Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Isabelle the Reader

Reading finally clicked for Isabelle this year. We worked our way through two sets of BOB books by the early months of the school year, and after that there was no stopping her. She loves to read and will read anything and everything she can get her hands on. Books, advertisements, street signs, text messages, subtitles... you name it. If it is words, she will read it. I caught her reading in her bed one night like this, and had to take a picture because, well truthfully, I thought the lighting was pretty and would make a good picture, but less superficially, because I love her passion and excitement for words and can't wait to see what life holds for this big spirit in a little body. I hope she never loses this love of learning, and always strives to acquire knowledge and wisdom in all the avenues life has to offer it.

P.S. The day when kids can read their own bedtime story is kinda awesome.

Isabelle Turns *S*I*X*

"Young [girls] should never be sent to bed. They always wake up a day older." -J.M. Barrie 

March 10, 2017

I begged and begged this girl to let us skip her birthday this year. I have loved five-year-old Izzy and I can't imagine her being any more perfect at any other age. But today she woke up one year older and, 12 hours in, and I am loving six-year-old Izzy just as much.

Isabelle's birthday started with our traditional birthday balloon pop (6 balloons -- 6 dollars) and presents over a coffee cake birthday breakfast. Her gifts this year satisfied very specific requests from the birthday girl - a kindle of her own, a mermaid tail blanket, and the Elena of Avalor movie.

It was pj day at school, so even though these next pictures weren't taken until that evening, she is still in her nightgown. If you ask me, I think staying in pajamas all day on your birthday is pretty swell, and Isabelle certainly wasn't complaining.

Isabelle requested cheesecake (for the 2nd year in a row) as her birthday cake. I splurged on a cool candle and it was worth every penny. The initial flame was a good 12" high and Izzy took off running! But then it lit all the other petals and turned into this lovely flower. A big flame followed by flowery sweetness is the perfect metaphor for our sweet and spunky Isabelle!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Getaway: Seattle Style

Sometimes when I want to go somewhere, I ask Jeff if he needs to go there for work anytime soon, and we turn a business trip into a pleasure trip. Now that his employees span the entire country, I can get to pretty much anywhere if I can be a little patient. That is how we ended up in Seattle in February. I noticed that Rent was on it's 20th anniversary tour, and one of it's stops was Seattle. Jeff needed to do some work there, so we made sure the timing of both events overlapped and bam-- Seattle, here we come!

It was pretty chilly and drizzly, so we kept our sightseeing to a minimum. I can't resist a good farmer's market so Pike's was a must. It is usually a good thing we are traveling when we visit these types of places, or I would come home with armfuls of fresh flowers and produce. As it was, I tried to buy some of the most delicious plums I've ever sampled, but Jeff convinced me they wouldn't last. We did buy a book for Logan at a used book store, but other than that it was a lot of people watching and picture taking.

I really am not sure how this guy was keeping his pants on. I sneaked this picture to document the absurdity. Sagging pants must be a west coast thing because it's been a loooong time since I've seen this.

Cuz you get bigger tips if you wear a cat mask....?

After Pike's we went to relax in a downtown movie theater where we saw the new Star Wars. It was nice to be able to just go to a spontaneous movie without worrying about coordinating babysitters. After the movie we cleaned up and dressed up and met up with Jeff's coworker and her husband. The four of us ate at a super fancy restaurant (we're talking rabbit and parsnips) then headed over to the theater to see Rent together. The show was super nostalgic and just as I remembered it. It is very tied to the era, but that made it even more fun to watch. The late 90s references were abundant, but they were legit because it wasn't a throwback play-- it was just written in the 90s, during the days of answering machines and tight leather pants and the AIDS outbreak.

Sunday was really wet and cold, so we slept in, ate a late breakfast, and caught an afternoon sacrament meeting. I had brought different shoes, but since we were going to have to walk a bit to church, I scrapped them and wore my boots. It wasn't until I looked in the mirror that I realized I looked like a pirate. I took a picture so I could remember this outfit and wear it on the next talk like a pirate day!

After church we took a drizzly walk around some Seattle suburbs. What a beautiful part of the country. It was fun to explore a bit on foot, even if we were very soggy by the time we found a place to eat lunch. After lunch we came back to the hotel and watched the Oscars in their entirety. It was such a nice relaxing day.

I have to be a bit vulnerable here and confess something. Jeff and I got in a pretty heated argument during this trip. In fact, we went to bed pretty upset Saturday night. Sunday morning dawned and we both had calmed down and were able to talk calmly and rationally. We resolved the disagreement, had a lovely day, and came back from the trip feeling like our relationship was stronger for it. Here's the strange part-- this happens almost every time we travel together. It's as though our lives are so busy and chaotic at home that we never have the chance to get things off our chest, but when we get away together, it all comes to the surface! In retrospect, I can laugh as I identify all the trips over the years that have had colossal blowups as part of the trip memory, but we always make up and it's yet to ruin a vacation, so I guess it's just our strange way of having couples therapy?

The Science Fair that Wouldn't End

Oh, science fair. How I love to loathe thee. I'm only two science projects into my parenting career and I would just as soon be done with them entirely. Which is unfortunate because I love science. In fact, I was really looking forward to helping Logan come up with a fun and interesting project this year. We brainstormed for a few days and decided that it sounded cool to grow bacteria in Petri dishes. We designed an experiment to answer the question of which anti-bacterial cleaner worked best. Logan excitedly collected samples and swabbed them on his Petri dishes, then cleaned those sampled areas with two different cleaners and sampled them again. A few days of growing, some observations, and we'd be done! Or so we thought.

What should've been short, simple, and easy quickly morphed into involved, complicated, and drawn out. Our first hiccup was when we read the rules and regulations and learned that all bacteria had to be grown in a lab. Seriously? I scrambled for a bit before remembering that we have a BYU biology professor in our ward. I asked if we could use his lab and he agreed, so I took Logan's dishes with me to work one day and put them in a very legit biology lab to fester and grow into nasty little bacteria cultures.

I had intended to come back after the weekend to check on them, but Dr./Brother Erickson said that would be too long. Instead, he would meet us back there the next day to check on them. I felt terrible because the next day was a Saturday and I didn't want him to have to come in on his day off. But he was super nice and didn't scold me for my poor planning.

Saturday afternoon, Logan and I met Brother Erickson to observe his bacteria. All we really needed was to count colonies and take some pictures, but just when I was ready to toss the dishes and call it a day, Brother Erickson, in his quiet, non-assuming way, asked, "Wouldn't you like to look at it under the microscope?" Then he helped Logan to extract some bacteria with a pipette, put it on a slide, stain it, and look at it under a microscope. I had all sorts of flashbacks to high school biology and was totally geeking out. (Although I did get a little worried when we had some odd bacteria that Brother Erickson had never seen. What are we growing in our house?!)

That was the fun part. Now that he had results, all Logan had left to do was fill out his project folder and put together his poster. And after two weekends of grounding and hair pulling, he finally got it done. All moms of science fair age children united that week in mutual loathing for science fair projects. I was so relieved the day he took his project to school and hoped I wouldn't hear the words "science fair" in our home for another year.

But then.... he won! Logan was selected to move on to the district level. He was super excited, so I was excited for him, but the district competition involved a long evening and-- get this-- redoing his presentation board. Yeah, the school had ordered the wrong size tri-fold boards and so the kids that moved on were given a new board to recreate their project on. Are you kidding me? Round 2 of late night science fair-ing ensued.

Logan dressed up for the district competition and man, he looked sharped. I wish I could get him to wear a tie to church! He brought a book to help pass the hours while waiting for his project to be judged. I had a conflict that night so Jeff took the other kids to the award ceremony at the end of the night. You can only imagine my shock and defeat when Logan came home with an award-- and another advancement.

Round 3 was a regional science fair at BYU. By this point I was cursing myself for having followed the rules so closely. If we had just grown the bacteria at home, Logan would have been disqualified from ever progressing beyond the school level. But Logan was all smiles and excitement. More busywork came with this level-- abstracts, registrations, etc.-- and an entire school day on campus. The judging took place in the same building and rooms that I was drilled in during scholarship interviews 15 years ago. I still get anxiety walking into that place. I worried it would be a long day for him, but he loved it. I hoped and prayed that this would be the end, but of course, we got notified that afternoon that he had won something and we needed to come to the award ceremony later that week. He ended up winning third place in his category, which came with a trophy and $20! He was stoked and finally, FINALLY, we were done. And good thing, too, because the next round would have required a trip to D.C.!

I am so glad it's all over. Next year we will try to create a more mediocre project and be done back in January. But Logan-- I know you're reading this-- congrats, buddy. I'm proud of you for sticking with it and seeing it through. Well done, kiddo!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Vegas/St. George

Our trip to Vegas over President's Day started with one purpose: to take the girls to see Finding Neverland. After Jeff and I saw in last August in New York, I started playing the music in the car and around the house. It didn't take long for all the kids to learn the lyrics and start requesting songs from the soundtrack, so when Christmas rolled around, I looked up the tour locations and determined Las Vegas was the closest place to see it.

A month or so before the trip, however, our purpose changed. Or rather, expanded. My sister announced her engagement, and she agreed to meet us in Vegas with her fiance so we could meet him! Curtis and Katie wanted to meet him, too, so in a matter of days our little road trip had turned into a partial family reunion.

Checking out Hoover Dam. Curtis couldn't get far enough back to get Jeff's head and Izzy's head in the picture, so that pink hood at the bottom is all the proof that she was there. ;)

And that's how I met my brother-in-law to-be for the first time in the lobby of a theater. We all saw Finding Neverland together, although our seats were a little ways apart. Savannah and Isabelle enjoyed it, but Izzy got pretty restless and bored about halfway through. We were all disappointed that many of the songs had changed, including one of our favorites, but I think it bothered me more than anyone else.

After the show we hit up a buffet, because when in Vegas...

We stuffed ourselves silly. The kids acted like they'd never been to a buffet before (and probably hadn't of that magnitude) and were over the top about how much food they could collect, if not consume. It was a wonderful meal with wonderful company, and we all enjoyed getting to know Greg a little better.

The next day I was able to break away with Paige and Greg for a little bit and take some engagement pictures. I wasn't sure if I knew how to take pictures in a desert and have them turn out well, but holy cow! I am in love with desert scenery now! We went to downtown Boulder City which was full of all sorts of quaint store fronts and street art, then hit up a hill above town for some desert sunset views. All of it was gorgeous and I loved being a small part of Paige and Greg's beginning.

We couldn't resist getting some silhouettes of Curtis and Katie (and baby).

Day 3 we had to head back home, but not without a small detour to Pioneer Park in St. George. This has become one of our favorite places to visit and anytime we can fit it in on a road trip, we do. We took an hour or so to explore and conquer, and I only heard complaints when it was time to go. I'm working on finding more ways to mask "hiking" as "exploring," because my kids seem to feel enthralled with one and tortured by the other. 

Cousin Time

Buddies first. Cousins second.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Life with Preteens

The winds have changed in our lives. In what felt like an instant, we shifted from a family of young children and babies to a family with preteens and quickly maturing kids. Gone are the days of diapers and binkies; they've been replaced with extra-curriculars, reports, friends, and homework. I have been dreading the drama and emotional drain that I've heard comes with teens-- and I still can't speak to that stage-- but this one, this not-babies-anymore-but-not-quite-teenagers stage-- is awesome.

Let's start with Logan. He's nearly eleven (next month) and is now legitimately old enough to babysit in short spurts, which is possibly the best thing that's ever happened to me. We bought him and Savannah Gizmo watches which are basically a super dumbed down cell phone built into a watch. This new independence and communication has changed our dynamic completely, and I am like a drug addict that's had her first taste of meth. It's addicting, this letting your kids be responsible thing.

Savannah, at eight and a half, isn't even really in the preteen category, but man, she feels like it. Last Sunday Jeff and I came home from an early morning choir practice, and she had made up a pan of German pancakes completely on her own and without any prompting from us. It was baking in the oven when we walked in the door, and the table was set and all prep dishes had been washed. This girl speaks my love language! She has been noticeably trying to be extra helpful around the house lately, always asking me what she can do.  She's a good cleaner, too. When she sweeps, I don't have to redo it. Holla! She even spent two hours weeding with me yesterday. About an hour in her friends from next door came out to play and I thought I would lose her, but she just moved closer to me so she wouldn't be distracted by them and kept going. Finally, I suggested she go play, and she said she hadn't wanted to make me feel bad by leaving to go play with them, but if I was ok with it, then she'd like to. Seriously? Since when is she so sensitive to other's feelings?

On top of that, during a ten minute car ride to pick up her brother from karate, she spilled her guts to me about a problem she was having at school. Two of her friends are struggling to get along, and she feels torn because she wants to play with both of them but can't do that without hurting one or the other. I was (a) surprised because she doesn't talk to me about friends very often, and (b) sad that she was having a hard time, and (c) stressed that we are already having conversations about friend drama, but (d!!) secretly elated that she had come to me completely on her own volition and that we could have an open conversation about things she could try. I know this is the first of many conversations like that, but if they can all be that transparent and sincere, we will get through the teenage years! It was reminiscent of a conversation I'd had with Logan a few months ago about his own struggles with friends at school. When I asked recently how his situation was going, he said that he'd worked through it and learned to get along with a boy that had rubbed him the wrong way. Can a mother's heart take this much pride in your kids?! This year has had many firsts for me, and coaching my kids (and seeing them come out on top!) through friend drama is one of them.

Another moment to record for books is a family home evening a few weeks ago. Savannah had been assigned an article of faith to study and report back on, but had forgotten to do her prep work. Instead of letting it roll of her like she usually does, she had a complete melt down and was distraught at her lack of preparation. Jeff and I made a spot for her on the couch and let her cry between the two of us for the majority of FHE and a good half hour afterwards. It was strange for her to get so worked up-- Savannah is typically overly silly and doesn't take life seriously (even when I wish she would). But instead of being frustrated, both Jeff and I later commented on how relieved we were to see her be vulnerable like that. It gave each of us a good opportunity to express our love for her and how proud we are of the young woman she is becoming. And I think it's another sign that she is growing up and feeling the weight of maturity, which isn't always a bad thing.

Dr. Suess day at school

And then...

Today I got a permission slip sent home for Logan to participate in the maturation program. Good heavens. Maybe I'm not ready for this after all.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Jinxed First Week

After a nice long winter break, I was ready to jump back into teaching for the winter semester. I upgraded from one class to two this semester, one being an online class which has been a completely new and exciting adventure. My first week, however, was less than stellar. If I were one to give credence to jinxes, I would swear someone had placed one on me that week.

For example, my first day of class I had a brand new course assistant. Last semester I had the most senior, tenured assistant available, and she was fantastic. Don't get me wrong, I really like my new assistant, too, but he's new to the game and sometimes we have to figure things out together. Like which set of lecture slides to use. And why there was no microphone. And why the projector wasn't working. And so on. I think my class must have thought they'd landed the most incompetent team in the department after those first few days! Did I mention I forgot to put my own last name on the introductory slide? Smooth, Professor Carly.

Then there was the online class. Which, no doubt, I could have worked harder to be prepared for. But some things you just have to try and fail at in order to learn. So when I tried to host the first day of class online, I couldn't get in to the virtual room I'd set up. Um... not a good start. Then, when I did get in, I apparently didn't record any sound. But of course I didn't realize that until after I'd been talking for 45 minutes and thought it had all been recorded. Head slap.

So I should have know not to join the faculty meeting remotely that week, because of course I would forget to mute myself and send the sound of my TV blaring Octonauts over the web into the conference room right in the middle of a prayer. I also should have known to double and triple check before deleting the schedule from the learning management system to make sure it was the right class that I was deleting. But nope, I didn't take precautions in either of those cases, and deleting the schedule used by over 1200 students resulted in a desperate phone and a late night as I painstakingly repaired my mistake.

The good news is the semester could only go up from there, and up it went! These past two months have been great, and I'm really enjoying the online class now that I've worked out the bugs. With the end of this semester in sight, I'm so grateful for this dream job and how perfectly it fits with my calendar, priorities, interests, and family life. The BYU Statistics department has blessed my life many times over in the past, and it is still doing so today.

Back to Bentonville

January marked a year since we moved back to Utah, and the pangs of homesickness for my friends, family, and home in Arkansas have only dulled, not subsided. I was looking for any excuse I could to go back and visit, so when Meg told me she had a brand new foster preemie placed with them, I had to visit her and take newborn pictures, right? I mean, she needed me, and I couldn't ignore that.

The day I flew out we got hit by another one of our crazy snow storms, so I switched my plans and rode tracks up to the airport instead of driving. It took a little longer and I froze my tush off waiting for the train and the transfer to tracks, but overall the entire commute was so relaxing, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I was worried my flight might be delayed just looking at the runway, but Utah knows how to do snow and we took off right on time.

The guise of this trip was to "help" Meg with her new baby, but who am I kidding? It was to spend time with one of my favorite people on the planet who has been painfully absent in my life this past year (although we still text and call almost daily). I needed my Meg fix, and I think she needed me, too. We have a nice healthy relationship like that, where we run until on the verge of collapse, then somehow meet up to pick up the pieces and rebuild together.

And this little stud was a highlight, for sure. I wish I could show you some of the priceless pictures we took, but with his sweet little future in limbo, it's better to protect his identity for now. 

When not taking pictures, Meg and I took a food tour of the city, hitting up all our favorite restaurants and treat spots. I even ordered a dozen of my favorite pumpkin muffins to take back home with me and froze them to savor their amazingness as long as possible!

I loved spending some quality time with the Willardsons. Each of the kids is so special to me. The older three were my piano students, among other things, and I couldn't wait to give each of them a lung-squishing hug! We spent a fun night watching When Calls the Heart with the big girls and Meg's mom. I love being a surrogate Willardson. :) The littles were a treat, too. Sloane and I share a birthday, so of course she warmed up to me (and my cell phone) right away.

I don't have any pictures as proof, but I also convinced the Shepherd/Pendleton clan to get together for lunch one day. Our gatherings are always so comfortable, so familiar, and so heart-warming, it was painful to realize how much I had missed them.

Table Mesa was a must, and what better way to indulge in my favorite restaurant than with my favorite girls? What a treat to spend the night reconnecting with these treasured friends! It is hard to believe we only lived in AR for 2.5 years. My love for these ladies runs so much deeper than that amount of time should have allowed.

The trip was over much too soon, and before I knew it I was driving back to Tulsa to fly home. I was glad to fly in and out of Oklahoma, even though I didn't get to see any of our Okie friends. It made me feel like I had a chance to say hello to another state that is dear to my heart. I think Oklahoma was happy to see me, too, and gave me this beautiful sunset to remember it by.


This has possibly been the snowiest winter I have ever experienced! I can't find any definitive data to confirm it, but I'm pretty sure we are breaking state records left and right this year. Back in January we got dumped on with 16" overnight. It came just before we headed back to school after winter break, and they ended up delaying school for 2 hours to give everyone a chance to shovel themselves out. That may not sound like much, but school is never cancelled for snow here, and even delays are pretty much unheard of. There have been mornings I wasn't sure my car could make it to the school and back, but no cancellations or delays. So to have a 2 hour delay was a good indicator that this was a storm to be reckoned with!

Unfortunately, our four-wheeler was out of commission for the first few big storms including this one, so we shoveled our driveway (which felt like it had doubled in size overnight) by hand with one regular shovel and one kid-sized shovel. (Just to note, our four-wheeler is now fixed and we have increased our shovel collection to four.) This is what I found when I tasked Logan with shoveling the front sidewalk.

On top of shoveling the driveway, we also had to shovel our trampoline (which we had failed to take down in the fall-- big mistake) and a path to the chicken coop. I could barely find the coop under all that snow!

It was a gorgeous day and I actually really enjoyed being outdoors working hard. The kids broke out the sleds and had a marvelous time sledding and playing before school started. This tree in our backyard was almost axed when we landscaped, but we decided to keep it and I'm so glad! It keeps these berries all winter long and has been so pretty throughout every season.

We've had a couple other big storms and plenty of moderate snowfall since then, but this still stands as the biggest storm of the year. I'm grateful for the moisture and am tolerating the shoveling now that I can jump on the four-wheeler and plow the driveway in 10 minutes, but I am getting anxious for spring! Is it here yet??