28 September 2014

A Quick Two Years

Katherine making her birthday cake while Claire supervises.
We celebrated Kate's birthday a few days ago (along with her birthday buddies, my sister Jenny and Shamu the whale).
Skyping with family while she opened presents. Isn't technology incredible???
While it's been a quick two years that she joined our family, it seems like a lifetime ago--Jack was still a student, we were still in Iowa, I was still in my twenties(!) and the girls were all small.
As of late, most mornings Kate sits on my lap while I write.
So much has happened since her rather inconvenient-yet-perfect choice of birthdays and it's been so fun to have Kate along for the ride.
Raven's the pace setter, Claire's the slave driver (I want to go hoooome!) and Kate's the comedian, always making funny faces back at me by smashing her face into the screen.
It was kind of a normal day: we went running, ran a couple errands and still worked on the house and took naps, but we did do a lot of fun stuff too.
The party started early with a My Little Pony party the night before at the library.
For the first time, we visited Evelyn for lunch. Kate, Claire and I were welcomed into the clan with open arms and laughed and played until we were worn out. Though I couldn't get Katherine to say definitively what she wanted for her special birthday dinner, she for sure wanted to go swimming. So she did.
They probably all want to go to school now.
Of course, we had to have time for horse watching, cat petting, running in circles and high-fives:
She claims she's no longer a baby, uses phrases like, "That's so cool, mom!" and "I made this for you!" (among other equally hilarious, articulate expressions), is seriously considering potty training and is one of the few people who is a match for Claire, she's still by baby.
Getting ready to take the plunge.
We had a wonderful time celebrating together and are looking forward to another year with our sweet, hilarious, intelligent, spitfire Kate.
Blowing out candles all by herself!

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25 September 2014

Happy Dog

Raven stretching her legs while we had a family night bonfire.
Raven and I are averaging about three mile jogs four to five times a week. I get home and all I want to do is take a nap.
Raven's tired for all of thirty seconds, then she has spurts of fast speed and long, loping jogs where she weaves around with no particular destination. Once called inside, she spends her time snoozing in the cool storage room.
That's one happy dog.

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23 September 2014

Lemon Baked Tilapia

The girls gobbled theirs up!
The girls love fish. But I don't. So we compromised by using this recipe that does a good job getting rid of the "fishy" flavor. I must admit, it was good! It'll go on the regular schedule of low-cost, low-calorie meals. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

1 pound tilapia (or other white fish)
1/2 cup butter, melted
4 Tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Paprika
Parsley
Lemon wedges (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Combing butter and lemon juice in one bowl and the flour, salt and pepper in another. Dip the fish in the butter mixture, then the flour mixture, then place in a baking pan. Pour remaining butter over fish and sprinkle with paprika. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until fish is tender and flaky. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with lemon wedges (optional).
Enjoy!

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21 September 2014

Chivalry

Up a ladder, ready to squash a wasp with his shoe that kept pestering me while I was painting.
Though some think chivalry is dead, it's alive and well at our house. Since Jack is the only boy in a sea of girls, he has many opportunities to be gallant.
He lets the girls have a free ride on the lawn mower when it dies in the yard and won't start again. That's no small feat!
We'd walked a long way already and Claire couldn't take it anymore. She could practically nap on his shoulders.
The girls get to be his "shoulder angels" when they're tired but there isn't enough room in the stroller.
Fixing a hole in the roof that leaked when it rained.
More than once, he's scaled the roof for me to fix or install something. And though I could do all those things for myself just to prove that I can (although heights and wasps give me nightmares, particularly when combined), I'm more than happy to step aside and let Jack be chivalrous.

(And here's what a shoulder angel looks like at work, in case you're curious).

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20 September 2014

Two In A Row: Lessons of Multiple Miscarriages

My baby says she's no longer a baby anymore.
I declare this a year of the baby! Everyone seems to be making their special announcements one right after the other and I can hardly attend an activity or meeting or run errands without spotting pregnant bellies and wrinkly little newborns.

Unfortunately, Jack and I have missed out on sharing any good news about upcoming babies. Twice. In a row. The first miscarriage was sad but it was fast and furious and over within a few days. The second was much more devastating. On top of the torture of wondering whether or not something was wrong with my body, the miscarriage took FOREVER. It interrupted vacations, camping trips, weddings and everyday life and was always there, stretching on for months and months despite our patient efforts to be done with it--it just wouldn't go away (my doctor said she'd never seen one last so long...I'm seriously considering contacting the Guinness Book of World Records).

While it's been a sobering experience, I'm not fishing for pity (sympathy and empathy are fine, haha) it has given me time for reflection, pondering and prayer and I have learned innumerable things from it.  Allow me to share a few:

1.  Have a good cry...
Sometimes, all there is to do is sit down and have a good cry. I'm not a believer that we should never cry, but it is a balancing act. In fact, that usually is the first step I take when I'm feeling overwhelmed, defeated or deflated. The trick is to cry it out, then get up, wipe your tears, and move forward. Steve Maraboli said it well:
"Let your tears water the seeds of your future happiness."
2. ...but don't complain.
Just like a garden, too much water is as harmful as too little. The right amount of tears is an effective healing balm. At least for me.
A healthy crying session can do wonders to relieve stress. However, most of life is good and bright and joyous. I find that when I dwell on my problems, become weepy, negative and downtrodden, I immediately start to complain. Soon, everything is dreary and it drags everyone else down with me. As Jeffrey R. Holland once said:
"Yes, life has its problems, and yes, there are negative things to face, but please accept one of [my] maxims for living--no misfortune is so bad that whining about it won't make it worse."

3.  Be happy for others.
I will confess to the stinging feeling of jealousy as it appears that just about everyone I know has gushed about their soon-to-arrive baby. It seems it's a natural, innate quality in humans (or at least me) to be be fiercely envious of those who have what we want. Two miscarriages in a row has given me the chance to work on mastering that imperfect part of myself. It wasn't like I was in line for a child and someone cut in front, taking my baby. When I step back from our situation, I can think more clearly and it is easier to come to the conclusion that someone else having a baby has nothing to do with my ability or inability to have one, which in turn, has allowed me to be happy for others, even in the midst of hoping for what they've been blessed with. Again, Jeffrey R. Holland sums up my thoughts perfectly:
"You are not diminished when someone else is added upon." 
How simple and true (and easy to forget)!

4.  Keep things in perspective.
We often don't understand the reason for the happenings in our life but as Paul said, we are meant to walk by faith.  Partly, it means keeping things in a larger perspective, especially when life seems to be difficult.  It's so easy to focus on a pinpoint moment of sadness, fear, disappointment, frustration, etc. only to forget it's a small portion of our existence.  I would have never wished for anything like this to happen to our family but it has and will continue to be a growing and learning experience. As Abraham Lincoln puts it:
"We can complain (see number two) because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses."
It's all about how we look at it.
I love this woman's perspective on life, difficulties and challenges.

5. Keep busy.
Between three small children, a foreclosed, fixer-upper home, a cluster of animals and a fairly demanding volunteer church calling, I don't have trouble staying busy. It has been a blessing to not be able to sit and focus on my problems. Sometimes, I just needed something to do to distract me from the grief I felt--people needed and expected something from me. Sometimes, that desire has driven me to accomplish some goals I didn't think I had time for previously. In this past year of trying to have another child, I've run a half marathon, published my first novel, made wonderful family memories, made phenomenal progress on our house, adopted a dog, became a blood marrow donor, donated more blood, hair, time and money, learned new skills and visited new places. While I would have traded them all in a heartbeat for another baby, I am satisfied that I lived life fully and made it purposeful. While motherhood is the highest, holiest partnership I could hope to attain, I am not defined solely by that role. I am my own person, regardless of the number of children I bear.
6. Serve Others
With a trial so personal as something like a miscarriage, it is incredibly easy to become focused on myself. The antidote to self-serving is to serve others. While it seems counterintuitive to visit and help people with predicaments (everybody's got 'em) while I've got my own problems to face, I have always felt blessed for the time I've spent in service to another. For one, it puts my own difficulties in perspective (see number four). I'm not dealing with the death of a family member, a life-threatening disease, family issues, money problems, a war-torn country, religious intolerance, rebellious children or any of the other long list of tribulations that I could be facing. It also has created personal relationships with those who have shared their trials and what they've learned from them, which in turn strengthens me. Don't we all have challenges to face? Being reminded that we all have reason to weep as well as rejoice has been a wonderful review and reminder that we're all very similar and can therefore cheer each other through the times that test us.

7. Be Grateful
Dieter F. Uctdorf said, "How much of life do we miss by waiting to see the rainbow before thanking God that there is rain?" There are always going to be challenges that test and try us. Will we spend out life being bitter and angry every time something goes amiss?

The other day, I was working on the house, enjoying the cool weather, the children playing after my oldest returned from school, and literally thought to myself, "I am so happy." It was an interesting feeling--I was joyous and content even though there are things in my life that are not perfect and going according to plan. It's a difficult phenomenon to explain but you know it when you have it. The first step to obtaining that peace is by being grateful. I have a wonderful, supportive husband with a great job, three healthy, beautiful, hilarious children, horses in my backyard, space to breath and a giant foreclosed home for an art project. What do I really have to complain about (see number two)?
8. Make plans. But don't plan on it.
If things went my way, I'd be done having a dozen children, would have my 17 year old waistline back, live in a paid-for mansion on a self-sufficient 500 acre horse farm and homestead, have written several books, all of which have been made it onto various best seller lists and many of which have been adapted for the silver screen, have several patents and worthwhile inventions to my name, be able to display my Olympic and World Cup medals and trophies in dressage, eventing and probably a triathalon too, have created works of art that sell for millions, solved world hunger, cured cancer, memorized the scriptures, have the Christlike attributes down and have a spot guaranteed in heaven. But, so far, all those plans are still in progress. It is good to have goals, to have a plan for the future so that our life has direction and we can reach our fullest potential, but how often do things go perfectly? Part of the life is learning to enjoy the journey. The detours, the learning curves, the resulting adventures are what life is all about. If I'd accomplished everything my heart desired already, I'm not sure I'd have much to look forward to in the future. Though we're sad that as of yet, we haven't been blessed with more children, anticipation for what will come and gratitude (see number seven) for what we have, what we've learned and what we've accomplished has been comforting.

9. Don't be offended.
I once stumbled upon a conversation between someone I knew and a friend of hers where her friend said an old woman at church had asked her when she and her husband were planning on having children. The young lady, offended that anyone would ask, gave a crude answer about her bedroom life which shocked the woman into silence. Though when and how many children to have is a very personal choice to make, that kind of attitude and response is exactly why people are afraid to inquire after one another, which only separates us, makes it difficult to relate to one another and in turn, to be supportive. We assume everyone else is judging when they ask when in reality, they're more likely excited for our upcoming adventure. Though there have been times I haven't been able to find the words to speak when someone asks me about having more children because I'm so choked-up and sad, more often than not, people have had similar experiences in childlessness and miscarriages. Some people have not and have offered words that were anything but comforting. "You're just stressed," or "It's not your time yet" or "I hope you aren't too upset about it," have been said, straight-faced to me. I felt like bursting into tears but I always waited until I was out of sight. When I think about it though, they really were trying and that's what's important. I've learned from these miscarriages that the best thing to hear is "I'm sorry," or "That stinks," or  "I've been there too." In the end, being offended doesn't help the situation at all--it doesn't make me feel better and it closes my relationships with people who were well-meaning. As far as I know, none of us are perfect and I too have stuck my foot in my mouth more than once. I can give others the benefit of the doubt.
A double rainbow seen from our deck.
10. Believe in miracles and tender mercies.
Around the time of my second miscarriage, there were an unusually high number of rainbows. I'm sure some would dismiss it as a coincidence in weather patterns, but I like to think of it as a small miracle and tender mercy. I'm not able to look at a rainbow and hear my girls' shouts of excitement and not be heartened. So, I try to see the miracles in my life more often. We take so many things for granted and forget that indeed, they truly are miraculous. I had a reproductive physiology and anatomy class in college and though there are millions of things that could go wrong, the creation of life, more often than not, happens flawlessly. What a miracle! Seeing my daughters grow from helpless infants to talented, intelligent, independent beings has also been a miracle. Watching a garden grow, experiencing nature, seeing the stars at night--all miracles. Being bitter and angry reduces those things to seemingly insignificant. Reminding myself that there are miracles and tender mercies if I'm willing to look for them has been a blessing.
While it's easy to read a list of lessons learned, it's harder to put everything into practice. I think about the things I've learned often and will admit to slipping back into my bitter, unhappy, jealous self on occasion. Still, I'm making progress and that's all I could hope for and know that I'm blessed for trying. Life is about gaining experience, both good and bad. In the end, we can only control our reaction to it. For now, I'll keep rereading my list, working hard and looking forward to the future.

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18 September 2014

At It Again

This is going to take a while...
I originally started on the south side of the house, then decided to take a hiatus. It was so sunny and hot that I'd squint to keep the sun and sweat from dripping in my eyes and end up with a headache after about twenty minutes of painting.
Someone's always willing to help.
So, we put up siding in the front and once that project was done, moved to the shady, cool north side of the house. Of course, once I did that, we had a spell of chilly, wet weather. Still, I've been trying to be better about finishing things (I am a starter, for sure--we've got a gazillion projects I'm 85% done with lying around. You'd be surprised how much of a difference trim or door knobs make). So, I finished the north side, saving for a few pieces of siding from our bee adventure that need to be put back up.
I got distracted by the front. And yes, I did put the ladder in the truck bed so I could get higher up.
Since there is no siding to speak of on the back of the house, I have been forced to finish the south side. It is slow going--the original siding on the south side hasn't weathered as well and that peak is REALLY high up there, plus I have to figure out a way to hide that unsightly door-to-nowhere void.
I can always see progress when I look at the original photos!
But, I am determined to finish 'cause once it's done, it'll be done.
(Probably).

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17 September 2014

Apple Butter

Apple butter and honey butter remind me instantly of childhood and autumn. Since we've got a few apple trees, we've had a bounteous harvest and making and preserving apple butter is high on the list (especially since it's so easy: it's made in the crockpot and we got an apple peeler that the girls think is fun to use!). It's delicious atop fresh bread, wheat muffins, biscuits, bagels, cornbread, english muffins or toast.
Right to work after breakfast!
Ingredients:

5 1/2 pounds apples, cored, peeled and finely chopped
2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt

Place apples in slow cooker. Combine remaining ingredients, pour over apples and toss to coat. Turn crock pot on to high for an hour. Stir apples and turn down to low, stirring occasionally for 9 to 11 hours. You can use an immersion blender to speed up the process. If canning, pour apple butter into a sterilized jar, wipe the lids and process in a water bath for ten minutes, ensuring the lids seal. Keep refrigerated after opening.
Enjoy!
Thanks to Moms With Crock Pots for the recipe inspiration.

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14 September 2014

Ohio

A new adventure: we can cross Ohio off our list of states visited!
We were so fortunate to take a quick weekend getaway up to the Lake Erie region of Ohio over Labor Day weekend.
In Kirtland, OH visiting the Newel K. Whitney store.
It seems like we haven't had as many trips lately, which is sometimes good (I'm a slavedriver on Saturdays when Jack's around to help me fix stuff on the house), but we were all in the mood for something fun.
Lake Erie. We were far enough north that our hotel TV had Canadian channels. Sooo close!
Since I've got the a goal to visit all fifty states, we decided to go somewhere new: Ohio! We left right after everyone got home from school and work and though we were slowed down by several accidents in Indy (seriously, no one can drive here without a major accident occurring daily), we made it through Ohio without much trouble and stayed a few nights in Sandusky.
Mercifully I remembered to pack a few crayons, paper and snacks to make the boat ride a little more fun.
We ate at Skyline Chili at the behest of several people and though I wouldn't say it was my favorite nostalgic restaurant (Steak 'n' Shake all the way!!!), the workers were extremely friendly.
Kate always wanted to snuggle up with Evelyn.
We made it to our cheap hotel in time to jump on the beds for a few minutes, then sink into sleep. In my rush to pack, I forgot the portable crib. Really, it must have been a subconscious choice not to bring it. Who am I kidding? Kate's not a baby anymore (at least that's what she tells me). She just snuggled right up to Evelyn and snoozed all night, with an only occasional, "Mom?" to make sure I was still there.
Watching out ferry's window.
We rode a giant fishing-boat-turned-ferry to a couple islands in Lake Erie. The girls were sooo elated to be riding a boat. For about ten minutes. Thankfully, I had some forethought and packed crayons, paper and snacks to sustain us.
Paddling past Cedar Point and a lot of other expensive boats.
The first was Kelley's island, a quaint little tourist island that has some pretty fascinating history. We trudged around for a while but with only one stroller and a couple miles to cover in an hour, we opted to rent a golf cart. We felt sort of snobbish buzzing around but the girls thought it was about the most exciting thing they've ever done.
Watch out everyone! Jack's on the road with a golf cart!
We drove over to the Glacial Grooves (some really cool rock formations etched out by moving glaciers) and looked around a bit before heading back to the boat.
The pattern in the rocks carved by countless years of being scraped by a glacier slowly moving through the area.
Our second stop was at Put-In Bay. That place was crazy. I don't believe I've seen so many inebriated middle-aged people in my life. We took a few minutes to destress at the playground (Kate tried her darndest to master the monkey bars), rented another golf cart and headed out to explore.
South Bass island apparently is home to the largest known geode so we "toured" it by taking a staircase down, crunching together with the other patrons (trying not to touch the crystals so we didn't forever marr them with our oily skin!), snapped a few photos, gawked, then headed back up.
Though we were determined to swim, we managed to arrive right as an algae bloom showed up. Oh, well. I remember being told how filthy Lake Erie was in elementary school so I wasn't too disappointed. We zipped over in our golf cart to the Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial instead.
Though we didn't get to ride to the top due to a long line of other people also wanting to ride to the top, we did admire the history of the island (it was pretty pivotal in the War of 1812).  There was even a guy there demonstrating some of the weaponry of the era.
We escaped to an overpriced (yet delicious) ice cream parlor for a brief rain shower and shortly after, were back on the boat, headed home. The girls were out like a light the second we got in the car and by dinnertime, we met up with some longtime friends, ate and they were ready to swim in the freezing pool (thankfully the rowdy college kids waited until we left to swarm the waters and cause a rukus).
A windy ride back to shore!
Sunday, we found a local ward to attend and enjoyed a wonderful sacrament meeting before finishing our trip.
During it's time, the Kirtland Ashery was equivalent to a million dollar business.
We drove a little further to visit a church history site in Kirtland, Ohio. Though it's smaller than Nauvoo, IL, it was fascinating reliving some of the history of ancestors of a shared faith.
An important (and original) building in church history: the N.K. Whitney & Co. store.
We toured the N.K. Whitney and Co. store, the Whitney home, the sawmill, the ashery and later, the Kirtland temple.
The Kirtland Temple.
The missionaries explained what life was like and what significant events occurred around that time and gave us time to explore.
A piece of ancient papyrus scroll, translation now found in The Pearl of Great Price.
The drive home was uneventful (thankfully we were able to avoid any of the cops waiting every ten feet to pull someone over for looking at them wrong). The next morning we were up for a pancake breakfast and even got some home improvements checked off the list.
Vacations are hard work!
What a fun, interesting and educational family trip together! I'm already excited for the next...any destination suggestions?
Posing on an old anchor.

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