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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Purest Joy


My brother just came home from serving a two-year mission in Bulgaria. I feel so blessed to be related to such a wonderful, sincerely GOOD person. 

It's so nice to spend time with him again and be surrounded by extended family members. I love this family. A lot of people feel like they have the best family in the world, and I feel like I do as well. 

It is one of my life's sweetest joys to be in my mother-in-laws home laughing with siblings. I feel like a sponge, just soaking up all the unrestrained happiness.

When I'm around extended family I despise our bodily need for sleep. I resist sleep as much as I can because I don't want to waste any time away from the fun. Last night I went to bed at 5:30am, the night before we went to bed at 4:00am, and the previous night bedtime was 3:00am. Maybe tomorrow I can go without sleep at all.....right.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Millions of Peaches, Peaches for Me

Millions of Peaches, Peaches for Free. 

Our backyard peach tree has a bumper crop of large, delicious peaches! I absolutely love harvesting nature's bounty and preserving it in jams, bottled preserves, and freezer bags. This is the first real crop we've collected from our peach tree. The branches are heavy with fruit, and the peaches are growing in clusters of up to 6 peaches!

Rachael, Nathan, and I picked bowls full of fruit. Rachael was kind enough to begin washing the fruit in the kitchen while Nathan and I worked on collecting more.

Actually, Nathan did the picking while perched on the top of a precarious ladder, and I held the bowl up within his reach. It sounds terribly lazy of me, but in my defense I spent an hour picking fruit yesterday without him. Our bowls were quickly filled to capacity, so we'd pass them through the music room window to Rachael, who slipped up empty and clean bowls from the kitchen. Matthew was very eager to climb the tree and reach for fruit.

After picking everything we could reach, we worked together to pit and slice the fruit. I was very delighted to discover that this peach tree is a Freestone variety- which means the pits literally fall out of the fruit instead of clinging to the juicy flesh. Sarah and Matthew really enjoyed joining the assembly line. Rachael washed, Nathan did a long circumventing slice, Sarah and Matthew twisted the halves open and removed pits, and I sliced them and covered them with a sugar syrup.

I originally made a few batches of peach jam. The best one is Blueberry Peach Jam....oh it's like candy! After pouring the cooked jam into jars, the children and I gathered around the pot and collected the remnants of sticky jam with pieces of bread. Then we popped it into our mouths. It was SO good! 

We ran out of pectin, and TIME, so we just sliced and froze the remaining gallons of peaches so we can make cobblers, pies, fruit smoothies, and more jams later in the year.

It's hard work, and we're very tired, but there is something so deeply satisfying in harvesting food yourself and preserving it for later. Perhaps it's the pleasure that comes form good old-fashioned work.

I feel so happy and fulfilled with my work. And then there's the benefit of the food itself: there's no pesticides, and the flavor of tree-ripe peaches is unbeatable. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bird House Project

Matthew loves to build things.  Any thing you can imagine. Forts that fill our living room and dining room. Space ships surrounded by the solar system, complete with astronaut food (this is a particular favorite activity). Monsters. Elaborate traps for our friendly ghost "Mr. Sneaky". Colossal art projects. Tiny insect homes complete with sandwiches made of leaves and mud. He transforms his room into a detailed zoo full of animal exhibits, manufactures admission tickets, and gives tours to the family. Last night he made a car, complete with operable headlights, steering wheel, and emergency brake.

You name it, he's probably tried to build it. He really wants to learn how to build real robots and car engines, but I can't find any books with simplified engineering. He's excited to learn more Math so he can really design robots when he's a bit older. One of Nathan's co-workers coaches the competitive robotics league in Austin, and he said Matthew can join the team when he's 8 or 9 years old. Until then, we'll plan on attending the national robot competitions held in San Antonio when it comes around.

A recent interest for Matthew was working with wood. He asked to build a bird house. Nathan found some bird house plans online and we procured the wood planks last week. The children all took turns sanding the edges, applying wood glue and hammering nails. They were so proud of the finished construction! 

I really love watching Nathan do projects with our children. I feel such overwhelming  love for him when I watch him teach our children something new. They really love spending time with him creating things. I hope these moments will stick with our children as memories that bind our family.

We let each child have one side of the house to paint. Matthew did a blue bird so the resident birds will feel welcomed. Nathan wanted to practice wood carving, so he asked me to sketch a design for him to work with. I found a book of Victorian wood carving patterns from antique crown moldings and frames. It was really fun exploring this book for ideas, it was all so ornate. Nathan carved it up while sitting outside under a was such a great setting for fun project.

It's still a work in progress, so I'll post pictures of the final product later....if I remember to.

Learn to Face Paint

Now it's official: I'm teaching a face painting course.

I've had requests from a couple people to teach one.

If you are a reader living in Texas and are interested in this class, please contact me for class details. My email address is under the 'Contact Me' link at the top of the page. 

 I will be teaching you everything I learned from my own training sessions with Nick and Brian Wolfe- the world's reigning body art champions. 

You'll learn several full face designs, advanced brushwork so your art looks professional, sponging techniques for blending colors, common mistakes to avoid, and guidelines for getting your first clients and booking festivals. The class will be a 4-hour session in my home.

The class fee includes supplies for you to keep: a professional palette of 8 face paints, a round paintbrush, and a set of high density sponges.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Family time

I'm always searching for great family activities. When I think about my own childhood, family games have a prominent place. I remember spending almost the entirety of Christmas vacation playing board games with my siblings. We'd choose a game from the closet and play while laying on the floor in front of the old wood stove. Whoever won the game was privileged to choose the next game. This cycle could go on for hours. We would take a break for meals or to go play in the snow, or occasionally we'd call a truce in a desperate attempt to end a days-long ordeal of Risk. Generally it was very fun. I feel like it strengthened my relationship with my brothers and sisters. Even now, we play lots of games when we gather together as a family for reunions or vacations. 

I'd much rather play a game with my kids than watch a movie. I feel like it's more meaningful than staring at a screen, and it fosters good interactions. It's such a challenge to find a game that everyone can enjoy simultaneously. Even though I love my children, it's so tedious to sit through some children games. Think of Chutes and Ladders. It goes on forever and is pretty boring. The only redeeming value is the fact that it helps children work on counting skills. Other games are too difficult for Daniel (age 4)  to participate. I offer to let him be my 'team' so we can share cards or strategize together, but he really wants to be independent. He wants his own cards and gets frustrated when he can't understand the rules.

I wanted to share our favorite family game. It's called Blokus.

Blokus is perfect merely because it's enjoyable for all cognitive levels. The rules are simple: your pieces can only touch by the corners, and try to get down as many pieces as possible. Daniel can comprehend and remember this. Adults can strategize as much as they'd like and make it much more complex. It's even more challenging to play it alone. The solitaire version is very tricky and I haven't figured it out yet.  I love how this game uses spatial intelligence. There aren't very many games that use this part of the brain, and I love the refreshing change. We can all play together and all enjoy the game, no matter where we are on the intellectual spectrum.

I have a closet full of a variety of games. This is the only one that's played several times a week. 

Tuesday Tea

A few months ago we added a new family tradition. It's called Tuesday Tea.

It's a time set aside for Sarah and I to enjoy some herbal tea with treats while we chat about important things.Things like 'How to be Refined'. Refinement is disappearing so quickly in our society. I didn't now how to 'be a lady' until I hit college....what a heap of embarrassing memories I have! I don't want Sarah to hit the same road bumps I did, so I'm trying to be proactive in teaching her etiquette now.

We happen to be using a book called "The New Christian Charm Course". It's curriculum with a weekly lesson on today's social graces for girls.  Last week we talked about handling disappointments gracefully instead of responding in anger. Some lessons discuss how to have elegant body language or how to properly take care of your personal hygiene. Some talk about showing charity to others. I've really liked it and so has Sarah. She is always eager to pull that book off the shelf and begin our next discussion. We have fun learning about the topic while we nibble treats and sip either herbal tea or gourmet drinking chocolate. I've enjoyed watching her grow a beautiful personality. 

I try to make muffins, sweet breads, and cookies in advance. I'll make a tripled batch of our treat whenever I happen to be in a baking mood. I freeze them in ziploc bags so I can just reach in the freezer and retrieve the treats for tea without spending every Tuesday baking. If I'm in a pinch and haven't baked in a long time, we will just open a store-bought package of cookies.

It's so fun for Sarah and I to dress up with hats and gloves for the party. We put on dresses and jewelry as if we were going out on a special date night. I'm hoping to sew top hats and bow-ties for the boys (they are invited to participate if they choose to use their best behavior during tea time). It would be nice for them to have something special to wear so they could practice being gentlemen. They have been feeling a bit left out since they don't have anything fun to wear to the party. They are always so eager to join the tea party and help serve the food. Of course.

Most importantly, it's a valuable opportunity to listen. Sarah can tell me what is important to her, or tell me about troubles she is experiencing. It's such a great way to connect with her and let her guide the conversation. She can ask questions. It's such a great setting for meaningful conversation while we linger over our tea. She's asked probing questions about everything from the gospel to childbirth. Don't most parents dread discussing sex with their kids? This was the perfect environment for that talk. It's such a warm and welcoming setting for delving into any topic.

The children look forward to Tuesday Tea a lot. Sarah's friends are now asking to come play on Tuesdays so they can join us. It's been so fun to her to have friends over for tea, and they seem to enjoy pretending to be princesses enjoying a treat together. I'm so thankful for my friend Ashley who introduced us to this new tradition!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Good For a Laugh. I hope you have a blessed day!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Free Giveaway

Today was a small milestone for my blog. I've had over 1000 visits since April when I added the website counter (the little map on the sidebar). I see where you come from on the map, and it makes me wonder: Who are you?

I wonder about your life. What is important to you? What struggles are you dealing with right now? What stage of life are you in? What brings you joy? All I know about you is this little dot showing me where you are from.

I want to hear from you, so I'm doing a free giveaway. I'll be mailing out 5 copies of my calligraphy to 5 people drawn at random from the pool of responses. Answer any of the questions below in order to enter the drawing. The more questions you answer, the more entries you'll have. The drawing is open until the end of August, at which point I'll email the winners to ask for a mailing address.

Here is what I'd like to know:

I'd like to know what brought you to this blog. Was it a random Google search that stumbled here? What did you read? Was anything beneficial to you? Would you like more in-depth information about any topics I have discussed?

I'd really like to know what you like about this blog, and what suggestions you may have for how I can improve it. What posts do you like best? Tell me something about yourself.

Send your responses to:

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Greatest compliments

Last week was a wonderful week. My brother and his family were moving to San Antonio from Wisconsin, and they stayed one night with us along their way. It was such a treat to see my brother and his sweet wife! That same night, two college students from Estonia knocked on our door asking for a place to stay for the night. We had a delightfully packed house. Philip's family was in Rachael's room, so Rachael slept on the couch downstairs, and the two Estonian girls (Lena and Marike) slept on the floor on air mattresses.

 I had been praying for meaningful ways to serve lately, and I feel like Lena and Marike were the answer to that hopeful prayer. They had no lodging (what sort of business takes foreign exchange students and drops them off to do door-to-door sales without even arranging lodging? Only a bad one.) so we had them stay with us for a few days while they figured things out. They were in a pretty bad spot with this job, so we gave them ideas for other employment and tried to help them.

It was hard for me to watch their distress and exhaustion. It was so very difficult for them to decide whether to stay with this job or try their luck at something better. I realized what an incredible blessing it is for me to know that I can pray and ask God if my decision is really what is best for me, and He will answer. It gives me such peace to know that I can let God direct my path, and I will be happy. When Nathan and I consider any job offer, or career change, we always ponder it and ask God if it is right. I realized this week that I've never stressed about decisions like that....I receive incredible confidence from God's affirmations. I think I had taken for granted how priceless it is to have open access to the world's best advisor in all my decisions in life. 

 Our children thought it was an extended party to have visitors who weren't extended family members. I found myself caring very much about these ladies, and I wanted so badly to help them see themselves as priceless and beautiful daughters of God. I prayed so much that our home would be a blessing to them, that they would feel the peace of the Spirit and the love encircling them. That is my goal have my home be a haven of peace in this tumultuous world. I try very hard to help our home have a distinct warmth and joy. It's hard for me to gauge how well I am doing with creating a spiritual atmosphere, so I asked the girls how they felt in our home. They had been talking about it every day and were eager to share their thoughts.
These are some of the greatest compliments I've ever been given:

"It's like a fairy-tale Christmas story....seeing you do family prayer together is amazing. You are like the perfect family." (of course I protested at this...we have a lot of problems just like anyone else)

"It's so different and so cultured in this home, I love all the books, and art, and music. I feel like I was broken emotionally and depressed when I arrived at your home, and I feel like you just fixed me and built me up and gave me so much joy. "

"I've never been in a house like this. It's the most wonderful place, like it's warm and peaceful."

"You have such a happy family and I want my family to be like yours. You're home is so welcoming and happy and so different than any other house I've been in. I never want to leave."

They had asked for help from their managers, so they were assigned a spot in a new host family. We were actually sad to see them go. I cared for them so much, so we invited them to come back again for a week in September. The children were very sad to see Marike go, and they all trailed her outside to hug her good-bye and ask her to come visit again.

When they left, I gave them a copy of some calligraphy I had designed a couple years ago. It has the Beatitudes from President Gordon B. Hinckley. I explained how it reminds me how to live a happy life, no matter what situation I find myself in. I wanted so much to give them a copy of his book, Way to Be, but I had loaned my book out to someone and it wasn't ever returned. Perhaps I can procure a copy of it before I see them again. 

Monday, July 5, 2010

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A lesson in gratitude

Yesterday I was booked to face paint at the Dell Children's Hospital here in Austin. I've always wanted to go volunteer here and paint faces for free, but the required hours of orientation have prevented me from actually becoming a registered volunteer. Ironically, when they hire me to come paint for a party, I can just walk in without any orientation classes. For patient privacy protection, I couldn't take any pictures, so this post is just text.

I loved it. I hope so much to do it again in the future.

The children gathered in the party room from all over the hospital. My heart cried out for these sweet children who were struggling with such visible afflictions. The hardest part was holding back the tears as waves of compassion rolled over me with each child I saw. As a mother, I saw each of these children as my own, and I wanted so badly just to hold and rock them. It was tough to smile and act chipper when my heart was breaking just to imagine what trials they are dealing with each day. So many children asked how much it would hurt to be painted so they could weigh the decision properly. I can't imagine how much pain they encounter each day as a matter of routine.

I realized in a powerful way what a blessing it is to have healthy children. I'm so thankful that I don't have to watch my child suffer, and my heart went out to the families I saw that day.

One nurse came and asked me if I could go paint a boy who couldn't leave his bed. I was happy to do it, and the interaction made me want to cry for his pain. He was paralyzed in a bed, but in complete use of his mental faculties. He was such a sweet and intelligent person. What a trial it must be to be trapped in such a body. I wanted to do whatever I could to make him happy. I treasure the interaction we had. 

A little girl asked me  to come to her brother's room and paint him because he was also bedridden. My work shift was over 10 minutes prior to the conversation, but I was sincerely happy to do it. I would have been happy to stay for another hour, if there were any other children to paint.

I really loved helping the children smile. There was such a sincere joy on their faces when they saw themselves in the mirror. This is why I love being a face painter. 

The entire 30 minute drive back home was filled with prayers of deep gratitude. I'm so thankful I was blessed with this experience.

Life is so rich.