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Eight Years Ago

Eight years ago, all I wanted for Christmas was an engagement ring. And I didn’t care if it came out of a gum ball machine, I just wanted the question behind it to be asked. Noel and I had known each other for close to a year and I was anxious, impatient really. Marriage was something we had discussed, but Noel gallantly wanted to tie up a few financial loose ends before we made anything official. Several couples we knew had met and married during the period of our courtship (we did live in Utah after all) and the jealousy was poisoning me. I tried my best to be supportive as Noel paid down his debt (an amount that seems almost laughable now), but I knew that even after it was gone it would take a good long while before he had enough money to buy a ring. I told him it didn’t have to be anything fancy, even just a twist tie around my finger would do the job, but he insisted he wanted to “do things right.” As Christmas neared, I was irritable since I knew I wasn’t going to get the gift I really wanted. As we shopped for gifts for family and made plans for our Christmas break I was unhelpful and snappy. Noel’s patience was admirable. It was a miracle we didn’t break up.

After finals were over, we loaded our stuff in Noel’s car and headed to Southern Utah where his parents currently resided. Noel really wanted to stop and go on a hike in Canyonlands National Park.  We’re pretty outdoorsy, so this wasn’t unusual, even for December. I had resolved, once again, to have a better attitude and not ruin Christmas, so I humored him. We headed out on the Grand View Point trailhead laughing and talking. When we got to the overlook, Noel bent down to tie his shoe and started rummaging in his pockets. I was about to ask him what he was doing when he pulled out a box and said, “Well, while I’m down here, about your Christmas present . . .  I was wondering if you would like it now; will you marry me?” I ecstatically said “yes” and got swept up in the joy of the moment and the sparkle of the diamond ring for several minutes. After my brain stopped swimming I turned to him and demanded to know where the ring came from. He told me about how his grandma, whom I had not yet met, but Noel described as having the personality of 60 grit sandpaper and a heart of gold, had heard through the family grapevine that we were considering marriage. Completely unaware of the financial obstacle standing in our way and not even knowing if she would like me, she sent Noel her wedding ring saying she would like him to have it so he could give it to me. Noel had it in his possession for three weeks as he dealt with my moodiness, studied for finals, and plotted how to get my parent’s blessing before he proposed. The night before our trip to Southern Utah, he told me he and his roommate were going to install a roof rack he’d recently bought off a friend, but instead travelled to my parents’ house in a bundle of nerves to ask for my hand. Afterward, he and his roommate stayed up past midnight installing the roof rack with fingers frozen beyond feeling so I wouldn’t be suspicious.

I have a lot of fond memories of Christmas, but I will always remember the love fueled miracles that happened that year to make it possible for me to answer the most important question I’ve ever been asked.

Being us, we don't have any pictures of the actual engagement, but this photo was taken a few days later and pretty much sums up my glee.

Being us, we don’t have any pictures of the actual engagement, but this photo was taken a few days later and pretty much sums up my glee.

Full Moon

Moonlit Birthday

Full MoonEven though this time of year can be a bit hectic, I do my best to be intentional about the ways we celebrate and that includes birthdays. A dear friend offered to watch our kids so Noel and I could go do something. When I was pondering what to do, I looked at the calendar and noticed that the Saturday before Noel’s birthday was going to be a full moon and I began planning a moonlight snowshoeing trip. While I generally do not consider the sun setting before 5pm to be a positive, on this occasion it certainly was. We snowshoed, got burgers, and were still home before 10pm. (Can you tell we aren’t big night owls?) We’re always amazed at how much ground we can cover when we aren’t carrying or herding kids.

Noel's BirthdayOn Noel’s actual birthday, we had homemade Indian food (the best Indian food we’ve found around here so far ;), walked around the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights, ate chocolate peanut butter cheesecake, and put the kids to bed while we enjoyed a night in with a new movie – an introvert’s dream birthday. Hopefully he felt loved in the midst of all the hullabaloo of the season.

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Training for Life

I read through countless bios of OBGYNs when I found out I was pregnant with Ellen. I wanted to make a choice that would be a good fit the second time around, but wading through academic histories, detailed resumes, and generic healthcare philosophies didn’t bring me any closer to knowing who to choose. In the end, my decision wasn’t based on shared viewpoints or prestigious degrees (although she has those too), but because she “start[s] every day with a thirty minute run along the trails below the nearby mesa.”  When I read that, I thought: There’s a woman cut from the same fabric as my own soul; we’ll be able to figure this thing out. 

team 015

Photo by Cindy McConkie

I’ll take a run anytime I can squeeze it in, but my preference is running with the sunrise. My current profession doesn’t offer a lot of alone time, so I cherish the quiet moments where I’m alone with my thoughts while the rest of the world nurses cups of coffee or lounges in bed. Everything feels fresh and hopeful in the dawn hours. Maybe it’s because, as Glennon Doyle Melton points out, “[The] sun shows up every morning, no matter how bad you’ve been the night before. It shines without judgement, it never withholds . . . The sunrise [is our] daily invitation from God to come back to life.” Days that I miss this ritual I almost always forget to pray.

I’ve been running since before I can remember. My parents are both runners, so when I was young I figured running is just what people do. I was as fast as the boys on the playground, always the one to beat on the timed mile in PE, and ran four years of Cross-Country and Track in spite of my parents being coaches. When Noel agreed to run a midnight 5K with me when we first started dating I knew he had serious potential and now running is a major contributing factor to why my children are still alive. I’m not one of those runners that never misses a day. I cross-train, get caught up in life, and sometimes am downright lazy, but it’s always there for me, waiting when I need it. It takes me as I am: fast, slow, and even jog-walking through pregnancy.

Noel and I halfway through our second marathon.

Noel and I halfway through our second marathon.

Running helps me purge the negative thoughts I have about myself and about others and helps me get one tiny step closer to seeing all of us the way God does. I’m unsure how this works. Whether the negativity oozes out of my pores as I perspire, gets expelled with my breaths, or pounded out through my feet, but I’m just happy it works. As I run I get to sift out my thoughts and emotions. I breathe, I pray, I count my blessings, and I sweat. Running makes me nicer, more patient, more grateful. Sometimes I think of nothing except the fact that I am; the thud of my feet and the labor of my breathing. Certainly running doesn’t solve all my problems, but it keeps me from reaching toxic levels. It strips me down to my barest, strongest self and leaves me to take on the world with the call “I am Woman; hear me roar!” reverberating through my soul.

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I often am asked if I’m training for anything. These days racing is sparse. There’s just not time or money or energy for it, but I’m still training, not for a race, but for life.

November 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Aunt Danielle!

The kids warmed right up to Danielle, even before she whipped out her candy stash.

Danielle (Noel’s sister) joined us for Thanksgiving this year. The kids were so excited and it wasn’t just because she works for a chocolate factory.

Do we have to leave the car?

We decided to treat her to a beautiful tour of the Colorado outdoors and took her on a very windy snowshoeing trip. The pictures make it look still, but Ellen seriously got picked up by the wind at one point.

Cooper the Trooper

Cooper thought the whole thing was awesome.

Ellen thought we were torturing her.

Ellen thought we were torturing her.

Thanksgiving morning we went to our church’s Turkey Trot.

Winners!

Noel and I took the coveted first place, i.e. first dibs on donuts.

Runners in training.Cooper and Ellen also set PRs.

November 2014The highlight of course was Thanksgiving dinner. I guess we aren’t very good Americans because we did not participate in any type of event involving a football, but we enjoyed one another’s company nonetheless. All too soon, Danielle boarded a plane and headed back home. Hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving at least as much as we did!

Birthday Turkey

Twenty-Something

Birthday Turkey

This year’s “birthday turkey.”

My birthday and Thanksgiving have always been synonymous to some degree and this year they fell on the same day. The last time my birthday was on Thanksgiving, a family fun run went awry when we took a wrong turn. We ran miles further than planned and found ourselves trespassing in a construction zone as we deliriously tried to shortcut to our car. I remember miserably singing “happy birthday to me” under my breath while everyone argued about whose fault it was that we’d missed our turn. (There is a strong contingent that still maintain I was the reason . . . ) It was a memorable birthday and probably the only Thanksgiving where I netted negative calories.

Actual Fun Run

This year, Noel decided it was a good idea to celebrate my birthday on it’s own special day (as birthdays were intended ;). I told him all I wanted was to go on a trail run to the rock that overlooks Golden and eat lunch without any kids touching me. A good friend kindly watched our kids so we could do just that and it was marvelous.

CheesecakeWe had Chinese takeout for dinner (one of my guilty pleasures) and stayed true to tradition by having birthday cheesecake instead of regular cake. We made a variation of this chocolate peanut butter cheesecake and it was absolutely delicious. After the kids were tucked into bed we watched Much Ado About Nothing on a projector Noel borrowed from work and went to bed at a delightfully reasonable hour. Clearly I’m still a twenty-something that knows how to party . . . or at least I can claim to be for one more year.

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Hardy Stock

Footsteps in the SnowI’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not your average preschool mom,  but my craziness rating hit new levels this last week. When temperatures dropped to single digits and we still kept walking to school people were flabbergasted.  I just shrugged off the incredulity and said, “It’s just easier” which didn’t seem to alleviate anyone’s concern. I’m expecting a call from Child Protective Services any day now and will save my pedantic rebuttals for that conversation about the distance not being long enough for my car to heat up anyway.

Frigid

Ellen was happier than this photo indicates . . . really.

A while back, my book club read Global Mom where the author chronicles raising her kids in various foreign countries. As a mom of young kids, I found it equally intriguing (because of all her cool adventures with young kids) and annoying (again, because of all her cool adventures with young kids). The place they lived that fascinated me most was Norway. There everyone sent their kids to the local preschool/daycare where the kids played outside in the snow for hours.  At first the idea seemed so strange and dangerous, but it grew on her and after acquiring the right gear you couldn’t tell her kids form the native Norwegians.  I’m not actually a fan of the cold, but I do have some Finnish and Norwegian blood coursing through my veins which is maybe why I don’t bat an eye when I bundle my kids up Christmas Story -style and step out into the cold to brave the treacherous two block journey to preschool.  Or maybe it would just take a polar vortex before the daunting battle of loading and unloading the car for a .2 mile drive would seem worth it.

Bouncy Balls

Halloween 2014

Minions! A few weeks before Halloween I was talking with some of my mom friends and they were sharing what their kids wanted to be for Halloween. It made me feel a little bummed since my kids just stared at me blankly when I asked, “What do you want to be for Halloween?”  (Ellen didn’t really have a concept of Halloween and Cooper struggles with open-ended questions.) As I was mulling over this “problem” it occurred to me that I just wasn’t asking the question in the right way. I showed Cooper pictures from last year and then showed him a Pinterest board I’d put together of costume ideas. It didn’t take Cooper anytime at all to decide that he wanted to be a minion. Whenever we’d go shopping and I’d tell him we were looking for stuff for his minion costume he’d get really excited.

PA310078I was going to make the kids hats, but then I found some and Target. At first I wasn’t sure about spending $20 on hats for a Halloween costumes and some part of me felt sad that the costumes wouldn’t be very homemade, but when I tried to put them back to contemplate the purchase Cooper almost had a breakdown and the decision was made. Based on how attached the kids are to them, I think the hats will be worn way beyond Halloween.

Despicable Me

We all dressed up for our church Halloween party. Noel was Gru and I was Lucy from Despicable Me 2. When we were all together, people caught on quick, but when we were apart people just thought I was a lady in a bathrobe. (The changes I’d made to make it look like a trench coat just couldn’t compensate for the bathrobe fabric I guess ;)

Corn Muffins

We also made an insane amount of corn muffins for the party. Just had to throw that in there.

School Parade On Halloween day, we went to a costume parade at Cooper’s preschool (all the kids were thrilled as you can tell.)

Party! Then a party followed. Ellen jumped right in as if she were an actual member of the class which kind of annoyed Cooper.

LeopardI’d thought about putting on my Lucy getup, but didn’t want to wear high heels and a bathrobe while chasing kids (again) so I opted to be a leopard.

CarvingIt had been a crazy week so we didn’t carve our pumpkin until Halloween. Noel had to help someone move (yeah, you read that right) so he missed out on the carving, but we still did something nerdy without his influence.

Pumpkin PiWhile we waited for Noel to come home and take the kids trick-or-treating, I fed the kids posole so they’d at least have something nutritious in their bellies. (The recipe will be up on the food blog in the next couple of days, so stay tuned! can be found here.)

PosoleCooper also told me that he was a funny minion and Ellen was a bad minion which cracked me up.

Minions! The kids were SO excited when Noel came home since a few trick-or-treaters had already been by our place. They went out and hit up a few neighbors houses while I stayed home and handed out bouncy balls. (You can read more about my crabby Halloween opinions on our food blog.)

Bouncy BallsThe kids of course thought trick-or-treating was the best thing ever.

Candy!

The kids at the pumpkin patch.

It’s Always Fun When Grandpa [and Grandma] Come!

It’s still strange for me to think of my parents as grandparents sometimes. I feel old enough to be a parent, but I just don’t think of my parents as being old enough to be grandparents. Regardless, just like the song, Cooper and Ellen love it when grandma and grandpa come to visit. Noel and I also love their visits because the kids tend to get into less  trouble since they’re getting so much attention.  Also, if we’re lucky, we’re able to sneak away for some alone time.  This last visit had all of those elements.

There was all manner of shrieking coming from our house when grandma, grandpa, and Uncle Mitchell rolled up to our house after their long drive and the giggles didn’t stop (save for a few tired melt-downs) till they left. Noel and I were able to go to the Denver LDS temple and dinner, on a sunrise run, and also to a no-kids allowed church meeting. Maybe this makes us old and lame, but it was so nice to be able to do things we normally can’t.

We also took everyone to the Pumpkin Patch and enjoyed the lovely Indian Summer we’re having. Their trip was over before we knew it, but we were so glad it happened. Checkout the pictures below. The middle row are pictures I took, but everything else is done by my mom (as if you couldn’t tell).

Where's Ellen

This One’s For the Girl

Miss Ellen ready to go complete with Dora backpack, sparkle purse, and a stuffed animal.

Miss Ellen ready to go complete with Dora backpack, sparkle purse, and a stuffed animal.

I cherish the few hours that Cooper is away at preschool every week; it’s nice for Ellen and I get to have one on one time with just us girls. One day the two of us were folding laundry (i.e. I was folding laundry and she was burying herself in it). Ellen stuck her head out from under a shirt and with a dimpled grin exclaimed with pure innocence, “I’m stupid!”  I have no idea where she’d picked up that phrase, but my momma heart broke into a thousand pieces.  I scooped her up into my arms and said, “No, Ellen, you’re smart! You are so smart!” Without hesitation, she said, “I’m smart!” and after a quick hug ran off to cause some sort of mischief.

One afternoon at 4 o'clock she told me she wanted a nap. I told her it was too late and she disappeared. When I went looking for her I found her in her crib like this.

One afternoon at 4 o’clock she told me she wanted a nap. I told her it was too late and she disappeared. When I went looking for her I found her in her crib like this.

I have different fears about raising each of my children.  I worry that the world will destroy Cooper’s sweetness and I worry that the world will tell Ellen she’s never enough. Some days I wish I could freeze her in her two-year-old state with her untouchable confidence, but aside from the sheer impossibility of that happening, I also realize it’s probably best she learns a few lessons about her own mortality. As life throws her unexpected curves and steeper hills than she’d like to climb I hope she can channel a small part of her two-year-old self — the never-ending  energy, the hugs that come straight from her heart, and her undeterred enthusiasm for life. Miss Ellen, you are smart as well as many other things. Never forget it.

Heading home after getting rained out on a family trip to the park.

Heading home after getting rained out on a family trip to the park.

The Button

Intercom

The door at Cooper’s preschool is guarded by a buzzer. It protects the little ones from the dangers of the world as it allows the front desk to scrutinize those outside before deciding whether or not to grant them entrance. Or at least that’s the idea.

Every morning kids race to the building – elbows out, heads down, focusing like they’ve never focused before. When the “winner” smugly presses their chubby finger to the button, the rest of the kids stamp their feet and collapse on the sidewalk in fits of tears. All the parents politely laugh, then hold the door open for each other cheerfully telling their kids, “Maybe next time” or giving mini lectures on how we don’t want to unnecessarily bother the ladies at the front desk.  A few kids are dragged in, the rest shuffle in petulantly, but by the time the classroom opens all have forgotten their disappointment.

Here’s the thing about my son, he’s obsessed with buttons and he doesn’t forget anything. I’d always rigged the game for him, surveying the parking lot and slowing or quickening my own speed sometimes taking an extra long time to unbuckle Ellen from the stroller to avoid any competition. The method was effective, but it couldn’t work forever. The day a kid snuck up on us and Cooper came in second place, I took a deep breath and prepared to teach him a hard life lesson. I used that tired line about “next time” and dragged him into the building. He summoned all the strength his four-year-old body could muster and tried to drag me back outside forlornly crying “the button, the button!” in a manner that may have been deemed appropriate for the loss of a loved one. As the other parents tried to disguise their gawking, I used my calm adult voice to explain the injustices of the preschool world.  He continued to wail as children went to class, parents left, and I sat there trying to be the sensible parent I’d seen everyone else be. The classroom teacher said to just leave him and that he’d calm down. “Lots of kids have bad days like this.” Huge tears rolled down his cheeks and he clawed her arms as she carried him to the “cozy corner” to calm down. It was raining that morning and the seat of my pants was covered in mud from sitting on my haunches so I could be on his level.  I just stood there, damp and muddy, holding my squirming two-year-old, listening to his howls turn to whimpers, and  wondering if I was unfit to be a parent. When I couldn’t hear him crying anymore, I left in embarrassment, grateful for the rain as it hid the tears that streamed the whole way home.

When I picked him up he uncharacteristically didn’t ask to bring his water bottle home, which is one of the things he’s usually very particular about. I asked him several times if he wanted to get it and told him, “Once we leave the building we can’t come back for it.” The second we left the building he said, “Water bottle!” and ran towards the buzzer. My foot grazed over the stroller brake without actually making contact and I ran towards Cooper, angry that he’d played me.  As the stroller rolled towards a mail truck and Cooper’s finger reached for the button I had one of those slow-motion-out-of-body experiences.  I saw frazzled me, upset Cooper, and endangered Ellen all playing our role in a comical disaster. This wasn’t working. The mailman intercepted the stroller inches before impact and after thanking him profusely I collected my crafty son (who was more than pleased to push the button for the mailman) and headed home.  I laughed, albeit a little crazily, the whole way.

The next morning a mom was leaving when we arrived. She held the door open wide and said, “Sorry, buddy! You don’t get to press the button today!” I gave her a look that I haven’t used since one of my high school students asked me if I was kinky  and exasperatedly said, “Please, just let him press the button.” I could tell she thought I was a terrible parent, a pushover with no sense of discipline, but I didn’t care. Cooper, oblivious, pressed the button and skipped into school.*

I’m sure I’m looking down a long road of people disapproving of my parenting. I don’t expect I’ll be winning any awards and most days I’m satisfied with survival. I do believe that Cooper should learn that he can’t get everything he wants and we really do try to teach that, but the button battle just isn’t worth it and I have to learn to pick my battles. Interestingly, since I stood up for my child’s button pressing rights, I’ve noticed a few other parents’ hearts sink as I hold the door open for them and I’ve said, “Hey, do you want me to close the door so your kid can press the button?” It’s amazing how their eyes light up, almost as much as their kids and I simply say, “I totally get it” and shut the door.

* After this incident, I actually spoke with the ladies at the front desk and they said they don’t mind if kids press the button. They actually think it’s kind of cute how much the kids all care about it. Also, I’ve softened my approach to allowing my kid  to press the button so I’m much more polite than I was in this encounter.