Monday, October 20, 2014

Raising Me

{I asked Taylor to take this non-candid candid of me for this post.  Here I am in Grandma Tillie's dress and shoes that Cookie would approve of (OK  let's be honest, she would have bought them for me.)  I don't know how bloggers do this kind of thing every day.  It is so embarrassing!  
You should see the outtakes.}

{I suppose this is what got me thinking:} 

I started reading Women At Church by Neylan McBaine.  (That amazing book deserves its own separate post and if you're a Mormon woman, do yourself a favor and locate a copy immediately.)
In the beginning, she reflects on the many women (not just Mormon, of course) who have influenced and shaped her life, her mother being at the top of the list.

{Yesterday, during the third hour at church, where we meet with just women in Relief Society, I took these notes on my phone:}

I have been feeling so alone and isolated lately. Singing the opening hymn in RS today I was thinking about Cookie (because it's October and because I'm wearing fabulous shoes) and I could not hold back the tears. I miss her desperately. I am thinking now of the women in my life who have shaped me and are now gone from me. I am realizing that the older I get, the more I have to be the strong woman who helps shape her daughters and nieces and others. I need to lift and serve after the manner of those who have lifted and blessed me. It feels daunting but I believe in the strength God will give me.

I sat there with my head down, while everyone else around me was singing, and just tried my best not to sob out loud.  I sniffled, breathed deeply, and tried to prevent my mascara from turning goth.  But all I could think about was Cookie, Grandma Tillie, both of my grandmothers, my adopted grandma, Erma... all gone from me for now.  I wanted to sit at Cookie's kitchen table, drinking that yummy Dole juice she always had in her magnet-bedecked fridge.  I wanted her to tell me something funny about how Uncle Frank is driving her to drink.  I wanted to snitch cookie dough with Grandma Tillie and have her tell me that in her old age she's not worth a hoot or a holler anymore.  I wanted Erma to come and teach my kids all the card games she taught me.  I wanted Grandma's bread and a shopping date with Nana.  And then I thought about my mother, and how most of these women were also mentors and models and nurturers to her.  She carries the torch now and someday it will be me.

Clearly I am still only 33, and there are many women in my life still shaping me.  My mother (at the top of my list), my mother-in-law, my sisters and sisters-in-law, Cookie's daughter, Holly, countless friends and soul sisters.  I don't have any sort of torch to carry quite yet.  But this little emotional moment yesterday has gotten me thinking about the circle of life (why did Disney have to take that expression and make me feel so dorky using it?) and the great eternal sisterhood that I am privileged to be a part of.   I couldn't dream up better mentors and nurturers and wisdom bearers than I have had.  And I look to them and to God to build me to be likewise strong and seasoned and wise and patient and good and gentle and loving (and fun! and bold! and colorful! and exciting!) so that I can be them some day.

Solidarity, sisters!  I love you all.  Thanks for being part of my circle.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Clara's Ice Cream Social

I can't stand for a birthday to go uncelebrated, but I wanted to to keep Clara's big day simple, so I opted for an ice cream social.  I texted a few invites: come on over for an ice cream cone on Saturday.  Done and done.  (Some of you (i.e. my sisters) will read this, roll their eyes, and say, "That was simple?"  Whatever.  You'll be begging for me when your kids are planning their weddings. ;)

Literally all I served was ice cream.  A few different flavors and your choice of cone (or bowl, but who wants a bowl when there are sugar cones?!).  Here's what always comes in handy: cake plates.  Also for the serving area I snagged Clara's tissue tassel garland from her room.  Speaking of, how dear is this birthday girl?

Most of the decorations were variations on a theme.  Basically we turned everything remotely spherical into an ice cream cone with brown craft paper.  I'm just a little lazy, so I don't have a tutorial for you, but if you follow this one you'll get the drill.  The first variation on the ice cream cone was with a honeycomb ball.   We hung it on the front door.

This next one happens to be my favorite.  I made mini paper cones, hot glued them to felt balls, and strung the balls with embroidery floss. I think I'll hang it in Clara's room because it's too fun to put in a box!

For the balloon version, we picked up some helium balloons and actually planned to leave them in a bouquet, but the paper cones weighed them down too much.  Taylor to the rescue.  He cut the bouquet apart and discovered that between the helium in the balloons and the weight of the paper cones, they could balance just like this on the mantel.  No joke, they just sort of hovered there.  It looked awesome!

 Taylor's best idea of all was to turn our entry way light fixture into a giant ice cream cone.  Having him on my party committee is pretty much my favorite thing ever.  
For the best decor of all, Blaine (8) woke himself up at 6:30 that morning to hang up the banner he'd made for Clara.  Bubble letters and all.  I love this kid.

Also, he made some stellar lego decorations.  (Came in pretty handy that we own the Ice Cream Truck set from The Lego Movie.)

We had a blast with lots of friends and family.  Here's what I love: parties.

Clara brings so much uniqueness into our family dynamic.  She is smart and fun and sweet and full of light.  We are thankful every day to call her Sis.

tissue tassel garland-- Studio Mucci (I bought this for Clara years ago for $30 and her prices have gone up.  I'm sure an Etsy search will bring up lots of options.  Hers are exceptionally well made, though, and having made these myself I can tell you it is worth buying rather than DIY!)

brown craft paper-- Michaels or whatever craft store you prefer has rolls of it.  Stock up for          Christmas.

honeycomb balls-- Mine are from Penny and Tillie but check out Shop Sweet Lulu.

felt balls-- Mine are from Penny and Tillie but you can search Etsy or try Hello Maypole.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Every girl. Everywhere. Period."

I like Humanitarian Aid projects.  I loved driving around one hot summer Saturday with my Dad in his red pick-up truck, collecting grocery sacks full of canned food that neighbors had left out for a food drive.  I like chipping in and buying extra school supplies every September for local kids in need.  I am enthralled and moved as I read about clean water being brought to remote, poor countries.  I am amazed every time a natural disaster hits and the Red Cross and Mormons are on site practically immediately to deliver aid.  These are all touching, worthy efforts.  And I think they really are the pinnacle of the Christian experience.  In doing these things we become tools in the hands of God to care for His children.

But not a one of them has ever made me feel like this one.

This summer my sister-in-law, Rebecca, was visiting.  One day she mentioned on the phone that she was up at her parents' home, sewing sani pads.  {'You are doing what, exactly?' I replied.}  Then she proceeded to tell me about her upcoming trip to Haiti.  She is an RN, and she is accompanying her anesthesiologist husband and family practice doc father-in-law to give aid in various ways while there.  One of her missions is to bring reusable sanitary pads to young women.  Women, are you ready to hear this?  In Haiti, as well as many African nations and surely elsewhere, women have no access to the Kotex and Tampax we SO TAKE FOR GRANTED.  Therefore, when their periods come, girls take to stuffing their pants with whatever they can find--newspaper, mattress stuffing, corn husks.  Yes, I just said corn husks.  As you might imagine, infections aren't uncommon.  And the truth of it is, they are humiliated.  So, when that period hits, they stay home from school until it passes.  Missing one week out of every month takes its toll.  They get behind.  They drop out.  And their lives go down hill fast.  But.  When these women can get access to sanitary products, their lives are literally changed.  As inspired and guided by an organization called Days For Girls, Rebecca has made it her mission to put together as many kits as she can to take down to Haiti.  When various friends and family members learned of it, we jumped on board.

I contacted the Relief Society president in my ward.  She immediately fell in love with the cause, we formed a planning committee, and the women came out it full force to make the contents of 70 kits.  Each kit is contained in a drawstring bag (made by our darling young women in the ward), and consists of 2 pairs of undies, 2 sanitary liners (picture a maxi pad with wings, only made of washable, reusable fabric and with a snap for holding the wings together), and 6 inserts (basically squares of flannel or terry cloth that you tri-fold and put in the insert).  It's a similar concept to the cloth diapers you see these days.

Like I said, I have never been so drawn to a Humanitarian project.  The response we got from the women in our ward was immediate and enthusiastic.  We kept saying to each other, "I am so excited about this project!"  I think because there is nothing we relate to  more as women.  Can you imagine not having access to these things and reaching for the corn husks?  It rips my heart out.

For a month we gathered fabrics, bought undies, began cutting according to the patterns, and organized machines for the big night.  Then we all came together for many hours on a Thursday evening to put it all together.  There is nothing more dear to my heart than fifty beautiful women taking great care to cut and sew and serge and fold, so that their young sisters in Haiti can know the dignity they deserve, without having to drop out of school or job opportunities.  This is lifting up the heads that hang down.

I live in a big, brand new home.  I have a van that works great and a fridge full of food.  Not to mention a healthy body and a sound mind.  And yet, shockingly, I often get caught up in feeling frustrated with my life or sorry for myself.  I can create stress out of nothing and become upset by utter nonsense.  First world problems, right?  I am so grateful for opportunities like this to have a window into what is going on in the lives of my dear, beautiful Haitian sisters.  Thank you, Rebecca, for inspiring us to forget ourselves and do something real and life altering for these gorgeous, bright daughters of God.

{You can help!}

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Back to School Feast 2014

Every year our Back to School Feast is a little less grand than I imagined it.  It's such a busy time, getting the kids outfitted for school, planning our annual Labor Day camping trip, etc.  This year, on top of that, I was planning a humanitarian project (more on that soon) and preparing for a triathlon!  So the poster with the theme didn't happen and I didn't end up getting great photos of the decor.  OH WELL.  The good news is that this year my children were darling and grateful at the feast, which was a huge improvement on last year!

I decided on a gold and silver theme so I cut crowns out of a paper towel roll and spray painted them gold, recycled paper placemats I'd recently dotted gold for a baby shower (more on that soon!), and used a bunch of silver and gold lanterns for the centerpiece.  Done and done.

For the menu the kids begged for their Sunday fave: pot roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, and green beans.  Vanilla ice cream for dessert.
Our theme for the year is Come What May, and Love It, which I took from this favorite talk.  It's a good one for all of us, and Taylor and I plan on expanding on various principles related to it throughout the year during Family Home Evening lessons.
I try to make the gifts every year both fun and practical.  I'm just going to go ahead and toot my own horn and say that this year, I nailed it.
Blaine and Roger got alarm clocks--Lego Yoda for B and Emmet for Rog.  Obviously they think they are the coolest clocks ever and they are creating exactly the results I was hoping for.  This morning I heard Yoda start beeping, then a few minutes later Blaine appeared in my room, completely dressed and ready, with time to spare for playing with legos before breakfast.  AMAZEBALLS.   (Anyone familiar with Blaine's struggles and tardy record last year can second that amazeballs.)

Carter got a lunchbox.  OK listen, they don't even eat lunch at Memory Lane Preschool, but this kid is 3 going on 10.  HE WANTS TO BE A BIG BOY LIKE HIS BROTHERS!  Here's what I die about: Carter's expressive face.  Also, he's already used his lunchbox like 42 times, so...worth it.

This is such a fun tradition.  I love how it sets a standard and makes a big deal out of going back to school.  I love the unity and excitement.  And I know it will only be a few years until my kids think I'm lame and won't want to wear paper crowns anymore, so I'm going to live it up while I can.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Taking it Back

 {Lake of the Woods, Oregon, September 6, 2014}

In late spring, before school had ended, I opened up my email on my phone and saw a message from a friend at church.  She'd been on an epic exercise and weight loss journey over the past year (50 pounds! Go Melissa!), due largely in part to an amazing woman named Gena who leads a free 'boot camp.'  In the email, Melissa testified of how life changing this boot camp is and encouraged all us church ladies to join up.  Then my eyes almost popped out of my head when I saw the schedule:

MWF 6:15-7:15 am.

First reaction:
Doth my eyes deceive me?!  Is she nuts?!  That is such an unholy hour to exercise!  I have tried running early in the morning and I just can't.  I can't.  CAN'T.

And then I took a look at my thoughts, was easily disgusted, and little blue engined my way to this reaction:
I AM GOING TO BOOT CAMP!  I can do this.  I need to do this!  I haven't run regularly since my pregnancy with Carter, so in the last four years I have done nothing but carry, birth, and nurse babies and my body is shot!  Not to mention the fact that I've never been moodier and I miss the normalcy of the good hormones that exercise grants.  I have to do this!

I showed up rather timidly on day one.  Unsure, less than confident, and in lousy shape.  I muddled my way through and decided it was worth losing a little sleep over.  Day two was my birthday.  I lugged my body out of bed, drove up to the hilliest hilly hills of Ashland and ran for an hour with the most supportive, diverse group of women imaginable.  Before driving away, I rolled down my window to say goodbye to Melissa.  "Thank you for inviting us, Melissa!  I needed this!"  And then I cried.

I needed this so badly.  And not just because I love the way the weight training and lunges worked my thighs and butt.  And not just because the planks gave my abs a fighting chance.  Not even because of the way running my guts out thrills my whole soul (I mean, seriously, pounding the pavement with One Republic blaring in my ears is right up there on my list of faves).  The number one reason I needed this was to prove to myself that I can do hard things.  I can wake up early.  I can run stairs.  I can train for a triathlon (gulp! never thought I'd say that!) I can hold my tongue when I want to yell at my son.  I can teach the old testament even though sometimes I barely understand it.  I can give up my business and still be happy.  I can survive even though my besty just moved two states away.  I CAN TAKE CONTROL OF MY LIFE.

Is this turning into a rant?  Whoops.

The point I'm trying to get at is this:
For a long time my life has felt out of control.  And I hate that feeling.  I have been overwhelmed with parenting questions, laundry piles, moving, speaking assignments, screaming toddlers.  You get it. I was dissatisfied with several areas of my life.

The boot camp is called Take It Back Boot Camp.  Ironically, things were so hectic with work schedules and pear picking season and moving that my attendance ended up being much less frequent than I planned.  But it helped me establish a routine and lifestyle again and remember that once upon a time I was fit and I could get in shape again.  I'm taking it back.  (See what I did there?)

In the meantime, over the summer:

Taylor and I cancelled cable and took our nights back.
Jessie and I painstakingly gave up our business and took our time (and garages!) back.
I moved our things into the new house carefully and strategically, reorganizing literally everything (something I should have done in the blue house ages ago) and took my sanity back.
And I have tried to follow the instructions given earlier and have made scriptures, prayer, and sociality higher, more regular priorities, thereby taking my claim to God's blessings back.

I feel aproximately 9 zillion times better than I did a few months ago.


In my triathlon Saturday I accomplished all three of my objectives:
1. Don't drown
2. Don't crash bike
3. Don't come in last

It was really hard, and I did come in around #60 of 70 competitors, but I did it.  Something I didn't think my body or mind would ever be up to.  And I loved it.  I swam in my favorite lake and ran through lush forest trails.  I smiled at the cyclists who buzzed past me as I felt my lungs and muscle-less thighs burn in unison.  I hope that was just the first of many triathlons for me.

Rats.  Lately I can't come up with a nice conclusion to save my life.  One of my back-to-school-so-theoretically-i-should-have-more-free-time goals is to write more.  I have a lot to share and say and I miss this space.  I hope you'll stick around (if you're still here, that is.)


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Surely I will be with thee"

 {Blaine was baptized May 3, 2014}

I teach Gospel Doctrine at church.  That means every Sunday I lead the Sunday School discussion in a large chapel full of adults.  I'm dripping with nervous sweat by the end of the hour every single week, but I really, really love it.  I get to dig into the scriptures and really challenge myself to apply them to the world and life I know.

Sunday's lesson was taken from the book of Judges in the Old Testament.  As we spoke about Gideon, one phrase really stuck out to me and became a focal point of our conversation.  After the Lord has told Gideon that he needs to save the Israelites from the Midianites, and Gideon has responded that his family is poor and he is 'the least in my father's house,' the Lord replies,
"Surely I will be with thee."

Last week was kind of a doozy. We returned from a two week vacation (but let's call it a trip, because traveling thousands of miles with four children in a mini-van isn't very vacation-like, is it?) on Monday evening and I proceeded to jump into trip recovery.  Moms, you know what this looks like.  Laundry galore, vacuuming out the van that looks so disgusting you just want to drive it to the salvage yard, sorting through mail, re-stocking the fridge, all those fun things.  Then right in the middle of that, Roger awesomely flooded our upstairs the night before our hopeful renters were coming for dinner.  Needless to say, I felt overwhelmed, grumpy with my kids, ugly, and a little bit nuts.  I'm pretty sure I told Taylor, "I wish my teaching credentials were up to date and that that job paid more because I should go to work and you should stay home the kids.  I suck at this job." 

Then, one night, the Spirit whispered some very clear instructions.  A formula.  "You need to get up early every morning to read your scriptures, pray, and exercise.  And you need to get out of your head and be social every day."  Plain as day, I had my recipe.  The solution to all the crazy, 'I am terrible at my chosen vocation and my children are going to need therapy' thoughts.

Gideon's tiny army of 300 prevailed over the Midianites.  But it wasn't really them.  It was God.  He was with them.  And they knew it.  He is with me, too.  And you.  And I sincerely believe He cares as much about giving me those mundane, practical instructions as He cared about Gideon and his army.  He and I both know that I can't make my life beautiful and accomplished by myself.  Or raise these children to be outstanding by myself.

And so I remember, "Surely I will be with thee."  And I feel strong.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Young Buck Baby Shower

Several months ago, after offering to host a shower for our cute friend, Lilliana, who is expecting a baby boy this spring, Jessie and I started brainstorming a theme.  The moment the words "young buck" fell out of Jessie's mouth, we knew we had a winner.  We wanted to make it super masculine--from the woodsy decor to the food.  No creme puffs at this shower!  It is the most fun we've had creating a party to date.
There were several natural elements that really made this party amazing--wood stumps of varying sizes, antlers, and gobs of flowers.   Other than that, every single thing you need to duplicate this party is available in our shop.
 {Plaid bunting available here, felt ball garland here}

We happened to procure a lot of antlers.  Wrapping a bit of yarn around them adds an extra pop of color and texture.

We've been using our gray and white chevron tablecloth for a lot of events.  It provides a simple canvas, but with a little more interest than plain white.  We had a ton of fun arranging the stumps as cake plates and tried to arrange the flowers in a super casual, natural way.

We knew we wanted to use giant red balloons to really make a statement, and came up with these fun plaid and chipboard garlands to tie on.  You can buy the entire balloon kit here.

 {Lunch boxes here}

Like I said, we wanted to serve atypical shower food, so we called on our friend, Catherine, who filled lunch boxes with meatball sliders (on homemade rolls!), kettle chips, and an amazing green salad with strawberries, cranberries, parmesan cheese, and a poppyseed/pesto dressing that was TDF.  We also served Henry Weinhard's rootbeer, which just felt perfect!

For dessert we served chocolate cupcakes with dark chocolate frosting and lemon cupcakes with lemon buttercream.  We kept it simple with Betty Crocker mixes, but made our frosting. (Recipes coming soon!)  You can buy the toppers here.

It doesn't get more sweet and darling than Lilliana, and we absolutely can't wait to meet her young buck!

anne & jessie

***photos by Olivia Leigh Photography