Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Because I love

I've been asking myself these questions:

What does it mean to be a brave woman?

Am I brave?

The remarkable women behind We Brave Women have got me thinking.  One of them is our dear friend, Zina, whom we love for a thousand reasons.  The We Brave Women project and hashtag have been blowing up my Instagram feed (you should follow them @webravewomen and spend a few moments reading through the #webravewomen posts.  It's powerful inspiration for your day).  Women everywhere are posting about why they are brave.  It is a beautiful use of social media, a medium I have a love/hate relationship with and that is often used for filth, snarkiness, and dissention.

But like I said, I've been wondering, Am I brave?  Usually when I think of bravery I picture a soldier going off to war or a suffragette in 1915 or Ruby Bridges walking into school that first, epic day.  I think of tremendous physical feats.  I picture risk takers.  That's not me.  I'm just a normal girl, living her normal life. 

But even so-called normal life is hard, as I've openly written about lately not only here, but on Instagram.  Which is sometimes embarrassing because then people bring me dinner and apparently imagine me dying over here.  And some people have actaully called me brave for being willing to share the real struggle of life with 4.5 kids rather than sugar coat it.  And honestly I can't decide if being so open is brave or stupid.


This is what I can tell you.

When I was preparing to be an LDS missionary, I was marginally terrified.  I was ready, I was excited, but I was scared.  I found bravery in this New Testament verse:

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.
(1 John 4:18)

It came together like magic in my mind.  All I had to do was love the Lord and love the people.  Everything else would be OK.  Every time I walked in snow up to my thighs or stood on an unknown front porch or asked someone to accept Christ I remembered that all I had to do was love.  And I felt brave.

Sometimes, in my role as Mom, I've been slow to draw on the lessons I learned as a missionary.  Slow to remember that the very same God will teach me and show me the way now, just as He certainly did then.  I don't know why I'm so bad at remembering, because, frankly, being a parent is approximately infinity times harder than anything I've ever done before.  But I am bad at remembering, so I'd kind of forgotten that scripture and certainly hadn't applied it to motherhood.

But Sunday, as I was marinating in the question, AM I BRAVE?, the scripture on the board in Relief Society (weekly Mormon women's meeting) struck me to the core.  Our wonderful teacher said that it had long been a favorite of hers, and I'm adding it to my short list as well. 

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
(2 Timothy 1:7)

And suddenly it all came together in my mind and heart.

I live in a state of fear or worry most of the time.  I'm worried my children aren't getting enough of my time.  Fearful about adding a baby to this circus now in session.  Terrified that I'm not measuring up to the other women in the world.  Afraid I will never again have the energy I need to be everything my family needs me to be.

ENOUGH!  The spirit urged me, as I let those words sink in.  THAT IS NOT OF GOD!

And for the first time in months I understood that although my brain is being poisoned by over-zealous hormones, and my body is entirely exhausted, God is more powerful than all that.  I realized that God's grace (=power) will lift me out of my apathy.  He will grant me energy.  He can help me love more purely.  His strength can become my strength. 


If perfect love casteth out fear, then aren't fear and love opposites?
Then isn't love synonymous with bravery?

In that case.

I AM BRAVE!  I am brave because I love.  I love the Lord.  I love my husband.  I love my children.  I love the life I've been blessed with.  I love YOU.  All I need in this world is loving relationships and all I can really give in this world is compassion.


I am brave.

Friday, January 9, 2015

A doozy for the year's first post

 {Climbing Mother by Brian Kershisnik}

Sometimes I say to myself, why don't you just live your life?  Why do you need to talk about it on social media or a blog?  But, even when the busy-ness of life pulls me a way for months at a time, I can never quite manage to give it up.  Maybe it's pride, maybe it's not wanting to bury anything under a bushel, maybe it's a craving for documenting my existence or seeking validation from others.  Whatever it is, I wish I could put more time into this.

The most important reason, I know for sure, is that it helps me gather my thoughts.  Flannery O'Connor said something like, "I don't know what I think until I read what I write."  I find that to be accurate for me as well.

This week a dear woman I've never met, who I was corresponding with over a damaged-in-the-mail copy of the painting above, commented on my 5th pregnancy this way:  "You are a wonderful mother.  I honor you."

The same afternoon, the teller at the bank drive-up peered into my (abhorrently messy) van and asked of Roger, Carter, and Clara: "Are they all yours?"  "Yes," I replied, "Plus another one who is at piano lessons and another on the way."  "Five?!"  She exclaimed.  "How do you do it?!  And you look so good!  You must be superwoman!"  Uber glad that I wasn't donning bed-head and a sweat suit for once, I smiled and said, "I'm not superwoman.  And I have a lot of help."

And today a dear friend, whom I revere deeply and am significantly inspired by told me, "It's nice to know you are human."

These three exchanges have done two things for me.  #1. They've lifted me way up.  Almost out of the haze I find myself in lately.  I have felt incredibly humbled by and grateful for the kind, gracious words of dear women.  #2.  They've made me wonder: is that what people see?  Some sort of supermom who's got it all figured out?  Is that what I'm somehow managing to portray on social media?!

The truth is: LIFE IS HARD.  For all of us.  Me included.  If it looks like I'm thriving, then I am editing my life too carefully.  Actually, besides the entire family being wiped out by influenza for the holidays, and the pain and utter chaos that resulted in day after day of Mom and Dad being in bed with fevers, besides all that, the beginning of this 5th pregnancy has been a season of self doubt and uncertainty and loneliness.  I know I should never take a pregnancy for granted.  I know that well.  And I'm trying to remember it every day.  But bearing and raising this many children comes with trials of its own, and sometimes it doesn't feel fair that I feel like I can't say so.  Being pregnant gets harder every time.  And the worst part--worse than the nausea or extreme fatigue or bruised tailbone--is the big fat shot of apathy that comes with it.  The apathy that makes me say, I don't care what I look like, I don't want to clean my house, and can't the kids just eat crackers for dinner?  Everyone is jubilantly sharing their 2015 goals online and I'm like "I have one goal/mantra: SURVIVE THIS."

I'm not the mother who feels like this was what she was born to do or is her calling in life.  I chose it.  And I love it.  But it has not come naturally.  And I still have wanderlust.  I dream about curating Matisse exhibits for a large museum, bashing around the city in fancy clothes, traveling to exciting places.  I think about advanced degrees or career paths I may have missed.

But all of that doesn't matter.  Really, it doesn't.  {And not all of it is permanently out of reach, either.}  What matters is--I MADE A CHOICE.  I did the research, I weighed the consequences, I prayed about it.  And I jumped in with both feet.  Being a full time mother is about a bajillion times more difficult than I understood, but it is also infinitely more rewarding than I expected.  Taylor and I wanted to do this.  And I wanted to make it a full time gig.  And so it is not for me to complain or face it with ingratitude, but to own it, to revel in it, and to approach it with the same enthusiasm and effort as I would any field of study or career.  Also, let's be clear.  I don't think it's any more right or righteous or worthy or commendable choice than any other woman's career choice.  But it is mine and I own that.

The tagline for my blog--a favorite quote by Thoreau:
"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you've imagined."

This is the life I chose.  The dream I chose.  It doesn't always look the way I imagined, but that is mortality, isn't it?

I really hesitate posting this.  It feels kind of whiny and negative and ungrateful.  (And I know there are so many suffering people in this world who might roll their eyes at this and say, "give me a break, sister!  Don't you know what's happening in Syria or France?!  And yet, if I can't write about my own experiences on my blog, then why write at all?)  And if I know anything, I know that in this often-isolating career, we women got caught in the trap of feeling like we are alone in our uncertainty, difficulty, or failure.  And I want to be the first one to say: I AM RIGHT THERE WITH YOU, SISTER!  THIS IS REALLY HARD BUT WE CAN DO IT!  AND WE CAN MORE THAN SURVIVE IT!  WE CAN SUCCEED!  WE CAN LOVE IT!  IT CAN FILL US WITH JOY!  

So, there's that.  I am not superwoman.  I am very much human.  If my life ever looks dreamy online, I guess it's because I, like many of you, choose to document the things that are the most beautiful and make me the most happy. 

Happy new year to you all.

Hoping we can all find a little more gratitude and joy,

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.)