Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Chaos of Creation

Lately, I've been doing some studying about the paradoxes we find when we study truth and the principles that attend it; for example, humility brings strength, meekness is actually controlled power, those who are last shall be first, etc.  Now that I'm noticing the principle of opposition, I'm seeing it everywhere.

Including in my kitchen.

Right after Steve and I bought the home that we currently live in (8 years ago, guys!), we made a goal to paint/decorate one room per month until we liked the paint job in every room.

The color I chose for our kitchen?  A dark, rich, warmly inviting red.

And I loved the red, truly, I did--but after 8 years of the same thing (and after realizing that one sliding glass door just didn't lighten the room in a way that I wanted), I decided I needed a change. 
Note the mismatched table and chairs--the 6 black chairs came with our original dining set, the table was a Craigslist treasure that Steve found after our Ikea one bit the dust, and the two end chairs I found at our local thrift store when we realized that we had no extra seating for visitors.  For months, I'd been planning on doing something about them and never yet had.

Our white accent wall--it brought a little more light into the room.
(I know.  Our fridge and cupboards look super clutter-y, but I'm not sure on a better way to display my children's artwork...I'm open to suggestions, however!)
One morning, while Steve was at work (and after he'd already bought the paint for me to redo our kitchen with), I got a wild hair and decided to sand and repaint the table and chairs all by myself.

However, the problem with any creative venture?
It usually entails a little chaos at first.

Or maybe a lot.

Sanding a full-sized dining table inside one's actual dining room results in a LOT of dust.  Even when you lay down tarps underneath.

But, because I knew this table would get a LOT of wear and tear, I wanted to do it right, so I did the filling putty inside all of the scratches, and we sanded, sanded, SANDED.
It got super messy, and with the "help" of my four children, for a while I wondered if I had made a mistake.

After sanding the old black chairs a bit, I actually really liked the scuffed rustic look that it gave them, so I left the backs and legs black and then painted the wooden chairs to match; I painted all of the seats blue so it gave some unity to the "set."

After which I painted the table top blue, with the legs and undersides black to match the chairs.
I'm super in love with how it turned out.

I wasn't, however, foolish enough to even consider painting my kitchen on my own, so I waited until Steve was home to start that project.

This is where the chaos got rather intense:
I love how much counter space my kitchen has.  The only issue with lots of counter space means that it can hold a LOT of mess....because keeping things on the floor is no longer an option when you have a toddler who loves nothing more than getting into stuff.

We maaaay or may not have kept Calvin placated with a lot of chocolate and TV time during this endeavor.

He didn't seem to mind.
But, as with nearly any creative attempt, the effect is one that I'm grateful for.  My kitchen feels much lighter, more open and airy, and I like having a dining set that looks as though it all belongs together rather than like the yard sale special it really was.
The decorations were mostly ones we already had--I painted the frames of the pictures we already owned, and really liked the effect.

I also kept two dried flower bouquets--my wedding bouquet (below) and a dozen yellow roses Steve gave me (above, in the red glass jar).
It's interesting how long I put off this project.  I had been wanting a change in my kitchen for over a year now, and had never attempted this project because I thought it would be too hard, I stressed about the fact that I would make too many mistakes, or I was worried about the cost (Really, other than the cost of the paint and some sandpaper, the rest of the stuff was stuff we already owned).

How often do I let fear hold me back from what I really want?

The piece that I'm proudest of--I decided to paint some ivy and flowers around the door freehand.  I love painting, and although the only formal training I've had was the zero-hour art class I took in 7th grade, I'm liking how it turned out--kind of like my life: imperfect but sweet.

Final effect:
Yeah, I know--the counters are still messy and the fridge still looks cluttered, but hey--we live here.  And my children apparently think that "Clean up the dining room" is code for "Put everything in the dining room onto the kitchen counter."

But this is a kitchen I'm proud of.

Yet another paradox of creation--we can see the faults and flaws of our creations clearly (more clearly than most, I'm sure) and yet still experience joy in what we've created.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Graduation Weekend

I know it's out of order, but I'm backtracking and blogging about our summer--starting with (drumroll please).... 

Graduation weekend!!  

Yeah.  I'm way behind.

Starting off with:

Clark's kindergarten Track and Field Day!
Complete with popsicles and little siblings!

 I volunteered to help--well, okay, a friend volunteered for me to help her, actually, but same difference, because it meant showing up with my two pre-schoolers to help run the parachute station.
It was windy and chaotic, and about as structured as you can expect, but still lots of fun.

 After that was Clark's Kindergarten Graduation, which was just plain awesome.  That kid is so adorable.
He was pretty excited that Steve, me, AND his NanaDee were all able to attend, along with Maggie and Calvin, of course.

 Can you tell?
 He sang and performed brilliantly (I love how he gets so into the movements, haha).

And afterwards posed for a picture with his principal, Mr. Owens.

 We really love Mr. Owens.  He is a great guy and an AWESOME principal.
We also loved his teacher, Mrs. Slade:

 And his teacher's assistant, Mrs. Sipes.  She lives in our ward, so she was extra invested in Clark, which really pays off when his mom is wanting to know how things are going!
That weekend, my sister, Katie, who I don't get to see NEARLY enough, came up to visit (for McKay's graduation, because high school graduation is apparently a bigger deal than Kindergarten Graduation when one lives hours away), and I snapped a picture of her and my mom.  
I just love these ladies.

 The main event of the weekend was McKay's graduation, of course.  Because he won the J. Rufus Crandall Award (basically the music award for the school), he was asked to perform a musical number for the graduation.  He asked Molly and I to accompany him, which we were happy to do, and we all decided on The Piano Guy's "It's Gonna Be Okay" to perform.

It turned out nice, and as a bonus, Molly and I got to sit in the parent's section so we could be close to the stage in order to play, which meant I got some decent shots of McKay walking in!
 Crazy.  That's my baby brother.
 Another Memorial Day Weekend tradition is that the family does branding--there are usually more kids than cows at these branding sessions, but it's nice for me to have my kids experience at least a little bit of the ranching life that I grew up with.

Including Maggie's own personal "Coin Purse."
 If you don't know what that is, ask a rancher.  They'll tell ya (Don't worry, I made her wash her hands after handling it, and when her back was turned, it "accidentally" got thrown away).

Another Memorial Day tradition is that we go and visit our family members who are located in the Snowflake Cemetery--Grandpa Flake and Alma, of course, are the first ones we visit:
after which we wandered a bit.  It's been fun for me to go to the cemetery, now that I've been a little more involved in my family history, as I recognize many more of the names on the graves, as well as the stories about the people there.  

What a lovely weekend that was, and I'm glad that now we have it recorded.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Be Still and Know

Yesterday morning, I took yet another negative pregnancy test.

I'd gotten tired of taking negative tests and had resolved to not buy any more, until I counted the days on the calendar and realized that my dear old Aunt Flo, who is usually so regular you could set a clock to her, was late.  When you're trying for a baby, as Steve and I are, this is always exciting, and so we dropped everything, ran to the store, and bought a test.

I was certain I saw a line--Steve wasn't so sure.

He was right.  I was wrong.

Apparently Aunt Flo got caught in traffic, because she showed up two days late and even more cranky than usual.

It's a sad irony that when you're trying--and not succeeding--to get pregnant, the consolation prize is a week's worth of bloating, cramping and bleeding.  I'm sure there's reasoning behind that; opposition in all things and all that--but it would be nice if, instead, the consolation prize was, "Hey--you don't get a baby, but instead, you're going to be magically skinny and energetic!  Don't be too sad!"

Or something like that.

I haven't written much on here about our experience trying for this fifth baby, mainly because we already have four children, we've only been trying for an amount of time better measured in months than in years, and I have friends who have experienced true infertility for years, while mine is what I see as a temporary pause in our scheduling.  I haven't wanted to complain, because I can see God's hand in this just as surely as I've seen His timing with each of our other children.  I have learned and grown as a mother, and I have learned and grown as His daughter.  I've tried to take these extra months and become something better than I was, and looking back at where I was at the beginning of the year, when we got the answer to start trying for a baby, I can see the growth I've experienced.

Opposition is a necessary part of life.  In a piece of art, the light is noticeable because of the shading; highlights are offset by darker areas.  I have more joy now as a mother to the four children I already have than I have ever yet experienced, even while the sorrow hits my empty arms as my toddler climbs out of them to go explore and I don't have another baby to pick up in his stead.

So I haven't written about it, because my life is FULL of light.

But there are some shadows, as well.  

In my ward, there are approximately a dozen ladies who are either now pregnant or whom have just had babies.  As I entered church a couple of weeks ago with my husband and four kids in tow, a sweet older lady giggled, "Better be careful walking through that door!  Everyone else under thirty who has come in here has been pregnant!"

I smiled and simply said, "Bless your heart for thinking that I'm under thirty!"

She laughed, and I continued on my way, ushering my own private circus into the chapel where they could cause a sufficient distraction to at least a third of the congregation as they usually do on Sundays.  I sat and prayed, as I do every Sunday, that I could continue to make the progress I know is required of me as a disciple of Christ, and that I could have patience until the timing is right for this next baby to join our family.

Sitting in Relief Society and glancing around at the sweet babies and the swollen bellies and happy, slightly-exhausted pregnant glow of these other ladies, I can feel my heart break just a little more every month as time goes by and my wish goes unfulfilled--yet isn't that what Christ asks for in His followers?  Broken hearts and contrite spirits?  

One of my favorite songs of all time, "Behold the Wounds in Jesus' Hands," was going through my mind on Tuesday morning.  The lyrics are simple and powerful, and one line in particular hit me over and over again:

Come, open wide your broken heart
And let the Savior in.

Softened, broken hearts are much better at changing than untested, firm and stiff hearts.  We break in shoes to run or dance, we break down gluten to make bread, we break open the soil to grow life.  Should I be surprised that Christ needs my heart to be a little more broken before granting us this righteous desire?

Patience has always been a virtue that I've struggled with.  I'm usually a quick learner, so when it comes to patience, I find myself following the personality trait that Neal A. Maxwell once said about himself--"I want to learn how to be patient RIGHT NOW."

Yet, as we've had to wait for a timeline that I'm trying to trust even as I can't see it, I'm finding myself learning how to be more patient and less angry or panicky when things don't go the way I think they should.  I'm taking time to slow down and talk to my children when I get frustrated, instead of yelling (NOT perfect in any way in this, but improving).  I take time in the mornings to truly sit, think, and read the words of life, rather than jumping straight into a hectic, busy day with no spiritual armor on.  Not because I'm righteous or disciplined, but because I need it now more than I have since my last big Opposition.

Yesterday morning, I took a negative pregnancy test.  Last night, a massive lightning storm hit our area.  Steve and I went together to sit on our front porch and watch quietly, observing the power of the hand of God.  The dark sky around us was lit up over and over with flashes of brilliance, as the thunder rumbled in the background, sometimes subtle and other times nearly shaking the house with its power.

As we sat, together in our silence and sorrow, the thought entered my mind: "Be still and know that I am God."  

Be still and know that He has a plan.  

Be still and know that He has a timeline.

Be still.

And know.

And I was still.  And I knew.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

First Day of School

Yet again, it's time for me to share the same silly old cliches about how I can't believe the summer went by so quickly, and how it amazes me that my kids are old enough to be going to the grades they're going to, and how time passes too swiftly....

You know the drill.

But it really DOES pass too swiftly.

Take these pictures as proof.
 Clark was ready for First Grade, and ADORES his teacher, Mrs. Junk.
Because she's new to our school district, I was a little nervous (the unknown always makes us a little nervous, doesn't it?), but the moment we walked into her adorable classroom for Meet the Teacher night, I knew Clark would love her.  Dr. Seuss-themed decorations, a genuinely warm, happy smile, and gerbils cinched the deal. He's had a blast this week! 
 My 8-year-old Jack, heading into 3rd Grade.  I can't believe how ridiculously tall he's getting, and judging from the amount of food he's been eating lately, I can tell he's heading into another growth spurt.  Hence the jeans that are still just a liiiiitle too big for him.
 He's thrilled to have Mr. Smith for his teacher, and from everything I've heard about Mr. Smith (who has been teaching here since my brothers were in third grade), he will be a fantastic match for Jack.  He really understands kids that age, and it's fun to hear how excited Jack is about his class time.

 We had a dinnertime conversation last night about how Jack and Clark are best friends (this conversation was only slightly prompted by me, by the way), and it made my heart so very happy to hear these boys express their love to each other.  I think some of that may have been inspired by us watching the "Two Brothers Two" series on the Mormon Channel--if you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it. It's definitely changed the way Jack feels about Clark, and vice versa.

Maggie headed into kindergarten, and she has the same teacher that Jack had when he was in kindergarten!
 She was nervous, but because we got back-to-school blessings from Dad the night before, she said that she could feel Heavenly Father helping her be less nervous and more excited.
This is her "silly" pose--she's sticking her tongue out.  Lol
 Also, in case you were wondering, yes, everything she is wearing has sparkles on it.  Sparkly shoes, sparkly pants, sparkly shirt, sparkly backpack, and sparkly fingernails.
 Calvin wanted to photobomb:
 And yes, I did get a little teary dropping her off on her first real day of school.  I'm coming to appreciate more and more just how fleeting these lovely stages really are.

But do not be fooled--even though I have three children in school, I'm not bored.  For one thing, my brother, Noah, is visiting before he heads off to China to teach English for several months:
 (He is SO good with my kids.  They just idolize him).

And yes, I'm jealous that he'll be over close to my neck of the woods, speaking Mandarin.

As for me, Calvin does plenty to make sure that I'm not bored during the day.  Why, just yesterday, while I was playing through the "Dear Evan Hansen" sheet music I just got (EEEEEK!), he decided that both he and my bathroom needed a make-over.
 I'd wondered why he was being so uncharacteristically quiet....
I'd forgotten how busy toddlers can be, but do not worry, Calvin is doing his very best to remind me.  He keeps me on my toes, that's for sure!

Hooray for back-to-school!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Finding the Joy

A while back, after some recurring disappointments, I asked my husband for a blessing of comfort.  Along with other inspired words and promises, one phrase that stood out to me was that I would be able to "find the joy" in my life, as it currently was, rather than waiting for my prayers to be answered before finding joy.

This phrase has rung true ever since, as I have been amazed and humbly grateful for the simple beauty that has been consistently making itself manifest to me.  Things on the outside haven't changed a whit; but I have felt my heart change, and that has made all the difference.

I'm now more easily able to do things like notice and appreciate the simple beauty of a rainy Sunday afternoon:

 With the people (and animals) I love most in this entire world surrounding me.
My life is beautiful and imperfect and lovely, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Side note--Jack is literally yelling at Clark in this picture because he keeps hitting him with the lightsaber, and Calvin is fussing because he wants to go out on the lawn but doesn't want to get rained on.  Lest you think this scenario is too idyllic.

How grateful I am for truth that reminds me that I don't have to wait for some ambiguous future milestone in order to be happy, but that I can choose to be happy during the sweet moments that occur in my life as it is now.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Uncle Dean

Because my Grandpa Flake died before my children were born (just two short months after Steve and I were married), I always felt a little sad that my children have no memories of him.

A few months ago, I felt prompted that my Uncle Dean (Grandpa's older brother) and his wife could use a visit.  It became a tradition to go over for a couple of hours every Wednesday, and once in a while, Calvin would come along with me; I felt close to Grandpa when I was visiting with someone who had so many of his same mannerisms, so it was a privilege to get to spend some time with him.

Uncle Dean suffered from pretty severe Alzheimer's, so while he was usually rather confused, he always lit up when Calvin was around.  Never mind the fact that he referred to my very boyish little toddler as "a pretty little girl..." I'm sure Calvin wasn't bothered by it, hahaha.

I enjoyed the sweet feeling of this couple and their lovely home; invisible but powerful evidence to me of two righteous lives well-lived.  The love they have for each other--even through illness and the forgetting that sometimes comes with old age--was such a joy for me to observe, as well.  One morning, as Aunt Nerita had been out running errands, Uncle Dean repeatedly asked about her.  I mentioned this fact to her, and her face lit up.

"He remembered me???"  She brightly asked, and then went to where he was sitting on the couch and snuggled up under his arm, which he tightened around her while we finished our visit.

He passed away just a couple of months after this picture was given, and when I went to his funeral, I was genuinely touched by the feelings there.  The teachings, the stories, the testimonies, and the tears were a perfect tribute to a man whose life touched many lives.  

How grateful I am for a heritage that includes people like these.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Happy

Last night I had the opportunity to visit with an old roommate from college who I hadn't seen in a few years, and who has been going through some difficult things lately and is up here in our tiny little town getting away from it all for a while.

I was being empathetic with some of the things she is going through, and acknowledging my testimony of the fact that Heavenly Father has a plan for each of us to be happy, even if that plan includes things we don't want in the moment.

At this point, she interrupted me, and asked simply, "Yeah, but you're happy, right?"

A little taken aback, I answered, "Well, yes, but..."

I struggled with filling in the rest.  How do you answer that question without giving the misleading impression that your life is a bed of roses while still acknowledging that you have been blessed beyond any right you have to claim?

"Well, yes, but my husband and I are so busy that the only time we really have to talk is at 11:30 at night when he has to leave at work at 5:00 the next morning."

"Yes, but my toddler has had a horrible heat rash over the past week and has cried for a large part of each day because of how miserable he is."

"Yes, but we've been trying for another baby for a while now (measurable in months and not years, but still longer than ever before), and still aren't pregnant."

"Yes, but I have four kids and two dogs and six chickens and a yard and a garden and a trashed house and no idea how to muster up the energy to keep up with all that I'm expected to do."

"Yes, but I often, almost constantly, feel overwhelmed and incapable of what is asked of me on a daily basis."

"Yes, but--"

The thing is, the "buts" don't matter.  When I look back on time after we've passed through it, the difficulties are incidental, but the joy and the progress and the learning that comes because of them are eternal.

Yes, I am happy.

"Yes, my husband and I are serving and busy and productive and constantly trying to improve ourselves and our community through his work, his schooling, the stake show we are helping to put on, and our children."

"Yes, my toddler has a heat rash right now, but he is normally healthy, cheerful, positive, and a joy to those around him."

"Yes, we've been trying unsuccessfully for another baby, but we have hope that we will eventually get pregnant.  And if not, we have four joyful children who we adore and opportunities to add others to our lives through means other than pregnancy."

"Yes, I have 4 children and 2 dogs and 6 chickens and a yard and a garden and a home that are loved and lived in and maybe not as efficiently cared for as they could be, but I am happy and blessed."

"Yes, I feel overwhelmed and inadequate on a daily basis, but those feelings remind me to turn to my Savior and rely on His Atoning Grace to make me what and who I need to be in order to fulfill my duties."

Yes, I am happy.

No "buts."