Friday, March 25, 2011

Living Down Under

About a week ago, Brooklyn came up to me and said, "Wow, Mom! I'm almost as tall as you!" I lovingly patted her on the head and replied, "You're just growing up so tall, sweetie!" to which she immediately countered, "No, you're just a short Mama."

But, I guess it could be worse. Today Brooklyn told Talia the following: "I'm almost as big as Mom!" (Reconsidering.) "Well, I'm as big as Callie, I'll bet."

Oh favorite New Zealand Auntie: If it's any consolation, at least you know you're remembered! :)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

One Year Older and Wiser Too!

In an hour and a half, my delightful, dreamy, dapper, dashing, darling, and debonair dear husband will celebrate his 31st birthday. You may recall that I've sung his praises on birthdays past. Since I hope he already knows that I think he's fabulous, I'll spare both him and you the repetitive accolades. (After all, with Jason away for a few more days, I don't want any stealthy young ladies to get jealous and snatch him away!)

Instead, I'll simply provide an opportunity for any interested readers to wish Jason many happy returns of the day. (How's that shameless begging for comments? Blush, blush.)

Happy long-distance birthday, love!


As part of my preparation for June's big race, I've been browsing some books on marathoning from the local library. In general, I find these books rather absurd. First of all, these books are typically written by some incredibly amazing runner with an absurd amount of natural talent. Take for example, the book Run Your First Marathon by Grete Waitz. In 1978, Grete was hired as a "rabbit" to set a quick pace for the 1978 New York City marathon. Having never run more than half the distance in her life, it was fully expected that Grete would drop out early. Instead, this Norwegian superstar sped on to not only win the marathon, but also break the world record by a full two minutes.

Gee. Don't prepare, run hard, then become a world champion. I wonder if this strategy will work for me?

When these books aren't bewildering you with all their jabber about 2:30 marathons, they generally bore you with advice that is downright obvious. In some ways this is understandable: running is a rather simple sport. As material for an entire book, there really isn't that much to say, particularly if you're not racing competitively. In my opinion, there are only a few basic guidelines a beginning marathoner needs to follow: train consistently as you gradually progress to longer distances, get good shoes, stay hydrated and fueled, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

But in case you're still concerned, you could always purchase The Beginner's Guide to the Marathon and Half Marathon where you will read the following "Tip from an elite athlete" on page 26. "To keep [Olympian Jill Savege's] clothes fresh, she washes her quick-drying fabrics regularly. 'The material is great, but it is highly prone to capturing body oils and making you unpopular in close quarters.'"

Wash my clothes, or else I'll stink. Gee. Sure wish I'd thought of that.

Maybe running shrinks your brain...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

SIPs, anyone?

Hey! Anybody recognize the handsome guy in the middle?

Just thought I'd give a quick update on the cool projects that keep Jason busy when he's not furiously designing in his office or conferencing (vacationing?) in Chicago.

Jason's work centers around developing innovative approaches to affordable and sustainable housing. Recently he was heavily involved with making "green" improvements on a housing project in the neighboring town of Ivins. Instead of conventional wood framing, the homes in this pilot program all use SIPs--Structurally Insulated Panels. As you can see, SIPs are essentially foam insulation sandwiched between plywood. While they may be a bit more pricey initially, they are extremely energy efficient.

Another major advantage to using SIPs is the ease of assembly--the pre-fabricated pieces fit together just like grown-up Legos. This guy sure seems happy about it!:)

Earlier this month, more than sixty people joined forces for a giant SIPs wall-raising party, putting up multiple homes in a single day.

As future owners of one these homes, this couple was eager to see such rapid progress. This group of six homes are being built as part of a mutual self-help program. In this program, groups of families invest "sweat equity" into their homes by committing to build 30 hours per week. They all pitch in to work on each other's homes, and nobody can move in until the last home is done. By the time the project is complete, these families will have developed valuable skills and built a strong sense of community along with their beautiful homes.

You've gotta admit, the backdrop is pretty nice. (The backside is cute, too.)

The kids certainly enjoyed moseying around the job site at the end of the day.

Brooklyn wanted a teeter-totter, but discovered that the lath board made for rather uncomfortable seating.

A 2x4 was definitely more effective.

Eli discovered his own personal slide.

I'd tell you that I caught Eli lapping up Dr. Pepper like a puppy from a spill on the concrete pad, but that would be entirely too gross.

And so, I'll just feign ignorance and let you assume he ate dirt.

Keep smiling!

Monday, March 21, 2011

More Than Just a Sneeze

Question: If you could change one thing about your physical body, what would it be?

Oh, so many possibilities! Bye bye thunder thighs, adios unwanted hair, farewell love handles, au revoir wrinkles, toodaloo deformed pinky toes. There's simply no end to the flaws we see.

Yet when you really stop and ponder, these external changes are all trivial. If only we would appreciate the beauty of being created in God's image--a beauty which emanates so much more from within than without.

While I always thought I might jump at the chance to add a cubit to my stature, today I realized that given the opportunity, I wouldn't change my appearance, not even for a few extra inches. Given the miracle of modern medicines, I wouldn't rid myself of asthma either. No, if I could change one single thing, I would exterminate my allergies to cats.

Allergies. They sound so petty and trivial. Some itchy eyes, a runny nose, a touch of hay fever. Nearly everybody's allergic to something, so buck up, take an anti-histamine, and quit complaining, alright?

For the most part, I agree. After all, from a very young age I've been dog-tagged with a long list of evil allergens to avoid: dust, mold, mites, feathers, dogs, hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas (you get the furry idea). If I were to stay away from them all, I'd miss out on life. In general, these allergic encounters are occasionally inconvenient, yet overall they are manageable.

Until...Cats. When it comes to cats, a miniscule exposure causes my allergies (and asthma) to spiral out of control. Even the term "allergies" doesn't seem to adequately describe the sneezing, wheezing, dripping, sniffling, dysfunctional mess that cat dander causes. Today I visited a neighbor for literally five minutes, never even sitting down. While we were talking, Eli petted their kitty for a moment, and I unthinkingly carried Eli home. Almost instantaneously the sneezing started--seven, eight, nine times in a row. I've wandered around fairly incapacitated for the rest of the day. While I know there are some good allergy medicines out there, when it comes to the internal war I wage with cats, nothing is strong enough. Trust me.

What bothers me most about these awful allergies are not the physical symptoms, dreadful as they may be. It's not even the fact that I'll never enjoy petting a purring ball of fur, nice as that would be. No, I despise my cat allergies because they damage relationships. When allergies are this severe, they become divisive. As much as I want to be close to people, if they share their lives with a cat, it is difficult for me to join that circle. The neighbor I visited today is battling cancer. Physically, she can't leave her home. Yet with three cats, it's hard for me to join her without losing functionality for the rest of the day. I feel like our spirits need each other. How absurd that something as trivial as an allergy should keep us apart.

Guess it's time to invest in more Kleenex.

Dreaming of Seuss

I live for bedtime.

Ah, the bliss of sinking deep into your pillow, cozying up to your honey, nuzzling your toes beneath his to get warm.

Of course, with Jason out of town for the week, I'll have to settle for life's second greatest joy--the kids' bedtime. When my hubby is gone, I can't wait to get them all snuggled tight in bed so that I can finally have a bit of what I crave--me time. Time to read, time to clean, time to relax, time to blog, time for a midnight snack--there's simply never enough time!

So when little Talia got the spooks tonight, I confess that it was all too grudgingly that I slipped into her bed for a snuggle. Naturally, it was hours later when I awoke and groggily hoisted myself up the stairs. But I must admit, a sweet cuddle with your four year-old is much better than no cuddle at all.

And so, tonight's blog feast has been scaled down to a sample. In honor of the man I miss, here are a couple photos of him volunteering with Dr. Seuss week at Brooklyn's school.

It takes a truly marvelous man to pull off red and white stripes. Thanks, PB.

I'd write more, but, yawn, my pillow calls.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Our Square Foot Garden

Did you know that Talia can get so grumpy that her hair stands out straight on end?

Fortunately, we've discovered the antidote: dirt.

Just tromp around a bit, dig around a little, and everyone feels better.

Over the past week our family has ventured into the world of gardening for the very first time. The adventure has been a little, well, messy!

Eli and his saggy-bottom pants.

Just in case you missed that, here's a close-up!

No gardening venture is complete without a compost bin.

I dare say we have the cutest rubbish around.

Help! I'm stuck!

And, the final product: our square-foot garden.

We've built several raised garden beds, filling them with Mel's Mix, a combination of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite. Rather pricey by the time all is said and done, but at least the garden promises to be low-maintenance. So far these 4x4 beds have been planted with lettuce, swiss chard, green onions, carrots, radishes, beets, basil, kohlrabi, spinach, strawberries, and a couple pretty flowers.

This 2x8 bed will soon get a trellis and become home to our peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, winter squash, and spices. As for the zucchini, this space-hogging monster will probably get its own mound somewhere else in the yard where it can sprawl to its heart's delight.

Talia inspects our very first sprouts.

Coming soon, radishes!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Toy Monster Eats Her Words

On most days, when I get positively fed up with the mess in the girls' room, the "toy monster" threatens to come visit and gobble up anything left on the floor. Once I set the timer, the girls generally know that I mean business and scurry to pick up their things before they get taken away.

Yesterday, however, the toy monster's threat was answered by furtive whispering and secretive conversation between Brooklyn and Talia. Much to my surprise, they fetched me even before the alarm went off. "We're done! You can take away everything that's left."

I went downstairs to discover that the girls had strategically left everything that they no longer wanted in a pile on the floor--their combs, hair ties, a brush, and several pairs of Talia's pants. I guess they figured that if the toy monster took these goodies away, they'd get to wear skirts every day and never do hair again in their life!

What can I say? The toy monster's been outsmarted.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Valentine's 2011

I'm hopelessly behind on posting pictures, so before St. Patrick's Day arrives, I thought I'd at least try to capture Valentine's Day 2011.

We started the day off with heart-shaped "Papa Cancakes," as Talia likes to call them. Loaded with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, they were well-received by the smallish crowd.

In the late afternoon, Jason and I dropped Talia and Brooklyn off at "Adventure World" care center for a couple of hours, thanks to a sweet coupon. Their baby room was full, so Eli stayed with us as we explored nearby Pioneer Park for a while.

Climbing up.


I see you, too.

Looking out towards Zion...

...and views of the valley below.

Aren't my boys handsome?

Thanks to a skilled photographer, the same pose and the same light can look like this...

...or this!

Rose petals marked our path. (Wish I could say I planned it, but we surely enjoyed someone else's great idea.)

And of course, in keeping with Valentine's Day, we tried to take a couple photo, blurry as it may be.

All in all, it was a lovely day.

May every day be Valentine's, where we cherish those around us.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ready to Run

Well, I did it.

I officially registered for the 2011 Utah Valley Marathon. June 11th. 6:00 am. 26.2 miles. Ouch.

To be truthful, the excitement of committing to my first (and quite possibly only) marathon has sort of been squelched by feelings of guilt for scheduling over an extended family reunion. While family reunions weren't really feasible when we lived in Illinois, we'd really like to be there now that we live out West. I feel like if we're absent, we'll be letting people down. Obviously I can't be in two places at one time, so ultimately I had to make a choice. It just feels hard to justify this one since it outwardly seems quite selfish.

This dilemma has inspired some deep reflection as to why. Why run? Why a marathon, and above all, why this marathon? Why not run another one at another time in another place? Shouldn't family matter most?

The answers are complicated. I don't really expect anyone else to understand since I can hardly explain it myself. But deep inside, I feel like I really need this marathon.

Moving to St. George has been hard. Transitioning to full-time motherhood has been harder. Through it all, running has kept me in balance. While running is a nice perk for my physical well-being, it is essential for my emotional well-being. So, when I say that I need to run, I really, truly, need to run. Not because I want to fit my summer capris, not because I enjoy having a bit of time to myself (although I do love it), but because I want to keep a firm grip on my sanity. Running brings me focus and perspective. As I pound the pavement, I stamp out the stress. Exhausted as I may be at the end of a hard run, I no longer have energy to needlessly worry about trivialities. My remaining reserves are focused on what matters most--my family. So while dedicating so much time to training may seem rather individualistic, on a deeper level, I feel like I am simultaneously prioritizing those I love. I need to run, and they need a Mom who is physically and emotionally strong enough to mother.

So why a marathon? Let's face it. I always love a goal--the bigger the better. Goals motivate and inspire me. I've always been happiest when faced with a difficult challenge to conquer. Yet at this stage in my life, it's easy to feel like I'm drifting. While every day (every hour?) is individually challenging, as a whole they often blend together into a vague mass of am-I-really-accomplishing-anything?-ness. My calendar is certainly filled with plenty of places to be, yet the only substantial thing on my agenda for the next couple of decades is to help my children become compassionate, responsible, and contributing members of society. A worthy goal, yet difficult to measure.

A marathon may be stinkin' long and hard, but at least 26.2 miles is measurable and finite. The finish line represents a life milestone. As I cross that line, I will rewrite my personal history, wiping out I-can'ts, never-wills, and impossibles.

I want to set an example for my children. Motherhood is not and should not be martyrdom. As noble as it may sound to sacrifice everything for your children, what good is a parent who has dwindled into nothingness? No, I want my children to understand that mothers also have dreams. Mothers are strong. They set challenging goals. And they will work hard to achieve them. May the stay-at-home-Mom be elevated from a laundry-toting-dishwashing-toilet-scrubbing-lunch-fixing-chauffeur to a role model who inspires as she aspires ever upward.

Then why this marathon? Ironic as it sounds, because the timing feels right (although the date is all wrong.) A spring marathon allows me to train without the brutal heat of a St. George summer. With kindergarten and preschool in session, I should have some invaluable stretches of time, as long as I'm willing to push Eli in the jogger. Once school lets out, this window of opportunity will pass. And next year, well, who knows what will happen? Life is just uncertain.

The familiarity of Utah Valley is another strong draw. Mentally, I think running through Provo Canyon, past Bridal Veil Falls, and down University Avenue will be easier because I have been there before. Downtown Provo may still be miles away, but at least I know it exists.

Finally, I really want to run this marathon to support its cause. The Utah Valley Marathon allocates 100% of its proceeds to charity. That's amazing. It was easy to chalk up the money for registration today, knowing the great ways in which the money will be used. No race is perfect, and as a relatively new marathon, the Utah Valley Marathon will probably still be experiencing a few growing pains this year. Yet I'll take any minor inconveniences with a smile, knowing that my race fee is blessing children with cancer. I hope that thinking of their battles will help me push past my own at mile 23.

So there you have it. For better or worse, I'm committed. Utah Valley Marathon. June 11th. 6:00 am. I'll be there.

Now let the fun begin!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Good Fortunes

One of the perks of having a Parade of Homes here in St. George is that it can also bring a Parade of ...


This past weekend we were blessed to have Grandma Susie and Grandpa Charles drive down for a visit, along with Uncle Lance who flew in all the way from DC. They got straight to business enjoying the parade, visiting 26 homes in just a few short days. One of the homes was so spectacular that they brought me back to enjoy it.

Pretty spectacular! (If you have an extra 3.5 million lying around, that is...)

Most of the time, however, the kids and I bunked inside where we could stay warm and dry. While St. George generally has beautiful weather, the sun always seems to run and hide when we have company.

To console ourselves for being stuck at home, we decided to continue our culinary alphabet tour around the world. So far we've visited Austria (kasnocken and wiener schnitzel), Brazil (chicken stroganoff and avocado shakes), and China. What better way to celebrate China then by making...

Fortune cookies!

We had a lot of fun with our impromptu fortune cookie party.

After a bit of deliberation, Uncle Lance decided they were quite tasty.

We had to convince Grandma Susie to eat the cookies instead of the baby.

Eli thought that they were perfect fodder for a tired toddler.

Just a few more left! If you can judge a culinary creation by the rate of its consumption, then these cookies were definitely successful.

To make the cookies, we followed a recipe found on youtube, the source of all truth. Instead of baking them in the oven, though, we cooked them on the griddle like a pancake, saving tons of time (and the kids' attention).

The very best part was writing the fortunes. I acted as scribe for the girls' creative inspiration. Their "predictions" are hilarious because they so accurately capture little kid humor. "You're a Fruit Loop."--immediately followed by raucous laughter. Here are their fortunes, in no particular order.
You're a Fruit Loop.
You get younger every day.
You're gonna have a million babies.
Everybody is a farmer.
I'm being eaten by a shark.
You are a toy (fun to play with.)
Tornadoes are coming.
You're an animal.
Scissors taste like candy.
You are infinity old.
You wear diapers.
You have a thousand trampolines.
Dinosaurs live now.
Kings and queens live, but they don't have princesses.
Trampolines are inside.
You're Toothless, the dragon.
If you're a girl, tomorrow you'll be a boy.
You don't have a house, but you'll get one.
Candy is food.
Volcanoes exist.
You're a baby, and always will be.
Everybody is a rock(star). (Brooklyn amended Talia's initial fortune to be a bit more glamorous.)
We eat mud.

In transcribing these fortunes, I occasionally had to filter predictions of impending death. The girls seem to share a morbid fascination with both natural disasters and dying. Sometimes the two get combined, such as in the response I got yesterday when I asked what they were coloring:
"We're drawing Pompeii."

While driving in the car, I overheard this conversation:
Talia: "Let's pretend that I died."
Brooklyn: "I don't wanna."
Talia: "Okay, let's pretend that you died."

Whaddayasay, let's not. :)