Thursday, December 18, 2014

Those Eyes

Carson, my Carson. You are incredible.

One of the greatest things about being a mother is being able to watch the miraculous development of people.  Those eyes sparkling in the photograph above? I got to watch those eyes blink in the blinding light of the hospital room just seconds after he was born.  In the months that followed, I stared into those wide open eyes through mornings, afternoons, evenings, and many midnight hours.  I watched them learn to bring my smile into focus, and to follow my movements from across the room.

In the years that followed, those eyes have helped him make sense of the world by feeding his brain countless images and messages that have caused him to learn and grow. They fill with tears when he's sad, they gloss over when he's sick, they sparkle when he's excited, and all along the way, they have had the power to stop my breath when the light falls on them just so.

But the interesting thing about those eyes is that now they tell me so much more about who he is than they ever have before.  Those eyes that stare at me from this eight year old face pull a deep and uncomplicated love from my heart, the type of love that just may not be possible without truly knowing someone.  How could I have known -- staring at those eyes from his tiny, beautiful, newborn face -- how could I have known that those eyes would be even more beautiful when the depth of his soft personality was behind them? 

I love this boy.

 Nana - helping Carson get the hem of his new suit just right

He turned eight this summer and, as is customary in the Mormon church, entered the waters of baptism.  Brian and I have spent his whole life teaching him the truths of the gospel that we hold most dear.  We have taught him about Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father.  About the Holy Ghost and about the powers of repentance.  We have taught him about temples and heaven, about the atonement and the Book of Mormon, about prophets and obedience.  And, most importantly, why all of those things are important.

He has listened throughout the years (with varying levels of interest, of course), and has started to form a testimony for himself.   And when he turned eight, he was delighted to be able to show his budding testimony and his love for the Savior by being baptized.

 Getting ready

As a mother, this feels like the first big step towards independence for him.  Up until this point, any and all of his mistakes have been wrapped up in the atoning sacrifice of the Savior - but now he is old enough to start shouldering an important piece of that heavy burden of Responsibility.  He is ready to take charge of his own actions and become accountable for his choices. Now, repentance becomes more important. Self control becomes more important. And he is ready.

Of course, he doesn't have to do it alone.  He has been blessed with support, layered on support, layered on support.

He has been placed on a new path, the very path that will lead him back to his Heavenly Father, and has been instructed to start walking. Brian and I will walk with him as long as he lets us, one on either side, acting as bumpers as he learns how to navigate this new found independence. And, knowing my Carson, he will keep us laughing and loving all along the way. 

Today, his eyes never have trouble focusing on my smile.
Now they are masters at following movement,
and at decoding almost all of the images around him.
So we turn our attention to his spiritual eyes.  We teach those eyes how to focus on Christ.  How to see clearly through the mess of confusing and often conflicting input regarding morals and ideas, by decoding and sifting out what. is. important.

And we try, so very hard, to teach those spiritual eyes how to be courageous enough to only, and always, follow Him.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

November Harvest

1 - What on earth does this ugly bird have to do with a beauty harvest, you might wonder.  Well, first of all, he's really not that ugly if you take a minute to stare at him.  Actually, he's quite remarkable and I do find his feathers (and his face) rather beautiful.  Second of all, this is a roadrunner, and he - in my backyard - represents a beautiful part of November for me.  Of course, you'll need a short explanation in order to understand why.

We'll be real for just a minute and admit that November was not really a month of happys for me.  With November came the realization that--- I moved.  And that this place is very different than the other places I've known and loved.  Of course, there is a lot of hope that I will come to love this place too.  But I guess with November came the fear that I might not. 

You might have noticed that I fell quite far behind on my Harvest posts and that this is the third one in a row to complete the catch-up.  The reason for this is kind of coded in the words above.  This place is very different, and the beauty here is hard for me to find.  I have kept my eyes peeled and my camera close, but at the end of every month I have been scared to sift through and count the number of pictures I'd taken of Beauty because, what if I didn't have enough to fill a whole post?  Of course, the post is not really the important thing here.  But the symbol of the post... the proof that I can live here and love it here because 'here' is beautiful, too... 

Anyway, we're almost to the roadrunner, I promise.

I was feeling quite down one mid-November day, mulling through all of these thoughts in my head while cleaning the kitchen, and sent a silent prayer to the heavens that went something like, "Okay, Heavenly Father... I need some beauty.  I don't know if I just can't see it here very well, or if it's really not here, but please help me figure out how to fix this problem."  An hour later...

Enter Mr. Roadrunner.

He came into our backyard and ran around in circles while those of us who were home stared, laughing, with our noses pressed against the glass.  Have you ever seen a roadrunner run in circles?  You would laugh, too.  Brian dropped some bread outside to encourage him to stay, and despite TK chasing him out of the fence a few times, he did.  I'd never seen him before and I (sadly) haven't seen him since, but he sure picked the perfect day to come.  So he was an answer to my prayer, you see.   That's why he's beautiful to me.

Also, this funny (true) story:
The alarm clock rang at 6:00am this morning.  I hit the snooze button without opening my eyes and, as always, wished the night would have been longer.
"know what you should do?" I heard Brian slur through his sleepy cobwebs.
"hmmm?" I responded without moving my mouth
"you should post one of those pictures of the roadrunner on Facebook and see if anyone knows what it is."
"...?..."  I processed his sentence for ten seconds before mustering up enough energy to say, "that was your first thought this morning?"
We laughed, and it started our morning off beautifully.

2 - My sister's bouquet at her wedding.  So many ways beautiful.
3 - The boutonniere (geez!  had to look up the spelling on that one and check it five thousand times before I was sure it was correct!).
4 - Who knew Cold Stone could make their goods beautiful enough for a wedding reception?
5 - Sun kissed clouds
6 - Love this guy
7 - One cool thing about this city is that we are quite close to the airport, and that the skies are generally clear, so we get cool designs drawn in the sky.
8 - Patterns and textures
9 - Light.  Such beautiful light.
10 - Really beautiful if you think about it.

11 - This girl.  So beautiful from the inside on out.

12 - Just melt my little heart
13 - And then do it again.
14 - I loved the way the sun came through these puffy flowery things
15 - Okay... this may be one of my favorite pictures of this place so far.  I love the color of the sky, the hiding sun, the lines, the palm trees, the mountains in the distance... dreamy.
16 - You funny little flower, you.
17 - Oh Mr. Roadrunner. 
18 - My handsome men.  Beautiful that my husband carried around my scarf for me and largely forgot it was around his neck.
19 - Sweet feet.
20 - Pies! Pies! Pies!

21 - See, we are making friends.

22 - Another line in the sky.  And two beautiful kids to make the picture great.
23 - Oh Miles.  Please don't grow another second.  You are perfect.
24 - Yummmmm... Chocolate and pumpkin spice.
25 - So many places to explore.
26 - More puffy bushes!
27 - Love the light coming through these leaves.
28 - Some color.  I love the green wherever I can find it.
29 - I made the pie, one of my best friends made the gorgeous lattice top... beautiful.
30 - Bellagio fountains.  I really don't think I will ever get tired of watching them. 

31 - One more little tree trying to represent fall.  You are loved and noticed, beautiful little tree.

Friday, December 12, 2014

October Harvest

1 - I do love decorating for Christmas, but decorating for fall is my favorite.  I love the colors and the smells, the warmth and the coziness...beautiful.

2 - Full moon through the palm trees
3 - Beautiful lighting this night as we walked into the temple.
4 - You know what I'd like to know?  Who had the patience to place all of those rocks just so?  The kids ran around and around the spiral -- first in towards the middle, and then back out again.
5 - Oh grass.  I do love you.
6 - Oh rain.  I do love you.
7 - I think these are my favorite flowers ever.  Aren't they just so delicate and colorful?
8 - But roses might be my favorite, too.
9 - The pride that went into decorating this cookie from a certain five-year-old.  Beautiful.
10 - Love this guy.

11 - The sunsets are really remarkable here when the clouds come out.

12 - I smile every time I see these two plants nestled together in my backyard.
13 - Sun-rays from my parent's backyard
14 - Plane in the bright pink sky.
15 - Another Vegas sunset.  I swear I didn't touch the color in this photo in post-processing.  It really was that vibrant.
16 - This kid.  Melts me.
17 - I was lucky to be able to go to Utah for a weekend to go to my sister's bridal shower.  It was the perfect time to go because the leaves were changing and falling.
18 - Halloween festivities.  Next year, I want one of those lights that puts sparkles on my house!
19 - More fallen leaves in my parents yard.  I may have to find a yard here with one autumn tree to love.
20 - My sister's hand with her beautiful ring.

21 - Did I mention that this is my favorite flower?  I seriously need to get back to it with my big girl camera someday.

22 - Happy red flower
23 - This was a mess.  A beautiful mess.  I stared at that big green glob hanging from that knife and felt all warm and fuzzy inside because it was one of those moments when I realized that I'm living exactly the kind of life I've always wanted.
24 - First of all, hello bird.  Second of all, gorgeous orange flowers!
25 - Only my mom could make a Costco cake look beautiful on a table.
26 - Beautiful rose
27 - My parents beautiful entryway.
28 - Fall colors!  This little tree was trying its hardest to represent the fall season.  Thank you, tree.  Thank you.
29 - More of my mom's decorating skills
30 - I loved the way the light came through the bottom of this vase.  Beautiful.

31 - Deep blue sky... flower depths... beautiful.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

September Harvest

1 - You know what's beautiful?  Seeing a whole group of teenage girls (most of whom know next to nothing about basketball) come together and play their hearts out on the court.  They were mostly excited at the dress code they came up with: tie-died shirts and knee-high crazy socks.  We won some games, we lost some games, but at the end of every single one, there were tons of smiles, lots of laughter and high fives all around. 

2 - Handrail at the Hoover Dam. 
3 - All through the month of September, whenever I thought about Michelle and Jake getting married I would get all choked up with happy feelings.  Engagements and marriages are beautiful.
4 - This really shouldn't be 'beautiful'... but it strangely is for a couple of reasons.  1) he truly was having so much fun, and isn't it always beautiful when your child is having that great of a time? and 2) I reacted with laughter instead of horror - and that made the whole situation much more beautiful. (It would have been even more beautiful if I had cleaned the toilet recently... but you can't have everything, right?)
5 - Funny cactus on my morning walk
6 - Sigh. Just him.
7 - Love the bark on this guy.
8 - My beautiful parents
9 - Green!  Like, real, alive green instead of dry, desert green.
10 - Cactus and clouds... love that combination

11 -The view from over my back fence.  Lucky us getting to live on a golf course.  (Plus, my kids get to keep all of the golf balls they find in the backyard, so win-win.)

12 - The sunlight playing in his hair!
13 - My handsome date for a fun formal night
14 - Storm clouds rolled in one night and, I kid you not, everyone was outside taking pictures of the sky.
15 - My kids call these rocks the chicken-pox-rocks. 
16 - Fire. Pretty.
17 - Desertscape
18 - A storm.  A storm!  It rained!
19 - Reflector on the side of the road.  The colors and patterns...
20 - Cute little thing.

21 - Carson is taking guitar this year.  One night, after tucking all the kids into their beds, I came down and saw this cute scene. I'm sure the guitars were put up on top of the couch to get them away from Timothy Hands, but something about that little guitar snuggling up to the big guitar (and all that that could symbolize) was beautiful to me.   

22 - This guy belongs in a Dr. Seuss book for sure.
23 - View from the giant windows in the library.
24 - Sweet little guy.  Love seeing him having so much fun.
25 - Sunlight through the clouds. Let's pretend that the little reflecting patch in the bottom of the picture is a gorgeous lake, okay?  Because the reality that it's just the dashboard of the car is sorely disappointing.
26 - I love this fun, yellow color.
27 - Water. Water is beautiful.  Even if it's just coming out of a sprinkler.
28 (and 29 and 30) - Impressiveness of the Hoover Dam.  Plus, water. :)

31 - Cactus bush.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Marry Me. Today and Everyday.

Oh, these two.  Make no mistake about it, these two are going to have fun in life.  And that smile on her face?  All. Day.  Every time I looked at her a lump caught in my throat because the depth of that smile seemed so beautifully endless.

Okay, actually, the smile wasn't there all day... The morning was rather soft and subdued - an appropriate punctuation mark on the end of a short, stressful engagement.  Decisions, to-do lists, nerves and fragile emotions all seemed to culminate the few days before the wedding (sound familiar to anyone else?) and we found ourselves treading lightly above undercurrents of nervousness and exhaustion and Stress.

So a tender quietness filled her room the morning of the wedding as she curled her long eyelashes and sat still to have her hair twisted and pinned. Brother, sisters, parents, friend... we watched her.  We helped where we could, but mostly we watched her, and a feeling of love filled me.  Love for her, of course, but also love for the man she chose, and for the new life they will spend together. 

Just after the final hair spray and before the mad scramble to collect the last minute purse items, I saw her close her eyes and breathe deeply, just one breath that opened a window into the mountains of nerves and stress that filled her.  It made me want to drop my camera and rush to hug her tightly,  but the moment was gone as quickly as it had come, and the clocks refusal to slow propelled her forward into action and out the door.

But that breath will be with me forever. 

I think part of what touches me so much about that breath is the contrast of The Smile.

And, conversely, part of what touches me so much about The Smile is that one, nervous breath.

The next time I saw her, in the sealing room of the temple, surprise raised my eyebrows, tugged the corners of my mouth into a small smile, and caught the breath around the sudden lump in my throat.  The mountains of nerves and stress that that breath had shown me only an hour and a half before had vanished entirely.  Now we stared at her bare soul through that deep smile, and it showed us the mountains of joy, love and happiness that filled her.  As Mormons, we often say that the temple is a place we go to forget the cares of the world.  And it is. We go there to seek peace, and while we are there our thoughts are directed towards the bigger picture of life and we are subtly reminded that many of the things we worry about don't really matter.  I don't know if, for Michelle, it was being in the walls of the temple that erased the weeks of turmoil inside, but since similar things have happened to me, I suspect it was.  And seeing it happen - so starkly - in my sister's life grew my testimony of temples in a new way.  How wise of our Heavenly Father to give us a safe place in which to escape, and be reminded of the important things in life.  

Like love.
And family.
And marriages that last forever.

The perfect shoes, the perfect honeymoon, the perfect reception venue and playlist and pictures and invitations and envelopesmakeuphairfoodcakenapkinsicespoonschairstablestraffic... it all just melted into a forgettable puddle of Things That Seem To Matter, But Really Don't.

Anyway. All that to say that watching her carefree happiness as she was sealed to Jake has become one of The Moments of my life.  Not that the day was about me... but this blog is, so... ahem.

After the ceremony, we waited outside the temple doors for the newlyweds to come out and I watched my parents stare at each other for a while.

Seriously.  They stood there like that long enough for me to notice, zoom in on one face, walk around the entire crowd and a temple pillar, and zoom in on the other.  I didn't even see any talking going on (though, admittedly, I was traversing through the crowds most of the time).  The color of my mom's eyes?  Incredible.  The way my dad is tenderly looking at his wife?  Beautiful. 

Eventually, Michelle and Jake came out.  Did I mention that these two are going to have fun in life?  Because they are.

There was a lot of hugging.
And by hugging I mean real hugging.

And lots of congratulating.

Then there was a lot of standing around as we waited for the happy couple to get their pictures taken with every possible combination of family you could think of.

But we found ways to entertain ourselves.

Finally, it was luncheon time.  Which was a good thing because I hadn't had breakfast (something about trying to take a few pictures of the bride while also getting six people ready for a wedding), or second breakfast, or elevensies, or lunch, and we were getting dangerously close to passing afternoon tea time as well.  Which, if you know me well, would mean that you might try to avoid me at all costs.  And that I wouldn't blame you.

But the luncheon was delicious (really) and solved those problems, so we went on with our day.  Michelle and Jake asked me to take a few pictures of them before we left because the luncheon grounds were gorgeous.  We only had five minutes, but we got a few good ones anyway.  This is my favorite.

This next one... well.  It was a cute idea because that adorable lamppost has a sign with their names on it that welcomes the guests, but you can't really read the sign - I realize now I should have moved closer to the lamppost and then put Michelle and Jake further in the background to create some depth... I think I would have loved that photo... Oh well. I still like this one. 

(The Smile in this next one!)

Every time I opened my mouth to tell them to stand-a-certain-way, they were tangled up in each others arms and I didn't have the heart to break them apart.  So I just stood there and snapped pictures of them doing what they were doing anyway. (See part of The Smile just peeking up over his shoulder? And you can see the rest of it sparkling in her eyes! Oh!)

Cutie pies.

And then, on to the reception! My parents and I hightailed it over there because we had a 5-layer wedding cake to assemble and decorate.  Michelle and Jake are super smart, because they recognized the fact that no one really eats wedding cake (and if they do, they don't particularly enjoy it), so instead of paying $1600 for the wedding cake they wanted, they bought a $20 Styrofoam cake and asked Mom to frost it. She asked me to be her sidekick and we had fun in the days and weeks before the wedding planning and practicing.  The night before, we frosted all five layers with canned frosting:

...and then rushed to the reception venue with all five layers, wooden dowels, extra (in-case) frosting, black ribbon, a pretty dollar-store platter, and a beautiful, glass cake stand from my mom's cupboard.  Total cake cost: $37

And, would you believe, I didn't even get a picture of the final product!  I was so distracted by other things that were going on, and now I am kicking myself.  So you'll just have to take my word that it was beautiful - because it was. I did notice the photographer getting pictures of it ... so I'll have to get one of those when she's finished editing them. Grrrr.

*Post Edit - hooray for friends!  A dear friend read this post and sent me a phone picture she had taken.  So now you get to see it after all.  Thanks, Judy!

One thing I did get a picture of was something that made me laugh so hard I buckled.  Since we knew we would be gone all day, we had all thrown our evening shoes into the cars. Michelle and Jake were running late (to their own reception), and at 15 minutes after the hour Michelle came barreling into the dressing room to get her wedding dress back on. There was a lot of frantic activity as Amber and I raced to zip her in, freshen her make up and hair, change our own shoes and send her out the door to greet her waiting guests.

At one point in the height of the frenzy Amber stopped moving for several seconds and finally said in a dejected tone, 'Uh.  Shoot...  I brought two left shoes.'

The effect was magic.  It paused the frenzy and Michelle and I looked over to see her... one eyebrow raised, standing in one shoe, holding the other.  We seemed to make sense of the situation at the same time and erupted into laughter.  It was the comic relief we needed and set a fun tone for the rest of the evening.

My favorite part of the evening, though?  This one: 

My dad is a special man. 

Sadly, my camera battery died right here, and I found that my back-up was not charged... even though it had been plugged into the wall the entire previous night (I'll have to look more carefully into that problem).  So, my phone came out and caught the end of the party.  Which was also my favorite part.

These kids danced, and danced, and danced, and danced.  They had a blast together - and Carson was bustin' moves like no one's business.  He looked good, too.  I guess we should think about getting that kid into some hip-hop lessons.  Also, if you find TK below, you'll see what he was mostly excited about.

Finally it was time to wrap things up.  So I snapped two more pictures of my beautiful sister,

and called it a night.

I love this girl.  And seeing the love in her eyes when she looks at Jake, and the happiness he creates in her is elating to me.  And Jake... watching him tenderly take care of her over the few hard days before the wedding (when he was stressed, too) reminded me so much of my own husband.  I know how beautiful it is to know and feel that, no matter what, someone you love is there to help, to lift, and to be in your corner.

And to marry you again at the end of every day.