Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Looking Back, Reaching Out

My cousin is getting married in just a couple days. 

I have a love-hate relationship with the marriages of people I'm close to: I'm always excited for the couple and their new life together, but I'm also a bit sad for me. Change is hard, even good change, and even though I'm married myself, I mourn the loss of care-free years past and the inevitable shifting of priorities and relationships.

My cousin is halfway between me and my sister in age, and the three of us played princesses as children and stayed up all night giggling as teenagers.

When I was young, we donned my mom's old prom dresses and paraded through our grandma's beautiful house, lounging sophisticatedly (or so we imagined) on the elegant couches in her formal living room. We stood over the heating vents on the floor, the warm air filling our voluminous skirts and billowing them out around us. We did our best to dodge our little brothers who were invariably playing pirates, sword fighting with empty wrapping paper rolls, and protecting us, their lady-loves. We sneaked Hershey's Kisses from Grandma's large bowl on the coffee table and hid behind the furniture as we ate them, stuffing the balled-up silver wrappers under the couch (when my grandma had to sell her grand house, she found the large stash of foil when the couches were moved, bringing a laugh during a sad time). 

My uncle would play "Shark" with us in the family room, chasing us around on his hands and knees as we sought sanctuary on various pieces of furniture. We shrieked when he pulled us to the floor. My aunt spent hours painting our nails and teasing our hair into intricate braids and exotic hairstyles. 

My cousin introduced me to Harry Potter in high school. We were lying in slumber-party state on the floor of my grandma's living room, reading by weak light. Since I am a book hijacker, I started reading the magical beginnings of the first Harry Potter book over her [admittedly slightly irritated] shoulder, and I got hooked. I begged for the Harry Potter books for Christmas and devoured all three over the break.

One night in our later teen years, my sister, my cousin, and I stayed up into the deep hours of the night obsessively watching Pride and Prejudice (you know, the five-hour BBC one) and Wives and Daughters while playing distracted games of Hand and Foot and Progressive Rummy. We all got several joker canastas apiece by way of begging and blackmailing each other to "please, don't go out!" As the night progressed, we took turns taking snoozes as exhaustion swallowed us, and my cousin's confused but earnest dialogues when she woke, her mind caught somewhere in the middle of dreams and reality, made for one of the single most hilarious inside joke had-to-be-there moments of my life. 

In college, I met up with my cousin several times at BYU. We made dinner together and met for lunch on campus. On occasion we watched movies or exercised together. Always, we laughed together. 

My cousin is absolutely lovely. She has impeccable taste in everything and is unfailingly, sometimes even obnoxiously, kind. She has a rare tenacity when it comes to achieving goals. Her manner is genteel, but her laugh is unexpectedly unrestrained and boisterous. She is at once goofy and reserved, driven and scattered (have I mentioned she can belch the alphabet? So gross, but so cool). She is meticulously organized and methodical, but she combines responsibility and spontaneity in a way that imbues her life, and the lives of those around her, with verve. I smile as I write this, because thinking about her makes me happy.

I haven't spoken to my cousin in over seven years. While I understand some of the reasons that her family chose to sever ties with all of the extended family, the completeness of it and the duration of it continues to break my heart. There are no Christmas cards, no birthday calls, no condolences given when loved ones die, no joy shared when babies are born or missionaries are sent off or marriages are entered. I have run the gamut of emotions, from hurt to angry to disconsolate to bereft, and I still, even now, notice myself pendulating between them all. Most days, I find time has leached my anger to a paler, more brittle substance, creating cracks where wistfulness, nostalgia, and even hope burn through. 

I wonder sometimes if she ever thinks of us, if she or her family would be surprised to know how often we speak of them fondly, how much they are still missed, still remembered. 

I don't know if this closed door is barred for her. The more time that passes, the more I doubt there will ever be a phone call or an email or a facebook friend reinstatement. 

But if, in a moment of yearning, she or her family ever--days, months, or years down the road--draws the lock, opens the door, even looks through the keyhole, they will see us standing there, smiling, open armed. (We might be crying, too, because we're totally like that.) Regardless of what's to come or what's past, we are and always will be family. Though there is a consciously created chasm between us, the sea of pain and misunderstanding that once filled it is displaced more and more each year by love. The fissure may never go away, but I believe we can build a bridge.

Still my cousin, still my friend. Merriest of Christmases, most joyous of felicitations, best of wishes.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Snow Canyon Hike

{In Snow Canyon state park, October 2013}

We took a St. George trip a couple months ago so my mom could watch Kate while Jay and I saw a play at the Shakespearean Festival (Peter and the Starcatcher, and it was pretty good after the first 20 minutes). We got a couple other outings in and spent some time with my brother Steve who was down on college break. My dad was in Dallas for most of the weekend, so we didn't see much of him this trip.

We went on a hike to Johnson's Arch in Snow Canyon. The vast sky was vivid blue, the red of the towering cliffs was offset by ancient black lava flows, and the spaces between scrub oak and sage brush were carpeted with flowering yellow grasses like a two-seasons-too-late desert spring.

{Johnson's Arch}

My mom had to wear a large boot due to a stress fracture in her foot, but she gamely stumped along with us and introduced Kate to the wonders of sand while Jay and I finished the last bit of the hike ourselves. 

Kate does love me, I know this to be true, but she mourns my absence more keenly than she appreciates my presence. For Kate, a perfect mother is one who is always silent but close, content enough to be near her that offense is not taken when Kate's affections are lavishly bestowed on every other person in the general vicinity. 

This is evidenced in many situations: In church, Kate sits with her dad (or her grandparents, aunts, or uncles). Not with her mom. Friendly advances from Mom are met with yelling and hand-waving. But if ever I get up to use the restroom or sit on the stand, she panics: "Mama! Mama! Mama!" she cries loudly, often accompanied by noisy tears. Jay wrestles her out of the chapel, her arms outstretched and aimed at the last place she saw me. 

{The soundtrack for these two pictures is "Dada! Dada! Dada!" Waaaail, squirm squirm squirm... "DADA!"}

We recently had family pictures taken, and Kate would hold hands with her dad and/or the photographer, but not with me. It was unfortunate the photographer was not her mother, because I could have gotten some adorable hand-holding shots of the three of them.

When Jay and I run, sometimes Jay will stop with the stroller to tie his shoe and I'll jog on ahead. Kate worriedly calls after me until Jay catches up again (which only takes about five seconds because I am molasses and he is quicksilver). 

Trying to hold my girl and having her scream and reach for her daddy is admittedly not my favorite thing, but I am glad that I am around enough and she is secure enough in my love for her that she feels she can take me for granted. 

As much as I sometimes long for the green lushness of the Northwest or the Southeast, there is something in these stark, minimalist landscapes, this sharp and hardy vegetation, and these dry, sand-laden breezes that whispers of home.

Monday, December 9, 2013


{First haircut, October 2013}

Kate perched uncertainly on the salon chair in my friend's house, a box boosting her up. She sat more still than I'd imagined she would, bribed with various combs and clips. She flatly refused to wear the proffered cape, but submitted surprisingly well to the spray bottle to dampen her hair. She held her head mostly still (though "still" is a relative term when speaking about a 19-month old) until it was time to trim her bangs: she pressed her chin into her chest and shook her head from side to side.

The next Sunday, I put Kate's hair up in a ponytail for the very first time. Kate doesn't take kindly to me messing with her hair, but I still managed to get a decent ponytail in. It lasted about 30 minutes before the hair on the top of her head slipped out and flapped above her right ear.

She moved from room to room, from toy to toy, as I followed her to get these pictures. She is busy-busy-busy, go-go-go, all the time.

And she is loved, loved, loved.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Hey There, Little Red Riding Hood [Take II]

I watched the little red-hooded figure zoom around the room, arms flapping under her cape. I'd been a bit worried about Kate's reaction to dressing up for Halloween since she's been full of strong opinions lately, but the grin on her face told me it wouldn't be a problem. "Kate, do you like your cape?" I asked.

"Yeah!" She looked at me with a happy smile, ribbons gathered in a neat bow beneath her upturned face.

I had nervously bought two yards of bright red fleece from Joann's last year, ready to tackle my first solo sewing project. Despite my novice sewing skills, the cape came together fairly quickly, transforming tiny Kate into a sweet Little Red Riding Hood for her first Halloween.

Fast forward to this year, and I decided to pull out the cape to see if we could stretch another year's use out of it. I fitted the hood over Kate's head and tied it snugly under her chin. She was fascinated by the feel of it and protested noisily when I took it off to return it to the closet.


"Dep! Dep!" (Cape! Cape!) she said, standing on tiptoe and reaching for the soft red folds. "Dep!" I relented and swung it over her again, the tension in her body giving way to giddiness.

She insisted on wearing her cape nearly every day the week before Halloween. Taking these pictures with her was a delight because she was thrilled to be wearing her cape and touching the pumpkins (buh-puhs). I didn't even have to bribe her to sit down or stay close. 

The night of our church's trunk-or-treat, she ran wild like a little minion, not caring whether Jay or I followed her. Most of my night was spent chasing after her bobbing little hooded head, her arms spread out wide, her cape flapping about her shoulders.

She went trick-or-treating on Halloween with her friends Tyler and Levi, lugging her little bucket along and quickly getting into the rhythm of holding out her bag for candy and saying "Day-doo!" in thanks as she turned to leave. She insisted on navigating the walkway steps without a steadying hand (a first) and acted so grown up I could hardly stand it.

Kate got to try a couple pieces of candy (at her daddy's insistence), and she is definitely a fan. After she went to bed, Jay and I helped ourselves to her haul (the rest of it eventually ended up being used for job security at Jay's dental office).

2013, 20 months

2012, 8 months

Friday, October 25, 2013

Cousins + Ducks

One of our absolute favorite things about living in Las Vegas is being close to Jay's sister, Amy, and her family. We live on opposite ends of town, so we don't get together as often as we might like, but we usually see each other at least a couple times a month. 

These pictures were taken at a park near Henderson on Morgan's first birthday. I can't believe she's already a year old--time has flown.

Kate loves her cousins, especially Jeremy--she thinks he is pretty cool. As they have gotten older, they've gotten better about playing together. They both still have a hard time letting go of possessiveness (pun intended). We're working on that. (Check out Jeremy pushing Kate's stroller.)

Morgan outgrew her colicky stage months ago and is such a happy, good-natured little baby. I love her toothy grin.

The bike is Jeremy's, but he didn't want to get out of the stroller, so Kate and Morgan took turns riding it (with a little help from their dads).

I'm not sure what it is about ducks, but kids love them. Really, so do I. I love ducks. There is something endearingly awkward about them. We brought a bag of cheerios that the kids alternated between eating themselves and throwing to the ducks.

There was a pull-up bar along the walking path, so of course we had to stop. Jay and Amy shared the bar, I failed to complete even one chin-up, and Erik schooled us all by doing at least 20.

Kate and Morgan did a few, too.

Kate rode around on Jay's shoulders for part of the time and seemed to enjoy her bird's-eye view. 

I have to say, this outing produced some great pictures. It is unfortunate that I am not actually in any of them. Jay enjoys taking pictures, too, but Kate prefers to be with him, so I end up manning the camera most of the time.

I suppose it helps to have such cute little models (or big ones, in Jay's case).

It's at about this time of year that I decide living in Las Vegas isn't so bad--the weather has been lovely. We turned off our AC the last week of September and haven't turned it back on since.

I am so in love with this little girl. She is my absolute favorite.

Maybe I'm a bad mom, but I had to take a picture of Kate's little crack. I love how innocent and oblivious she is. 

It was a beautiful day.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Real Issue

If you have not yet watched this video, please do. Not only is it funny and nonpartisan (really, no political group is mentioned, bashed, or blamed), but it is also deeply alarming and explains the national debt and budget situation in a way that's easy to understand.

This is probably the first time in my life I have been completely UNpartisan (not to be confused with NONpartisan, which has a more neutral connotation). Maybe ANTIpartisan is a better descriptor. I am so over politics and games and mudslinging. I hate the GOP for choosing to take a stand NOW--it's too little, too late, and it's punishing regular people. I hate the libs for smugly putting policy and politics over practicality, and I hate that they're in no hurry to compromise because they like that the shutdown makes the republicans look bad. The whole situation is so tacky and is an excellent example of why I think politicians have no souls. 

I have strong opinions on party politics, Obamacare, social security, medicare, medicaid, and government organizations and their employees and their ridiculous pension and benefit packages, as I would hope most Americans do. But honestly, right now, none of that stuff really matters to me because as passionate as I am about all of those issues, those concerns are completely eclipsed by the staggering problem that is our nation's financial situation. Regardless of how good or bad certain legislation makes you feel, you can't argue with math. Math has no passions, no bias, no agenda. And the simple fact of the matter is that our government is spending itself (and us! and our children! and our great-great-great-great-great grandchildren!) into oblivion. They have dug such a deep hole that there is quickly becoming no possible way out, which makes us have to pander to countries like China, and--let's be real here--does anyone want CHINA involved with how our country is run? 

And, sure, I'm concerned about the national debt. But my MAIN concern is that it's growing! That our government has a "budget" that runs an enormously huge deficit every year! That we will never actually get to start paying down the national debt because our government is making minimum payments on their maxed-out credit cards at the same time they're applying for new ones. Except on a HUGE scale, and they have no bank to slap them in the face and say, "Your spending patterns are unsustainable. We refuse to enable this behavior any longer."

Imagine you make $40K a year; that's a decent wage. Now imagine you SPEND $70K a year. And not just this year, but next year, too. And the year after that. And so on. So, every year, you're taking on another $30,000 in debt. After a certain point, you're not going to qualify for credit cards or loans anymore (as you shouldn't, because let's face it--you're out of control). Even if you cut back on your spending, even if you cut back $15,000 a year--heck, even if you cut back $29,900 a year--you're still piling up more and more debt. There comes a certain point where you're in so deep there's no way out, and our government is way PAST that point. The difference between your imaginary situation and our country's is that the government owns a printing press they can use to just "make" more money. Which is great for them, but really sucks for the rest of us (and the rest of the world), because flooding the market with money spikes inflation, making your money worth less, driving prices up, and disrupting the global economy (which I do not pretend to understand the mechanics of). 

So, while I know we all have different opinions and diverse political leanings, we as a people need to cheer when the government cuts funding for things, even when it hurts. At this point, I don't much care what gets cut, because, frankly, EVERYTHING needs to be cut. We are in a mess. We were all super judgmental about Greece when the people rioted about austerity measures even though their government spending was out of control, and here we are in the same situation. Bring on austerity. Bring on "reforms" that actually slash spending instead of spiking funding. Once our yearly budget and spending is under control, we can pick up the pieces and focus on making the money we do have stretch farther by being more efficient and practical. 

This current shutdown, this inability of our nation's leaders to compromise or see issues without partisan glasses on is sickening. Decisions need to be made that are unpopular. Maybe these politicians won't be re-elected if they make their constituents angry, but when did governing become all about winning elections? It's time to take responsibility, to put the nation's future ahead of party lines or pet legislation or well-meaning but deeply impractical ideologies. It's time to be honest and practical about our nation's finances. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Cabin Trip for Conference Weekend

Last weekend, we went to my parents' cabin for General Conference. The weather was beautiful, and the weekend was lovely. Kate loved spending time with Grandma ("Mama") and Grandpa ("Bapa"). She loves them both, but she especially has a connection with her grandpa. She also loves Sadie ("Saysie"), my dad's dog.

It was about 60 degrees outside. My mom is always freezing, and Jay never is, so it's funny to see them standing next to each other with Mom all bundled up and Jay in shorts.

I love General Conference. It's like a holiday. General conference means family time. Watching talks while wearing pjs and snuggling on the couch. Sticky buns on Sunday mornings. Girls' night during the Priesthood session. Inspiration. Lots of snacks and tasty lunches between sessions. The past few years, it's meant cabin trips and crisp mountain air.

When I was a kid, I felt like General Conference lasted a long time. We used to watch it with my cousins, usually involving sleepovers and discreet naps during sessions. I always have something work on while I watch: I remember coloring on storage boxes, sketching portraits of the speakers, knitting or crocheting, and playing Spider Solitaire, all while taking notes and listening to the talks. The past couple years, I've edited pictures.

Here are a few highlights I recorded. (They are in my own words, based on what stood out to me in different talks.)

David A. Bednar:  As we live the law of tithing, we often receive significant, subtle blessings that are easily overlooked. Such blessings can only be discerned if we are spiritually attentive and observant.  

I love that our church does not encourage shunning of those who choose to leave. I love how compassionately he gave them the benefit of the doubt.

Seeds of doubt can grow to trees of understanding.

Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.

Jeffrey R. Holland: If the bitter cup does not pass, drink it and be strong, trusting there will be happier days ahead

The Lord sees weaknesses differently than He sees rebellion. When He speaks of weaknesses, it is always compassionately.

God does not look on sin with any allowance because He knows what it takes to become like Him. His expectations of us are high.

Russell M. Nelson: Death is only premature for those who are not prepared to meet God.