Sunday, October 30, 2011

Memory lane

Tonight I took a bittersweet stroll down memory lane.  Chloe is the "Star Student of the Week" at school starting tomorrow, and last Thursday she brought home a packet of pages to be completed for the star student wall.  A few of them required photographs of various things like family, a pet, Chloe as a baby, etc., so naturally the old box of photos came out.  I also grabbed the CD containing the website I maintained for Chloe the first two years of her life, since not all of those photos were in the box.  Oh my gosh.  I wanted to cry.  I know that almost six years have passed since she came into our lives, but how is it really possible?  Looking at all the sweet photos of when she was so, so small, I can hardly even remember her that way.  Even looking at Ryan, who tomorrow will be to-the-day the EXACT age Chloe was when he was born, I don't remember her ever being as little or young as he is.
2 months old and already so spirited!
I had to pat myself on the back for my efficiency in and commitment to documenting every little detail of Chloe's first two years.  I wrote detailed monthly updates and several in between, and took a million pictures, even back then before I had my "nice" camera.  Memories came flooding into my mind tonight as I looked and read, and I was just overcome with happiness.  I am so grateful I had the discipline to stay on top of journaling as things were happening and as Chloe was changing.  I wouldn't have remember even a quarter of it had it not been written down.

Poor Ryan doesn't have nearly as much documented as Chloe does, but I suppose that's to be expected after the first child.  Thankfully he's a boy and probably won't care anyway when he's older.  And he does have a heck of a lot more good quality baby pictures than his sister!  I honestly don't even remember the last time I wrote an official update about Ryan.  I don't like that at all because it isn't like me to let things like this go for that long, but I am at least comforted to know I have a nearly four page word document saved on my desktop, basically summarizing the last year of milestones, quotes and sweet things about him.  Maybe I'll actually get around to formulating it all into a blog post before his birthday in nine days.

Between tonight and just this time of year in general, I am feeling majorly nostalgic and tender of heart.  I am so grateful for my children and for the many joys they've brought into my life, then and now.  It's such a neat thing to have something like a photograph or journal entry to remember those special moments by because they really do go fast and are so easily forgotten otherwise.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Day 3: Count Chocula, the park and more paint

Day 3 was another fun one.  We kept busy but weren't on a schedule, which was perfect.  The kids got up like normal, stumbled down the stairs in their jammies and headed straight for the pantry in search of food.  On this particular morning, they were presented with a new breakfast option!  That's right!  One of the treats I snuck in the cart at Target the day prior was a box of Count Chocula, a cereal only available during the Halloween season, which Neil had recently mentioned remembering and loving as a kid.  Chloe and Ryan were so intrigued by this mysterious box and eager to try it out.

And guess what?  They both approved!

Shortly after breakfast, my friend, Janea invited us and a couple other friends to meet at the park.  Since it was a beautiful day and we had nothing to do, it was a no-brainer.  So a couple hours later, we packed a lunch and headed to Stouffer park.  We were there for a solid two and a half hours, possibly longer.  The kids played on the playground together, took occasional bites of their lunch and even tossed a frisbee around. They had fun, and I enjoyed a nice visit with Janea and Misty

When we got home, we headed right back outside to find some leaves for "Day 3's activity."  Then we came inside and proceeded to make "leaf people."  Chloe was excited about it, but Ryan showed no interest, and instead, painted this picture.

Chloe was initially excited by the idea of incorporating leaves into her creation, but quickly grew frustrated when the leaves weren't sticking well to the paper.  She did manage to finish one "leaf person," but then moved onto something else.

She was definitely more proud of this one right here!  I love all the colors and detail.

Another fun day!  And best of all, both kids went to bed early and without a fight!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Day 2: Fall Handprint Trees

Day 2's morning and early afternoon consisted of cleaning and errand running.  Not too exciting or festive.  I kept promising the kids that if they were good and did what I asked that we would do a fun craft activity involving messy hands after ballet.  I'm not sure they kept their end of the bargain, but they did try.  After lunch we headed out the door to run errands, the last of which included a trip to Target.  After grabbing what we needed there, we rushed to ballet.  After that, we went to Qdoba with Tami, Misty, Lorilee and their girls (all of whom are in Chloe's ballet class - still need to blog about that!). Tami's husband, Toby and Neil work together. Toby's in trauma and Neil spine, but over the last few weeks Neil has been helping out the trauma team due to another employee going on unexpected medical leave. Needless to say, we've seen a lot less of him lately, and "Day 2" was no exception.  Because he wasn't going to be home until late, we joined the girls for dinner and by the time we got home it was close to 6. Chloe, who had not forgotten about the promised activity of the day, was nagging me like crazy all the way home, so eager to get started, that upon pulling into the garage, she jumped out of the car and yanked all the groceries out of the trunk herself!

Not two minutes after walking through the door, both kids were sitting at the table, decked out in their Ikea art smocks.  While I really wanted to get things put away and just have a moment to sit before diving into a new task, I felt bad making the kids wait any longer.  And so the Target bags sat, and out came to the paint!

The finished products!

These cute little handprint trees were inspired by this. They didn't turn out quite the same but I suppose that's what makes such creations unique and special.  About five minutes after Chloe had finished hers, Ryan decided it was missing something, and proceeded to apply a few strokes of purple paint.  Thankfully I snapped the above picture of her holding the original masterpiece prior to its demolition.

While Chloe was displeased (I would be too!!), she quickly snapped out of it as she had already moved on to another picture containing happy faces.  After that she drew an alien with three eyes, four arms and four ears!  Such a creative little thing she is!

Ryan also came up with a couple other creations, and while I had to closely monitor to ensure he was limiting his brush strokes to paper, I think we all had a really good time.

Day 3 is in the works, so stay tuned!

Beautiful Heartbreak

I saw a link to this video on Facebook this morning and was deeply touched. I'm sure part of it stems from seeing Hilary Weeks and Mariama Kallon at Time Out For Women in March. But aside from those connections, this song really spoke to me.  It conveys many truths about trials and how they can actually become some of life's greatest blessings.  Beautiful words; beautiful voice; beautiful women.  Love it all.  I needed this today. 

To read about my TOFW experience, including Hilary's and Mariama's words of inspiration, go here and here.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The calm before the storm

I can't sleep, so here I am.  What's ironic is that I'm utterly exhausted, but my mind is on overload and I just can't seem to find the "off" switch. It dawned on me today that Halloween is one week from tomorrow. What?  My brother's birthday, which was two days ago, totally crept up on me, too. I knew it was on Friday, but even on Thursday, Friday, the 21st seemed at least a week away. And yet, it was only a day away!  Lately, just in general, I've felt as though I'm just skidding by, rushing from one thing to the next, feeling relieved that I've gotten one task behind me only to realize I have four more waiting for me.  There is always laundry to be folded, sticky floors to be wiped, a grocery list to be checked off, a bill to be paid, an appointment to be made, and an "owie" to be bandaged.  Meanwhile all the stuff I want to be working on like my blog, Lake Powell pictures,  last summer's (as in a year ago) Utah trip pictures, even just laying on the couch for 25 minutes keeps getting pushed further and further aside.  With Chloe starting school in August I thought life would get less hectic, but it's actually become the opposite.  I was so relieved for Fall break, both for the sake of "the break" itself and, much more so, Chloe being around.  And yet it felt more like a matter of hours, not days.  It truly amazes me just how quickly the time is passing.  How is it nearly the end of October already?  And how are we a full month into Fall?  And when is it going to actually start feeling like Fall?  On Saturday we took a bike ride to the park around 3pm.  I don't know why I bothered putting a jacket on.  Perhaps I was subconsciously hoping it would be cool outside.  Of course it wasn't cool.  Not even remotely.  It's amazing to live in a climate where 85 degrees on a mid-October afternoon is the norm.  Meanwhile Colorado Springs got their first snow of the season two weekends ago.  Oh, bother.  Maybe by Christmas it will start to feel like Fall around here.

Wow, talk about a long, jumbled paragraph!  Sorta represents how I've been feeling lately!  While we're on the subject, here's the chaos I have to look forward to in the coming weeks:

  • October 31st: Halloween.  This will entail finishing putting together costumes, photographing Chloe's classroom Halloween party, and all the other Halloween jazz.

  • October 31st-November 4th: Chloe is "Star Student of the Week." This means she and I will be putting together a display of some kind for the "Star Student of the Week" wall (most likely photos of her and her family, drawings or other art projects she might like to share as well as any other information about her), and providing 5 days worth of snacks for 29 kids.

  • November 9th: Ryan's 3rd birthday.  Neil and I made a decision this year that the kids would have parties every other year on their even birthdays.  This way I'll only have one birthday party to plan each year.  Maybe that's harsh, but it is what it is.  It's what I can handle and it's what I can afford.  Perhaps if the kids' birthdays were spaced out a little further, and not BOTH landing a short month before Christmas, I'd have a slightly different view.  But I think it's fair.  And aside from that, having a party every year is not necessary to making a birthday special.  There are so many other fun things you can do as a family that are simple and inexpensive.  Last year on Chloe's birthday I took her to see Toy Story 3 in the dollar theater and she thought it was the greatest thing ever.  The guy at the concession counter even gave us free popcorn and drinks in honor of the special occasion.  Okay, sorry.  I'm getting off track here.  So there will NOT be a party for Ryan this year, however, there are still birthday plans to be made such as gift ideas, celebration planning, and coordinating clothes for birthday photos.  The latter of the three, in my opinion, gives me the biggest headache.  But once I find that perfect outfit, I'll be glad I went to the trouble of searching.

  • November 17th: Chloe's 6th birthday.  Since this is an even birthday, Chloe will be having a party.  While I am looking forward to it, I'm also stressing about planning and such.  She wants a super girl themed party, and I really want to make both her and Ryan super hero capes.  It's their favorite thing to play together these days, and I'm afraid dish towels will only do for so long.  :)  They actually make them work quite well, but I know they will absolutely love having capes with their initial embroidered on the back, especially being homemade from their mama.  So that's on my to-do list for the two of them.  Aside from that, there's of course the party planning, classroom treat planning, and, again, searching for that perfect outfit.  I really want to take some nice pictures of both of the kids this year.  I didn't even end up doing birthday pictures last year because I was in such a funk from our recent move and having terrible back pain.  I feel bad but I figure they have more candid-every-day shots than they'll ever know what to do with, so they can't complain too much.  :)

  • Mid-November: Young Women in Excellence.  This is an annual program the young women leaders put together for the 12-17 year old girls at church.  Luckily there are seven leaders to divide up the work, but there will still be something of significance for each one of us.  Just one more thing to add to the list.  Thankfully I love my calling, so it will be an enjoyable task.  And as of today, I now have eight Beehives.  We had one come in last Sunday and another this Sunday.  It's fun having such a big group, and I really couldn't ask for better girls.

  • November 24th: Thanksgiving.  At this point we have no plans, and I love it.  I would be perfectly content keeping it that way and enjoying a simple, quiet dinner at home, but also fine going somewhere.  We'll see.  Either way, I will be making it a point to remind Neil to watch his fingers if he decides to play football with the boys!

  •  November 25th: Black Friday.  Last year is the first I'd ever partaken of the Black Friday craze.  I set my alarm for 4am and was standing outside Target's doors at 4:30.  I got what I'd planned to, but I'm still not sure if it was worth all the trouble (or lack of sleep).  I'm still undecided on my plans for this year.  I'll just have to see what kind of deals are out there and how tired I'm feeling the night before.  :)

  • December 25th: Christmas.  I'm sure there are plenty of things that will fill up my calendar between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but as of right now it looks fairly manageable.  As for Christmas plans, we are going to just stick around here.  Neil and I really like the idea of staying home for Christmas each year so that we can build traditions and memories as our own family.  That certainly doesn't mean we're opposed to travel during the Christmas season.  At this point, however, we don't have any plans of doing so.  As for gifts, I really like the idea of doing something homemade for the kids.  You really can't beat last year's "homemade" gifts.  Neil definitely rocked it.  Er, I mean, Santa!  I'm thinking of making the kids something like a tent/reading nook or a simple puppet show theater.  It's all based on what the kids are loving these days, so we'll continue to see what they enjoy, but those are two thoughts right now.

None of this, of course, includes Chloe's ballet lessons every Tuesday afternoon, or her Christmas singing program practices, which begin the first week in November, or piano lessons, which will probably start about that same time, not to mention mutual activities and lessons, playgroups and all the other daily and weekly things I get to stay on top of.  And with some recent changes to Neil's job, plus a new calling, which I'll write about in a separate post, we've been seeing a lot less of him. 

Well this has turned out to be much longer than I'd expected or planned.  I'd better get back to bed.  Tomorrow is the beginning of another week, and while I don't have too much on my calendar as of yet, I know the storm is about to hit.  Thankfully my house is relatively clean and picked up (always a great way to start off a new week).  I'm really excited about the upcoming Holidays, despite what may have seemed like a whole lot of complaining.  Sometimes I think of how nice it would be if the kids' birthdays weren't BOTH in November.  I mean, truly, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are enough to make any mom's life crazy, let alone throwing two birthdays into the mix!  It's okay though.  I'm lucky to have two healthy kids, and all I can do is laugh about them being so close together.  At least Ryan wasn't born on his due date, which would have put their birthdays a single day apart.  Ha!  How would that be?

As my mom recently said, after rattling off her many 'To-Dos,' "HOW does it happen that I get so far behind? Guess I just have a rich, full life!"   I'd much rather have a "rich, full life!" that's hectic and sometimes overwhelming than a dull, boring life that requires little of me.  Thanks, Mom, for once again putting things into perspective for me. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Uncle D!

A special message for the birthday boy, from your favorite niece and nephew!

Love you, big brother, and hope today has been great! XO. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fall break: Day 1

Chloe is on Fall break this week.  I have really been looking forward to this for a while.  After all, I don't get to hang out with my girl nearly as often as I used to.  Now tack on the joys of no alarm to set, no morning and afternoon school grounds traffic to deal with, no homework to help with, no lunches to prepare, and no library books to remember, and I'd say it's been a pretty nice week!  I put together a list of fun activities and crafts to occupy the kids during the week and have so far managed to incorporate one thing into each day's agenda.  Here's what we did on Day 1 (Monday).

This is the second year we've been able to enjoy this pumpkin patch (here's last year's outing). It's about 20 minutes from our house and a really great place to go with your family to get into the spirit of Fall. They truly offer everything a pumpkin patch should. This was actually our second trip there this month. I took the kids two Saturdays ago with my cousin, Heather and her son, JD. It was a complete madhouse, and while we were there for at least three hours, we spent the majority of that time standing in lines. Ryan had had a fever earlier that morning, which broke a couple hours before we headed out, but spiked again the last 30 or so minutes we were there, so of course he was miserable almost the entire time. It just wasn't a great day to go, so I promised the kids we'd go back on a weekday when there weren't crowds. Monday was truly perfect. We got there at 11 and practically had the place to ourselves. We did the scarecrow ride, rode the train, jumped on the jumping pillows, took 74 pictures (29 of which are below), ate an enormous slice of pumpkin pie and picked out our very own pumpkins. It was just starting to get hot when we left, so we not only beat the crowds, but the heat too! It was a really fun outing with the kids. I wish Neil could have joined us but he had a crazy work day.

Anyway, here are those 29 pictures.  Go ahead and count.
Ryan tried so hard to be as tall as his sister.  Look at him on his tip toes reaching as high as he can.

The middle shot was taken just after we'd boarded the train.  As you can see he was a pretty happy kid.

When we first walked through the pumpkins, Ryan immediately spotted this one, picked it up and attempted to bring it to me.  It probably weighed what he weighed, which made my observation of the whole thing all the more precious.  He was truly huffing and puffing trying to lug that thing around.  I eventually convinced him to drop it, but naturally, Chloe had to have a turn.

It is getting more and more difficult to convince Ryan to look at the camera.  He is as stubborn as they come.

Jumping pillows!

These make me laugh.  The fact that Ryan wasn't quite tall enough to fit his entire face in the opening, not to mention that expression on his face!  Priceless.

A few fun close-ups.

That pumpkin pie was so good.  Bottom left photo - notice the sign behind Ryan?  I suppose he wasn't sitting but rather squatting, which the sign did NOT discourage.  So technically we didn't break any rules, right?

As soon as we got home, Ryan played on the floor with the pumpkins and squash we had picked up at Dell 'Osso.  At one point, after lining up four of the squash, he enthusiastically said, "Take a picture, mommy!"

So I did!  Cute kid.

And here, the pumpkins, which were thoughtfully chosen by Chloe and Ryan, now grace our front porch!

Day 1 was a good day.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Flashback Friday: celebrating!

In honor of Brady and Sara, who celebrate two very special milestones this week, I dedicate this Flashback Friday post to them!

Brady is Neil's cousin, who I got to know really well back in 2006 when he was at the Air Force Academy and we were living in Colorado Springs. Lots of Saturday nights hangin' at the house, Sunday dinners, birthday celebrations, occasional sushi dates, talks about girls and life in general were all the norm with Brady.  I adored him, and was sad when he graduated and moved away.  The one quality in Brady that I spotted right off the bat and have continued to see as the years have passed is his giving heart and genuine concern for others.  He's just a really good guy.  I still remember when he called to tell me he was engaged.  He was so deserving of the happiness he displayed and I couldn't have been more excited for him.  It was really neat listening to him talk about Sara and how I was going to love her and how he was excited for me to meet her.  And sure enough, when that day did finally come (at Malinka's 50th birthday BBQ), I fell in love, insantly.  It doesn't seem like that long ago yet here they are today, celebrating two years of marriage!

Did I mention Sara had a baby last night?  That would be the second reason we're celebrating.

Meet Jack, who made his debut at 7:22pm (a short 4 1/2 hours shy of his parents' anniversary), weighing a whopping 6 pounds, 6 ounces and measuring 20 inches.  From what I hear (and see on Facebook, where I stole this picture from), Jack is perfect and has already acquired quite the fan base. 

THEN (06 October 2009 - night before their wedding.  Look how little Chloe is!)
And NOW (well, sorta - June 2011, when Brady and Sara were in the area and stopped by for lunch and a short visit.  Sara has an itty bitty baby bump but it's hard to see in this picture.  What is NOT hard to see is that Brady is properly representing a team we all love.)

I really could not be more happy for Brady, Sara and Jack.  Although it's been years since Brady and I spoke regularly, I still hold a special spot in my heart for him and probably always will.

So Happy Birthday, Baby Jack!  And Happy Anniversary, to the new parents!

Monday, October 3, 2011

What I loved about today

Waking up to happy children.

Fall weather, complete with a few evening raindrops.  Finally.

Chloe earning a RED at school.

Neil walking through the door in his cute blue scrubs after being away all night and a good part of today.

Pumpkins lining the grocery store front.

Overhearing Chloe in the bathroom with the door shut singing just loud enough for me to hear, "Bayba, bayba, bayba, ohhhhh; bayba, bayba, bayba, ohhhhh!" Apparently five isn't too young to have "Bieber fever."

These two.

Need I say more?

Watching the kids hang on monkey bars and hunt for dandelions at the park.

Chicken noodle soup simmering in the crock pot.

Chloe's enthusiasm while eating said soup: "Oh my goodness!  Mom!  Thank you!  It's not even yuck!  It's yum!"

Finishing off a pretty perfect day with a bag of kettle corn, two mugs of hot apple spice, the season premiere of my favorite show, and a husband with whom to share it all.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Happy accident

My body is exhausted and yet my heart is ready to explode.  As much as I want to share with you right now the many things I gained and loved from General Conference this weekend, I'm instead going to share a quick experience I had this afternoon and save the rest for later.

It was a particularly busy weekend and due to various commitments, we were only able to watch the morning sessions of General Conference.  This afternoon we had a birthday party in Pleasanton and had to leave the house around 2.  We drove separate cars because Neil, who is working in San Jose tomorrow decided to stay the night in Pleasanton to give him a head start on his morning commute.  When it was time for us to leave, he offered to take the kids in my car (score!) which left me with his car.  I always enjoy driving his little Jetta.  It's a lot zippier than my Altima, with it's fancy turbo engine and sixth gear, not to mention the fact that it has an iPod jack - a feature my "old" '06 Altima lacks.  Naturally when given the opportunity to drive Neil's car, especially alone, I take full advantage, and today was no exception.  I was almost past Manteca, having just turned on one of my favorite songs when, without warning, my phone went dead.  It's done this to me a handful of times in the last few weeks and I can't explain why.  But almost as quickly as it turned off, it came right back on again.  Slightly annoyed, a thought suddenly came to me. 

"Hey, self.  It's 2:18pm.  General Conference is only an hour in.  Why not ditch your plan of listening to music and instead turn on what really matters!  You have that capability, after all!" 

And this is true.  When Neil upgraded his Droid a few months ago, I inherited his "old" Droid and was then officially welcomed into the 3g world.  It's a scary world, I'll admit, but oh so convenient.  And I'd say today I was more grateful for that convenience than ever before!  It hadn't occurred to me to try turning Conference on until my music turned off.  When I hopped onto and clicked "view live session," BAM, there it was.  Over the speakers came the familiar voice of Quentin L. Cook, offering a much more uplifting message than any song stored in my phone could have offered. 

As I drove through the windmills along 580, it struck me suddenly how far technology has come.  That I could drive in my car while listening to the Apostles of our church speak to me LIVE was just beyond my imagination!  What a gift!  Now in a world where technology seems to be improving by the hour this experience may seem small and insignificant.  After all, the ability to watch Conference (or just about anything) on one's phone has been possible for a couple years now, right?  But it was the happiest accident I'd stumbled upon in a long time and, I believe, an inspired one.  Cook's talk was beautiful and in it he shared one of my favorite scriptures, which is Doctrine Covenants 122:7.  It gives such an incredible depiction of what Joseph Smith faced shortly before his death, and offers a powerful perspective on trials in general.  You think you have it bad?  Read this scripture!  And then take heart in its comforting conclusion that our trials give us experience and are for our good.

Following Cook's talk, President Thomas S. Monson, our prophet concluded the session with some words of comfort to the church members.  Of the things he said, here is what I loved most:

"I love you.  I pray for you.  I would ask once again that you would remember me and all the general authorities in your prayers.  We are one with you in moving this marvelous work.  I testify to you that we are all in this together and that every man, women and child has a part to play.  May God give us the strength and the ability and the determination to play our part well..."

"...I leave with you my witness and my testimony that God our eternal father lives and loves us. He is indeed our father and He is personal and real.  May we realize and understand how close to us He is willing to come; how far He is willing to go to help us; how much He loves us and how much He does and is willing to do for us. May He bless you.  May His promise of peace be with you now and always."

General Conference is a beautiful concept.  It gives members of the church an opportunity to pause from the chaos and confusion of life twice a year to come hear inspired men and women of God teach, comfort and offer guidance.  I certainly gained a lot from the short amount of Conference I was able to see and hear this weekend, and my "happy accident" experience is one I'll certainly never forget.