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.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Lessons Learned in the Desert

1. It's not a myth... cactus quills really do hurt.

And what's more is that they're kind of sneaky, too.  Show us a cactus with giant menacing quills and we're sure to stay away.  But show us a cactus with almost-invisible-fuzzy hair and it's not so simple.  Turns out the fuzzy hairs are more like poisonous shards that stab you and stick into your skin for the long haul.  We've all learned this the hard way because we have a pet cactus in our backyard.  It keeps eating our balls - soccer balls, footballs, basketballs, kickballs, you name it - and we're getting dangerously close to Ball Extinction over here.  Anyway, those tiny quills are small enough to be rather invisible and seem rather harmless, so you don't see that they have dislodged from the cactus and have found a new home in the skin of the ball. But as you retrieve your ball from the cactus, being careful not to touch the giant menacing quills, you grab right on top of a patch of the nasty poison shards and suddenly they don't seem so harmless anymore.  It takes days to remove them all and is quite frustrating.  My neighbor finally suggested wrapping the thing in bubble wrap.  I'm pretty sure that would kill the plant (no air for it to breathe, you see), but every time I quickly Google it, I just end up with lots of hits on how to make a cactus with bubble wrap, pipe cleaners and paint.  Not so helpful.  I guess we'll just keep the tweezers handy and curse the thing under our breaths.

2.  Drivers drive safely here... it might be because they know if they got in an accident they'd have to step out of their air conditioned car into the deathly heat of Hades.

I know, I know.  This is a terrible picture.  But it feels a bit awkward to be pointing your camera directly at the car parked right next to you (the driver doesn't know whether to act candid or to smile, you know), so this is all we get.  Anyway.  The important thing about this picture is All That Space between the two cars right next to me!  They are both completely stopped and you could fit a small car between them.  This happens always.  Definitely much different than the bumper riders in Miami.

3.  My kids get happy when they're twirling.

Do you know what you need for twirling?  Space.  A lot of it, preferably, if more than one child is twirling around at the same time.  The first night in our new home McKenzie spent about 30 minutes up in this giant play room twirling around and singing an original song all about how much she loved it.  It sure feels good to stretch out our muscles from our cramped Miami quarters. Also, carpet.  That's nice, too.  Because twirling makes you dizzy.

4. Nothing shines a light on how much junk you own like pulling it out of 3,578 boxes.

5.  My kids get happy when they're wrestling.

Do you know what you need for wrestling?  Space.
Also, carpet is nice, too. Because, wrestling. 

6.  Moving to a new place alongside old friends is kiiiiiiiiiind of cheating.

Out of 50 states and thousands of cities, what were the chances that one of our best family friends from North Carolina would end up living less than two miles away from us on the other side of the country?  No matter how many  new faces and new names and new stories I have to learn, I know I can always end a hard day sipping hot cocoa across from one familiar face I love.  It feels kind of like a moving shortcut - and I'm happy to take it.

And unpacking boxes alongside old friends is definitely the way to go... especially if you can wear formals while you're at it.   These girls spent days creating BoxVille.  An entire village made from the discarded boxes.  They even had inspirational quotes up on the walls (one of my favorites was "a house is not a home without a family") and laws to govern themselves.  At one point I said, "You know what this is girls?  Old friends in a new house."  This sparked 45 minutes of creative song writing and singing by those three.  The lyrics went something like this:

We are old friends
Old friends.
We are old friends in a new house.

7.  Homeschooling has a million perks, but so does public school.

Thankfully all the schools around here are great - and we've been super happy with ours.  And, as I took the two minutes to hack away all the personal information on these kids' brand new school shirts before posting the picture I felt sad because... well... I guess just because I felt I had to.  And because the whole point of this picture was to show off their new school pride.  But I suppose, if I ever get around to it, it'll go in the scrapbook in all it's informative glory. 

8.  The grocery stores have giant variety of candy.  Really.

We had plenty to pick and choose from to make this candy poster for Daddy.  The kids and I thought of one nice thing to do for Daddy every day during the first week of his brand new job.  Monday we filled the house with handmade posters and signs.  Tuesday I ironed all of his shirts (big deal, people), Wednesday we made this candy poster, Thursday we made a raspberry cheesecake, and Friday we made a delicious salmon dinner (okay, I know.  Our lives kind of revolve around food... but it makes us happy).  I really am so proud of him.  The past 10 years he has worked so hard to build a successful career and has also worked hard to help me create a successful family.  I've said it before and I'll say it again - he is a master in the art of balance.  So I was happy to do a week of good for him.  I was also happy when that week ended.  It's hard to be nice.

9.  For being free, public schools sure cost a lot of money.

$200 stares you in the face here, people.  $200. 

10.  Turns out the doctors in Vegas agree with the doctors elsewhere.  Immunizations are important.

Timothy would like to disagree.  But I think he was more traumatized by the giant mass of blood-soaking-gear they stuck to his legs.  Seriously! In the office, TK pulled the gobs of cotton and bandaids off of his left leg twice before I finally said, 'enough'.  Has anyone ever had a kid that bled enough to warrant all of that cotton?  It seems to me that we might have bigger problems if he did need all of that - but... I could be wrong.

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Is it just me, or do holidays get more crazy every single year?  Long gone are the days I spent pouring over my sewing machine crafting the perfect costume for my sweet baby girl.  Long gone are the days I strapped my new little son in a stroller and watched as my toddler girl skipped around our small neighborhood, delighted with the ten houses that gave her candy, and none the wiser that bedtime still happened at 7:00.  Long gone are the days rummaging through the house to find the capes and the drapes and the pillows and the paint that could transform our family into something new.

Now Amazon Prime is my best friend and I spent a total of 15 minutes selecting and clicking and ordering those costumes that came right to my door.  No face paint.  No crazy hair.  Just put on your costumes and let's go, folks.

And then I remembered that we have a fourth child.  The day before the trunk-or-treat I stopped in my tracks and realized that I had not put one ounce of thought into that sweet baby boy.  So overalls, a plaid shirt, a bit of eyeliner makeup and glue in his hair turned him into a makeshift scarecrow.  And while we were at it, me and Brian, too.

He was delighted.  And the trunk-or-treat was a success.

Next up on the docket: carving pumpkins.

Also, remember how I used to really pay attention to my pictures?  Not this post, I'm afraid.  Almost every one of these is fuzzy and weird.  But most of the time I had a toddler on my hip and about 4 seconds to get the shot off before I lost my subjects.  So, just a fair warning... these are what I call 'memory photos' - their entire purpose is to preserve a memory instead of please the eye.  So, here we go.

Brian was in charge of buying pumpkins this year due to a silly back problem I have.  Couldn't lift the darn things from the grocery bin into the cart this year.  So - - - warty pumpkins!  They were fun, but the skin was tough and I am quite impressed we came away with all of our fingers. 

And then, school.  It's fun to have these kids back in public school where they plan parties for you and help create those special memories.  This picture just illustrates how giant Miles is compared to his classmates.  He is in the 98th percentile and towers over all of his kindergarten friends.  Plus, he's one of the babies of the class with a late June birthday - good thing we didn't hold him back a year. Isn't that little miss Dorothy the cutest thing you ever saw?  Good thing she has a ninja to protect her.

That night, back into costume for the school carnival.  They sure put a lot of work into this thing, and the kids came away with happy smiles and cheap toys.

Finally, it was Halloween.  By this time, the third dressing in costume, TK was a pro.  When I asked him if he wanted to go do his nose, he stuck his lips out in a pout and said, "Ohs, ohs," ready for the paint.  I'm afraid he'll be disappointed now that this isn't the daily routine anymore.

Kenz and I ran into a problem when we realized that she needed to tie this tie - and Brian wasn't around.  So, I called my dad and asked him to walk me through it.  He did great... and so did I, ifIdosaysomyself. Even though I had to do it twice because the first time I didn't notice that the small end of the tie hung about 8 inches below the fat side.

Then, outside to take a couple of pictures before our trick-or-treating. 

Seriously, could this boy be any cuter?  Even with that fake smile.
And, we were off!  We headed over to the Larsons to trick-or-treat around their neighborhood because we heard they had the best around.  We were not disappointed.  HANDFULS of candy at almost every house... and, not to name drop, but Gladys Knight had the most gigantic spread you have ever seen in your life.  Gladys Knight's husband shoveled double handful after double handful after double handful into Miles's pillowcase of full-sized candy bars with a huge smile on his face.  Gladys Knight had blow up toys for the kids to jump in, a mini ferris-wheel for them to circle in, and a train to pull handfuls of kids around in at a time.  It was impressive and so, so fun at Gladys Knights home.  Gladys Knight.

Our partners in crime:

By the end of the night, Carson had so much candy he didn't even walk up to the doors anymore.  He was exhausted.

Miles couldn't even carry his bag by the end of the night, and Becky and I had to trade off with it to try and prevent injury.  I had to bribe him to hold it up just for this picture.  I bribed him with candy, and it totally worked. 

Brian and I, of course, took our tax from the kids and ended up quite rich ourselves.  Over 50 full-sized candy bars, mostly from Gladys Knight's house, to eat over the next long, long while.  Please don't send any candy our way for ... forever.  If you trick-or-treat at our house next year, be prepared to receive some of this in your own pillowcase...

But since most of it is from Gladys Knight, maybe you'll be okay with that.