Saturday, May 7, 2011

A week in New Mexico

We just got home from a trip to visit our family in New Mexico. It was a great trip and we loved hanging out with people we love. The kids had a blast with cousins especially. On our last night, Eva said as I put her to bed, "Mom, thanks for bringing us to Mammy's house. I love it here." It was so sweet.

We got to see the new dealership, which had incredible lighting. Maybe it could double as a photography studio. If only Eva could manage to put her face in a suitable position...she can't seem to decide what to do.

Dean bonded with Isaac. Two cutest boys on earth.

Leighton thought he was pretty funny making a hat out of his Burger King box on the way there. Long roadtrip notwithstanding, it's always worth it to see our family!
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Friday, April 29, 2011

Stuck in the house? I have the solution for you.

Okay, I just used that title because I really wanted to tie in this unrelated picture of Dean. He LOVES the dollhouse and the other day he apparently wanted to move in there. At least learning to climb the stairs won't be a problem, as he's holding them in his hand.

Here's the real deal: I want to tell you about our TV situation. We don't have cable. We don't have dish. But we still watch all our favorite shows every week.

We have a Roku. I might say this ranks in our top 5 best purchases of our married life. We can stream all sorts of things on it. We use our Netflix there, of course, and we also have a Hulu Plus account. I found that my Picasa Web albums can be linked there, so I can have up a slideshow of all the pictures on my blog going on my TV. We have an Amazon video account where we can order movies for about $5 if we're too lazy to go to Redbox and we want to watch something new. (Also, their customer service is EXCELLENT with Amazon video - once we ordered a movie that had trouble streaming, and they gave us our money back automatically. I didn't even have to call or anything.) We listen to all our Pandora stations on there - it's great to have music coming from our TV in the middle of the house instead of a computer in a back room.

Last night I discovered possibly my new favorite feature. It's called The Gymbox. Now instead of doing the same workout video all the time (as much as I love Jillian), I can get new videos every week. This morning I did my first one...a TREADMILL workout. Hello? That is SO genius. I have a treadmill, but I'm not a runner, so I never use it. Now it's like I have a trainer to tell me how to use my treadmill. She tells me what my incline and speed should be at and leads me through hills and sprints and whatnot - things I wouldn't figure out on my own. Walking and a bit of running. It was an awesome 30 mintue workout. There are a million categories on there - kickboxing, yoga, dancing, strength's awesome. I'm on a free guest pass right now, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to upgrade to the membership ($10 a month, I think) so I can continue to get new videos.

I also found last night that all the major news stations do a little recap of the day's news. ON a free station, of course. This is becoming a must for me as I NEVER watch the news and have to find out about all major news through the grapevine, way delayed. (Like Japan - I embarassingly didn't even hear about that tragedy until a week later. You'd think I lived under a rock.) No excuse for that in this decade, right?

There are all sorts of stations you can download, most of them free. Games, kid drawing's awesome. And it's not like the TV is on all the time - it's what you want to watch, when you want to watch it, and it's way cheaper than a cable bill with DVR.

Obviously I'm not being paid to tell you about this, but I just wanted to pass along the info. Get a Roku if you don't already have one (I just saw they are now only $60!! We got ours for $100 a couple years ago. Still worth the price.) and discover all the awesome things you can do. We use ours dozens of times a day - for working out, music, distraction for the kids, and relaxing for me. In the words of Kip, I love technology - especially my Roku.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Living Room Pillows, Part 1

I have been wanting to make pillows for my living room for a LONG time and just hadn't made time for it. But now, with the curtains and the painted wall, it was starting to look a little odd without pillows on the couch. So a couple weeks ago, I saw this tutorial from V and Co for an awesome shag pillow. It was the kick I needed - I knew that I would make that pillow. It looked totally easy.

I decided to plan all my pillows at once and ordered fabric for 5 pillows from - all for a little less than $35. And free shipping! That's the way to go - I didn't even have to take my kids to the fabric store!! My fabric came Monday, and it was beautiful.

Today I sat down in front of Biggest Loser with my cutting mat and board and my gorgeous lime jersey (which ended up having a bit of polyester in it so it has a bit of a shine) and cut everything out. I thought I would just do the cutting (it was a LOT of cutting), but when I had finished I felt like I was in a groove. I marched straight upstairs, got my machine out, and finished the whole dang pillow in one sitting! It was quick and easy. When Andrew saw how close I was to being done, he said, "Who are you and what have you done with my wife?" See, I'm not usually a project finisher.

It feels so good to have this done!! So I'm 20% done with my pillow project, and I'm on a roll. The next one will be coming soon.

P.S. Please ignore my dirty couch with fingerprints on it. Just feast your eyes on the shag beauty in the foreground.

P.P.S. If you make this pillow (make this pillow!!), know that 1 yd. is generous - I have a LOT of jersey left. But since jersey is so cheap and you can't order less than 1 yd. from, it's okay. Maybe I'll make another one as a gift or something.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The internet is awesome.

Sorry to do another post about a link, but this is the coolest video I've ever seen. It made me cry. I feel like this is what the internet is intended for, awesome things like this. It's a little long - over 14 minutes - but it's worth it. (You could probably also find it on YouTube, but this is the link someone emailed me.)

And here's a picture of my technologically-inclined son, just in case the video is not great enough for a post on its own.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Our Easter highlights

Well, my Easter grass was, as my mother prophesied, a bad idea. I had to hire some handsome men to come rake/sweep the living room after Leighton had finished his destruction. I paid them in delicious food.

Family pictures with three children...that's about as fun as grocery shopping with three kids. We had a sum total of zero succesful shots, but oh well. I never did get a decent picture of the boys' ties, but let me tell you, they were the cutest things they've ever worn.

Speaking of unsuccesful things, my last-minute hunt for an Easter dress for myself was a flop. After numerous stores and failed outfits that made me look like a mother whale, I left those gross clothes behind, along with a little of my self-esteem. I came home to my own dismal closet and selected...wait for it...a maternity dress. One that I wore all of ONE time during my maternity phase. It wasn't very cute, and it gave me a complex that I looked pregnant, but it matched Eva's dress when I added a little pink flower clip.

Eva's dress, however, was a smashing success. She looked adorable. We were running late before church and I didn't get to fancy up her hair like she wanted, but she still looked dazzling.

We had a grand Easter feast with friends. It was potluck, so all I had to take care of was the rolls (Lion House, of course) and carrot cake for dessert. Marelize brought lamb (that will surely be a new Easter tradition - delicious!!) and roasted veggies, Kara brought a potato dish (I am reluctant to call them funeral potatoes on the day we celebrated resurrection! but that's what they were), and Stacey brought ham and salad. YUM. Every last bite was delicious. A party in my mouth. Despite the fact that my hair went a little insane as the day went on (see above picture, look for tail on the left side of my head), we captured a picture of the girls. I love these girls.

It was a wonderful Easter.
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Friday, April 22, 2011

This is a post.

I know I haven't even come CLOSE to my daily blogging goal this month. But admit it - I'm doing way better than last month.

So here's a picture of my children. Let's call that a post, shall we?
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Monday, April 18, 2011

I can do hard things.

Andrew is deploying again in one month.

One month from yesterday, actually. We are now on the official countdown until he leaves, and I as I prepare for single momhood again, I am filled with memories of last time. As hard as it was, I can honestly say I was better after it was over. I was strong and felt victorious when he came home, like I had fought a battle and won. Which, in a way, I had.

So now, I'm preparing another go at it. This time, with renewed insight (especially from General Conference!) and a desire to do even better than last time.

I think Andrew is dreading it even more than I am. I don't blame him. This time won't be nearly as "fun" for him - he won't be as busy or doing as many cool things. I mean, saving the world is pretty cool, but you know, it gets old day in and day out. I imagine. I find him clinging logner to the kids or kissing Dean extra times, and I know what he's thinking. He doesn't want to miss it. He doesn't want to be gone when Dean learns to crawl and probably walk. He will miss so many thousands of little things - another one of Leighton's birthdays, for instance. (We're going on 50% father's birthday attendance here for poor Bubba!) Last time I thought I had the worse end of the deal, but this time I feel like he does. And I am trying to be the strong one. For once in my life.

As I told my mom the other day, the Lord knows I like to plan things, so he allowed me to put my biggest trials and tribulations (so far) on the calendar. 4 months long, 120 days of hardship. I like it that way. I don't like deployment, but I am trying to remind myself that it is a blessing to sacrifice for this country, and that we will never ever ever be left alone, though we will be apart.

I found this free print today from one of my new favorite blogs, and it was absolutely perfect for me. I will be printing this off and hanging it where I can see it every day. Because it's true - I CAN do hard things, and I can do them well.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Case of the Tipped-Over Trash Can

I'm not sure when my baby grew up.

The other day (Thursday) I thought that maybe Dean might like a walker to get around in. I called Stacey and she had one we could borrow.

I put him in it Thursday evening, and he seemed to enjoy it. Didn't really go anywhere, but liked it anyway.

Yesterday, I put him in it and ran to the bathroom. I came back and he had made his way around the kitchen, knocked the trash can over, and dug out two butter wrappers and was licking the butter off. (I made these cookies that morning. Umm, delicious.)

Mind you, he's only 7 months old. I have no CLUE how he did this, because really, he seems a little young to be getting into things.

He was covered in butter, and I had to laugh and grab my camera. He is obviously drawn to fattening foods...he must be my son.

He is the world's easiest baby, and this was definitely his first trouble-making experience. And it was mild. Unfortunately, knowing he is apprentice to masters of mischevious behavior, it will not be his last.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

A little mood boost

Sometimes I am so disappointed in humanity. Sometimes I don't believe there is much good left in the world, and I feel discouraged. I hear stories of people doing terrible things to each other, and it's sad.

And then, I see something like this article, and I think how cool people are. How probably, most people are good deep down. I don't know why, but just knowing that somewhere in the world there actually was a house floating on balloons made me happy.

Maybe it will cheer you up, too.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Easter preparations in earnest

The other day, I thought it would be a good idea to start getting ready for Easter. I am famous for having all sorts of awesome, cute ideas and good intentions...and then never getting around to them. First up: Easter baskets. Last year we were out of town and did absolutely NOTHING for Easter. It was disappointing and I felt I had failed as a holiday-loving mother. So I went to Target on Friday and got some darling buckets for baskets. I even got...Easter grass. (Mom, I know you are rolling your eyes.) My mother hates Easter grass and always talked about how awful it was to clean up for weeks afterward, so I didn't think I would ever do it. But I did need SOME sort of padding in the bucket so the eggs didn't break...and it was only $.49 a bag...I know, I'll pay for it later, but oh well. Next was outfits for the kids. I got the idea to make ties for the boys and a skirt or dress for Eva. I found this tutorial for little boy ties that looked do-able and cute. I have fabric to make this skirt for Eva, which I am in love with. (I might still do that...unless I get lazy.) But after a couple hours of stressing out over the ties, I decided, maybe it's not worth it. I'm sure I can find a cute tie somewhere. Looked at Target - nothing. Old Navy - nothing. Etsy - SCORE. Big time. I found the cutest tie on the entire internet, and it was the FIRST box that came up in my search for "little boy tie." Oh man, I am seriously in love. The shop was called "The Little Gentleman's Closet," and everything there was adorable. I ordered it immediately, which is very uncharacteristic for me when it comes to online shopping. I put in the comments that I needed two, and I got an email literally less than 2 minutes later from the owner, Michelle, who said she had just listed it again so I could purchase it, and she gave me a coupon code so I'd only have to pay shipping once. I was totally impressed with her immediate response! That was on Friday. Then, this morning, I get an email from her letting me know she had just shipped the ties this morning!! Talk about customer service! I was worried about getting them in time for Easter, since they are handmade and all, but I will have them way ahead of time. I am so completely happy with my experience with this shop, I just wanted to tell you all about it. If you have little boys, please go look at her shop. Great prices, ADORABLE ties, and outstanding customer service. I will post a picture when I get the ties...I can't wait!!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Be witty, be pretty, be cheerful.

My Grandma had a quote hanging in her house my whole life until she passed away. It said, "Be witty if you can, be pretty if you are, but be cheerful if it kills you." My mom also had it up in our house while I was growing up. My sister Lindsay called yesterday wondering if I would make a print with that quote on it. (I did a series of prints for my sister Kim for Christmas and they turned out pertty cute!) Seeing as how those words are near and dear to me heart and I frequently need a reminder to be cheerful, I agreed.

So today, I sat down to make it. I used Crystal Wilkerson's Sweet Summertime elements for the colors and flowers - she is my all-time favorite digital designer. (My blog banner elements are from her as well.) Anyway.

I made several different versions of it, and I can't decide which one I like the best. So I'm putting it up here for some input. Also, because I love all of you who continue to read my blog, I'm giving you a few free downloads. Leave a comment which one you like the best, or even if you like none of them, and take one or all of them! They are 8 x 10, fyi. (Warning: they look weird because they are on a white background and it's not showing the outer border! Sorry, don't know how to fix that!)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sucked in.

I'm not a huge time-waster. I limit my TV shows and only watch them the next day on our Hulu Plus. I'm not big into Facebook, and I stopped twittering after about 2 weeks. Sometimes I like to peruse strangers' blogs, but I try to limit that too. With my addictive personality, I have to be careful what I allow myself. But today, I threw caution to the wind when I finally (after hearing about it a while ago) hopped onto a site called Pinterest. Specifically, the DIY label on Pinterest. Umm, here I am, about an hour later, with at least 30 internet windows open and a million ideas of things I want to make. Like this monogram and these mini lasagnas and this little boy tie and some of these flowers to put on a pillow and this cute monogram for the boys' room. The only problem is, I am still on a waiting list to get an account, so I have to find some other way to record all these websites until I can actually pin things. I can't use Delicious because it does weird things to my computer. So anyway, my point is, do NOT go to Pinterest. Unless you have yourself well under control. Or you have a couple hours to spare. Don't say you weren't fairly warned by someone with experience.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Body image

I don't always love the way my body looks.
That's probably normal, given my gender and stage in life, but it's still not very fun.

I go througyh cycles of self-hate like the next woman. Especially my knees - I really hate my knees. I can live with fat thighs - rare is the woman who has skinny thighs - but knees? Totally different story.

This month I have recommitted myself to working out every morning, and it's been great so far. With my current hormonal situation, I am totally and completely unable to lose weight or change the shape of my body in any way, although I am in fairly good shape. It's frustrating, and I have my days of quitting and wolfing down ice cream to make myself feel better. (It doesn't work.) But I know that, regardless of results, exercise makes me feel good. So I do it anyway.

But I wanted to share these two articles that have given me a lot to think about, and some new thoughts to think as I look in the mirror every morning. See what you think.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


If you want to hear an amazing story about an amazing person (who just so happens to be my future brother-in-law), go here to watch. Fast forward to 18 minutes. It's worth your time!

Saint Conference.

That's what Eva calls General Conference. I must say, it was absolutely FABULOUS. The best yet. It left me with much to think about and motivation to improve myself. But that's for another post, or possibly my journal. What I wanted to report is that...I finished binding my quilts. You may remember this quilt. As I looked at that link I realized I finished binding it EXACTLY one year after that post! Coincidence? Yes, but a cool one. Anyway, after I finished the top, I sent it to my amazing mother, who is now the proud owner of a quilting machine. She quilted with the CUTEST pattern ever, it's perfect. She sent it to me shortly after Dean's birth. The boy is now 7 months, and still it sat.

In the meantime (last summer), I had started another quilt for Dean. The top came together quickly, and my mom quilted it and sent it at the same time as the first. Knowing my laziness in finishing projects, I just decided to go ahead and wash and use them, unbound. (Trashy, I know.)

But during conference, with all those hours of sitting and watching television, I had to put my idle hands to work. And I'm so glad I did.

That night, I covered Dean up with his new, finally completed quilt, and I felt so accomplished. See? Conference worked. I'm improving already.

(Picture of full completed quilts to come...someday.)

Monday, April 4, 2011

The funniest parenting moment of the weekend

Between General Conference sessions yesterday, we went over to our friends' house for a potluck lunch. Our kids (there were 3 families there) were all out playing in the backyard. We had finished eating and the adults were sitting around the table chatting. Leighton ran by with a plastic yard stake in his hand, and we teased about someone getting hurt.

A few minutes later, we heard the peaceful backyard erupt into a chorus of terrified screams. Literally, all at once. There was no warm-up cry or gradual crescendo - it was all out chaos, all at once. Everyone's first thought (except mine) was that someone had gotten stabbed with the stake. I ran out there first and saw the funniest sight of my life.

The sprinklers had come on, and the kids were getting rained down on. They were all hysterically crying (except for the oldest girl, who's 8) and running around frantically. Leighton was the first to near the door, so I grabbed him. By then, the other parents had gotten out there and we were all scooping up wet kids. Eva was the funniest - she was paralyzed with fear and was running back and forth, never near the door, and screaming at the top of her lungs.

Us parents could hardly move, we were laughing so hard. We wrapped all the kids in towels and sat in the kitchen laughing and calming down from the adrenaline rush from the initial screams. Thankfully, nobody was hurt.

The only problem is that, come summer, my kids may still be suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrom and REALLY won't play at the splash pad!

Saturday, April 2, 2011


{This picture is from Thanksgiving last year, in the thick of the Doodle app phase.} A couple years ago, my parents gave me an iTouch for Christmas. Andrew's dad also passed on his old one to Andrew, so we became the proud owners of two iTouches. Which, ironically, we hardly ever touched. They sat on our iHome charger in the hallway, rarely being used.

Then Leighton came along. He loves little games like the doodle/drawing app on there, and he got attached to it. When my family came for Christmas a few months ago, Leighton fell hard and fast for my dad...because of his iPad. (Also, obviously, because of his good looks and charming personality. Hi, Dad.) He woke first thing in the morning asking, "Where's Grandpa's iPad?" and took it to bed with him at night.

We let him play with my iTouch often, as it would keep him quiet and trouble-free for long, rare, periods of time. But we left him alone with it too often, apparently, because he and Eva learned to access random videos on the internet through it. (I still don't know how to find what they were watching one day - some strange animate thing.) We disabled the internet, and then Leighton somehow erased his favorite drawing app on it.

The iTouch, once again, sat unused, as even Leighton couldn't figure out how to use it anymore. The only thing on there was Trivial Pursuit, and he obviously didn't get very far with that.

So on Thursday night, Andrew got it into his head to fix the iTouch. He got access back to the internet to fix our account and whatever else was wrong with it, and then, he made a fateful mistake.

He downloaded Angry Birds.

Now, I not only have an obsessed son, but an obsessed husband. They fight over it and take turns like children. (Although one of them has an excuse, because he is a child.) It is always in one of their hands...unless the battery is dead, and then it's temporarily on the charger again. Their personalities can't handle something like this, and the two oldest males in our household are on hiatus from their normal selves.

Today, General Conference, has given them ample opportunity to sit on the couch playing Angry Birds. Andrew justifies it, saying it's as brainless as me binding my quilt. I'll never play it to find out if he's right or not. I hope you can see why we will never ever EVER get a Wii or anything like it. An iTouch is bad enough.

Sometimes Angry Birds makes for one Angry Mama.

Friday, April 1, 2011

This is not an April Fool's joke.

I really am posting, for real. Also, although this is a bad day to tell people about a goal because they'll think you're kidding, I have a resolution to post every day this month. I might take Sundays off, I'm not sure yet. They say it's easier to do something every day than once a week, so I'm going to try. And I'm not kidding.

So, remember when I had a baby? I remember. Then one day, just a few short days ago, Andrew accidentally hacked his hair off and turned him into Rulon Gardner. Not a joke either. (Also, he has roseola in this picture.)
His head feels prickly like a teenager, and I'm sad. My last baby, and now his babyhood is gone. (Side note to Monique: Andrew and I are both a little freaked out by how he looks like Lincoln these days! Do you agree?)

Another thing that is not a joke: It is 90 degrees today. Vegas is playing a trick and making it feel like July. But it's not funny to me. Oh no, I am NOT a summer lover. I max out on patience around 82 degrees. I could never have been a successful pioneer. We went to the park so Eva and Leighton could watch other kids cool off in the splash pad. They've never been big social participants...even in the heat. Maybe they cooled off by proxy?

So that's it for my Blog Month Day 1. Peace out. I'll be back tomorrow.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

This blog update is for my sister Laura...

We spend most of our days with the door open, basking in the sun and the perfect weather.Andrew got me an alarm system for Valentine's Day (he is a hopeless romantic!), so I've had a lot more peace of mind lately.

Dean is sitting up now. He does big belly-laughs - Eva says, "He does a laugh just like we do!" Which is a perfect description.

Leighton is in the process of being potty-trained. He wasn't really ready (as in asking to go potty), and I know everyone says to wait for that, but I was ready and that's good enough. He's doing pretty well and I'm surprised how quickly he picked up on it. It's a big life change, when you think about it, but he's adapting well and will now tell me when he needs to go.

Eva is learning to read and she LOVES it. I started including a 5-minute reading lesson with preschool (from the Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading) after she started asking about what words were and how to spell things. I figured she was ready, and she was. She is picking it up so quickly and I LOVE seeing her learn things and then apply them later that day when drawing a picture or trying to sound something out. We have started out slowly - we finished short vowel sounds and are onto consonants sounds - and it's awesome. I highly recommend the book.

I had a girls' craft night last week and I finally made my long-time dream a reality - I made a bib necklace. Otherwise known as a "statement piece," they are obnoxious and big and I love them. So I made one, and I have to say this may be my favorite thing I've ever made. After craft night, I could hardly sleep thinking about my creation. I got the chance to wear it 2 nights later when we went out on the strip for dinner and a show. I felt like a million dollars! It was cheap, easy, and unique - my kind of craft.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Top 5 moments of being 26, plus several more

{Turning 26}

{Turning 27}
We sat at Brio, the best restaurant in Vegas (in our as-yet limited experience) to celebrate my 27th birthday with Kara and Clay, Chris and Stacey. As I devoured the best dish in the world, Artichoke-Crusted Beef Medallions, Clay turned to me and asked me my TOP 5 best things during my year of being 26.

I am ashamed to say how slow I was to think of even ONE. I hemmed and hawed and searched my mind. Dean's birth was a given, but that was also a top 5 bad in many ways. I looked to Andrew for help, and he pointed out a few. I realized yet again how 2010 wasn't an awesome year for me. Clay's question got me thinking and I couldn't stop wishing I had answered differently. So here is my new and improved (and way expanded) answer, for Clay and everyone else, but mostly for me.

Best Moments of Age 26

1. The Skagit Valley tulip festival. It should be one of the 7 wonders of the world - it was breathtaking.

2. Watching the kids play in the snow at Grandpa's house over Thanksgiving.

3. Going to the airshow at Nellis and going inside Andrew's good old C-17. Also the day I successfully wore a hat publicly for one of the first times in my life.

4. Watching my Dad meet Dean for the first time, and having him stand in the circle to bless Dean.

5. Having my family come visit at Christmas - best Christmas gift ever.

6. Joining my boxing gym! The rush of going for the first time after so long literally brought me to tears. I love me some punching.

7. Going to St. George spontaneously for a fun trip with the Culvers and Noyeses.

8. Getting a yard put in and watching the kids play "lion hunt" in the bushes.

9. Going to Mt. Charleston in August and feeling the cool breeze and smelling the trees. It was the first time I felt content (weather-wise) since moving here.

10. Riding 4-wheelers in Mancos while camping with the Webbs.

11. Eating yummy seafood and playing on the rainy beach with the Schmeils, Minettos, and Smurthwaites right before moving from WA. Eva found a snail in the sand and brought it home. (Unfortunately, it was lost in the car and never found again.)

12. Our trip to the Oregon coast over Eva's 3rd birthday.

13. Making my first quilt.

14. Going on a cruise with Linds and Kenny. A perfect week! (Linds, we're about due for another cruise, don't you think?)

15. Watching Eva and Leighton learn so much during preschool.

16. Getting to touch Dean's soft little cheek for the first time, and then later getting to hold him. Actually, the first 2 weeks of his life were magical. (Thanks in part to pain pills and my sisters and Mom!)

And just for the record, because a few of these cropped up in remembering events, here are a few of my worst memories of last year.

Worst Moments of Age 26:

1. The Sunday where we were living in a hotel and I prayed so hard someone would invite us over for dinner and nobody did. I bawled on the way home from church and then we ate dinner at Chili's.

2. Every time I had to go outside in June, July, and August.

3. Thinking I was going to be murdered in my own home Andrew sent me emails from my own account that Google was going to kill me. (Long story that I wish I could forget but I probably never will. I truly believe that is when my heart problem was born.)

4. Having to drive 12 hours home to NV from CO 24 hours after getting there and stopping every 2 hours to give Leighton a breathing treatment.

5. Saying good-bye to our home in WA and living homeless for 2 months. Those were REALLY bad months.

So I'm not as pessimistic as I first felt when trying to answer Clay's question. It just took me a little longer than it should have. :) Looking back, I did remember a lot of lame things that happened, but I thought of WAY more than 5 things that made me cry from happiness. Actually, probably everything on my good list either made me cry or almost cry from my heart being so full and grateful and happy. I know being 27 will be even better than 26 in so many ways, and I can't wait to make my list next year!

P.S. Thanks to all of you who sent kind birthday messages! It meant so much to me to have you all think of me.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Learning to like Vegas

I sat outside on the bench playing with Dean on my lap and watching Eva and Leighton running around. They picked flowers from a nearby flower pot for me, forgetting that some flowers are not for picking. I told them not to pick anymore, but I was secretly pleased with their stolen gift. The music speaker was just behind us, playing upbeat songs, and I danced Dean and kissed him to the beat. He laughed and grinned his big smile that shows such pure joy it makes my heart stop every time. (I do have a heart condition, you know, so it's dangerous to see that smile too many times in a day.)

As we sat out, basking in the sunshine and the blissfully perfect weather, it hit me: I like it here. I like Las Vegas. I like having springtime weather in January. I like this very moment, at this very mall, waiting for my mother-in-law outside a darling children's boutique. (Where, I can't resist sharing, she got this and these for Eva's birthday! Cutest suit I've ever laid eyes on in my life. She'll be a little Audrey Hepburn at the pool.)

It was a landmark realization. Because although I knew I didn't mind it here and it wasn't as bad as it used to be, at some point I turned a corner and started being happy here. I'm not exactly sure when it happened. But this is big for me.

My tune may very well change come summertime. I told my mother-in-law that I think I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, except in the summer. I detest the heat. (Maybe a cute swimsuit of my own would help?) But for now, I'm so glad to know I have finally really settled in to my life here.

Life is so very good. Even in Sin City.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dinner Party

{Clay is missing from this picture because he had to leave early for a basketball game. Andrew was just on his way out to a meeting when we took the picture - hence the white shirt and tie.}
I love serving big meals to people. It's one of my greatest passions. Special occasions (holidays, birthdays, having people over for dinner) and their accompanying "big deal meals" just make me happy. In the spirit of my Happiness Project, I thought I would record and share my typical process for planning a dinner party.

It starts several days before the big event, when I start planning the menu. Much to Andrew's annoyance, this takes even longer than the actual preparation of the food. Every dish has to be just right and have a special purpose. This week, for example, I was planning a party to welcome Chris Culver home from deployment. Well do I remember what a HUGE deal Andrew's homecoming was to me, so I wanted to let Stacey know how happy and excited we were for their family. Plus, good food always makes a get-together more enjoyable.

Knowing the party would be on Tuesday, I started brainstorming about main courses on Friday. In a moment of inspiration, I decided on my great-grandmother's recipe for BBQ ribs. Always a hit, and significant emotional attachment for me as well - perfect for the occasion. Naturally, you need potatoes to go with ribs. I considered normal baked potatoes, but then remembered a few weeks ago, when we had these same friends (sans Chris, of course) over for a post-Christmas dinner. I had served my Christmas-traditional twice-baked bleu-cheese potatoes. Clay had fallen in love with them and declared, "These are my new favorite food." So for Clay's sake (and mine, because I adore those potatoes more than any other form of potatoes - which is saying a lot), I decided on those again. Plus, I had bleu cheese left that needed to be used! See, I'm also very resourceful.
Rolls are also a necessity with almost any meal. Knowing myself and my tendencies to let WAY too much of my emotional well-being ride on the way my rolls turn out, I opted for frozen, yet delicious, Rhodes rolls. With Kara helping to put on the event, and knowing her natural ability to create amazing salads, I put her in charge of salad, drink, and ice cream.

That left me with a dessert - the hardest part every time. It has to be just the right level of fanciness, uniqueness, and still appropriate for the celebration. (By the way, Thanksgiving is always a White Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake with Pecan-Gingersnap Crust - a perfect holiday food. Just to throw out an amazing recipe that you have to make sometime.) With our occasion - Chris's return - I thought a cake would be good. Cakes are celebratory. I briefly considered a store-bought Costco cake, and then this amazing, incredible Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze (I made that in WA with our friends the Willises), but opted for something a little less time-intensive. I found this and this, but ultimately decided on a Hot Fudge Peanut Butter Pudding cake the CROCK POT. Perfect.

The menu was set. The countdown was on. The morning of the party (Tuesday), I woke up thinking about the food, as I always do on mornings like that. My mind was racing with things to do to get everything just right.
First step was to brown the ribs, make the sauce, and put it all in the crockpot (which always takes longer than I think!). Then I made my schedule for the day. This is one of my favorite parts of big meals (pathetic, I know). I work backwards from the time we will eat and figure out how much time each step will take - cooking and preparation - and write it on my chalkboard. That way I know I have to get the rolls out of the freezer to thaw at 12:30, turn the crock pot down to low at 2pm, and get the cake on high no later than 2:30pm. Since I am a list-lover, this method works well for me. And it makes it almost fool-proof when planning multiple dishes. (Note: I did say almost.)

Chris's dinner was one of the few "big deal meals" where nothing went terribly wrong. Nothing was burnt, I didn't run out of any ingredients in the middle of cooking, I didn't forget any crucial dishes. (Like the time I forgot to make a starch to go with a roast for a dinner party in WA - EMBARASSING.) I did forget to make the corn, but then I decided we didn't need it after all - it had been a last-minute and unnecessary addition to the menu.

Our friends arrived at 4:30, and I finished what little was left to do - crumble the bacon for the potatoes and make sure everything was warm.

Then comes the all-time best part of the whole ordeal - the part that makes being on my feet for 8 hours straight worth every minute - the sounds of "mmm!" and seeing people go back for seconds. It's not that I want people to compliment me, but that I want my food to make them happy. Even if it's just for a minute, it just thrills me to give someone the gift of a good meal. I'm not sure why I'm like this, but even before I loved to cook (or before I knew how to cook pasta without directions) I have always found joy in making food for people.

So I'll report that Tuesday night was an utter success. We had a grand time all being together again, and the food wasn't too shabby. Even if I do say so myself.

Here's the recipe for my great-grandma's ribs. Perfect for a crowd and delicious every time!

Grandma's BBQ Ribs
Boneless pork ribs (however many you need to feed your group - the sauce makes plenty for a pack of ribs from Costco)
3 c. water
4 c. ketchup
1/2 c. lemon juice
3/4 c. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 c. vinegar
1/2 c. butter
2 c. celery, diced
3/4 tsp. cayenne
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 med. onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. ground mustard
1/2 c. brown sugar

Brown ribs on all sides and set aside in crock pot or large pot. Combine all remaining ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Pour over ribs. (If they don't all fit in one pot, split them up and put another pot on the stove or in the oven.) Cover with lid; cook on high for 4 hours and low for at least 4 more hours. In the oven, cook at 325 for at least 4 hours. On the stove, put over low heat for at least 4 hours. (The longer you cook them they softer they get!)

Serve with twice-baked bleu cheese potatoes! AMAZING!!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Calm after the storm. Or rather, after the volcano eruption.

{ This picture is totally irrelevant to this post. I just wanted to show you the monstrosity I had for lunch today. We went on a date to Hash House a-Go-Go, and I've never seen food stacked so high. No, I didn't finish it. But pretty dang close...}

Last night: My stress level was high. After a disappointing call from Andrew at work cancelling a plan I had made and throwing a kink in our dinner party next week, I was annoyed. The kids were ornery and snippy, Dean was whiny and fussy. At dinner, Leighton pretended his couscous were "sprinkles" and threw them all over the floor and table like confetti. Dean screamed and wouldn't be comforted by anything. In the tub, Eva and Leighton got in a huge, screaming fight that resulted on claw marks on both their bodies. (When I forget to cut their nails, it's like handing them a weapon and tell them to have at each other.) That was the last straw. I snapped inside. I grabbed the recorder from the play room floor and started yelling - in an ugly voice I hardly recognized as my own - and slammed the recorder on the counter. I grabbed them out of the tub, wrapped them in their towels, and threw them on their own beds, slamming the doors behind me. Then I put Dean in his crib and, to the terrible chorus of all three children screaming at the top of their lungs, I marched downstairs to the garage. I sat there panting and gulping in the cool air. I was scared of how angry I felt. I was scared that I didn't even feel sorry for losing it. I said a prayer - because the Spirit was nowhere near me by that point - asking for help in feeling sorry. I asked that my anger be taken away because I didn't know what to do with it. It was a very dark moment. I took a deep breath, then went back upstairs.

I found naked Leighton with a key trying to open Eva's door. He looked at me sweetly, as if nothing had happened, and said, "I got a key." I helped him open the door (although it wasn't locked, he was proud of his key that had fallen off the door post when I slammed it) and saw Eva curled up in a ball in her towel under her covers, her wet hair matted to her pillow and her face streaked with tears. In that moment, my prayer was answered, and all my anger disappeared. I felt the full weight of shame - self-loathing, even - at how I had treated my babies. I bent over her and told her how sorry I was. I asked her to fogive me, and my tears fell on her little cheeks. She gave me a hug, and all was well.

All night, I thought about how I had let my emotions run out of control. What kind of a mother was I? Not the kind I wanted to be. I thought about my goals for happiness and how my total lack of self-control was making it hard to make myself or my kids happy. This morning, after studying "self-control" in the scriptures for a half hour, I resolved to NEVER act like that again.

Tonight: All three kids were in the tub at once. Dean was joyfully kicking his feet and flailing his arms, his fat rolls jiggling. Leighton played Legos and built an airplane, then repeatedly crashed it and laughed hysterically. Eva leaned over Dean and cooed at him and let him pull her hair, laughing at his funny baby sounds. I watched it all and sang, "Boom boom, ain't it great to be crazy" and clapped. It was idyllic and peaceful and happy. The utter and complete opposite of exactly 24 hours earlier. After I got them all dressed, I put them in Eva's room to play dollhouse and went to drain the tub and hang up towels. I heard Dean start to fuss (I had put him on his stomach on the floor, and he hates that) and then quickly stop. I finished what I was doing and peeked around the corner to find Leighton showing Dean some little toys to play with. They all sat happily, playing together. It was perfection.

As I sat in Dean's room and fed him before bed, Leighton kept bringing us pieces of the dollhouse things, saying "Deanie needs these stairs." "Deanie needs flowers." Dean fell asleep despite the intteruptions and went down effortlessly (as he normally does, thankfully). Leighton had a bit of a hard time going to bed as he had fallen asleep earlier for a few minutes, so I went in his room to read him a story. He was so sweet during the story, asking me things about the numbers (it was a counting book) and understanding the story line. Afterwards, he was making jokes - genuinely funny ones - and we lay there laughing for a while. Then I sang him a song and rubbed his arm. He said, "Sing me another one, Mommy." So I did. He said, "Sing me another one, Mommy." I said, "I have to go back downstairs." He said, "Sing popcone popping on a a-ticot tee." So I did, and he sang with me, and did the actions with his adorable little hands. Then he said, "Mommy, go downstairs now." I kissed him and said I love you, and he said I love you a couple times, even after I closed the door. There was a happy glow around me, and I felt so content with my life as I came back downstairs.

What made the difference? Lots of things. Some nights, I let everything get to me until I reach boiling point, and some nights nothing bothers me. I don't know why. Why can't I always be positive? Why can't every night be like tonight?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My Happiness Project: January

A couple days after Christmas, I went to the bookstore in search of a book recommended to me by my sister Cami. The Happiness Project. I found it, bought it (despite the steep hardback pricetag), and read it in a little over 24 hours, as I am apt to do with books I love.

This book changed my life in many ways. The biggest way was to direct me in my New Year's Resolutions. I had been in search of an idea for a 12-month system that changed monthly rather than a do-or-die-all-or-nothing-all-year-long approach. I found what I was looking for in the H. For someone change-oriented like me, whose motivation ebbs and flows from day to day (or is that everyone?) this was a perfect approach. For someone who thrives on charts and lists and checkmarks and visual proof of progress, this was just the thing.

So go read the book. (I have a copy that I'm happy to lend out.) Get it from the library if you don't have $30 to spare. Or get it on Amazon if you are more patience-oriented and spend $12. And don't be one of those lame-oes who hates on New Year's Resolutions, okay? Resolutions rock.

Here are mine for the month of January.

~Wake up at 6:15am (this is a work in progress - I'm gradually getting there. Today was 6:40am.)

~Study scriptures for 30 minutes

~Write something every day

~Exercise 5 times a week

~Go to gym (boxing) 3 times a week

~Take a picture (I am doing Becky Higgins' Project Life this year and I LOVE it!)

~15 minutes of housework (put the house to bed)

~Veggie up! (This one is thanks to Cooking Light magazine's awesome 12HH program - check it out!)

So far, so good. I haven't been perfect every day, but I'm not expecting that. I feel so good about the efforts I'm making, and that's enough for me.