Friday, January 31, 2014


I read a blog post about this a few weeks ago...  

And then I saw this on Instagram yesterday…

I don't know why I'm always surprised when those repetitions happen in my life.  They happen all the time.  I should be used to them by now.  That's how Heavenly Father gets my attention, by putting things in my line of sight multiple times so that I cannot possibly ignore them.  I love this one.  Seeing it twice in just the past few weeks has made me more aware of the passions in my life.  

Do you know what I'm passionate about?  Music.  I love it.  I have always loved listening to it.   I don't have a favorite genre or style.  I just like anything that reaches me.  You know, the kind that makes you stop and listen, that makes you remember something, or that inspires you to do something.  Sometimes it's the lyrics.  Sometimes it's the voice.  Sometimes it's the instrument.  I hear music everywhere.  Even when it's completely silent, there's always a song in my head.  Always.  (Right now, it's that "Say Something I'm Giving Up on You."  Oh, I love that song.)

But as much as I love listening to music, that's not the real passion for me.  My passion is making music.  I love to play the piano and I love to sing.  

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a singer.  Specifically, Marie Osmond or Karen Carpenter.  I sang at the top of my lungs, all by myself in my room with the door closed.  In a family where musical talent was abundant and effortless, you would have thought that any natural talent I had would have thrived, but I didn't let it.  I was intimidated by my parents' beautiful voices and in awe at the way extended family members could come over and pick up ukuleles and guitars and burst into song.  Everyone in my family sang.  Even my sweet, humble, inauspicious 80 year old grandmother, had the most beautiful alto voice I've ever heard.  And when the mood struck her, she added harmony and layers to the music that stunned us all.  There was always singing at my house, but I rarely, if ever, participated in it.  I loved sitting in the middle of it, but never could bring myself to contribute.  Somehow, I talked myself into thinking that I wasn't in the same league as all those great singers in my family, so I never tried singing with them.  Somehow, I convinced myself that the risk was too great.  What if I was terrible?  Then what?  

My current family sings as naturally and beautifully as the family I grew up in.  In fact, Craig and I met in our high school choir and I was instantly drawn to his deep, bass voice.  But even as the matriarch of this family, and even though I know that I must be at least partially responsible for their musical talent, I still have a hard time mustering up enough confidence to sing so that I can be heard.  I'm much happier tucked safely into a small group, or better yet, a massive choir, like DMCO.  As long as I'm not the only one singing a part and my voice is never completely identifiable, I'll sing until the cows come home.  

Someone told me years ago that I needed to stop worrying about what other people think and just sing.  (OK, a few million people may have told me that same thing.)  I know that my greatest challenge with this particular talent I've been blessed with is having the confidence to use it.  

This passion isn't random.  It's been around my entire life.  And it isn't without purpose.  I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to do something with it.  And I'm pretty sure that if I've been given the passion, I've also been given the ability.  

DMCO started again last night.  The music is more challenging this time.  There are more choir members.  The directors have higher expectations.  And yet, I can sit through a two hour intense rehearsal of mostly sight reading, and not even notice that the time has gone by.  I could have stayed for another two hours last night.  I am invigorated and energized in the time I spend there.  I leave those rehearsals wanting to turn the music up in the car and sing all the way home. 

After two-hour rehearsals week after week for months, and then signing up to do it all over again, I have more confidence in my talent.  My sight reading is better.  My range has increased.  And my voice is just a little bit better than it was before.  That happens when you practice a thing, or exercise a body part, or use a talent…things magnify and you can't help but be better at them.  I still don't know what I'm supposed to do with this passion.  Maybe DMCO is it.  I most certainly love it there, and I love being numbered among that giant group of musicians who can move heaven and earth with it's amazing sound.   Maybe a solo career like Marie Osmond's isn't in my future, but just being an integral part of a really great choir? Maybe I'm just supposed to have enough confidence to sing so that my kids remember hearing my voice?  Whatever it is, I'm grateful for yet another opportunity to take a few more steps toward this passion and magnify this talent.  

Listen to this incredible arrangement of How Great Thou Art that we're singing this season…it's in the background until the end, but what the directors are saying is pretty amazing, too.  

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Happy Reunion

Guess what yesterday was….!!!  

Exactly six weeks since my hysterectomy.  

That is worthy of celebration and a blog post for two reasons:  

First, I'll be able to stop throwing the word hysterectomy around so casually on this blog from now on because I am officially done with this chapter of my life.  The words RECOVERY, SURGERY, and HYSTERECTOMY are forever banned from any future blog posts, I promise.  

And the second reason is this beautiful thing…
Oh, I have missed my vacuum cleaner so much.  I've been counting down the weeks until I could throw myself back into a cleaning ritual again.  And I don't even know what it is about vacuuming after a hysterectomy that is so dangerous, but the doctors and nurses all said, "Don't do it."  So I haven't.  Craig and the kids have done a great job, but it's just time for me and my cleaning friend to get back together.  I'm not a clean freak, really.  I'm more of a tidier.  There are dust bunnies lurking around, shoes have a hard time making it back into my closet, and my bathroom can get pretty scary.  But the one thing that makes me feel like a complete success as a homemaker is vacuuming.  

And boy, did I vacuum today!

Nothing was safe from this super cleaning duo.  We vacuumed the rugs, the wood floors, the carpet, the closets, the bathrooms…I would have taken the thing outside and done the patio if I had thought of it.  
After a few hours of quality reunion time, my house is now covered with those beautiful, freshly vacuumed lines all over the carpet.  I love those!  I just sat in my closet and looked at the ones in there for a really long time.  I may never let anyone walk in that closet again.  They make me so happy.  

And what a coincidence that Vacuum Reunion Day happened to fall on the day that Craig gets home from his winter weather extravaganza business trip in Birmingham.  He loves vacuum lines on the carpet, too.  He'll be thrilled that the vacuum and I are back together again.  

Oh, I just remembered another endearing flaw of mine…I hate to wrap the cord around the right way.  So I just coil it up and hang it precariously on the top hook and then hurry and close the closet door before it has a chance to fall off.  That's good enough, right?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Winter Weather

It is seriously COLD today!  Even two hours after the sun has come up, it's still only in the 20s out there.  I have to get dressed and leave the house today, but I REALLY don't want to.  

Here's where Craig is this week…
Winter Storm Leon came in yesterday about 11am and continued to dump snow on Birmingham throughout the day.  When did we start naming winter storms??  Schools closed, businesses closed, traffic sat.  Craig sent me this picture yesterday afternoon after a long day of meetings...  
His office stayed open for any employees who were stranded because of the weather.  And amazingly there were a LOT of them who stayed.  Craig's hotel happened to be just across the parking lot so he and his other traveling companions were able to walk.  
This is Craig's business associate, Joe, who flew in from the McAllen office and that's a car on fire in the background that they saw as they walked across the parking lot to their hotel.  Crazy…

Since all their late afternoon meetings fell apart early because of the weather, Craig and Joe decided to grab some dinner.  Thank goodness for lots of restaurants within walking distance.  Their group of two quickly turned into a group of four and then 16, and they found a sushi place with a limited menu that was still open and serving dinner.  It took them over four hours to eat and get back out to their hotel.  What a crazy trip!  

People slept in their cars last night on the freeway because they could not get home.  Traffic all over Birmingham was just stopped for hours and hours.  I cannot imagine spending a night in my car in freezing temperatures.  Sometimes I don't even wear a coat (ok, I never wear a coat.)  I would be toast in that situation, for sure…a small, brown, frozen piece of toast.   

It's 12 degrees in Birmingham right now and people have been advised to stay inside for one more day.  Craig is supposed to fly home tonight at 6:00, but all flights into and out of Birmingham have been cancelled.  No one is thrilled about that.

I hate that he's stuck in a place that's not with us, but I'm grateful he's not sleeping in his car.  I'm grateful that he has food, a toothbrush and a hotel room, and companions who are in the same boat.  And I'm especially grateful today for heated homes and electric blankets and fuzzy slippers in weather like this.  
...maybe if I wait a little longer to leave, it'll get up to 45.   

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sick Days and Football

McKay woke up with a sore throat and a little fever this morning.  I'm hoping we're not starting another round of strep.  He slept until 10 and then dragged himself out to the living room wrapped in a giant blanket.  While I showered and got ready for the day, he watched all of the NFL playoff games…yep, the ones from last month that he's already seen.  He is deeply entrenched in football these days.  He made me sit with him and watch the end of the Cincinnati game because he really loves the Bengals???  I really don't know what determines his loyalty.  

And then when we could endure no more TV, he went into his room and played with his Legos.  McKay has always been a Lego kid.  He can sit  for hours and work on some elaborate construction.  After a few minutes, he came out looking for the iPad.  He said he needed it for the details.  

The afternoon went on while he continued working on his Lego project.  He kept the doors closed until it was completely finished and a proper unveiling could take place.  I cleaned a closet, filed some stuff, worked on a RS talk, made dinner, picked up two different girls from two different schools, and still he worked…

Finally, late into the night, after I came home from Enrichment, he was ready to show us his masterpiece…

Do you recognize it?  Maybe this will help...
It's MetLife Stadium (where the Super Bowl is being played this weekend)

Let me give you a closer tour of McKay's replica…
the Press Box 

 that's Peyton Manning in the helmet

 and Pete Carroll in the blue and black 

this is a retractable net behind the goal post that actually works!

 and that thing suspended in the air is an aerial camera…of course it is.  

Let me just mention that I didn't know who any of those people were last night during McKay's tour of the field, and he named ALL the players!  I thought Peyton Manning still played for Indianapolis!  But after listening to all the stats and McKay's predictions for the game on Sunday, I definitely feel much more prepared to watch.  Did you know that if the Broncos win, Peyton Manning will be the second oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl?  Well, I didn't.  And I don't know who the first oldest quarterback was but I'm sure McKay does.  He talked himself to sleep giving me the stats about all the past Super Bowls.  He was shocked at how much I don't know.

I'll leave you with an aerial shot of McKay's MetLife Stadium…
It's amazing to me that THAT stadium up there came from this pile of bricks…and one very creative little mind.
And one more funny thing…

Just before I went to sleep, I woke McKay up to make sure he went to the bathroom, and in his half asleep state he said, "It's not halftime yet."  

Yep, we're eating, breathing, and sleeping football around here these days.  

Monday, January 27, 2014

Interrupted Days

Megan spent most of last week at home with strep throat.  

This morning, after a busy weekend, after taking Craig to the airport, after making breakfast and lunches for four kids and getting them all out the door, I thought I deserved to have a couch day.  It's one of those cold, blustery days today and Downton Abbey on my DVR called to me more loudly than driving all the way to Plano for Institute.  So I snuggled up in my jammies with a blanket and slippers and happily planned to spend my day with just a remote control and a good book.  

And then Megan texted that she felt terrible and needed to come home.  

The day did not belong to me after that.  I forced myself to get up, get dressed and get in the car in 30 degree weather that felt like 19 degrees.  

Megan came home and slept and snuggled with me for a little while before the after school rush started.  Savannah came home at 2:30 and McKay at 3:00.  Emma texted at 3:15 that she did not have rehearsal today after school, so I picked her up.  At 3:55 when I thought the coast was clear to slip back into bed with that book I've been trying to read all day, Emma came in and said that she actually DID have rehearsal and would need a ride back to school.  I tried again a few more times to sneak back into my bed, but the colder weather meant that little boys were inside my house instead of outside of it, that missionaries were looking for warm refuge, and that children would be looking for a hot dinner.  

So, my plans for a quiet day with a book and a blanket didn't come to pass, but tonight when I tucked them all in early at 8:45 and finally got back into my warm bed that had been waiting for me all day, I didn't regret one bit the way that my day had unfolded.  

This is where I'm supposed to be.  It is not my JOB to be their mother.  It is my calling, my joy, my fulfillment.  And even though I think sometimes at 8:00am that the day would be better spent relaxing in some way, it's always better to spend it with them.  Sick or not sick.  Grateful or not grateful.  Happy or unhappy.  These children are the reason I'm home in the first place, and the days that they'll need me are numbered.  There will be plenty of days in the future that will belong to me…just not this week perhaps.  

Friday, January 24, 2014

Menu Planning

Do you know what I'm SO excited about this week?  The MONTHLY Menu Plan that I worked on while I was pretending to scrapbook last weekend.  I have sporadically used weekly menu plans in the past and I LOVE them, but somehow Friday always rolls around and I'm not prepared for either the weekend or the following week.  So I thought a plan covering a longer period of time might be a better option.

Here's what I did…

I went through all of my Pinterest recipes and all of our "family favorites" and made a list of 30 different dinners that my family either already loves or that I've wanted to try.   Surprisingly it wasn't that hard to come up with 30.

Then I made a MASTER LIST of all the groceries needed to make ALL of those recipes.

And then when I got home I transferred all those recipes onto a giant desk calendar that now lives on our fridge instead of on my desk.  

Craig prefers dinners with meat in them, so I made sure to plan all of our pasta favorites and meatless dinners on the nights when he's traveling.  I scheduled mostly crock pot dinners or quick dinners on Wednesday nights because of the small window between Cub Scouts and YM/YW activities.  And easy, prep ahead meals for Sundays.  

After a week of this menu in place here's the reality of it...I've only stuck with the plan for three out of five days…and the weekend will look slightly different than it does on that calendar, too.   I try to have all of our events scheduled on the calendar, but variable things like Savannah's work schedule, and missionaries popping over, and camp outs that I forget about, make flexibility a good thing. Wednesday night's dinner wasn't a hit, so I ended up with tons of leftover chicken.  So for dinner last night, instead of quiche, I just got rid of the yucky stuffing part of Wednesday's dinner that no one liked, diced up the chicken breasts and made a double batch of chicken pot pie for the missionaries' impromptu visit.  I had everything already on hand for that and all of those quiche ingredients will be fine until I decide to rotate that back into the schedule.  (I also whipped up a yummy Dr. Pepper cake, because really, where is that stuff not delicious??)  The menu isn't exact by any means, but I do have a rough idea of what meals will look like around here through mid-February which is awesome.  And…the best part is that I have all of the pantry ingredients for all 30 of those recipes!  The only thing I might occasionally have to do is fill in with the fresh produce. 

I thoroughly enjoy my job in this house as chief meal planner and executive chef.  It is extremely fulfilling to make food for my family and the other people who come through my kitchen on a regular basis.  And to know that all of the planning is already done for the month is such a huge help.  Having a plan makes the schedule stay together, it makes people feel comfortable, and it keeps all of us sane (ok, mostly it keeps me sane.)  It's such a relief to be able to consult the calendar in the morning and know what the evening will look like.  That way, when those unexpected trips to the doctor's office for strep tests, and changes in rehearsal schedules, and frigid winter weather no one wants to leave the house in, threaten to disrupt the week, no one has to panic.  The pantry is full.  There is a plan for dinner.  And if necessary, we can shift to tomorrow's plan.  

I feel strongly that there is great value in having meals together around the table at a regularly scheduled time.  We connect in a different way at the table for breakfast and dinner than we do anywhere else.  I love to have that time with my  kids in the morning before they leave the house and again in the evening when they come home.  They spend so much time away from us that it's nice to have those end caps to our days when we can listen to them, instruct them, hear their funny stories, and rejoice together in their accomplishments.  The kids feel it when we get casual about meals.  We all do.  

I'm grateful to have the opportunity to stay at home and I feel the weight of the responsibility to be doing meaningful, purposeful things with that time.   Dinners are meaningful and purposeful.  Food equals love.  

"What your kids really want for dinner is you."  - Dallin H. Oaks, Good, Better, Best

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Throwback Thursday

In 2003, just after McKay was born, we sold our beautiful home in Atlanta and moved to Utah.  

Craig had plans to open his own insurance agency once we got to Cache Valley, but there was a transition period while he looked for office space, trained with Allstate, and took a series of licensing exams.  For almost 3 years, we lived in his parents' basement.  Even though my in-laws had a lovely, spacious home and generously shared it with us, I don't often look back on those "basement years" with fondness.  It was difficult for me to live in someone else's house with four little kids and most of our belongings in a storage shed.  I longed for the day when we could buy our own home and I wouldn't have to worry about toys left in the pathway of elderly people.  Eventually we did move into a perfect little house just a few blocks away from the grandparents, and family life returned to normal…for a little while.  

We have moved into and out of three houses since those basement years, and I still don't think about them without remembering a good share of challenges.  But today, when I came across these pictures, I was suddenly filled with so much gratitude for my in-laws, especially my father-in-law.
Craig's dad is an infinitely patient man who adores his grandchildren.  I had forgotten until today about those days when McKay would climb up the stairs to read the paper with Grandpa in the mornings...  
…and how Grandpa always invited McKay to help him fix things.
By far, McKay's favorite place to be was outside.  As soon as the snow melted, Craig's dad was out maintaining his beautiful yard.  And McKay was right there with him.  Every tool Grandpa used, McKay had a matching one.  Every job that needed to be done, McKay was the official helper.  If Grandpa was wearing his work hat, McKay would wear his.  Grandpa rarely made a move in those days without his small shadow right behind him.

And even though there were jobs to be done, and Grandpa was very busy, he always made time to not only include McKay in the work, but also to teach him and talk to him.  They stopped to look at birds and worms.  They talked about the kinds of flowers and trees they were caring for.  They carefully cleaned and put away all the tools they used.  And then they would sit on the deck and have a little lemonade after they were finished and admire all their hard work.  And always, Grandpa would rave about how much help McKay had been to him.   McKay learned from his Grandpa the joy of being outside, the pride that comes from a job that's done well, and the great talent of figuring things out.  At ten years old, McKay is a meticulous sorter and organizer.  He can take apart anything AND put it back together.  And he is eager to learn everything he possibly can.  I'm sure that is, in large part, due to those early years with a Grandpa who was a wonderful example.   

Even though those two and a half years were long for me, they were such a huge blessing.  Having grandparents around definitely eased the burden of keeping four children entertained.  They were our on call babysitters when we needed to escape, and our live-in advisors when we had late night questions about Craig's business and our plans for life.   Our kids were able to forge strong, lasting bonds with their grandparents in those two and a half years that would have taken them much longer had we lived in our own home.

So...ten years later, from a vastly different perspective, I am grateful for the places we've been, the roads we've traveled, the storms we've weathered, and especially for my kind and gracious in-laws for making so much of that possible.  Our lives have truly been blessed because of them.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Details about the Girls Weekend

Have you ever been in the presence of someone who has found their passion in life?  I run into people like that all the time.  They light up when they talk about their day.  They make you feel like you want to DO something…anything.  They are inspiring and motivating and completely magnetic.  

Well, it was an unexpected surprise to run into three people like that last weekend.  

I mentioned in last week's post that my neighbor, Karryn, invited me to go on this scrapbook weekend with her.  She has been going on these weekend retreats for the past 15 years, at the same bed and breakfast and with the same group of women.  I have to admit, I was a little intimidated by the thought of being the "new" member of the group.  But as soon as I got there, I realized that was a silly thing to worry about.  Everyone was so nice and so warm and welcoming.  

The first person I met and connected with was Karryn's friend, Emma.  She is currently a librarian at an elementary school so of course I was immediately interested in her job.  (I have wanted to get my Masters in Library Science for years and just keep putting it off.)  Emma got her Masters two years ago.  In the course of our conversation we learned that we have tons in common.  We both have teaching degrees, hers is from a Georgia university and mine is from Texas.  She became certified in Georgia first and then moved to Texas and certified there.  I started in Texas and then certified later in Georgia.  She taught for awhile but then stayed home when her son was born.  We are both music minors.  We both love Maroon 5 and Mozart.  We both play the piano.  Emma and I had so much fun getting to know each other.  She is a fascinating woman.  During the time she was raising her son, she started a blog/website/company with teaching tips and strategies to help teachers do a better job in the classroom.  She has written books and taught seminars, and a few years ago was contacted by someone in INDIA to travel there and teach their teachers to be more effective in the classroom.  She went…all by herself…and spent three weeks on a speaking tour of the private schools in India.  Unbelievable!   I could not get enough of her experiences and I'm sure she was exhausted after all of my questions.  

The second person I met was Karen, the owner of the bed and breakfast we stayed in.  I was completely fascinated by the whole process of running a bed and breakfast, so I asked her how she and her husband came to find the place, what they loved about it, if they had previous experience with property and people and the hospitality industry, what was a surprise to them, and how long they thought they would stay there.  She was absolutely delightful to talk to.  Once again, she didn't mind my interrogation and she patiently answered every single question I had.  I have never wanted to own a bed and breakfast, but after watching Karen and her husband come to life with a house full of people to cook for and entertain, a tiny little part of me considered the idea…just for a little while.  

And the third unexpected person I met was a man named Darryl who was there taking pictures of the home and property to update the bed and breakfast blog.  Emma and I got the breakfast a little early on Sunday morning, and Darryl was there taking pictures of the kitchen and dining area…with his iPad!  What??  Of course, I was shocked and horrified that he wasn't using a camera, so I had to ask him all about it.  Do you know that he is a professional photographer and doesn't even OWN a DSLR!?  Since I had spent the entire day Saturday pouring over DSLR books and experimenting with camera settings, I had to find out the scoop on his business.  And honestly, he talked so fast and shared so much, that in just the short time I spent with him, I felt like I had completely missed the technology boat.  He exclusively uses either his iPhone or his iPad to take all of his pictures, and then he edits them right there on his iPad with apps like Photoshop and iVideo and IVeeJay.  Amazing…he showed me how to take still pictures and turn them into slide shows, complete with a personalized soundtrack, in about 5 minutes.  He showed me how to merge movies and manipulate music so that you can avoid copyright infringement (I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that, but it was good to know what the boundaries are.)  There really is nothing you can't do with an iThing.  You don't even have to know anything about aperture or shutter speed.  It's so fast and so convenient.  I don't know if I'm ready to convert to investing in an iPad for all of my pictures, especially after falling in love with my camera all over again, but it was fascinating to listen to him tell me about this little passion for technology and pictures that has led to a thriving career.

I came home on Sunday bubbling over with all the new things I had learned and all the people I had talked to.  Craig could barely stay awake late into the night as I told him about every detail of my weekend.   

What I thought was going to be 48 hours of sleeping late and listening to women reminiscing over baby pictures, actually turned into a rejuvenating, inspiring and re-motivating weekend that ignited something in me to walk toward those things that make me light up.  I so want to be one of those people who is magnetic and enthusiastic about life.  I may not teach seminars or travel to India.  I may not own a bed and breakfast or design websites.  But there are things that I genuinely love to do and talents that I have been generously blessed with.  And after this weekend, I realized that when we figure out what our super powers and passions are, we have a responsibility to use them to connect and bring light to those around us.  

I am so grateful that Karryn was persistent about inviting me to this weekend retreat, and I am so grateful to have been in the company of those amazing people.  I could not have planned a more perfect weekend.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Our dear sweet missionaries had transfers today.  We knew this was coming.  We knew they would receive a call Saturday evening from the mission president telling them who was leaving and where they'd be going.  So it's not like we weren't prepared.  But, honestly, we (the entire ward) had been sort of mentally and emotionally preparing to lose Elder Christensen, not Elder Saenger.   Elder Christensen has been in the Allen 1st Ward since August, so each time a transfer date comes up, we expect it to be him.  But once again, he gets to stay…and we are all secretly breathing a sigh of relief about that because he's awesome.

We have had a lot of missionaries come through our home.  Some of them make a huge impression and others just pass through.  These two have left a lasting impression for sure.  They are great young men individually, but they also made a great companionship.  It's so amazing to see two 20ish boys come together not knowing a single thing about each other, and potentially not having a single thing in common, but still be able to form an effective and spiritual partnership.  Elder Saenger and Elder Christensen made a really good team.  I would have loved it if they had both gotten to stay.  Their spiritual thoughts and their object lessons were a great opportunity for our kids to learn about the gospel and to feel the spirit in our home.  They have also gotten so excited about sharing their faith with friends at school and people that they meet.  Elder Christensen and Elder Saenger have been great examples of how amazing missionary work can be.

But…as I have to keep reminding myself and the teenagers around me…change is good.  Change helps us learn and grow.  This change will bring new opportunities for both of these missionaries and for the wards in which they serve.  We're excited to meet Elder Christensen's new companion this week and we hope he likes us as much as his companion does.  

I'm so grateful that these missionaries feel so comfortable here, that we live in an area where we can interact with them regularly and often, and that my kids have been able to see the influence great missionaries can be.  We will miss Elder Saenger so much, but we know that he'll be a great missionary in the Little Elm area for the last four months of his mission.  And we look forward to hearing from him after he gets back home.