for 10 to 12 hours or high for 3-4 hours. Stir in evaporated milk during the last hour.

This was a big hit with 3 members of our family. The Ant Bug asked for seconds, ate more for a bedtime snack, then happily ate it for dinner again the next night. The Sweet Bee took one bite and spit it out again, so she filled up on homemade rolls (you can't please everyone, right?!).

Minestrone Soup
Cook for five minutes:
2 Tb. olive oil or other oil
2 cups chopped onions (1 large onion)
5 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 or 2 tsp. salt

Add and cook for 10 minutes, stir occasionally:
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 medium carrots sliced or dices
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. basil
Black pepper to taste

Add, cover and simmer for 15 minutes:
1 medium bell pepper, sliced or diced
1 medium zucchini, sliceed
1 cup diced eggplant, optional
5-6 cups water
1 (14 oz.) can tomato sauce

Add and simmer five minutes more:
1 can kidney beans, drained
1 can garbanzo beans, drained

Add and cook until tender:
1 cup pasta (uncooked shells, bows, or macaroni)

Add:
1 or 2 diced tomatoes (or 1 can chopped tomatoes)

Sprinkle chopped parsley and Parmesan cheese on each bowl or soup before serving.

White Chicken Chili
1 small onion, peeled and chopped fine
2-3 medium garlic cloves, peeled/chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
1- 4oz can chopped green chilies
30 ounces (2 cans) white bean undrained (great northern, cannellini, or garbonzo)
1 can chicken broth
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. salt and a couple shakes of pepper
2-3 chicken breasts cooked and shredded or cubed
1 1/4 cups sour cream
1/2 cup monterey jack cheese, shredded
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
juice from 1 lime

Saute onions and garlic in 1 Tb. olive oil until cooked. Then add the tomatoes, chilies, white beans, chicken broth, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne pepper. Salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Then slowly stir in the cheese and sour cream until well-blended. Add chopped cilantro and the lime juice. Stir after each addition. Simmer slowly so flavors can work their magic (1-2 hours), stirring frequently.

Crock pot variation: Combine all ingredients in pot except for sour cream and cheese. Let simmer for 4-6 hours. Add the sour cream and cheese for the last hour. May use frozen chicken breasts.

I always cook this in the crock pot. The cilantro is the key to greatness in this recipe!
___________________________________

Note: There will be no Friday Nature Walk this week. We'll be enjoying the day off from school and putting up our Christmas tree.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Teach your children to avoid drugs and be honest.

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In a talk given to the women of the church in November 2000, President Hinckley suggested several things that parents might teach their children. Here are his fourth and fifth suggestions:

Teach your sons and daughters to avoid illegal drugs as they would the plague. The use of these narcotics will destroy them. They cannot so abuse their bodies, they cannot so build within themselves vicious and enslaving appetites without doing incalculable injury. One habit calls for another, until the victim in so many cases is led down to a situation of utter helplessness, with loss of all self-control and habituated to a point where it cannot be broken.

A recent television program indicated that 20 percent of young people who are on drugs were introduced to their use by parents. What is wrong with people? The use of illegal drugs becomes a dead-end road. It takes one nowhere except to loss of self-control, to loss of self-respect, and to self-destruction. Teach your children to avoid them as they would a foul disease. Build within them an utter abhorrence of such.

Teach them to be honest. The jails of the world are filled with people who began their evil activities with small acts of dishonesty. A small lie so often leads to a greater lie. A small theft so often leads to a greater theft. Soon the individual has woven a web from which he cannot extricate himself. The broad road to prison begins as a small and attractive pathway.

"Teach your children when they are very young and small, and never quit. As long as they are in your home, let them be your primary interest."

Gordon B. Hinckley, “Your Greatest Challenge, Mother,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 97–100

Thursday, November 19, 2009

File Folder Fun

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As a mother of two busy little girls, I have learned a few tricks to help them be reverent when it comes to Sunday sacrament meeting. One of my best tools has been file folder games.
Garden of Eden (from Finch Family Games)

The concept is pretty simple and easy to make yourself.
1) Color the templates and glue them to the inside of a manilla folder.
2) Color and cut out the activity pieces.
3) Laminate the folder and the pieces.
4) Place a small piece of Velcro or magnetic tape to each shape in the file folder.
5) Add the other side of Velcro or magnet to the remaining parts.
6) Store pieces in an envelope taped to the back.
Ark Animals (from Finch Family Games)

The folder games I use all came from Finch Family Games. The books are available to purchase online. These games are great for Sunday because they all tie in to some gospel theme (Lehi's Liahona Letters or Word of Wisdom Winners or Ammon's Sheep Sorters...).
Paint Your Wagon (from Finch Family Games)

They take a little time and effort to make, but once they are laminated they are pretty durable. I would recommend using magnets to stick the pieces instead of Velcro. Trust me, the sound of peeling Velcro is pretty loud, especially during the middle of the sacrament.
Garden of Eden (from Finch Family Games)

I think I first introduced these to my daughter when she was between 15-18 months. We used them well, but then put them away for a little while when the diaper bag got too full with a new baby. I've been pulling them out recently to use with the Sweet Bee (2 yrs old) and the Ant Bug (nearly 5) still gets interested in them. I usually bring four or five to church with me, and they usually end up being passed among the many other families with small children who end up sitting near us.
Putting on the Armor of God (from Finch Family Games)

There are many other folder games available to go with many different themes. Many of them are free downloads online. I did a quick google search and here are a few I found:

File Folder Fun
Preschool Printables (look at the list on the left)
Mormonchic (these are already colored for you if you have a color printer)

Feel free to be creative and design your own, too!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Friday Nature Walk on November 20th

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When: Friday, November 20, 2009 at 10 a.m.
Where: Loblolly Woods Nature Park, 3315 NW 5th Ave. Access from 34th Street.
Driving Directions: The park is located directly off of NW 34th St, between University Ave and NW 8th St. The entrance is quite small and unobtrusive, but there is a sign directing you to Loblolly Woods.
Link to the map: Click here.
What to bring: Drinking water, bug spray. Maybe snacks or a picnic lunch? You might also like to bring a camera or a journal for your children to record their discoveries.
Things to note: This park is mostly just a walking trail, but it connects to the Hogtown Creek Greenway as well as Westside Park, so we'll have the option of walking and playing.

Hopefully we'll see you there!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Teach your children to respect their bodies.

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In a talk given to the women of the church in November 2000, President Hinckley suggested several things that parents might teach their children. Here is the third suggestion:

Teach them to respect their bodies. The practice is growing among young people of tattooing and piercing their bodies. The time will come when they will regret it, but it will then be too late. The scriptures unequivocally declare:

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3:16–17).

It is sad and regrettable that some young men and women have their bodies tattooed. What do they hope to gain by this painful process? Is there “anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” (A of F 1:13) in having unseemly so-called art impregnated into the skin to be carried throughout life, all the way down to old age and death? They must be counseled to shun it. They must be warned to avoid it. The time will come that they will regret it but will have no escape from the constant reminder of their foolishness except through another costly and painful procedure.

I submit that it is an uncomely thing, and yet a common thing, to see young men with ears pierced for earrings, not for one pair only, but for several.

They have no respect for their appearance. Do they think it clever or attractive to so adorn themselves?

I submit it is not adornment. It is making ugly that which was attractive. Not only are ears pierced, but other parts of the body as well, even the tongue. It is absurd.

We—the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve—have taken the position, and I quote, that “the Church discourages tattoos. It also discourages the piercing of the body for other than medical purposes, although it takes no position on the minimal piercing of the ears by women for one pair of earrings.”

"Teach your children when they are very young and small, and never quit. As long as they are in your home, let them be your primary interest."

Gordon B. Hinckley, “Your Greatest Challenge, Mother,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 97–100

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Making the most of photo opportunities

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I am thrilled today to introduce the first guest blogger to Nurture Mama. Janene Kay is the mother of three children. She loves to take pictures and read good books and she is a fabulous friend! You can view her work at jkphotography and reserve your next photo session with her.

Who doesn't love to take pictures of their children? Well, if you don't love the actual process of taking the pictures (yes, I know it can be a headache!) here are some tips to help you get the most out of those photo ops, with some other tricks and ideas thrown in for fun too.

Look for the right light. The best times to take pictures are right before and after sunrise and sunset. With little ones it's hard to have happy smiling faces early in the morning or later in the evening, but if circumstances allow, then those are the best times for the BEST light. It is even, soft, flattering, and just plain awesome. You can shoot anywhere if the light is right.

My little model just in some nice soft evening light:
So what do you do when sunrise or sunset is nowhere in sight? Your next best bet is for open shade. You can find open shade pretty much everywhere, you just have to look. In the shade of a tree, around the edge of a building, even in your own shadow!

Here is my daughter sitting in some open shade underneath a big tree in our backyard:
When shooting in the shade of a tree, be aware of light shining through the leaves. When there are patches of bright light, called dappled light, you will probably get some unflattering spots:
You can also try turning you subject around 180 degrees to see if that helps.

Of course there are times when there is absolutely not a speck of shade in sight. Poor babies!
Turning your subject around so that the sun is facing their back or side should help with those closed and squinty eyes. However if your camera is on Auto (or another preset mode) it might make your subject completely dark (underexposed) because it is making the bright background exposed properly. Ahhhh, Exposure. That's another lesson in and of itself. But if this happens, turn on your flash to "fill flash" to get some light onto your subject so you can see them!
(my daughter in the same place as the picture above but just turned 180 degrees. No fill flash used)

Speaking of flash, it is so harsh and unflattering!! Keep it turned off as much as possible. Try flipping your camera to "P" (or Program) mode to turn it off. Your flash will fire if your camera thinks there isn't enough light, and sometimes there is plenty of light! But if you move (camera shake) or your subject moves (silly boy can't sit still for mommy to get just one picture of him in his Easter outfit to send to Grandma. . . yeah, I've been there) then you might have a blurry picture. Try opening up the windows and placing your subject really close to it, head outside, or you might have to keep that flash turned on. Give it a try and see what works.

Want to know what is so frustrating? When I take an awesome picture with my son actually looking at the camera and I didn't pay attention to the background and he's got a nice pole sticking out of his head! Or an awful, rusty, air conditioner as the background on my daughter's first day of preschool! Or just distracting backyard toys:
Again, try turning your subject 90 or 180 degrees to get a different view. Watch those distracting backgrounds!

Don't let the months (or worse, years) roll by without getting some sort of formal pictures taken, even if it is taken by yourself or a friend. Children change so fast, too fast, to not try and document what they look like regularly. In our family, we take a formal family picture right before Christmas, and I take formal studio pictures of each child around their birthday. I don't think that is overkill, but whatever you choose, be consistent!
I had a client that really wanted to get an updated portrait of her daughter wearing her first pair of glasses. She wanted it blown up big to put in her daughter's room. Her daughter was having a hard time adjusting, and didn't like the way she looked in her new glasses. My client wanted the portrait to show how beautiful her daughter was, even with these glasses, and she hoped that it would encourage a little more self-confidence and love for herself if her mom proudly displayed a picture of her wearing them. I thought that was such a wonderful idea!! Proudly display those pictures, snapshots or formal portraits, to help build up your child's confidence and show that you love them, just the way they are! Get those pictures (and memories!) off your computer. Also, I believe, that having family pictures displayed helps make a "house" more of a "home".

Some final tips. . . I know, I know, finally. . .

--Get down to your subject's level. Meaning, squat down or lay down to really get into their perspective.*

--Cut the cheese. Seriously. Well maybe not seriously, but the fake kind! Making grotesque and out of the ordinary noises often gets the best smiles for me. If you want to get true smiles, giggles, and happy natural smiles don't encourage them to look at the camera and say "CHEESE!" all of the time.

--Use those crazy modes and knobs on your camera. They are there for a reason! I really encourage you to get familiar with your camera and all of it's capabilities. Having a "photo shoot" of your daughter in her pretty Christmas dress? Flip your camera to the "Portrait" mode (usually indicated by a face or lady wearing a hat) to blur out the background a little. Taking a landscape picture of that beautiful mountain? Flip your camera to "Landscape" mode (indicated by a mountain usually) to make sure all of those majestic peaks are in focus. Your son is kicking the winning soccer goal? "Action" mode is there to freeze that moment, without blur (the icon is probably a person running) and it might be a good idea to use this mode if you've got a fast toddler on your hands, too!!

--Photo editing is your friend. Photos with red eye, too much empty space, and distracting backgrounds can be helped with a little TLC in a photo editing software. I LOVE my Adobe Photoshop, but it is pricey! There is a free 30-day trial version available on their website that you can download. But, I've also used Picasa by Google and was surprised by it's capabilities considering it is a free program. If you have a few minutes before you start putting pictures up on your blog, play around with your pictures in one of the programs and you'll be surprised at how much better they look. Try sharpening a little, cropping out the distracting parts and empty space, and lightening the exposure or adding some contrast. Once you catch the bug, you won't want to stop!

--Get in that picture too, MOM! Hand the camera over to someone else like your husband, daughter, friend, or even a stranger; don't be embarrassed. In 20 years, your children will be glad you did, you probably will be glad too!

--Capture those memories. Even with my love of formal portraiture, I'm not looking to take the most beautiful and artistic pictures of my family all of the time. My philosophy is to just capture those memories. If my son is making the cutest expression, I grab the camera, turn on the FLASH, and snap away! And I don't feel bad for a moment that, photographically speaking, they look horrible. To me, those memories and expressions can't be replaced.

--Give lots of praise and compliments for willing models. It makes things run much more quickly and smoothly and builds up confidence too.

And don't forget to have fun!
Janene has offered to answer any burning photo questions that you might have in the comments section, or if you live in the area and want to book a photo shoot with her visit her website at jkphotography. Thanks, Janene, for sharing your talents with us!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Friday Nature Walk on November 13th

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This week we're heading to one of our stand-by favorites, Green Acres Park. It's usually very empty and quiet, the playground is fun, and there are a few pathways that we have yet to explore! Hopefully we'll see you there!

When
: Friday, November 13, 2009 at 10 a.m.
Where: Green Acres Park, 3704 SW 8th Avenue. Access from the dead end of SW 40th Street, just south of SW 6th Place
Driving Directions: From Newberry Rd, turn south on SW 38th St, then right on SW 6th Pl. Turn left when you reach SW40th St, then park on the left as the road ends.
Link to the map: Click here.
What to bring: Drinking water, bug spray. Maybe snacks or a picnic lunch? You might also like to bring a camera or a journal for your children to record their discoveries.
Things to note: Park includes a fun playground and picnic tables. After parking, follow the trail to the left to find the playground. It's pretty sandy and my kids always end up filthy after playing here, so wear grubby clothes and plan on a likely bath when it's all over!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Teach your children to value education.

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In a talk given to the women of the church in November 2000, President Hinckley suggested several things that parents might teach their children. Here is the second suggestion:

"Teach them to value education. “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36).

There rests upon the people of this Church a mandate from the Lord to acquire learning. It will bless their lives now and through all the years to come.

With fascination I watched one evening on television the story of a family in the Midwest. It included the father and mother and three sons and one daughter.

The father and mother determined when they married that they would do all they could to see that their children were exposed to the very best educational experiences.

They lived in a modest home. They observed modest ways. But they nurtured their children with knowledge. Every one of those children achieved in a remarkable way. Every one was well educated. One became a university president; the others became heads of large business institutions, successful individuals by any measure. "

"Teach your children when they are very young and small, and never quit. As long as they are in your home, let them be your primary interest."

Gordon B. Hinckley, “Your Greatest Challenge, Mother,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 97–100

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Self-Portrait

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My Stick Family from WiddlyTinks.com

Baby #3 will be making an appearance sometime in early April 2010!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Prepared Mama: Ready for Illness

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Has this flu season got you worried? It seems like something flu related is always in the news, with a lot of dire reports. I have decided not to stress myself out worrying whether we are going to get sick or not, and am just doing my best to be prepared in the event that we do get sick. In the last 6 weeks or so everyone in my family has been sick with something. Nothing terribly serious (mostly coughs and runny noses and some fevers and ear infections), but it's been enough that I am ready for everyone to just be healthy.

So...this is what we're doing to be more proactive about our health.

We had a Family Home Evening lesson on staying healthy, including lessons in hand washing and how to properly blow your nose with a tissue. (You can view my staying healthy lesson here.)

We wash our hands a lot and keep the hand sanitizer handy.

We checked our cupboard and stocked up on essential medicines and supplies so we don't have to make a midnight or Sunday run to the pharmacy in an emergency. Items like children's ibuprofen and Tylenol (and some for the adults), extra diapers and wipes, Lysol cleaning wipes, etc. Ready Set Plan has a great list to give you ideas of what you might want to store.

We're working on getting our flu shots (but we keep getting thwarted by a child is already sick and therefore shouldn't be vaccinated whenever we have an appointment). We'll keep trying!

I'm educating myself about the flu and related illnesses. Here are some helpful articles/sites that I have come across:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: H1N1 General Information

American Academy of Pediatrics: H1N1 Flu Information
The Mayo Clinic: Hand Washing
Web MD: 12 Tips to Prevent a Cold
Questions and Answers about the Flu on Teach Mama
A story of a real family's experience with swine flu on Prepared LDS Family

I hope your family and mine can be healthy this season!

"Un"Prepared Mama: 72 hr Kits
Remember the posts about 72 hr kits I wrote last July? This one and this one and this one?

Well. Today I pulled out our food packs to check the expiration dates on the food items and see if anything needed to be replaced. I had planned to do this General Conference weekend, so I'm only a month behind schedule. As I started pulling out the food I discovered that all of the fruit cups, pop tarts, and peanut butter crackers are expiring either this month or next. That is a good portion of our food packs, and to me that is an unacceptable amount of food to have to replace in 4 or 5 months. That is just way too much effort.

So I'm going to have to rethink our food-pack menus and figure out something that is little longer lasting. I would love to hear your suggestions!

Friday Nature Walk on November 6th

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We're going to be brave this week and explore someplace we've never been before.

When
: Friday, November 6, 2009 at 10 a.m.
Where: Broken Arrow Bluff, 5724 SW 46th Place
Driving Directions: Since I haven't been here before, I'm not exactly sure of the directions. The park is located near Kanapaha Botanical Gardens and Lake Kanapaha. Take a look at this map. From Archer Road, it looks like you will turn on SW 57th Dr. and hopefully find it somewhere close!
What to bring: Drinking water, bug spray. Maybe snacks or a picnic lunch? You might also like to bring a camera or a journal for your children to record their discoveries.
Things to note: This park does not include a playground, but there are picnic tables.

Hopefully we can all find it! Let me know if you plan to attend so I can keep an eye out for you.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Teach your children to seek good friends.

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In a talk given to the women of the church in November 2000, President Hinckley suggested several things that parents might teach their children. Here is the first suggestion:

"Teach them to seek for good friends. They are going to have friends, good or bad. Those friends will make a vast difference in their lives. It is important that they cultivate an attitude of tolerance toward all people, but it is more important that they gather around them those of their own kind who will bring out the best they have within them. Otherwise they may be infected with the ways of their associates.

I have never forgotten a story that Elder Robert Harbertson told at this Tabernacle pulpit. He spoke of an Indian boy who climbed a high mountain. It was cold up there. At his feet was a snake, a rattlesnake. The snake was cold and pleaded with the young man to pick it up and take it down where it was warmer.

The Indian boy listened to the enticings of the serpent. He gave in. He gathered it up into his arms and covered it with his shirt. He carried it down the mountain to where it was warm. He gently put it on the grass. When the snake was warm it raised its head and struck the boy with its poisonous fangs.

The boy cursed at the snake for striking him as an answer to his kindness. The snake replied, “You knew what I was when you picked me up” (“Restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood,” Ensign, July 1989, 77).

Warn your children against those with poisonous fangs who will entice them, seduce them with easy talk, then injure and possibly destroy them."

"Teach your children when they are very young and small, and never quit. As long as they are in your home, let them be your primary interest."

Gordon B. Hinckley, “Your Greatest Challenge, Mother,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 97–100

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Aligning my heart and actions with the right priorities

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Today I read President Uchtdorf's talk from the April 2009 General Conference, "We Are Doing a Great Work and Cannot Come Down". Since this talk was given during the Priesthood Session, you might have missed it. Here are a few tidbits:
"We know what matters most in life—the Light of Christ teaches this to everyone. We as faithful Latter-day Saints have the Holy Ghost as a “constant companion” to teach us the things of eternal value. I imagine that any priesthood holder listening to my voice today, if asked to prepare a talk on the subject “what matters most,” could and would do an excellent job. Our weakness is in failing to align our actions with our conscience.

Pause for a moment and check where your own heart and thoughts are. Are you focused on the things that matter most? How you spend your quiet time may provide a valuable clue. Where do your thoughts go when the pressure of deadlines is gone? Are your thoughts and heart focused on those short-lived fleeting things that matter only in the moment or on things that matter most?

What grudges do you bear? What excuses do you cling to that keep you from being the kind of husband, father, son, and priesthood holder you know you should be? What are the things that distract you from your duties or hinder you from magnifying your calling more diligently?

Sometimes the things that distract us are not bad in and of themselves; often they even make us feel good.

It is possible to take even good things to excess. One example can be seen in a father or grandfather who spends hours upon hours searching for his ancestors or creating a blog while neglecting or avoiding quality or meaningful time with his own children and grandchildren. Another example could be a gardener who spends his days pulling weeds from the soil while ignoring the spiritual weeds that threaten to choke his soul.

Even some programs of the Church can become a distraction if we take them to extremes and allow them to dominate our time and our attention at the expense of things that matter most. We need balance in life.

When we truly love our Heavenly Father and His children, we demonstrate that love through our actions."
His words really touched me, and I felt the the tugging of the Spirit asking me to consider if I am focusing on the things that matter most most in my life.

President Uchtdorf goes on to discuss matters related to priesthood responsibilities for the men, but we can draw a parallel for the women by studying The Family: A Proclamation to the World.
"Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations...By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners."
I'm sure I'm not the only person who feels that my "to-do" list is much longer than the hours available in my day: Clean the house, make nutritious meals, work on food storage, develop my talents, exercise, read good books, teach my children, support my husband, help a neighbor, write in my journal (or blog!), go grocery shopping, magnify my calling...All of these things are good things, but it's near impossible to do all of them everyday. The key here is balance, and it's something that I am really trying to work on. Some days I do better than others, and some days I wish I could do things over.
President Uchtdorf counsels " We cannot and must note allow ourselves to get distracted from our sacred duty. We cannot and we must not lose focus on the things that matter most."
As a wife and a mother, my most important role is to nurture my family. How I carry out that role is a matter of prayer between myself and the Lord (and it will look different for every woman). But while I struggle to get things right in my life and my family, I'm thankful for the words of latter-day prophets who remind me of where my priorities should be.

Further Reading
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “We Are Doing a Great Work and Cannot Come Down,” Ensign, May 2009, 59–62
Thomas S. Monson, “Finding Joy in the Journey,” Liahona, Nov 2008, 84–87

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Friday Nature Walk on October 30th

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Even in the midst of our Halloween activities this week, we're going to take a little time on Friday morning and head to the park. If you live in the area you are welcome to join us!
When: Friday, October 30, 2009 at 10 a.m.
Where: Cofrin Nature Park, 4810 NW 8th Avenue
Driving Directions: From NW 34th St, turn left on NW 8th St. The park will be on the right, and the entrance is right before the tennis courts.
What to bring: Drinking water, bug spray. Maybe snacks or a picnic lunch? You might also like to bring a camera or a journal for your children to record their discoveries.
Things to note: Park includes a fun playground and picnic tables. Walking trail is a dirt path, so strollers are not advised.
We had a nice time at San Felasco Park last week. I let the Ant Bug use our old digital camera to document our nature walk, so the pictures in this post are courtesy of her!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A fairy skirt or a ballerina tutu...or a last minute Halloween costume

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Making a tulle tutu for my girls has been on my list of projects to do for a long time. I finally felt motivated to work on it last week (and yes, it was an attempt to stop my girls from fighting over the adorable new fairy dress-up costume that the Sweet Bee received for her birthday).

There are 1000's of tutorials available online when it comes to making a tulle skirt, so I won't go into the full details here. But here are the most helpful "how-to" posts I found:

Knotted Tulle Skirt on This Journey
DIY: Satin Wrap a Tutu on Treasures for Tots
Cut Tulle Using a Quick and Easy Method on Treasures for Tots
Baby Chick Costume on Little Birdie Secrets

Big thanks to my sweet sisters-in-law Tiffany and Becky for their personal direction!

Here is the finished product.
A few notes:
  • I purchased my tulle by the yard at Wal-mart. I bought 5 yards, and it's quite poofy and fits my nearly 5-year old daughter.
  • I cut the tulle into strips 6 inches wide by 28 inches long. The length gets folded in half, so the finished tutu is 14 inches long. I wasn't too picky about making sure the measurements are exact.
  • At the advice of several people, I used ribbon for the waistband instead of elastic. Ribbon = no sewing! I measured my daughter's waist then added 2 feet or so to leave some length for tying a bow when it's time to wear it. I used 7/8 inches grosgrain ribbon (the kind that is ribbed). Just double-knot the tulle on the ribbon as you would for the elastic.
  • The Ant Bug is currently obsessed with the color pink, so of course that's what the tutu had to be. But I tied on some yellow ribbon for a colorful accent.
Here's the finished product on the smiling model. Now we're all set for Halloween!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Teach your children and never quit.

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The proverb spoken of old said, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).

Another wise saying reads, “As the twig is bent, so the tree’s inclined” (Alexander Pope, Moral Essays, vol. 2 of The Works of Alexander Pope, Esq., “Epistle I: To Sir Richard Temple, Lord Cobham” [1776], 119; line 150).

Teach your children when they are very young and small, and never quit. As long as they are in your home, let them be your primary interest. I take the liberty tonight of suggesting several things that you might teach them. The list is not complete. You can add other items.

Gordon B. Hinckley, “Your Greatest Challenge, Mother,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 97–100

President Hinckley goes on to discuss seven different things that are important for mothers to teach their children. I'm planning to give you the list in short installments over the next few weeks, allowing each of us to apply his teachings step by step. So stay tuned for more wonderful words of wisdom from President Hinckley.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Halloween Craft Fun

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The girls and I took advantage of a day off from school last week to spend some time getting ready for Halloween. Here are a few of our creations.

Paper-Strip Jack-O-Lanterns (idea from Let's Explore)

Haunted Halloween House (idea from No Time for Flashcards)
We made ours out of regular felt, and we didn't bother with the magnets.

A Halloween Story
Dictated and Ilustrated by the Ant Bug

We found some great Halloween themed templates on Place to Bloom (black cat, owl, witch, bats, spider, etc). There are lots of different ways that these templates could be used with a little creative thinking.

Googley Eyed Blobs (idea from Make and Takes)
One suggestion: If you try this, don't use corn syrup! Water with food coloring in a jar works just as well and it is far less messy. My girls had fun experimenting with different color combinations.

We also made the same paper ghost garlands we made last year.

Here are a few more we haven't had time to try yet, but they look like fun:

Eency Weency Spider by Mama Jenn
Frankenstein Craft by No Time for Flashcards
Shape Scarecrow Craft by No Time for Flashcards
Sandpaper Pumpkin by No Time for Flashcards
Halloween Ghost Tree by Chasing Cheerios
Painting With Marbles by Chasing Cheerios
Glowing Jack-O-Lantern by Not So Idle Hands

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Friday Nature Walk on Oct 23

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After a few weeks off, we're ready to give the Nature Walk another try. The weather should be beautiful, so cross your fingers that we are all healthy!

When: Friday, October 23, 2009 at 10 a.m.
Where: San Felasco Park
Driving Directions: It is off of NW. 43rd street. For those who will be heading North on 43rd St., turn left on 43rd way after you pass Cox Cable. Follow that back until it ends and turn Left. Follow the road back to the parking lot.
What to bring: Drinking water, bug spray. Maybe snacks or a picnic lunch? You might also like to bring a camera or a journal for your children to record their discoveries.
Things to note: Park includes a fun playground and picnic tables. I believe at least part of the walking trail is paved (but I'm not positive) so a stroller might be a possibility.

Give me a heads up if you plan to attend so I know to wait for you before we start exploring. Hopefully I'll see you there!

Monday, October 19, 2009

"How well have my children done?"

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"What a wonderful thing you have done as mothers. You have given birth and nurtured children. You have entered into a partnership with our Father in Heaven to give mortal experience to His sons and daughters. They are His children and they are your children, flesh of your flesh, for whom He will hold you responsible. You have rejoiced over them, and in many cases you have sorrowed. They have brought you happiness as no one else could. They have brought you pain as none other could.

"By and large, you have done a remarkable job in rearing them. I have said many times that I believe we have the finest generation of young people that this Church has ever known. They are better educated; they are better motivated; they know the scriptures; they live the Word of Wisdom; they pay their tithing; they pray. They try to do the right thing. They are bright and able, clean and fresh, attractive and smart. These are very substantial in number. More of them go on missions than ever before. More of them marry in the temple. They know what the gospel is about, and they are trying to live it, looking to the Lord for His guidance and help.

"You have nothing in this world more precious than your children. When you grow old, when your hair turns white and your body grows weary, when you are prone to sit in a rocker and meditate on the things of your life, nothing will be so important as the question of how your children have turned out. It will not be the money you have made. It will not be the cars you have owned. It will not be the large house in which you live. The searing question that will cross your mind again and again will be, How well have my children done?

"If the answer is that they have done very well, then your happiness will be complete. If they have done less than well, then no other satisfaction can compensate for your loss.

"And so I plead with you tonight, my dear sisters. Sit down and quietly count the debits and the credits in your role as a mother. It is not too late. When all else fails, there is prayer and the promised help of the Lord to assist you in your trials. But do not delay. Start now, whether your child be six or 16."

Gordon B. Hinckley, “Your Greatest Challenge, Mother,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 97–100
 

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