23 November 2015

Climbing Tree

Well, we just had our second run-in with park rangers in a couple days.  We are just now discovering San Dieguito Park for the first time, and wondering how we never knew about this great park and open space that's not too far from our house.  And then we came across this most amazing climbing tree. And my brother and a couple of the boys started to climb, but didn't get to enjoy it for more than a couple minutes before a ranger came by and told them no climbing allowed. What is this world coming to when a kid can't climb a tree at a park?

Landscape Design

Well, I have worked long and hard on these, and I'm finally done with the landscape designs for our yard (I'm sure there will be changes we will need to make to these plans along the way, but I got everything into the plans that I could think of for now, so that feels nice to be "finished" with them).  Since we have to submit our plans to the HOA for approval, we decided to include all the possible landscaping ideas we have in this plan and get it approved.  And then we know we won't be able to include all of these items in our landscaping job right now, but the plan is that we will already have the HOA approval for everything, so we can just choose which items we can fit into our budget for now, and which things we will save for the future.  After spending so much time working on these plans, I am really excited to have the job started.  We just need to get the HOA approval and meet with the landscaper once or twice more to make some final decisions on the budget and which parts of the plan we can include right now, and I'm hoping that the job should get started within a month or so.  The HOA requires that you submit your plans within 4 months of moving in (and I can't believe we've already lived in our house for 6 months now!), and that you finish the back yard within 1 year.  I know we're already behind on the date for submitting our plans (life happened, oh well), so we'll see how long things take before the job will be completed.  I'm a bit nervous about the possibility that these heavy El Nino rains we've been hearing about could cause some pretty lengthy delays in the timing of this job, but I'm allowing myself to just go with it and not worry about it.  (I just hope that there's some chance we could at least get in part of the yard before heavy rains start, only because heavy rains + dirt yard = muddy dog paw prints in the house, so I'm not looking forward to that).  But I do realize that before too long we will be looking back on all this, enjoying our yard, and realizing that the dirt and mud we dealt with weren't really a big deal in the grand scheme of things.  At least that's what I'll try to focus on when the rain starts.  :)

22 November 2015

Elijah's talk

Lijah have a little talk in his primary class today at church:

When I Serve My Family, I Serve God

Hello. Today I am going to talk about when you serve your family you serve god. In Mosiah 2:17 in The Book of Mormon it says, “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God.” This means that when you serve any one you serve god. For instance when you serve your family you are serving God. Once my brother was having a hard time doing his chores. He then walked out of the room. I decided to help and I did the rest for him. Inside I felt so so so good. He was happy and so was I. That is how you feel when you serve anyone. I was not only serving my brother but I was also serving God. This is how you should feel every day, so that is why you should serve. 

21 November 2015

"Action November"

The kids have been talking about "Action November" and what they can do to make a difference in their community. Courtland teamed up with his classmate, Jordan, (who is also our next door neighbor). They have been planning and making signs all week, and their brothers all got really excited and have been helping make signs too. They made the plans, and now we're at a local park and they have earned $1 so far selling lemonade & candy (their Halloween candy), with all the proceeds going to help the homeless. That's pretty cool, huh?  They have been so excited, I just hope they have a little more success before the afternoon is through, since they worked so hard getting ready for this. 

. . . 

*Update: Well, that went better than I thought. The boys earned $11.87. Until the Rangers came over and shut them down. Apparently a permit is needed to sell anything on County property, even kids doing a lemonade stand to benefit the homeless. (Sometimes today's society seems a little backward to me).  Anyway, they told them they could move to the street corner, so that's what the boys are doing. It didn't seem to phaze them. :)

16 November 2015

Family Portraits

We have always had our family photos taken at the JC Penny studio -- their photographers may not be the best, but we usually get a few good shots, which is good enough for us.  And we don't usually order very many prints, so with the studio membership card and coupons we usually don't pay over $20 or $30 for a sitting, so you can't beat that price.

But they recently changed their backdrops at that studio, and I don't love them.  So I was looking into other options, but I'm way too cheap to pay hundreds of dollars for a professional photographer just to get 2 or 3 photos of our family.  So I was about to go back to JC Penny and just deal with their backdrops, but first I did one more quick google search for photographers in our area, and a website called Togally.com popped up.  I read a little about it, and it's a pretty cool concept:

You log onto the website and select a portrait package depending on how much time you want to spend with the photographer, how many photos you want, and the cost.  Since we usually only purchase a few photos, we chose the least expensive package of 30 minutes and 3 photos (and you have the option of purchasing additional photos if you want).  That package costs $50, plus I found a promo code for first time Togally.com users, so I got an extra $10 off.  Then I wrote a little description: our family of 2 adults and 5 kids (ages 6 to 12) and our dog, I requested that we only wanted black and white photos this time (that way I didn't have to color coordinate all the clothes), and I wanted to meet at the Ranch House down the street from our house Saturday morning at 7:30am (because I heard that the best time to take pictures is within 2 hours or sunrise or sunset).

So then any local photographers can let you know that they are interested in working with you, or you also have the option to look through the online portfolios of all the photographers who use this site and invite any to take your job if you want.  I wasn't sure if I would have very many respond because the date I chose was only a few days away, but within a day I had 7 photographers offer to do it.  I chose a photographer named Ese Esan because she had the highest number of positive reviews on the website and I really liked her family portraits in her portfolio.

I had a couple questions, and she answered everything by email, and then she was already there before we arrived at the location that morning.  She used professional photography equipment, and listened to what I wanted for our pictures.  She did a great job, handled our active pack of boys well, and even had little prizes for the boys at the end.  And she sent us the photos the next day.  There were several good ones to choose from (which is saying a lot, to get that many kids looking at the camera at the same time, let alone all smiling).  We got digital images and we have the rights to have prints made (which you don't get when you go to a studio).  We were very pleased, and will definitely use Togally.com and Ese again in the future.  I was so pleased, I thought I'd post about our experience here online for others to see -- I love this new option for nice, professional family portraits at a good price. 

13 November 2015


I listened to this talk this afternoon, and I really liked it. I liked it so much that I may listen to it again sometime later on this weekend. Elder Uchtdorf said, "When stress levels rise, when distress appears, when tragedy strikes, too often we attempt to keep up the same frantic pace or even accelerate, thinking somehow that the more rushed our pace, the better off we will be. . . . What is the solution?  Elder Dallin H. Oaks, in a recent general conference, taught, 'We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families.'" I have been trying to cut down on a few things in my life lately in order to make time for other things that we have been dealing with, and could relate to this message.  

Here's the whole talk:

"Of Things That Matter Most
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency

It’s remarkable how much we can learn about life by studying nature. For example, scientists can look at the rings of trees and make educated guesses about climate and growing conditions hundreds and even thousands of years ago. One of the things we learn from studying the growth of trees is that during seasons when conditions are ideal, trees grow at a normal rate. However, during seasons when growing conditions are not ideal, trees slow down their growth and devote their energy to the basic elements necessary for survival.

At this point some of you may be thinking, “That’s all very fine and good, but what does it have to do with flying an airplane?” Well, let me tell you.

Have you ever been in an airplane and experienced turbulence? The most common cause of turbulence is a sudden change in air movement causing the aircraft to pitch, yaw, and roll. While planes are built to withstand far greater turbulence than anything you would encounter on a regular flight, it still may be disconcerting to passengers.

What do you suppose pilots do when they encounter turbulence? A student pilot may think that increasing speed is a good strategy because it will get them through the turbulence faster. But that may be the wrong thing to do. Professional pilots understand that there is an optimum turbulence penetration speed that will minimize the negative effects of turbulence. And most of the time that would mean to reduce your speed. The same principle applies also to speed bumps on a road.

Therefore, it is good advice to slow down a little, steady the course, and focus on the essentials when experiencing adverse conditions.

The Pace of Modern Life
This is a simple but critical lesson to learn. It may seem logical when put in terms of trees or turbulence, but it’s surprising how easy it is to ignore this lesson when it comes to applying these principles in our own daily lives. When stress levels rise, when distress appears, when tragedy strikes, too often we attempt to keep up the same frantic pace or even accelerate, thinking somehow that the more rushed our pace, the better off we will be.

One of the characteristics of modern life seems to be that we are moving at an ever-increasing rate, regardless of turbulence or obstacles.

Let’s be honest; it’s rather easy to be busy. We all can think up a list of tasks that will overwhelm our schedules. Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list. They flood the open spaces in their time with lists of meetings and minutia—even during times of stress and fatigue. Because they unnecessarily complicate their lives, they often feel increased frustration, diminished joy, and too little sense of meaning in their lives.

It is said that any virtue when taken to an extreme can become a vice. Overscheduling our days would certainly qualify for this. There comes a point where milestones can become millstones and ambitions, albatrosses around our necks.

What Is the Solution?
The wise understand and apply the lessons of tree rings and air turbulence. They resist the temptation to get caught up in the frantic rush of everyday life. They follow the advice “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” 1 In short, they focus on the things that matter most.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, in a recent general conference, taught, “We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families.” 2

The search for the best things inevitably leads to the foundational principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ—the simple and beautiful truths revealed to us by a caring, eternal, and all-knowing Father in Heaven. These core doctrines and principles, though simple enough for a child to understand, provide the answers to the most complex questions of life.

There is a beauty and clarity that comes from simplicity that we sometimes do not appreciate in our thirst for intricate solutions.

For example, it wasn’t long after astronauts and cosmonauts orbited the earth that they realized ballpoint pens would not work in space. And so some very smart people went to work solving the problem. It took thousands of hours and millions of dollars, but in the end, they developed a pen that could write anywhere, in any temperature, and on nearly any surface. But how did the astronauts and cosmonauts get along until the problem was solved? They simply used a pencil.

Leonardo da Vinci is quoted as saying that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” 3 When we look at the foundational principles of the plan of happiness, the plan of salvation, we can recognize and appreciate in its plainness and simplicity the elegance and beauty of our Heavenly Father’s wisdom. Then, turning our ways to His ways is the beginning of our wisdom.

The Power of Basics
The story is told that the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi had a ritual he performed on the first day of training. He would hold up a football, show it to the athletes who had been playing the sport for many years, and say, “Gentlemen, … this is a football!” He talked about its size and shape, how it can be kicked, carried, or passed. He took the team out onto the empty field and said, “This is a football field.” He walked them around, describing the dimensions, the shape, the rules, and how the game is played. 4

This coach knew that even these experienced players, and indeed the team, could become great only by mastering the fundamentals. They could spend their time practicing intricate trick plays, but until they mastered the fundamentals of the game, they would never become a championship team.

I think most of us intuitively understand how important the fundamentals are. It is just that we sometimes get distracted by so many things that seem more enticing.

Printed material, wide-ranging media sources, electronic tools and gadgets—all helpful if used properly—can become hurtful diversions or heartless chambers of isolation.

Yet amidst the multitude of voices and choices, the humble Man of Galilee stands with hands outstretched, waiting. His is a simple message: “Come, follow me.” 5 And He does not speak with a powerful megaphone but with a still, small voice. 6 It is so easy for the basic gospel message to get lost amidst the deluge of information that hits us from all sides.

The holy scriptures and the spoken word of the living prophets give emphasis to the fundamental principles and doctrines of the gospel. The reason we return to these foundational principles, to the pure doctrines, is because they are the gateway to truths of profound meaning. They are the door to experiences of sublime importance that would otherwise be beyond our capacity to comprehend. These simple, basic principles are the key to living in harmony with God and man. They are the keys to opening the windows of heaven. They lead us to the peace, joy, and understanding that Heavenly Father has promised to His children who hear and obey Him.

My dear brothers and sisters, we would do well to slow down a little, proceed at the optimum speed for our circumstances, focus on the significant, lift up our eyes, and truly see the things that matter most. Let us be mindful of the foundational precepts our Heavenly Father has given to His children that will establish the basis of a rich and fruitful mortal life with promises of eternal happiness. They will teach us to do “all these things … in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that [we] should run faster than [we have] strength. [But] it is expedient that [we] should be diligent, [and] thereby … win the prize.” 7

Brothers and sisters, diligently doing the things that matter most will lead us to the Savior of the world. That is why “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, … that [we] may know to what source [we] may look for a remission of [our] sins.” 8 In the complexity, confusion, and rush of modern living, this is the “more excellent way.” 9

So What Are the Basics?
As we turn to our Heavenly Father and seek His wisdom regarding the things that matter most, we learn over and over again the importance of four key relationships: with our God, with our families, with our fellowman, and with ourselves. As we evaluate our own lives with a willing mind, we will see where we have drifted from the more excellent way. The eyes of our understanding will be opened, and we will recognize what needs to be done to purify our heart and refocus our life.

First, our relationship with God is most sacred and vital. We are His spirit children. He is our Father. He desires our happiness. As we seek Him, as we learn of His Son, Jesus Christ, as we open our hearts to the influence of the Holy Spirit, our lives become more stable and secure. We experience greater peace, joy, and fulfillment as we give our best to live according to God’s eternal plan and keep His commandments.

We improve our relationship with our Heavenly Father by learning of Him, by communing with Him, by repenting of our sins, and by actively following Jesus Christ, for “no man cometh unto the Father, but by [Christ].” 10 To strengthen our relationship with God, we need some meaningful time alone with Him. Quietly focusing on daily personal prayer and scripture study, always aiming to be worthy of a current temple recommend—these will be some wise investments of our time and efforts to draw closer to our Heavenly Father. Let us heed the invitation in Psalms: “Be still, and know that I am God.” 11

Our second key relationship is with our families. Since “no other success can compensate for failure” 12 here, we must place high priority on our families. We build deep and loving family relationships by doing simple things together, like family dinner and family home evening and by just having fun together. In family relationships love is really spelled t-i-m-e, time. Taking time for each other is the key for harmony at home. We talk with, rather than about, each other. We learn from each other, and we appreciate our differences as well as our commonalities. We establish a divine bond with each other as we approach God together through family prayer, gospel study, and Sunday worship.

The third key relationship we have is with our fellowman. We build this relationship one person at a time—by being sensitive to the needs of others, serving them, and giving of our time and talents. I was deeply impressed by one sister who was burdened with the challenges of age and illness but decided that although she couldn’t do much, she could listen. And so each week she watched for people who looked troubled or discouraged, and she spent time with them, listening. What a blessing she was in the lives of so many people.

The fourth key relationship is with ourselves. It may seem odd to think of having a relationship with ourselves, but we do. Some people can’t get along with themselves. They criticize and belittle themselves all day long until they begin to hate themselves. May I suggest that you reduce the rush and take a little extra time to get to know yourself better. Walk in nature, watch a sunrise, enjoy God’s creations, ponder the truths of the restored gospel, and find out what they mean for you personally. Learn to see yourself as Heavenly Father sees you—as His precious daughter or son with divine potential.

Rejoice in the Pure Gospel
Brothers and sisters, let us be wise. Let us turn to the pure doctrinal waters of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us joyfully partake of them in their simplicity and plainness. The heavens are open again. The gospel of Jesus Christ is on earth once more, and its simple truths are a plentiful source of joy!

Brothers and sisters, indeed we have great reason to rejoice. If life and its rushed pace and many stresses have made it difficult for you to feel like rejoicing, then perhaps now is a good time to refocus on what matters most.

Strength comes not from frantic activity but from being settled on a firm foundation of truth and light. It comes from placing our attention and efforts on the basics of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. It comes from paying attention to the divine things that matter most.

Let us simplify our lives a little. Let us make the changes necessary to refocus our lives on the sublime beauty of the simple, humble path of Christian discipleship—the path that leads always toward a life of meaning, gladness, and peace. For this I pray, as I leave you my blessing, in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen."


09 November 2015

Courageous Parenting

I thought this was a really good talk that was given at General Conference a few years ago:

Courageous Parenting

by Larry R. Lawrence off the Seventy

What the world really needs is courageous parenting from mothers and fathers who are not afraid to speak up and take a stand.
I would like to speak today to the parents of teenagers. Your bright and energetic youth are the future of the Church, and for that reason they are a prime target of the adversary. Many of you faithful mothers and fathers are listening to conference today, praying for answers to help you guide your children through these important years. My oldest grandchildren have recently become teens, so the subject is near to my heart. There are no perfect parents and no easy answers, but there are principles of truth that we can rely on.
The Young Men and Young Women Mutual theme for 2010 was taken from the book of Joshua. It begins, “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid” (Joshua 1:9). This phrase from the scriptures would be a good theme for parents as well. In these last days, what the world really needs is courageous parenting from mothers and fathers who are not afraid to speak up and take a stand.
Imagine for a moment that your daughter was sitting on the railroad tracks and you heard the train whistle blowing. Would you warn her to get off the tracks? Or would you hesitate, worried that she might think you were being overprotective? If she ignored your warning, would you quickly move her to a safe place? Of course you would! Your love for your daughter would override all other considerations. You would value her life more than her temporary goodwill.
Challenges and temptations are coming at our teenagers with the speed and power of a freight train. As we are reminded in the family proclamation, parents are responsible for the protection of their children. 1That means spiritually as well as physically.
In the Book of Mormon, we read about Alma the Younger counseling his wayward son. Corianton had made some serious mistakes while serving a mission among the Zoramites. Alma loved him enough to speak very directly to the problem. He expressed his deep disappointment that his son had been immoral and explained to him the serious consequences of sin.
I am inspired every time I read these courageous words from Alma: “And now the Spirit of the Lord doth say unto me: Command thy children to do good … ; therefore I command you, my son, in the fear of God, that ye refrain from your iniquities” (Alma 39:12). This early intervention by his father became a turning point for Corianton. He repented and served faithfully thereafter (see Alma 42:3143:1–2).
Contrast Alma’s example with that of another father from the scriptures, Eli in the Old Testament. Eli served as the high priest in Israel during the childhood of Samuel the prophet. The scriptures explain that the Lord rebuked him severely “because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not” (1 Samuel 3:13). Eli’s sons never did repent, and all of Israel suffered because of their folly. The story of Eli teaches us that parents who love their children cannot afford to be intimidated by them.
Several years ago at general conference, Elder Joe J. Christensen reminded us that “parenting is not a popularity contest.” 2 In the same spirit, Elder Robert D. Hales has observed, “Sometimes we are afraid of our children—afraid to counsel with them for fear of offending them.” 3
Years ago our 17-year-old son wanted to go on a weekend trip with his friends, who were all good boys. He asked for permission to go. I wanted to say yes, but for some reason I felt uncomfortable about the trip. I shared my feelings with my wife, who was very supportive. “We need to listen to that warning voice,” she said.
Of course, our son was disappointed and asked why we didn’t want him to go. I answered honestly that I didn’t know why. “I just don’t feel good about it,” I explained, “and I love you too much to ignore these feelings inside.” I was quite surprised when he said, “That’s OK, Dad. I understand.”
Young people understand more than we realize because they too have the gift of the Holy Ghost. They are trying to recognize the Spirit when He speaks, and they are watching our example. From us they learn to pay attention to their promptings—that if they “don’t feel good about something,” it’s best not to pursue it.
It’s so important for husbands and wives to be united when making parenting decisions. If either parent doesn’t feel good about something, then permission should not be granted. If either feels uncomfortable about a movie, a television show, a video game, a party, a dress, a swimsuit, or an Internet activity, have the courage to support each other and say no.
I would like to share with you a letter from a heartbroken mother. Her teenage son gradually lost the Spirit and drifted away from Church activity. She explained how this happened: “All throughout my son’s teenage years, I worried and tried to stop him from playing violent video games. I talked to my husband and showed him articles in the Ensign and in the newspaper that cautioned about these games. But my husband felt it was OK. He said that our son wasn’t out using drugs and that I should stop worrying. There were times that I would hide the controllers, and my husband would give them back. It began to be easier for me to give in … than to fight it. I really feel that gaming is just as addictive as drugs. I would do anything to prevent other parents from going through this experience.”
Brothers and sisters, if your spouse doesn’t feel good about something, show respect for those feelings. When you take the easy way out by saying and doing nothing, you may be enabling destructive behavior.
Parents can prevent a lot of heartache by teaching their children to postpone romantic relationships until the time comes when they are ready for marriage. Prematurely pairing off with a boyfriend or girlfriend is dangerous. Becoming a “couple” creates emotional intimacy, which too often leads to physical intimacy. Satan knows this sequence and uses it to his advantage. He will do whatever he can to keep young men from serving missions and to prevent temple marriages.
It is vital that parents have the courage to speak up and intervene before Satan succeeds. President Boyd K. Packer has taught that “when morality is involved, we have both the right and the obligation to raise a warning voice.” 4
I have always believed that nothing really good happens late at night and that young people need to know what time they are expected to come home.
There is a great deal of wisdom displayed when parents stay up and wait for their children to return home. Young men and women make far better choices when they know their parents are waiting up to hear about their evening and to kiss them good night.
May I express my personal warning about a practice that is common in many cultures. I am referring to sleepovers, or spending the night at the home of a friend. As a bishop I discovered that too many youth violated the Word of Wisdom or the law of chastity for the first time as part of a sleepover. Too often their first exposure to pornography and even their first encounter with the police occurred when they were spending the night away from home.
Peer pressure becomes more powerful when our children are away from our influence and when their defenses are weakened late at night. If you have ever felt uneasy about an overnight activity, don’t be afraid to respond to that warning voice inside. Always be prayerful when it comes to protecting your precious children.
Courageous parenting does not always involve saying no. Parents also need courage to say yes to the counsel of modern-day prophets. Our Church leaders have counseled us to establish righteous patterns in our homes. Consider five fundamental practices that have the power to fortify our youth: family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, family dinner together, and regular one-on-one interviews with each child.
It takes courage to gather children from whatever they’re doing and kneel together as a family. It takes courage to turn off the television and the computer and to guide your family through the pages of the scriptures every day. It takes courage to turn down other invitations on Monday night so that you can reserve that evening for your family. It takes courage and willpower to avoid overscheduling so that your family can be home for dinner.
One of the most effective ways we can influence our sons and daughters is to counsel with them in private interviews. By listening closely, we can discover the desires of their hearts, help them set righteous goals, and also share with them the spiritual impressions that we have received about them. Counseling requires courage.
Try to imagine what the rising generation could become if these five righteous patterns were practiced consistently in every home. Our young people could be like Helaman’s army: invincible (see Alma 57:25--26).
Parenting teenagers in the latter days is a very humbling assignment. Satan and his followers are striving to bring this generation down; the Lord is counting on valiant parents to bring them up. Parents, “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid” (Joshua 1:9). I know that God hears and will answer your prayers. I testify that the Lord supports and blesses courageous parents. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

31 October 2015

Isaac's Baptism

Today was Isaac's big day!  Grandpa Dick was in town, so we thought it would be really special for him to baptize Isaac. Today is also Kolby's birthday, and tomorrow Kolby will have his priesthood ordination -- and he is so excited to have Papa do that. It's a fun grandpa weekend for the boys. 

29 October 2015

Blurry Trick or Treating Photos

The boys and their friends had fun at the church "trunk-or-treat" where we had dinner, there was a hot pepper eating contest, and now all the kids are walking from car to car trick or treating. (Wish my phone wasn't giving me such a hard time with taking pictures in the dark). 

Carter doing the pepper eating contest (he won). :)

Courtland, Jordan, & Isaac


Carter, Kolby, & Ethan